By Bailey Brammer | Editor-in-Chief
Typically, the Final Four refers to the basketball teams that have made it to the semi-finals of the NCAA March Madness tournament. For 1971 Baylor alumna Early Rhodes McWhorter, however, the “Final Four” is a self-coined name for a group of three other women and herself that go on adventures and watch Baylor women’s basketball together.
The Final Four’s most recent adventure consisted of McWhorter and her friends, Renae Robinson, Candace Harris and Gwen Winters, driving from Marshall to Waco on Thursday morning to landscape the home of Skipper and Connie Voss, owners of the Riverside RV Park. After the planting was done, the ladies planned to attend the Lady Bears’ opening game tonight at the Ferrell Center.
“I look for every opportunity I can to fling the green and gold afar,” McWhorter said. “These are three ladies that not only could come, but would come. They’re hardworking ladies and they’re used to ranching, some more than others, but they all are going to come through. We’re going to have fun and then we’re going to go catch the ball game if we’re still standing.”
McWorther has been landscaping for almost 30 years and said she began this career almost by accident. She graduated from Baylor with a degree in elementary education, and said when she quit teaching, she prayed for God to open a new door for her to “use her talents to make the world better and still have free time with her family.”
One day, a friend called McWorther and asked her to landscape the restaurant he was about to open. She said she was nervous to try landscaping because she had never done anything with plants, and said she thought she was “just a schoolteacher.” McWorther said with the help of God, her husband and three children, she managed to pull it off, and ended up meeting some of her closest friends through her new job.
“That was the hardest decision I ever made,” McWorther said. “I never planned to be a landscaper. And then I met miss Renae because she called me to landscape her house, and then she referred me to her friend Candace, who lives not too far away on another ranch, and we became best friends through that wonderful experience. They’ve been my friends ever since, and prayer partners –– through life’s ups and downs, I can count on them.”
McWorther came across the Voss’s home on a trip to Austin to visit her sister, and said she was more than willing to help the couple cultivate their new house behind the Riverside RV Park. Connie Voss said when they bought the park in 2003, they weren’t all that busy, but ever since Waco has become known for the Silos and Magnolia, their business has increased.
“People go 100,000 miles out of their way on vacation just to see the Silos,” Connie Voss said. “There’s so much more to Waco than the Silos, and when they find out how much there is to do and see in Waco, they end up staying for days. The RV park has blessed us, and we have met so many nice people, including Early.”
McWorther said her love for Baylor began at an early age, when her father would wake her and her sister up at 4 a.m. to drive from Houston to Waco to go to Baylor football games. McWorther’s father, Dusty Rhodes, also attended Baylor and graduated in 1929. Along with being freshman class president, Rhodes was also a yell leader during the 1927 basketball season, when the Immortal Ten bus crash happened in Round Rock and 10 Baylor students lost their lives.
“He told me the story in my teens about how he over-partied the night before the basketball team left on their trip, and he missed his alarm,” McWorther said. “Because he missed his alarm, he missed the bus, and because he missed the bus, nine of us were able to go to Baylor.”
McWorther’s family is full of Bears, including her husband, her oldest daughter and her son, as well as her sister, her sister’s husband and their three sons. Aside from her landscaping business, McWorther also competes nationally in tennis and grew up playing five different sports and with a passion for athletics, particularly at Baylor.
“Whenever Baylor does well, I like to invite my friends to see it in case I might send a good recruit there … that’s my goal … or to send another child who needs a Christian environment,” McWorther said. “Baylor’s the best place I know to do that.”