Johnson County developer creates foundation to help children from troubled homes

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. - Some 30,000 people call one of the 90 Rodrock Communities around Johnson County home. Darol Rodrock is the man behind the developments. Each signature stone entrance, flanked by fountains, leads to a small town closeness that he's worked to create for families over the past 35 years.

"My goal was never to make money," Rodrock said. "I've made way, way more money than I should have ever made. And now my goal is to give it away."

Rodrock turns 70 this week. To fulfill a promise to himself, he's created the Darol Rodrock Foundation benefitting foster children. It's been a healing process decades in the making, stemming from his own troubled childhood.

By the time the 1950s reached Garnett, Kan., a young Darol Rodrock knew none of the hope the rest of the country seemed to enjoy. They were turbulent times for his family with years of poverty, rejection and abuse.

"When I was seven, the state came and took us away from my mother," he said. "We didn't know what was happening, but Miss West came. Miss West was our social worker. And loaded us in her '51 black Chevy, or '52, whatever it was, and we rode to Winfield, Kan., and put us in Lutheran Children's Home."

He calls the time in that orphanage the best thing that could have happened to him. It was there that he learned for the first time that someone actually did love him – God.

"On Sunday morning, all us of kids in the orphanage sat down in the front row," Rodrock said. "And I never forget one Sunday, Rev. Zinder said, he was a very flamboyant man, said 'Jesus loves you!'"

He was loved. But it took every bit of that new found faith to get him through the next four years. They saw him returned to his mother, then shipped off to live with strangers in Arkansas. There, he faced more abuse – what he calls the worst of it all.

At 11 years old, with enough pennies saved from playing marbles, he bought a bus ticket back to Kansas. Darol felt his mother in Kansas would be better than the abuse he faced in Arkansas. Now, in another of what would be seven marriages, she was not happy to see him.

"I walked to the door, and you can do with it what you want to, but she said 'What in the F are you doing here?' I'd run away from hell, and my mother wanted to know what I was doing there," he said.

Darol stayed one night. The next day he walked to the rail yard, snuck aboard a boxcar and ended up in Texas.

"So I'm a tough, tough, tough kid. 11 years old by myself! Lonely! I understand loneliness. I understand hopelessness," Rodrock said.

Darol landed back in a Garnett foster home around the time he turned 13. But this time things would be different. Ray and Lavone Robison, a farmer and a school teacher, showed him love, acceptance and direction.

The lonely, young boy would grow into a popular and successful student. He's never forgotten a day when he and Ray were driving somewhere in Ray's truck. The day he knew his life really did have value.

"He reached over and put his arm on my shoulder and said 'Darol, I'm just happy that you're in my life.' I never forgot that. I buried them both and they became my mother and father." He said. "They never did adopt me. They wanted to, and I wanted to keep my name. And I said 'Someday I'm going to be proud of my name. Someday I'm going to be proud of who I am."

Now decades later, the Rodrock name proudly stands for families all over Johnson County. His path to success included a Masters from the University of Kansas, teaching and coaching wrestling at Shawnee Mission West, and then venturing into real estate, building and developing.

On January 17, Rodrock, his wife Karen, their three children and eight grandchildren will join several thousand friends to celebrate Darol's 70th birthday and kick off his foundation. With all the successes he's achieved, Rodrock said he wants to be remembered for helping kids.

"So if I can help a young boy or girl find their worth in themselves, that's going to be how I'm going to spend the rest of my life," he said.

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