‘The real deal’ ⁠— NNA Past President Ken Rhoades remembered as dedicated advocate of Blair, Nebraska, newspaper communities

Apr 1, 2022

Ginny and Ken Rhoades
Ken and Ginny Rhoades are pictured at their new home in 2017. (Bob Sweeney)

Enterprise Publishing Company

Ken Rhoades never shied away from a story.

His 60-plus year career saw him cover anything and everything, even if it meant putting himself in harm's way, which he did on several occasions.

One of the long-time Blair newspaper publisher's favorite stories to tell was about the 1953 fire at the Publishing House building that left him with singed hair and burnt legs. Former Enterprise managing editor Leeanna Ellis interviewed Rhoades about his career in 2019, where he singled out that story as one of the highlights he remembered the most.

“As he took photos, he noticed a door started to bulge before it finally blew open. Ken lost some eyebrow hair and was burned on his legs,” she said. “When I asked him if he went to the hospital, he said 'No.' He just kept taking photos.

“Wasn't he concerned for his safety? He just shrugged and smiled at me.”


Rhoades, who passed away March 21 at age 90, held almost every title possible at the Enterprise, including publisher emeritus following his retirement. His career saw him serve as the president of the Nebraska Press Association (NPA) Foundation and National Newspaper Association. He amassed a bevy of awards and honors, including an induction into the NPA Hall of Fame and a designation as a Nebraska Master Editor-Publisher in 2000.

In a tribute to Rhoades written for his funeral service, Allen Beermann, former executive director of the NPA, said Rhoades' career wasn't built on trying to receive accolades and acknowledgment, but rather it was one dedicated to integrity.

“As we reflect on his legacy, we quickly realize that he never did work for recognition; rather, he always did work worthy of recognition,” Beermann said. “Ken lived his life like a snowflake, which leaves a mark but never a stain. He was a premier community servant — always serving with highest distinction.”
Beermann said Rhoades exemplified the “G” forces of journalism — to be good, grateful, gracious, generous and glad. This allowed him to use his talents in a way that told the news with compassion, understanding and accuracy.

“Ken always kept these ‘G’ forces in mind as he learned and lived the lessons of history; he was never too proud to cry, too grim to laugh, too sophisticated to enjoy, too hard to repent, too legal to love, too narrow to notice or too proud to pray,” Beermann said.

Rhoades garnered his reputation throughout his 60–year newspaper career. He started with the Enterprise when he was just 10 years old, melting lead for the Linotype machine. He worked as a reporter for the Enterprise when he was in high school and would fill in when needed in the press department while he was attending the University of Nebraska in Lincoln.

Rhoades eventually purchased the company from his father, J. Hilton Rhoades, in 1978, and it remained a family-focused business with his wife, Virginia, serving as the bookkeeper and the one who would collect the community news items.

Ken and Virginia sold Enterprise Publishing Company to his son, Mark Rhoades, in 1997. Mark currently serves as publisher, and his son, Chris, is the associate publisher.

Ken Rhoades remained involved with the paper as publisher emeritus and kept tabs on news in the area. Ellis said she appreciated Rhoades' guidance and willingness to swing by the office and chat. She said his example is one that remains at the paper.

“Ken was the epitome of an old-school newspaper man,” she said. “As a journalist, his experience and knowledge was something to admire. Ken could tell stories of the ‘good-old days’ and they were fascinating to listen to.

“He was proud of those who carried on his legacy — and not just his family. It was an honor to have Ken tell me I had done a great job on a story or he liked how the newspaper looked. I always valued his opinion.”


Rhoades wasn't afraid to tackle tough subjects and take on controversial opinions in his editorials. Blair Mayor Rich Hansen said his approach to journalism was admirable because of his unflappability.

“Kenny wasn't afraid to take on some tough stories once in a while, which is a dangerous thing when the guy sitting across from you is paying your wages as an advertiser,” Hansen said. “He was just an old school paper guy.”

But Hansen said the stories he wrote and the way he managed the paper were reflections of the pride he had for the community.

“He was always positive about Blair,” Hansen said. “There was no prouder promoter of Blair than Ken Rhoades. When he would travel, he would be so proud to talk about Blair and he was proud to be from the Rhoades family.”

“He was the real deal.”

Rhoades' love of Blair was evident in his service to the community. He served on more than 30 civic organizations, donated to various causes in the community and attended countless events.

“He was always promoting Blair and always had a dynamic interest in Blair. He probably received every community service award available here,” Hansen said.

Mick Jensen, second cousin to Rhoades and longtime business associate through his work with Great Plains Communication, said Rhoades' connection to the community was inspiring and showed through his tireless work to serve it in any way possible.

“You wonder first of all how he had the energy to do it and how he kept track of everything he needed to,” Jensen said. “He was able to be helpful to so many causes and so many committees.”

Seeing Rhoades' passion for community service and his desire to promote Blair whenever possible, Jensen added, showed that Blair had an advocate locally, statewide and nationally.

“It gave you a sense of satisfaction and helped you understand someone did care and took the time to be that interested and watch out for the different issues in the community and county,” he said.


Jensen said he and Rhoades remained close until Rhoades' passing Monday. He'd have dinner with Ken and Virginia each Wednesday, and even later in his life, Rhoades was always good for a joke.

“He'd be in a wheel–chair and a couple of times, people would come up and ask him how he was and he'd say, 'I dunno, they haven't told me yet today,'” Jensen said, with a laugh. “He kept a really good attitude and was so grateful for everything that you helped him with.”

Jensen said one source of Rhoades' demeanor and love of life was the connection he shared with Virginia. Where one would go, the other would often be, Jensen said.

“He and Virginia were complete partners in life,” he said, “and I think a quite a bit of his success is because of that. They say there's always a good woman behind that, and she was supportive of him, and I'm sure that helped him lot.

“As a couple, they were extremely fun to be with and were so caring of other people.”

Hansen, too, said he struggled to think of many instances where he saw Rhoades at a ball game or event without Virginia by his side.

“You have to emphasize, they were a pair together,” Hansen said. “You seldom saw one without the other, which was refreshing.”

Their impact on the community is apparent of virtually every corner in Blair. Jensen said it was Rhoades undying passion for the community and his demeanor towards life that makes his loss widely felt.

“It's tough to lose a person like that,” he said. “He's done so much, been so involved and touched so many people.

“I feel much richer for knowing him.”