Roger Hinesh had impact on many lives at MSU Texas and beyond

Change is an inside job

Roger Hinesh had impact on many lives at MSU Texas and beyond

A man who became a well-known face and voice to generations of Wichitans died on January 1, 2021.

Roger Hinesh, 82, died at Hospice of Wichita Falls after a short illness.

His was a story of ups and downs. He danced in movies, rubbed shoulders with Elvis Presley, descended into addiction, crime and prison – but eventually found a new life mission in Wichita Falls.

Roger was born in a Salvation Army shelter for unwed mothers in Omaha, Neb. in 1938. He grew up in an orphanage where he was adopted out for farm labor. He became a victim of sexual assault and eventually wound up at Father Flanagan’s Boys Town in Omaha. Some good years followed as he worked in the bakery and sang in the choir. He met a priest who nurtured his love of music. He had a natural talent for dancing and headed for Hollywood.

When he was just 19, he got a call to audition as a dancer in a movie. He was picked in 1957 to perform in “Jailhouse Rock” where Elvis nicknamed him “Rockin’ Roger.” It was a moniker that stuck the rest of his life.

But hard times followed. Roger began drinking with a rough crowd. He roamed and worked at odd jobs, even doing a stint as a “carny.” He joined the Navy – and got kicked out. In 1968, he headed for Mexico and a gig at the Olympics. He woke up in Wichita Falls, his first visit to the town that would eventually become his home. More drifting followed and Roger turned to crime, mostly petty stuff such as theft and burglary. His first prison sentence occurred in Nebraska.

Back in Wichita Falls, he was arrested for burglary and sent to the Walls prison unit in Huntsville. He was working in the hospital section July 24, 1974 when drug kingpin Fred Carrasco led other prisoners in taking hostages and laying a siege that lasted 11 days. In the end, two hostages, Carrasco and another prisoner were dead.

Roger saw the bodies. It was the turning point in his life.

He was paroled in September and sent to a halfway house in Wichita Falls. He began a crusade that would last the rest of his life – talking to anyone who would listen about the perils of addiction and crime.

“I am most proud of the many times I have spoken to students, inmates, parolees and addicts about making it and staying sober,” Roger said in a book he co-wrote in 2009 with Gary Goldberg and Emily LaBeff of MSU. “I have learned that change is an inside job.”

“There’s no telling how many lives he impacted trying to set people on the right track,” said Wichita County Tax Assessor-Collector Tommy Smyth, who first met Roger when the ex-inmate spoke to a criminal justice group. “He was a great speaker. He spoke with candor, but also had a sense of humor.”

Roger took a job in the maintenance department at Midwestern State University, working full-time for 12 years (1988-2000). He became a familiar face hawking concessions at MSU sporting events. But mostly he spoke of his life experiences, traveling to Omaha, Huntsville, the Allred Unit, schools and seminars, sometimes with help from friends and sometimes paying out of his own pocket.

“He spoke to probationers to let them know what was in store for them if they didn’t change their ways,” said Barry Macha, a former district attorney who is now General Counsel at MSU. “He dedicated the last half of his life to it. I really admired him.”

Roger continued his crusade until the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic curtailed his public speaking. A friend, businessman Reno Gustafson, emphasized that Roger did not have the virus, but rather a broken hip forced his hospitalization and final days at hospice. Gustafson said Roger’s funeral will be at Sacred Heart Catholic Church, but arrangements haven’t been finalized.

“We’re lucky to have people like Roger to leave a thumbprint. Wichita Falls is better to have had him. Roger Hinesh ends up being a success,” Smyth said.