People of Altoona: Meet Jane!

In this week’s #PeopleofAltoona, Altoona resident Jane Ryan reflects on her connection with the Altoona community and how she was inspired to give people a reason to smile.

When you’ve walked along the bike path or through the gardens in Altoona, have you ever noticed messages of joy and kindness near your feet? Or maybe a little round gnome hiding among the flowers or snow?

Thank Jane Ryan, Altoona resident, for the uplifting bursts of color along your daily walks around town.

In Jane’s own words, here’s her story…


I live next to one of Altoona’s fine bike paths. This happens to be in Greenway Park near the Little Four Mile Creek. I have a sunroom that looks directly onto that area. Often, I sit and watch the bicyclists, joggers, walkers, and dogs with their owners.

Last year, when COVID-19 quarantine happened, I noticed that more and more people were using the path. But they were looking down, not up or around—not smiling. I understood because I was sad, too. Some of the joy in our lives had been taken from us—the need for connection with others. I had retired in the spring prior, after 40 years as a dental assistant.

Seeing smiles and helping people smile was my beloved profession. I was missing that connection.

The year before, my husband and I had visited family in Texas. We came across an area that had painted rocks with inspirational and even some funny quotes or drawings. He reminded me how happy that made me feel.

“So why don’t you paint some rocks?” he said. So, I did.

I began to clear a spot along the path that would attract people. It was near the creek, and the sound of the water was peaceful and relaxing as I worked. I gathered some rather large stones and proceeded to paint them similar to ones I had seen before. I placed them in the clearing.

People stopped. They smiled! I smiled!

A young family stopped one day, as I was painting rocks in my sunroom. I could hear the children giggle and aww. I shouted to them, “Thank you for stopping!” They looked up and saw me in the window.

“Can we take one?” the Mother asked.

I didn’t know what to say. I hadn’t intended that to be the case. They came closer to my window. She, Lindsay, explained to me that they had just moved from the west coast where The Kindness Rocks were common.

Lindsay explained that the rocks are to be hidden and then found by someone. They were excited to see my rocks since it reminded them of their old home. We talked a bit more and she said she would help me with a Facebook page to follow where the rocks roam and encourage others to join in the fun.

The Kindness Garden has become a community project. I have transplanted some flowers and plants from my personal garden and added a border and signage. Others have joined in, leaving their painted rock artwork for behind for others, and they take another to pass along.

If I happen to be tending to the garden when someone is walking by, I invite them to check out the rocks and pass one on to someone else. I tell them that I do my painting up there in my sunroom, and if they see me, they should wave. I smile!

People are making the Kindness Garden a destination now. They are bringing family members from out of town to see and take a rock. There are several rocks of ours that have been relocated out of state: South Dakota, Minnesota, New Mexico, to name a few.

We track our Kindness Rocks’ journey on our Facebook page, where we have daily inspirational quotes and tips on painting.


Altoona is home to Jane because of the growing community’s small-town heart, and its’ friendly people. She was originally drawn here after meeting and marrying her husband, who has been living in Altoona since 1978. She fell in love with him and the town.

One quote that really sticks with Jane is from Megan Murphy, founder of THE KINDNESS ROCKS PROJECT™—a national initiative:

“One message, at just the right moment, can change someone’s entire day, outlook, or life!”

To learn more about Jane’s Kindness Rocks in Altoona, check out her FACEBOOK page: AltoonaIAROCKS/KindnessGardenRocks

For more about living, working and raising a family in Altoona, take a look at our “Living in Altoona” page!