Burke Rhoads, a police officer in Nicholasville, Kentucky, bought a 1984 Chevrolet Corvette and was restoring it as time and finances permitted. His goal was to have the car ready so his daughter, Jacquelyn, could use it for the trip to her high school prom after she turned 16.
But Burke was killed in a car crash while on duty in 2015, and his widow, Melissa, called the National Corvette Museum to seek recommendations about a shop that might finish what Burke had started.
“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,” said Katie Frassinelli, marketing and communication manger at the museum. “With a project as special as this, you want to make sure the car is in good hands.”
As it turned out, the restoration was completed by perhaps the best of all good hands.
“Why don’t we at the museum head up taking care of this car?” Frassinelli realized.
“As a 501c3 nonprofit foundation, we typically are not able to take on outside projects… but this was different,” she explained. “We have always tried to extend our gratitude to law enforcement and military with various free or reduced price admission promotions – but to be able to translate that appreciation into a physical act of kindness was very meaningful for our team.”
The museum went to PPG Automotive Refinish to donate the Bright Red paint, and got Final Finish of Morgantown, Kentucky, to donate its painting services; the shop previously had painted the museum’s own GS-90 Corvette.
“We were more than happy to do this for them,” Eric Ingram of Final Finish said in a news release. “I have two daughters, and my partner and brother Chase has a son and daughter.
“We wanted to make sure her daddy would be proud of that car.”
“Burke was very hands-on with his Corvette,” his widow, Melissa, told the museum staff. “He even went to the upholstery shop to learn how to stitch the seats so he could do that himself.
“It would be different if we had money and he bought everything, but we got to see him work on it,” she added. “I knew how much of his own time he spent on it, and I always knew how things were going by the amount of cussing.”
The museum’s vehicle maintenance and preservation coordinator Daniel Decker took over and with his team spent months completing the restoration, installing parts Burke already had purchased and also addressing some leaky windows. The team also upgraded or replaced some additional parts that needed attention, including the hood.
“It was obvious after looking at the parts Burke had purchased that he was taking the time to do it right,” Decker said. “We wanted to finish what he started, and have a safe, reliable and nice looking Corvette to present to the family.”
With donations and contributions to the project from Corvette Central, Auto Zone and Midas, as well as by members of the Bluegrass Corvette Club members Sonny Bates, Ken Gray and Steve Hill, and by museum staffers, the car was completed and presented back to the family.
“Melissa had presented us with patches from Burke’s uniform – two police department emblems and one with his name,” Frassinelli said. That inspired the restoration team to stitch an emblem and Burke’s name patch to the center console cover inside.
“We thought this final touch would mean so much to the family and truly completes what has become a tribute to Burke and police officers everywhere,” Frassinelli said.
The car was returned to the family at the Michelin NCM Bash on April 29.
“I can’t express my appreciation and thankfulness for everything,” said Melissa. “Words can’t convey the emotions that I feel about what you all have done for us.”
“We at the National Corvette Museum are honored to have played a role in this story, and sincerely thank both the Rhoads family for trusting us to take care of such a special car – and those who donated their time, talents, supplies and funding to the project,” the museum said in its news release.
“We’re all looking forward to seeing Jacquelyn driving her dad’s Corvette to prom next year and are sure Burke will be looking down and smiling.”
(The museum created a video about the project.)