WATERTOWN — Labor Day weekend of 1993 is still fresh in Joseph Rich’s memory and his thoughts relating to that date were refreshed when he learned of the March 20 death of Kenny Rogers.
Mr. Rogers performed in the area twice as benefits for the Disabled Persons Action Organization : two shows on Sept. 5 1993 at the Bonnie Castle Recreation Center and one show in May of 2016 at the Watertown Fairgrounds Arena during his “The Gambler’s Last Deal” farewell tour.
But Mr. Rich, now president of the DPAO Foundation and its former executive director, said the Alexandria Bay concerts by Mr. Rogers were among the most memorable shows the agency has ever hosted.
“From where the (Bonnie Castle)stables were located, you could see the Thousand Islands bridge,” Mr. Rich said. “You should have seen the cars coming over. we had 3,500 people for each of the shows, 7,000 all together. It was one of our biggest shows we’ve ever had.”
Other still recall the concerts as well, Mr. Rich said. “Everybody’s got their own little stories about him — “I saw him out to breakfast at a local restaurant’ — I still hear those to this day.”
Mr. Rich said that Mr. Rogers was a gentleman throughout his stay and was easy to talk to.
“He wanted to know if he could be of any help, if he could mention the agency — how many adults and children we were serving in the north country. He spoke to anybody who was backstage.”
Mr. Rogers, an accomplished photographer, thought the Thousand Islands region was gorgeous, Mr. Rich said. Hotels and resorts in the area did two night minimum stays related to the concerts and they were packed.
“At one of the shows, he was giving money out for people who could name five of his biggest hits,” Mr. Rich said. “He’d give them a ten-dollar bill. I don’t know how much money he gave out, but it seemed like a lot.”
Mr. Rogers, 81, died at his home in Sandy Springs, Ga. His hits included “Lucille,” “Lady” and “Islands in the Stream.” A superstar in the 1970s and ’80s, he won three Grammys and starred in movies based on “The Gambler.” He was the recipient of the CMA’s Willie Nelson Lifetime Achievement Award in 2013 and was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame that year.
In 2014, he received an honorary master of photography degree from the Professional Photographers of America. In 2016, he told the Watertown Daily Times, “Someone once said, ‘You’re a great photographer,’” Mr. Rogers said. “I said, ‘I’m not a great photographer. I go to great places.’”