DSS director Rhodes retires after 33 years

Published 6:03 pm Monday, October 17, 2011

Sue Rhodes

Reception Oct. 25
After 33 years of working with area families, Polk County Department of Social Services (DSS) Director Sue Rhodes is retiring. Her last day will be Oct. 31.
A reception in her honor is scheduled for Tuesday, Oct. 25 from 2-5 p.m. at The Meeting Place, located at 75 Carmel Lane in Columbus.
Rhodes will have worked her 33 years in the Jervey-Palmer building in Tryon, where she started out as a daycare special needs teacher and will end her career moving her employees into a new building, which is near completion in Mill Spring.
“She’s provided stability through the various times of change,” said Lou Parton, who is one of a few employees who have worked with Rhodes for more than 20 years. “She handled new state mandates and guided us through the rough times and the good times. She put staff in place to provide the services and I’m going to miss her tremendously.”
Rhodes began her career in 1978 when DSS ran a day care center in the office. She helped the special needs children, then went on to work at St. Luke’s in a shared DSS/hospital social worker position. In 1981, she came back to the Jervey-Palmer building in a social worker I position, working with adult services, then began doing adoption home studies as well as daycare authorizations. At that time, there were only two social workers in Polk’s DSS department.
“With just two of us, you had to know it all,” Rhodes said.
Knowing it all and being able to be a caring boss is what some of her employees said they appreciate the most about Rhodes.
“She’s had a very high expectation for the quality of work she expects,” said Kim Wilson, who has worked for Rhodes almost 20 years. “I’ve been very happy and excited about the work we’ve done in Polk County. (Rhodes) truly believes families can change. It’s always been ‘work hard for the families’ and it’s not to be taken lightly. I think Sue has always felt this is her calling and through her leadership she has passed that down to her employees. It will be big footsteps to follow.”
Doris Ford, who has worked alongside Rhodes for 28 years, said it won’t be the same without her.
“She is very dedicated to the services and the people of Polk County,” Ford said. “She really was dedicated to getting services started in the agency and in the community as well.”
Jackie Johnson has worked with Rhodes for 23 years and said Rhodes has always been the type of person who takes care of everyone and has always made sure her door is always open to anyone.
“She has always listened to the good, the bad and ugly and has been able to handle all of it,” Johnson said. “She is truly going to be missed by everybody. She does things for this county that no one will ever know about.”
Rhodes was promoted to a social worker II in 1984 and was promoted to a supervisor in 1986. She became acting director, then was named director in 1989.
Rhodes received the Norman Boyer award in 2004 and was instrumental in starting the Polk Wellness Center to address area mental health needs.
Rhodes said no matter what position she had with DSS, she always tried to stay current with what was going on with families.
She said she always knew a service career was what she wanted to do and said there’s satisfaction in a job where she helped people.
“I could have moved somewhere else but I love it here,” Rhodes said. “Polk County is home. I didn’t want to get away from knowing the families and with a smaller agency, you can continue to have that personal contact.”
Rhodes grew up in Albermarle, N.C., and worked for 10 years prior to going to college. She and her husband attended Wingate College for two years, then graduated from Pfeiffer College. Rhodes double majored in social work and religion. The couple then attended seminary at Southeastern Seminary, obtaining master’s degrees in divinity.
Her husband became pastor at Columbus First Baptist in July 1978, which is what brought them to Polk County. He died in 1990.
“If I had one wish for the staff of DSS it is that they would love what they’re doing as much as I have always loved my job,” said Rhodes. “And like I’ve always told them, they spend too much time in this job not to love what they’re doing. It’s just too important. We have to love it.”
The county has advertised for Rhodes’ replacement but has not yet named a new director.

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