After 96 years of life, Catherine Juliet Rhodes Pelham, affectionally known as “Miss Judy,” passed March 18, 2023, joining her husband, siblings and parents in heaven. She was known as a loving and devoted wife, mother and teacher.
Miss Judy was born in DeLand, Fla. March 27, 1926, to Mr. William “Bill” Rhodes and Mrs. Mary “GrandMary” Harrison Rhodes. The oldest of three children (brothers Dick and Joe), Judy graduated DeLand High School before matriculating to Florida College for Women. While there, “the boys came home” from war and the school’s name changed to Florida State University. She was honored to be included in the first graduating class of FSU where she received a bachelor’s in education.
After leaving FSU, Miss Judy followed in her mother’s footsteps, teaching in several Florida School districts, including Largo, Sanford, DeLand and later Fort Lauderdale. While visiting her parents in DeLand, she met a young, aspiring preacher attending Stetson University, who was acting as an associate pastor in the church where Mrs. Rhodes taught Sunday School.
July 2, 1950, Miss Judy and John L “Brother John” Pelham were married. After Bro. John graduated from Stetson, the couple moved to Louisville, Ken., where, like many wives, she enabled her husband’s continued education by teaching school. After Bro. John received his degree from Southern Theological Seminary, the couple moved to Ft. Lauderdale in 1954. Bro. John served as associate pastor of First Baptist of Ft. Lauderdale until 1956 when they began a missionary church. The congregation of North Pompano Baptist Church grew from meeting at a drive-In theater to the congregates and members of the community building by hand a sanctuary for the newly established church.
In 1960, after her mother succumbed to breast cancer, Kathi (Pelham Bates) joined the family before Jack was adopted in 1961. “I remember mom trying to get the tangles out of my curly hair,” Kathi stated as one of her early experiences with her mom. Other memories include Miss Judy sending money and birthday cakes (with a can of icing) when Kathi was in college and going to Lamaze classes! Jack remembers the poems that would often appear in his lunchbox in elementary school, and her support of his many endeavors at school and at church. “I’ll miss our weekly 11:00 am Saturday calls that started when I was in college,” Jack Pelham reminisced about his mother.
In 1963, the Pelhams were called by the First Baptist Church Palatka, where Miss Judy served as the consummate pastor’s wife. When not hosting Christmas Open Houses, Deacon and Wives’ Dinners, High School Senior Buffets and drop-by visits of congregates and ministerial students, Miss Judy was dedicated to teaching four-year-old children in Sunday School, Training Union/Church Training and Vacation Bible School. Her students knew Miss Judy loved them just as “Jesus loved the little children.”
In 1985, Miss Judy and Brother John moved to DeLand, so she could be closer to her parents, and he could take the position of Vice President of Church Relations at Stetson. For ten years the couple traveled Florida, enlightening Baptist high schoolers and their parents of the educational opportunities available at Stetson University.
After retiring, their work continued in interim positions in area churches, and eventually they relocated back to East Palatka in 1999.
After Bro. John’s death 2004, Miss Judy remained active by attending Sunday School and services at FBC, as well as playing Bridge once or twice a week, participating in Joy Club and Circle meetings, having a weekly hair appointment that often followed with a lunch with friends and, almost every Friday, playing very competitive dominoes with “the girls,” her long-time friends from Palatka.
Unfortunately, the seclusion of the COVID-19 pandemic and two back-to-back cases of pneumonia took their toll, forcing hospice and home-bound care. She laughed and was more concerned about those around her until the end, during which a well-spent life filled with love was evident in her eyes.
Miss Judy is survived by sister-in law Myrtice Pelham; daughter Kathi Pelham Bates and son-in-law Ben Bates (Palatka); grandchildren Benjie Bates and his wife Kari, her great-grandchildren, Blair and Brayden (St. Augustine) and Michael Bates (Palatka); son Jack Pelham (Atlanta); and the hundreds of four-year-old children to whom she shared so much love.
Private family services and burial were held.
In lieu of flowers, contributions can be made to Stetson University, Unit 8286, 421 N. Woodland Blvd., DeLand, FL 32723. Please include on the memo line: "in memory of Judy Pelham.” To donate online go to https://www.stetson.edu/give and from the “Designation" drop-down menu select “Other” and then enter "John L. Pelham Ministerial Scholarship.” Or to the Pelham Scholarship Fund, First Baptist Church Palatka, 501 Oak Street, Palatka, FL 32177.
Memories and Condolences may be expressed to the family at Judy’s Book of Memories at www.johnsonoverturffunerals.com.