Queens Centers for Progress announced its founder Natalie Katz Rogers died peacefully in her Florida home on May 7 at the age of 103. Despite her age, she continued to be a champion for children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities and a role model and mentor for those who worked with her through the years.
“How do you explain a woman who changed the lives of so many families, as she did mine?” said Margaret MacPherson, QCP president, board of directors. “This one person truly made a difference and unselfishly advocated for those who needed her strong voice. She is the reason Queens Centers for Progress exists. It was a privilege to have known her and she will be missed by all who knew and loved her.”
Queens Centers for Progress was founded in 1950 when Katz Rogers and other Queens parents began advocating for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and laid the groundwork for the Cerebral Palsy Association of New York State. Construction began on the organization’s first dedicated building at 82-25 164th St. in Hillcrest, which would offer therapy and educational programs for children with cerebral palsy. As the children grew, they began offering vocational services, including facility-based training workshops. As the deinstitutionalization movement grew in the early 1970s so did the scope of her organization.
QCP’s Natalie Katz Rogers Training and Treatment Center at 81-15 164th St. was built in 1974 followed by the opening of the Robert T. Groh Residence in Jamaica Estates in 1979.
Currently, QCP provides programs and services assisting more than 1,200 individuals to promote independence, community involvement and quality of life.
Her bright smile and sense of humor were fixtures at the CP State Annual Conference for many years, where she orchestrated musical numbers, recited original poetry, and lit up the room whenever she entered, according to CP State President and CEO Mike Alvaro.
“Natalie was an extraordinary person who stretched to the role of board member and shaped the disability field since the 1950s with her leadership,” Alvaro said. “The amount of energy, advocacy, and passion she packed into 103 years would be enough for several lifetimes. Her lifelong commitment has benefited generations of people with disabilities and their families and the world is certainly a better place because of her.”
Tens of thousands of individuals have gained independence, learned crucial life skills, and found jobs in their communities thanks to the groundwork she laid over the years. She was a founding member of the Cunningham Women’s League for Handicapped Children becoming its president while running a commercial real estate brokerage with her husband, wrote and produced amateur musical productions, and worked as a campaign manager, all while raising three daughters while maintaining a golf score in the low 90s.
Jack M. Weinstein, former president of the board of QCP, remembered Katz Rogers as a great politician.
“We were at a national CP meeting to elect the northeast vice president. Natalie said to me ‘I am going to nominate you. The current vice president has held the office for many years, and you won’t win, but I’ll get people to know you so maybe you win next time,’” Weinstein said. “She nominated me and spoke to the attendees. I promptly forgot about it and later the executive director came over and said, ‘Congratulations, you won.’ He said not only did I win, but I received 100% of the vote, including my predecessor’s organization.”
Weinstein thought of another moment with respect to her sharp mind.
“We were at a meeting and had to do some complex calculations,” he said. “I pulled out a pocket calculator and Natalie pulled out her slide rule and completed the calculations before me.”
A celebration of her remarkable life will be held next month. In addition to her work with the Queens Centers for Progress, Katz Rogers was an aerodynamic engineer for TWA during World War II and she served as Mayor of the Village of Ocean Beach on Fire Island from 1998 to 2006.
“She was a rare, extraordinary person, and anyone fortunate enough to know her is thankful for her sharing her wit, drive, and no-nonsense approach to getting things done,” Alvaro said. “But we’re also saddened because there’s no doubt there will never be anyone else like her.”