Throughout communities across the nation, there are men and women who walk among us without calling attention to themselves and the accomplishments made during their lives. Some are uncomfortable bringing awareness to their achievements, not so much because they are shy, but instead because they felt it was their responsibility to step forward to achieve those accomplishments.
It was Robert Teague who said it best. “We all leave footprints as we journey through life. Make sure yours are worth following.” Such has been the case with many residents who reside on Marco Island. Their stories and backgrounds are fascinating to say the least. One such individual who fits that description is Donald R. “Dusty” Rhodes, who will turn 80 years old on January 29.
Dusty was born in 1941 in Orange, NJ. At the age of 13, his parents moved to Montclair, NJ, from a rural section of that state after he was selected to attend a private high school which was part of Montclair State College. One year later, his father tragically passed due to a cerebral aneurysm while working in New York City.
Upon completion of high school Rhodes, received an appointment to the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. In 1958, at age 17, he was the youngest “plebe” in his incoming freshman class at the academy. He graduated in 1962 from the Naval Academy with a degree in engineering, and entered the next phase of his training to be a naval aviator.
Although Nancy Crook lived only two doors down from the Rhodes family, she never dated the neighborhood boy except for a couple of inconsequential get togethers during high school. It wasn’t until a New Year’s Eve celebration when she was home from college and Rhodes was home from Annapolis that they began their courtship. Both had separate dates for that New Years’ evening, until Nancy invited the neighbor boy to come down and see her father’s new car, an MGTD Roadster. That’s when the magic happened between the two, resulting in the cancellation of their respective dates and the beginning of spending time getting to know each other. They were married a year later after they both graduated, walking down the aisle in their hometown Congregationalist Church under an arch of drawn sabers held by Rhodes’ classmates from Annapolis.
After their wedding, they packed their Volkswagen and headed south, first to take a tour of Florida and then onto Pensacola where Dusty would attend his aviation flight training. When touring Florida, they stayed an evening in Naples. Both fell in love with the area and imagined living here someday.
Although not specifically deployed to Vietnam, Rhodes flew missions into the country while stationed in Alaska as an Orion P3 anti-submarine aircraft commander, having the responsibility for a 12-man crew on that aircraft. At the age of 23, he gained the distinction of being the youngest captain of his own aircraft.
When his service time was done, Rhodes and his wife relocated to Jacksonville, FL, where he would enter the civilian world. This time, he would choose to fly a desk and put his engineering degree to work. It wasn’t long though before Rhodes would feel the tug of the cockpit of an aircraft again, and he signed on with National Airlines, which was headquartered out of Miami.
At the time, the airline business was not very stable, as contract negotiations with various segments of the workforce were constantly shutting down the potential for a steady paycheck as they went on strike more often than not to settle labor disputes. That required employees to find alternate forms of supplementing their incomes. Rhodes and many other employees found themselves doing anything that would provide a reliable source of income to support their families. The Rhodes family now were residing in Miami. Work to supplement their income included everything from painting houses and paving driveways to tarring roofs.
With two young children and another on the way, Rhodes knew this couldn’t continue. It was then that he chose to go back to school to get his law degree, all the time while working side jobs and flying trips for the airlines. As luck would have it, the head of the University of Miami Law School was an Annapolis graduate himself, and would assist Rhodes in making the schedule work during the next 3 ½ to 4 years.
It was in 1973, after completion of his law degree, that the family moved to Marco Island to be closer to his mother and stepfather, who had retired and moved down to warmer weather in Naples. Shortly after that, Rhodes opened his own law firm here on the island, taking advantage of flying 15 days a month and working in his fledgling law practice the remainder of the time.
A chance encounter between another young attorney from Naples named Glenn Tucker would be the genesis of the creation of the Rhodes/Tucker Law Offices on Marco Island.
Although he is a quiet man, Rhodes is an individual with core beliefs in service and family values. He always made time to give back to his community as his family put down their roots here beginning in 1973, especially to the children within the community by coaching a number of youth sports, including his love for competitive swimming.
