By Christopher Gillett
Since being elected Florida governor in 2018, Ron DeSantis has become one of the most controversial and influential politicians in America. In May, DeSantis announced his run as a Republican candidate in the 2024 presidential election.
Despite being born in Florida, DeSantis’ family is from Northeast Ohio and Western Pennsylvania and has ties to Youngstown State University.
Philip Rogers, Ron DeSantis’ maternal grandfather, played a prominent role in local Republican politics, serving as the director of the Mahoning County Board of Elections and assistant to the Ohio secretary of state during the 1960s.
He attended Youngstown University — which became a state university in 1967 — and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in 1965.
After obtaining a master’s degree from Kent State University, Philip briefly taught political science courses at YSU from 1968 to 1969.
Philip was then appointed assistant to the vice president of Financial Affairs at YSU in 1969.
William Binning, former chair of the Political Science Department who began at YSU in 1970, was friends with Philip and worked with him at YSU, as well as in local Republican politics.
Binning said Philip was often invited as a guest lecturer at YSU for political science classes throughout his tenure, because of his political experience.
“He had a sterling reputation for the conduct of elections in the Valley and saw that they were conducted fairly and accurately,” Binning said. “He would speak to classes on the conduct of elections … the way they are organized and conducted in Ohio.”
During his time in YSU’s administration, Philip often represented the university at the state capitol. Binning said Philip felt uninfluential compared to wealthier political opponents.
“He said that ‘The currency in Columbus was money,’ and he was just down there to speak for YSU. He wasn’t a big donor and he wasn’t like an interest group that could give a lot of money. So, he was not happy with the degree of influence that he had when he did government relations,” Binning said.
Philip was also an advisor to Theta Xi, a fraternity no longer operating at YSU. Among its members during the late 1960s and early 1970s was Ron DeSantis Sr., father of the governor.
Ron Sr. and Karen Rogers, Philip’s daughter, met and later married. Ron Sr. studied business administration at YSU while Karen attended the St. Elizabeth School of Nursing, which is no longer operating.
Cassie Nespor, curator of the Rose Melnick Medical Museum, said members of nursing schools like St. Elizabeth likely took some required classes at universities such as YSU.
“[Students] would take classes at the hospital, but then they might also take some classes at a local university,” Nespor said. “Especially science classes that required laboratory equipment, but also maybe some general ed classes like psychology or some social studies classes.”
After Karen graduated in 1969 and Ron Sr. graduated in 1970 with a bachelor’s degree, they moved to Florida.
Philip was the last assistant to the director of Campus Development from 1975 to 1976, and in 1976 was made the director of Classified Civil Service Personnel, overseeing non-faculty university staff.
During his time as director in spring 1977, the classified employees voted to unionize.
While some classified employees were union members, another election decided which of three different unions — the Ohio Civil Service Employees Association, the Communication Workers of America or the Service Employees International Union Local 627 — represented them.
When the SEIU filed an injunction to challenge how the election would be conducted, Philip went to court to assist in negotiations for YSU.
After the election ended April 21, 1977 with an OCSEA win, Philip commented to The Jambar, “I’m tired.”
Philip retired from YSU in 1982, as the director of Employee Relations and a safety officer. He died in December 1997.
YSU historical documents can be found at University Archives and Special Collections on the fifth floor of the William F. Maag Jr. Library, or on its website. The Melnick Medical Museum is located in Cushwa Hall’s basement.