Activist James (Jim) R. Rhodes dies

Date: 
01/02/2019
JRRhodes

James R. Rhodes*

In his 77 years, James (Jim) R. Rhodes of Logan Square, "grew in his understanding of and commitment to social justice," explains his wife, of 25 years, Dr. Anne Sheetz, who reported his December 13, 2018, death. 

A founding member of Illinois Single-Payer Coalition (ISPC), just ten weeks before his death, he joined a fast food workers’ rally for “$15 and a union,” having delivered strike notices to franchise owners the previous day. 

His passion for justice went beyond health care and, on occasion, was reason for others to challenge him. As a volunteer with the 14th District Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy (CAPS) program, his demand for accountability of local police resulted in his being "fired" in 2011.  

SBerryByNPortis

Jim with Shelly Berry, ISPC, at Oct. 4 fast food rally in Union Park**

However as a community member of the Goethe Local School Council, he worked successfully with teachers, parents and the American Friends Service Committee to evict the Middle School Cadet Corps. 

A supporter of organizing the Logan Square neighborhood for affordable housing and against gentrification, Jim acted in support of full human rights for people with disabilities. 

Born in East Chicago, IN, Jim was raised a Barry Goldwater, George H.W. Bush Republican. He earned an engineering degree and MBA from the Illinois Institute of Technology and became a salaried purchasing manager with a large industrial corporation. 

His involvement with "blue collar" (hourly) workers, changed attitudes that he grew up with and that were part of the culture in his early work environment. He began seeing that management was not always right. 

As Anne explains, "He learned to be appalled by the overt racism of his company’s top executives. 

"Seeing his company’s flouting of laws regarding safe disposal of toxic wastes, its willingness to threaten people’s health in order to save a little money, he came gradually to question the entire ethics of the military-industrial world he inhabited." 

JimBBianchi

Jim with Bill Bianchi, an ISPC founding member and member of its Board**

The deaths of three men in an industrial accident became the catalyst that caused Jim to become a whistle-blower, helping the families who lost their loved ones to obtain a substantial settlement. 

Married to Anne at that point, he became the business manager in her solo physician home-visit practice, leading to another cause…healthcare. 

Together Jim and Anne, in 2007, became involved in the single-payer health insurance movement. "Like Michael Moore’s Sicko, National Nurses United’s organizing in Chicago and my long-standing membership in Physicians for a National Health Program created opportunities for activism," says Anne. 

"His first of several arrests for civil disobedience occurred as a member of Chicago’s “Cigna 7” in October 2009. 

"Jim's work in the movement for single-payer health care, included membership on ISPC’s Finance, Labor Outreach, and Legislative Committees; collaboration with other organizations such as Chicago Single-Payer Action Network, Chicago and Northern Illinois Jobs with Justice, and Democratic Socialists of America; and countless meetings, actions, picket lines, marches, hours on the sidewalk in front of the closed public Northwest Mental Health Clinic, and leafleting." 

JimAnne

Jim and Anne picketed with workers on Oct. 31 at Harold Washington College in the Loop

"Jim had such love and respect for Anne, and they were an indomitable team," explains Al Nowakowski, who met them as a single-payer activist. "They traveled in their station wagon for quite a while with a single-payer demonstration. I photographed and filmed both of them many, many times over many years, and always saw just how fond they were of each other.

"My experience was that health care activists are pure quality, and the two of them were no exception.

"Jim touched me deeply. He was a pillar of warmth and resolve. His innate sense of compassion and justice radiated through the most casual of interactions. He could not, would not, tolerate injustice of any kind -- social, racial, economic, gender, health care --  and he was always moved to action. He did it so seamlessly, there was no line between his life and his activism. He was a regular guy who wore a BLM [Black Lives Matter] shirt, and he meant it."

Neighbors will remember Jim's pleasant greeting as he sat reading a book on their steps and his yelling “Wrong way!” at people driving the wrong way on their one-way street. But mostly people will remember his acts of kindness, whether lending a tool, accompanying someone to a medical appointment, offering a ride or personally delivering a check.  

Jim is survived by his wife Anne Scheetz; his three children, Greg Rhodes (wife Colleen), Julie Rhodes (partner Gary White) and Meredith Ludkowski (husband Jeff); and by his children’s mother Barbara Rhodes. He is also survived by his sister Phoebe Allen (husband PK); grandchildren Ryan Rhodes (wife Sarah), Dylan Rhodes (partner Elyse Maturo), Shannon Rhodes (partner Aaron Gory); grandchildren Logan, Raena, and Madysen Nickleski and their father Steve; four step-grandchildren; one step-great-grandchild; two generations of nieces and nephews; cousins; and many fellow activists and friends. 

While there will be no formal memorial service, the family asks people honor Jim's memory by thinking and perhaps speaking of him when:

  • Joining in actions for social justice
  • Opposing or seeing others oppose white supremacy and racism
  • Engaging in, or receiving, an act of kindness
  • Growing, or seeing someone else grow, in commitment to social justice 

If you wish to make a donation in his memory, the family asks considering one of the following:

  • Illinois Single-Payer Coalition here; or the national single-payer organization Healthcare-NOW! here.
  • Black Lives Matter, Chicago or national.
  • Friends of Goethe School (FOGS), or your local public school.
  • An organization in which you are involved that you believe works toward social justice, including health care as a human right, affordable housing for all, workers’ rights and an end to racism.
Photo resources: *Al Nowakowski; **Nora Portis
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