Citizen of the Year

CResco - If you look in the dictionary under volunteer, you’ll see a picture of Janis Rockabrand. Well, probably not, but you should.
Rockabrand was chosen as Citizen of the Year in the Times Plain Dealer’s Hall of Fame for 2023. The selection committee was tired of getting nominations for her, so members decided to appeal to the masses. 
Actually, it was a very easy decision. Most people in Howard County and surrounding area are probably familiar with Rockabrand as she served 30 years as a physician assistant. 
Elizabeth Doty, who recommended her to the committee said, “She began with only two doctors and herself caring for the patients. That equalled one patient every 10 minutes, in addition to being ‘on call’ once a week until further staff joined the practice. She retired in 2012, and for two years provided nursing home rounds and clinic care as needed.”
While she worked, she also volunteered for various organizations. She started at church and for activities involving she and her husband (Jim Wolfe’s) two children, Ben (Amanda and children Avery and Cruz) and Elizabeth (Hannah).
Special Needs Association
“As I got older,I got more involved,” she noted. “I have been with Special Needs Association since its inception. It was part of the national group ARC, but Special Needs expanded to help not just developmental handicaps, but also physical, mental and emotional.” Since it is a local organization, the money also stays local.
Rockabrand is treasurer, so she has the honor of being the go-to person who delivers gas  and gift cards to those in need. She gets to see faces light up when they receive help to make their lives easier and less stressful. 
Special Needs also sponsors two dances a year, spring and fall, for special needs individuals, which are a huge hit. Recently they started having picnics in June, which are well attended.
Working with this organization led Rockabrand to become the legal guardian of someone the organization has helped.
Cresco Library 
“I am a voracious reader,” she said. That led her to volunteer for several years. She was then asked to be a board member. She did such a great job, she is now president of the Board of Trustees.
The hardest part recently was an issue with a patron wanting to ban certain books. 
Rockabrand is also the go-to person for Communities About Reaching Everyone (CARE). This is a county-wide organization that assists families with children. This includes Christmas gifts and needed items of clothing/household supplies through community donations. 
“For the Back Pack Program, we stuff the back pack full of school items at the beginning of the year for those in need. The school calls me if there is a student that needs winter outerware. I purchase it and drop it off at the school. I never know who it is for,” she said.
Northeast Iowa RSVP 
Rockabrand has been involved with several parts of RSVP, most involving children.
“I volunteered with the Reading Buddy program at the school. The program stopped during COVID. It started back up, but I haven’t volunteered yet.”
The Pen Pal Program started just a few years ago, so Rockabrand volunteered for that. She and others write letters to local children, who write back. At the end of the year, they get together in person for the first time. “It’s fun. Kids are fun,” she smiled.
Emergency Relief Fund
During the pandemic, this fund was provided by the government and private donations.  Rockabrand is treasurer, so she had a lot of different people she was helping, whether it was because of a loss of a job, layoff, unable to afford items and more.
Peace Corps
Perhaps her sense of responsibility came from her two years spent in the Peace Corps. She served two years in the Philippines. 
Perhaps you can say the Peace Corps brought her and Wolfe together. Although they did not serve together, it was a talking point for the first time they met. Wolfe was in Burkina Faso in Western Africa. Elizabeth followed in her parents’ footsteps and went to Vanuatu in the South Pacific.
Wolfe said their experience in the Peace Corps helped them both decide on a career, he in conservation and Rockabrand in medicine.
Conservation Easement
The couple are interested in taking care of the land as well as humans. They own 117 acres of land on the Upper Iowa River near Granger. This means it can never be developed. 
It has been converted to a nature preserve and wildlife haven. They have applied numerous conservation practices including planting 30,000 trees and 60 acres of prairie with wild life food plots. 
They have constructed several ponds and developed wetland restorations and controlled stream bank erosion.
Having fun
Rockabrand does find time for fun. Besides reading, she enjoys oil painting. She has completed many projects including their house, their cat, Wolfe with his tractor, vacation spots and more.
When she gets tired of that, she can sit down and work on her scrapbook . . . number 90! As their kids were growing up, she made each of them around 15 books with pictures, newspaper clippings and momentos. Add that to the 59 scrapbooks she has completed that go back to her years in the Peace Corps, and that’s a lot of history being preserved.
Their time spent in the Peace Corps gave the couple another thing in common, traveling. They have been to Napal, where they helped paint an orphanage and make repairs. In addition they have enjoyed some Road Scholar and other trips to Nicaragua; Columbia River Gorge, Oregon; Amalfi Coast, Italy, Pompeii (They could see Mount Vesuvius from their hotel room.) and many more places.
Juggling activities 
It sounds like Rockabrand is being pulled in many directions with her volunteerism and living life. 
She insists that’s not the case. “None of these are a big time commitment. It doesn’t take long to get a gas card for someone who is going through chemotherapy treatments. Somehow it all meshes together,” she said.
“You look at the way things are in the world. It’s depressing. Helping others helps ourselves. Most people are so appreciative.”
Janis Rockabrand will be honored at the Annual Howard County Business & Tourism Banquet on Wednesday, April 26. It is being held at the Heritage Events Center. Anyone is invited to come to celebrate the newest Citizen of the Year. Call or stop by the Cresco Area Chamber for tickets, 563-547-3434.

Cresco Times

Phone: 563-547-3601
Fax: 563-547-4602

Cresco TPD
214 N. Elm Street
Cresco, IA 52136

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