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Ernest Rhodes to Read from New Book, 'A Coal Miner's Family at Mooseheart,' Sept. 21 at Bookstore

At age 95, Old Dominion University Professor Emeritus of English Ernest Rhodes has published a memoir of growing up in an orphans' home-school in Illinois, and will give a reading from the book at noon Tuesday, Sept. 21, at the University Village Bookstore.

In "A Coal Miner's Family at Mooseheart," Rhodes recalls the period 1919-39, and particularly the years starting in 1926 when, as an 11-year-old, he and his three siblings moved with their recently widowed mother from a small coal-mining town in West Virginia to the City of Children at Mooseheart, Ill., a unique home-school near Chicago run by the Moose fraternity, which still operates today.

In his memoir, self-published through AuthorHouse, Rhodes, who taught at ODU from 1960 until his retirement in 1980, shares the story of a surprisingly utopian life with 1,300 other children from 1919 through the Depression in the City of Children. Written in a lively, stand-up, unaffected way, his memoir introduces people from his youth and describes the place that prepared him for Guadalcanal, Okinawa, the GI Bill, his Ph.D. and an academic career.

His childhood differs from most, yet will remind readers of their own childhood struggles, losses and victories. The memoir concludes with scenes from earlier family life in West Virginia, especially in the Elk Lick coal mining town at Spruce Knob. Born in a log cabin at Mammoth, W.Va., April 17, 1915, to Homer and Blanche Porter Rhodes, Ernest was 9 when his father died.

"This story begins with my family's arrival at Mooseheart and my rough introduction to the boys' codes of behavior," said Rhodes, who lives in Norfolk. "I report on how a demerit system was replaced by a merit system that worked well for 1,300 students living in this community, which absolutely prohibited corporal punishment. Also, I explain our daily routines."

Further sections illustrate the youngsters' lives as Rhodes writes about their dreams, their loneliness, their romances and their ambitions - and how they developed enough courage to leave Mooseheart as young adults to scatter and settle. He also talks about their return many years later to this special utopia of their youth.

Rhodes left the orphans' home-school in 1933 to enroll at the University of West Virginia. He graduated with an A.B. in 1936 and went to work as a reporter for the Northern Virginia Daily and Alexandria Gazette. On April 9, 1942, while working for the Alexandria Gazette, he was ordered to active duty as an ensign in the U.S. Naval Reserve during World War II.

He served at Guadalcanal and later worked in landing control at Okinawa, Japan. He was similarly involved in landing operations at Nagasaki after the second atomic bomb was dropped.

Studying under the GI Bill, Rhodes earned a master's degree in dramatic art from the University of North Carolina in 1940 and a doctorate in English from the University of Kentucky in 1958. He taught at colleges and universities in Massachusetts, Kentucky and Alabama before joining the ODU faculty. Rhodes is married to Carolyn Rhodes, ODU professor emerita of women's studies and English.

"I began seriously trying to write my recollections when Carolyn and I purchased a computer in 1984, after we returned from her Fulbright year in Romania and before we spent another Fulbright year in China," Rhodes recalls.

"This book began with family records. The earliest versions, titled 'Dorothy's Album,' featured documents added to many scrapbooks created by Dorothy Rhodes Guinn, my sister. All that she and her husband, the late Dr. Earl Guinn, Mooseheart, 1932, gathered about the Rhodes heritage melded inextricably with our decades at Mooseheart. Our mother's 'Journal' and 'Little Book' added yet another dimension, so did public documents and the recollections of other classmates."

Rhodes added, "My step-daughter Babette Meyers first suggested that I should write and share the stories I was telling about Mooseheart."

Rhodes is also the author of "Henslowe's Rose: The Stage and Staging" (University of Kentucky Press, 1976) and was associate editor for his wife's "First Person Female American" (Whitson, 1980).

This article was posted on: September 15, 2010

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