Elma Lee (Leone) Fish Rhodes
1907 - 1992
Elma Rhodes, a gifted pianist, was a music graduate of Union College and Emmanuel Missionary College, now Andrews University. She was born in Sheridan, Wyoming, the only child of Herman A. and Iva Lucy Leech Fish. She attended the academy at Union College and completed a piano conservatory diploma at the UC Conservatory in 1925, at age eighteen.
She met John Wesley Rhodes when he came to UC in the fall of 1925 to pursue a music degree. When William Morey, director of the music program at UC, accepted a position at Emmanuel Missionary College in 1927, they travelled with him to EMC, where they completed music degrees and married in 1929.
A skilled sight reader and teacher, Rhodes was able to assist her husband during their work at five academies: Bethel Academy, now Wisconsin Academy; Battle Creek Academy; and Lodi, Modesto, and Fresno academies in California. She taught piano in all of these schools and accompanied groups; her husband, Wesley; and other soloists, as needed.
Her accompanying skills were legendary. In the early 1940's, a blind xylophone performer lost his regular accompanist because of an emergency. Rhodes filled in on short notice, having only one chance to rehearse with him on music she was literally sight-reading. A reviewer, unaware of the circumstance, praised both the performer and the accompanist.
She also sang in her husband's choral groups, a practice that continued when her husband became choir director at Pacific Union College in 1943 and Union College in 1951. At both colleges she became known as the "choir mom" and with her gift of perfect pitch provided the pitch for a cappella choral numbers.
Elma provided input when her husband arranged “A Song of Heaven and Homeland” for choir, a number the choir eventually sang on the Voice of Prophecy radio broadcast during one of its tours. Many choir directors from across the country inquired about the arrangement and then purchased and performed it. It remains a favorite number when PUC alumni gather today.
When J. Wesley accepted an administrative position at Walla Walla College in 1963, their daughter, Carolyn, who had distinguished herself in graduate study in music at the University of Nebraska and Columbia University, moved there with them. She taught voice in the music department for two years, before leaving for more study and a distinguished career in music.
Following retirement in 1969, the Rhodeses moved to the Portland, Oregon - Vancouver, Washington, area. They resided outside of Vancouver near the end of their lives and attended the Washougal, Washington, SDA church, where she assisted on the organ when needed.
Sources: Information provided by Kenneth Rhodes, son; The Central Union Outlook, 2 June 1925, 3; Lake Union Herald, 7 September 1927, 8; Golden Cords, 1927 Union College Yearbook, 24; Central Union Reaper, 26 September 1961, 26 (Herman Fish obituary); North Pacific Union Gleaner; 11 March 1963, 8. North Pacific Union Gleaner, 1 September, 1980, 23 (Iva Fish obituary) and 3 May 1993, 34 (Elma Rhodes Obituary);