LaNelle Rhodes (1926-2018)


LaNelle Rhodes, a longtime Toledo educator who taught children with learning disabilities and encouraged their parents, died Feb. 23 in Northfield Village and Skilled Care Rehabilitation Facility in Northfield, Ohio. She was 91. 

Mrs. Rhodes, formerly of Springfield Township and West Toledo, lived at Northfield Village near Cleveland the last three years. She had Alzheimer’s disease, said her niece, Tamara Swanson, whose mother, Marie Swanson, was Mrs. Rhodes’ only sibling.


Mrs. Rhodes retired from the Toledo Public Schools as an administrative supervisor of learning disabilities. She traveled the district and offered guidance to teachers based in part on her experience. 

She received a master’s degree in special education from the University of Toledo, from which she also had a specialist degree. She did much of her teaching at Heatherdowns School.

“She was very patient and was an excellent communicator,” her niece said.  “She would come up with creative ways to address problems.”

She welcomed evening telephone calls from parents.

“She built a special rapport with a lot of the parents,” her niece said. “She made herself very available. She was totally engaged and was passionate about it. She didn’t want any child to be left behind, so she dedicated herself to helping them be successful.”

Her nephew Michael Swanson said: “She would talk fondly years later of students who went on to successes in all walks of life.”

And long after her classroom days, she “would be invited to weddings of some of those same problem kids and got see their kids grow up,” her niece said. “Some of them would be thrown away in any other circumstance.”

In 1990, Mrs. Rhodes received the Professional Award at the annual Founders’ Day dinner of the Negro Business & Professional Women’s Clubs, Inc.

She had been a Toledo Museum of Art ambassador and was an active member of the Toledo chapter of Charms, Inc., and Delta Sigma Theta Sorority. Her close friends included the late Louise Brower, who was principal of Scott High School, and the late Dorothy Greer Smith, a teacher who served on civic boards.

“She always tried to make people feel at home and at ease,” said Jeanette Bradley, a retired teacher and longtime friend, who also belongs to Charms and Delta Sigma Theta. 

Mrs. Rhodes counted entertaining at home, gourmet cooking, and interior decorating among her passions, her niece said.

“She was elegant, classic, graceful,” her niece said. “She looked put-together whenever she stepped out.” 

Born Nov. 9, 1926, in Memphis as the first of Ethel and Leroy Howell’s two daughters, she graduated from Booker T. Washington High School there and obtained a bachelor of science degree in business administration from what is now Wilberforce University.

Her family had moved to Toledo, and she became a legal secretary for a law firm. She later attended the former Mary Manse College.

Her first teaching assignment was first grade at Lincoln School.

She was a member of Grace Presbyterian Church.

She and Leonard “Lenny” Rhodes married in 1951. He was a UT basketball star and National Basketball Association recruit who became a Dana Corp. manager. He died Oct. 18, 2014.

There are no immediate survivors.

Visitation is to begin at 1 p.m. Saturday in the Dale-Riggs Funeral Home, including services of the Toledo Chapter of the Charms, Inc., and Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Omega Omega rites. Funeral services will begin at 2 p.m. in the funeral home.

The family suggests tributes to the Alzheimer’s Association.

Contact Mark Zaborney at or 419-724-6182.