As Minnie Rodgers prepares to accept a Lifetime Achievement award at the upcoming SkillsUSA National Leadership and Skills Conference in June, the 72-year-old said she doesn’t feel as if she’s been working for that many years.
Rodgers, a Mission Consolidated Independent School District board member, worked as a cosmetology teacher at Mission High School for 39 years before retiring in 2009. Her role as District 13 Director for SkillsUSA is what occupies most of her time now. The youth organization prepares students for technical and service occupations like auto mechanics, cosmetology and computer programming.
Rodgers came from humble beginnings, she said, as the daughter of ranch foreman and housewife. Her mother told her that every woman needed an education and a job, so she suggested her daughter would make a good hairdresser.
“I had fine, ugly hair,” she said with a wrinkled nose. “What did I know about doing hair at 18 years old? But somebody gave me a chance to get started. Everybody deserves a chance.”
Rodgers had three older brothers, and the oldest was handicapped from cerebral palsy. Although she said her oldest brother never walked or talked a day in his life, he always had a joyous disposition.
“We were raised with a wheelchair, and if that doesn’t make you humble, nothing else will,” Rodgers said. “Everybody always says ‘Que vivo ayudando.’ I’m always opening doors for others. When you’re raised that way, that’s what you do.”
Rodgers lost her husband when her daughter was 8 years old. Her voice began to break and her eyes watered as she explained the hardships of being a single mother, but it encouraged her to be better teacher.
“Sometimes I asked myself ‘God, why didn’t you take me instead of him?’” she said with her head in her hands. “But you know God has a plan for us from the time we’re born. You have to thank him because without his grace and guidance you have nothing.”
The 72-year-old has accumulated 46 years with SkillsUSA. She’s taught at St. Paul’s Church in Mission and is a eucharistic minister, church wedding coordinator and funeral helper.
Rodgers became a Mission school board member in 2014.
Lending a helping hand has always been important to her, she said, and it’s a trait that makes her memorable in the MCISD community.
Former MHS principal Gus Zapata supervised Rodgers from 1973 to 1996. In that time, he saw her give hours of her time to students during the week, after school and on weekends. He described her as dedicated and enthusiastic.
“She was the type that taught students the skills in cosmetology but also family,” Zapata said. “She was like a second mother to many of the students that attended her classes. I know she made a difference in the lives of many, many students.”
Craig Verley, an MCISD employee since 1998, has known Rodgers in both the teacher and board roles. He said it’s been interesting to see Rodgers make the transition because of the disparities in the roles, but she continues to have the students at heart.
Verley’s relationship with Rodgers, although professional, has always involved light jabs and jokes. They hit it off from the first minute, he said.
“She is a very fun person to be around from where I sit,” Verley said. “She’s one of those individuals where she and I just instantly started picking on each other in a very fun way. You can get a whole lot done but still have some fun doing it.”
Rodgers admitted that her Lifetime Achievement award still seems unreal, but she remains thankful for the highest SkillsUSA honor. She’s stood on the stage to present others with awards, but on June 23 she’ll be on the receiving end.
“How many people at 72 years old, get up every morning and go? I take a nighttime aspirin – that’s it,” she said knocking on the wooden table. “I’ve been truly blessed. My sister-in-law says ‘Slow down. You’re walking too fast.’ But that’s how I’ve done it all my life.”