By Frank and Kay Whatley
He has ensured folks had enough gas to get to work. He has given jobs to people who needed them. He has boosted his neighbors up and lent a helping hand more times than could be counted. Yet he is a humble local business owner who would never talk about what he has done, any more than he would stop doing them.
Meet Burnette Rogers of Bunn NC. Mr. Rogers has run East River Road Auto since the 1970s, ran a grill and store on Sledge Road, pumped gas, sold insurance, and worked hard to provide for his family, wife Christine and his children. A grandfather now, Mr. Rogers continues running his small business in Bunn, not far from the farm where he grew up.
As a young boy, Burnette worked with his father on their farm, sometimes driving a mule for days to break up acres for growing. It wasn’t unheard of for him to plow 40 acres and work from sunrise to sunset.
In 1967, Burnette joined the US Marines and was deployed to Vietnam. He spent over a year in country. Shot during a fire fight, Burnette spent several months where he was unaware of his surroundings, until one day he “woke up” and found himself in the hospital with his parents. He didn’t at first understand why his parents were with him. It was explained to him that he had been wounded and flown back to the US for treatment. The hospital staff told Burnette he had been shot through the jaw several months before, and still had a long recovery ahead. He spent over a year total in the hospital.
When he was released from the hospital, and the service, he returned to Bunn. Mr. Rogers had a little money saved and bought the small store on Sledge Road outside of town. He opened a grill and gas station for years, living in a trailer on the edge of the property with his wife, former high school sweetheart Christine.
When business was slow, Mr. Rogers says he threw onions on the grill, turned on the fans, and people followed their noses right to the store! Adding pinball machines and billiard tables, plus selling groceries, helped the grill to become a kind of convenience mart and rec center combination for local residents to congregate.
Burnette used to have a book showing where he extended credit to folks having a tough time. He helped hundreds over the years by providing gas, bread, and other items they needed to make their lives a little easier. He didn’t worry about whether their credit was good; he just extended it, wrote it down, and sometimes collected. He made a difference to folks in Bunn for decades, and continues to help others as he sees the need through today.