Greene remembers nature lover

Greene County tragically lost one of its own earlier this month when 22-year-old Forest Wayne Rogers died in an early-morning car accident near Dyke.

Rogers, of Dyke, was killed in a two-vehicle accident near the intersection of Plunkett and Simmons Gap roads on Wednesday, Dec. 11, leaving behind parents Greta Fleming-McCauley and Karen McCauley, and sisters, Emily, 18, and Kaitlyn, 19.

The investigation into what caused the accident is ongoing, according to the Albemarle County Police Department.

Grieving mother Greta Fleming-McCauley remembered Rogers’ love of books.

“He was a huge reader. I think it was his way of escaping,” she said. “He had this thing when he would read books where his right hand would be on the next page; his fingertips would be holding the next page, and he would just sit there and rub the page while he read. I don’t know if he realized he did it or not, but I always thought it was the cutest thing ever.”

While most teens can be found on their phones, it was books that held Rogers’ heart.

“You never really saw Forest on his phone unless he was taking a call or looking up a song to listen to. He drowned himself in books, always … I always loved that about him,” Fleming-McCauley said last week. “His whole room is full, and I mean full, of books. Every shelf, every cupboard, trunks, under his bed, it’s just stacks and stacks of books. I picked one up today and it’s just so worn out, he would just read it over and over again in between finding new books.”

Rogers also loved to visit local antique stores.

“He’d run for the records and the books first, because he loved old records and he loved the smell of old books and whenever he could find an old book that he liked he would buy it,” said Fleming-McCauley.

When he wasn’t busy reading, Rogers spent a lot of time outdoors with his dog and even ventured down the Appalachian Trail.

“The first time he set out on the Appalachian Trail, he was determined he was going to do the whole thing,” Fleming-McCauley recalled. “But of course, the Appalachian Trail has a tendency to get the better of you. And he was out there alone, and of course I was scared to death, him being out there by himself, but he loved it.”

“He loved the Appalachian Mountains,” said Cherylann McCauley, another family member. “One of the first times I met Forest he was talking about his excursion on the Appalachian Trail that took a couple months and all the people he met on the way. He talked about how beautiful the trees, streams and waterfalls were.”

“He was drawn to water—it didn’t matter if it was a river, lake, stream or the ocean,” explained Fleming-McCauley. “He always looked forward to our visits (to the beach) where he would explore the unpopular areas for driftwood or sea glass; one time he found a cluster of amber.”

Cherylann McCauley said Rogers was “at every beach vacation we went on the past couple of summers. He loved the waves of the ocean and making memories with his family. Although quiet and reserved most of the time, he had a kind and gentle heart. He will be greatly missed by his entire family.”

Rogers had quite a passion for photography, and took pictures on his many adventures on the Appalachian Trail.

“I just think everything caught his eye, and I think photography was just the way he felt he could capture beauty the best,” Fleming-McCauley said. “He wasn’t a man who would sit and talk about how beautiful things were, but he could sit and look at things he had seen and show me, mom look at this. It was just his way of expressing things he found beautiful; the way he saw the world.”

His mom recalled that Rogers’ favorite days were rainy, foggy and overcast. On such a day when he would say it was perfect and his mom would protest that it was gloomy or dreary, he would always respond with “Mom, you’re not looking hard enough. Look! These are the beautiful days, to me.”

“The days everyone else found ugly, he found beautiful,” Fleming-McCauley said.

Although he didn’t share his photographs with many, he had hoped to one day get up the courage to ask one of his favorite local coffee shops whether they might let him display some of his pictures.

Rogers attended William Monroe High School until 2016, during which time he played football and competed on the wrestling team. Varsity football coach Jon Rocha remembers Rogers from his time with the team.

“I always remember Forest as a driven young man,” Rocha said. “We had many conversations about what he accomplished in football that would help him in life. We spoke about his determination to be in shape and how quickly he grew as a player and gained playing time. He knew what it would take to accomplish a goal, and he did not shy away from the challenge.”

“Poor Forest, he was horrible at football,” Fleming-McCauley laughed. “I don’t think he ever got to play that much on the field. But he never gave up. I think he just really loved the camaraderie.”

Physical Education teacher and wrestling coach Michael Sizemore said he had a special bond with Rogers, and first noticed him in middle school when he indicated an interest in wrestling.

“Forest started out more of a (team) manager,” Sizemore said. “I had to ask the coach who is that big stallion mopping those mats, because he was a big fella back in the day.” Sizemore couldn’t wait to get Rogers on the wrestling team and in football, too.

“He was just a good person,” said Sizemore of their friendship. “There would be times when he would come and we would talk and it might be something where he would be able to make me smile and I’d be able to make him smile … it was always a good feeling as a teacher and a coach when you can have a relationship with a student like that.”

