Popular Local Musician Johny Rodriguez To Retire From Career At Lucas County Job And Family Services

Local musician Johnny Rodriguez will be retiring from his 33-year-long career as a social worker for Lucas County Job and Family Services on December 31. MIRROR PHOTO BY DENNY McCARTHY

BY KAREN GERHARDINGER | MIRROR REPORTER — As a talented guitar player with a gift for lightening spirits, Johnny Rodriguez, aka “Johnny Rod,” has a busy schedule – taking the stage somewhere in Northwest Ohio multiple nights a week.

As a licensed social worker, Rodriguez has made an impact on the lives of families in Lucas County for over three decades.

On December 31, Rodriguez will retire from Lucas County Job and Family Services after 33 years of service. For the past 18 years, his focus has been in Adult Protective Services, serving as the team leader of six social workers investigating and working to resolve reports of suspected abuse, neglect, self-neglect and exploitation of citizens ages 60 and older.

“My circle of friends knows that I work for the county, but a lot of times they assume I’m working with a younger adult population,” he said.

And that was the plan, originally.

A South End native, Rodriguez attended Our Lady of Perpetual Help and Central Catholic High School before earning his degree in social work from The University of Toledo.

“I went into social work because I had a vision of using music to help people – of playing my guitar at summer camps with kids around a campfire. It turned out to be a lot more government and paperwork,” he laughed.

In Adult Protective Services (APS), 60 percent of the job is attempting to protect people from themselves and their poor decisions, and 40 percent is attempting to protect people from perpetrators who are stealing from them, taking advantage of them or abusing them, he explained.

The law is very different when it comes to intervening on behalf of adults versus children, however.

“If victims are minors, protective services can get them help and remove them from the home immediately,” he said. “With adults, they have rights of self-determination, and you can’t remove them if they refuse – even if they’re living unsafely.”

During his tenure, Rodriguez has worked with those who are homeless, hoarding or living in unsafe conditions. Sometimes, families want to have APS override the adult’s consent so that decisions can be made to provide protection. Other times, there are no family members around to help make those decisions.

“Overriding a person’s consent is a big deal, and that’s a good thing because we live in a free country,” he said.

Often the best APS can do is to document a situation or put an at-risk situation on the radar. At some point – after several 911 calls or hospital visits – the next report to APS could potentially take the case to the next step.

“Unfortunately, adults still fall through the cracks. Some people fall under the radar because no one reports them,” he said.

The best outcome is when APS can wrap up an investigation knowing that an unsafe adult has acquired needed support systems to assure safer independent living. 

Each APS worker spends most of their time in the field, working from their cars, investigating 15 to 20 cases a month. APS reports come from all over Lucas County, including Toledo, Sylvania, Waterville, Oregon, Maumee and Whitehouse. 

Looking back on his years in APS, Rodriguez said he values working with his dedicated team of social workers in the APS unit, as well as being a participant in Lucas County’s exclusive community of advocates for at-risk elders, the Coalition of Organizations for the Protection of Elders (COPE). 

The COPE community consists of the Lucas County Prosecutor’s Office, Lucas County Probate Court, the Area Office on Aging, local police departments, Toledo Fire and Rescue, and other specific attorneys and physicians. The streamlined communication and focus of COPE has made it renowned as one of the best multidisciplinary teams in Ohio, allowing the professionals involved to focus and work together to intervene in complicated elder abuse cases, Rodriguez explained.

He expressed appreciation for playing music over the years, which he said has provided him great therapy to avoid becoming jaded by the nature of APS work.

Inspired by a friend and an uncle, Rodriguez began playing guitar in fifth grade. When he was in eighth grade, he had his opportunity to get on stage in front of an audience, playing with his uncle’s country band during a wedding reception.

“I got on stage, and I felt very comfortable. It was very telling that I would want to be on stage the rest of my life, playing guitar,” said Rodriguez, who is admittedly a shy person. “I don’t have to worry about being shy when I’m playing music. The instrument is what I hide behind.”

After graduating from high school, Rodriguez began teaching guitar to others at Peeler Music, a shop at Byrne and Tedrow roads, where he also met with other musicians. Over the years, he’s taught himself how to play different types of guitars, as well as the banjo, bass and harmonica.

“I like dabbling with different instruments,” he said.

In his early days of performing, Rodriguez built a strong base of fans, often playing in the same venue for months at a time.

“I built a lot of long-term relationships with people who would come to see me on a regular basis – people who still support me to this day,” he said. “Nowadays, it’s not like that as much. I play all over Northwest Ohio and Southeast Michigan in single-night shows instead of playing in the same place all the time.”

One change that’s been a bonus for him has been joining veteran musicians as part of the Dive Bombing Space Pigeons at Howard’s Club H in Bowling Green. With Mark Mikel, Steve Feehan, Ev Harris, Frank May and Brad Babcock, Rodriguez performs songs by artists ranging from Eric Clapton, David Bowie and Elton John to The Beatles, The Moody Blues, Led Zeppelin and Traffic. The Pigeons has allowed him the opportunity to play different instruments, learn new songs and perform his own songs, including “It Only Matters.”

“I did it out of fun because I love to play with Mark and those guys. Then it kind of blew up,” he said of the weekly show. “I’m benefiting from that. First of all, I get my therapy to play in a band setting. And it’s a regular venue for me to play.”

While Rodriquez has not put out any professional CDs or made efforts to gain notoriety outside of the area, he said his ability to continue playing locally is satisfying enough for him.    

In retirement, he hopes to take it easy and play music, possibly writing more original music at home in his at-home recording studio, and continue to perform in the praise team at Christ’s Church in Bowling Green, where he’s been a member for the past five years.

He’ll also have an opportunity to relax and spend more time with his wife, Kim, who he credits with being flexible about his hectic schedule as he’s worked full time and played in venues several nights a week.

“I appreciate the community that has supported me in being able to play this long,” he said.

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