"Teaching was grafted into her DNA," her family said.
It wasn't until she moved to Philadelphia that she was able to teach real children in the public schools.
Jean Mae Gaskins-Rhodes, as she became after marrying Talmadge Rhodes in 1961, a 32-year Philadelphia elementary-school teacher, a devoted churchwoman, a mother and a grandmother, died Sept. 18. She was 78 and lived in Overbrook Farms.
Jean's childhood loneliness ended when Claudia was born in 1940. They became lifelong best friends.
Jean was born in 1934 in Crewe, Va., to Reginald and Louise Gaskins. When her father entered the Army in World War II, the family moved to Philadelphia. She attended Brooks Elementary School, Sulzberger Middle School and West Philadelphia High School. She graduated from Cheyney State University and took graduate studies in education at Temple University.
As a teacher, Jean specialized in "at-risk" children and often used music as part of her instruction program. She kept a piano in her classroom and most days began with a song. People who entered her classrooms would find children singing happily and ready to learn.
She used song lyrics to teach literacy, and created and produced several plays featuring students both past and present. Her last school was Andrew Hamilton Elementary.
Jean joined Camphor Memorial United Methodist Church, in West Philadelphia, where she played piano for the male chorus. Lucille Logan played piano for the female chorus. The two choruses eventually combined to become the gospel chorus.
When Logan retired, the church urged Jean to become the pianist for the chorus. She agreed to do it temporarily, but 30 years later she was still at it.
Several years ago, Jean started a young people's choir at the church and urged the return of Youth Sunday, which had been abandoned. It was reinstated and still functions today.
Jean was also a skilled fundraiser for the church, and over the years she produced numerous events to bring in the cash. They included "The Hoedown," "Everybody's Birthday Party" and "Holiday in the Bahamas."
"Jean consistently provided mentorship and encouragement to all who were attempting to improve themselves," her family said. "Although youth was her major focus, anyone would be guaranteed to receive a warm greeting and an encouraging word."
Besides her husband, she is survived by two daughters, C. Denise and Lisa Rhodes; a son, Kevin; an adopted son, Carlton L. Payne; her sister, Claudia Manning, and four grandchildren.
Services: Were Saturday. Burial was in Glenwood Memorial Gardens, Broomall.
Contact John F. Morrison at firstname.lastname@example.org or 215-854-5573.