If you toss a pebble into a lake, it may only create a small splash. Yet once that pebble breaks the surface of the water, ripples will soon begin to spread out across the lake in increasingly larger circles, reaching farther than the initial splash ever could.
That's the metaphor Carol Sue Stayrook Hobbs likes to use when she talks about the importance of community service. She believes people sometimes underestimate how much good one small, positive action can do.
"You never, never know how your one contact is going to impact a person," she said. "... The more people who interact and value and put energy into the community, the better our community is."
As a USD 373 school board member and advocate for health, the environment, fine arts and her faith, Stayrook Hobbs has created plenty of "ripples" of her own in the community. It's her quiet commitment to public service that earned her one of the 2013 Woman of the Year awards.
"I think Carol Sue is such a great community person in that she cares about all those common values like family, friends, church, education, very earth friendly and loves to ride her bicycle whenever she can," said Debbie Palacioz, one of the people who nominated Stayrook Hobbs for the award. "She is such a people person, great leadership skills, warm smile and the most wonderful thing is that she humbly serves us because she loves this Newton community."
The Newton "Woman of the Year" program began in 1956 and is overseen by an advisory committee. The two other 2013 winners are Sharon Cranston and Barbara Bunting.
Stayrook Hobbs was first inspired to join the school board due to a desire to help children.
"I've always been a child advocate, feeling that children are our most important resource," she said. "If children have happy, healthy lives and are well-educated, we'll have happy, healthy adults."
She first became involved in the school system when her own children were young. She started attending school board meetings and then felt a calling to step up and serve. She has served on the school board for about a decade.
"I wanted to make sure our students were represented well on the school board," she said.
One of the biggest highlights for her is attending graduation every year — and watching students head on to college or a successful career.
"When you see young people walking across the stage and reaching a milestone ... that's some of the best times," she said.
She also enjoys visiting classrooms to read stories to school children and watch teachers instruct the students. She said another highlight was a successful $29.9 million bond issue election in 2007.
Her goal in the future is simple: to provide the best education possible for local students. She said the school board likely will have to make some hard decisions over the next few years, due to the threat of more budget cuts. Yet despite those challenges, she believes the community will keep working with the school board to keep the education system strong.
"I'm proud of how our community values education," she said. "... I know the community will continue to support education and do what it takes."
Stayrook Hobbs has become known in the community as an advocate for bicycling. As a member of the ReNewton Bicycle Initiative, she worked to promote bicycling as an option for both recreation and everyday transportation, and she shares information about bicycle safety.
During the day, she can be spotted working at Prairie Harvest in downtown Newton. She supports Prairie Harvest's efforts to offer locally-produced food products, and she has been recognized for her customer service.
Stayrook Hobbs said she was "very humbled" by the 2013 Woman of the Year award and said her hope is simply to continue serving in the future.
"Wow, I'm not sure that I do any more than anyone else," she said. "It's a huge honor to be recognized like this."
It's an honor the community members who nominated her believe she well deserves.
"Carol Sue is one whose dedication is eclectic or multi-dimensional, for she is an advocate who wears many hats," said nominator Neysa Eberhard. "... Her leadership, her dedication to community, her judgment, her integrity, her initiatives and her contributions over 30 some years to this community are those of one to be valued as Woman of the Year."