John Jacob Rhodes, Jr., was born in Council Grove, Kansas, on September 18, 1916, the youngest of three children of John Jacob Rhodes and Gladys Anne Thomas Rhodes. He remembered his childhood as “special,” particularly the holiday seasons. In 1927, when he was not quite eleven years old, he accompanied his parents on a trip to Washington, D.C. While there, he met Kansas Congressman Homer Hoch, who took John and his parents to the White House, where he met President Calvin Coolidge and shook his hand (he refused to wash that hand for a week). On that same trip, he sat in the gallery of the House of Representatives and watched that body in session. The experience made a great impression on him, and he thought that he would, one day, like to become a congressman and play a role in governing the country.
After graduating high school, John Rhodes went on to Kansas State University, where he became a member of the Beta Theta Pi fraternity (in which he remained active during his entire life), earned his Army Reserve commission in the ROTC, and majored in commerce. After graduation, he “went east” to Harvard Law School. As the time for graduation approached, John was called to active duty as a first lieutenant in the Army Air Corps on September 5, 1941. In an effort to aid the war effort, Harvard granted law degrees to its students, like Rhodes, who had completed two years of coursework and were called to military service; soon after, he was admitted to the bar in Kansas. In 1942, he managed to get a week’s leave and returned to Kansas to marry Betty Harvey—a marriage that lasted for sixty-one years until his death in 2003.
In introducing the following essay, John Rhodes wrote: “Arizona made a convert of me quickly. In fact, the first day that I served as officer of the day at Williams Field and saw the sun come up over Superstition Mountain put a hold on my desires for the future of my life that has never abated. I love the State, I love its people, and I feel very much blessed by the good Lord in allowing me to be here and to have some part in the development of both.”