Johnie Rodebush ‘roasted’

Published 6:47 am Monday, April 26, 2004

By By JOHN EBY / Cassopolis Vigilant
At the Cass County Democratic Party's Johnie Rodebush roast Saturday night at Southwestern Michigan College the patriotic centerpieces were surrounded by red-white-and-blue confetti flecked with yellow.
Kernels of corn were scattered across the white tableclothes.
Rodebush carries corn in his pocket as a reminder of a lesson his father taught the baby of nine children when he was too young to feed pigs or gather eggs in the henhouse.
Holding a pail partly full of shelled corn, Rodebush at 7 thought it was all he could carry. His dad filled it some more, then dropped in one last kernel.
Rodebush's mother was a midwife with a third grade education. He was 5 when he helped deliver a baby in a two-room house with a dirt floor. The father worked in the timber business and only came home on weekends. When a son was born to the family, "She laid that little baby in my arms, against my bare belly. That was a great experience. Ever since" he has enjoyed helping others.
Rodebush said he didn't have toys. His mother put molasses and feathers on his fingertips. He amused himself for hours trying to scrape them clean.
To show how he read the Grit paper or the Bible by lantern, Rodebush had the Mathews Conference Center-East darkened to just that sliver of pale, flickering light. He introduced Dr. Fred L. Mathews and recalled how as president of the Howard Township PTA, they went door to door 40 years ago promoting the creation of SMC.
The Depression meant going shoeless in the moderate Arkansas climate until October, when "the money crop," cotton bales, could be sold.
They were teased by a kid who was "kind of wealthy" because his mother was a Democrat and his father was a Republican, so no matter which party was in power in Washington, one of the parents was postmaster.
His report card, part of a PowerPoint presentation by Maxine Snipes and Dan Gillis, "was mostly Cs. My son Bob came home and had a C on his report card. I said, 'Bob, when Abe Lincoln was your age, he got all As.' He said, 'When Abe Lincoln was your age, he was president.' "
First to speak was Rodebush's wife, Barb. "After 11 1/2 years, this is the first opportunity I've had to talk," his "silent partner" said, unfurling a scroll. "To make sure I have a home to go to, I must say that I love this man and I wouldn't trade the last 11 1/2 years for anything. This is all blank."
Tim McGuire, Michigan Association of Counties executive director, related Rodebush's selection nine years ago as MAC president of the state's 699 county commissioners from all 83 counties.
In the mid-1980s, when Rodebush was involved in establishing Barn Swallow Theatre, he and Al Federowski rented a truck and drove to Kansas City in an ice storm to procure theater seats.
Eileen Toney of Chemical Bank, a resident of Howard Township for 20 years, sprinkled her remarks with "y'all" as proof of her involvement with Toastmasters, which Rodebush joined in 1964. "Johnie taught me proper Southern grammar and to speak faster. The problem I have now is my family, friends, co-workers and customers can't understand a word I'm saying."
Rodebush was credited with donating the first dollar to get the Southwestern Michigan Tourist Council started.
Rodebush and his first wife, Marge, whom he married in 1947, had three children, Vicky, Diane and Rob.
Commissioner Minnie Warren served as mistress of ceremonies for the roast organized by Ed and Jackie Goodman, Warren and Snipes.
Warren read letters from U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, SMC's Ron Gunn, Republicans Grafton and Barbara Cook and Gloria and Dick Cooper.
The evening concluded with the audience joining in to sing "Happy Trails to You."