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Rogers' Fans Go Down Those 'Happy Trails' Again

Service: A group gathers at the Pioneer Church to say goodbye to the cowboy star who lived in Chatsworth during the 1950s and 1960s.

August 02, 1998|MEGAN GARVEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

CHATSWORTH — In the wood-frame Pioneer Church on the grounds of Oakwood Memorial Park, Roy Rogers' likeness looked upon the gathered crowd from a photograph on the altar Saturday.

Rogers, who died of heart failure July 6 at age 86, seemed alive in spirit among the gathered friends, family and fans wearing Western-style shirts and 10-gallon hats who came to celebrate his life at a memorial service.

The "King of the Cowboys," known for his humility, was remembered for his family, his career, his work in the Chatsworth community, his faith and his generosity.

"Roy was one of the last of the people who actually lived and represented true family values," said David Finnin of Tujunga, who remembered listening to Rogers on the radio as a boy in New Jersey.

Although Rogers was given a cowboy-style funeral in Apple Valley, friends from his old Chatsworth neighborhood wanted to say a more personal goodbye. Many of these folks live in an area where Trigger Street and Dale Court remind them of the days in the 1950s and 1960s when Rogers and his wife, Dale Evans, lived nearby with their children.

"After Roy died we started getting calls," said Virginia Watson, curator of the Chatsworth Historical Society. "People wanted to know if we were going to do something here for Roy."

Dodie Rogers Sailors, Rogers' youngest daughter, came with her husband and their three grandchildren. David Arlen, one of Rogers' proteges, played the guitar and sang a cowboy tune or two.

Lila Schepler, whose children played with the Rogers children, said she remembered Rogers for his sense of humor and his "easily touched heart." And she remembered being overwhelmed by the family's kindness to the financially strapped church after the tragic death of the Rogers' 12-year-old daughter Debbie in a bus accident.

"I have something for you," Schepler remembers Dale Evans saying. "Roy and I would like to donate $1,000 from little Debbie's bank account to help save the church."

The money was used to move the now nearly 100-year-old Pioneer Church to its current site off Lassen Street from its old site on northern Topanga Canyon Boulevard. But the memory of Debbie's death also resulted in the family's move from Chatsworth to Apple Valley in 1965.

"Everywhere they looked they were reminded of Debbie," Schepler said.

The reminders of Roy Rogers on Saturday were more comforting.

Joe Dahlstrom of Victoria, Texas, came with his wife and 15-year-old daughter. The lifelong Rogers fan said he met his boyhood hero a decade ago at the Roy Rogers Museum near Victorville.

"It was important for me to be here," he said.

As the voices of the congregation rose in a hearty rendition of Rogers' signature song, "Happy Trails," a group of riders on horseback gathered outside to lead the way to a cookies and punch reception at the Chatsworth Historical Society.

In her pale lavender Western-style dress, Watson, who organized the event, wiped tears from her eyes. Earlier, a tribute by Roy Rogers Jr., or "Dusty" as everyone calls him, was read to the crowd.

"A man never truly dies until his name is forgotten," it concluded. "That's why Roy Rogers will live forever."

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