Safe to say there’s never a good time for a blizzard. This, however, was a particularly bad time.
The snarling snowstorm brought everything to a standstill as roads were impassable. This was a dilemma for the young couple who had a premature baby in an area hospital’s intensive care unit. There would be no way for the young mother and father to drive home after staying with their newborn. Staying even one night at a hotel was not in the financial cards.
A Ronald McDonald House came to the rescue and provided a room to the couple in crisis. The room was offered even though in normal circumstance the couple wouldn’t qualify for the assistance because they lived too close to the hospital.
“My niece in Rhode Island was the one stranded by the blizzard,” Phyllis Rogers says. “About a week after Shelly’s experience, our [Little Rock] Ronald McDonald House asked me to join the Capital Campaign Committee to raise funds for a new house. It was meant to be.”
Rogers has been an active advocate for the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Arkansas, with a stated mission of being a “home-away-from-home that serves and sustains families of children being treated at area hospitals and supports community programs that serve the needs of children.”
Having served two three-year terms on the McDonald House board, Rogers is now taking on the task of chair of the charity’s signature fundraiser, the Chocolate Fantasy Ball. Concerns about the ongoing pandemic pushed the Fantasy Ball to happen online.
On Feb. 11, the fundraiser will take place on Facebook Live from 6:30 to 7 p.m. The event will include a behind-the-scenes tour of the Ronald McDonald House and an introduction to the families staying there. There will be a special raffle featuring jewelry from Sissy’s Log Cabin. Viewers will be eligible for door prizes throughout the evening.
“The staff at the House are the most caring people,” Rogers says. “They care for those people like they are family member. They make sure their needs are taken care of.”
Rogers incorporates her service to charities with her full-time work as the chief financial officer of AFMC. Before that, Rogers, a CPA, was CFO of Delta Dental for 17 years. A history of helping others runs like a bright thread through her life.
“My mother was an influence in my desire to give back to meaningful organizations,” Rogers says. “She was involved in Eastern Stars and involved in several fundraising activities. She had me join Rainbow Girls as a young girl and through my teens. One year I was president of AMYO (Arkansas Masonic Youth Organization). We held many fundraisers throughout the year and I was able to personally deliver those funds to St. Jude Children’s Hospital in Memphis, my chosen charity for that year.”
“I’ve known Phyllis about eight years,” says Janell Mason, executive director for the Ronald McDonald House. “She has such a heart for our mission here. She told me the story about her niece and the blizzard with tears flowing down her cheeks. She is somebody you want in your corner.”
HOT WHEEL SKIS
Rogers notes that she was a “late-in-life child” for her parents. She was born and raised in Hot Springs. Mom was a stay-at-home mother who would eventually work for an office in the local hospital and serve on the PTA. Dad was retired from the military and took a job with the forest service.
Rogers had two older brothers and grew up in a neighborhood dominated by boys. She didn’t mind too much being outnumbered.
“I was one of the few girls around where we lived,” Rogers remembers. “We had a tree house fort near my house. I would yell, ‘Make them boys come out of the tree to come out and play with me.’ For neighborhood games I was kind of cheering on the sidelines.”
More than anything, the neighborhood was a place to roam around without much of a concern. Rogers acknowledges it was a different time.
“You would ride your bike to a store and buy those little plastic Cokes that had that sweet juice in it,” Rogers says. “It was so safe. My parents didn’t worry about where we were. I remember one winter after it snowed we went up to the top of Richard Street. We strapped Hot Wheel tracks to our feet and tried to ski but that didn’t work out.”
Rogers’ young imagination was sparked by the various activities and interests of her father. There never seemed to be a dull moment in her house.
“He had the I.Q. of a genius,” says Rogers of her father. “He could fix anything. He loved HAM radios. We would talk to people all over the world. We would be in our house in Hot Springs listening to a person from Japan. He loved the stock market. Before the internet, he would graph out how a stock was doing each day. He was very smart and very well-read.”
Though she grew up surrounded by males, Rogers’ father wanted his daughter to know her horizons were not limited in any way.
“He was a man ahead of his time. He felt like women could do anything a man could do. He wanted to make sure that I got to college. He said there was no reason I couldn’t take care of myself.”
“A fun time” is how Rogers describes her years at Hot Springs High School. One of the highlights was working on the yearbook staff.
During her high school summers, Rogers wasn’t lounging by the pool or wasting away the hours other ways. She was exploring the world of work.
“I was a Girl Friday at the Lewis Mitchell and Garnett Law Firm,” Rogers recalls. “This was when I was 16. I learned a lot there. They allowed me to do a lot. I learned how to file documents for a divorce. I learned about probate. It was a great experience.”
Law might have held Rogers’ interest during the summer but her lifelong career would be revealed in advanced math classes.
