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Moving forward in Rockwell City

Wagner works with revitalization group to spruce up town, attract visitors

-Messenger photo by Deanna Meyer
Joan Wagner, president of Rockwell City Revitalization, sits inside the band stand in the shadow of the Calhoun County Courthouse where she works as the county assessor. The band stand was the first project completed by Rockwell City Revitalization after the group formed in 2009 and is now the site of several concerts and other events throughout the summer.

ROCKWELL CITY — “As he flew over / said the crow / Rockwell City / is a place to grow.”

If you’ve driven into Rockwell City from the north recently, you were likely greeted by this poem on a set of four roadside signs leading into town.

The poem’s sentiment is simple, but accurately represents how Joan Wagner feels about her hometown — a place she wants to see grow.

Born and raised in Rockwell City, Wagner is passionate about her community. She, along with a handful of other like-minded residents, have been working together since 2009 to improve the place they call home through a group known as Rockwell City Revitalization.

This community group was behind the addition of the sequential roadside signs, also known as Burma-Shave signs, which were a popular advertising gimmick the company used to promote its shaving cream from 1925 to 1964.

-Messenger photo by Deanna Meyer
Kids' Kingdom is a playground created by kids, for kids, located inside Rockwell City Park. Rockwell City Revitalization has assumed responsibility for the ongoing upkeep of Kids' Kingdom, including equipment repairs, power washing and sealing.

Rockwell City Revitalization was initially a branch of the local Chamber. Wagner has been a member since its inception, and today serves as president.

“We met and tried to come up with different things that could help the town, kind of spruce it up, revitalize it,” she said.

From the beginning, the group developed a vision for both physical amenities and community attractions that would benefit the town. Among the first projects the group would tackle was bringing a bandstand back to the City Square.

“There were a couple of people that were really passionate about it and pushed until we had enough money to do that one,” Wagner said. “We thought it was a place where we could have events in the future.”

In the mid-1900s, a gazebo graced the Courthouse lawn, but Wagner said the original one couldn’t be re-created. So the group raised the money to build a new one, and it has since been the site of several outdoor concerts and events, including the Bill Riley talent show.

“During COVID, we had people bring their own lawn chairs and spread out,” she said of the summer concerts.

Sweet Corn Daze is another community event that evolved from those early meetings. The summer celebration has since been taken over by the Chamber.

Today’s Revitalization group consists of less than a dozen members whose mission is to “revitalize Rockwell City by leading the way to enhance our community, neighborhoods and quality of life.”

Over the years, several major projects have been completed due to the group’s efforts.

Among those is the Rainbow Bridge on the east side of town. Closed in 1981, the bridge eventually became an eyesore.

“It was just overgrown; then we cleaned it up,” she said.

In addition, a family donated a picnic table and a plaque was made for the area.

“Now it’s a roadside park where people can fish off of the historic Rainbow Bridge,” Wagner said.

Other projects the group has supported include demolishing unsafe buildings on the City Square, getting billboards on U.S. Highway 20 directing people into town, and turning bare concrete into Gardens on Fourth, a small downtown park with benches, tables and flowers.

Kids’ Kingdom, a playground inside the city park, is an ongoing project. “We’ve kind of adopted Kids’ Kingdom,” Wagner said.

The group has had it power washed and sealed, and also makes sure equipment is repaired and up to date.

In the summer of 2021, the group revamped a tennis court into a pickleball court. With a new net and new court lines — which Wagner painted herself one Saturday morning using special stencils — the court was soon ready for use.

Of all the group’s projects, however, Wagner especially enjoys the concerts at the gazebo. “They’re relaxed, low-key.”

The concerts are free to the public and often draw people from outside Rockwell City. “The bands that we have — they have followers,” she said. “So certain people from out of town come when they find out that they’re playing.

“We started out with small local bands and now we’re actually paying for the talent. We get sponsorships, which helps cover the cost.”

Meanwhile, the group has many other projects on tap. It’s considering adding a sand volleyball court near the swimming pool and is working on a new dog park, which will be located near the Calhoun County Museum.

Asked why she stays involved, Wagner said simply, “If we don’t do it, who’s going to?”

Wagner also serves as the Calhoun County assessor.

“I started in the office in 2000 and worked my way up,” she said, becoming assessor in 2005.

In addition, she is a member of the church council at St. Paul Lutheran and Presbyterian Church and helps her husband farm.

Her passion for serving goes back to family. She and her husband, Kolby, have raised two children here, and now those children (Tyler and Faith) are grown and beginning to invest in the community themselves.

“It’s a good place to raise your kids,” she said, “and the things that we do help to keep Rockwell City moving.”

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