Civil rights activist, emeritus professor
Dan Rhoades, emeritus faculty at Claremont School of Theology, died peacefully December 19 with family by his side at a San Dimas facility. He was 79.
Mr. Rhoades spent his formative years in South Bend, Indiana. He excelled as a student and athlete. He was also gifted in assisting his father with his work as a car mechanic.
After graduating near the top of his class at Riley High School, Mr. Rhoades worked his way through Indiana Central College reading to a wealthy donor who was visually impaired and by painting houses. He was the first of his family to attend college.
By the time Mr. Rhoades had finished his undergraduate degree, he set his sights on Yale University. He was able to attend Yale Divinity School with help from a Dan Forth Foundation Fellowship, being one of a hundred recipients in the country. He earned a Ph.D. in Christian ethics from Yale.
“He was something of a legend at Yale,” Joseph Hough, friend and colleague at Claremont School of Theology, said. Mr. Hough attended Yale after Mr. Rhoades.
In 1953, Mr. Rhoades married his childhood sweetheart, Peggy. The couple had dated since they were 13 years old. They had three children, oldest son, Gary; daughter, Stephanie; and youngest son, Brady. The family settled in Pomona.
After teaching posts in Georgia and Colorado, Mr. Rhoades took a job as an assistant professor of Christian ethics at Claremont School of Theology in 1968.
During his early career at Claremont School of Theology, he was an activist in the church. He was not so much interested, in his words, “writing books that 12 people would read,” but, rather, effecting the change in the church and society on important issues. These included the advancement of civil rights for African-Americans and the anti-Vietnam War protests, a topic he was so passionate about that during one anti-Vietnam War protest, Mr. Rhoades served jail time.
Together, Mr. Rhoades and his colleague Mr. Hough spearheaded an effort to facilitate the integration of the races. “Project Understanding” was created to enhance inter-racial interaction and understanding as well as embed social justice concerns and experiences in the preparation of future ministers. The program organized exchanges between largely white suburban churches and largely black inner-city churches.
“He was a man who cared about justice and fairness,” Mrs. Rhoades said.
For his work, Mr. Rhoades won a civil rights award in the late 1990s from one of the biggest African-American Methodist Episcopal churches in Los Angeles. He retired in 1999 after teaching for 36 years.
Accompanying his passion for social justice was his passion for his family who remember him as an active husband and father. He made sure to be emotionally and physically engaged in the lives of his children. His daughter describes him as the neighborhood father. He played football and basketball with local children, took them swimming and bought them sodas and ice cream at the local market.
In his off time, he liked to work with his hands. Mr. Rhoades was a skilled auto-mechanic who kept up his own cars, those of his children and, occasionally, his colleagues. He was handy around the house and, later in life, took up sculpting. He was also an inveterate Denver Broncos and Los Angeles Lakers fan.
His painting skills, which paid for his undergraduate years, resurfaced when he painted his home in Pomona with his sons. Both sons remember their father “ladder hopping” to save time. He would carefully manipulate the ladder at dangerous heights to continue painting without having to climb down and back up each time they completed a section. His sons still echo his favorite phrase to this day, one that he had told them repeatedly: “You’re a good man, Charlie Brown.”
Two weeks after Mr. Rhoades’ death, Mrs. Rhoades died. She was 79.
Out of respect for Mr. Rhoades’ lack of patience with pomposity, the family celebrated his life at a simple graveside ceremony attended by those who loved him. Mr. and Mrs. Rhoades were buried side by side at Oak Park Cemetery in Claremont.
Mr. Rhoades is survived by his three children; grandchildren, Elizabeth, Olivia and Corey; and by his younger brother, Jack.