California State University, Long Beach
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With Retirement, Family Streak Ends at 54 Years

Published: June 15, 2010

When the College of Business Administration’s Professor Thomas Rhoads retired recently, he ended an astonishing record of 54 conseutive years of family service to the university, 37 of his and 17 for his father, who was also a CBA faculty member.

Rhoads, winner of the university’s Distinguished Faculty Advising Award, has served as the faculty advisor to several student organizations throughout his career including the Hispanic Students Business Association, Hermanos Unidos and Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity. He pioneered the CBA Minority Business Students program that evolved over the years into the Student Center for Professional Development. The center, currently made up of hundreds of students, provides training, assistance in securing paid internships and extensive experiences to prepare students for the business world.

Rhoads also assisted the Associated Business Students Organizational Council (ABSOC) where he significantly increased the size of the Meet the Industries Job Fair and served as president of the Beta Gamma Sigma Honor Society for business students.

Rhoads has been named Faculty Advisor of the Year by both Associated Students Inc. and the ABSOC. In addition, he has been named three times as the College of Business Administration’s Most Valuable Professor and last year received the university’s Distinguished Faculty Advising Award for his work with students outside of the classroom.

His father, Kenneth, joined the university in 1956 and was the Associated Students Professor of the Year for 1959-60. Thomas Rhoads began teaching at CSULB in 1973. He earned his B.S. and MBA from USC and his J.D. from Western State University. (Like his father and daughter, he is also a graduate of Long Beach’s Wilson High School).

The father and son worked together for a single semester before the elder Rhoads passed away from a heart attack at age 51.

Rhoads lives so close to CSULB that he can walk to campus in 10 minutes. He believes that closeness allows him to participate more fully in campus life. “It allows me to visit the university at all hours,” he said. “I do many things here. I exercise on campus. I attend all the meetings of student organizations for which I am an advisor. My daughter attended 49er Camp and writing workshops here. Being a professor is more than just teaching and research. I’ve attended everything from softball games to fundraisers to car washes. By living next to the university, it has become part of my life. That’s what makes it all the harder for me to retire. There is a seamless connection between my home and here. For me, it’s part of being a professor.”

There have been many changes on the campus since he arrived in 1973. He believes the biggest change is the opening of the campus to the community. He credits ex-CSULB President Curtis McCray with beginning the change, ex-CSULB President Robert Maxson for expanding it and he applauds current CSULB President Dr. F. King Alexander’s commitment to continuing that policy of openness. “He’s exactly what we need right now,” said Rhoads.

“I never intended on teaching as a career,” he said. Instead, he became a retail stock broker before deciding there was an easier way to make a living and became a lawyer. By 1973, he started law school at Western State University, teaching securities markets and finance classes at night while attending law school during the day. He has taught 37 years without ever taking a sabbatical. “I didn’t think I would make a career out of it but everything worked so well for me and the students that I decided to stay,” he said.

The problem that just won’t go away for students of any decade is adapting to university life. “They have to learn lots of new tricks to survive,” said Rhoads. “They need to learn, for instance, to read the news every day, especially if they are business majors. A university shouldn’t be a bus station where you simply get your ticket punched, then leave. You’re changing who you are. You’re becoming an educated person. You learn to analyze and solve problems. The purpose of an education is more than getting a job. You learn to think. If you know how to think, you can do just about anything. If you feed someone a fish, they will eat fish for dinner. If you teach them to fish, they will eat fish forever. But if you teach someone how to think, they won’t have to eat fish every day.”

Professor Thomas Rhoads
Photo courtesy of Thomas Rhoads
The retiring Tom Rhoads (l) with father in 1973.

Rhoads was chosen to be the grand marshal at the Chicano-Latino Commencement ceremony this year. “Being able to connect with a group of students whose backgrounds and experiences are very different from mine, especially at a people’s university like we have here, that’s the most satisfying thing to me,” he said.

Rhoads agrees with ex-President Ronald Reagan that America is great because it is the strong and industrious who immigrate. “I believe America is great because the strong and industrious come here and I think the same is true for CSULB,” he said. “What makes this university special is the constant inflow of people who are willing and able to work hard. Cal State Long Beach represents President Reagan’s ideal. We take strong and industrious people who are willing and able to work hard and turn their potential into success.”

While he loves his profession, Rhoads retired following the spring semester. “I’ve got this great opportunity that most people never get,” he said. “I’ve got a chance to enter another phase of my life. Up to now, the university has provided me with everything I need to succeed. Throughout my career it’s given me a place to work, checks that haven’t bounced and even my medical and other needs. All I’ve had to do is my job. Now, it’s taking care of my retirement and given me the chance to do something new and I feel I should make use of that opportunity. But on the other hand, my job is very fulfilling. I know I’ve changed people’s lives for the better and I’ve been acknowledged for it. I’ve been planning for retirement for several years, reading books and talking to people. I’ve discovered that most people really don’t like their jobs. This is one of the few jobs someone could do even if they didn’t need the money. It’s giving me mixed emotions. I’ll travel and spend time with former students. Fortunately, there’s the FERP (Faculty Early Retirement Program that allows a tenured faculty member who is eligible for service retirement to retire and continue teaching one semester per year for up to five years.) “I might not retire without FERP, especially since my wife said she’s not going to take notes when I talk.”