Ally Madsen, 8” diameter, acrylic

In Memory of Renee Van Roekel

By Central College English Department

Renee Van Roekel studied at Central College for several years in pursuit of an English degree. Renee had a love for animals and had a special place in her heart for horses. Renee also struggled for many years with addiction, and on April 2, 2020, it took her life. Her family shares her fight in hopes that Renee’s story will help other people with addiction seek help.

Dr. Josh Dolezal recalls Renee’s freedom through poetry: “Creative writing brought out the best in Renee, because it offered a chance for her to create order out of brokenness. ‘Break Away’ is a lovely example of that, as it combines her knowledge of horses with her hope for the freedom they represented to her.” Dr. Mary Stark got to know Renee personally as her advisor and especially remembers her intellectual curiosity.

Dr. Stark also notes, “Renee was so much more than her struggles. I enjoyed our conversations about her classes, work, and goals as well as her love and appreciation for her family, friends, and her horses. Renee was a sensitive and thoughtful person, a talented writer, and an insightful reader of literature. She was often funny and fun- loving. I will always remember her kindness.”

In 2021, Central College posthumously awarded a Bachelor of Arts degree to Renee. The English Department celebrates Renee’s talent by sharing her poem “Break Away.”

Renee Van RoekelBreak Away

By Renee Van Roekel

I was a horse once.

I took the bit and relished steel between my teeth,

sinewy and snake-like, I twisted my neck and snatched the reins.

Sick of being good, I felt my muscles charge

and bunch leaping around to leave her in a heap,


jumping just to see air beneath me, iron hooves clip

and nostrils flared, I snorted and my forelock swung.

I defeated silence with the rhythm of my body propelling West.

Behind me would be dust and braided tail unraveling,

but I knew because I was also the air


and the murky water who saw my reflection clear

with the almond eye that was bright with fire.

And I thundered over creeks and raced the crow

through her daddy’s corn, my legs flung back a

nd forth and scared the pheasant up,


who I became, with the delicious break in silence by beating wings

and frantic fluttering of the gentle heart I know.

I’m alive, looking at this perfect hoof print by the pond.

I was the horse, the air, the water and the pheasant.


I was not pursued.