Longtime Elon Trustee Warren G. ‘Dusty’ Rhodes passes away

Since the early 1980s, Dusty Rhodes has been among Elon’s most generous and enthusiastic advocates.

Elon University Life Trustee Warren G. “Dusty” Rhodes, 94, of Gibsonville, North Carolina, died Monday, Feb. 12, 2024. He was one of Elon’s most dedicated and passionate friends for more than 25 years and served on Elon’s Board of Trustees for 14 years before being elected Life Trustee in 2011.

Dusty and Peggy Rhodes pictured in the recently completed stadium bearing their name.

In honor of their family, Rhodes and his wife, Peggy, made the lead gift for Elon’s Rhodes Stadium, which opened in 2001. Their commitment to supporting students and the growth of the university continued through many generous contributions to scholarships, academic programs and new facilities.

Rhodes had a long and successful career as an educator and businessman, playing a role in the technology revolution beginning in the 1960s. The couple began their association with Elon when their son, Larry, enrolled in the early 1980s.

“Dusty Rhodes was a remarkable man with strong principles and a desire to invest in future generations through his support of Elon,” said President Connie Ledoux Book. “Drawing on his impressive experience in industry and education, he was a trusted advisor to presidents Fred Young, Leo Lambert and me. We are a better university because of Dusty’s legacy of service and we will miss him. On behalf of the entire Elon community, we send our condolences to Peggy and Dusty’s children and grandchildren.”

Rhodes received an honorary doctor of laws degree from Elon at the 2006 Convocation for Honors. He and Peggy’s support for the university was legendary, with gifts that provided cutting-edge technologies and named spaces in McMichael Science Center, as well as gifts that named rooms in Belk Library, supported the construction of the Koury Business Center and the athletic training rooms in Koury Center. Dusty and Peggy provided funds for the Rhodes Family Sports Scholarship and the King Hussein Endowed Scholarship and were members of Elon’s Numen Lumen Society and the Order of the Oak planned giving society. They also provided generous financial assistance for several individual Elon students who needed assistance to continue their education at Elon and in graduate school at other institutions.

When the Rhodes made a major gift to the fundraising for Rhodes Stadium, part of the Campaign for the Elon Vision, President Lambert declared April 14, 1999, “Peggy and Dusty Rhodes Day,” at a special College Coffee celebration.

“The people at Elon are like family, and we’re thrilled to spark the completion of the Elon Vision and help finish this campus for the students and alumni,” Dusty said at the time. “A lot of people are going to walk through those gates, rekindle old friendships and enjoy the moments. And when they see this beautiful facility, they’ll say ‘What an awesome place! This is Elon’s field of dreams.’”

After the stadium opened, Rhodes helped fund equipment to maintain the turf and grounds and could occasionally be seen driving a mower on the playing field. He and Peggy rarely missed a football game, with permanent seats at the 50-yard line, and were faithful attendees at a wide range of campus events and performances. The Rhodes were awarded the Southern Conference Distinguished Service Award in 2004 for their support of collegiate athletics.

“Dusty Rhodes had a long affinity for athletics and sports medicine and brought that passion to Elon University,” said Director of Athletics Dave Blank. “His love for students and sports led him, Peggy, and their family to make a gift that brought Elon home football games to campus and led to a transformation of both Elon athletics and Elon University. His service made an indelible mark that will impact Elon for generations to come. We will miss our friend Dusty.”

Rhodes was born on Aug. 7, 1929, in Olanta, Pennsylvania. He left high school in Fremont, Ohio, early to join the Navy and serve with the U.S. Naval Intelligence Agency. After his discharge in 1950, he returned home and married Peggy, his high school girlfriend.

Their first move took them to Purdue University, where Rhodes earned a degree in physical education in 1956. A right-handed pitcher, he was a four-year letterman on Purdue’s baseball team under NFL Hall of Fame football coach Hank Stram.

During his career, Rhodes was always on the lookout for new opportunities. In his first job, from 1956 to 1960, he taught biology and coached baseball and swimming at Edsel Ford High School in Dearborn, Michigan. In his spare time, he worked as an athletic trainer with the Los Angeles Rams. He later pursued engineering and became involved in computer programming.

After joining General Electric, Rhodes worked with baseball legends Dizzy Dean and Pee Wee Reese in 1965, adding computer-generated statistics to the “Game of the Week” broadcast on CBS television. He was involved in providing GE’s computer equipment for the NASA Gemini and Apollo space programs and later was named Educational Relations Consultant for GE’s programs supporting schools from 7th grade through college. He also created an electronics repair program for students in high schools and vocational colleges in the U.S. and abroad.

Rhodes was committed to continuing his education, taking courses at Michigan State University, the University of Maryland and the IBM Computer College. He studied two years in the Harvard Business School MBA program with General Electric’s Management Development Institute.

After a variety of positions in education, engineering and computer technologies, Rhodes joined Cisco Systems, a start-up technology company, in 1988. As one of the original 17 employees, he had an opportunity to help turn a small company into a big one. Within a decade, Cisco became a leading force in the technology revolution, with more than 25,000 employees.

In 1990, Dusty and Peggy moved to Elon, a convenient location for Dusty’s work in opening Cisco’s new sales office in Research Triangle Park. Their son, Larry, had graduated from Elon in 1986.

When Rhodes retired in 1992, he and Peggy had time to become more actively involved in the Elon community. They sometimes accompanied Elon teams on national and international trips, and occasionally joined students for meals in McEwen Dining Hall.

“We couldn’t have found a better place to retire,” Dusty said in 2001. “I can’t even imagine being down in Florida, retired and having nothing to do. That’s not the way we do things. We enjoy people and feel very blessed and fortunate that we found Elon.”

A celebration of life will be held at 3 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 16, at St. Mark’s Church in Burlington, North Carolina. A burial will follow in the church cemetery. The family will receive friends and loved ones in the church reception one hour prior to the service and immediately after the burial.

Arrangements are being handled by Rich and Thompson Funeral and Cremation Services. Read the full obituary.