Kelly, Wilhelmena Rhodes

Baby Boomers (born 1943 to 1963)

 

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, the first ever African-American state leader in the history of the society, 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."

 

Obituary provided by the family of Wilhelmena Rhodes Kelley

Kelly, Wilhelmena Rhodes

  • Oral History Summary

    This page is in memorium of Wilhelmena Rhodes Kelly who passed away on October 16, 2019 during the process of documenting her personal Daughter Dialogue.

  • DAR Service

    Past Regent
    New York State Society

     

    Past Organizing Secretary

    New York State Society


    Past National Chairman
    Public Relations and Media


    Past National Vice Chairman
    Commemorative Events

     

    Past Organizing Regent
    Increase Carpenter Chapter

     

    Past Chapter Regent
    Manhattan Chapter

  • DAR Patriot Ancestor(s)

    Hamlin, Stephen: Virginia

    European Descent Male


    Murray, John: Virginia

    European Descent Male


    Yates, Edward Randolph: Virginia

    European Descent Male

  • In the News

    'Daughters' Welcomes 1st Black Woman to National Board

    U.S. News and World Report, June 29, 2019

     

    For Daughters of the American Revolution, a New Chapter

    New York Times, July 4, 2012

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