Had enthusiasm for ‘trying to change the world’

Joseph Rody Jr., Wisconsin’s own working-class stalwart and social justice activist, died of lung cancer, Aug. 6, at the age of 86. Rody, born Dec. 3, 1918, was the son of a coal miner and union organizer. He graduated West Allis Central High School in 1938 and was proud of his machinist and mechanic self-taught skills.

In the early 1940s, Rody was a self-made businessman, operating a firm called C.P.R. Tool Works before opening his car dealership. Rody was the first Jeep dealer in the U.S. to sell 1,000 Jeeps.

He married Geri Snopek and they started a family.

Rody volunteered for many causes, including helping out every week at a local public school telling the students stories about growing up in the Great Depression. At age 81, he competed and won an award swimming in the Senior Olympics.

But the defining feature of Rody’s full life was his enthusiasm and commitment to social progress, peace and democracy.

“He wanted workers to have a decent place in the sun,” attorney Art Heitzer told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, who protested with Rody at the World Trade Organization conference in Seattle in 1999.

Rody marched in the streets for civil rights, rallied for global justice, phone-banked to get out the vote, and hauled humanitarian aid to Cuba, Central America, Mexico and Venezuela.

Cuba solidarity activist and Rody’s longtime friend John Gilman went with Rody last November to Cuba and Venezuela after arranging to have the supplies shipped there. Gilman said, “It was his last hurrah.”

Rody acquired trucks, buses and vans for Pastors for Peace to use during their Cuba Friendshipment caravans. Gilman recalled how in 1994 drivers once abandoned a caravan truck in St. Louis laden with tons of aid for Cuba because of some mechanical problem. “I called Joe and said, ‘Get some tools, I’m picking you up at 8 a.m.’” Gilman said they got there and Rody started up the truck and took off. “I followed him to Laredo [Texas].”

John Goldstein, former president of the Milwaukee County Labor Council, remembered Rody as a tireless activist. “He had an incredible enthusiasm for understanding history and trying to change the world,” Goldstein told the Journal Sentinel. Rody would pass by the labor council office while he made his rounds delivering the People’s Weekly World newspaper, Goldstein recalled. “He would point out articles about union struggles around the world. He’d bring books about labor history and extra copies for me to pass along.”

“Rody was totally devoted to giving people information — like the People’s Weekly World — and felt that once people read the articles it would open their minds,” said Scott Marshall, Communist Party labor commission chair. “Once he bought hundreds of copies of the book, ‘Here I Stand’ by Paul Robeson, so people, especially young people, would know about Robeson’s life. He really believed in reaching people through the written word. He was a beautiful guy,” Marshall said.

At Rody’s request no funeral or memorial services are planned. Instead, he requested “people take action through speaking out and giving their time and money to the causes and organizations he believed in supporting,” his son Dennis Rody said.

Rody is survived by Geri, his beloved wife of 63 years, son Dennis (Joyce), grandchildren Stacy (Jim) Ellis, Brian Rody and Rachel Leonhard, great grandchildren Kevin Ellis and Tyler Ellis, other relatives and dear friends. Rody was preceded in death by his daughter, Dorry Ann Leonhard.