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Rodes, Charles G. of Fort Lauderdale

Suniland Magazine


The boom that is sweeping Florida is like a golden web hovering over the land. It is as if a great unseen spinner sat at his weaving attaching his thread to one point after another in the State filling it with the glow of promise and achievement, and from these vantage points spinning broader, wider, embracing more and more territory, drawing more and more people into its friendly meshes, and holding them voluntary prisoners because of the splendid lure of opportunity.

A worthy spinner who works tirelessly, carefully, and whose handiwork is so perfect that when the rush for land is over and prices settle to the jogtrot of routine. It will be found that he has woven a pattern of finance, commerce, enterprise and endeavor wherein thousands of acres more of Florida soil have been cultivated. Hundreds of additional towns have flowered on her bosom, numberless new industries have been counted to her credit, and countless people are stretching hands in friendliness across what was once her waste lands.

In the completion of such a work, it is inevitable that some few chosen people will be caught in the golden mesh and be created Midases or, more correctly, that they will glimpse the magnitude of the work and rushing in on wings of faith will take hold of one of the golden threads and themselves assist in the spinning. There is Charles Rodes of Fort Lauderdale, D. P. Davis of Miami and Davis Islands; John Ringling of Sarasota: and in the broader- and deeper sense: Henry M. Flager who made the East Coast of Florida, Henry B. Plan, of the Gulf shore of Southern Florida, William B. Harbeson of the Western boundaries of Northern Florida.

But there is one difference between these Midases and King Midas of old. The original Midas was a king at birth with all the royal prerogatives of divine rights—a king that could do no wrong -while the Florida Midas, as a rule, has been born in a stable, as it were, and is full of the humanities of life—Charlie Rodes was a storekeeper; D. P. Davis, a newsboy; William Harbeson, a section hand. This type does not hoard his gold, he puts it back into the land, the talents well invested, and spends it in providing pleasure for his family and friends.

The story we are about to tell has to do with the first mentioned of these modern Midases, Charles G. Rodes of Fort Lauderdale, who recently planned and executed, as a gift to his relative, a trip through the West and old Mexico lasting a full month. It was an undertaking that a less intrepid man would have quailed under, but Mr. Rodes revelled in it from the prelude of preparations to the epilogue of farewells.

Mr. Rodes and his wife, who was Miss Rozelle Williams of Bunker Hill, III., before her marriage, came to Florida from West Virginia in 1907. He acquired a ten acre farm in Fort Lauderdale, opened a feed store and settled down to live the simple, thrifty life of the farmer and small merchant. In the parlance of the day, Mr. Rodes is a good mixer and his store soon developed into a paying investment and became the most popular loafing place in Fort Lauderdale.

"Charlie," as he is familiarly called, knows how to give a welcome with one hand and make money with the other. He has a keen sense of humor and his wit filled the few minutes that his friends had to kill full to brimming with the sort of dry, homey repartee that made "David Harum" a best seller in its day. Primarily an entertainer, his humor is ever subservient to his sympathy and it is this sincerity that wins him friends and makes for his success more surely than his wit. To put it tersely, Mr. Rodes has personality and it is this personality that is greatly responsible for his achievements.

It was just two years ago that Mr. Rodes saw the vision of the golden well above Fort Lauderdale, sold store, and took up the glistening thread to weave his bit of design into the tapestry depicting the Golden Age of Florida. Incidentally, as if the Midas touch still lingered on his humble possessions, the little store, twice sold, has brought prosperity to both of its subsequent owners.

It is said that the man who has vision enough to see and lets the inspiration pass without attempting to mold it into concrete form is left poorer than he was -before he was given the grace to see, but Mr. Rodes followed the light. All these years he had continued to farm with what time he could spare from his store, and resting from his labors one evening, he gazed over his farm and -dreamed of Venice. Down its weary -ditches he saw sparkling waters and gliding crafts, in its waste stretches, palaces, picturesque homes, in its jungle growth, beautiful Italian gardens.

