Ed and Lee Ann Rock are the 2022 Mentone Egg Festival Parade grand marshals. Photo by David Slone, Times-Union.
Ed and Lee Ann Rock are the 2022 Mentone Egg Festival Parade grand marshals. Photo by David Slone, Times-Union.
Neither Ed or Lee Ann Rock originally are from Mentone, but over the years they have become such a part of the small community that they were selected as grand marshals for the 2022 Mentone Egg Festival parade.

Ed, 67, the Kosciusko County Emergency Management Agency director, grew up in Tippecanoe, while Lee Ann, 67, a retired Mentone Elementary School teacher, grew up in Bourbon. Both graduated from Triton in 1973, though they didn’t start dating until senior prom.

He said it’s Lee Ann’s “fault” that they ended up in Mentone.

“I graduated from DePauw University in December 1976 and we got married in January 1977. I substituted and worked at Donnelley that semester. I was interviewed at Valley for a position and I didn’t get the opening for that semester, but I was hired the next school year,” Lee Ann said.

They lived in Warsaw for four years. Lee Ann “really liked” Mentone and teaching in Mentone. They decided that when they started a family, they wanted their kids to go where Lee Ann taught so they moved to Mentone in Christmas 1981.

Ed has been involved in the fire department for the last 40 years, and was a Mentone Police Department reserve, which helped him prepare for his future careers.

“I was working. I went to work initially at the trailer factory up in Nappanee - Holiday Rambler. And, I was dating her at the time and things were getting bad in the early ’70s for the RV industry. One day I went in and a guy had called in and said he had a flat tire and he would be a couple minutes late, and they told him don’t bother. And I knew this was a good employee, so I could see the handwriting on the wall that this was going downhill,” Ed recalled.

Ed talked to Lee Ann’s dad who worked at Donnelley at the time and they were hiring. Ed put in his application and got hired on the spot as a temporary. Though he was only supposed to be there for six months, he was there for 28 years.

The last few years at Donnelley, Ed was in safety security. After some “creative differences” with his boss, Ed decided to go somewhere else. He was hired by the Kosciusko County Sheriff’s Department for the jail - for one day.

“Because at the same time, Da-Lite Screen put an ad in the paper, and she caught it, and said, ‘This might be something you’d like and it’s for the safety director,’” Ed said.

He interviewed with them for four hours with different people from the company.

“I walked out with an offer making more than what I was making at Donnelley, and a huge amount more than I was going to make at the Sheriff’s Department,” Ed said.

He worked at Da-Lite for a couple of years before the county came to him and said that while they couldn’t afford him, they asked him to write the job description for a new position called emergency management. Ed didn’t know anything about the position, but he had been writing policies and procedures so he started digging into it.

“The more I dug into it, the more it was like, ‘I’ve been training for this job for 30 years.’ So I went back to them and said, ‘OK, you said you couldn’t afford me, how much were you offering?’ They told me and I said, ‘You’re right, you can’t afford me.’ But after I thought about it a little bit, I went back to them and said, ‘If you could add $10,000 to it and a full-use vehicle for the job, then I think we might be able to do it, so we came to an arbitration and after the interview process, because there were three people interviewing for it, I was given the position and now it’s been 20 years,” Ed said.

He started the job as emergency management director in March 24, 2003, and will retire by March 24, 2023, or so, depending on when his replacement is trained and ready. When he started as director, he was a reserve for the KCSD, but had to give the reserve position up because it was a conflict of interest.

While Ed was moving up the ladder in his field, Lee Ann taught at Mentone for 44 years, retiring in 2021.

“Teaching was my passion so I gave it everything I had. I spent a lot of hours before and after school and on weekends. When we bought our house, our house was just a block away from the school, so it was always there,” she said.

They had two children - Maggie and Allison - and they were involved in a lot of school activities. Lee Ann did much of the chauffeuring for the girls. Maggie now has two daughters and Allison has one girl.

