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Tribute | Rodney Wilson, life of service

Who:

Rodney Eugene Wilson, 84, of Mission Hills.

When and how he died:

June 5 from a massive brain hemorrhage.

On the railroad:

Rodney Wilson was a man of service. In 1944, he skipped his high school graduation and traveled to San Diego to enlist in the U.S. Navy. After serving in World War II, he gravitated toward the same livelihood as his grandfather and father: the railroad business.

“In a small town, the railroad was a good job — a way to get out of a small-town situation,” Ben Wilson, his son, said.

Rodney Wilson worked with the Santa Fe Railroad for more than 40 years.

The railroad took him first to Texas and then to Chicago, where he and his wife, Priscilla, raised three kids. Ben remembered his father being dedicated to the family — planning family trips, going on Boy Scout camping outings, teaching his kids how to build things.

Ben Wilson also remembered his dad fixing tricycles for preschool-aged children who lived in a disadvantaged neighborhood.

“He was helping to provide stuff for kids that probably didn’t have a lot to play with,” he said.

While in Chicago, Rodney Wilson became involved with an organization that shaped the rest of his life. His work at the Institute of Cultural Affairs, which was devoted to global development work, was the beginning of what would become a long career of global service. He and his wife served on the group’s board.

“We’d do family vacations but then he’d also do one or two trips a year,” Priscilla Wilson said.

Service:

In the early 1980s, the railroads began consolidating, and he was transferred to the Kansas City area. Following the move, Rodney became heavily involved with the Rotary Club, founding a branch in Shawnee.

Under the umbrella of the international branch, Rodney continued to travel for service missions abroad. That work took him to Portugal, Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Egypt and other places.

“Portugal was always one of his great loves,” Ben Wilson said. “He went back several times.”

On his trips, Rodney Wilson assisted with community development, medical missions and building projects in nearly 45 countries.

Modesty:

Rodney’s dedication to service did not go unnoticed. In addition to other recognitions, Rotary International honored him with five major service awards, including the Rotary International Foundation Citation for Meritorious Service, Rotary International Foundation Service Above Self Award and the Rotary International Distinguished Service Award.

“I thought he had won some awards, but he didn’t really talk about them,” fellow Rotarian Mason Ornsbe said. “On the pyramid, he was at the very top, but you’d never know it.”

Keeping quiet about his awards was common for Rodney Wilson.

“Awards and recognition was never his cup of tea,” Ben Wilson said. “It was really about service, not about earning something or getting his picture taken.”

Survivors include:

his wife, two sons, a daughter, daughter-in-law, a brother, a sister-in-law, four grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

Final thought:

During one of his four trips to Portugal, Rodney Wilson built a water containment tank for a village that needed it for irrigation purposes.

“He mixed the cement by hand, and that’s not an easy thing to do,” Priscilla Wilson said.

It was this type of work that garnered the attention of Rotary International.

“He was a real honest to goodness American Rotarian, getting his hands dirty,” Priscilla Wilson said.

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