Bio: Rodman, Kirk/Nancy (Retiring from Highground - 2017)
Contact: Dolores (Mohr) Kenyon
----Source: Clark County Press (Neillsville, Clark Co., WI) 3/08/2017
End of an Era: Rodman’s Decide (To Retire – 1 July 2017)
End of an Era: Rodman’s Decide to Retire from The Highground
Kirk and Nancy Rodman relax Friday in the learning Center Library at The Highground Veterans Memorial Park west of Neillsville. After nearly 19 years of service, he announced his retirement as a volunteer general manager and she announced her retirement as volunteer gift shop manager, both effective July 1, 2017. (Photo by Todd Schmidt/Clark County Press)
By Todd Schmidt
After nearly 19 years of service to The Highground Veterans Memorial Park, retirement time has come for volunteer general manager Kirk Rodman, 82, and his wife, Nancy, 73, who is the volunteer gift shop manager.
Their announcement came at the annual Friends of The Highground dinner held Feb. 25, at the Castle Hill Supper Club. Kirk and Nancy sat in the cozy confines of the Learning Center Library Thursday and reviewed their long and sometimes very emotional tenure at The Highground.
“We have been talking and negotiating about retirement for a long time,” Kirk said. “July 1, 2017, will be our first official day of retirement. We are here all the time. Hopefully, we will have a few summers for ourselves.
“It has been an awesome experience and privilege to serve here. It is amazing to think about all the people we have met and the stories we have heard. You have no idea what people are carrying around with them.”
In 1998, Kirk and Nancy came to The Highground as volunteers.
“They asked me to serve as volunteer general manager while they looked for somebody,” he said. “My original commitment was one year. I said I would follow up was a member of the search committee when I left.”
Kirk said he had three conditions to take the position. They needed to put together 12 people on a board of directors, find a home for the liberty Bell and take steps to build bridges back to the community.
A group of former board members and interested persons convened on a Saturday in the basement of the former M & I (now BMO Harris) Bank basement. Kirk was excused from the room for about 30 minutes, and when he was asked back in, a board of directors was in place.
Kirk said about the only way The Highground could stay open then was with volunteers willing to donate their time. Because of their extensive backgrounds with JC Penney in the retail industry, they were naturals to beef up the gift shop operation.
“They asked us if we could put a gift shop together,” Nancy said. “At that time, The Highground had no credit and couldn’t pay anybody. They had outstanding bills and were in a crisis.”
Nancy said they “begged and borrowed and did everything we could” to set things up. They acquired a display case, a display module, book shelves and a cash register, and borrowed some things from an antique store.
“Now the place looks like a store,” Kirk said. “It does a lot of sales volume per square foot. As it grew, a lot of people pitched in to help.”
Kirk said the board of directors continually pushed the concept that The Highground was not a war memorial park. You don’t see any old tanks or airplanes around.
“We honor the service and sacrifice of our veterans,” Kirk said. “Our mission is healing and education.”
In 2002, a timber frame building was constructed to house the Liberty Bell. Many new venues have been added during the Rodman’ tenure, including a Korean War Tribute, a Meditation Garden, a pavilion with flying canopies, and a handicapped-accessible tree house along the walking trails.
A drainage system was installed and bridges were put in to allow walkers to cross the beautiful creek that winds thru the property.
An adjacent 1920s-era farm house was purchased in 2010, with the vision of turning it into a Learning Center. Russell Ratsch of Neillsville did the plans, which called for basically tearing the housed apart.
A main feature is a 67-foot clear span exhibit area that can be used to effectively house major exhibits. A house was put in that currently features over 4,000 books, most of them gifts. The owner of Mall Furniture in Marshfield donated the reading room furniture.
A new parking lot was constructed in 2009. Through that effort, a new good friend and supporter was found in the owner of the American Asphalt.
The Highground went to LED parking lot lights in 2015. Kirk said that move slashed the electric bill by about $1,000 a year.
Permanent restroom facilities were constructed, replacing the many years of porta-potty use. In 2016, a new restroom facility was constructed in the lower area as a Boy Scout Eagle Project.
The Wisconsin Persian Gulf Bootprint Tribute was dedicated in 2016. Plans are underway for a Military Working Dog Tribute, with a groundbreaking scheduled in April and Construction completed by 2018.
The Highground is the only fully-manned Veterans Park in America. The Highground is open 24/7/365, with staff onsite every day from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The Highground accommodates an estimated 150,000 visitors per year. Staffers send out 13,000 newsletters six times per year.
People come from all over the world to visit The Highground. The guest register includes signatures from China, Australia, and various places in Europe. Visitors fly in to regional airports and rent cars for the rest of the journey to rural Neillsville.
