Sometimes as a writer, you run into roadblocks. I ran into one this week.
I’d heard from numerous people that Diane Dufner is an invaluable member of the Rugby community and would be a great subject for a feature story.
I started calling around to people in the area who had nothing but plaudits to report about her volunteer efforts, from the Pierce County Fair to the Prairie Village Museum to the immaculate flower beds she maintains at the Northern Lights Tower.
Even the Tribune’s own Bryce Berginski touted Dufner’s dedication to her students and causes. Berginski said her help was invaluable to him when he was a student at Rugby High School, where Dufner still works as a support staff member.
“I’d still be in Algebra I if it wasn’t for her,” said Berginski, college graduate and ace columnist at the Tribune. “She’s helped a lot of people.”
But when I called Diane to talk to her about her volunteer efforts and background, she politely and graciously declined.
“I don’t feel comfortable with that,” she said. “I really appreciate that you want to do something. I’m fine just in the background.”
After talking to people about Diane, I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised by her response. While her efforts may be somewhat anonymous, they haven’t gone overlooked.
“In my eyes, she’s one of those invisible unsung heroes in the community that never wants any credit for anything or wants people to see the work she’s doing,” said Pierce County Fair Board President Don Jelsing. “She’s always under the radar.
Dufner has been a major part of putting on the fair for years, Jelsing said, and like a stealthy ninja, she helps keep events like the fair on track.
“She’s one of those people, you have to remind yourself she’s there,” he said. “All this stuff gets done and you wonder how it gets done an Diane is in the mix of all that stuff.”
Diane has planted and maintained flower beds at the museum and Northern Lights Tower for years, and is a regular contributor at the Village Fair, baking buns in the wood-fire oven at the cook car.
“She’s very quiet about it,” said Cathy Jelsing, the museum’s executive director. “She’s just matter of face and humble.”
Cathy Jelsing said Dufner’s dedication was evident on the Fourth of July, when she was at the museum early in the morning tending to her flowers before hustling over to help at the fair.
“It’s just one thing after another,” Cathy Jelsing said.
Khloe Sobolik has been a friend of Dufner’s for 15 years, and recalls meeting Diane, who was working concessions at a Rugby High School event.
“She was pretty much doing that by herself,” Sobolik said.
Since then, Sobolik has worked with Dufner volunteering to help the Chamber of Commerce as well as the at the fair.
“She doesn’t do it for the attention,” Sobolik said. “She does it because it makes her feel good.”
From her students to her many volunteer causes, Dufner deserves the recognition, whether she likes it or not.
“Everybody else can learn just a little bit from her attitude and enthusiasm for volunteerism,” Don Jelsing said. “She never has a harsh or negative word. It’s always positive.”