Will Rogers Family Roll Up Sleeves

Local historian Randy Young who, along with half a dozen volunteers, stripped the interior of the 19 horse stalls in the main stable at Will Rogers last Thursday. He is pointing to one of the two remaining wrought iron horse ties that remain in the stable.
Local historian Randy Young who, along with half a dozen volunteers, stripped the interior of the 19 horse stalls in the main stable at Will Rogers last Thursday. He is pointing to one of the two remaining wrought iron horse ties that remain in the stable.
Photo by Linda Renaud

Work on the $5.5-million restoration of Will Rogers State Historic Park, which up until recently proceeded at a snail’s pace for over a year due to changes in park management and bureaucratic delays, has finally jumped into high gear. While steady progress is being made in solving the park’s main problem’lack of proper drainage, which has plagued the 186-acre site since it was built in 1928’the real action last Thursday was taking place in the main stable. Half a dozen volunteers stripped the interiors of the 19 horse stalls, ripping off ‘anything that is not authentic, like the kick boards and plastic food bins,’ explained Randy Young, president of the Will Rogers Cooperative Association. Young’s helpers on Earth Day included three members of the Rogers family, each representing different generations: Judy, widow of Jim, the youngest of Will and Betty Rogers’s three children; Charlie, Jim’s middle child, who flew in from Arizona for the day, and Jennifer Rogers Etcheverry, one of Will Rogers six great-grandchildren. The volunteer work day was her idea. ‘After sitting through so many meetings in recent months I started thinking: ‘What could we do to speed up the renovation process?’ Well, we could certainly roll up our sleeves, which is something my great-grandfather would have done. He wasn’t afraid to get his hands dirty.’ Etcheverry, who lives with her husband and two children on an almond farm in Bakersfield, remembers coming to the ranch as a child. ‘We had family picnics on the lawn and watched the polo matches.’ Now she visits at least once a month to help out. Her job last Thursday was to remove nails from the pine boards, which will be recycled and used to build a barn dedicated to her grandfather, Jim. It will be located 100 yards from the main stable. ‘I think people need to know that the still family cares, a lot,’ said Etcheverry, 38, putting on her work gloves. ‘How are our children going to find out about Will Rogers? We have a chance to teach them right here at the ranch.’ Work on the Jim Rogers barn, a 16,000-sq.-ft. rectangular structure which will have six horse stalls, will begin in June with ‘an old-fashioned barnraising,’ Young said. ‘We want everyone in the Palisades to help by hammering in a nail so that they will feel a part of what is going on here at the ranch.’ Nearly a decade after Will Rogers died in a 1935 plane crash his wife Betty donated their ranch to the state with the proviso that should the property not be properly maintained it would revert back to the family. The dedication took place in August 1944 with Will Rogers’ favorite horse, Soapsuds, part of the ceremonies. Soapsuds is now buried on the lawn in front of the stable and all the horses are gone. Two years ago the commercial boarding operation was closed down, following allegations that it had become the private domain of a lucky few and that the runoff waste from the stable was polluting Rustic Creek below the park.