Nancy Rhoads, 89, of Philadelphia, a lifelong Quaker who embraced community and education, shared and championed the city’s colorful history, and volunteered with many organizations designed to help those in need, died Tuesday, Aug. 3, of kidney failure at Foulkeways at Gwynedd senior living community.
“Volunteer work, she said, was a form of ‘continuing education’ that allowed her to better understand and appreciate the joys and sorrows of those around her,” her family said in a tribute.
Mrs. Rhoads grew up in Wyndmoor, lived most of her adult life in Chestnut Hill, and was driven by her heritage and unending enthusiasm to celebrate and share the city’s rich cultural history. She was a descendant of Justus Strawbridge, a founder of the Strawbridge & Clothier stores, and dedicated to making life brighter for immigrants, children, and others seeking to better themselves and their community.
She focused much of her attention on the Germantown neighborhood because of her family’s roots there. She and her six children attended Germantown Friends School, and she was a dedicated member of Germantown Monthly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends.
She was also part of the Wyck Association, which oversees a national historic landmark house, garden, and farm in Germantown. In 1998, she won the inaugural Wistar-Haines Award from Wyck for “exemplary service to the organization.”
“She inherited the gentle kindness, sense of fun, and appreciation of history which imbued everything she did,” her family said.
Mrs. Rhoads worked for the World Affairs Council of Philadelphia, a nonprofit educational organization that is “dedicated to informing and engaging people of all ages on matters of national and international significance,” and with the Carl Schurz Memorial Foundation, which was created to “foster better American-German relations and cultural exchange.”
In her youth, Mrs. Rhoads looked after the children of working mothers at Germantown Settlement House, cleared and repaired houses for the needy in Germantown, and bathed patients at Chestnut Hill Hospital.
Later, she and her family hosted foreign exchange students from around the world. “She was interested in the world community,” her son Sam said.
In 1983, Mrs. Rhoads wrote a letter to the editor of The Inquirer on the 300th anniversary of Germantown’s founding, and her community spirit shone brightly.
“Neighborhood, religious, business and historical groups in Germantown, working together to improve and preserve one of Philadelphia’s rare treasures, certainly deserve the city’s support,” she wrote.
“She was kind and warm and insightful,” her son said.
At home, Mrs. Rhoads liked to make crafts and sew clothes for her family. She created personalized books on manners with her grandchildren, quilted, and baked. She had a quirky sense of humor, her daughter Anne said, that smashed the stereotype of the conservative Quaker.
“She said not having a sense of humor is the death of life,” her daughter said.
In addition to her son and daughter, Mrs. Rhoads is survived by daughters Mary, Caroline, and Nancy; son Wistar; seven grandchildren; one great-grandson; a sister; and other relatives. Her husband of nearly 60 years, Dr. Donald Rhoads, died in 2015.
A memorial service is to be held in the fall at Germantown Monthly Meeting, 47 W. Coulter St.
Donations in her name may be made to Germantown Monthly Meeting, 47 W. Coulter St., Philadelphia, Pa. 19144; the Wyck Association, 6026 Germantown Ave., Philadelphia, Pa. 19144; and Germantown Friends School, 31 W. Coulter St., Philadelphia, Pa. 19144.