Dr. Homer Alvin Rodeheaver is dead. the 75-year-old founder and president of the world's largest publishing house of gospel music died Sunday morning at his picturesque Rainbow Point home on Winona Lake. Convalescing from a previous heart attack early in the week, Dr. Rodeheaver suffered a cerebral hemorrhage and died 15 minutes later at 10:55 a.m.
At his bedside at death were his sister, Ruth Rodeheaver Thomas, her husband, James Thomas, brother-in-law and close business associate and Dr. Rodeheaver's private nurse, Bertha H. Wilkinson, of the Florida Sanitarium and Hospital at Orlando.
Dr. John L. Hillery, a Warsaw physician, was summoned to Rainbow Point Sunday morning when Dr. Rodeheaver was first stricken. He attributed the cerebral hemorrhage to an earlier heart attack last week. Bruce Howe, Winona Lake fire chief and business employee, attempted to revive Dr. Rodeheaver with an inhalator brought to his bedside by Paul Landis, of Landis funeral service.
Ill Two Years
An international figure in the evangelistic field, Dr. Rodeheaver first became ill with a heart condition two years ago. Though in his early seventies, he steadfast refused to reduce a most rigorous business pace despite warnings from doctors and pleadings by family members and close business associates. To death Dr. Rodeheaver maintained a business schedule which would have literally broken the backs of most men many years his junior.
These scheduled included active public engagements extending from the nation's capital and New York City in the east to Los Angeles and Hollywood, Calif., in the west; from metropolis Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. He finished his last road meeting at Oklahoma City only three weeks ago.
A second heart attack was suffered a year ago last August while Dr. Rodeheaver was in Florida on an evangelistic tour; a third a year later during presentation of his annual Sacred Music conference at Winona Lake.
Sunday--a week ago--Dr. Rodeheaver attended an evening service of the Winona Lake Presbyterian church . following this service he stayed on to show a two hour preview film of a new series of gospel moving pictures he had made during the previous spring in Hollywood.
Late Wednesday night Dr. Rodeheaver and party--back home for a brief Christmas holiday rest at Rainbow Point--attended a junior class play in the Warsaw high school auditorium. Enroute home that night he became ill with another heart seizure. Forced to bed, his private nurse was flown in from Orlando.
Dr. Rodeheaver's death culminates a most brilliant and colorful career as world evangelist, gospel song writer and publisher, and philanthropist.
Two older brothers, associated with him in the sacred music publishing business, preceded him in death. Dr. Joseph Newton Rodeheaver, affiliated at one time as an instructor with the Northern Baptist Theological seminary, Chicago, died in January, 1946.
A second brother, Yumbert Parks Rodeheaver, died in August, 1950. A half-brother, Howard Jackson (Jack) Rodeheaver, was killed over Warsaw in 1921 in an airplane crash.
Homer Rodeheaver was born on a small farm in Hocking county, Ohio near Union Furnace to Thurman Hall and Fannie Armstrong Rodeheaver Oct. 4, 1880. His father, who had fought with the Union forces during the Civil war, operated a small sawmill at the time of his son's birth.
The infant Rodeheaver at six months was frail and not expected to live when the family migrated to Newcomb, Tenn. He gradually regained strength and heath in the Cumberland mountain air and sunshine. It was here that his father expanded his sawmill business into a furniture manufacturing plant.
In his autobiography Dr. Rodeheaver cites the times as a small child in his Tennessee home when he would place chairs in the form of an audience in the sitting room, then get up on another and sing and preach to this self-made congregation. His parents were loyal Methodists and instrumental in establishing his early association with both church and Sunday school. Today at Newcomb there is a little brick church named "Rodeheaver Chapel" in his honor.
His first public appearances were made in Tennessee as a member of his brother, Yumbert's, church quartet, while yet attired in dresses as a small youngster. Yumbert was the first to teach his younger brother to play various musical instruments, including the drum, clarinet and trombone.
Dr. Rodeheaver's autobiography also recalls his first day's experience away from home. He was six years old and his mother had sent him walking a mile to his first day at school. He recalls that it was his first time away from his mother's side. Halfway to school, he turned and fled home, "scared stiff."
Dr. Rodeheaver's mother died when he was but eight years old. Five years later his father married Bettie Newman of Knoxville. She was the mother of Ruth and Jack Rodeheaver.
