OKLAHOMA CITY — Rusty Rhoades knew at an early age that he wanted to become a highway patrol trooper.
What he didn’t know is that he would eventually rise to be the new commissioner of public safety; he was tapped last month by Gov. Mary Fallin to replace Michael Thompson, who was appointed adjutant general.
Rhoades, 50, is the son of a late retired Yukon police captain and his wife, a retired federal employee.
“I was blessed that my parents preached that we were on this Earth to make it a better place and to help people out,” he said.
He started his career at age 21 with the Capitol Patrol. He was assigned to the governor’s security detail in 1989, when Republican Henry Bellmon was serving his second term.
He said at that time, a person had to be 23 years old to be a trooper, and he was waiting for the chance.
Bellmon, who passed away in 2009, was living in the governor’s mansion with his first wife, Shirley, who died in 2000.
He said the couple was amazing. Shirley Bellmon would bake cookies for the security detail and bring them to the guard shack outside the mansion.
He said Henry Bellmon was very independent.
“It was a Sunday afternoon,” Rhoades said. “I saw on the cameras he was walking out of the west door (of the mansion) headed toward the gate walking toward the Capitol.
“So I ran out there and said, ‘Governor. Let me grab a car, and I can take you to the Capitol.’ He said, “Son, I survived World War II. I can survive this parking lot.’ ”
A large parking lot separates the mansion from the Capitol.
“I was so scared,” Rhoades said. “My career totally flashed in front of my eyes because if something happened to him that day, I would have never gotten to be a state trooper. I was on pins and needles until he walked back to the mansion.”
At 23, he was accepted into the Oklahoma Highway Patrol Academy.
“The patrol school changes your view on who you are and what your purpose in life is really and how you do things,” Rhoades said.
Rhoades has held a variety of posts with patrol ranging from legislative liaison to captain and major. He also served on the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force and the FBI Gang and Violent Crimes Task Force.
He has served under about half a dozen commissioners.
“The highs are the days out there on the road as a trooper,” Rhoades said. “That is what I hired on to do. I had no intention ... I would ever get promoted, much less end up in this office. I am a trooper at heart.”
And the job comes with difficult times as well, he said.
“And the lows are anytime we have lost a trooper,” he said. “It is devastating. You can’t even find the words because we are family. Those are the dark days.
“That expands into any time I responded to fatality collisions. Those people had families, people that loved them. They were out there minding their own business, and then they don’t go home that evening. And then to have to go tell those families that their loved one won’t be home — those are always the darkest days.”
His office contains several pictures of his best friend Pete Norwood, a popular trooper who died unexpectedly in 2013 at the age of 42. Norwood was an 18-year veteran of the patrol who reached the rank of captain.
“His passion for his family, for the patrol, for his friends was unmatched,” Rhoades said.
Fallin’s last day is Jan. 14, 2019. The incoming governor could select a new commissioner, something Rhoades said he fully understands, adding that it was worth the risk.
“I would hope to stay,” Rhoades said. “I am not ready to leave the department. This is the rest of my family. This is a huge part of my life.”
He calls the challenges facing the agency “opportunities,” adding that is goal is to provide the best possible working environment for all employees.
Rhoades is a 1985 graduate of Del City High School. He is married to Kristi, a speech language pathologist. They have twins Tyler and Trey, 21, and a younger son Jake, 15.