“You stand on the shoulders of those who came before you.” It’s something college student Kelsey Jennings Roggensack recalls hearing her “mom’s mom” say, and a sentiment that continues to guide her each day.
Kelsey’s mom, Colleen Jennings-Roggensack, celebrates her 20th anniversary as executive director for ASU Gammage in Tempe this month. It’s one of the nation’s largest performing arts venues located on a university campus, so broad shoulders at home and work are a must.
But Jennings-Roggensack’s reach extends far beyond ASU Gammage, thanks to several of its programs designed to connect communities. Journey Home brings the arts to incarcerated women. Kaleidescope presents live theater to underserved youth. School to Work introduces high school students to diverse careers in the arts. Jennings-Roggensack learned early on the importance of making connections while growing up in a military family that was frequently on the move.
Daughter Kelsey grew up with ASU Gammage, often attending touring Broadway productions and other performances in the building designed by famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Her father, Kurt Roggensack, is a volcanologist and faculty research associate at ASU.
“I always felt my parents were very present,” she says. “They showed me I can have a family and a career.” Kelsey is a three-time All American swimmer and arts enthusiast who has yet to choose a career path. She’s majoring in history, with an emphasis on American race relations, at Williams College in Massachusetts. “History,” she says, “is the story of humanity.”
When Kelsey was 16, Jennings-Roggensack took her to New York City during spring break. “We saw nine shows in a week,” recalls Kelsey. Jennings-Roggensack, formerly a dancer and choreographer, often travels to scout shows for Arizona audiences and to fulfill her duties as Arizona’s only Tony Awards voter. Kelsey has many years of ballet training in the Vaganova method, and played both piano and acoustic bass while attending Arizona School for the Arts in Phoenix.
As I chatted with mother and daughter one afternoon last spring, their similarities were striking. Both are graceful, lovely and well-spoken. I asked each to give me three words to describe the other, and Jennings-Roggensack led with “smart, fearless and cultured.” Kelsey chose “confident, strong-willed and good-hearted” to describe her mother.
Kelsey praises her mom for bringing greater diversity to the Arizona arts scene, but admits she’ll likely settle somewhere else after graduating next year.
“I admire my mom’s work a lot,” says Kelsey, “but I take a lot of pride in finding my own pathway.” Seems it’s time for the next generation of broad shoulders to help forge connections in other communities.