Leonard “Buddy” Rhodes, Jr. was a businessman who I’ll never forget. He passed away on May 26, but leaves behind a life full of precious memories.
I met Mr. Rhodes when I went to work for WDOD in the mid 60s. He was general manager of Lake Winnepesaukah Amusement Park in Lakeview where our station did a live broadcast every Sunday afternoon. Ray Hobbs usually hosted the program, but I got to fill in occasionally and met Mr.
Rhodes. He introduced me to Tammy Wynette.
Before the park opened for the summer season in 1967, Gene Goforth called and said he had some exciting news. The public relations chief put Buddy Rhodes on the phone.
Mr. Rhodes was so thrilled about this new ride, the Cannonball roller coaster. He said it was made of wood and at one point would reach a speed of 50 miles per hour. The thriller ride lasts about a minute and is still operational today. It was designed by Philadelphia engineer John C. Allen.
Mr. Rhodes was so proud of the Cannonball and invited the WDOD announcers out one spring evening to ride it as many times as they liked. I think I went around a dozen or so times. After the first couple of rides I really got the hang of things. I’d never had so much fun.
Buddy Rhodes has many other interests. He started Rhodes Oil Company in LaFayette. He loved to hike around the Ocoee Lake and enjoyed golfing.
The Tennessee Wesleyan graduate never forget those of us in the radio. When country music singer Tom T. Hall wrote and recorded his “I Witness Life” album he included the song “Chattanooga Dog” - the story of a dog who followed the train around the park filled with children. Mr. Rhodes became good friends with the country music Hall of Famer and made sure I got a copy of the record, which I still have.
Buddy’s family still operates Lake Winnepesaukah and he was very proud of its rich history - always sharing a story or two. When visiting the park I would see Buddy walking around and he always remembered me. He would say, “I still like to see people relax and have fun.”
Buddy’s final resting place will be the Chattanooga VA National Cemetery. He was proud of his time in the service in the 1950s and was a decorated sharpshooter.
Buddy, thanks for bringing us the Cannonball and lots of other fun things to do with our families. Buddy’s dream, The Cannonball, has brought joy to thousands both young and old alike. Next time you visit Lake Winnepesaukah think of Buddy Rhodes.