Immediately he had conceived the dream, he began to make business like plans and execute them. He planted his land, he turned the ditches into canals, and he put his subdivision on the market and called it Venice. The scheme was a whirlwind success, and the old city that had once been a military reservation and trading post for the Indians, became presumably, the romantic Italian port of the Old World with canals threading the city this way and that, so as to give each resident lot a water front, and connecting the natural waterways so gracefully that they seemed to be the handiwork of nature herself, and resulted in far flung vistas of bewildering beauty. Pleasure boats soon appeared on the canals and ocean vessels lipped in and out of the heart of the city along New River, that Indian tradition says sprang up over night, making the illusion complete.

Thus began Mr. Rodes' winged career as a realtor and his subsequent acquisition of millions. The little old farm house gave way to a palatial home, the farm wagons to luxuriant limousines. The millionaire put his house in order as befitted a modern Midas, but unlike Midas's household, the family life with all its simplicity, candor and unassuming sweetness remained the same. The family now consists of Mr. and Mrs. Rodes and Charles G. Jr., a clean cut Youth and ardent athlete, who made a name for himself at Stetson University when he set a new record for the one mile dash at the Gainsville Meet, and who is one of the best tennis players in Florida.

The change in the financial affairs of the Rodes gave them an opportunity to travel and resulted in a trip to California and the Western Coast. While Mr. Rodes declares that the best part of going away is the getting back to Florida, he is able to enjoy to the fullest the delight of other parts of his country. And he enjoyed his trip out to the great open spaces so much that he kept wishing that he might have this or that one of his family with him as different features unrolled themselves that he knew would make special appeal to their varied personalities.

He has seven sisters and three brothers and they are all bound together by a bond of affection closely knit by a childhood of happy days spent together in West Virginia. And another vision came to him a vision of all of them, turned boys and girls again, and off for the biggest picnic of their lives in the national playgrounds of the United States.

As with the first vision, he had no sooner conceived it than he proceeded to make it a fact. He sent out a gracious summons to the clan of Rodes and all their tribes and included, not only his closest relatives but also his aunts and uncles and cousins. Getting enthusiastic replies, he mapped out the trip thoroughly, and set to work to charter two Pullman cars, one solid Pullman, the other a combination of drawing-room sections, dining-room and shower baths. The trip as planned was to cost him $40,000 and included the expenses of each member of the party from the time he left his home town, no matter in what corner of the country it was, until he returned.

Now there are philanthropists and philanthropists, but too often their wealth flows out to endeavors that bring them public commendation while their relatives continue along the drab road of routine without ever a day of brilliant joyousness to make them lift their eyes from the ground. But Mr. Rodes thought for others begins at his own fireside and from this hospitable spot widens out to broader fields.

The personnel of the party, when they were all gathered together and on their way, numbered fifty-two souls. It included two preachers among the relatives, and from outside the clan, a physician, a cameraman and a newspaper reporter.

The Rodes Florida Special left Fort Lauderdale on July 20, captained by Mr. Rodes with his clever, dark-eyed wife as mate, and his son as cheer leader. On it, too, were Mrs. W. M. Kyle and her family, sister of Charlie Rodes and wife of the President of the Fort Lauderdale Bank and Trust Company, whose duties deprived him of participating in the family reunion; the Misses Olga May and Margaret Grant; Miss Ruby Leach, United News staff correspondent, and Mr. E. M. Kelcy, photographer, all of Fort Lauderdale with the exception of Miss Leach. There were, also, of course, a battery of cooks, waiters and porters, well equipped with good humor and thoroughly in the spirit of the trip.

At Melbourne, Fla., Mr. Rodes was joined by his sister Mrs. C. R. Johnson, and his three brothers: John B., Seth, and M. B. with their families. It was here, too, that Dr. and Mrs. I. F. Bean came on.

