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Laurence Dean Rhodes, Santa Rosa optician and jazz enthusiast, dies at 78

Published: Saturday, January 26, 2013 at 4:07 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 26, 2013 at 4:07 p.m.

An optician by trade, Laurence Dean Rhodes also was a student of California history, jazz enthusiast, ukulele player, animal lover and an incorrigible romantic who surprised his wife with their Valentine's Day celebration every year.


Laurence Dean "Dusty" Rhodes

Rhodes, who was known as Dusty, died of cancer at his Santa Rosa home on Jan. 13. He was 78.

“It was an adventure. Never a dull moment,” said his wife, Bonnie Lou Rhodes of Santa Rosa, reflecting on their 55 years of marriage, preceded by a two and a half-year engagement.

Their relationship was auspicious from the start, beginning in July, 1956 with a blind date arranged by a friend when he was in the Air Force and she was a nursing student.

The occasion was a formal dinner-dance at a golf club in Melrose Park, Ill., that concluded with him asking her for a second date days later at a Dixieland jazz concert and dinner.

Bonnie, a proper midwestern girl, said she was taken by the style of a man wearing black and white shoes, something she had never seen before.

She was even more taken by Rhodes' proposal — more like an announcement — on their second date. “I was just kind of flabbergasted,” she said.

They were married in April, 1958 and moved to California, as they had agreed, on their first anniversary, settling first in Marin County and moving to Santa Rosa in 1975.

Rhodes, whose parents lived in San Francisco, was born in Seattle because his mother went there to get help from her sisters before moving back to Mill Valley when he was six months old.

Rhodes, whose intellectual passions included the Golden State's human and natural history, was dismayed to have been deprived the status of California native, his wife said.

At Tamalpais High School, Rhodes played in a band called the Sagebrush Swingers, consisting of one friend playing guitar with Rhodes and another friend playing the tiple, a 10 steel-stringed ukulele.

Rhodes graduated in 1953, trained as an optician and served four years in the Air Force. His lengthy career as an optician included 10 years at the Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Santa Rosa, and he retired in 1994.

A voracious reader, he became an expert on the history and geography of California, and eventually needed to add a 600-square-foot room to his house to hold his books and musical instruments, including drums and strings.

Rhodes' extensive record collection, primarily jazz and some classical music, filled cabinets throughout his house and friends often consulted with him over details of jazz history.

Watching the television quiz show “Jeopardy,” Rhodes invariably knew the questions, his wife said. “There wasn't much he didn't know about,” she said.

The couple's move to Santa Rosa was prompted largely by the need for acreage to keep horses and proximity to the riding trails at Annadel State Park.

Rhodes also had a fondness for Airedale terriers, the largest of their type, and his current pair, Razzle and Dazzle, weigh nearly 90 pounds each.

Valentine's Day was Rhodes' favorite holiday, and he always kept the celebration site a secret, other than telling his wife if it was casual or dressy.

“I never knew where we were going until we got there,” she said.

Rhodes belonged to St. Mark Lutheran Church in Santa Rosa. He was an only child who had no children. At his request no services will be held.

Memorial donations may be made to the National Marine Mammal Foundation, Sonoma County Humane Society, Canine Companions for Independence or the American Cancer Society.

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