Obituary: Rodney Lee Anderson, 58

Rodney Lee Anderson was born on el Día de los Muertos, November 2, 1965, in Davenport, Iowa, to Ronald Gene and Victoria Lee (Dawson) Anderson. His lifelong best friend and brother, Ronnie, was 21 months old and with Rodney's birth the family was complete.

As a little boy Rodney showed an affinity for all animals, but he especially loved birds. He was mesmerized by them. Perhaps all those quiet hours of observation were the genesis of Rodney's unique sense of time. He was never in a hurry and was often running late – a persistent habit that came to be known as "Rodney Time." Though their home was on a boulevard style street right in Davenport, his parents did their best to accommodate Rodney's love of animals.

Anderson family vacations were decided by their father's conviction that wherever they could hunt or fish is where they should go. It was important to Ron Senior that his boys share his love of nature and embrace the skills and ethics he believed made a good hunter. In response to his maxim 'If you're undecided about a shot, don't take it,' Rodney became a very successful one-shot hunter who carried only two bullets.

After graduating high school in 1984 Rodney enrolled at Scott Community College and worked in the men's fitness center at the YMCA. Handsome, easy-going and cheerful, he caught the eye of a co-worker, a young dance instructor named Mindy Higgins. A kindred spirit, she was soon included in Rodney and Ronnie's adventures along the shores of the Mississippi, their long bike rides exploring the back roads of Iowa, and on camping trips to fish trout streams throughout northern Iowa and Wisconsin. She was sixteen and they've been together ever since.

During college Rodney began working at the Y as a massage therapist and one of his regular clients was Harvey Morter, a well-respected dean at the prestigious Palmer College of Chiropractic. Impressed by Rodney's skilled hands and kind demeanor, Morter encouraged him to consider applying to Palmer to study chiropractic.

Rodney loved to travel, so after Mindy graduated high school in 1987 he took her to his favorite country, Mexico. It was her first trip out of the country and she loved it as much as he did. Once back in Davenport, they moved in together and Mindy started working all sorts of jobs to help make ends meet while Rodney continued his undergraduate studies.

A fellow student from Palmer, Alaska, told Rodney he owned a Bristol Bay permit and convinced him to take the summer quarter of 1989 off to fish with him in Alaska, a place Rodney had always hoped to see. "You're going to make a lot of money!" he told him. He didn't, but when he came home he knew where he wanted to practice chiropractic.

In 1992 Rodney and Mindy decided they wanted to get married on the Summer Solstice – and they wanted to do it in Mexico. They chose the small beach town of Pie de la Cuesta. On the day of their wedding they were sitting on the beach when hatching baby sea turtles began emerging from the sand under their feet. It was a magical moment they memorialized by commissioning wedding rings with tiny sea turtles circling the bands.

When Rodney graduated from the Palmer College of Chiropractic in 1994 Dean Morter gave him a sterling letter of recommendation, writing, "I have been able to observe first-hand Dr. Anderson's gifts and skills. [He] is one of the best adjusters as an extern I have had over the past 17 years at Palmer. His skills with patient management and care are superb. Rodney's personality traits include honesty, integrity and compassion. His ability to see people as persons and render care with humor and professional acumen are above par. I am confident that Dr. Rodney Anderson will make an excellent addition to any community he decides to open a chiropractic practice in."

After graduation Rodney and Mindy drove cross-country to Port Angeles, Washington, where Rodney had signed a year-long contract with a very busy chiropractic office. There they learned of the New Dungeness Spit. The 5.5-mile long spit is the longest natural sandspit in the world and has a lighthouse at its tip. They joined the fledgling New Dungeness Light Station Association and jumped at several opportunities to act as volunteer lighthouse keepers and to live at the tip of the Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge, a sanctuary for hundreds of species of birds and mammals. Rodney took advantage of anything he could fashion into a birdhouse and built an impressive complex of bird feeders, something he did wherever he lived.

When his contract was nearing its end a cold call to the Petersburg Chiropractic Center led to a quick trip to meet retiring chiropractic, Dr. Doug Kenyon. Kenyon gave Rodney the grand tour of the island and introduced him to his friends, who welcomed Rodney warmly. It was a great fit. Some of those first introductions led to years of shared camping trips, holidays, struggles and joys – making friends they grew to consider family. Before his visit was over the two doctors agreed Rodney's taking over the practice would be a smooth transition.

Once settled in Petersburg, Mindy and Rodney knew they'd landed in a place where they could build a life they'd love. They worked long hours at the chiropractic office while taking advantage of every opportunity to head out on an adventure. Rodney loved to check out forest service cabins and was particularly fond of the Kah Sheets Bay and Castle River cabins because, for the most part, he remained a freshwater fisherman who loved a good trout stream. Over the years they made countless camping trips with friends who joked that no matter where they went, it was "Camp Rodney" because he always spent the first few hours at camp making improvements. If there was a muddy spot along the trail, he'd find rocks to cover it so no mud was tracked into the cabin. He'd repair and improve the fire ring then build and tend to the best fires. He wanted everyone to be comfortable and to have a good time.

An avid long-distance runner, Rodney enjoyed the cool air and quiet roads of Mitkof Island. He trained for and ran the 175-km Klondike race from Skagway, Alaska, to Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, multiple times – twice with Mindy and once with his brother Ronnie. Strong and agile, he entered the annual Fourth of July log rolling contest for years, drawing a loyal group of admirers who didn't want to miss seeing "Dr. Feel Good" shirtless.

