Obituary: Doris Caldwell Rhoades

Missionary, traveler, loving wife

Doris Caldwell Rhoades died on March 19, 2016 at the age of 97. She was in the presence of loving family and friends at Pilgrim Place in Claremont, where she had been a resident since 1992.

She was born in 1918 on the Caldwell Homestead, a dairy farm in central Pennsylvania, to Frank and Elizabeth Caldwell. Doris was the eldest of four daughters. Nurtured in the Presbyterian Church, she was early on inspired to commit her life to serving disenfranchised people.

After earning a master’s degree in social work, she was called to service in China by the Board of Foreign Missions of the Presbyterian Church. In 1947, she set sail to China from San Francisco. Once there she studied Mandarin and went to work in the rural province of Soochow, but within six months she was “liberated” by young soldiers of the Red Army and the Church Workers’ Training Center was closed.

In 1951 Ms. Rhoades returned to the United States where she did graduate study at Cornell University and became the director of Christian education in the Presbyterian Church in Dobbs Ferry, New York. Still, she longed to return to China. When in 1957 she was asked to work with Chinese refugees in Hong Kong, her first reaction was, “No, I don’t want to work in a colony.” As she mulled it over, however, she realized that those she would be serving wanted to return to China as badly as she did. She agreed to go for “a year or two,” and ended up staying for 26 years.

After retiring in 1984 Ms. Rhoades returned to New York, where she took a part-time job with the Vocation Agency of the Presbyterian Church. There in late 1986, “after several years of trying to get used to living in the United States,” she met Benton Rhoades, director of Agricultural Mission, related to the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA. They were married on January 3, 1988.

She later recalled that, “My new family is quite different from my large Hong Kong family, but no less interesting.” At the spry and youthful age of 70, Ms. Rhoades became the loving and dearly adored “mother” to Benton’s four children and 10 grandchildren. During their years together at Pilgrim Place they added to their family 12 great-grandchildren. Doris was a natural in her various family roles.

She is survived by two of her three sisters, Marge and Peg, and many adoring nieces and nephews. A memorial service was held at Pilgrim Place’s Decker Hall on March 22.

Memorial contributions can be made in the name of Doris Rhoades to either: Residents’ Health and Support Fund (make checks to Pilgrim Place with RHSP in the memo line), Pilgrim Place, 625 Mayflower Rd., Claremont, CA 91711 or to Agricultural Missions Inc., 475 Riverside Dr. #1505, New York, NY 10115.


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