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Remembering Bradbury Director John Rhoades

A lifelong educator and inspiration
April 1, 2021


John Rhoades, who led the Bradbury Science Museum for 16 years, recently passed away in Santa Fe.

A native New Yorker who made his home in New Mexico, Rhoades joined the Laboratory as the Bradbury’s museum exhibits section leader, then rose to deputy group leader. In 1990, Rhoades became the Bradbury’s director.

“John was a champion for the Bradbury, advocating for its standing as a professional museum,” reflects Linda Deck, the current director. “He led the Museum through many changes, perhaps the most significant its relocation from the main technical campus of the Lab to the heart of downtown Los Alamos. This brought our custom-designed building for showcasing the Lab’s work and a strong presence within the community.”

For many years, Rhoades welcomed all new employees as a part of the new-hire briefing held at the Bradbury, providing a history and orientation to Los Alamos National Laboratory. An ambassador for the Lab, he gave tours to hundreds of official visitors and dignitaries.

He also started the Bradbury’s Science on Wheels program, which took hands-on science activities on the road in Northern New Mexico to grades 4-6. Today, the program is Summer Science on Wheels, which provides hand-on science activities to kids in summer programs that extend the school year.

Perpetual optimist and educator

An educator at heart with a doctorate from the University of Massachusetts Amherst College of Education, Rhoades’ earlier career encompassed teaching in high school and college, school administration, nonprofit consulting, athletics coaching and work with the outdoor education program Outward Bound. He was a natural fit for the Bradbury.

Recalls Omar Juveland, the Bradbury’s current exhibit designer, “He was also enthusiastic and optimistic no matter the numerous challenges the museum went through over the years. He even referred to himself as a ‘Pollyanna’,’” a reference to the perpetually optimistic children’s book character.

Said Juveland, “I remember we were asked to participate in a student program that culminated with a summer project working with the Museum to develop an exhibit about radiation. I accompanied John to the kick-off for the summer project. By the time John was finished describing the exhibit development process and motivating them for the summer ahead, they were all sitting up, clapping their hands and giving him an ovation. I was amazed at how seemingly effortlessly he inspired this group of teenagers. He really had a gift for public speaking and connecting with his audience no matter their ages or background.”