Allan Rhodes, Sr. (July 1, 1923 – April 6, 2009)
Allan Rhodes, Sr. was the consummate gentleman—a softspoken, dignified man who observed, thought deeply, and spoke his mind after careful consideration. People listened with respect and often with admiration.
After a long, full life of family, business and community spirit, Allan Rhodes passed away April 6, 2009, in Paducah at the age of 85.
“He was the only person who would leave me with signed, blank checks,” says Debbi Johnson, secretary-treasurer of Bluegrass Honda-BMW, who was a long-time office manager for Rhodes at his several car agencies. “Giving total and complete trust was a big deal for me. He was a very special person.”
Known as the man behind the slogan “All roads lead to Allan Rhodes (Ford),” Rhodes brought his family to Paducah in the fall of 1966 and took over ownership of King-Woodall Ford. Though he and his son, Allan, added other car franchises (Honda, Chrysler, Dodge, Plymouth, BMW and Hyundai), and moved the store to Park Avenue, many locals still associated him with Ford, often engaging him in conversation about purchases they had made at his Ford store 40 years ago.
A native of Ohio County, Kentucky, Rhodes and his parents moved to Owensboro where he graduated from high school. His father, Ray Rhodes, who owned a small grocery, shrewdly put his son to work in the summer on the family farm, allowing him to determine that continuing his education might be a preferable path to take. It worked. Rhodes entered Indiana University. His studies were interrupted by World War II. He spent three and a half years in the U.S. Army stateside, leading basic training as a Second Lieutenant and company commander.
Finishing his B.S. degree in marketing at IU, Rhodes worked for a short time for Proctor and Gamble before joining Owensboro’s Holder Motor Company as sales manager. He found his niche in the automobile business. He also found his soon-to-be wife of 42 years, Nettie Sweeney.
Rhodes’ business career was interrupted during the Korean War. He was called back to serve his country, this time overseas in Germany. After discharge from the Army, the family returned to Owensboro, where his future looked secure with the Holder Motor Company.
Besides picking up a little of the German language in his Army stint, Rhodes picked up another idea, which he was able to translate into a booming business back in the U.S. He had discovered Volkswagen, the “people’s car,” and he jumped at the chance to open his own VW store in Lima, Ohio, in 1959. It was a good ride, but it was north of the Mason-Dixon Line (where Nettie had to ask the local A&P to please stock grits), and the family longed to return to Kentucky.
The move to Paducah wasn’t long in coming. And it was here that the family put down its final roots. Son Allan Rhodes decided to follow his father into the auto business. His son, Rob Rhodes, turned to law.
Rhodes formed an early friendship with now Paducah Mayor Bill Paxton. Says Paxton, “He (Rhodes) was a very big supporter during my 30-year career. I knew I had someone I could go to about any problem. After I became mayor, he called me periodically with advice and ideas for the good of the city. He certainly was instrumental in making me the person I am today.”
Rhodes was a founder of Growth, Inc. He served as president of the Paducah Area Chamber of Commerce, president of the Paducah Industrial Development Corporation, and was on the Lourdes Hospital Board for six years. He was a co-founder of Crime Stoppers and was one of the key individuals who worked to secure the building of the original Executive Inn. And, of course, he was a much respected customer of Paducah Bank.
In his later years, Rhodes found time to pursue other interests and activities, most of which revolved around people and history. He taught the men’s Sunday school class at First Presbyterian Church in Paducah for 30 years, constantly searching for novel topics to spark discussion. Often Rhodes’ Sunday school topics veered into historical perspective. History was always a hobby, and retirement gave him more time for research and reflection. He was most interested in little-known facts and overlooked individuals, primarily Kentuckians. He presented programs on abolitionist Cassius Clay and Vice President Richard M. Johnson at the McCracken County Public Library, the most recent in January 2009. His bookshelves were lined with books on the Civil War, Texas, and the Abraham Lincoln family, Mary Todd being a member of his wife’s family.
Family man, businessman, community supporter—Allan Rhodes, Sr. was one of those rare individuals who made a mark and set examples for others. Members of the coffee group he attended on weekday mornings for more than 20 years used words like caring, loyal, and sincere to describe Rhodes. Group member and retired businessman John Caruthers brought nods of approval when he said simply, “(Allan) was just a great guy.”