My first reaction when I heard that the football stadium at Chesapeake High had been named after a building engineer was, "Whatttt? I can't believe it."
Never before had a county football stadium or athletic facility been named after a custodial type.
But after finding out what 62-year-old Cecil Rhodes of the Chelsea Beach area has meant to Chesapeake over the last 15 years, I understand it.
Cecil Rhodes Stadium at Chesapeake stands for something that is missing all too much in our modern world -- a person caring for his fellow man. He is a link to the past when everyone was a neighbor, especially someone in need.
Rhodes was more than an engineer and custodian in charge of heating, ventilation and the school complexat the Lake Shore school. He was a friend and life-saver to everyonehe met. Simply put, he always seemed to be there for everyone, from kids to adults.
"After school would close, you knew he was always around as the welcome person, someone you could count on any day, anytime," said Chesapeake business manager Susan Hartman.
"Cecil waslike a part of the school."
Rhodes retired the end of January andat a retirement party, the school threw for him, he was given the surprise of his life.
"It was quite a shock when they presented me with a plaque and told me they were naming the football stadium after me," said a beaming Rhodes. "I tried to do what I could for the kids and coaches."
Rhodes often went beyond the call of duty, not for the notoriety, but out of the goodness of his heart. Not all the student body knew him, but nearly all of those in sports and extracurricular activities did.
"Cecil worked from 3 p.m. until midnight every day, so it was the kids involved in after-school activities who knew him best," said principal Harry Calender, who is in his eighth year.
So, it comes as no surprise that none of the 20 kids leaving school Friday afternoon that I asked knew who Rhodes was. Those kids wouldnormally be leaving when he was starting work.
"And Cecil kind ofstayed in the background," said Anne Arundel County police officer Butch Bente, who works a lot of the athletic events at the school. "I've known Cecil for quite some time and he's a wonderful man, really cares about the kids. And if there was a problem at school, we could always count on Cecil's help."
Apparently everyone could.
"He's the kind of person who would do anything for anybody and maybe sometimes people took advantage of him," said Calender.
Rhodes never felt like anyone took advantage of him. He always felt his duties as plant equipment operator included being nice to people and helping them.It just comes natural to the man who always seems to have a smile onhis face.
"I did whatever I could do for those people and have a lot of respect for the teachers and coaches at that school," said Rhodes.
No job or problem was too big or too inconvenient for Rhodes.Of course, his generosity might have put a dent in the profits of local service stations, but it sure helped a lot of people get home.
We all know there is nothing more frustrating in life than after a long day sticking the keys in the ignition of your car and it won't start. The after-hours people at Chesapeake never had to worry about that. All they had to do was find Rhodes.
"He was like father to allof us, and he would come over and say, don't worry, I've got jumper cables, and I'll get that car started for you," said athletic director Al Grau, who also pointed to the scores of times when other problems cropped up and Rhodes came to the rescue.
"It was practically midnight once after a Friday night football game and the press box doors would not close," recalled Grau, who started at the school with Rhodes when it opened in December 1976.
"He sent me home and worked on it himself. Come to find out, there was a bird's nest that kept thedoors from closing and Cecil saved the nest and the doors that night."
Calender said Rhodes often worked beyond his scheduled eight hours for free if someone needed help and he even would venture over tothe nearby middle school to offer his assistance. He was truly someone you could count on and who made everyone feel comfortable and secure, especially women and children.
And that is a great feeling forparents who have kids who stay late for extra-curricular activities.No one ever worried because Rhodes was there.
"It was the kids inthe student government association who came to us and said the stadium should be named after Cecil," said Calender.
"They had a unanimous vote in favor of doing it and then, the proposal went to all the other school organizations and they approved it, too. The athletic boosters presented him with a jacket and Cougar letter on it."
Rhodes has taken all the attention in stride.
"I live in the community,and the kids kept telling me they were going to get the stadium named after me, but I just said, 'Nah'," said Rhodes, who admits that he could "hardly believe they did name it after me."