His son once described him as a “modern day Cary Grant.” That comment always stayed with us for a couple reasons – first and foremost, because it is so true. Beyond establishing the bow tie as a fashion statement at Bellarmine, Dr. Fred Rhodes is an award-winning icon and a prominent leading man in the higher education landscape. He has been recognized on regional and national levels, receiving numerous professional association awards, such as the Melveen Hardee Award for Exceptional Scholarship and the John Jones Award for Performance as the Dean of Students. He received a Fulbright. The College Personnel Administration of Kentucky (CPAK) even presents an award named in his honor each year. It’s an aptly named award for higher education administrators who have demonstrated service in the field.
And serve he does. Dr. Rhodes helped establish Bellarmine’s beautiful international service program. It began in 1994, when he and Dr. Bob Lockhart took a group of students to El Salvador, which led to annual trips to Guatemala, Belize and other countries. His travels have also taken him to Peru, Jamaica, Belize, and Kerala, India. His passion for service and travel led him and his wife, Dr. Gale Rhodes, to establish an endowed fund for this very purpose.
Dr. Rhodes’ service is also demonstrated through his sincere hospitality. Thousands of Bellarmine students have dined on Dr. Gale Rhodes’ delicious lasagna and Derby Pie and played with their energetic sheepdog. Last Christmas, the Student Government Association had the pleasure of enjoying dinner in the Rhodeses’ home. As we think about it, it was like experiencing a little piece of Bellarmine lore: the last group of students to dine in his home during his tenure as vice president of student affairs.
His thoughtfulness is legendary. He’s dropped off countless dinners for staff members who are bringing home a new baby, recovering from an illness or suffering the loss of a loved one. He has kept Plehn’s Bakery in business with the yummy sugar cookies he delivers each year to SGA. His thoughtfulness extends to his home; as he approached his 25th wedding anniversary, he bought a wedding dress for Gale and then planned a surprise, storybook renewal of their wedding vows. He made all the arrangements, from creating and mailing the invitations, to hiring a photographer, to arranging a carriage ride, planning menus and activities, packing the dress, and buying all the accessories without giving the surprise away. And the dress fit perfectly!
That’s the thing about Dr. Rhodes: He truly cares about people. When you are with him, you feel as though you are the only person in the room and find yourself telling him things about yourself that you’d tell only a dear friend, whether it’s the name of your dog or a funny story about your childhood. He invests in you.
It’s this thoughtfulness, hospitality and legendary leadership that will allow him to leave such a legacy at Bellarmine. He oversaw the building of the chapel, five residence halls and the SuRF center, and established the counseling center. He was also instrumental in creating the freshman focus program. He has a gift for hiring smart, well-trained staff members, as well. Over the past 23 years, Dr. Rhodes has transformed student life at Bellarmine University.
And we are confident that, with bow tie perched jauntily under his chin, in his new role as program chair and professor in the higher education doctoral program Dr. Rhodes will continue to build that legacy.
By Helen-Grace Ryan and Joyce Stephenson
Helen-Grace Ryan is acting vice president and Joyce Stephenson is the administrative assistant for student affairs.
Last December, Dr. Fred Rhodes left his position as vice president of student affairs to become the professor and chair of the Ph.D. in leadership in higher education program in the Annsley Frazier Thornton School of Education. We asked two of his colleagues to look back at his remarkable career in student affairs. -Editor