Bertha Lean (nee McLean) Rodgers was born in Clio, South Carolina on November 7, 1945 to James and Adell McLean. She found rest in her Father’s heavenly arms during the early morning of June 22, 2020.
A country girl at heart, Bert embodied all the charm and warmth of her southern roots. She spent her early years living with her sharecropping grandparents in Dillon, South Carolina. While still in middle school, she joined the Great Migration north and settled with her parents and two sisters in Jersey City, New Jersey, where she spent the next 40+ years before relocating to Somerset, NJ.
Bert’s early days up north began in downtown Jersey City by attending PS #3 and James J. Ferris High School. Once she moved “on the hill,” she joined New Hope Baptist Church, where she met one of the church’s family dynasties, The Rodgers Clan, and among them, her soon-to-be husband and lifelong partner, Kenneth. The couple met at choir rehearsal in 1964 and by 1966, they were married and starting to create their own family dynasty.
Over the next 54 years, Bert and Kent built a life of love and happiness centered on their three children – Carlton Clay, Cheryl Anne and Alicia Rene. As her children grew, Bert’s warmth, sense of humor and genuine goodness made their Dwight Street home the spot for late night hangouts with friends and family. For years, her children – and the extended circle of young people, including two of her nieces Stacey and Adrienne, who she treated like her own – were the center of Bert’s universe. That is, until she became a grandmother.
Every one of her 11 grandchildren brought her a new joy. Affectionately known as Grandma B, Bert had an incredible talent for making each grand feel like the most special young person on earth. She created unique bonds and mini moments with each of them, like watching The Golden Girls, sneaking late night ice cream treats, or the way she listened to every grand’s windy story with genuine interest and focused attention. Her grandchildren made her proud, and spending time with them was always her first and best option for any evening or weekend. Any one of them was sure to elicit Bert’s signature beautifully wide and infectious smile every time she was in their presence.
When she wasn’t loving up on her grands, you were guaranteed to find Bert enjoying her other favorite pastime: SPORTS!! For years, Bert’s absolute favorite team was whichever one her kids – and eventually her grandkids – played on. She rarely missed a game whether grammar school, high school or college. (Yes, she was THAT momma for sure!) Once her kids “outgrew their athletic potential,” Bert turned to hosting soul food NFL Sundays with her entire family for daylong marathons of professional football, especially the NY Giants. In the winter months, she was always down for an NBA, WNBA or NCAA game, and her heart was always with her honorary alma mater, Rutgers University (RU Rah Rah!!).
While she loved the thrill of the game, she also believed strongly in the life lessons that came along with sports – teamwork, strong character, rules to guide your actions, learning to win (or lose) with grace and how to get up and do it all again, and most of all, hard work.
Bert anchored her life on the values of dignity, working hard and a job well done. She believed there were rarely shortcuts in life and was never one to shy away from putting in the time to get results. She started her working career immediately after high school, clerking at Corporation Trust in Manhattan, and Dixon Mills in Jersey City, before heading to Sea Land/Puerto Rican Marine Management in Port Newark. Overnights and weekends, two or three jobs at a time, Bert was never without employment -- or at least a side hustle. And, she did that while attending every game and school play or program, chaperoning most school trips or volunteering in the school cafeteria while her kids were in grade and high schools. Even once she retired in the early 2000s, she would still take on odd consulting jobs to keep herself busy, or to earn extra money.
Those extra coins were important because Bert was SUPER FRUGAL! While she didn’t cut corners on personal performance, she had a different yardstick for luxuries and the “fancy.” She hated shopping and when she was forced to go (usually at her daughters’ requests), she grabbed the least fussy, least expensive item she could get away with before heading back to the car! If you visited her house in the 80s, you know she was no stranger to white-labeled “no frills” for everything from canned foods to potato chips. But, don’t let the lack of name brand fool you! Like everything truly “Bert,” she didn’t measure her worth by external labels. For her, quality and excellence were measured by the love and resilience baked into every situation, not someone else’s validation.
Bert was never too busy to find time for her Christian experience, which started at New Hope in Jersey City, where she was an active member in several ministries including the young adult choir. Once she moved to Somerset, Community Baptist Church became her church home. She became active in the children’s ministry working with the church’s youngest parishioners. In 2010, Bert joined Bible Study Fellowship to complement her learning from Community Baptist and expand her biblical knowledge and understanding.
Though she worked hard, Bert liked to play hard too. She enjoyed traveling and took excursions to Canada, Jamaica, and the southern Caribbean, as well as Puerto Rico, Vegas, Texas, DC and regular trips “back home” to South Carolina to enjoy the annual Minnon Picnic. She loved the DMV area, especially the Baltimore Harbor for crabs, and a recent trip to the National Museum of African American History and Culture with several of her grandchildren.
Bert lived simply. She was a homebody who would almost always choose a cold beer, a good movie, or hugs from her grandkids over large crowds or expensive restaurants. She was humble, private, proud, caring and funny with a heart of gold. Bert believed in the value of a good education that “nobody could ever take from you.” And while she was always guided by strong integrity, in her later years, her sense of what’s right led her to continue fighting for the underdog through advocacy and quiet activism. She donated to causes she believed in and wrote letters advocating for those she felt had been mistreated (she’s watching you, NCAA!). Bert was typically mild mannered and light-hearted, but her “fuss button” could be triggered by any signs of disrespect or sassiness. And, the slightest mention of “45” (or anything anti-Obama) would get it too!
Bert brightened the lives of everyone who was fortunate enough to know her. Even in the early days of her illness, she was still making jokes and lighting up the room with a smile that came from deep inside to light her eyes and spread into every part of her. Even as her illness started to become more difficult, her eyes would still light the room, especially when she heard a Whitney Houston song on the radio.
Bert’s greatest joy in life was to see others laugh and smile. Although that’s difficult to do right now, we know that it would make her soul happy just to know that somehow ... someway ... she touched your heart in a way that just makes you smile.
Bert is survived by her husband, Kenneth Rodgers; her children: Carlton Clay Rodgers (Gail); Cheryl Anne Spruill (Andrew); Alicia Rene Alston (Marshall), and her two daughter-like nieces, Stacey Rodgers-Crooms (Dwight) and Adrienne Denise Jackson (Vince); grandchildren: Courtney Rodgers, Lauren Wilkins, Justin Henry, Ashleigh Rodgers, Terrell Spruill, Alexis Rodgers, Christopher Rodgers, Devynn Alston, Alexandria Bannister and Dylon Alston; one great-grandson, Massai Walton; her sister, Ernestine Richardson Heyward (Joe); sisters-in-law: Ida Rodgers, Paulette Robbins (Charles), Susan Newkirk (Norwood), and Doreen Rodgers-DuBose (Andre); brothers-in-law: Charles Kinloch, David Rodgers (Linda), Milton Rodgers; and a host of nieces, nephews, family and friends to cherish her memory. She was predeceased by her parents, James and Adell McLean; grandson, Travis Jordan “TJ” Henry; sister, Luedella Kinloch; sisters-in-law, Mildred Burroughs and Lizzette Rodgers; and brother-in-law, Willie Rodgers, Jr. (Alicia).
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