Dick Rhodes’s legacy of mentorship
Ken Bailey visited NCSP founding member Richard ‘Dick’ Rhodes just a week before he passed in 2012.
“He was all wired up and really hurting big time,” Bailey remembered. “But once I came in the house, it was as if he was right out on the river.”
A few years earlier, Rhodes had asked Bailey to help him accomplish something. “He was very much concerned that when people joined, not much attention was given to them, say, the first year they were members,” Bailey remembered. Rhodes had taken it upon himself to be a point-of-contact for new members.
Rhodes asked Bailey, who has been a volunteer since 1999, to formalize that process a bit. When Bailey visited Rhodes that day, “I said to him, ‘Can you tell me what a mentor is?’”
“And he said, quote, ‘A mentor needs to make a new member feel comfortable.’”
Today, the NCSP’s mentor program attempts to do just that, by pairing new members with experienced volunteers during training weekend. Mentors have to be good teachers, Bailey, who was a physical education teacher, said. He made a point of looking for people doing some person-oriented work outside of the patrol.
“You need to know more than just throwing a bag or a boat over,” Bailey said. “When [a rescue is] all over, that person will not necessarily thank you but they have a look. They have a look that they appreciate what you’ve done for them. And so, basically, our job as river rescue people is, we’re public relations.”
Mentors take first-year members on paddles, practice skill drills with them, go over the handbook and try to pass on a knowledge of the organization’s history. Maybe more than that, though, is just imparting a sense of camaraderie, teamsmanship and, as Rhodes wanted, comfort to newbies. “There’s always someone there to catch you, there isn’t any sense of, ‘Whoa, I’m in over my head,’” said Commodore Marc Magnus-Sharpe.
When asked if Rhodes was his unofficial mentor, Bailey said “Absolutely.”
“He was the kind of person who loved with a capital ‘L.’ Loved being on the river… just everybody that knew him loved him, and he loved giving back,” Bailey continued. When Rhodes asked him to take over the mentoring program, “I was flabbergasted, but I was highly honored, to be the first person to do that for him.”