Alumni Spotlight

Rhoda Jane Claytor

By: Whitney E. Copley
June 26, 2012

No two students derive the same thing from their education. Consequently, no two individuals pursue the same path following their time spent in academia. While they may work in the same industry or even choose the very same career, values, ambition, personal motivators, family and a host of other factors influence life’s journeys. Often said, those who have passion and take advantage of their situations make the most of their lives. University of Pikeville alumna Rhoda Jane Claytor makes the most of her life by following one simple but often forgotten creed – to truly appreciate life and all its experiences.

Rhoda Jane Marrs Claytor was born on March 9, 1916, in Dickenson County, Virginia. Her father, Col Cavins, a Kentucky native, moved the family back to Kentucky where he worked on a farm. Soon after the move, Cavins passed away. Before Claytor was old enough to attend school, her mother married F.M. Marrs. She, therefore, enrolled at Pikeville Elementary School as Rhoda Jane Marrs, using her stepfather’s surname. Her mother, Sally Rose Marrs, and stepfather had one child – a son named Frank. Upon graduating eighth grade, Claytor entered her freshman year at Pikeville High School. Consequently, she invested only half a year at Pikeville High School, as she received a working scholarship to attend the private Pikeville College Academy. In September 1931, Claytor enrolled at the Academy and moved into the Derriana, the girls’ dormitory. Because she and her female classmates were in high school but living alongside young women attending junior college, they were known as the “little girls group.” The junior college ladies mentored the “little girls group,” helping them adapt to dormitory living.

Claytor’s mother passed away soon after she enrolled at Pikeville College Academy. She knew her husband would care for their son, so Marrs left funds in the form of an insurance policy to make it possible for Claytor to continue her education. Later in life, as a “grateful tribute” to her mother, Claytor established the Sally Rose Marrs Endowed Scholarship Fund at the University of Pikeville which is awarded annually to a student from the region. In a recent conversation, when asked about the fund, she shared that the scholarship made in her mother’s memory “is one of [her] happiest gifts.”

Because the laws were very different than today, Claytor had the privilege of choosing her own guardian because she had attained age 13 by the time of her mother’s passing. Marrs had worked many years for Ernest and May Shurtleff in their laundry shop. The Shurtleffs, not yet having children of their own, took Claytor under their wings. Claytor said that since they were already helping her, she selected them to act as her guardian and oversee her education fund. During breaks from school, Claytor worked in the Shurtleffs’ laundry and dry cleaning business.

Since she received a working scholarship, as did most of the other students, she was assigned the job of salad making. She adapted the type to serve the ingredients available, often provided by the school’s farm. “One moment to smile at now but was most embarrassing then happened to a girl named Lois when she rushed to get into the cafeteria line and promptly on arrival her voluminous black petticoat dropped to the floor landing at her feet! I think she skipped lunch!” Claytor exclaimed.

Dormitory rules were quite strict when Claytor was a student. She explained that the Derriana Matron, Mrs. Hatfield, left little doubt about enforcing her rules for lights out at 10:30 p.m., and quiet hour on Sundays from 2 to 4 p.m. The young women could not leave their rooms – even for a restroom break. On one particular Sunday, Claytor’s roommate, Sunny Day, was caught in the unfortunate predicament of having her hair only half-shampooed when quiet hour began. She dangled a note to the second floor asking for permission to enter their window and sneak some rinse water from a sink across from them. Claytor recalled the story, “I expect we have all seen an anxious moment portrayed when someone is hanging against a wall and holding with both hands onto tied sheets. Her hands shook from her weight and the height frightened us. I think those of us who witnessed her escapade learned the power of prayer that day.” Another dormitory memory including great heights is the infamous fire in the girls’ dorm. The young men, who were never allowed above the first floor except when doing an assigned job, were sent inside to toss the young ladies’ belongings to safety out the windows, albeit in helter skelter fashion, landing haphazardly around campus, according to Claytor. Recalling the modesty of the generation at that time, Claytor said, “A draft caught a pair of lacy dainties as they sailed gently down. Girls hastily turned their backs, but the fellows turned their eyes!”

 With additional subjects taken during summer sessions, Claytor completed her academy requirements in the spring of 1934 and graduated a year early. She largely attributes her academic success to her teachers. She fondly remembers Miss Houston, Miss Malone, and Miss Cooper for their instruction of Latin, public speaking, grammar, algebra, and geometry.

Claytor attended Pikeville College during the 1934-1935 school year, making the most of the college experience by immersing herself in studies and participating in campus life. She joined various clubs and served as treasurer of her freshman class. One of her duties was to collect 10 cents from each student. Although 10 cents will not cover the cost of a mere postage stamp today, Claytor noted that it is difficult for her to imagine that there were a few students who had to do without something to pay that amount.