“Math was my thing,” Rogers says. “I loved it. Then I got to trigonometry and calculus and I didn’t love it so much. What I wanted was a practical use of math, some way to use the math I knew in the real world. When I found accounting, it worked out perfectly.”
It didn’t take Rogers long to earn her bachelor’s in accounting from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and then pass her CPA exam in 1987. Her resume includes long stints at Stephens Diversified Leasing and 17 years as chief financial officer for Delta Dental. In 2013, she was named by Arkansas Business as CFO of the Year for Large Private Companies and by the Arkansas Society of CPAs as Outstanding CPA in Business and Industry.
She says she has worked with a lot of great people but cites one in particular for being a strong role model to a young working woman.
“Donna Nichols made an impression early in my career,” Rogers says. “She was my boss at Stephens Diversified Leasing and the first woman CFO I knew. She was a level-headed, excellent critical thinker but also has an ease about her. She led without being demanding. It was really a team spirit and I knew I wanted to be the same type of leader.”
In April 2019 Rogers took over as CFO of AFMC. The company is a nonprofit organization that works with health care providers and consumers to improve overall care and reduce health care costs. Rogers notes that in the summer AFMC was one of the companies hired to do contact tracing during the covid-19 crisis.
In no time at all Rogers can make a case for the need to identify who has been exposed to covid-19. Like her volunteer work for Ronald McDonald House, it’s about taking care of others.
“Contract tracing does help, it truly does,” Rogers says. “We have got to get to a point of lessening the spread [of the virus]. It is about being kind to your fellow Arkansans and keeping them safe. It is important and it’s not taking somebody’s rights away.”
Rogers can also make a strong case for her company.
“We have the best culture at AFMC,” Rogers says. “I know this is said a lot but we really have the most amazing people for us. There is no drama. It’s just a group of people rowing in the same direction. You don’t get that too often.”
Along with settling down with a new company, Rogers recently celebrated her 30th wedding anniversary.
“I met my husband, Johnny, on a blind date,” Rogers says. “A girl I worked with was friends with him. She said, ‘I have this guy you really need to meet.’ We dated for two years before we were married.”
It isn’t hard to understand what has kept the couple together.
“He has a great sense of humor,” Rogers says. “We just connected. We had a lot of similarities. We come from middle class families with the same values. He likes to be active like I do. We love to dress up and go to charity events. We love to travel.”
While Rogers says that she loves “to paint and play the occasional round of golf,” it’s clear that much of her spare time and energy goes to organizations like the Ronald McDonald House. She points with pride to the renovation and addition to the McDonald House that happened in 2016 after the capital campaign.
“We have gotten each other into a lot of different projects,” says friend Shelia Vaught, who has worked alongside Rogers for the Ronald McDonald House and CARTI. “She is the epitome of ‘perfect volunteer.’ She is gracious, gentle and a good leader. She puts 100% into what she does. She is never afraid to be there early and work through the day and then be at the event at night. I admire her a lot.”
Rogers is very clear on why her work on the Chocolate Fantasy Ball and the Ronald McDonald House is important.
“The families need this,” says Rogers of the McDonald House services. “Can you imagine something horrible happening to your child and you wind up in the hospital in Little Rock and not know a soul and not have the financial ability to stay in a hotel what may be months? It’s crucial that we help do what we can.”
• DATE AND PLACE OF BIRTH: May 28, 1963, Hot Springs
• ADVICE I WOULD GIVE ANY YOUNG PERSON GOING INTO MY FIELD OF WORK: Always strive for excellence and be preparing yourself for the next opportunity. And always treat everyone with respect and kindness, even if they do not in return. Any negative reaction is a reflection on you, not them.
• MY FAVORITE MEAL MUST INCLUDE: An amazing chocolate dessert.
• AS SOON AS I AM ABLE, I’M GOING TO TAKE A TRIP TO: Visit my brothers and their families. Then either the Greek Isles with my husband or a girls trip to someplace fun. There are a lot of trips stacking up in the queue.
• I CAN’T START MY DAY WITHOUT: My iPhone.
• MY FOUR GUESTS AT MY FANTASY DINNER PARTY: My parents and my three nieces, Amanda, Elizabeth and Veronica. I realize that is more than four but my nieces never knew my parents and I would love for them to spend some time together.
• THE WAY I RELAX: Spending time at the lake, kayaking, painting or cocktails with friends.
• ONE WORD TO SUM ME UP: Dedicated
“Math was my thing. I loved it. Then I got to trigonometry and calculus and I didn’t love it so much. What I wanted was a practical use of math, some way to use the math I knew in the real world. When I found accounting, it worked out perfectly.” -Phyllis Rogers
(Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Cary Jenkins)