Jimmie Rook of IA Brightens Vets’ Days Despite Hurdles

By Pete Levine ·

Jimmie Rook, a food service worker at the Iowa Veterans Home, hasn’t had to join a gym for the past 30 years. That’s because a typical day for Jimmie involves steering a line of food carts weighing upwards of 700 pounds through miles of tunnels beneath the campus of the veteran’s home.

If that doesn’t impress you, maybe this will: Jimmie does it all with the use of just one arm. A motorcycle accident as a teen left his right arm paralyzed, but it didn’t hamper his perseverance.

“I never gave up,” said Rook, a member of AFSCME Local 2984 (Iowa Council 61). “I wanted to work. That’s it.”

That kind of commitment led his fellow food service worker at the veterans home, Jennifer Leavy-Westphal, to nominate Rook for AFSCME’S Never Quit Service Award.

“I find him outstanding,” said Leavy-Westphal. “Every day he’s doing it all with one arm. It’s pretty impressive.”

Aside from the physical demands of the job: moving carts through the tunnels (the food service workers do get machine-aided assistance), loading them onto elevators, and even piling dishes and trays onto the carts, Jimmie brings something else to the table.

“He’s really dedicated to the veterans,” said Leavy-Westphal.

Never Quit Service Awards

For Rook, the more than 500 veterans who live in the Iowa Veterans Home are a big part of what makes his job special.

“We want them to have a happy place to live,” said Rook, who was born in Marshalltown, Iowa, but now calls State Center his home.

Many of the veterans don’t have families, so whatever Rook can do to brighten their day—whether it’s chatting with them or cracking a joke – makes a difference. Which means for the past 30 years, the residents of the Veterans Home have had a pretty special person watching out for them.

And, despite his earlier accident, Rook hasn’t shied away from motorcycles, either. He still drives a specially-outfitted Harley Davidson ’95 Heritage Softail to work every day.

That’s no surprise to Leavy-Westphal.

“He never gives up on what he can accomplish,” she said.