Jim Rokakis

Jim is a Vice President at the Western Reserve Land Conservancy; and the Director of their Thriving Communities Institute.

  1. In 2 sentences, explain your work with the HWHF?

HWHF has supported many facets of Western Reserve Land Conservancy’s work from land protection and planning to the county land bank idea to urban reforestation. HWHF has been among the small group of pioneering funders that have supported new ideas and concepts, not afraid to take a chance with a bold idea.

  1. Describe what your organization does best

We do land conservation as well as anybody in the country and have preserved about 50,000 acres of land in Northeast Ohio. We have an urban arm—The Thriving Communities Institute– that has established over 40 county land banks in Ohio and raised over 440 million dollars in demolition monies. We are also involved in an effort to reforest out region and to restore the tree canopy.

  1. What’s the best part of your day?

Coming to work with a dedicated and committed staff.

  1. What are you currently working on?

Reforestation efforts, establishing new land banks and working with existing ones, conducting property surveys throughout Ohio and making the case for aid to older, distressed communities in Ohio.

  1. When did you know you wanted to be a(n) employee of the Western Reserve land Conservancy?

When I learned of the wonderful work they are doing as I left public office and looked for my ‘second act’ in my work career.

  1. What piece of advice would you give someone looking to break into this field?

Study, get the education that provides you the foundation of knowledge you need to make decisions and volunteer your time to work for the kinds of organizations where you might like to work.

  1. What do you read for fun?

Non-fiction books on history, politics and policy.

  1. Are you a Windows or Apple person?

Apple at home. Windows at work.

  1. What’s one thing you can’t work without?


  1. Who do you admire and why?

I admire anybody who is passionate and committed to the work they do.

  1. What’s the most interesting place you have ever been (for work)?

Some of the large farms in Northeast Ohio that are as sophisticated in their farming operations as anywhere in the world. Those visits blew my view of farming out of the water

  1. What’s the most interesting thing you have ever done?

I spent two days lecturing at West Point and living on the grounds.

  1. What’s the farthest you’ve ever traveled for your work?


  1. What accomplishment are you most proud of?

As a Councilman I led the charge to establish the first housing court in Ohio. It is critical to the City. That was way back in 1979. As County Treasurer I led the charge to establish county land banks and raised over 440 million dollars to remove lighted properties. There are over 40 land banks in Ohio today and our blight removal efforts have been critical to cities like Cleveland, Akron and Canton.

  1. What do you hope to accomplish in the future?

More of the same kind of work that I am doing now.

  1. What’s your favorite activity outside of work?

Just being with my family.

  1. If you were on an island and could only bring three things – what would they be?

I have no idea!

  1. How do you define success and how do you measure it?

Making a difference. Not just saying ‘We have a problem here,’ but devising solutions and implementing them.

  1. Who were the most important people to help you create success in your life and what did they do for/with you?

Rich Cochran, the CEO at Western Reserve Land Conservancy, because he convinced his Board to extend their work into the urban footprint. Without him I would be doing none of this work—and urban areas in Ohio would be much worse off.

  1. If you could do something as a career other than what you are doing now (no limits) what would it be?

Playing major league baseball. I am not kidding. I LOVE baseball.

  1. What are your top 3 favorite movies of all time?

Shawshank Redemption, Godfather Part 2 and Chariots of Fire.

  1. What are you doing now that will make a positive difference for future generations?

Removing blight and planting trees those future generations will enjoy and benefit from.

  1. What question did we not ask but should ask the next person?

Will The Cleveland Browns ever play in the Super Bowl?