Meet Roger Jesse. For the past eight years he has served as an instrumental individual for the University’s Patient Care Center. He prepares to retire from UMSL in May, and there is more to Roger than meets the eye.
Roger has been around eyes for most of his life. His dad was a life-long optician, and when he was a young boy, he would help out his dad at the shop on the weekends. Then the helping turned into a job when he was old enough to begin working. Now some 45 years later, Roger is ready to retire and head out on the open road, with his wife, Susan. She is a retired teacher from the Mehlville School District and is now preparing to retire from the Gifted Resource Council, where she has served the past three years.
In the past eight years, Roger has traveled to and from work using public transportation. Living in Fenton near the St. Louis and Jefferson County line, he catches a bus to either the Maplewood or Shrewsbury MetroLink station where he then rides the train to south campus. With a book in his hand (likely historical fiction), his lunch box, and a smile, he walks into the building. His daily commute is about 45 minutes, but he doesn’t seem to mind.
Recently, Roger and his wife purchased a new teardrop camper “on steroids,” as Roger described. The goal? To travel all over the country visiting state and national parks. His wife is a history buff, and they both love the outdoors, so it is the ideal time to begin traveling the country.
Before Roger hangs up his optician coat, he reflects on the past 45 years and his time here at UMSL.
Roger began working with his father 45 years ago. Throughout his career Roger has worked in retail, training and teaching opticians for Lens Crafters, in the wholesale business, and more retail before coming to UMSL. He took a pay cut and began working in what he called the “dungeon” (the old clinic). “The old clinic was sad, it dropped morale, and just dark,” he said. In the past several years he has been working in the new Patient Care Center. “Now, though the new clinic is upbeat, bright, fresh, and the morale has increased,” he laughed. So why did Roger leave a position where he was making good money and closer to home to come to UMSL?
Roger is a teacher. No, he doesn’t have a degree in teaching, and he isn’t in a traditional lecture hall, but he has the knowledge and experience to help students in ophthalmic lab. When the former manager hired him, it was with the intention to help explain and work with students to better understand the optics. Eight years later, he feels accomplished, and the cut in pay is not an issue. He feels more rewarded by making a difference in student’s lives. That is the priceless compensation in his career.
In his eight years, he has watched many students come through the clinic, he is always ready to help. “The whole reason for why I loved doing what I am is because I want the students to get something meaningful out of the experiences I share with them before they graduate and can use in their career,” he said. His other goal for the students is to help the doctors improve the education they are providing to the students. In his eight years, he feels he has accomplished this goal by teaching them things that cannot be found in textbooks and helping give students a foundation in optics. He also believes that having a solid working relationship with most of the faculty was important. Perhaps the most rewarding experience in Roger’s career at UMSL is watching students go from the first year to the fourth year, and how they grow, learn, and change into a clinician. His challenge is remembering the names of all the students– they all remember him. His nametag on his black optician’s jacket only reads, “Roger.” Perhaps we could add behind his first name, “Optician Instructor.”
One thing Roger never wants to let happen is for things to get boring; in fact, there are always things to learn. He has interest in seeing the country, traveling to the East coast, and visiting Virginia, where his ancestors started in the United States after coming from Scotland and England. Several years ago a professor from Mizzou reached out to all the Jesse’s in the campus email system to see if perhaps they were related—and it is likely they are related. Retirement will continue to be a learning experience for him.
You may not have noticed yet, but if you look around St. Louis and St. Charles counties, you will see some new billboards with none other than Roger on them. One weekend, he and his wife went around the area to look for the billboards. Now when he gets on the train to head into work, people say, “Wait, you are on the billboards…Can I have your autograph?” “Even Carol Daniels from KMOX radio in St. Louis knows who I am,” as he laughed and smiled.
He often runs into graduates, and they recognize him. But he admits, it is hard to remember everyone’s name, although he does remember faces.
While talking with Roger, we talked about his wife and son. He shared a story: he never proposed to his wife. After 10 years of dating, his wife told him to be at the church at this time, don’t be late, and show up at the barbershop to get a haircut. He was late to church and didn’t get his hair cut. He was late because, “my best man and I were at the motorcycle shop,” he said. Roger used to ride motorcycles all the time (he even bought his wife one), but she wasn’t as into it as he was. He traveled the country on a motorcycle back in the days and had some scary moments. He slid 350 feet on the pavement as he watched his bike sliding past him. “The human body and the pavement don’t make for a very comfortable experience.” These days he is beginning to slow down a bit. “I have put my body through hell, and now it is time to enjoy some time seeing the country and enjoying time with my wife.”
Roger doesn’t mind getting his hands dirty. He enjoys working on cars and motorcycles and doing construction projects around the house and for some of his family members. So some of that will still keep him busy. Most of all, he is ready to hitch the teardrop camper on the back of the car and head out to see the country with his wife and best friend. “After so long of being married you become so connected, and you become each other’s best friend and life companion, and I wouldn’t change that for the world,” he said. He is excited about the next chapter in his life.
Roger’s optical journey at UMSL is coming to a close, but one thing that lingers is that behind every face of every person is a story: a story waiting to be told and a story ready to be written. Roger will continue to write his story as he starts a new chapter in May.
Congratulations on your retirement!