Gloryanna Rhodes loves the open spaces in America. That feeling first hit her in the gut about 45 years ago while going over the Altamont Pass on the way to Yosemite National Park as she gazed at the vast valley below.
“I was fascinated, just fascinated. I just love the open space,” recalled the former two-time Lathrop mayor and retired executive director of Head Start of San Joaquin after working there for two decades.
But that’s not the only reason the Puerto Rico-born Rhodes liked about the land of Uncle Sam and why she chose to live in the United States. For her, the country stands for unlimited opportunity.
“There’s an opportunity for you to do anything you want as long as you work hard at it, and if you put your effort into it. That’s the American way. The ultimate freedom is about opportunity,” she said.
“You’re not always going to get what you want,” she added, “but on the other hand, there’s the opportunity I talked about – the freedom to work at something.”
That feeling was intensified during a visit to the Arlington National Cemetery several years ago. She had been part of the San Joaquin Council of Government’s One Voice lobbying trip to Washington, D.C., when she was mayor of Lathrop. She had never been to this national shrine, but nobody in the group wanted to go. So she took a taxi and went by herself.
“When I got there, it was really windy – it was March – and really cold. I had a jacket, hood, and scarf but it was so uncomfortable and annoying to walk around. And then it really hit me,” recalled Rhodes.
She thought about women in other countries who are constantly curtailed by lack of freedom to freely do what they want to do, who have to cover their bodies even just to go and buy groceries. And here she was, “a woman, a working woman and mother” who, by dint of hard work in the land of freedom and opportunity, “was able to become mayor.
“You hear (Lathrop’s current mayor Sonny) Dhaliwal sometimes talk about that. It’s such an amazing feeling to be able to say, ‘I want to do that.’ Work hard and, you know, you might get it,” Rhodes said.
It’s a lesson she learned from her aunt and uncle who raised her, she said. Her late uncle was an academician as well as a career military person. He was born in Ohio and spent his whole life in California, but spent many years as a professor in the engineering college of the University of Puerto Rico. He also taught mathematics. During World War II, he was lieutenant colonel and saw action in the Philippines. When the war in Vietnam “erupted, he wanted to go, but they told him he was too old,” Rhodes recalled.
“Freedom was so important to him,” she said.
It was freedom and opportunity which made it possible for her to achieve everything she set out to accomplish in life, and not just in local politics but in establishing a career while being both a wife to husband Ron and mother to their two children, Rhodes said. Along the way, she received her bachelor’s degree from California State University in Stanislaus, took graduate studies at the University of the Pacific, and taught part-time at Modesto Junior College as PITC (program for infant toddlers) instructor.
She tried to pass on the valuable lessons in patriotism and hard work that she learned all her life to her two children. Son Lou (Luis Enrique) is now a firefighter for the City of Fresno where he and his wife and their two children live. Daughter Vanessa Hernandez, who is currently pursuing a master’s degree, lives in Weston Ranch with her husband and their 2-year-old daughter.