LVC Celebrates the Life and Legacy of Dr. Jacob Rhodes

Dr. Jacob L. Rhodes ’43, P’87, chair and professor emeritus of physics, died May 13, 2017, at home in Lebanon after an extended illness. 

Born in Linville, Va., in 1922, he moved with his family to Lebanon at age four. Dr. Rhodes graduated from Lebanon High School in 1939 then enrolled at Lebanon Valley College, graduating in 1943 with degrees in mathematics and physics, and a secondary teaching certificate. He was an all-around student at The Valley, earning the Max F. Lehman Freshman Prize in Mathematics and Sophomore English Literature Prize, and was elected to Phi Alpha Epsilon (Honor Society) and selected to Who’s Who Among Students in American Colleges and Universities. 

Dr. Rhodes also was active outside the classroom, acting with the Wig and Buckle Theater Company, and serving as a member of the Philokosmian Literary Society, Chemistry Club, and International Relations Club. Due to a shortage of high school teachers due to World War II, he served as a substitute teacher in mathematics at Myerstown High School during his senior year. 

After graduating, he became a research assistant at the Johns Hopkins University Radiation Laboratory (1943–1946), working with a team to develop a radio proximity fuse for anti-aircraft and for artillery missiles. This work was awarded the Certificate of Merit by the U.S. Government’s Office of Scientific Research Development. 

In 1946, Dr. Rhodes enrolled in the University of Pennsylvania where he was a graduate assistant and research fellow. After completing his coursework, he was hired as chair of the Department of Physics at Roanoke College from 1952–1956, then finished his dissertation to earn his Ph.D. from Penn in 1958. His research on experimental nuclear physics and academics earned him election into The Society of the Sigma Xi (honor society for research in the sciences). He also pursued graduate study at Johns Hopkins University, Yale University, University of Rochester, and Oakridge Institute of Nuclear Studies during his career.

Dr. Rhodes returned to Lebanon Valley College as chair of physics in 1957, succeeding Professor Samuel O. Grimm, Class of 1912 and founder of the College’s Physics Department. Dr. Rhodes served as chair for nearly three decades (1957–1985), and remains one of only five chairs in the department’s 100+ year history. He continued to teach as an adjunct professor of physics and mathematics from 1985–1992. 

On becoming chair, one of his earliest tasks was to plan and oversee the department’s new facilities on the ground and first floors at the north end of the Administration Building, where they would remain until the move to the Garber Science Center in 1984. Under his leadership, more than 26 physics majors went on to earn doctorates from prestigious universities such as Brown, Princeton, Brigham Young, Penn, and Cal, with 11 of these becoming college professors. Many others earned master’s degrees and became teachers, researchers, or corporate leaders. 

“As a youngster I found myself with a fresh B.S. in physics,” said Jim Nelson ’60, a former student of Dr. Rhodes in an interview for The Physics Teacher. “Considering my slow start this was a surprise to almost everyone but Jake Rhodes. Dr. Rhodes…was the first person outside my family to show any interest in helping me learn. Many of my students have enjoyed physics more because of the Rhodes influence on me. He was an important influence on me.”

Dr. Rhodes served on LVC’s Board of Trustees in various roles from 1957–1974, including on the Public Relations, Faculty, and Executive committees. He also participated on many faculty committees, including Faculty Affairs, Central Committee of Faculty, Honors Committee, and Centennial Committee, and was selected as the Commencement speaker for the College’s 100th anniversary graduation in 1967.

An active fundraiser for the College, Dr. Rhodes chaired the Annual Giving Committee for Faculty, Administration, and Staff for a quarter century (1958–1983), and chaired the Capital Funds Campaign for Faculty, Administration, and Staff for both the Centennial Fund and Fund for Fulfillment campaigns. He was a member of the Towards 2001 campaign committee and a charter member of the College’s Thomas Rhys Vickroy Society.

In addition to being a member of the Society of Sigma Ix, Dr. Rhodes was a member of the American Physical Society, as well as the American Association of Physics Teachers, for which he served terms as secretary-treasurer, vice president, and president of the Central Pennsylvania Section. 

Dr. Rhodes’ service and commitment to his students was widely recognized. He was selected as an Outstanding Educator of America in 1970 and 1975. In 2007, a former faculty colleague, Dr. Agnes O’Donnell, late professor emerita of English, and a former student, Dr. Elizabeth M. Bains ’64, established The Rhodes and O’Donnell Endowed Physics Research Fund in honor of Dr. Rhodes and in memory of Professor J. Robert O’Donnell, late professor emeritus of physics. 

“Jake was a great teacher,” said Dr. Don Dahlberg, professor emeritus of chemistry, who was a faculty colleague for more than a decade. “Students were always number one in his priorities.”

In addition to teaching as an adjunct professor at LVC after retirement, Dr. Rhodes volunteered with the Annville Free Library, Meals-on-Wheels, Lancaster-Lebanon Literacy Program, and Spang Crest Manor. He also was the legislative chair of the Lebanon County Chapter of the American Association of Retired Persons, served two terms as chair of the Annville Township Planning Committee, and served 12 years on the Congregation Council of St. Mark Lutheran Church. 

In 2013, Dr. Rhodes wrote the 100th anniversary history of LVC’s physics program, which is available in the College’s Archives. He also helped organize the Centennial anniversary/reunion for the program, which was held April 12, 2014. 

Dr. Rhodes was the husband of Ruth E. Basehore Rhodes for more than 50 years until her death on July 27, 2010. Surviving are three daughters and one son, Andrea and her husband, Timothy Salem of Wernersville; Marcia and her husband, Steven Garcia of Camarillo, Calif.; Carol and her husband, Dax Norman of Lewes, Del.; William Rhodes ’87 and his wife, Stephanie of Newark, Del.; a granddaughter, Victoria Ruth Norman; and a grandson, Jacob Thomas Rhodes; and many nieces and nephews. He was preceded in death by three brothers, R. Earl, Russell A., and William L. Rhodes; and by four sisters, Nina Rhodes, Velva Steffy, Fleta Basehore, and Catherine Reich.