Impeccably dressed, Janessa Rogerson greets her guest with an apology for the “mess” in her home, the on-campus UA Little Rock chancellor’s residence she shares with her husband, university Chancellor Andrew Rogerson.
She has just made an early afternoon run to the grocery store, and the only apparent mess in the tastefully decorated, sprawling one-story is a lone bag of groceries she hasn’t had time to put away.
Like the uber hostess she is, Rogerson provides a guided tour, pointing out a pair of paintings depicting scenes from her beloved Sonoma, California, and stepping outside to show off the chancellor’s residence garden she constructed, literally, from the ground up. Taking a seat in the well-lighted living room, she reflects on her days entertaining and managing client relations in the California wine and arts industries.
“You couldn’t have had a better training program to be a chancellor’s wife than what I’ve done,” Rogerson says, acknowledging the wealth of social happenings she has thrown for friends, faculty and university benefactors.
For Rogerson, a successful event — a full-blown dinner party, reception or intimate cocktail hour — is not about food, though that is important. It’s not about wine, though that’s important, too. And it’s not about decorating, though, yes, that also matters.
In Rogerson’s philosophy, a top-notch function is a synthesis of all those elements. It means making a house a home and curating space in a way that blends passion with purpose.
“The biggest gift any hostess can have for the guests is to love doing it,” she says.
Rogerson’s mother is from Arkansas and she has relatives scattered around the central part of the state, but she wound up in California thanks to the travels of her Air Force father. Rogerson soon found the Napa Valley Wine Country to be her kind of place.
“A lot of people go to Napa and they see different things,” Rogerson says. “I saw truth and beauty.”
Janessa and Andrew, born and raised in Glasgow, Scotland, have been at UA Little Rock since he became chancellor in 2016. The two were married in 2015, creating a blended family of two daughters and two sons and capping a courtship that began, fittingly enough, when Andrew stopped for a glass at Joseph Phelps Vineyards in Freestone, California.
At the time, Janessa was handling tastings and client relations and Andrew was provost at her alma mater, Sonoma State University. He emailed the next day requesting a continuation of his wine education.
Her portfolio includes public relations and marketing at Spring Mountain Vineyard and the concierge position at Maisonry Napa Valley, an artisan winery where every room was a curated space.
She honed her entertainment and outreach skills when asked to help the struggling Green Music Center at her alma mater. Creating the job as she went along, she used her contacts to tap into “wine money” starting a successful wine program, forging strategic business relationships, chasing grants, drawing performers and planning parties.
“When we left to come here, I was exhausted,” she says.
After serving as provost, a job that focuses primarily on the academic side, Andrew had been seeking a chancellor’s position at a metropolitan university with a strong community partnership, which he found at UA Little Rock. With the new job came politics, community relations and the accompanying faculty receptions, dinners and cocktail parties.
In their first year, Janessa was throwing two or three events a week and praised her husband, admittedly less social than she, for his teamwork.
“All I did was try to love people up,” she says of her role as university “First Lady.”
Her efforts — with help from Andrew and campus support staff and leadership — included rolling up her sleeves to construct the garden, budgeting, removing old plants and putting up pillars donated by Nabholz Construction.
Rogerson’s inspiration was the stately Southern homes she has seen around Arkansas, while the garden itself was an extension of her love for living spaces.
“Beautiful homes come alive and are enhanced with landscaping that reflects one’s perspective, principles and life aesthetic,” says Rogerson, a Pulaski County Master Gardener. “When I decided to create a chancellor’s residence garden, my intention was to create beauty, create a legacy for the property as the current First Lady, and to make the residence reflect a sensibility of welcome, love and care.”
As the conversation winds down and an afternoon thunderstorm picks up, Andrew slips in through the patio door. The discussion shifts to chancellor-style concerns; specifically, will the Rogersons make it to the day’s scheduled Trojans baseball game or will the rain intercede?
With the weather outlook doubtful, they defer the decision and open a bottle of Janessa’s chosen, house red.
It is time to relax and entertain.
Hosting Tips From UA Little Rock’s First Lady Janessa Rogerson
Ask questions: Who is coming? How many? Are guests vegan or gluten-free?
Crowd control: If you have control over the guest list and want to get to know people, the ideal dinner party number is six.
Food and drink: If you’re a farm-to-table enthusiast like Rogerson, find out what’s in season. Follow a budget. Find a go-to wine that’s affordable and accessible to trained and untrained palates. (She recommends anything from Sonoma County label Joel Gott, all under $20 a bottle.)
Time management: Your menu may require you to hit several different markets. Don’t wait until the day of the party to shop.
Get help: Job, kids, career and a party in one day can be too much. If you need an extra pair of hands, hire or enlist someone.