David W. Rhodes

Hesston College music professor allegedly abused high school and college students over many years

David Rhodes (1939–2022) allegedly sexually abused multiple male high school and college students during his tenure as choir director and music professor at Hesston College, in Hesston, Kansas. Documents reviewed by MAP indicate that Hesston College leaders likely learned of abuse by Rhodes in the early 1980s, but he continued teaching at the college until 1992, when he resigned with public praise from the college. One former Hesston College leader later hired Rhodes to teach at Lithuania Christian College (now LCC International University), in Klaipėda, Lithuania, despite apparent knowledge of the abuse allegations.

Hesston College President Kirk Alliman (1981-92) reportedly received as early as 1986 a firsthand account of Rhodes sexually assaulting a high school student in the early 1980s while he was leading a college choir tour and staying in Mennonite homes. MAP reviewed a letter, written in 1989, that a Mennonite educational leader sent to Alliman and Hesston campus minister, Duane Yoder, detailing the sequence of events and asking for actions by the college. The letter indicated that Alliman was reportedly aware of Rhodes’s abuses prior to 1986 and that Yoder had said all persons involved were offered counseling by the college. The letter stated that the student in question had in fact not been contacted, saying, “It is unbelievable, it is absolutely unconscious that Hesston College has handled this situation so haphazardly.” The letter’s author later reported to MAP that Alliman did not respond, but that Yoder did reach out, not to express concern about the victims or to talk about the college’s actions, but to reprimand the author for the timing of the contact. Despite clear indications that leaders knew Rhodes abused minor children, MAP found no evidence that anyone reported to law enforcement.

In 1991, Hesston College board member Dr. Carolyn Heggen learned from multiple former male students that Rhodes had sexually assaulted them while on choir tours. Heggen, a Mennonite psychotherapist and the author of Sexual Abuse in Christian Homes and Churches, told MAP in 2023 that she presented this information to the board and to President Alliman at a meeting in 1991. Heggen reported to MAP that Alliman assured the board that Rhodes was being treated by a Mennonite therapist who said Rhodes was safe to continue in his roles with students at the college. During a break in the meeting, Heggen contacted the local therapist, who said he had told Alliman no such thing. Heggen reports that when she confronted Alliman with this information after the board meeting resumed, Alliman became angry and aggressive. MAP reached out to Alliman for comment but did not receive a response.

Later in 1991, Heggen resigned from the Hesston College board of directors, stating: “I can imagine no issue which might arise during my tenure as a board member on which I would be more experienced or qualified to speak. If my concerns and counsel are disregarded on this matter [of sexual abuse], I have little expectation that they would be seriously considered on other issues.”

About six months later, Hesston College announced the resignation of Rhodes in Mennonite Weekly Review. Rhodes was praised by the academic dean, Jim Mininger, who would soon serve as interim president for the 1992–93 school year. Rhodes continued to arrange trips for Hesston College through his R&R Travel company, but in 1994 the Hesston College board of directors issued a directive to the administration forbidding any travel arrangements or meetings that put Rhodes in contact with Hesston College students. Nonetheless, Rhodes continued to take area high school choirs on international concert trips in the coming years, and in 2002 he was part of a Bethel College-sponsored European tour that offered college credit.

After leaving Hesston College in 1995, Jim Mininger, the former academic dean and interim president, next served as president of Lithuania Christian College (later LCC International University) from 1995 to 2008. Mininger confirmed to MAP in 2023 that he hired David Rhodes in 2002 as fine arts coordinator at LCC, where Rhodes continued in that role until 2008.

In 2012, David Rhodes was scheduled to be part of Hesston College’s planned homecoming celebration to honor past music faculty. The college apparently decided in September not to feature Rhodes, and President Howard Keim’s internal talking points drafted in conjunction with this decision referred to the sexual abuse of students by saying, “We are aware of issues around Dave’s relationships during the time he served as a faculty member.” Although Rhodes was not honored at the homecoming, he was permitted to attend the events without any apparent restrictions.

Rhodes died in 2022.

Church-related positions

  • Taught kindergarten through eighth grade music in Kalona and Wellman, Iowa, 1970–1980
  • Music professor and choir director at Hesston College, 1981–1992
  • Fine arts coordinator at Lithuania Christian College, 2002–2008
  • Member and worship leader at Hesston Mennonite Church, Hesston, Kansas

Documentation

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