Lobbyist's father crafts new Missouri Senate gavel

Monday, May 18, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 3:27 p.m. CDT, Monday, May 18, 2009

JOPLIN — Mark Rhoads, a lobbyist in Jefferson City, has heard the bang of a gavel in the Senate chamber many times over the past 30 years.

Recently, the bangs were louder than usual, and it's his father's fault.

"I heard (Senate Majority Leader Charlie Shields) bring a session to a close, and it was the loudest bang I've ever heard," Rhoads said. "I heard him say, 'What a gavel.'"

The gavel used by the leader of the Senate was made by Rhoads' father, Tom Rhoads, who made it in the garage of his Joplin home. Using a chunk of native cherry wood, he fashioned the gavel's head on a lathe and attached it to a hickory handle.

"I told them it wouldn't be anything fancy," Tom Rhoads said. The gavel's head is 9 inches long with a 3-inch diameter; it's attached to a 14-inch handle.

Shields said Tom Rhoads, 81, came to the rescue with his gift.

"Senator (Matt) Bartle, who is a big baseball fan, said this new gavel is the equivalent of a corked bat," Shields said. "The way it is weighted, it's not going to fall apart. And, it's very, very loud."

One day last month, as Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder was calling the Senate to order, the head of the previous gavel flew off and nearly struck a Senate staff worker. A few weeks before that, the head came off as Bartle was using it.

"That's the point when I thought of Dad," Mark Rhoads said. "He has great woodworking skills, so I told him about it over Easter break."

Tom Rhoads spent about 10 hours working on the gavel. After using his lathe to make the head, he applied three coats of polyurethane.

A retired electrician for Empire District Electric Co., Rhoads spends time making furniture for his five children. He has also made a smaller gavel for the chairman of a retirees association.

Rhoads' gavel saw its first action on April 30, the same day the Senate approved a resolution marking the acceptance of the gift.

Though Tom Rhoads said it is a good gavel, he didn't make any guarantees that it would actually restore order in the Senate. His joke was returned in the resolution, a portion of which reads, "Whereas, Mr. Rhoads in no way warrants the safety of this gavel nor that its use will improve decorum and civil exchange ..."

Shields said he appreciates the quality of Rhoads' gift.

"When his son offered it up, we said, 'Here's the deal. It has to work,'" Shields said. "When it got sent up to us, we were pleasantly surprised. I expect this one to be around for a long time."

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