“Many of these visitors get it and turn into evangelists for us,” Rodman noted. “With their help and financial support, The Highground can continue its mission. Most people who contribute money don’t dictate how it is to be used. They tell us to use it where we need it. Their faith in our staff is amazing.”
The Highground hosted a huge Welcome Home Persian Gulf Veterans week of activities in July 2016. A main intent was bringing the issue of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to the forefront.
“PTSD is deeper and wider spread than most people think,” Kirk said. “It permeates through our society. Many veterans and their families have a terrible time with it. Thanks to people who have given money to support the effort, we have given away over 1,000 books on PTSD.”
The Highground hosts 35 events per year, including ceremonies for placing Legacy Stones, Meditation Stones, Korean Stones, and Persian Gulf Stones. Diversity Days attracts over 400 middle school students from around the area, who learn about subjects, including bulling, and working with the handicapped. The event includes a presentation about visits to Laos and a DAR flag ceremony.
A helicopter/military expo is featured in May. The Ride to Remember happens on Memorial Day. A Freedom Day ceremony is held at the end of June, followed by a huge celebration on Independence Day.
This year, a Veterans Retreat is planned July 7, 8, and 9.
The Highground’s two biggest fundraisers, a Bicycle Tour, and a Motorcycle Rally, occur in August. The annual Chili Cook-off and Car Show happens in October.
The Department of Corrections allows its employees to take a paid day off to attend the Veterans Day ceremony in November.
The Half is Enough Marathon is scheduled Mar. 25. Coming up Satruday, April 8, is a Maggie Mae and the Heartland Country Band concert at 2 p.m. at the Pittsville School District Auditorium. Proceeds from the events support The Highground.
The board acquired seven acres of property for construction of a Welcome Center. The vision includes making one big room out of a former house, and using the facility to host regular service visits from psychologists, and therapists to work with people affected by PTSD and other issues. Providers serving other veterans centers could use the facility on a revolving basis several times per month.
About four acres of the seven-acre parcel will be available for additional parking. About 100 volunteers cleared trees and prepared the site, cutting the estimated cost by two-thirds.
“If you’re not growing, you’re dying,” Kirk said. “It is hard for The Highground to function in the winter months due to snow, ice and cold weather. The Welcome Center will feature a virtual tour of The Highground. The large room can also be used for meetings and community events.”
A POW lookout tower will be constructed in the front of the building.
“That is so we don’t forget who we are and what we are about,” he said.
Spring Clean-up will be held in April. Several area restaurants always donate food for the volunteer workers.
The Porch Greeter program has been wildly successful. A gathering will be held at the Apple Valley Bar and restaurant Mar. 21, thanking the hundreds of volunteers who work shifts five hours per day welcoming visitors and guiding them around the facilities.
The Highground receives financial support for specific projects from the Listeman Foundation and obtains a $2,000 annual contribution from the City of Neillsville. Donations support the rest of the operations at The Highground.
“We do not get money from the feds, state, county, or townships,” Kirk said proudly.
Kirk was recognized by WAOW Media for his outstanding volunteer efforts and community service. He was presented with a coveted Jefferson Award.
Prior to coming to The Highground, Rodman served in the U. S. Air force from 1954 to 1958 at Hickam AFB and Evreux AFB. He then managed JC Penney stores in the Midwest.
Nancy worked for JC Penney for many years. When they moved to La Crosse in 1980, she got a job at the UW-La Crosse bookstore.
The Rodman’s were involved in building two churches, Christ the King in Onalaska, and Calvary Lutheran in Neillsville. Kirk oversaw constructing four huge stores for JC Penney. They also built a house near Lake Arbutus in 1995-1996, doing much of the work themselves.
Kirk and Nancy were married in 1962. They have one son, two daughters and four grandchildren.
The Rodman’s are also active members of the Neillsville Area Chamber of Commerce.
“We believe when you do something, you need to concentrate on the job and do it really well,” he said. “We like doing things, having the opportunity to manage projects and making things happen.”
C. W. King is the chairperson of The Highground Board of Directors. He is leading the search committee for a new general manager, along with Bob Barth, Bob Solberg, and Kirk.
It will be difficult finding a replacement for Kirk,” King said Friday. “He has been with us for 19 years, and he has done such a good job. We plan to advertise and hope to get some good candidates to interview soon.”
King said the search committee should be able to screen the candidates down to a manageable number, with the entire board of directors involved in the interview process.
King said at the outset, the board of directors would not be advertising for a gift shop manager.
“When a new general manager gets settled into the job, we would expect that person to be involved in finding a replacement for Nancy as gift shop manager,” King said. “That function will continue with our current employees, who are doing a good job.”
Facebook has been a huge communication venue for The Highground. A new classy website is being developed gratis, and will be rolled out in April.
For more information about The Highground, call 715-743-4224.
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