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NEWPORT, N.H. — Bill Rodeschin was born at the Rodeschin family home which was located across Sunapee Street from where LaValley Building Supply is now, in 1926.
His brother, Henry Rodeschin, was born in the same house in Newport six years later, in 1932.
The brothers built homes a few feet from their birthplace and lived next door to each other for 58 years. They died seven months apart, Henry, in November 2020 at age 87 from an infection related to Parkinson’s disease, followed by Bill in July, at age 94, from complications following a stroke.
Through their lives they worked side by side, first in trucking chickens to markets for their mother’s chicken-rearing business, later at gunmaker Sturm, Ruger & Co. a half-mile from their homes and, for nearly six decades as partners in Rody’s Gun Shop, located behind their homes.
The Rodeschin brothers, two of seven siblings all raised by a single working mother whose husband abandoned the family when the youngest was still in diapers, shared a love of family, an abiding commitment to the military and public service, a belief in hard work and a passion for hunting and firearms that belies the humble gun shop housed in a building barely larger than a farm shed.
Of the generation whose youth was forged during the deprivation of the Great Depression and an early adulthood forced on them by the onset of World War II, Bill and Henry Rodeschin were imbued with the values and ethics that was part of their cohort growing up in a rural farm community and immigrant mill town, said Patryc Wiggins, a Newport resident who researches and writes about the region’s history in manufacturing.
The Rodeschin brothers “had this dignity and authority but it wasn’t overwhelming,” said Wiggins, who conducted hours of recorded interviews with Bill Rodeschin in the final years of his life and whose father, Frank Wiggins, was boyhood friends with the brothers and among the first wave of employees recruited by Bill Ruger when he opened the gun manufacturing plant in Newport. “There was real character in Bill and Henry.”
At 16, Bill Rodeschin — who had left school after 8th grade to work and help his family — with his 10-year old brother Henry often joining him, was making runs to deliver live chickens to markets in Boston and New York City, where they would be sold to processors. When he turned 18 in 1944, Bill joined the Marines and by the following summer with his company was patrolling the jungles of Guam to flush out hold-out Japanese after the U.S. recaptured the island.
Later, Bill joined a weapons company guarding rail lines and supply routes in China before being honorably discharged in 1946. He returned home, resumed making chicken deliveries for a short time, worked as a mason on highway construction projects until he joined machine tool maker Jones & Lamson in Springfield, Vt., to train as a machinist.
Like older brothers Bill and Severin — who the family called “Junior” — Henry also enlisted for military service, choosing the Navy, when he graduated from high school in 1950 and shipped off to serve in the Korean War. Honorably discharged in 1953, Henry went to work for Pratt & Whitney in Hartford, Conn.
Military service, said Henry’s daughter Kelly Monetta, “was just what everyone did” among the farm and factory kids in Newport at the time her father and uncles were growing up. “Most of his friends were in the service,” she said of her father. “They did it to serve their country. It was a way to earn a living. There was no money for college.”
Or even money for food, which fired up an interest and need for firearms as necessary tools to help feed the family.
During the Depression “if you wanted to survive you went hunting,” Bill Rodeschin’s son, also named Bill Rodeschin, said about his father and uncles. The younger Bill Rodeschin said his father’s passion in firearms and tooling is what eventually led him to open Rody’s Gun Shop in the basement of his house in 1962.
The gun shop also provided an opportunity for Bill to prevail upon his younger brother Henry, by now married and father to a new baby girl, to move back from Connecticut to Newport and join him in the fledgling business.
Monetta, Henry’s daughter, said when her uncle Bill made the offer to join him in the gun shop business, her father told his brother he “would think on it” — to which her uncle Bill admonished his younger brother Henry, “If you don’t move back soon, the next time you’ll be back is when we put you in the cemetery.”
Once Henry agreed to move back to Newport, Bill sold his brother a plot of land next to his own home for $1 where Henry and his wife Beverly — who went on to serve 11 terms in the New Hampshire House of Representatives and one in the state Senate — lived for the next 58 years.
