On a cool Friday night, amidst the electrifying atmosphere at Wilder Stadium, home of the Clinton Red Devils, the crowd grew quiet during halftime as they witnessed a moment of exceptional significance. The Order of the Palmetto, the most prestigious civilian honor in the state of South Carolina, was bestowed upon an individual who embodies the very spirit of service, dedication, and mentorship. This distinguished recipient, Coach Bill Rhodes, is not only a Patriot, but also a community supporter, business owner, teacher, and, to many a mentor.
Established in 1971 by Governor John C. West, the Order of the Palmetto is a distinction reserved for those who have demonstrated a lifetime of extraordinary achievements, service, and contributions, not only at the local and state levels but also on the national stage. Coach Bill Rhodes stands as a shining example of what this award represents.
Coach Rhodes’ journey of service began in 1960 when he dedicated himself to the Laurens County School District 56. Astonishingly, his service endures to this day, amassing over 63 years of continuous commitment. He started his career at Florida Street Junior High School, moved on to Bell Street Middle School, and eventually Clinton High School, where he now works as a cashier and headcount at the cafeteria.
In addition to his contributions as an educator, Coach Rhodes has an impressive 61-year tenure in the field of coaching and athletic support. He has coached football, baseball, and women’s softball teams at various levels, ranging from junior high school to high school. His dedication to young athletes extends to the present day, as he assists with varsity men’s and women’s basketball gate receipts.
Beyond his commitment to education and athletics, Coach Rhodes has served his nation and state with honor and distinction. His military service began in 1955 when he joined the South Carolina Army National Guard as an infantry rifleman. Over the years, he ascended through the ranks, holding leadership positions from infantry squad leader to brigade command sergeant major. In 1997, Command Sergeant Major Rhodes retired after a remarkable 42-year military career, culminating as the 218th Infantry Brigade Command Sergeant Major.
Coach Rhodes also made a significant impact in the community through his 28-year involvement with the Exchange Club. His leadership in the club included a seven-year term as president. During his tenure, he played a pivotal role in supporting Presbyterian College athletic concessions, with the funds derived from this endeavor being channeled towards projects at Clinton High School, benefiting numerous students and programs.
What makes Coach Rhodes’ dedication even more remarkable is his age – at 86 years old, he continues his lifelong pursuit of service to the community. His unwavering commitment to making a difference in the lives of others is nothing short of inspiring.
During the halftime ceremony, Coach Bill Rhodes was joined at mid-field by family members and some distinguished individuals who celebrated his achievements:
- Lawry Rhodes Sharp, Coach Rhodes’ daughter and a teacher at Clinton High School
- Senator Danny Verdin, representing Senate District 9
- Mayor Randy Randall, representing the City of Clinton
- Dr. David O’Shields, Superintendent of Laurens County School District 56
- Dr. Martha Brothers, Principal of Clinton High School
The presentation of the Order of the Palmetto was made by Representative Doug Gilliam, who represents House District 42, and Command Sergeant Major Retired, 218th Infantry Brigade.
“My father’s unwavering commitment to his community and the countless lives he’s touched as a teacher, coach, and mentor is beyond words. He has always been my role model, and seeing him receive the Order of the Palmetto is not just an honor for him but a testament to the incredible impact one person can have on so many,” said daughter Lawry Rhodes. “It’s a moment of immense pride for our family, and I couldn’t be happier for my father.”
Coach Bill Rhodes’ lifetime of service, dedication, and mentorship has left an indelible mark on the community and the lives of countless individuals. The Order of the Palmetto bestowed upon him is a well-deserved recognition of his extraordinary contributions to South Carolina, and a testament to the enduring impact of a life dedicated to the service of others.
Congratulations Coach Rhodes – the Clinton Red Devils, the City of Clinton and all of Laurens County thanks you for so many years of service!