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by Anne Batty
Rod and Gloria, mates for life. As a young boy raised in a Yacqui Indian Village in Tucson, Arizona, San Clementean Rod Rodriguez often found himself in trouble. That trouble eventually brought him before a judge who gave him the option of going to Fort Grant, an Arizona juvenile correctional institution, or joining the United States Marine Corps. Rodriguez chose the latter and has never looked back.
“That choice set me on a different path,” Rod revealed. “In the Marines I learned self-discipline, how to improvise, make wise decisions and provide for myself … all things I later applied to running a business and making a good life for my family and me.”
While serving in the Corps Rodriguez was assigned to Camp Pendleton, and although he loved the beach and San Clemente he didn’t spend much time in town.
“In the ‘50s San Clemente wasn’t a very Marine-friendly place,” Rod remarked. “Marines often got arrested, so whenever I had leave I would hitchhike all the way back to Tucson to be with my family and friends.”
During one of those return trips home Rodriguez married his Junior High School sweetheart, Gloria. They had met in 1953 when an all black Arizona school was integrated and the couple was among the students sent there. While attending that school Rod spent most of his time chasing after Gloria’s best friend and asking her advice about how to get the other girl’s attention.
“It’s funny how things worked out,” Rod chuckled. “Gloria was the one I ended up marrying. Some things are just meant to be I guess.”
Rod Rodriguez loved being a Marine and had planned to be a 20-year career man, but the jealousy of a 1st Sergeant and his ensuing harassment caused him to muster out after only seven years of service. Rod and crew in action.
“In the Corps I was a pretty good shooter,” Rodriguez remembered smiling. “When I was only a three stripe Sergeant I achieved a higher score on the firing range than my 1st Sergeant and received the Leatherneck Magazine’s Award for shooting.”
It was the envy of that prestigious magazine’s award that would set the 1st Sergeant against Rod, making his life in the Corps miserable and contributing to the demise of his dreams for an armed services career.
When Rodriguez finally left the USMC, he and his family returned to Arizona. Before long employment became scarce there and they returned to San Clemente where Rod obtained a job as a heavy equipment operator. Then in the early ‘60s he went to work for the City of San Clemente in the Police and the Parks and Recreation Departments, in due time becoming the P&R Supervisor.
Having quit school in the eighth grade, Rodriguez wanted to complete his education. He had taken the GED (General Education Degree) test while in the service and received the equivalent of a high school diploma, but because he was working in city government Rod decided he needed further schooling. He attended Santa Ana College, earning his Associates Degree, then continued on at Cal State Fullerton where he eventually obtained a Government Management/Public Administration Degree. Fate stepped in, however, and he never used those degrees in the way he had planned.
One day while he was serving as a City Policeman, the course of Rodriguez’s life took another turn. He was called out to work an accident involving a fallen tree in a resident’s front yard. One of the limbs was jutting out into the street obstructing traffic. Rod suggested the resident call a tree company to cut the limb and was told there wasn’t one in town. So he went home, got his chain saw and cut the limb. Thus the seed for Rod’s Tree Service was sown.
After that incident Rodriguez began providing tree services for local residents on a part-time basis. He soon had so much work he decided to merge his life experience, ingenuity, and education into the development of a business of his own. As time passed his much-needed service rapidly grew to employ nine workers, but the high cost of workmen’s compensation caused him to cut back to a present crew of five full-timers and one part-timer.
In the tree business, Rodriguez has seen people go to many extremes to rid themselves of unwanted neighborhood saplings. He tells of one incident where a very wealthy client actually purchased the property next door to rid himself of an unwanted tree. After hiring Rod to remove the tree, the client then turned around and resold the
Rod as a boy in Arizona. “This business is full of unusual stories like that,” Rodriguez remarked, a mischievous grin breaking across his suntanned face.
The success of Rod Rodriguez’s business, coupled with his inner beliefs, has inspired him to give back … to the community, the USMC that he loves and to those less fortunate. As a member of the board of directors for the Boys and Girls Club, the Chamber of Commerce, the Kiwanis Club and the San Clemente Dons, he has taken advantage of every opportunity to respond to that calling. Most recently Rod was asked to remove a palm tree in danger of damaging the Cabrillo Playhouse. He is scheduled to do that soon, voluntarily, of course.
“One of the first things I was taught in boot camp in the Marine Corps was not to volunteer for anything. I guess it was a lesson I never learned very well,” Rod laughed.
Remembering the early animosity he felt as a serviceman in this town, Rod is thrilled to see that relationships between townsfolk and Marines have gotten better and better over the years. He is excited about Councilman Wayne Eggleston’s Marine Monument project, and is sure it will do much to create more pride in the Corps and generate continued camaraderie between the base and the town.
To that end, along with the City, Rodriguez has adopted the 2nd Battalion 4th Division Marines at Camp Pendleton, providing BBQ parties when they deploy and return, and making sure their families are not forgotten while they are gone, especially during the holidays.
As a member and board representative of St. Clement’s By-The-Sea Episcopal Church, he and other local businessmen are involved in donating palm fronds to various churches in the area for use in their Palm Sunday services.
“When I first started calling around about donating the fronds I discovered some churches were being charged for them. I couldn’t believe anyone would charge for something that is usually thrown in the trash,” Rod shared.
Married for 48 years to the same woman, Rod Rodriguez is a very proud grandfather to four teenage grandsons, who spend lots of time with he and his wife during school breaks and summer vacation. The four boys sometimes work clean up for his business while staying with them and Rodriguez remembers one time when someone implied that he might be a child labor lawbreaker.San Clemente Policeman
“I laughed,” Rod said, “and told him they weren’t working for me, I was working for them.”
Coming from the “old school of thought,” Rodriguez believes it does children good to learn how to work for what they want in life. He doesn’t see having children doing age appropriate work as abuse, but rather as a necessary life experience.
While speaking with this gentle-spirited man of conviction, the subject of discrimination in our society arose. Without hesitation Rod revealed it was something he had never given much thought to, adding that this is the land of opportunity and anyone of ethnicity who truly wants to succeed here can.
To illustrate this thought Rodriguez cited the example of Judge Raoul Castro, the one who had given him the choices that eventually determined his life’s path. It seems this man came to the United States at 14, attended school in Arizona, obtained a law degree, and became a juvenile judge, then a Superior Court Judge, and finally the Governor of Arizona.
Rod Rodriguez’s life is living proof of this same type of success. From boy in trouble, to U.S. Marine, husband, father, grandfather, successful businessman, community volunteer, generous benefactor and faithful friend, the path he chose as a young man set him on the road to being the well-rounded, ethical man he has obviously become today. b
Rod Rodriguez, USMC.