Thirty years serving as a kindergarten teacher at Heman Street Elementary School in East Syracuse gave Rhoda Sikes the opportunity to live out her passion every single day. A lifelong learner herself, Rhoda thrived on building strong educational foundations for young minds while helping them foster a love of school, continued learning, permanent curiosity and goodness.
While Rhoda saw the importance of time spent in the classroom, she found great value in what could be learned beyond those four walls. She took a special interest in preserving the historic aspects of Onondaga Lake and took the children in her classes on field trips to learn about the value of sustaining local environmental resources. This included trips to the Salt Museum where the children could observe the lake’s habitat of birds and dynamic exhibits and artifacts.
Rhoda believed that the Salt Museum was incredibly unique because there was no other museum in the area that was completely dedicated to salt at the time. She had said once, “there’s a lot of great history to learn and visitors can gain a lot from the experience. We hope that when they leave they are bet-ter informed.”
Rhoda dedicated much of her time to the Friends of Historic Onondaga Lake and helped manage the Salt Museum’s gift shop in the 1990s. She was later instrumental in re-opening the organization’s Sainte Marie Among the Iroquois mission site, now the Skä•noñh Center, where she served as a lifelong volunteer. Rhoda remained active in her Liverpool community throughout her life, dedicating a her time to the Liverpool Library Community Center and the ESM-NS Federal Credit Union Board.
Rhoda was born in 1932 in East Otto, NY, where her father operated a saw mill and delivered ice. She knew she wanted to make an impact for others even as a young child. Her strong commitments to education and her community continued to blossom when she decided tobecome an elementary school teacher. After graduating from SUNY Potsdam in 1953, she began her teaching career in Central Square. In 1957, she was hired at Heman Street with a starting salary of just $4,500. But making money wasn’t what motivated Rhoda.
While Rhoda’s days were filled with lesson plans, field trips and songs about the ABCs, her work didn’t end when her students went home for the day and she closed the door to her classroom. For 25 years, Rhoda volunteered as a reader for WCNY’s Read Out program. She saw the potential in all children to achieve greatness, no matter the circumstances they came from, and worked hard to spread her enthusiasm for learning.
Even well after her tenure ended at Heman Street, her passion for teaching never wavered and she found a way to continue making an impact on students.
In 2015, Rhoda established the Heman Street Superior Effort Scholarship Fund at the Community Foundation to provide awards to graduating seniors at East Syracuse-Minoa High School. She expressly wished the scholarships to support students with average academic performance, who might not be considered for other scholarships, but who want continue their education beyond high school—the way she had.
In addition to the scholarship fund, Rhoda established a donor-advised fund at the Community Foundation, which she used during her lifetime to support local causes, all the while adding to the fund so that it could continue to provide perpetual support to her most cherished organizations even after she was gone. When Rhoda passed away, a legacy gift from her estate helped ensure permanence as a funding source to carry out her wishes for generations.
The Rhoda Sikes Fund, to which Rhoda contributed both lifetime and legacy gifts, will annually benefit organizations such as the CNY SPCA, Food Bank of Central New York, Friends of Historic Onondaga Lake, Syracuse Habitat for Humanity, WCNY, National Parks Conservation Association, National Trust for Historic Preservation and the National Women’s History Museum.
“The legacy gift of Rhoda Sikes to the Central New York Community Foundation will have a lasting impact on the work of Food Bank of Central New York,” said Karen Belcher, executive director of the Food Bank. “We were humbled to learn of Ms. Sikes’ generosity to the Food Bank and so many other nonprofit organizations in our community. Each year, this grant will allow us to continue our work to provide nutritious food to children, families, and seniors facing hunger.”
Thanks to her lifelong generosity and far-reaching vision, Rhoda’s passions will live on through the organizations and students that bear her legacy – a legacy that will enable good works to continue for generations to come. The creation of her funds are a true reflection of her lasting commitment to the community and the causes she held dear.