UPPER DELAWARE REGION – A true servant leader is now at rest after making the waters of the Delaware River a much safer place for the past 33 years. Until the day he died on April 17 following a battle with cancer, Richard “Dick” Rhodes was still preparing to save lives during the upcoming season by sending out an email message to fellow river patrol members about their upcoming training.
That training is slated for this weekend, and according to those who knew Dick, the avid river patrolman would have liked nothing better than to mentor more people to become members of the National Canoe Safety Patrol (NCSP), an organization that he co-founded 33 years ago and dedicated his life to.
“His heart was in it until the very end,” said Dick’s wife, Mary K., who willingly partnered in the endless efforts the couple devoted to NCSP activities. Mary K. had an idea what she was in for when Dick proposed to her three decades ago at Skinner’s Falls, one of his favorite places to practice his life-saving skills. Along with the beautiful diamond came a request for permission to assume leadership of the NCSP, an arrangement that would frame the rest of their time together.
Over the years, Mary K. has shuttled and fed members who hail from Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. “Our kitchen table has transformed strangers into friends,” she said. “We’ve met some amazing people and we all take care of one another. When you’re out there on the river, you need to know that somebody’s got your back.”
Mary K. describes her husband as a world changer and mentor teacher, as well as one who made a difference to his fellow man. “He didn’t do it for the recognition. He always gave others the glory,” she said.
Dick’s motto was, “Not one of us is a true believer until he desires for his brother what he desires for himself,” according to his wife. “He lived the simple truths that uplift the value of all people,” she added. “He believed that God values all people equally no matter how they are viewed by society. There is no one at the top or bottom, only all of us in need of hope.”
Dick also had a natural gift for connecting those with differing opinions. “He stood in the gap,” said Mary K. “He always looked for solutions, to get beyond the differences to protect the environment and the river.”
Troy Bystrom and Dejay Branch, two key NCSP volunteers, credit Dick with bringing them into the organization. “If it wasn't for him, we would have never learned the importance of protecting the Upper Delaware River and how special it really is,” said Bystrom. “Dick loved the river with all of his heart and spent every moment he could on the river or educating others on the importance of protecting this special place.”
Nick Spinelli, executive director at Lake Wallenpaupack Watershed District described his relationship with Dick, who he met as a college intern with the National Park Service (NPS). “I learned a great deal about paddling and respect for the river from Dick,” wrote Spinelli in a reminiscence. “I marveled at his dedication in spending more days on the river than most of the interns or paid staff. It was easy to tell that Dick’s passion for the river was as strong as his passion for the people around him.”
Spinelli helped in planning the 2010 River of the Year Celebration for the Lackawaxen and scouted the river with Dick in advance to ensure a smooth day for the sojourners. “I consider that day to be one of the finer days of my life. I’m truly grateful to have had the good fortune of knowing and learning from such a humble, well respected and noble man. He made our corner of the world a better place and lived as an example of selfless service. Every time I paddle the Upper Delaware I’ll be in the spiritual company of a man who called so many ‘friend.’”
Among those dear friends is NPS education specialist, Ingrid Peterec, who interacted almost daily with Dick due to the partnership between the NPS and the NCSP volunteers who make their way to the Delaware River every weekend to help those who find themselves in precarious or life-threatening situations.
“Dick played such an important part in my life not only professionally but personally,” said Peterec, whose daughter, Elizabeth joined NCSP last summer with Dick's encouragement and who will inherit his kayak. “She had the best summer ever and can't wait to get out on the river. Dick and Mary K. took my family and I into their lives and made us feel part of their family. He was my sounding board and my friend.”
A celebration of Dick’s life is scheduled for June 8 at 11 a.m. at the Bethel Lutheran Church in Rowland, PA. The Lackawaxen River Conservancy will also hold an event to celebrate his years of service. The NCSP has established the Richard Rhodes River Rescue Scholarship Fund in his memory. Send checks to NCSP, PO Box 91, Lackawaxen, PA 18435 or visit www.nationalcanoesafetypatrol.com  for more information.
Details are also available regarding the May 4-6 Training Weekend and upcoming Skills Drills Events.