The evangelist's first venture into business came about when he was nine years old. His father owned an old gray and blind horse. The youngster found a discarded sled down by his father's sawmill, hitched it to the horse, and propositioned his uncle for a draying job. His uncle paid him 10 cents per load to haul grocery supplies from the railroad station to his nearby store. later Dr. Rodeheaver obtained another horse and wagon and began expanding his dray business to hauling lumber, coal and other supplies.
Soon he became a four-mule team owner at still a tender age, delivering food and other supplies across the Cumberland mountain range to and from his father's mill. Later he worked in his father's furniture factory for 25 cents per day. When he was but 11 years old, fire destroyed his father's plant, leaving the family virtually destitute. However, the father and his three sons rebuilt the factory.
Enlists in Army
When 16 years old Dr. Rodeheaver, with an older brother, enlisted in the Spanish-American war, serving with the Tennessee Fourth regiment in Cuba.
After the war Dr. Rodeheaver entered Ohio Wesleyan university. Here he worked his way through the college by waiting on tables, gathering other students' laundry for a local firm, shoveling snow, emptying garbage cans and singing in church choirs. He was then 17 years old. For the next few years he was in and out of college, in and out of coal mines, logging camps, sawmills, striving for a formal music education.
It was while a student at Ohio Wesleyan that Dr. Rodeheaver got his initial taste of evangelistic work. Dr. R. A. Walton was conducting a meeting at nearby Mount Gilead. His song leader had become ill. Dr. Walton telephoned the university for a student fill-in. School authorities recommended Rodeheaver and gave him a leave of absence to attend the meeting. The meeting lasted three weeks.
It was through Dr. Walton that Rodeheaver first met Dr. William E. Biederwolf. He accepted an invitation to join Dr. Biederwolf's evangelistic group as song leader for a two-week engagement in Springfield, Mo. He stayed on that job for five years.
Joins Billy Sunday
One day in 1909 the famed Billy Sunday attended a revival campaign in Kansas where Homer Rodeheaver was serving as song leader. The following year, 1910, started the two men on a 20-year career of "soul-winning through sermon and song." Here they formed the most famous revival team of the century. They were destined to preach and sing to countless millions, win converts by the hundreds of thousands, to battle the liquor traffic until their very names struck terror into the hearts of brewers and distillers, to stir the nation to a spiritual quickening that packed the churches, purged cities of corruption, enthroned Christ in unnumbered thousands of homes across the nation. It was always a team of these two consecrated men, who complemented each other, both spectacular in performance, humble in spirit, both passionately in love with evangelism.
During his around-the-nation trek with Billy Sunday, Dr. Rodeheaver's famed trombone averted crowd panic on two different occasions.
In Kansas a severe wind storm struck in the middle of the closing meeting of a revival campaign. Lightning, thunder and heavy rains, as well as near-hurricane winds caused chaos under the big canvas. Winds began to pull the big tent poles. The top and sides began to sag. One of the quarter poles fell, striking a woman on the head. The crowd was prepared to panic, nearly everyone jumped up to run. Dr. Rodeheaver picked up his trombone and began to play. The crowd quieted down. He was able to maintain the crowd's attention until the storm ended. Newspapers headlined Rodeheaver's action. A similar incident occurred in Toledo, O., when a section of bleachers crumbled in the armory where a meeting was being held. Again Dr. Rodeheaver's trombone saved the day.
Concerning Billy Sunday, Dr. Rodeheaver said in his book Twenty Years with Billy Sunday, "He was one of our greatest evangelistic thinkers--a brilliant man."
While he was traveling with Billy Sunday, the songleader noted the most popular gospel songs and bought the copyrights on words and music. Although he had written between 40 and 50 songs himself, his greatest success came through popularizing the songs of others.
The most popular songs that he ever developed included "The Old Rugged Cross," written by George Bennard, and "In the Garden." Both sold a record million and a half copies in 1915.
Other gospel songs popularized by Dr. Rodeheaver included "Brighten the Corner Where You Are," "I Walk With the King," "If Your Heart Keeps Right," "Living For Jesus," "Sing, Smile and Pray," and, most recent, "Beyond the Sunset." Dr. Rodeheaver also contributed to the popularization of many of the old Negro spirituals during his late years. These songs were a fetish from his boyhood days spent in the hills of Tennessee where he learned to play the guitar and banjo.
Homer Rodeheaver believed in a happy Christianity. Behind his slow Southern humor lay a seriousness concerning Christianity. His ability to move audiences from laughter to prayer to serious thought concerning their own souls, his dramatic readings, his practical object lessons, his songs of salvation were all wrapped up in Christian living.
