Something Special Is Happening at Conventures

March 18, 2014

If there is a major event happening in Boston, there’s a very good chance that Dusty Rhodes is planning it.

Rhodes is the founder and president of Conventures, the leading special events company in New England. The firm, which produces events of all kinds, celebrates its 38th anniversary this week.

This past Sunday morning, viewers across New England watched on live television one of the special events that Rhodes’s firm oversees: The Annual St. Patrick’s Day Breakfast in South Boston.

Rhodes and her firm are currently planning the official Boston Marathon tribute on April 15 at the Hynes Auditorium. The city will pay tribute to the Boston Marathon bombing victims, their families, the first responders, medical personnel, police and firefighters. Following the ceremony, there will be a procession down Boylston Street where Governor Deval Patrick and Mayor Martin J. Walsh will place wreaths at the site of the two bombings.

“Every single church bell in the City of Boston will ring at 2:49 p.m., the time when the first bomb went off,” said Rhodes.


The story of Dusty Rhodes begins in Pennsylvania.

“I was blessed to grow up in a middle-class family in a semi-rural area of Pennsylvania,” said Rhodes. “I was pretty much a tomboy which is where I got the name, Dusty Rhodes, because there was a famous baseball player back then named Dusty Rhodes who played for the New York Giants.”

A six-foot, standout athlete, Rhodes competed in basketball, field hockey, tennis, and track in high school. She continued her athletic career at Pennsylvania State University, playing on the women’s field hockey, basketball, and tennis teams..

“Penn State is in a place called Happy Valley in State College, Pennsylvania. The school back then had about 30,000 kids and you were 3 ½ hours from nowhere,” said Rhodes. “Consequently when you got to Penn State, you didn’t leave and that’s what made it a phenomenal opportunity.”

She worked her way through college as a waitress, “In those years women all lived on campus and had curfews,” said Rhodes. “I came upon a situation where I couldn’t meet curfew and still be a waitress. I appealed it to the university and I was the first woman to ever live off campus. That was sort of the start of ‘I’m going to break ice here, break ice there, and just go for it.’ “A lot of it has to do with both my height and athletic ability which makes you super competitive and you don’t get discouraged easily.”

Rhodes received her college degree in Social Work and Education. Undecided about her future plans in 1970, she headed to Boston to seek employment.

When she met some obstacles in landing a position as a teacher and social worker, Rhodes hit the pavement and wound up in the offices of the Boston Patriots [New England Patriots] on Lansdowne Street.

“They hired me to help sell tickets,” said Rhodes. “Two weeks later the Patriots’ head coach [John Mazur] said, ‘Can you type?’ “I said, ‘Yes, I can,’ and he made me his assistant.”

Rhodes’s role with the Patriots soon expanded to evaluating college football players’ skills, speed, and size for potential selection in the NFL Draft. It was Rhodes, in fact, who helped the Patriots put a three-way deal together to land the team’s No. 1 draft pick, Jim Plunkett, Stanford quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner.

“Will McDonough, the Globe sportswriter, had the Plunkett deal in the newspaper the next day and the coach came in screaming at me, ‘Why did you spill the beans?’ “I told the coach I hadn’t. Will was just such a good investigative reporter that he had pieced it together with Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis.”

Rhodes later called former Stanford wide receiver Randy Vataha to join Plunkett as a member of the Patriots.

Becoming prominent as one of the few women working in professional sports, Rhodes accepted a position at the National Football League offices in New York. She returned to Boston and worked for attorney and sports agent Bob Woolf, a pioneer himself in the representation of professional athletes. She then took a job with the World Football League and helped start the New York Stars franchise, breaking new ground for women as the team’s assistant general manager.

In 1977, Rhodes produced a major conference for Harvard University.

“At the time, there wasn’t such an industry as special events, conference planning or meeting planning,” said Rhodes. “There was advertising and PR [public relations]. So starting and cutting this groove of special event and meeting planning was very challenging because nobody had ever heard of it. I had $100 and a desk and starting making phone calls and I launched Conventures. In downtown Boston, there was only one other woman-owned business called Exec-U-Tours, a spouse tour company. The fact that today we have thousands of woman-owned business is delightful.”

Conventures’s first event was the fifth anniversary of WJIB-AM, a former Boston radio station. She met Jess Bell, the president of Bonne Bell, a women’s cosmetics company, at the Boston Marathon and he asked Rhodes to organize the first Bonne Bell Road Race. Today it is known as the Tufts Health Plan 10K, one of the largest women’s road races in the country.

Rhodes also founded the Sports and Fitness Expo in conjunction with the Boston Marathon, an pre-marathon event that attracts 70,000 visitors. “It was voted the best runners’ expo in the world by Runners World Magazine.”

In 1988 Rhodes was asked by the Massport Authority to coordinate the 500th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s voyage to America.

The first Tall Ships Festival, Sail Boston 1992, was born.

“We had to go all over Europe to recruit ships and Navies and fortunately we ended up with 220 ships representing 36 different countries, and 7 million people came to see the weeklong festival,” said Rhodes. “It was the largest event ever in New England and according to Governor [William] Weld, it was really a turning point in Boston’s feeling of pride that it could handle events of this magnitude and a belief that international tourism was very healthy for our economy.”

Rhodes said the Sail Boston 1992 event generated a net $36 million for the state. “So when we talk about economic impact we have the ability of using our measurements from the 1992, 2000, and 2009 Tall Ships festivals.”

In 1990, Rhodes worked with former New England Patriots placekicker John Smith to help bring the World Cup soccer tournament to Boston.

“We became one of the eight cities to be awarded a World Cup bid and we were selected to host the semifinals as well,” said Rhodes. “The Tall Ships festivals, and the World Cup said that Boston really is an international city and these events are good for the economy and for promoting the city.”

At Conventures, Rhodes heads a firm of 40 employees at its offices at One Design Center Place. The list of major events that Conventures is called upon to provide its planning expertise continues to grow. Conventures planned the funerals of Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill, Mass. Speaker of the House George Keverian, Governor Paul Cellucci and Mayor Kevin White.

“The event business is 50 percent planning and 50 percent reacting to circumstances,” said Rhodes. “In the event of a well-known person passing away, there are so many people who want to share in that experience or pay tribute or participate in the event. You really have two days to plan an event of this nature and they have to be done with extraordinary sensitivity. It’s been an honor to have the proper closure for somebody like Kevin White, Joe Moakley, or Tip O’Neill.”

From the U.S.S. Constitution’s Bicentennial to the opening of the FleetCenter [TD Bank Garden] to the dedication of the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway to high-profile wedding, inaugurations, and Sail Boston 2017, Dusty Rhodes, event planner extraordinaire, is always ready to plan the biggest events and accept new challenges.

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