At the request of the family of State Regent Wilhelmena Rhodes Kelly, memorial gifts may be made to the New York State Regent's Project in lieu of flowers.
Please send memorials, made payable to:
The NYS Organization NSDAR
ATTN: State Treasurer Pamela Barrack
142 Mountain Lane, Beacon, NY 12508
Wilhelmena Rhodes was born December 11, 1946 in Brooklyn, New York to George Morrell Rhodes, Jr. (b. Barnwell, South Carolina, 1921) and Dorothy Hamlin Rhodes (b. Brooklyn, New York, 1924.) The second of two children, Wilhelmena (known to family as “Mena”) joined her older sister Linda Marie (b. Brooklyn, New York, 1944) to complete the young family. Mena was an energetic child who loved music and dance, and would often awake in the early morning hours and make a sunrise breakfast of French toast for herself and her older sister. She was a product of the New York City public school system, and graduated from the historic Erasmus Hall High School.
With an avid interest in animals and literature, Wilhelmena had early hopes of being either a veterinarian or librarian. Always curious, she had the benefit of being raised around her paternal grandparents whom she peppered with questions about what life was like growing up in the 1890s South, then making the move in 1930 to New York City to spend the second half of life. Even as a child, she was drawn to history, and it appeared as if she was unknowingly preparing herself to write the stories of her South Carolina Bush and Virginia Hamlin origins.
After graduating from Brooklyn College with a degree in English, she pursued a number of private sector jobs with GAF, Booze Allen, Lucien Piccard and the New York Urban League. It was here that she met G. Anthony Wilkins (better known as Tony.) She ultimately joined Citibank from which she retired as an Assistant Vice President in the public relations division. The surname Kelly, acquired through an early unsuccessful marriage, was retained throughout her life.
Wilhelmena was a dogged researcher and writer extraordinaire. Picking up on the genealogy work begun by her mom and uncle, John (“Dukie”) Hamlin, she later connected with the Daughters of the American Revolution at a family history conference in New York City. She approached the DAR table and asked about the Hamlin family. They asked, "New England or Virginia branch?" She responded, "Virginia," and the rest is history.
Wilhelmena joined the Manhattan Chapter of the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) in July 2004, eventually becoming Chapter Regent. In July 2012, she was the Organizing Regent for the Increase Carpenter Chapter of DAR located in Queens, New York. Within DAR, she served as National Chairman of Public Relations and Media, National Vice Chairman of the Commemorative Events Committee, during which she designed a tri-color flag in recognition of the 10th Anniversary of 9/11 in 2011. She was an active member of a number of organizations including, the Jamestowne Society where she served as Governor for the New York Company (2017 - 2019.) She was a member of the Sorosis Society, the Association of Professional Genealogists -- New York Company (APG-NY,) a board member of the Society of Old Brooklynites, helped found the Macon Library Branch of the African-Atlantic Genealogical Society (AAGS,) worked with the Weeksville Heritage Society and attended meetings of the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society (AAHGS,) and was the Preservation Officer for the Erasmus Hall Alumni Association.
Mena devoted the last twenty years of her life vigorously pursuing the gaps in her family genealogy, all the while speaking, teaching and helping others with their own history. She was a walking goodwill ambassador for the DAR, and almost one hundred women can thank her for helping them with their qualifying applications. She was the highest ranking woman of color in the DAR and a member of the National Board of Management. She was installed as New York State Regent in June 2019.
Regrettably, terminal health concerns overtook her in September 2019 and she departed this earthly life on Wednesday, October 16, 2019 -- a mere six weeks later. Her New York State Regent symbol is a pair of wings with a dangling pearl. Her theme was "Serving and Soaring in the Empire State." She leaves to cherish her memory, her loving sister Linda Rhodes Jones; her forever friend G. Anthony Wilkins; devoted niece Melanie L. Jones (and her husband Steve Kittle); dozens of cousins including among others: Deidre Wilson, Karen Thornhill, Denise Lee, LaVerne Davids and Margaret Bing Wade; Cate Ludlam and Pat Governara with hundreds of DAR daughters; Ilona Henderson Anderson and Delta Sigma Theta Sorority sisters; many other relatives; Jocelyn Reavis and countless friends.
Mena, you have now taken your wings and joined the ancestors (whose stories you so diligently pursued.) Rest in peace dear Wilhelmena (or Mena or Willie.) We all will miss your sweet disposition and giving spirit, but please know that we will see you in the morning.
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