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Nicolais: A life’s lesson for us all from a treasured mentor — get to it

As 2020 ends, a recently passed mentor had one more lesson

Bob Rhodes personified the anti-2020. Relentlessly positive and upbeat, Rhodes dedicated his life to making those around him better and happier.

Though he passed away recently from a fall, I cannot imagine a more fitting person to emulate than Rhodes when we emerge from the grips of this most terrible year.

Rhodes was not a celebrity or high-profile politician. Outside a few select circles, he was not famous. But for those that had the pleasure of knowing him, he always seemed to occupy an outsized role in their lives.

Mario Nicolais

I first met Rhodes as a junior in high school. He served as the local Kiwanis sponsor for my high school Key Club community service organization. A natural cheerleader for the Kiwanis family, Rhodes loved nothing more than working with teenagers. He saw each as a lifetime of possibility to come.

Originally involved to help my college education resume, Rhodes helped teach me about the rewards of hard work helping others. He showed up to service projects full of energy and enthusiasm, ready for any task.

Often his first task was to change the disposition of moody teenagers who would rather still be in bed on a Saturday morning. More often than not, he accomplished it with a terrible “Dad joke” – something along the lines of “I’ve got a great joke about construction, but I’m still working on it …”

When he finished, a great, radiant smile would emerge behind his white-bearded face. Usually it spread to the teens under his tutelage. And then our work would begin. 

It took me years to realize what a gift he subtly bestowed upon us. To this day, whenever I find myself reluctant or hesitant to begin a project – like, say, writing a column – I look for a way to reset my mentality with a more positive point of departure.

By my senior year, Rhodes persuaded me to serve as the Lieutenant Governor overseeing projects at multiple schools in the area. It would be the first introduction to politics and public policy, something that developed into a career choice and lifelong obsession.

It also meant planning and attending large conferences. Few people would volunteer to chaperone hundreds or thousands of teenagers away from home and crammed into a hotel for a week. Rhodes did it every single year.

I still remember when he caught me out past curfew during one of those events. He did not raise his voice or lose his temper. He did not need to; he had perfected the art of expressing disappointment. I never came in late again.

A year after I had gone, my youngest brother, Teo, began Key Club as a freshman. Over four years he climbed through the highest rungs of leadership, eventually becoming the first Coloradan to hold the office of Key Club International President. He did it exclusively while being driven from meeting to meeting by Rhodes.

When we talked about Rhodes’ death, he had the perfect anecdote.

Any time Rhodes wanted a Key Clubber to get something done, he’d ask, wait for an affirmative response and reply “when you get around to it.”

Before the student could walk away, though, he would pull a small, round, wooden coin out of his pocket. Inscribed upon each was “TUIT.”

TODAY’S UNDERWRITER

Over the past year many people have put off projects or dreams or ambitions or even the everyday work of living. Things just seem to be put on pause. If Bob Rhodes were still with us, I am sure he would tell is that it was fine to leave all that until we got around to it.

And then he would hand each of us a wooden coin. 


Mario Nicolais is an attorney and columnist who writes on law enforcement, the legal system, health care and public policy. Follow him on Twitter: @MarioNicolaiEsq



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