Rock of Ages
By Kris Leonhardt
RUDOLPH – Peel back the paint on this rock, and you’ll find decades of memories, messages, and mementos which mark the time passages of a community.
What started out as an Easter-time prank has grown into a timeless community art exhibit marking the personal reflections and notable events of area residents.
The rock came to rest at County Highways O and C just east of Rudolph prior to the 1970s, when it was removed from a central Wisconsin granite pit and transported to the intersection by local resident, Willis Nieman.
The egg-shaped rock proved too tempting to resist in the spring of 1971, when a group of Assumption High School students planned a practical joke, and Nieman woke up the next morning with “Happy Easter 71” emblazoned across the enormous rock.
The matter was not taken lightly at that time and the incident was reported to the local sheriff’s office, but the ritual continued through the next five decades, with area residents chronicling the best and works times of their lives through art.
The “Rudolph Rock” continues to transform on a weekly basis with a new message developing at its location on the edge of a farm field, nestled between the small village and the city of Stevens Point.
In June of 2008, Amy Ortner and her new husband, Brian, posed alongside the rock for wedding photos.
“Our friends painted the rock for us, even adding our pets to the bottom. We returned the favor and painted the rock for two other weddings,” Amy recalled.
In 2017, a Stevens Point family – Lori, Jimmy, Liz, and Joey Lori Kozicki – painted the rock in memory of a family member, Wayland Villars, a young boy who lost his battle with brain cancer four years earlier.
In January of 2021, when Lincoln High School Senior Elizabeth Pagels saw the paintings turn from positivity to distaste, she set to return the local landmark to its original purpose. Pagels set out alone on a cold winter day to inscribe the phrase “Why can’t we just get along?” to remind area residents that they are one community.
That type of message is exactly what the rock’s essence meant to the teens that set out to create the first message 50 years ago.
“The spirit of the rock was to put out positive messages that would bring joy to the community,” Julie DaWalt, one of the original 1971 painters, said of Pagels work.