After years of working to support Rodney through school and a couple of years working at the chiropractic office in Petersburg, Mindy was ready to turn her focus back to dance. Rodney was characteristically supportive, and together they built the Steppin' Out Dance Studio. Their shared vision of a dance program available to all led them to create a robust scholarship program funded in part by their popular annual Drive-Through Burger Night with Rodney manning the grill, Mindy running the kitchen, and dancers serving as car-hops taking and delivering curbside orders. Rodney helped with everything – building props and sets, running the lights and music, sewing flourishes onto costumes. And when other groups used the theater and asked for his help, he gave it – quietly and without needing credit. Rodney was a man who liked to help.

When he pitched in on a fundraiser or an art project, a Fourth of July float or a costume, it was bound to be unique, clever – fabulous. When Mindy was on the arts council Rodney was instrumental in transforming the Sons of Norway Hall for the never-to-be-forgotten Millennial Ball.

He volunteered as a KFSK board member for fifteen years, many of them as board president. His calm demeanor, creative problem solving skills and firm commitment to the station's mission statement made him an excellent leader and a valued advisor. He was a volunteer firefighter and an active member of the Rotary Club.

When Mindy got pregnant in 2003 they were deeply involved in the community and belonged to a strong group of dear friends who went on camping trips together, gathered at holidays, loved each other's children and supported one another when life got hard, which it did.

Mindy was due in April 2004, but during the December performance of the Nutcracker she had to be medevaced to Seattle where their daughter Evelyn was born on December 22, 2003. She weighed one pound twelve ounces and remained in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit for months. Rodney stayed with them until both Mindy and Evelyn were stable then had to return to care for his patients, traveling down to see them every other weekend until they were able to return home in March.

They settled into a happy and contented family life. Mindy was able to reopen Steppin' Out Dance in the fall, supported by Rodney's very hands-on fathering. It was a good era until Rodney started battling chronic infections.

For his fortieth birthday Mindy surprised him with a trip to Pátzcuaro, Mexico, with his brother Ronnie to experience the el Dia de los Muertos celebration in a culture that believes death is not the end of life, but the continuation of life in a parallel world.

When Evelyn was seven, Mindy and Rodney bought the house next door and Ronnie came up to help them renovate it for their parents, Vickie and Ron Sr, who moved from Davenport in 2010. After Ron Sr died a year later Rodney told his mother he'd like her to stay.

Rodney and Evelyn spent a lot of time together and were very close. He loved to share his deep appreciation of nature with her and to pass along the outdoor skills he'd learned from his father. He was proud she became an accomplished hunter and fisherman. They shared their love of travel on family trips to Mexico, Hawaii, Vietnam, road trips through the Pacific Northwest, stays at the Dungeness Spit Lighthouse, and countless camping adventures with family friends. Traveling gave Rodney many opportunities to teach Evelyn to meet the world with kindness and to be empathetic towards others.

When the Development Director job became available at KFSK, Rodney resigned from the board so that Mindy could apply for the position. And, as always, he was there to help her however he could – keeping the house clean, caring for Evelyn and pitching in to help her create fantastic fundraising events. When Mindy developed the idea for the Salty Pantry, Rodney held down the fort for three months while she studied at a baking school in San Francisco, then dove into creating the Salty Pantry. The finished restaurant is a beautiful example of Rodney's aesthetic and his brilliant use of scavenged materials.

As the Salty Pantry was nearing its opening day Rodney became very sick, eventually having to close his practice to take a couple of years off. He took it as an opportunity to spend more time with Evelyn and her friends. He'd always supported Evelyn in whatever she was interested in and she was proud that he extended his support to her friends. To them he was a caring adult who treated everyone with genuine kindness and respect. They welcomed his taking on a father figure role in their lives. When one friend needed a foster family, they discussed it as a family, decided this child needed love and care, got licensed and gave them a home and a family.

Rodney liked to create handmade gifts for the people he loved, especially if he could use salvaged materials. He'd ask a friend which window they gazed out of while relaxing and soon a handcrafted and strategically placed bird house would appear. He made thoughtful gifts for the children in his life and was their secret Easter bunny for years, filling terracotta pots with spring flowers and treats, then hiding them outside their homes. He even left bunny prints behind.

When he felt well enough to begin work again he joined the team at the Petersburg Medical Center and practiced there until the end of his career. Through all the ups and the sometimes very scary downs, Rodney kept his focus on what was important to him – his family, friends, patients, dogs – his dogs, but also all the dogs – chickens, and helping wherever he could in the community he loved. He did everything he could until he couldn't, graciously letting go of the things he loved to do, largely without complaint.

He spent the last weeks of his life on the coast of Mexico with Mindy, enjoying visits from Evelyn, his brother Ronnie, and dear friends Tom Abbott and Elizabeth Hart. After returning home to Petersburg, Rodney died in his bed on March 20, 2024, with Mindy by his side. He did not want to go. His cheerful smile and helping hands will be missed by many.

Rodney was preceded in death by his father, Ronald Gene Anderson and his sister-in-law, Lana Higgins.

He is survived by his wife Mindy; daughter, Evelyn; mother, Vickie Anderson; brother Ronnie (Heather) Anderson; a large group of friends he considered family and a community of grateful patients.

A celebration of life will be held Saturday, August 3 at Blind Slough with a bonfire and barbeque.

 

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