A Tribute to Barb Rohl
The surname Rohl is almost synonymous with the term “library” in the Village of Roberts and its surrounding towns. That’s because the Rohl sisters, Barb and Dora, and their mother Harriet were instrumental in the formation of the Hazel Mackin Community Library.
Barb died on April 4 at Westfields Hospital in New Richmond after a seven-year battle with cancer.
As her sister Dora sat in the family room (designed by Barb) with their Sheltie, Sean, a wind chime tinkled in the background outside the family home at Kerry Woods Farm west of Roberts.
The wind chime was a gift to Dora from the Library Board as a remembrance of Barb.
“Sean has not been as peppy as usual,” Dora said as she petted Sean. “She was a wonderful sister and a caring person of the community. Of the world really.”
Barb had a lifelong love of learning and books, as evidenced by her career as a teacher in the White Bear Lake, Minn., and Mahtomedi, Minn., school districts, and her involvement in Community Women in Action (CWIA).
Barb and the library
CWIA was a group of Roberts/Warren women who believed Roberts needed more educational and entertainment opportunities. Their first project was establishing a summer recreation program. Their next project to tackle was bringing a library to town.
The 12 women lobbied the Village Board and presented a petition with 165 signatures for a library, Dora said. The Village Board agreed to the project and budgeted $1,000 toward the endeavor. The ladies, including Barb, gathered donations and raised funds tirelessly. The grand opening of the Hazel Mackin Community Library at its then Main Street location was April 16, 1975.
According to Dora, Barb wanted the library to be named after her beloved teacher, Hazel Mackin. Barb was a student of Mackin’s for her first three years at the Roberts State Grade School.
Dora said Barb was a driving force behind years of fundraising for projects that benefited the library, including a remodel of the Main Street location and eventually, the brand new building on Warren Street.
“As we moved along, we had to decide how we were going to raise $1.6 million,” Barb said of figuring out how to raise the necessary funds to build the library building. “Two estates made it possible to buy the three lots (where the library is located).”
Dora said while Barb was working at Sharing and Caring Hands in Minneapolis, she heard of the Fred C. and Katherine B. Andersen Foundation, which provides grants to worthy organizations. They applied for a grant and received $500,000.
“That really pushed us, as the impetus,” Dora said. “We received $50,000 from Bremer, $10,000 from Hugh J. Andersen, $500,000 from the state. The lots and building cost the village nothing. I don’t think there are many communities that could build a building like that with no taxpayer money.”
While her battle with cancer prevented her from going to the groundbreaking of the new library on Warren Street, Dora said Barb was able to help plan the dedication and go to that.
“Barb, we, never gave up,” Dora said. “She was persistent.”
On the library’s Facebook page, library director Brenda Hackman wrote:
“Thank you Barb for the monetary donations and countless hours spent fundraising for a library that meant the world to you and so many others that enjoy it each and every day. I will always remember Barb and her positive outlook on life along with her beautiful smile. Let us celebrate, for Barb was able to make a difference in many people’s lives. Her memory and legacy will forever be held within the books and bricks of this beautiful library.”
Love of life
According to Dora, Barb loved Irish literature and poetry. Their farm, Kerry Woods Farm, is named for the County Kerry in Ireland, where their mother’s people came from. She made many trips to Ireland, along with Dora, and showed many people how to navigate the beautiful country.
“She always had trips planned well and always knew exactly what roads to take,” Dora said.
Barb also loved to travel to the West and East coasts. Her obituary shows not only her love of travel, but what a caring person she was.
“Barb was extremely concerned that all people of our world have food, good water, proper medical care and decent housing,” the obituary reads. “She also gave much attention to the environment: air, water and land. No chemicals were used on her large garden, which produced many vegetables she shared with friends. No chemicals were used by her or her father on Kerry Woods Farm land. Barb has worked for many years to preserve farmland.”
Dora said her sister was an excellent basketball player and could score from anywhere on the court. She also loved golf, nature, yard work, gardening, and raising their Shelties, cats and Hereford cattle.
According to her obituary, Barb lived at Kerry Woods Farm with Dora since 1941. She was named Roberts Good Neighbor in 1984.
“My life certainly has changed,” Dora said. “We lived together all of our lives, all but eight years. We went to speakers and meetings.”
Dora said Barb was always brave in the face of her cancer.
“She fought many battles, but never complained once about any illness,” Dora said.
Dora is touched by the number of cards and messages she has received, and the donations given to their scholarship fund at UW-River Falls in Barb’s memory.
“People have been wonderful,” Dora said.