It was Rosewood celebration time at Great Bend Brit Spaugh Zoo for several hours on Friday, May 12. That’s because the west lawn of the zoo was filled with multitudes of blue-shirt-wearing people, all representing Rosewood Services. The agency that started with only a dozen clients and an innovative vision for people with disabilities to “Celebrate Life,” celebrated its silver anniversary in business during the noontime picnic with nearly 500 people – comprising clients, their families, employees and Rosewood supporters – in attendance.
The day featured a picnic lunch with grilled hamburgers, hotdogs, and sides. Attendees participated in the fun atmosphere at the zoo, which included yard games, a photo booth, scavenger hunt, animal encounters, coordinated by zoo staff, and raffle giveaways. Rosewood Services Founder and Executive Director Tammy Hammond provided remarks to those gathered for the silver anniversary celebration.
What began as a dream in May 1998, with Hammond as the agency’s only employee, has now grown to become one of the state’s greatest advocates and supporters of people with disabilities. Over the years, Rosewood has also become one of the area’s largest employers, employing more than 200 people, who daily serve nearly 200 people with disabilities.
Hammond recounted “the Rosewood story” by walking the audience through the history, reminiscing about the early challenges, reflecting on the agency’s growth and diversity, marking today’s successes, and ending with promising encouragement for Rosewood’s future.
“While our past impact is important, it truly is what each one of us does today, and what we will do tomorrow that continues to impact lives and the community around us,” said Hammond. “You are important. What you do makes a difference. We continue to write this story, the Rosewood story, together.”
Kansas Supreme Court Justice, the Honorable Dan Biles, a long-time advocate of Rosewood and people with disabilities, also provided words of encouragement to those in attendance.
“This is an incredible, incredible accomplishment that all of you have achieved in this community and in the state,” Biles told the crowd. “I’m a constitutional officer, so I think I can say thank you on behalf of the state of Kansas. The relationship that I have with this program has meant as much to me as anything in my life. Have a good day and reflect on what all of you have accomplished in your work here.”
Rosewood has created a vast world of opportunities for people with disabilities: From a therapeutic equestrian program, to a hardwood furniture manufacturing store, to a greenhouse and garden that grows tomatoes, to a studio and kitchen where jellies and other products are made and sold at retail locations. Work opportunities even include the nation’s only winery designed for the employment of people with developmental disabilities. These innovative programs have earned dozens of awards, from world championships won by riders in the equestrian program, to state honors in wine contests, to Rosewood being featured on nationally televised programs.
During the celebration, Hammond took time to recognize many long-time employees, as well as people who have played a fundamental role in supporting Rosewood Services throughout its 25-year history. Early supporters like Roland and Jane Smith, Randy and Sandy Smith, Leon and Carol Fishburn, Jeannie Girton and Phyllis Vogt provided Hammond encouragement to start Rosewood Services. Original employees Vicki Schmitt, LaDonna Dirks, Patty Halseth, Grace Johnson, Virginia Jacobs and Jennie Chism were instrumental in the start-up. Over the years, Hammond said she received expert guidance from Biles, as well as the late Bob Bethell, who served as a Kansas Representative. Local civic leaders Joel Jackson, Sheryl Cheely and Howard Partington have also played vital roles in Rosewood’s success, she noted.
Hammond talked about the sacrifices made by her family, especially during the early years. Her husband, Eric, along with all four children – Andy, Amanda, Anna and Alex – perform key roles in the operation of Rosewood Services today. Eric is Ranch Manager and a PATH-certified equine instructor. Amanda and Anna are both administrators in agency services. Alex is the Winery manager, and Andy was instrumental in marketing Rosewood Wine to liquor stores across the state.
“I would like to say they chose to be a part of Rosewood, but I’m afraid, if you asked them, they might say it was more expectation than choice,” Hammond said. “No matter their answer, I am very thankful they are here with me.”