Mr. John B. Rodes has come well to the fore in Brevard County as a promo of the good roads movement and has pushed without ceasing, the Melbourne-Kissimmee and Dixie Highways in his county. He served in the State Legislature in 1915-1916, and has acted as county commissioner since 1918, to which office he has been elected for the next two years also. His wife, too, is public spirited, being vice-president of the Woman's Club of Melbourne and an active worker in church work. Mr. B. M. Rodes is a railroad man and has been first deputy sheriff of the county for five years while Mr. Seth Rodes is a road contractor and has charge of all the roads of the third district of the county.

Mrs. F. B. Baggett and Mrs. J. H. Carter, two more sisters of Charlie Rodes, with their husbands and families, augmented the party at Jacksonville, while Mrs. D. H. Kennedy, a sister from West Virginia, boarded the Special somewhere in Tennessee.

Mr. and Mrs. Frank Burdette with their daughter and Mr. and Mrs. Perry Burdette with their sons, first cousins to the Rodes, caught the train at Emporia, Kansas. It was a reunion after twenty-three years of separation. They came loaded down with freshly churned butter, eggs sausage, jellies and jams in their Kansas farms.

Another reunion of long separated cousins took place at Clovis. N. M., when the Rev. A. J. Rodes, a Dunkard preacher, and his wife in the picturesque Dunkard bonnet with his sister Mrs. B. Eastham and her children, were lifted the train by their welcoming relatives to the tune of the grinding of the camera that had accompanied all the meetings along the way.

Now that the Rodes clan was all collected with some score of brilliant and dynamic young folk to keep things going, and with the country beginning to unfold its scenic marvels with each new mile, the real trip began. The flamboyant colors, the deep gorges, the rainbow hued rivers of the Grand Canyon of the Arizona thrilled and enraptured the party and they were delighted when Mr. Rodes secured a permit the superintendent of Grand CanPark for Mr. Kelcy to take pictures there, so that they might have such an intimate souvenir.

The trip through California over the Mohave Desert and into San Diego resulted in an epidemic of parched and blistered lips and made the Floridians long for a whiff of the balmy air of their native State, but failed to dampen their enthusiasm for the trip. Arrived in San Diego, they were provided with buses by the Chamber of Commerce, transported to the ferry, where they crossed the Bay, and made their way to Tia Juana, Mexico.

Here the one near-mishap of the journey was staged with atmosphere and local color enough to satisfy any cameraman, except Mr. Kelcy, for he inadvertently acted the leading role himself and was unable to get a shot of the big act.

The locale was Clandy's place, a roadhouse where soft drinks and firewater are sold over the same counter. Mr. KeIcy was grinding away, getting a wonderful picture of the Rodes crowd in general, and of Mr. Perry Rodes, church deacon, in particular, leaning up against said counter apparently breaking the Eighteenth Amendment, when suddenly he was nabbed by the Mexican authorities, hustled off to jail and charged with operating a moving picture machine without a permit.

It all happened so swiftly that none no of his friends saw his arrest and it was only when some one discovered a scene that he wanted shot and began to look about for Mr. Kelcy that they learned of his fate. To the crowd, it was a huge joke for they knew that "Cousin Charlie" could accomplish anything, even Mr. Kelcy's release from a Mexican jail. But it was not quite the walkover that they had thought it would be and Mr. Rodes had to do some real American-made bluffing and blustering before he secured Mr. Kelcy's release along with permission to operate his camera, and this was accompanied by loud entreaties for the early departure of the tourists.

In Los Angeles, Mr. Rodes secured: nine luxuriant limousines which took the big family through the city and out to Hollywood to pay their respects to the movie stars. And all through the tour the cars were given the right of way, sometimes being mistaken for a funeral procession, but oftener because the traffic officers knew that they contained the Rodes party. Newspaper reporters and cameramen, here as in every city along the way, stormed the Special for stories and snaps, and their appearance in the Los Angeles papers was the means of bringing many old friends together for a jollification, who had not met for years.

