Lee Chadwick Rogers of Glen Ellen mostly kept to himself, but those who knew him described him as a big, physically active man who loved nature and working on his 40-acre property on Cavedale Road overlooking Sonoma Valley.
And he died trying to protect the place he cherished most. Rogers, known as Chad, 72, first settled at 2980 Cavedale Road about 43 years ago. He died Oct. 12 in his house there, which was consumed by the Nuns fire that swept through the valley. His remains were identified through dental records.
His wife of 39 years, Lillian Jane Rogers, who declined to be interviewed, evacuated the morning of Oct. 11 with fires visible in the nearby hills. He remained.
“Chad wanted to stay with the property and thought that the clear cut around the houses would keep them safe,” said Neil Simmons, who had rented and lived in a cottage near the main house on the Rogers property for the past five years.
“I told Chad numerous times, ‘We gotta go,’ and he just said, ‘I’m not going.” He was a stubborn old man, and he was a big guy. I couldn’t move him.” Simmons said. “After his house was burning, with me trying to get him to come to my car, he ran back into the house for reasons unknown, and perished in the fire at approximately 4 a.m.”
Chad and Jane Rogers had no children, and he had no relatives in the area. Several neighbors in the hilly, wooded area recalled seeing Rogers only occasionally, as he drove up or down the road to or from his house.
He didn’t talk in much detail about his early life, Simmons said.
“He was in the Army in Vietnam, working as a clerk, bookkeeper, troop support, etc. After Vietnam, he worked in the construction industry. In the ’70s, he spent much time with Marin musicians,” Simmons said.
The Lodge at Sonoma confirmed that Rogers worked there as a night bellman from December 2003 through May 2006.
“Chad loved it up at his place,” said Steve Ledson, the Sonoma Valley developer and fifth-generation winemaker. “He didn’t leave there much. He was kind of a mountain guy.”
Ledson first got to know Rogers in 2012, after the developer bought vineyards next to the Rogers’ property.
“Chad liked being outside, cutting wood on the property, enjoying his life and smelling the fresh air. I’d see him around his place, clearing brush,” Ledson said.
“He was a tall guy, trim and in shape,” he said. “He had a presence, but until you got to know him a little bit, he’d keep his distance. He was calm and easy-going, a nice guy.”
The Press Democrat remembers the 40 lives lost in the North Bay fires. Click here for more of the stories.