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Decades-Long Legislative Staffer Dies At 101, Geneva Rode Always Smiled

October 8, 2020

This evening I became aware of the death of Geneva Rode, a woman who worked in many legislative offices over time, the last one being with State Representative Lary Swoboda. She often commented enjoying his office location which looked out onto State Street. She died on September 21st at age 101 years. She had been employed as a secretary for the Wisconsin State Assembly for 40 years, retiring in the 1990s.

But most importantly she was an amazing woman. Always friendly. Always up to date on current events. She loved history, and was highly interested in the Korean War.

It comes as no surprise that it takes a fine bunch of talented and special people who keep the State Legislature humming every day. They never see their names in the headlines, and most are happy they do not.  While promoting the elected official they work with, and helping the process of government run smoothly, they never get the recognition they so rightfully deserve. One of those people who fit that description was Rode.

She had worked for decades in the Capitol when executive branch staff worked the sessions.  She worked for the powerful and constantly busy Joint Finance Chairs. It was her institutional memory and delightful stories that aided me greatly when starting my job in the assembly in 1987.  

A few months after Governor Thompson took his oath in 1987 he happened to swing by the office of Swoboda.  Geneva Rode and Ruth Schohl who had worked for decades in the Capitol were splitting a full-time position in the office of the assemblyman from the First District.  Thompson knew each of them and stopped by to trade a few pleasantries and shake hands. That small simple event alerted me that we all were working in the building for the folks of the state.  It has always stood out to me as memorable due to how it demonstrated that leadership and conviviality start at the top.

I owe Geneva so much appreciation for her invaluable advice when I was a fresh new committee clerk. The orderly process for moving a bill through the legislature was made so much easier with the binder of material that Geneva had kept over the years while she had performed the duties for others.  With patience she molded me so I too could perform the same tasks.  I was fortunate to have her in the office at that time.  But her real talent was to make others feel warm and welcome when coming into the legislative office.  And at times make everyone laugh.

Many months after we had worked together, while standing at her desk talking, she just happened to pick up a long safety pin and stick it into her breast!  Being a typical man with no real threshold for pain I nearly crumpled from the sight.   She broke into a hearty laugh as she explained that after having cancer and her breast removed she found that amusing.  I have never forgot that day, or her smile.

Over the years I kept in contact with her and always made sure she had the newest edition of the Wisconsin Blue Book. She would rewind in her mind the photos of the real characters who served under the dome and with clear words and gentle humor tell stories of days gone by. At age 90 she was still active in her church, driving in good weather, and still reading newspapers and books about history. At age 99 she no longer was driving, but she was still engaged with the world.

After all the folks in Swoboda’s office had retired or moved on to other jobs we would get together for lunch near Cambria. I would pick up Ruth Schohl and off we would head to meet the others. Most times Ruth would have a bunch of reading items for her dear friend, Geneva. Every now and then Ruth would show her appreciation for my driving by giving me a book.  She would put it in the back seat, as I would tell her that was not necessary.  She would smile and say, “I know.”  Ruth passed away a decade ago after a very full and active life.

Those books are on my shelves, and all the memories and smiles from days gone by remain with those who knew these ladies.

Pictured from 1987 are Gregory Humphrey, Kay Fauerbach, Ruth Schohl, Geneva Rode, Lary Swoboda, Jan Swoboda  

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