2020 Citizen of the Year: Dr. Joleen Falkenburg and Melanie Pearce


LUSK – Niobrara county’s own dynamic duo Dr. Joleen Falkenburg and Melanie Pearce, DNP, RN, were recognized for their exhaustive efforts to keep Niobrara county healthy and safe with the 2020 Citizen of the Year award from the Masons Harmony Lodge No. 24. 

For most people, 2020 provided many unique challenges from crisis schooling their children to coping with closures and isolation to significant health obstacles from contracting COVID-19. For Dr. Falkenburg and Pearce, 2020 included all these and more. As the head of a team of health professionals that serve Niobrara County, Dr. Pearce and Falkenburg were the gatekeepers for major health decisions during the COVID-19 pandemic. These two ladies worked in conjunction with their teams of nurses, medical assistants, elected officials, administrators and support staff to keep Niobrara residents safe, healthy and sane. 

In addition to working as a health care provider and medical director of the Niobrara Community Hospital and the Rawhide Rural Health Clinic, Falkenburg stepped into an incredibly active role as the county’s health officer. This role required her to work closely with local authorities and the public health agency to review information, make appropriate decisions for Niobrara County and communicate those decisions to the public as well as state authorities.

Niobrara County owes protection of many of its residents’ freedoms to the efforts of Falkenburg in her personal investment of time and energy to research outcomes and disease process as it relates to COVID-19, as well as the mountains of paperwork that have been required to keep Niobrara County open with variances and continually reassessing the operations of the hospital and clinic. 

Pearce certainly showed why she is well qualified to be a lecturer in nursing leadership at the University of Wyoming. She embodied the perspective that she provided five years with the quote, “With the goal of improving population health, there is an increasing need for public health leaders who can see what change is needed and organize people, agencies and communities to tackle those changes.”

Pearce’s ability to work within a large team of nurses, physicians, politicians and the public allowed her to move fluidly between the roles that were required of her. While Dr. Pearce resides in Converse County, her commitment to the people of Niobrara County is absolute and she has spent countless hours driving back and forth from Douglas to ensure that Niobrara County was kept safe and healthy. Like Falkenburg, Pearce continued to provide frontline services as a nurse while managing her policy and public health leadership roles. She has also worked hard to continue to make doses of the COVID-19 vaccine available to residents of Niobrara county and coordinate those vaccine clinics.

Harmony Lodge No. 24 was honored to recognize the services of these two ladies and thank them on behalf of the community.

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