Both Dusty and his wife would quickly wrap their arms around the Marco community and feel a great affinity for what they felt was the finest spot to live in the State of Florida. They raised their three children here – two daughters, Paige and Cameron, and their son Donald. Eventually they were blessed with seven grandchildren, but suffered the pain of loss of their grandson, Clay, as a result of a tragic auto accident while driving to work one morning from college out at Ava Maria, where he was an outstanding football player.
One of the most telling comments regarding Rhodes came from a classmate of Paige Rhodes, one of Dusty’s two daughters. Paula Sorrenti grew up with Paige Rhodes and her sister Cameron and played sports locally. She was mentored by Paige’s dad as part of the local swim team. To this day, she fondly refers to him as “coach.” “Mr. Rhodes was like a second father to all of us. He genuinely cared and looked out for us all, no matter what the situation. He was wonderful to all of us kids, treating us just like a big family,” said Sorrenti.
Rhodes would see many changes in the airline industry due to acquisitions, including National being bought by Pan Am before being acquired by Delta Airlines, all of which Rhodes flew for.
His time in the air was never more rewarding than when he was chosen to pilot the press plane that accompanied the George H.W. Bush campaign during his run for President. The many times I would hear him speak of the late President, it would always be in extremely glowing terms regarding the many kindnesses he observed Bush bestowing upon those around him, as well as his humble nature. Rhodes and the Vice President grew close during those trips and often would play tennis or go jog together on those long campaign journeys across the nation.
He would also grow close to George W. Bush, as he assumed a similar role piloting his campaign plane prior to his election to the Presidency. Dusty and his wife Nancy were enormously proud of their special times with the two men who would live at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, as well as Jeb Bush, who served as Governor of Florida from 1999 to 2007. Jeb Bush appointed Rhodes to serve as an Elections Commissioner and eventually, as Chairman of that important board.
Nancy Rhodes also has been very actively involved in Florida politics, having helped to run the campaigns of both former Presidents in North Florida, as well as former Governor Bob Menendez’s campaign.
Throughout his life, Dusty Rhodes has always placed his family and his country first but without seeking the limelight or special recognition. He has been closer than most to history and the men that have made it, which he considers to have been an honor.
Dusty and his wife Nancy have spent 48 years on Marco Island, raising a family, contributing to making America a better nation, and helping to build a strong community of which we all can be proud. Over those years, he has surrounded himself with a number of close friends, some of the closest he meets with every Monday for lunch to talk about many of their common interests.
Craig Woodward, whose father Arthur brought his wife and his two sons south to Marco Island from Illinois and opened the first law firm on Marco Island in 1971, is part of that small “Monday Lunch Bunch” that has known Dusty for his many years here on the island. “When I think about Dusty these attributes come to mind. Classy, honest, funny, reliable and charming. Just an all-around great guy,” said Woodward.
Marty Glaser is another of those special people who just happens to be a neighbor of Rhodes. “I thoroughly enjoy his stories regarding his flying as part of the Bush 41 campaign, his many contacts with other well-known political figures, as well as his recollections of his times in Annapolis and his military service. I can only hope that he enjoys a great birthday and a better golf game in the future,” said Glaser.
Tom Wagor, another longtime resident of the island and friend of Rhodes, would lean back and smile. “He’s a gentleman, who brings an enormous amount of knowledge and insight to any conversation he is a part of,” said Wagor.
George Percel, another friend of over 25 years, also smiles when he speaks about Dusty’s great knowledge and his reliability as a friend. He is also quick to comment regarding the great respect he carries with so many. “Of course, we’ve also promised to not release any information about what he had for lunch to Nancy, his wife.”
Bill Dunnick, another long-time friend and realtor on the island, has nothing but fond memories regarding some of the travel experiences they and their families shared over the years, especially in the Blue Ridge Mountains. “He has just been a fabulous friend over the years as well as a man of great integrity,” said Dunnick.
Mike Siegfried, another islander and close friend we reached out to didn’t hesitate when he said of Rhodes, “Dusty is a man of impeccable honesty and kindness. He’s the person you want as your neighbor and your best friend,” said Siegfried.
Donald R. “Dusty” Rhodes has had a unique front row seat to history, been a contributor to helping build a first-rate community on Marco Island, and in the last 80 years, has created a legacy that he, his family and friends can be proud of.
Happy Birthday, Dusty.