Peewee Rhodes

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Vernon Elwin "Peewee" Rhodes, 76, died Friday, July 29, 2011, at home surrounded by his family in Cape Girardeau after a lengthy illness.

The son of Ollie Dayton Rhodes and Beulah Pearl Downs, Peewee was born in Barnhart, Mo., on Feb. 4, 1935, the youngest of seven children. In 1959, he married the former Carole Dalton, who survives him, as do a daughter and two sons: Kelly (Kerry) Holloway of Fayetteville, Ark., Mark Rhodes and Scott (Samantha) Rhodes of Cape Girardeau. He is also survived by a brother, Edwin "Pete" Rhodes of Cape Girardeau; and two sisters, Evelyn (J.L.) Seal of Farmington, Mo., and Vivian Wampler of Montrose, Colo.; Pam Rhodes (mother of Sam and Zac Rhodes); along with many nieces and nephews also survive.

He was predeceased by his parents and three brothers: Alvin Rhodes, Dayton "Mac" Rhodes and Marvin Rhodes. He was blessed with and is survived by six grandchildren of whom he could not have been prouder: Ryun Holloway, Kelsey Holloway, Casey Holloway, Samuel Rhodes, Zachary Rhodes and Annabelle Rhodes. He would have been Grandpa again in October. The grandchildren will dearly miss him but will cherish the tremendous influence that he had on their lives. He also leaves behind his best friend Daisy. While a short little friend (dachshund), she was his constant companion, traveling buddy, ice cream eater, faithful bedside partner and bodyguard. She will truly miss her buddy.

Peewee left high school, convincing his father to sign for him and joined the Marines when he was 17, along with six of his friends. He spent six proud years in the service, including embassy duty protecting dignitaries in Ecuador. Peewee said many times that it was the Marines that saved and changed his life then set him on his way to success based on the lessons he had learned in the Corps. Once out of the service he went to work as a bread salesman and became friends with Jack Lewis Sr., founder of Bunny Bread.

Despite his success at Bunny Bread Co., Peewee always wanted to go into business for himself. In the early '60s, Peewee and his brother Pete, along with their families, moved to Cape Girardeau and opened three Gulf service stations -- in Cape Girardeau, Jackson and Perryville, Mo.

Peewee and Pete ended up selling two of the stations, leaving the Cape station. In 1963, Jack Lewis offered Peewee a job to manage the Plaza Car Wash in Cape Girardeau. If Peewee successfully managed it, he would own half the business. Peewee and Lewis closed the deal with a handshake, the first of many deals sealed by only a handshake. After a few years, Pete joined Peewee and they expanded into the tire business via the purchase of a retread business which included a new 1964 truck with tire racks. Its color was Chevrolet's 504 paint code, green, better known as "Plaza Green." To this date, Plaza Tire Service has had over 500 trucks and all of them have been this same green color. Peewee said he could never afford to change the color.

Selling retreads at the carwash for only $7.50 apiece, he also began selling new tires. A hand-operated tire changer had been mounted on the sidewalk outside Plaza Car Wash and due to city ordinances the tire changer had to be moved. A decision had to be made -- close the carwash or get out of the tire business. There simply was not enough room to do both. Peewee's decision is obvious today and was a trademark of how he always did business. He stopped washing cars and renamed the business Plaza Tire Service. Today, Plaza Tire is one of the country's largest tire retailers with 49 stores in four states. Peewee always believed the many years of service and loyalty, by the now over 350 employees, was a major contribution to the success of the company.

Though "officially retired" from the tire business, Peewee's entrepreneurial spirit kept burning with successful ventures into real estate development, construction and wholesale truck sales. To keep track of all the daily news he rarely missed a day at the Pancake House with all his friends at the morning "Liars Club."

In business, Peewee will be remembered for his tenacious work ethic, leadership, positive attitude and personal relationships built through his partnerships and with employees through 48 years of successful business. Throughout his life, both business and personal, he never met a stranger and was known far and wide for his open, engaging and friendly approach to all things. No matter what walk of life you were from he always treated you with respect and dignity. Although his sons, Mark and Scott, have operated the company in recent years, Peewee remained a consistent presence visiting the office on a near daily basis until very recent weeks. He said he was letting the younger generation keep Plaza Tire Service going/growing because, as he always said "You grow or you go!"

Visitation will be from 4 to 8 p.m. today at St. Andrew's Lutheran Church in Cape Girardeau.

A celebration of life service will be at 11:30 a.m. Monday at the church, with The Rev. Paul Short officiating. Burial and interment will be at Memorial Park following the service.

In lieu of flowers, memorials can be made to Southeast Hospital Hospice, St. Andrews Lutheran Church or the charity of choice.

Ford and Sons Funeral Home is in charge of arrangements.