Eloise Rhode: “Looking Back”

Reprinted here by special permission of the author, Cindy Beckman, a retired Conway High School history teacher who writes local history.

She taught thousands of children in Conway Public Schools. Many can say that she taught multiple generations of their families. All of these children had knowledge seared into their young minds by Miss Rhode and most can still remember it to this day. She was legendary.

Hanna Eloise Rhode was born August 27, 1922 in Conway, Arkansas. She was the fourth of five daughters born to Fred Dare Rhode, a hotel baker, and Alice Steele “Han” Hockersmith Rhode, a seamstress who worked at home. They lived on Duncan Street by the First United Methodist Church.

After graduating high school in 1941, Eloise attended the Arkansas State Teachers College (ASTC). There she was Y.W.C.A. President all four years. She was also Vice-President of the college’s Association of Women Students; Alpha Chi honor society treasurer; secretary of the Royal Rooters and the Choral Club; and a member of the Student Interest Committee.

Miss Rhode was on staff at The Echo, ASTC’s student newspaper, for four years and served as the organizations editor of The Scroll, ASTC’s yearbook, her senior year. It is no wonder that she was named a “Who’s Who” her senior year!

Most of her students remember Miss Rhode as their Junior High English teacher but she actually taught 4th grade at Ellen Smith Elementary for several years before transferring to the junior high. She also voluntarily taught at Pine Street School during those challenging years before integration. Her father passed away in 1951 and she and her mother lived together in nearby Victory Courts.

In June, 1954, she graduated from the University of Arkansas with her master’s degree. She was a member of Kappa Delta Pi, an honorary educational fraternity at UA and the Conway branch of the American Association of University Women.

Miss Rhode was my 8th grade English teacher. What I remember the most is that she assigned us all to be Bicentennial Correspondents to celebrate the 200th birthday of the United States. We were matched with pen pals across the country with whom we were to correspond.

At that time, Miss Rhode’s classroom was on the second floor of the Junior High building facing the courtyard. The building had been equipped with central heat and air during the previous summer so our class was not as apt to throw things out of open windows but we had all heard the stories.

There are stories of books and whole desks being thrown out of her classroom windows. There are stories of students pretending to fall out of her windows. There are also multiple stories of Miss Rhode taking students out in the hall to pray for them. Her former students admit that often students were not so kind to her. But all remember her as one of their best teachers.

Some of her former students will tell you that they were required to memorize and recite Robert Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.” Every time Miss Rhode would say, “The woods are lovely, dark and deep,” the entire class would respond, “But I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep, and miles to go before I sleep.”

Apparently many of Miss Rhode’s former students, known as the Little Red Roadrunners class, also still remember “High Flight,” a sonnet they memorized in her class. This poem was written by John Gillespie Magee, Jr. and gained fame after his death in 1941.

Magee, son of an Episcopal missionary, was born in China in 1922 but later moved with his parents back to Great Britain. He joined the Royal Air Force (RAF) at the outbreak of World War II. He died in a mid-air collision just six months after he passed his wings test.

In the summer before his death, he had written “High Flight” and sent a copy of it home to his parents. The first and last lines of the poem are inscribed on his tombstone. It has become a favorite poem of both aviators and astronauts. Fourth-year class cadets memorize it at the U.S. Air Force Academy and it is the official poem of the RAF. In January, 1986, President Ronald Reagan also used part of it in his speech following the Challenger disaster.

Miss Rhode and her mother moved to Lee Avenue in the mid-1950s. After her mother passed away in 1972, she continued to live there alone. Her next door neighbor, Flora Dell Halbrook Bruck, said she was one of her best neighbors, often visiting with her for hours in the backyard.

After retirement, she remained active but had some health issues. In 1988, her sister, Byrd Evelyn Shock, came by and found her in her room. She had passed away around bedtime, resting from her many “miles to go before I sleep.”

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