Only 17 when he headed off to Indiana State in 1965, George Rogge was thrilled at the freedom he had being away from his parents’ roof and control.
“When I was growing up, our house was next to the school, so my mom knew when the school bell rang at the end of the school day,” he said. “She knew how long it would take me to get home and that was where and when I was supposed to be. If I went anywhere after dinner, I was supposed to be home before the street lights came on.”
He soon learned that being on his own was a big responsibility.
“I loved it at ISU,” he said. “It opened up the world for me. I liked it so much that I didn’t even go home that first Thanksgiving or Christmas. “
What he did was join a fraternity — Alpha Phi Omega where he was vice president — and became a campus photographer. “It was a way to earn extra spending money,” he said. “I took all the dorm pictures. I took pictures of kids with Santa Claus at Kmart. I took pictures of the pledges. I had a little darkroom and had learned to do all that in school.”
Born in Gary, Ind., Rogge says photography taught him how to view the world. “I learned how to see and capture what I saw,” he said. “In those days, you shot film and every frame was going to cost you money but if you delayed, then you missed the shot.”
Rogge also began taking photos for one of his father’s hobbies. “Another thing that really influenced my life when I was a child was that my father started a sports car club in 1954. My dad had an Austin Healthy 100A. Man, would I love to have that today.”
His father’s sports car club would have road rallies and travel to race tracks. “That was our life,” Rogge said. “We would travel all over the Midwest. I got to do things that kids would probably never get to do today. I was just a kid and got to go down on the race tracks. That was in the 1950s and I could do things on my own as long as I didn’t go off the race track.”
Along the way, Rogge met and photographed some of the most famous race car drivers of the day. “I didn’t think anything of it at the time but here I was sitting with the Andrettis, all the great names. One influential guy at the tracks was Roger Penske. He told me go first class or don’t go at all. And by golly, that is what I have tried to do.”
At Indiana State, Rogge started off as a pre-law major. “But I discovered that I really liked business. My grandfather George Rogge had started an insurance agency. That’s where my dad Don Rogge worked. My dad hated it, but I discovered I loved it.”
After graduating from State in 1969, Rogge went to work in the family business where he became president of The George C. Rogge Agency Inc. Rogge was a pioneer of affordable auto insurance for all drivers. “I developed a program that changed the way to ensure automobiles in the state of Indiana,” he said.
With a long-time interest in architecture and historic preservation, Rogge became a member of the Indiana Landmarks Foundation. “I have the oldest house in Merrillville, built in 1876,” he said. “I also built my own house in the Miller Beach section of Gary, Ind. I remember being 6 or 7 years old and telling my mom that I was going to live here someday. And I do.”
His son, Douglas Rogge, works in the family insurance business. His 17-year-old granddaughter Alexis Rogge plans to become an architect. “I think she got that from me,” Rogge said. “It’s funny sometimes how things skip a generation.”
Over the years, Rogge participated and was a former officer in a long list of community and civic organizations: Lake County Sheriff’s Merit Board, Lake County Park Department, Gary Board of Parks Commissioner, Miller Citizens Corporation, Society for the Restoration of the Gary Bathing Beach Aquatorium and Octave Chanute’s Place in History (founder and president), Miller Area Business Association, Gary Citywide Development Corporation, Marquette Kids Park, Gary Police Foundation, Gary Jaycees, Indiana Northwest Region Sports Car Club of America, University Club of Chicago, Nelson Algren Society of Miller Beach, Gary Rotary, Calumet National Heritage Area Initiative, George A. Rogge Miller Beach Fund (founder), and Miller Historical Society.
Rogge also served and was a former officer in many professional organizations: National Federation of Independent Businesses Indiana, Independent Insurance Agents of Indiana (state director), Independent Insurance Agents Association of Northwest Indiana (president), Indiana State University Foundation (director), Gary Chamber of Commerce (director), Merrillville Chamber of Commerce, Indiana Chamber of Commerce, Indiana Lincoln Highway Association, Chicago Historical Museum, Chicago Architecture Foundation and Chicago Council on Global Affairs.
Looking back, Rogge said, he is pleased with the path his life has taken. But there is one person in particular he would like to have met.
“My grandfather, George Rogge, started our family insurance business in 1923. That’s who I was named for. He died in 1946 before I was born,” Rogge said. “People say that I am just like him. He was always involved and into everything. I wish I could have gotten to know him.”