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Elsie G. Rhodes

March 16, 2013|By JANET HEIM | janeth@herald-mail.com
  • Elsie Rhodes poses for this picture taken in 1989.
Submitted photo

As a nurse, Elsie Rhodes was the go-to person when family, friends and neighbors had a medical question.

“Lots of people called the house for medical advice,” said son Douglas “Doug” Rhodes of Hagerstown.

Oldest son Michael “Mike” Rhodes of Hagerstown said Elsie would stay overnight in the hospital with family and friends on her own time to help out.

“She was very comforting, very professional all the time,” Mike said.

A stickler for the traditional white uniform and nurse’s cap, her sons said she was an “old-school nurse.”

“As a rule, she kept us on the healthy side. Our urgent care was here,” said James “Jim” Rhodes, her husband of 56 years.

Raising two sons, Elsie and Jim had some medical issues to deal with. Mike was hospitalized when they lived in Frederick, Md., because of an infected carotid gland in his jaw.

Doug cut his chin open several times in the same place, requiring stitches. He also broke a toe moving risers at the middle school.

“He was tough, but she was right there,” Mike said.

Born in Chambersburg, Pa., Elsie was the youngest of four children. She graduated as a registered nurse in 1954 from Pennsylvania Hospital in Philadelphia, where she first worked.

She started out as a medical-surgical nurse, then worked in obstetrics-gynecology, the area in which she worked most of her career. Elsie’s next job was at Chambersburg Hospital.

Meanwhile, Jim was in the U.S. Navy, stationed in Norfolk, Va. He was born in Hanover, Pa., and his family, which included four children, moved to Hagerstown in 1939 for his father’s job with Western Maryland Railroad.

Jim would return home on weekends and leaves, and he met Elsie in the latter part of 1955 while “hanging out” at the Varsity in Rouzerville, Pa. After he was discharged from the Navy, he worked at C&P Telephone in Hagerstown.

The couple married in October 1956 and settled in Hagerstown, where they lived until Jim’s job took them to Frederick from 1961 to 1968. Elsie worked at Frederick Memorial Hospital during those years until they returned to Hagerstown.

Starting in 1971, Elsie worked with Dr. John Turco, then went back to Washington County Hospital for several years. Dr. George Manger joined Turco’s practice in 1975 until opening his own practice in 1981, when he hired Elsie.

“The right word to describe her is awesome,” Manger said by phone. “I can’t do justice to what she meant to me early on. She and another nurse ran a hugely busy practice and she did everything until 1994. She was an authority figure, but in a supportive way. What she stood for was very honorable. She was honest, upright and righteous.

“She’s a credit to the medical profession.”

Elsie retired in 1994.

When the family moved back to Hagerstown in 1968, they bought a home on Woodpoint Avenue in the West End. Both sons graduated from North Hagerstown High School.

Elsie and Jim lived there until 2006, when they downsized and moved to Cortland Manor.

Mike remembers his mother hosting both sides of the family for holiday dinners.

“We had a house full, for sure,” he said. “It was pretty crazy.”

While the boys were growing up, Elsie would work evenings, choosing a different shift from Jim, so one of them was home with their sons.

“She put family first,” Mike said.

Friends, good food and her job were her other priorities, the family said. Elsie was proud of her two grandchildren, Doug’s children.

Elsie also was known for telling it as she saw it.

“She let you know what the score was,” Jim said.

“She didn’t tell you what you wanted to hear, but what it was,” Doug said when she made a medical diagnosis.

In her spare time, Elsie liked to knit, crochet, sew and could cook just about anything. Mike said she was known for her baked beans, which she took to picnics.

Her pies — raspberry custard, strawberry and apple — also were memorable.

“Everything she made was good,” Mike said.

Jim served as Scoutmaster of Boy Scout Troop 103, with both boys earning the rank of Eagle Scout. Elsie helped behind the scenes, cleaning equipment after camping trips, Mike said.

She also was involved in their church, Zion Reformed United Church of Christ, and several service organizations.

The couple’s love for travel and cruises took them to Alaska, Hawaii, eastern and western Caribbean destinations, and New England.

When they first started cruising about 20 years ago, they met a couple from Texas who became their travel companions when they went on future cruises.

Other trips took them to the Grand Canyon, Bar Harbor, Maine and Atlantic City.

Every Thursday, Elsie and Jim used to meet friends they had known for at least 50 years for dinner at the Parlor House in Waynesboro, Pa.

“They were friends for life, basically your old gang,” Mike said.

Elsie had had surgery for colon cancer in 1986. It wasn’t until about three years ago, though, that her health really started to decline.

“Healthwise, she was on the go all the time,” Jim said. “She didn’t let anything get her down.”

The downturn came after she was diagnosed with lung cancer and had surgery to remove a lobe in her left lung.

“She’s had everything in the book,” Dean said of her health issues.

A case of shingles exacerbated her pain.

“Her being an old-school nurse, she knew what was coming,” said Doug, adding that Elsie had sat with many people in their last moments.

“She handled it all well,” Mike said.

Editor’s note: Each Sunday, The Herald-Mail runs “A Life Remembered.” Each story in this continuing series takes a look back — through the eyes of family, friends, co-workers and others — at a member of the community who died recently. Today’s “A Life Remembered” is about Elsie G. Rhodes, who died March 3 at the age of 78. Her obituary was published in the March 5 edition of The Herald-Mail.

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