Roger Lee Hayenga was a scholar. He was quick to teach, and sometimes quick to teach you to educate yourself. Many remember asking him a question and receiving the answer, “Look it up.” Not because he didn’t know, but because Roger wanted you to own your knowledge. He believed that knowledge was power; that power could get you anywhere you needed to go in life.
On July 1, 1947 Roger was born in Adrian, Minnesota. His father passed away of sudden cardiac arrest while Roger was still very young. While his mother eventually remarried and Roger found friendship with his new step-father, Roger still chose to move in with his oldest sister and her husband on their farm outside of Little Rock, Iowa.
In 1965, Roger graduated from Little Rock High School and attended Morningside College. It wasn’t a successful experience, and he moved back to his home area and worked until he was drafted to serve in the United States Army in the Vietnam War from January of 1968 until March of 1969 earning the Military Merit Award, Vietnam Medal, and Vietnam Service Medal. Roger was a hero. He was a hero to his family. And whether they initially accepted it or not, he was a hero to his country. Many Americans did not want our soldiers involved in the Vietnam War. Vietnam did not want our soldiers’ help. When they returned home, they were told to dress in civilian clothes and wear hats so that their G.I. haircuts didn’t give them away. Otherwise they could have been badly beaten or even shot by the Hanoi Jane (Fonda) crowd. Upon returning home, he was transitioned to the United States Army Reserves, during which time he attended Winona State University and earned a degree in political science as well as his teaching certification.
Roger briefly taught at Arnold’s Park High School before he met and married Deb Carlson on August 9, 1974. Devotion to country and desire to best provide for his growing family drew him back to the military, and in February of 1977, Roger reenlisted in the United States Army where he served on active duty for 21 years. Initially, Roger was a Recruiter, but quickly transitioned to reenlistment and retention (career counseling) where he could combine his talents as a teacher and his commitment to his country.
Roger and his family moved wherever the Army sent them; living in six different states, but spending nearly twelve years in Germany. They dearly loved traveling; experiencing new places and things. Roger took full advantage of the years they were stationed in Germany to explore his family’s roots, explore more than a dozen different countries and histories that intrigued him. A significant highlight for Roger in particular was an opportunity he had to chaperone a youth mission trip to Kenya, Africa.
During Roger’s United States Army career, prior to retiring in March of 1995, he had earned the Military Achievement Medal, National Defense Award, Good Conduct Medal, and Meritorious Service Awards.
After retiring from the Army, Roger and Deb originally settled in Spencer where he had the opportunity to touch the lives of area youth as the Director of the Upward Bound Program at Iowa Lakes Community College.
After 7 years, Roger felt a calling back to serving his country by serving his fellow veterans and accepted a job with Iowa Workforce Development/Veteran Affairs. He served there another 7 years before retiring completely, or as one granddaughter commented, “recovered”.
For 8 years of his retirement, Roger drove the van for Veterans Affairs of Spencer and Spirit Lake to and from Sioux Falls.
Nothing was more import to Roger than family. He was supportive of each of his four children. However, nothing put a twinkle in his eye quite like becoming a Bumpa.
Eventually, Parkinson’s Disease caused by Agent Orange damaged his body, but to the end, nothing could damage his spirit.
On October 16, 2017, Roger Hayenga fought his final battle and passed away at the Spencer Hospital. Despite the joys and struggles of Roger’s life in this world, his family is content in knowing that his faith has carried him into the loving arms of his heavenly Father; whom he sought above all else.
Roger Hayenga of Arnolds Park, Iowa passed away Monday, October 16 at the Spencer Hospital. Family and Friends will celebrate his life on Sunday, October 22 from 2-5 at the Town and Country Hall in his hometown of Little Rock, Iowa. Roger was a retired U.S. Army Master Sargeant and decorated Vietnam Veteran and graduate of Little Rock High School.
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