August 2016; Melissa Rhoades (right) drops the Corvette off at the National Corvette Museum. Photos courtesy National Corvette Museum.
Burke Rhoads, an officer with the Nicholasville, Kentucky, police department, loved Corvettes. As his budget allowed, Burke spent his free time restoring his own 1984 Corvette, promising his daughter, Jacquelyn, that the work would be done in time for her senior prom in 2018. It was not to be: On March 11, 2015, Burke was killed in a traffic accident on a fog-shrouded road while driving to a department training session.
As the family grieved, any thoughts of the Corvette’s restoration were put on hold. Eventually, Burke’s widow, Melissa, realized that something needed to be done with the car. Looking for suggestions on a shop to paint the Corvette, she telephoned the National Corvette Museum’s executive director, Wendell Strode, and the simple request for information soon turned into much more.
As Katie Frassinelli, the National Corvette Museum’s marketing and communications manager, explains,
We started researching by reaching out to the Bluegrass Corvette Club based in Lexington, and even asked around at the Somernites car show in Somerset, Kentucky. With a project as special as this, you want to make sure the car is in good hands. At some point I thought – why don’t we at the Museum head up taking care of this car?
First, the idea had to be sold to other members of the museum’s management team. As a 501c3 nonprofit, the museum has no budget for outside restorations, meaning that some creativity needed to be applied if the museum agreed to proceed with the project. Supporting law enforcement and military has always been a priority for the facility, which offers free or discounted admission to veterans and police, but this project would go far beyond the museum’s norms.
Melissa and Jacquelyn Rhoades at the car’s reveal on April 29.
PPG Automotive Refinish generously agreed to supply the Bright Red paint for the project, while Final Finish in Morgantown, Kentucky, agreed to donate its services in painting the car. Details settled, the museum called Melissa and told her it would be taking on the project and finishing her late husband’s work, a kindness that had not been expected.
The Rhoades family poses with volunteers who helped restore the Corvette.
Melissa delivered the Corvette to the museum in August 2016, and a closer inspection revealed that more than paint was needed to put the car on the road. Parts purchased by Burke needed to be replaced, while leaking windows needed to be repaired, so the museum’s vehicle maintenance and preservation coordinator, Daniel Decker, volunteered his free time to work on the Corvette.
The restored Corvette, outside the museum’s Skydome.
Corvette Central, Auto Zone and Midas all donated to the project, and unforeseen expenses were paid by members of the museum and the Bluegrass Corvette Club. Patches from Burke’s uniform were incorporated into a leather center console cover, a thoughtful tribute to Burke and his family.
Completed last month, the car was revealed to family members and friends during the Michelin National Corvette Museum Bash on Saturday, April 29. Frassinelli called the museum’s work on the car “very meaningful for our team,” a sentiment echoed by Melissa Rhoades.
“I can’t express my appreciation and thankfulness for everything,” she said. “Words can’t convey the emotions that I feel about what you all have done for us.”