While Rogers wasn’t the most popular student, the friends he did have were fiercely loyal. “At the end of the day, when you have friends, that’s where it’s at,” said Sizemore.

“I used to call him Ferocious,” Sizemore said. “I used to have nicknames for everybody and his nickname was Ferocious; it was a [joke] because he was not. He was kind of like a gentle giant, but he got a kick out of it. And he would always give me that big old grin.”

Wesley Wright, a childhood friend, knew Rogers for more than 10 years.

“I moved to Virginia with my mom when I was in third grade,” Wright said. “About halfway through my third-grade year, my sister became friends with this girl and she had a brother and that’s where I met Forest.”

Wright and Rogers really enjoyed playing videogames together.

“It’s what we did all the way up until today; we still played every day,” said Wright.

Wright said he’d miss Rogers’ laugh and smile.

“I loved his smile,” he said. “Forest always wanted the best for us, even if that meant him going without. He cared for everyone and loved everyone and there will never be another person like him.”

“Forest has been my best friend for the better part of a decade,” said Troy Glynn, who currently lives in California. “I moved from California at the end of third grade. We met on the bus and it was an instant friendship. He was the first kid in Greene County that would accept me as a person.”

“I remember walking over to his little brown cabin in the woods to see if we could hang out,” Glynn continued. “It was an instant friendship. If we weren’t sitting in his room playing games like Halo, we were outside a lot. We would climb trees; he taught me how to use airsoft guns and from running in the woods to the stockades in Williamsburg to Easter eggs in the woods and our trip on the U.S.S. New York tiger cruise … over the years he became like a brother to me.”

In early 2019, Rogers got a job at a local cabin rental service called The Getaway, which rents tiny cabins in the woods to folks looking to unplug and unwind from their busy lives. Each cabin features a phone locker to lock up cell phones so guests can connect with loved ones and enjoy time in nature. It was a natural fit for his love of the outdoors, as his manager Benjamin Williamson recalled.

“Forest was a really good kid; I’ll say that right off the bat,” Williamson said. “He liked working the night shift; he quickly filled that position, so he actually made it possible for me to be able to spend time with my kids in the evening.”

While Rogers was initially hired in a maintenance position, he proved himself capable with guest hospitality and was promoted to Hospitality Coordinator.

“I essentially just adopted him right away. I live at work and the office and laundry and all that is in the basement so we spent a lot of time together … we quickly became friends,” Williamson said. “The kids loved him to pieces, you know; we would make him dinner and bring it down to him. As a supervisor or manager, you’re not supposed to make friends with your employees, but I [failed] at that. He was more like part of the family. We’re going to be really hard pressed to fill those shoes.”

While at work, Rogers often kept a campfire going in order to spend more time outdoors.

“He was definitely a free spirit; he would rather work outside than anywhere else, so we made sure to spend a lot of time by the fire pit instead of in the office,” Williamson said.

Williamson said Rogers was “pretty much one of the most humble people you could ever meet; he never hesitated to say thank you for any little thing. We’re all going to miss him a great deal here, that’s for sure.”

In addition to his photography, Rogers apparently had a bit of interest in poetry.

“I was trying to convince him to come with me one night,” Williamson said. “I was going to drag him to an open mic night and make him read out loud … we never quite got that far.”

“I think he really saw Ben as a big brother figure,” Fleming-McCauley said. “He always had so many good things to say about him. I think he just found a kindred spirit in Ben, which was special to me because Forest didn’t open up to a whole lot of people like that.”

Rogers loved connecting with Getaway guests and learning where they came from. He also had a passion for working on the trails surrounding the cabin.

“It’s not very often I get extra hours or funding to put toward working on the walking trails,” Williamson said. “We had a lot of fun turning trees into bridges and lining the walkway with rocks; finding things that people should see and making sure the trails followed a meandering path to the giant tree that people have been carving their name on for 20 years. He had a real passion for the outdoors and just being as free as the critters that run around outside.”

Williamson said he plans to name the walking trails after Rogers in remembrance of how much he enjoyed working to maintain them for the guests.

When it comes to the accident, Fleming-McCauley said she wants to sincerely thank the first responders who assisted at the scene.

“I would like to let the driver of the other vehicle—I don’t know who he is—I would like him to know that I’m praying for him,” she said. “I’m really sorry that he had to go through that and had to see my son—can you imagine? Having to witness that … I’m so grateful that he wasn’t injured badly and I’m sorry he had to endure this; we’re thinking about him, as a family.”

The family held a celebration of Rogers’ life at Lydia Mountain Pavilion on Saturday, Dec. 21 where friends could share memories and view some of Rogers’ photography.

“He was an old soul, very beyond his years. He just found life in everything, everyone. He was such a special young man,” his mother said.

Forest Rogers, 22, of Dyke, killed in crash in Albemarle Dec. 11

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