On July 30, the Rodes Florida Special reached Santa Barbara and, as if by way of announcement, five earthquake tremors were registered in the morning and one in the afternoon which the visitors experienced, but which did no harm besides scattering loose structures. At the Franciscan Mission, with wreckage still piled about it, the party was greeted by one of its monks who gave them the history of the historic building and declared that they were going to build again stronger and better.

In San Francisco, the battery of reporters repeated itself and the morning of sight-seeing culminated in a matinee at Pantages, the Loew of the West Coast, who offered to provide Mr. Rodes with free seats and put the pictures of the party on his program. This Mr. Rodes declined gracefully, but the comedians made the place merry with Florida jokes that they hurled at the visitors. The day ended with a wonderful shower of roses for Mr. and Mrs. Rodes from the Oakland Western Union.

On now to Yellowstone Park. The Special was deserted at West Yellowstone for buses, and the first night was spent at Old Faithful Camp. Here Mr. Kelcy caught the 150 fot geyser in action while the clan of Rodes, and many not of Rodes, did some high stepping in the foreground. One of the youngsters did a voluntary christening act in the pool but was fished out with nothing more serious than drenched clothes.

Lake Camp, giving a lovely view of Yellowstone Lake, was camping site of the next night. The college girls who act as waitresses and helpers in the Yellowstone inns and camps, and so earn their way through college, soon discovered what genial and generous folk Mr. and Mrs. Charlie Rodes are and serenaded them as "the two best sports of all." This compliment was repeated at Canyon and Mammoth Camps and was well deserved because of the pleasant wishes and the wad of greenbacks that Mr. Rodes always left in his wake.

A one-day stop in Salt Lake and attendance at the famous organ recital at the Mormon Tabernacle; then a trip through the Royal George and into Colorado Springs, and the Rodes Florida Special was well toward its journal home. The Rodeo being in progress in the Springs, the clan descended upon it and was held spellbound by feats of horsemanship for two whole afternoons. But the biggest thrill of all for the young Floridians came when they reached the summit of Pike's Peak, witnessed snow for the first time, and engaged in a rough and tumble snow ball battle with their more Northern cousins.

Now the Rodes Florida Special turned nose eastward toward Gatewood, West Virginia, the old home town of Charlie Rodes and his brothers and sisters and the present residence of the patriarchs of the clan. The aged aunts and uncles had not seen many of their relatives for more than a quarter of a century and had not dreamed that they could ever see them all together again. But there on the farm where "Grandpa Martin B. Rodes," uncle to the brothers and sisters, has lived so long a grand picnic for the clan of Rodes was held on the grassy hill. There were a hundred and fifty of the family present and they ranged in age from three-months—old Walter Lee Rodes to Aunt Jane Jefferies, eighty-six, and Grandpa Rodes, eighty. The tables were spread under great walnut trees that were planted a half century ago when the nuts were buried in the heart of an old oak stump by Grandpa Rodes.

A delightful feature of the visit to the old home was the exhibition of the pictures of the trip from the time the train to Fort Lauderdale until it left Colorado Springs in a moving picture house rented for the purpose. Not only did the participants laugh loud and long and as boisterously as they chose, since it was a private showing, but the old folk had a chance to make the trip themselves via the silversheet and enjoyed it all the more because they took it in half an hour and in an easy chair.

Homeward now the Rodes Florida Special pointed her nose. The two-day celebration at Gatewood had concluded the family reunion, and it had been achieved without a mishap, with out a quarrel, without sadness and bad news of any kind.

No one had ever attempted such a thing before, and inadvertently in the achievement of it, Mr. Rodes has given Florida more wholesome advertising than could have been put over with tons of paper and printer's ink, and numberless fairs and other stunts. And it was all done with the single hearted purpose of giving his relatives pleasure and himself the satisfaction of witnessing their enjoyment, for Charlie Rodes sold out his last piece of property before he boarded the famous Rodes Florida Special, and had nothing to offer the public but his good will, and greetings from the sunshine State.

Spencer, Hullin. "Spinners of Gold in Florida."
Suniland, Nov. 1925, Vol.3, No.2., Pgs. 52-53; 165-170


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