April 18, 2024

FORDYCE, Arkansas – By Suzi Parker – Roderick Rogers can be found just about everywhere in Fordyce.

And that’s no exaggeration.

From his popular soul food restaurant, Legends Cafe, to city council meetings where he serves as a councilman, sporting events, and too-many-to-count volunteer efforts, Rogers is a legend in his own right. 

“I believe in the community, and where I see I can make a difference, that’s where I try to make one,” Rodgers said as he was busy preparing for the Legends lunch crowd that is becoming well… legendary.

He opened the business last summer because he saw the need for two things in his hometown – a place where people who love authentic  Southern cooking could have a good eating place and to employ people from his church who needed jobs. 

Legends serves the kind of tummy-feeling soul food “your grandmother and auntie,” as Rogers says that warms your bones. Fried chicken, pork chops and catfish. Check. Turnip greens, black-eyed peas and yams. Yep. Add in some neck bones, fried livers, and barbecue ribs for good measure. 

The restaurant has all of that, including more, depending on the day. The restaurant also serves classic banana pudding and peach cobbler that sell out quickly, like a popular delicacy – hot water cornbread. People drive from surrounding counties for that Southern specialty. 

Hot water cornbread isn’t always easy to find in Arkansas, even in soul food restaurants. It is handmade from cornmeal, salt, fat and boiling water. Some recipes call for baking powder in place of salt and fat. Other recipes call for a pinch of sugar. The dough is fried in hot oil or fat until golden.

The cooks only make a very small batch of hot water cornbread, so people craving this Southern delicacy often arrive at Legends before the door opens. Although lunch may not be ready, Rogers always lets people enter the restaurant.

“We didn’t have a true soul food restaurant,” Rogers said. “We are lucky we good help employ people and give Fordyce a restaurant that was needed. These are the recipes a lot of people grew up with and they missed having a place to get it.”

“Legends” has become Rogers’ trademark in business. He also owns Legends Auto Sales to help those who may not be able to get easy financing for a car. He plans soon to open a barber school under the Legends umbrella to teach people a trade.

Why “legends’?

“It’s a way to celebrate our legends in and around Fordyce who have done a lot of great things,” Rogers said. 

Pictures of famous local coaches and athletes decorate the walls of Legends, including coaches Larry Lacewell, George Shelton Clay Totty, and Jimmy “Red” Parker. Players Raylee Johnson and Kevin Williams, to name a few. 

Lacewell, who died last year, served as Arkansas State University’s head football coach from 1979-89. He was later the longtime director of scouting for the Dallas Cowboys. Shelton has coached at numerous schools including Dumas High School and Little Rock Central. Totty coached the Rison Wildcats football team for nearly 25 years until leaving last fall to become the head coach for Wynne High School.  Parker coached at Arkansas A&M (now the University of Arkansas at Monticello), The Citadel, Clemson and Ouachita Baptist.

Johnson played for the Fordyce Redbugs. He was drafted by the San Diego Chargers in 1993 and played for 10 years before the Denver Broncos signed him. Williams was also a Fordyce High School Redbug and was drafted by the Minnesota Vikings in 2003.

While Rogers loves sports, he said he will soon add more famous people from Dallas County, including educators and doctors, to the wall. And he’s always looking for legends in the making.

“We have a lot of people who have done a lot of great things, great coaches, educators and doctors,” Rogers said. “It’s my way of honoring them, and I didn’t want anyone else to tell our stories.”

A Legend Himself

Rogers is a legend, too, in Fordyce.

Mandy Noles, who is the founder of Morning Meadow Animal Rescue in Dallas County, met Rogers when he was in the fifth grade.

“I have never been more proud of a young man, making it on his own sheer will and determination,” Noles said. 

As a youth volunteer with the sports programs at the Civic Center in Fordyce, Rogers helped referee games, manage the scoreboards and anything else that needed to be done. No task was too big or too small for Rogers. 

“It was easy to see that Roderick had a maturity about him that not many his age had,” Noles said. “Once he was old enough, he worked on the part-time staff at the Civic Center, working in the building office and also on the maintenance crew outside in the summers.”

Rogers didn’t stop there. He became a lifeguard. He then taught swimming lessons. He moved up to a full-time position as the Sports and Recreation director. He handled all of the youth and adult sports  programs including fitness.

“Roderick has that special way that he can communicate to young and old alike, and all know he truly cares about them,” Noles said. 

Noles realized that Rogers had a calling to preach.

“As a gift, I made him a pulpit,” Noles said. “He has kept it all of these years.”

It was no surprised to Noles that Rogers started his own church to preach. He has served as a member of the Arkansas Baptist task force and the Arkansas Baptist State Convention Pastors’ Conference. Recently, Rogers started a mobile ministry. He holds prayer rallies. He remodels homes in his community. He holds winter coat drives and works with at-risk youth.

Rogers is also deeply involved in sports.

He hosts block parties for the community. He helps the Fordyce High School Basketball Booster Club. He operates his own AAU basketball team and a flag football league. He is a sanctioned high school and college sports referee and assigns referees to games. He also recruits referees and hosts umpire clinics.

Does Rogers ever stop? No. That’s because he made a promise once.

The Big Red Foundation

In 2010, Rogers started the Big Red Community Outreach Foundation in memory of Derrick Brewer, a football player for the Fordyce Red Bugs who Rogers took in because Brewer lost his father. Brewer had lost his way in life. He needed direction.

“I kept him and I loved him.”

But Brewer, whose nickname was Big Red, was a troubled soul. He left Rogers and Fordyce for a while but returned one day. That day, Brewer said that he didn’t work out the way that was expected of him. But he asked Rogers, who never gave up on him, to make him a promise never to give up on Fordyce’s kids. Rogers made that promise. The next day Brewer died.

“I preached his funeral,” Rogers said. “People loved him, but he wasn’t at peace. He was dear to my heart and that’s why I do what I do.”

In February 2021, Rogers held the foundation’s first Black History Gala. 

This year’s gala featured University of Pine Bluff head football coach Alonzo Hampton. Each year the gala honors those in the African-American community in south Arkansas, especially Dallas County, making a difference in lives. Rogers passed the plate to collect money for the Fordyce Lady Redbugs’ trip to the 2A state championship in Rector.

Rogers had a chance to leave Fordyce for a job in Little Rock. He passed up more money to stay in his hometown. He told himself that he would give his everything to help his community. He hasn’t regretted it.

“I can make a difference here,” he said. “It’s non-stop, but I do what I can.”

Noles seconds that statement but added, “Roderick is fair, honest and caring to all. Make no mistake though, he can be tough as nails and will stand by any decision he makes.”

[Story courtesy of Arkansas Black Vitality magazine]

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