We lost two Eastern Shore originals yesterday. May they both rest in peace.
DR. HARRY RHODES
Harry Rhodes was born, “so my mother said”, on November 23, 1914, to an existence typical of family-owned Eastern Shore farms of the early 20th century.
The farm was called Beverly. The Rhodes family raised hogs, sheep, beef cattle and milk cows, chickens, turkeys, and ducks. They grew corn and wheat, later soybeans. Harry remembered a disciplined, but happy life there. “You learned early you have to carry your side of the burden in life and were expected to do so,” Harry said. “We never had much money, but we ate well and wore good clothes. We were better off than many.”
Harry graduated from Centreville High School in 1931 and being from a family of humble income, attended Washington College on a work program.
After college, he landed a teaching job in Montgomery County where he met Elizabeth Creighton Jones at a barn dance. They married in August of 1938 and were together until Creighton passed away in 2009.
Despite a short break to help fight World War II, Harry excelled and advanced in his profession. He also continued his own education, obtaining his Masters in 1948, and later his doctorate. In 1952, Harry and Creighton moved back to Queenstown when he was offered and accepted the position of Queen Anne’s County Superintendent of Schools.
The county school system was modernized under Dr. Rhodes. He oversaw initiatives as diverse as the construction of new schools, creating music programs, and providing better qualified bus drivers. A compelling public speaker, many positive changes were dragged to realization solely on the power of Dr. Rhodes eloquent and determined vision.
In the 1960’s Dr. Rhodes was a driving force behind successful efforts to build a centralized county high school. He helped found Chesapeake College. He led his community through the volatile days of desegregation.
Dr. Rhodes firmly believed everyone should have a real chance in life and he was a champion of those others may have written off. The Chesterwye Center and Foundation, our county’s first program to provide education for mentally challenged children and adults, was a cause close to his heart and Dr. Rhodes was an early and longtime champion of that organization.
After stepping down from his county position in 1967, Dr. Rhodes served five years as Anne Arundel Community College Dean of Faculty before officially retiring.
Faith and service were “vital” to his life. Dr. Rhodes was a director or board member of many civic organizations including Easton Memorial Hospital. He was a Century Club Member of the Delmarva Council of Boy Scouts of America, an honorary member of the Queenstown Volunteer Fire Department, and Director Emeritus of Queenstown Bank.
Dr. Rhodes authored two books, Queenstown: The Social History of a Small American Town and the memoir Country Boy Grows Up – Harry in the Nineteen Hundreds.
A local bookshelf without them is incomplete.
Kent Islanders Earle “Poke” (1901-1950) and Adelaide Coleman Thompson (1904-2002) married and had three children. Kenneth Wesley Thompson was born August 24, 1924. Robert Nathan came along two years later on July 13 and passed away earlier this year. A sister, Pearl, was born in 1930. Pearl died in 1990.
Wes was many things in his life, a born storyteller for one, and the Thompsons, one of Kent Island’s oldest families, have always built things.
“Our father and grandfather would leave and go work on big construction jobs” said Wes. “Grandma Thompson’s father was head man building the Conowingo Dam. Our father got caught between cement forms and fractured his skull. He was never the same. He had terrible headaches and died when he was fifty.”
Their neighborhood was tough. “If you were born up and down through Dominion,” Wes said, “you didn’t have to win every fight, but you sure had to show up for them.”
Wes Thompson bought his first boat when he was fifteen or sixteen. “For crabbing. A log canoe. Bought it for twenty dollars,” he said. “Be worth forty, fifty thousand now, who knows.” He shook his head. “Grandpop and his brothers built log canoes, too. Bobby used to follow the old man around, learned how to carpenter with him. I got in a boat so I wouldn’t have to listen to him holler. He wasn’t mean, but he hollered.”
Wes was part of the Army’s 79th division which landed in Normandy’s Omaha Beach on June 8, 1944, D-Day plus two.
He made Private First Class four times and “got busted down every time.” When he was ready to muster out, “The guy at Fort Meade come along and said reenlist, we’ll make you a corporal. I said I get back across this bay and get to my boat I’ll be a captain.”
Upon his military discharge, Wes went to construction school in Baltimore to become a mason. He ran that business for over forty years and built many homes, businesses and local landmarks.
Wes took to hunting and fishing as a kid. “Grandfather Thompson was Superintendent of Sunday School at Kingsley Church in Chester for 28 years. When I was a little boy he wouldn’t let me go fishing unless I went to church. Of course, I’m sitting in the front row. Couldn’t wait for it to be over but I was going to be there.”
For years, Wes was an expert-level guide, and hunted and fished for fun late into his life.
It was noon and the VFW was serving lunch, so it was time to wrap up our interview so the Thompson brothers could go grab a bite to eat and socialize a little. “Maybe chase a few ladies around,” Wes said. His laugh was a boisterous and joyful growl.
“Uncle Wes,” I said, “you don’t mess with those old women do you?”
“I don’t like it,” he smiled like an ornery kid, “but I do it.”