A small gun shop wasn’t enough to support a family, however, and Henry utilized the skills he had learned at Pratt & Whitney to become one of the first employees hired in 1963 at Bill Ruger’s new Pine Tree Castings plant he had built in Newport.
Monetta said her father would wake up at 5 a.m., be driven to the plant by her mom in time for the start of his 6 a.m. shift, walk the half-mile back to his house at 2: 30, rest, have dinner at 4: 30 p.m. and then walk to the gun shop at 5: 45 p.m., which would be open until 9 p.m. in order to catch workers getting off their shift at Ruger.
Meanwhile, Bill worked at Jones & Lamson as a machinist and over 22 years at the company rose to become a shop steward at the unionized plant. Bill Rodeschin said his father — like his sister-in-law Beverly, a staunch Republican — had initially been a firebrand union man but soured on the union’s leadership during the bitter 1970 strike at Jones & Lamson, when he felt the union leaders had put their own interest ahead of rank and file members.
“He became very anti-union and maintained that until his death,” the younger Bill Rodeschin said.
So when Bill Ruger reached out to ask Bill Rodeschin in 1972 if he, too, wanted to work at Sturm, Ruger as the gunmaker would be adding an assembly operation in addition to its foundry, Henry’s brother took up the offer.
At Ruger, while his brother Henry worked in the foundry division, eventually rising to foreman, Bill Rodeschin specialized as a machinist in the gunstock department, designing the gunstocks and building the “masters” that were fitted onto the lathe-turning machines.
Bill, too, ended up becoming a shop floor supervisor in the gunstock department before retiring in 1990.
The Rodeschin brothers gun shop was as much a social hub for gun enthusiasts as it was a small business, said family members — indeed, the social aspect of the shop loomed larger than the business side, by all accounts.
“It was early social media,” said the younger Bill Rodeschin, who himself retired from Ruger after 44 years and today runs Rody’s Gun Shop, about the men (and it was mostly men) who would gather inside the 940-square foot store in the afternoons and evenings. “People would come in and sit on stools for hours.”
He said his father and uncle intentionally set out to make the gun shop more than simply a seller of firearms and to distinguish it from large retailers where guns were just another counter item.
“In those days you could buy a gun at Sears or Montgomery Ward,” he said. “But what distinguished Rody’s was dad was a gunsmith. He could take a gun apart and find out what’s wrong with it. He had trained as a machinist and could make his own parts. They built custom rifles for clients. That’s how they grew the business.”
The brothers were ecumenical and welcomed customers from across the social spectrum.
“My dad and uncle didn’t care if you came in smelling like the farm or wearing Abercrombie and Fitch,” the younger Bill Rodeschin said, referring to the preppy clothes seller.
Indeed, talking about guns, discussing their individual capabilities, troubleshooting problems, answering questions about makes and models, making recommendations, didn’t even feel like work.
“Working at the gun shop was his relaxation,” Monetta said of her father Henry. “He always said to me and my brother, ‘this is something fun to do,’ ” describing her father’s “passions as family, guns, community service.”
(In addition his wife Beverly’s work in the Legislature, Henry served in a ribbon of volunteer positions, including Newport’s Selectboard, Planning Board, Zoning Board of Adjustment, School Board, Airport Commission and Sullivan County Regional Refuse Disposal District Committee).
Despite their intertwined lives, the Rodeschin brothers — both would go by the family nickname “Rody” — each had their own distinct personalities, however, which complemented — and sometimes clashed with — each other but probably accounted for the success of their lifetime partnership, said family members.
“They were as opposite as opposite could be,” said Monetta. “Maybe that’s why their business was so well run.” Son Bill Rodeschin said the dynamic between his father and uncle could at times “be like an old married couple and argue over senseless, little things. But at the end of the day they’d sit down and have a glass of scotch together.”
“They were like Walt and Roy Disney,” he added,, alluding to the brothers who founded the famous Hollywood studio where Walt focused on the creative side while Roy ran the business.
“Dad was right brain and my uncle was left brain,” he said. “Dad was the artistic one but Henry was the analytic one. Dad was more the idea guy and Henry was more the businessman. Henry knew every SKU in the store.”
Contact John Lippman at [email protected]
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