“We both have been involved in our church activities and I did church choir and those kind of things, just doing what moms and teachers and wives of people do,” she said.

“And she’s done a good job,” Ed said.

Lee Ann used to take food out to the fire department when they were out for a day. Ed said they got three meals at one fire.

The town of Mentone is a part of their family, Ed said.

“Between her teaching and all of the people that she has met, she’s had a lot of relationships with a lot of individual people and a lot of groups of people,” Ed said. “And I guess I’m the same way, between fire department - and something else I didn’t mention, I was on the town board for a while (about seven years).”

Lee Ann said, “I would say the same thing as Ed. It’s become our family. My dearest friends are people that I taught side by side for a long time. In fact, one lady and I taught fourth grade side by side for 35 years. We had our babies at the same time.”

Lee Ann served as the school’s student council sponsor and they did a lot of things to benefit people and organizations like the Riley Children’s Fund.

“Our community is 60% free and reduced lunch. But that doesn’t mean they don’t have a big heart. The kids would bring in their pennies, and the things that parents would do to help others even when they needed help themselves,” she said. “Our church (United Methodist Church of Mentone) family, we’ve had some rocky times health-wise and lost loved ones, and our church family has always been there.”

With their kids going to Mentone, the fellowship, the connections, the fire department being a family that supports each other in hard times, Lee Ann said it all means a lot.

“When I was a little girl, I wanted to be a teacher and I just said my dream came true in the Valley, and there’s no place I would rather be,” she said.

Ed said when he and Lee Ann started getting serious in their relationship, Lee Ann told him she would teach before she would do anything else. “I’m going, ‘I guess I know where I stand!’”

Lee Ann said Mentone is a small town with small town values and caring people.

“It’s just been a great place to live and raise our kids,” she said.

Asked what they are going to do once both of them are retired, Ed said, “That’s a darn good question!”

Lee Ann said she’s spent a lot of time this past year with her parents because her dad is 96 and her mom is 94, “which has been a blessing. It’s really been a blessing.” They’ve been married over 75 years.

She said they’ll continue to be involved in their church. She’s on the county’s HELP?committee and may get involved in other volunteer work.

“Just to be useful. It’s just been kind of nice. And Ed would like to get back into some things that he’s put aside - he likes to golf and fish and those kind of things. And our one daughter and granddaughter live out of state, her family, her husband - so obviously we’ll get to see more of them,” Lee Ann said.

“Just have some leisure time for whatever is out there. I do a lot of reading and my big hobby is scrapbooking, so just to enjoy life,” she said. “Ed, he likes to sing.”

“I’ll probably still dabble at that,” he said.

Ed said they found out they were going to be the grand marshals for this year’s Egg Festival parade from Town Councilman Tim Croy last year after the 2021 Festival.

“We’ve known this for a while. We didn’t advertise it, we were asked not to, but it’s an honor - plain and simple. To be put into that position - and just so you know, she’s the one being honored. I’m just going along for the ride,” he said.

Lee Ann said being asked to be the grand marshals is “very humbling” because it means people recognize the things that you do.

“We love Mentone and it’s our home. To me, it’s just very humbling. I look at Ed and I think about his job and his life are 24/7. We don’t go to bed knowing we’re going to get a full night’s sleep because a lot of nights we don’t. And it’s been that way for 40 years. And just the time he gives to a lot of things that go unrecognized, for me, it’s an honor for him to be recognized as well because as the wife I sit there and I see all the little things that the public doesn’t see that he does,” she said.

Ed said she does, too.

“I have no concept of how much Cavatini she has made, but she will - for anybody who has any issues, whether it be a loss in the family, it may be just a family that is having a struggle and being the position that she was in, being a teacher, she could see a lot of that - and so she would make up this monstrous thing of Cavatini and throw some garlic toast on top of it and we would go out and we would deliver to people, and she has done that for a few years, and that’s her way, she feels she needs to do something, and so she does it. I commend her for it,” Ed said. “She is constantly doing something for someone else. She’s got a lot more giving heart than I do.”