By Cathy Spaulding
Phoenix Staff Writer
At 3:00 in the morning, C.M. Rhodes is up and ready to start the day.
It’s a habit he started as a Church of Christ preacher in Alabama.
“I could not do all my work in eight hours,” he said.
So early, early every morning, he takes a walk with his dog for about a half-mile to three-fourths of a mile.
“Then I come back, and my wife would scrape my toast,” he said.
After breakfast, he heads to his home office and works, mostly on biblical research. He spends the afternoons working outside.
“I was born in Yale, Oklahoma, in 1920,” Rhodes said with pride. “Ninety-two years, and I’m still green and growing. That’s better than ripe and rotting. I stay busy.”
That doesn’t mean Rhodes is just starting out with life, however. He taught pilots how to fly gliders during World War II, preached for 28 years, then sold oil, gas and tires in Muskogee.
Cluster Monroe Rhodes grew up in several rural Oklahoma towns with a twin brother, Clovis Woodrow Rhodes.
“I graduated high school near Seminole County in a school called Pleasant Grove,” he said. “We had a baseball team. At one time we had a football team, but we didn’t have enough people to make it last.”
He started college at Murray State College in Tishomingo while working on a farm.
“We milked eight cows a day until we got a milking machine,” he said.
He later attended Freed-Hardeman University in Henderson, Tenn., and from there began his preaching career.
He moved about 47 years ago to Muskogee, where he sold gas.
“We also had a tire store and service stations, about three or four of them, maybe more than that,” Rhodes said. “We had the Conoco stations. We had them up north of the river, Fort Gibson, to the south.”
Meet C.M. Rhodes
CAREER: Church of Christ minister. Former oil and gas wholesaler. “Jack of all trades. I do a lot of things. I enjoy helping people.”
EDUCATION: Freed-Hardeman University.
FAMILY: Wife, one son.
CHURCH: Chandler Road Church of Christ.
HOBBIES: “I enjoy working. I enjoy cutting grass. I know how to cook.”
World War II
C.M. Rhodes put college on hold shortly after World War II began. He enlisted as a glider pilot although he had never flown one, he said.
“You could sign up for glider pilot training only,” he recalled. “I was at 11 different training bases in the first 12 months. At Grand Forks, North Dakota, I had the chance to do some college there.”
Rhodes was in the Army Air Forces as a flight officer and glider pilot with the 82nd Airborne Division, 1st Troop Carrier Command. He spent the war as a flight instructor in Kentucky. Other members of his unit flew Marines into Axis-occupied Sicily.
Although Rhodes did not go overseas or engage in combat, he was well aware of the risks involved with gliders.
“We had a number of casualties,” he said. “It was not like having a motor where you could go around again if you missed the landing.”
Gliders are pulled into the air by a large airplane, Rhodes explained. “We released ourselves from the rope.”
In good weather, gliders can travel thousands of miles, he said. It’s a matter of finding a good air pocket that lifts the glider higher and keeps it up there.
“When we reached our destination, we were at the mercy of the pilot,” he said. “Your judgment had to be good or there would be 16 to 17 soldiers killed when it hit the ground.”
Glider pilots aimed for accuracy, he said. “When you started to land, you couldn’t go up and go somewhere else.”
Rhodes recalled attending the Church of Christ his entire life.
Yet, he couldn’t pinpoint what led him into the ministry.
“I’m still asked that question, but I don’t really know,” he said. “I took courses in biblical subjects. I just had an interest in it, so I thought I’d do it.”
Rhodes said he first tried preaching in Oklahoma.
“I had preached in Shawnee before I even went to college,” he said.
After a year at Abilene Christian College, Rhodes went to Freed-Hardeman University.
“I studied for the ministry and I intended to stay another year,” he said.
Then a church in Selma, Ala., called.
“I was asked to preach for three months there,” he said. “The preacher left in the meantime. He was getting pretty old and he wanted to retire.”
Rhodes stayed with the Alabama church for six years, then served for two years in California and four years in Libya. He returned to Selma, spending seven more years as a minister.
In total, “I was a preacher for 28 years, maybe 30 years,” he said.
Rhodes kept preaching after he moved to Muskogee nearly 47 years ago and got into oil wholesaling.
“I still teach, I still preach, but right now I’m not doing much,” he said. “I promised I’d go back to Yale and preach.”
Missionary work in
Rhodes’ calling to the ministry took him many places. None was farther away than the sprawling north African country of Libya, where he was a missionary from 1954 to 1958.
He said a church group in Libya was looking for a missionary.
“I didn’t want to go,” he said, “But I had promised the people there that if I couldn’t get you one, I’d go there myself.”
Rhodes recalled ministering around the Libyan countryside. He once traveled across the desert with an Italian diplomat.
“I met him in Tripoli, and he needed someone with him who had some kind of experience with mechanical work,” Rhodes said. “I took the trip through the Saharan Desert to the eastern part of Africa. It was rough. I wouldn’t go back for a million dollars.
“Six thousand, five hundred miles one way in a jalopy. It was dangerous, down by the equatorial part of Africa.”
He also recalled meeting the father of the former Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi.
“I had a small motorcycle, and I always went out to the countryside,” he said. “I met this man, and he was very friendly.”
Rhodes later met Gaddafi when the future dictator was very young.
“He seemed like a nice person, but he was a snake in the grass,” Rhodes said. “He hated everyone who wasn’t an Arab. When they struck oil in Libya, he became a multibillionaire.”
Rhodes detailed his experiences in his memoir, “Remembering Libya and the Sahara.”
HOW DID YOU BECOME AN OKIE FROM MUSKOGEE?
“I was looking for a place. My younger brother was a jobber (wholesaler), and he became a gasoline salesman. I worked for my brother for a year until a jobber possibility here came open.”
WHAT DO YOU LIKE BEST ABOUT MUSKOGEE?
“I like the people. We have lots of friends. We’re going to grow. I think Muskogee is going to explode.”
WHAT WOULD MAKE MUSKOGEE A BETTER PLACE TO LIVE?
“We’re in good shape now. There are a lot of wonderful people here.”
WHAT DO YOU DO FOR A LIVING IN MUSKOGEE?
Church of Christ minister. Retired.
WHAT DO YOU DO IN YOUR SPARE TIME?
“I walk in the morning. I visit. I call maybe 30 to 40 people, some in Florida, some in Texas.”
WHAT OKIE FROM MUSKOGEE DO YOU ADMIRE?
“Jim Treadway. He lives about three blocks from me. He’s one of the best men I ever met. He does more good to more people, but he doesn’t brag about it. He has done a lot of projects.”
WHAT IS THE MOST MEMORABLE THING TO HAPPEN TO YOU IN MUSKOGEE?
“Watching the growth of the city, the possibility, the opportunity.”
HOW WOULD YOU SUM UP MUSKOGEE IN 25 WORDS OR LESS?
“It’s a city of growth, a city of opportunity.”