There was something of the Paul and Timothy relationship between Sunday and Rodeheaver. The affection of the older man for the younger was deep and abiding, while the devotion of Homer to Billy was inspiring. Despite a variance in ages, there was an abiding companionship. for 20 years they campaigned together in practically every large city in America.
Lives at Winona
For 35 years Dr. Rodeheaver made his home and headquarters at Winona Lake. Here he directed his annual Sacred Music conference which is always climaxed in the huge Billy Sunday tabernacle with his famous Sacred Music Festival. Here hundreds of choir directors, evangelistic song leaders, soloists and others in the religious music field come for training each summer.
The Rodeheaver Publishers of Sacred Music was founded in 1910 in Chicago by the three brothers. The firm's oldest employee, George Sanville, present manager, has been with Homer Rodeheaver for 42 years. B. D. Ackley, music editor, has been with the company since 1935, but associated with the firm since 1910. The original company was actually founded as a means to serve Billy Sunday's campaigns with music. James Thomas is secretary-treasurer. The firm opened an eastern office headquarters in Philadelphia in 1912. In 1938 the three brothers purchased the Hall-Mack Publishing Co., of Philadelphia, merging it into the present Rodeheaver Hall-Mack Co., publishers of Sacred Music.
The firm's headquarters was moved to the Westminster hotel at Winona Lake in 1941. His business associate, George Sanville, described Dr. Rodeheaver as "the best platform man the nation has ever known."
In addition to publication of religious school books, the firm makes gospel recordings, and prints special piano arrangements of sheet music. Its Old Fashioned Revival Hour songbooks and recordings are used each week by 750 radio stations over the nation.
Its major printing job is done in Chicago, but the firm also maintains offices in Los Angeles. The firm sells a million hymn books annually. It makes and publishes the Billy Graham hymn book among others.
Trademark of the company is a rainbow bent over a bar of music from the song, "If Your Heart Keeps Right." This symbol is found on Dr. Rodeheaver's business cards, his stationary, his dishes at Rainbow Point, and in a rug woven for him by a converted Chinaman in Peking. It is even branded on the cattle at his Florida ranch.
For many years Dr. Rodeheaver had been listed in the nation's "Who's Who" and "Who's Who in Music."
Dr. Rodeheaver and his sister, Ruth, completed first of his new technicolor movie series, "Miracles Thru Song" early this spring in Hollywood. The series includes selections "When Malindy Sings," "Heartaches," and "Somebody Cares." Miracles Thru Song" was premiered in the Pasadena Civic auditorium last September. Dr. Rodeheaver had plans for other such movies when he died.
Dream Comes True
His most ambitious dream, "Rainbow Ranch for Boys," is already a reality at Palatka, Fla. Here Dr. Rodeheaver donated a large tract of land to the founding of this project for homeless, abandoned, neglected or under-privileged boys in 1952. The land has been converted into an extensive settlement where wholesome home environment with religious, school and vocational training are given these boys. boys from 12 to 16 years are accepted for training and rehabilitation.
Dr. Rodeheaver participated in many sports, but horseback riding was his favorite. He was instrumental in the formation of the Tennessee Walking Horse association at Shelbyville, of which Stanley Arnolt is current president. He also loved to fish and hunt, to play tennis and golf. Last week he arose from his sick bed to watch the TV presentation of the Sugar Ray Robinson-Bobo Olson heavyweight fight.
He used to have a slide extending from the sundeck of his Rainbow Point home to the lake below. But one time the late Will Rogers commented on it, and so many visitors came to slide down that it was removed for fear the entire house would collapse.
Ranging from Poet Edgar Guest and Coca Cola's Asa Candler, Jr., to cowboys, student preachers and under-privileged children, Dr. Rodeheaver's friends have always found in him a symbol of loyalty and Christianity.
When he was introduced to the late John D. Rockefeller, Sr., on a golf course, the two men delayed their golf game long enough to sing, "I'll Go Where You Want Me to Go, Dear Lord."
Dr. Rodeheaver's favorite scripture is Col. 3:16: "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom: teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord."
As a song composer Dr. Rodeheaver wrote: "Good Night and Good Morning," "Somebody Cares," "Forgive Me for Forgetting," "Then Jesus Came," "Confidence," and many others.
Warsaw Times-Union Monday December 19, 1955
Back to YesterYear in Print