Salvos Salutes: Honoring hard workers and influential people in Johnson County

Sullivan's Salvos

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2020 is coming to a close, and it is time for honoring a few select Johnson County residents with that most treasured of honors, the Salvos Salute.

This is the fifteenth annual set of awards, and there are always more people who deserve awards than there are awards to give. We live in a great county!

Salvos Salutes do not have specific criteria, but you can bet that in general, most of the winners are courageous, advocate for peace and justice, have good ideas, speak truth to power, avoid hypocrisy and look out for the less fortunate.

Without further ado, your 2020 Salvos Salutes go to:

Gary Kramer: A loyal, faithful public servant, Gary is retiring after 36 years of service to the Sheriff’s Office. You simply won’t find a better law enforcement officer or a better guy.

Steve Dolezal: The Sheriff’s Office is a big operation, and Major Dolezal is the guy who makes everything work. Steve was also the first law enforcement leader in Johnson County to recognize that we needed to add Crisis Intervention Training (CIT). Steve has become a good friend over the years, and I’ll miss him. He is also retiring at the end of 2020.

Lonny Pulkrabek: After 16 years as Sheriff, and 36 years of total service, Lonny Pulkrabek is retiring. We are very lucky to have had Lonny as Sheriff. He is a good officer, a good man and a good friend.

Gary Pidgeon: Better known as “George,” Johnson County’s longest-serving employee retired after 50 years with the Conservation Department! 50 years of pulling weeds, repairing things, cleaning things, mowing, etc. But it was not the quantity of the years — it was the quality. George was a very hard worker who took great pride in his work.

Maryann Dennis: When she started with the Housing Fellowship 27 years ago, it was a brand-new organization. Fast forward to today, and the Greater IC Housing Fellowship is providing about 800 people places to live in about 200 properties. All of this was accomplished through Maryann’s leadership, vision, and perseverance.

Ron Berg: People struggling with addictions often face more discrimination than any other group. It is easy to blame them for their own “lack of control.” Ron Berg has spent a lifetime fighting these stereotypes and advocating for those he serves. Ron Berg retired recently after more than 30 years with Prelude. He began his involvement as a graduate student intern and was named CEO in 2010. Ron has been instrumental in developing multiple programs to benefit those seeking help with addiction and mental health issues, including Synchrony’s Employee Assistance Program and the GuideLink Access Center, which will open in January 2021.

“Essential workers”: This was the year of the essential worker. Doctors, nurses, EMTs, cops, and others stepped up to fight the virus, just like we knew they would. But there were others — teachers, grocery store workers, group home staff, etc. that also reminded us just how important they are. Thanks to all you essential workers!

SEATS Drivers: When COVID hit, County employees responded. No one was more flexible than our SEATS drivers, who all fell into a variety of roles. Because our need for bus rides dropped 50%, we had an available workforce. Some helped at Conservation. Some provided additional cleaning at county buildings. And many served as “greeters”, managing the flow of people into and out of county buildings. SEATS workers have done whatever they were asked and done it well. I am proud to work with these fantastic folks!

Tom Trump (again): We had another emergency. So, Tom Trump gets another shout out. This Solon man is an amazing, dedicated public servant who has learned how to operate in a disaster. We never have to worry about logistics with Tom at the table. Lucky for us, Johnson County is the place he calls home.

Jean Jordison (again): There are people who could win this award every year. Jean is one of them. She is so kind and thoughtful, always giving to someone in need. Her generosity is legendary. Proof you don’t need a fancy title to make a big difference. Jean is also a wise woman with good advice to share.

Dave Koch: When COVID-19 hit, all eyes turned to Johnson County Public Health. Despite uncaring and incompetent State and Federal governments, Johnson County Public Health rose to the occasion. Dave was attacked by anti-maskers, who hung on his every word, waiting for the tiniest slip. Through it all, Dave Koch remained positive and professional, offering Johnson County residents the information they needed. Crisis unveils a person’s character. Dave Koch passed that test with flying colors!

Sam Jarvis: The Community Health Manager at Johnson County Public Health, pandemic response fell under Sam’s jurisdiction. Sam worked 70+ hours per week for months, all the while maintaining staff morale. When required to step in for his boss, Sam did so without missing a beat. COVID-19 has been horrible. But it would have been worse without the great work of Sam Jarvis!

Lance Clemsen: As we anticipate the 2021 opening of the GuideLink Center, it is important to recognize the contributions of Lance Clemsen from UIHC. Lance has chaired the steering committee for this project for several years and deserves as much credit as anyone for getting it to this point. Lance has been willing to do whatever it takes to make certain every detail is accounted for, and his hard work has set the tone for everyone else.

Lulu Merle Johnson: She may have passed away in 1995, but Ms. Johnson had a big year in 2020! After receiving a petition with almost 1500 signatures, the Board voted to change Johnson County’s eponym from former Vice President and notorious slayer of Native Americans Richard Mentor Johnson. The new eponym is Lulu Merle Johnson, a native Iowan, civil rights activist, and the second African American woman in US history to earn a Ph. D. in History. Lulu Merle had a long and distinguished career as an academic and activist after leaving Johnson County, and is a very deserving honoree.

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