Debbie Stokes, a 20-year veteran with the Vitae Foundation, has been named its new president effective July 1.  Current President Rob Rysavy is stepping down from his three-year tenure due to family health issues.  The announcement was made at Vitae’s Jefferson City Pro-Life Events on Monday, March 19.

Stokes shared with the 1,150 attendees that she had tried to retire a couple of years ago, but it seemed like God, Vitae Founder Carl Landwehr and Rob had other plans.

“After 17 years, I left Vitae thinking I had retired, and was working with my husband Rick for a few months until he was going to retire. Not too long before his retirement date, I got a call from Carl, then from Rob asking if I could come back to Vitae ‘temporarily.’  Long story short, Rick retired.  I’m not sure where my plans went awry, but that was two years ago, and now here I am standing before you as Vitae’s next president,” Stokes stated.

Over the years, Stokes has played a critical role on almost all of Vitae’s television ad shoots.  She helped choose the production teams keeping in mind the cultural issues relating to each commercial.  Stokes knew it was important to maintain production teams that were known for their expertise to prevent costly mistakes relating to a cultural community outside of their own.

In 2003, when Vitae made a defining shift to call-for-help ads targeted at women experiencing unplanned pregnancies, Stokes was there, going into markets and walking through some of the most crime-ridden neighborhoods in Los Angeles, Washington, DC and New York City.  There were neighborhoods where a pregnancy center was surrounded by ten abortion facilities.  She met with pregnancy center directors and others from the pro-life community to get the lay of the land.  This information helped determine not only the right ad but where in the large market to air it as well.

As Vitae’s Brand Manager, Stokes made sure everything produced was in line with Vitae’s vast knowledgebase of research.  As an educator, Stokes is gifted with the ability not only to absorb the complicated research but fully share it with others in a way that makes it easily understandable, including how it’s applied.

“I love the work that Vitae does, and even more, the people that God has put in my path as I travel this Vitae journey,” Stokes stated.  “In all my years at Vitae, I’ve never been as excited, as positive, as energized about the future as I am right now.  Our Vitae team has the knowledge, the experience, the energy and the drive to blow our results out of the water!”

The incoming Vitae president said she was saddened by Rysavy’s leaving. “Certainly, we understood that he was responding to the needs of his family and that God had another challenge He was calling him to pursue,” Stokes stated.

As Rysavy and his wife, Michelle, began to discuss moving the family to Jefferson City from Colorado Springs, cancer and juvenile diabetes walked into their lives simultaneously.  Michelle was diagnosed with breast cancer in the fall of 2016 and days before her surgery their then 5-year-old daughter, Katharine, was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes.

“Michelle’s cancer treatment center in Colorado Springs is across the street from our parish and our kids’ grade school.  One of the best juvenile diabetes centers in the world is an hour from our front door.  We have a network of friends amassed over 30 years of multiple Air Force assignments in the Rocky Mountains who carried our family through a very hard 2017.  I am also in permanent deacon formation for the Diocese of Colorado Springs,” Rysavy stated.

He noted that he and Michelle concluded that he may have been stretching a little too much, and perhaps he should stay closer to home.  That was reinforced last month when they were told they have another child on the road to Type 1 diabetes, their 16-year-old son Mark.

“I will freely admit, the challenges our family has navigated over the last year or so brought me to my knees,” Rysavy stated. “But knowing that Vitae is in excellent hands with someone who has been so dedicated to the mission for almost two decades, I can leave with the confidence that the right person is at the wheel.”

Stokes noted that she understood that Rysavy was responding to the needs of his family.  Rysavy will take over the job of President of his children’s Colorado Springs high school on July 1.

“His openness to God’s call is one of the reasons it’s so hard to see him go,” Stokes stated.