For Wallace Rhodes, living in the past helped define Belmont

  • Wallace Rhodes lived in and loved Belmont and helped save some of the old buildings in town, including the old Mill building that now is occupied. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Wallace Rhodes’s letter reporting on the successful restoration of the 1908 Village Bandstand was added to the crown was added to the bandstand’s crown in 2015. Courtesy of Tim Camerato

  • Wallace Rhodes lived in and loved Belmont and helped keep some of the historical buildings from being torn down, including the old Mill building downtown. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Wallace Rhodes lived in and loved Belmont. Courtesy

  • Wallace Rhodes lived in and loved Belmont and helped restore the Provence Road Meeting House for the Belmont Historical Society. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Sherman Gammon (left) and Bob Rein, both of whom shared a home with a home in Belmont with Wallace Rhodes, recall memories of their friend, who died July 17. Rhodes lived in and loved Belmont and will be missed by his friends. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Wallace Rhodes lived in and loved Belmont and will be missed by his friends Bob Rein (left) and Sherman Gammon in the home they shared with Rhodes in Belmont. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Wallace Rhodes lived in and loved Belmont, and he will be missed by his friend Sherman Gammon, 87, seen outside their home on Church Street in Belmont. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Wallace Rhodes lived in and loved Belmont. In 2013, Rhodes (left) at the Belmont Mill NH Historical Highway marker installation along with Alyce Jewell, Heritage Commission member, and Belmont Sgt. Adam Hawkins. COURTESY—Vicki Donovan

  • Wallace Rhodes attends a 2007 Belmont Historical Society meeting with Magnus McLetchie, a former BHS president and longtime NHTI Concord faculty member. Courtesy

Monitor columnist
Friday, July 28, 2017

In a way, he resembled those old historic buildings in town, before he helped save them.

They were quiet, mysterious, thought-provoking and ingrained in the town’s personality, and so was Wallace Rhodes, who died July 17. He was 82, never married and had no children.

So now comes the time to remember, embrace, appreciate, the time to see and feel Rhodes at the Belmont Mill and the Province Road Meeting House.

He woke them and other structures in town with a kind of mouth-to-mouth resuscitation that served as a breath of fresh air, pumping life into the past and sweeping it forward to the here and now.

“He was very unassuming and always aware,” said Linda Frawley, the former chairwoman of the Belmont Heritage Commission. “He was a remarkable person for Belmont and in many ways for the state of New Hampshire. This is a major loss.”

He was a little man, about 5-foot-4, who was huge in stature, a towering figure who was born in Belmont, who died in Belmont and, in many ways, who maintained Belmont, helping it keep its defining features.

“Working with Wallace on the Heritage Commission, it did not take long to appreciate what a treasure he was,” Shayne Duggan said. “His passion for historic preservation and his love for his community and its history were always so evident. He possessed some of the most admirable human traits: humility, kind-heartedness and generosity.”

Somewhere inside, though, a fire burned for nostalgia, a sense of history that Rhodes turned into his own private domain.

Anyone curious about the past could call Rhodes and he’d have an answer for them, a story, a vision. He spoke to grade-school kids about the town. He loved going on road trips with Bob Rein, one of two roommates he lived with in a home fashioned in an 18th-century style.

“We’d go to Canada and upstate New York to do research for whatever project he was working on,” Rein said. “We traveled to San Antonio and Louisiana, we traveled to 17 countries, and we didn’t need a tour guide. He would tell me all about it.”

Rein and roommate Sherman Gammon had the most intimate details about their dear friend. They watched as Rhodes stopped eating and grew weak over the past few months, suffering from an illness doctors could never diagnose.

Rein nearly died 10 years ago after suffering a perforated esophagus, a condition caused by alcohol abuse. He lapsed into a coma for four months.

He said Rhodes fed him through a tube, changed his bandages and accompanied him on all those scary trips to Boston for doctor visits.

“I didn’t even have to ask him,” said Rein, who’s now on disability. “I couldn’t ask for more. How do you repay him?”

They said Rhodes made a lot of money in the banking industry and never flaunted it. He gave land to Gammon’s children, but might eat the value meal at Burger King.

“If you saw him outside, you’d think he was an old buck farmer,” Gammon said. “His knees would be worn out from holes. He didn’t care what he looked like.”

But he cared what his town looked like. Rhodes’s passion, focus and money led to the exterior facelift of the Province Road Meeting House, a church built in 1792, and residents remain hopeful that the inside, with its pews lined up and walls and ceilings in need of repair, will one day be renovated, too.

“He was the grant writer, and a lot of people pitched in and helped,” Frawley said. “But he was the visionary for that meeting house all those years.”

And that mill mentioned above? The Belmont Mill? The select board wanted to demolish it following a fire in 1992, but the little man with the giant heart wouldn’t hear of it.

He hired a lawyer, picked up the tab, sued the town and, with the demolition equipment breathing down the mill’s neck, received an injunction.

Voter-appropriated funds, block grants and private donations followed, and now the mill features the Lakes Region Community College culinary arts program and its Food for Thought Cafe, the Belknap Family Health Center and a day care center.

“If it hadn’t been for him, there wouldn’t be the mill,” Gammon said. “He was fully responsible.”

Elsewhere, Rhodes helped restore the town’s bandstand – “Don’t call it a gazebo,” Frawley warned me – and the letter he had written reporting on the program has since been added to the crown that overlooks the town.

One day, a future generation will fetch that letter and learn about a man whom residents learned from and leaned on. They’ll hear about the Belmont Historical Society he founded; the Heritage Commission he chaired; and the award from the Victorian Society of America, New England Chapter, he helped earn.

“A big loss for the town,” Rein said. “Probably the biggest.”