'Pee Wee' Rhodes, Plaza Tire Service founder, dies

Aug. 15, 2011

Vernon Elwin "Pee Wee" Rhodes, 76, founder of Plaza Tire Service in Cape Girardeau, Mo., died Friday, July 29, 2011, after a lengthy illness.

The company forwarded this memorial:

"Pee Wee was born in Barnhart, Mo., on February 4, 1935, the youngest of seven children. In 1959, he married the former Carole Dalton, who survives him.

"Pee Wee left high school, convincing his father to sign for him and joined the Marines when he was 17. He spent six proud years in the service. Pee Wee said many times that it was the Marines that saved and changed his life then set him on his way to success based on the lessons he had learned in the Corps.

"Pee Wee always wanted to go into business for himself.  In the early '60s, Pee Wee and his brother, Pete, along with their families, moved to Cape Girardeau and opened three Gulf service stations -- in Cape Girardeau, Jackson and Perryville, Mo.

"Pee Wee and Pete ended up selling two of the stations, leaving the Cape station. In 1963, a local businessman, Jack Lewis, offered Pee Wee a job to manage the Plaza Car Wash in Cape Girardeau. If Pee Wee successfully managed it, he would own half the business.

"Pee Wee closed the deal with a handshake, the first of many deals sealed by only a handshake. After a few years, Pete joined Pee Wee and they expanded into the tire business via the purchase of a retread business, which included a new 1964 truck with tire racks. Its color was Chevrolet's 504 paint code, green, better known as 'Plaza Green.' To this date, Plaza Tire Service has had over 500 trucks and all of them have been this same green color. Pee Wee said he could never afford to change the color.

"After a few years in the car wash business, Pee Wee then expanded into the selling of retreads at the car wash for only $7.50 apiece. He also began selling new tires. A hand-operated tire changer had been mounted on the sidewalk outside Plaza Car Wash and due to city ordinances the tire changer had to be moved. A decision had to be made -- close the car wash or get out of the tire business. There simply was not enough room to do both. Pee Wee's decision is obvious today and was a trademark of how he always did business. He stopped washing cars and renamed the business Plaza Tire Service. Today, Plaza Tire is one of the country's largest tire retailers with 49 stores in four states. Pee Wee always believed the many years of service and loyalty, by the now over 350 employees, was a major contribution to the success of the company.

"Though 'officially retired' from the tire business, Pee Wee's entrepreneurial spirit kept burning with successful ventures into real estate development, construction and wholesale truck sales.

"In business, Pee Wee will be remembered for his tenacious work ethic, leadership, positive attitude and personal relationships built through his partnerships and with employees and suppliers through 48 years of successful business. Throughout his life, both business and personal, he never met a stranger and was known far and wide for his open, engaging and friendly approach to all things. No matter what walk of life you were from he always treated you with respect and dignity. Although his sons, Mark and Scott, have operated the company in recent years, Pee Wee remained a consistent presence visiting the office on a near daily basis until very recent weeks.  He said he was letting the younger generation keep Plaza Tire Service going/growing because, as he always said, 'You grow or you go!'"

Plaza Tire Service is 21st on the Modern Tire Dealer 100 list.