In 1935, she moved to Washington, D.C., where she lived with Charles and Susan Elliott, also originally from Pikeville, to attend The Washington School for Secretaries. Graduating in one year, Claytor obtained a position with the newly established Social Security Administration because she achieved one of the highest scores on a civil service test. Keenly interested in the city and its politics, she often joined friends to attend weekend music recitals in back of the Lincoln Memorial, watched inaugural parades, and Fourth of July fireworks at the Washington Monument. Claytor was in attendance at Arlington Cemetery on Memorial Day where President Franklin D. Roosevelt spoke. “We stood so near we could almost touch his open auto, and we did exchange smiles with greetings!” She also attended parades honoring visiting dignitaries, such as the King and Queen of England. As is the case for most aspects of life in D.C., the hands of politics also touched the church Claytor attended; the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church was pastored by Peter Marshall, the senate pastor. 

When Pearl Harbor was attacked in 1941, the agency for which Claytor worked was divided into geographical areas and moved out of Washington to provide additional office space for the defense department during World War II. Her assignment was the San Francisco regional office. In the prevailing atmosphere of uncertainty and a desire to be the most use to the country, Claytor enlisted in February 1943 to serve in the Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (WAVES). She received a series of training assignments: boot camp in Cedar Falls, Iowa, and storekeepers’ school on the campus of Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana, where she received college credit. Then she was posted to Wold-Chamberlain Field for naval air cadet training in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area of Minnesota. “We donned uniforms, stood in lines, rode on trains that were shunted aside for more important troop transfers, learned lots of drill chants and songs, ate when served, slept when possible, learned to appreciate the overall humor of our dilemma,” Claytor said.

Claytor fondly recalled the overall mood of the country, “We benefitted from the awesome acts and signs of patriotism that swept the country. While traveling in uniform I found free public transportation in Chicago. At train stops, free treats came to us with smiles, and in Minneapolis a WAVE-SPARS Mothers' Club made a lounge room in a local hotel available for us to rest and enjoy soft drinks. Often in restaurants waiters were asked to deliver drinks to us from other patrons. Free ballet, symphony, and theatrical performance tickets often were offered.”

Quickly moving up the military ranks, Claytor became a candidate for Officer Training School. She then became an ensign in Washington, D.C., supervising a unit for the Navy’s Bureau of Ships. Upon receiving her honorable discharge in 1945, she married sailor Lynn Robert Maines and joined him in Providence, Rhode Island, until the war soon ended. They then returned to Washington to raise their two sons, Timothy Robert and Barry Lynn, and daughter, Cynthia Anne. Claytor’s patriotism never diminished; she soon found work at the Voice of America, the United States’ international broadcasting institution. During her career, Claytor assumed a variety of broadcasting duties. However, a unique service she provided was serving as a guide for groups wishing to see and hear some of the 44 foreign language broadcasts. Claytor remembered special liaison duties, “The Public Affairs Office called me for a special occasion now and then such as to be an usher when then President John F. Kennedy visited to speak. I also represented our office by appearing at the White House at times when foreign heads of state were greeted on the White House lawn by the president. This was a formality enjoyed especially by the press corps.”  

In 1966, Claytor’s husband passed away. Claytor continued to work at the Voice of America until retirement in 1977. By then, her children were married and grandchildren blessed each household. Always seeking knowledge and new experiences, she enrolled at a junior college, joined a seniors’ group, learned to line dance and play bridge. Her son Barry, living in Phoenix, Arizona, invited her to embark upon a tour across America with his family. On their stop at Mt. Rushmore, Barry met and introduced to the family another tourist, Norman Watkins Claytor. Norman and Rhoda Jane found that they had much in common and were married two years later in 1984 in Cocoa Beach, Florida, where they lived for two years before moving to Arizona. They both immensely enjoyed traveling and welcomed frequent family visitors.

Upon Norman Claytor’s passing in May 2001, Rhoda Jane Claytor continued to live in their Phoenix home until March 2012. Having made the transition to adult at such an early age, Claytor retains her independent spirit. At 96 years young, she maintains her own apartment in a newly constructed independent living community which features amenities such as personalized dining, cleaning and laundry services, transportation, exercise instruction, a library, and even a theater. Claytor’s thirst for knowledge and new experiences has never waned. “Last Sunday I experienced for the first time in my life the sacrament of baptism by emersion! Years ago, on a tour of Israel Norm and I took with a group from our church, I had asked if I could be immersed in the River Jordan but it could not be scheduled. Not one to give up a prayed for goal, it became a reality in my oldest year yet! At any age learning and doing continue.”  

University of Pikeville Vice President Dr. Eric Becher recently had the pleasure of visiting with Claytor in her home. Claytor summarized the visit, “We had a most pleasant opportunity for me to learn of all the changes at UPIKE and of dreams coming true in new structures even as we speak…things to be proud of.”   

“My interest in Pikeville College Academy has never stopped through the years,” noted Claytor. Her dedication is evidenced by the establishment of a scholarship in her mother’s memory and her frequent visits to Pikeville over the years to visit with dear friends. In October 2007, she was presented with the alumni association’s Distinguished Alumnus Award by former president Hal Smith. 

“’Prosciam ad montes,’ which is Latin for ‘look to the mountains,’” recalled Claytor. “Through the years I have held this corner of the universe in my heart and support it as able.” 

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