Baldwin City native honored with lifetime achievement award for land/resource protection
photo by: Kansas Land Improvement Contractors Association
At 81, Baldwin City native Glenn Rockers can recount a lifetime of hard work that shaped the man he is today — and now, he can also count himself as one of just a handful of folks who have earned a prestigious award recognizing such efforts.
Rockers, a successful excavator, recently received the Kansas Land Improvement Contractors Association’s lifetime achievement award. He’s one of only three people who have earned the recognition from the nonprofit, which is dedicated to promoting quality work in land and resource protection across the state.
The association’s aim is to encourage high standards of workmanship in resource management, land improvement practices and to promote enterprises in the area of land improvement contracting. The association notes that “members tend to have a similar interest in opportunities for improving their local natural resources while earning an adequate profit.”
The Rockers family business, Rockers Excavating, has served as a contractor out of Baldwin City since 1953. Glenn was operating a bulldozer by the time he was 11 years old, and he was a full-time employee by 1960. He took over as owner when he was in his early 20s after his father’s sudden death in 1968.
photo by: Austin Hornbostel/Journal-World
Glenn told the Journal-World that as a kid he’d often tag along with his father when he worked at a maintenance shop and busy himself turning screws. Photos in Rockers’ Baldwin City home show him seated on excavating machines that vastly dwarfed his small frame.
After taking over the business, Rockers spent a number of years settling old debts. Eventually, the business went from being refused any financing by bankers to forging an iron-clad reputation of excellence.
In part, that was achieved because Rockers put in the extra effort that others might not have — even when it wasn’t necessarily benefiting the business financially. For years, he graded and plowed snow off roads for Douglas County during the winter.
“This was with an open cab, mind you,” Rockers said, noting that earlier excavator models left drivers exposed to the elements. “The snow was deeper than the dozer was tall.”
He and some other KLICA members even fulfilled a Make-A-Wish Foundation wish for a boy with bone cancer in the 1990s, building a longed-for pond for the child.
photo by: Austin Hornbostel/Journal-World
The motorcycle accident came a few decades later.
Six years ago, Rockers was in a motorcycle accident that left him almost entirely paralyzed; now, he has limited use of one arm but otherwise uses a wheelchair to get around. The injury meant he’d no longer be able to operate an excavator.
It also meant that Rockers needed the help of a caretaker. He found one in his friend Loretta Gantenbein, who now lives at his home, where he stays as busy as possible around his property.
Even before the motorcycle accident, Rockers faced some health challenges. He recalled a day about a decade ago when he was experiencing balance and vision issues while picking up his mail at the post office; he managed to stay standing while leaning against a wall and to make it back to his truck and drive home.
Those symptoms had cleared up by the time he arrived home, and he worked a 10-hour shift the next day. A few days later, he visited a doctor in Olathe for a bad cough. Upon learning what had happened, the doctor told Rockers that he’d had multiple strokes: one on that day at the post office and the other earlier in the week while he was operating a tractor.
“He sat me right down and did an MRI, and it confirmed that I’d had two strokes within the last week,” Rockers said.
Rockers learned after visits to various specialists that the strokes were caused by a cerebral hemorrhage. Doctors asked whether he needed to keep working as much as he was, and they assured him that the work he was doing would get done by someone.
It was food for thought. But then life changed much more drastically after the motorcycle accident, Rockers said.
“I was 75 when I crashed my bike that day, and the first thing you find out is … you lose track of people, because you’re not out and about,” he said.
All of that isn’t to say that Rockers would do everything prior to the accident over again exactly the same if given the chance, though. Owning and operating his business meant his hands were often tied when it came to how much he worked, and that affected his family life.
“If I had to do if over again, it’d be different,” Rockers said. “I remember (my son, Nick,) did cross country, and the only time I’d get to go to one of his events would be if it rained … Today’s generation are a lot better about that; everybody’s got jobs that they can take off.”
But it’s clear that the way he carried himself — how hard he worked and how he paid it forward to others — wasn’t lost on the people closest to him. His son, Nick, said he saw firsthand the sacrifices his father made day in and day out, as well as his perseverance and drive.
Nick told the Journal-World he never saw his father waver; he was steadfast for “years and years.” That’s a story he said needs to be told.
“I want to scream his story,” Nick said. “Nobody knows the sacrifice.”