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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – Emma K. Rhodes starts her story where we all do – at the beginning.

“I’m from a little place called Wilmar. W-i-l-m-a-r. I always spell it for people,” the 85-year-old Rhodes said.

Born in 1937 in Drew County, Rhodes is the third of 16 children and the oldest daughter.

“I tell people all the time, the population when we left was 300, and it was minus 18 when we left, and that’s real,” she said.

Rhodes dreamed of becoming a teacher, but at the age of 15, she got pregnant and was forced to leave school.

“It really wasn’t a dropout. Maybe a push-out because they didn’t allow it at that time,” she explained. “Nevertheless, I still kept studying because I knew what I wanted to do.”

By the age of 27, Rhodes was a widow and a mother to seven children. Some may have given up on their dreams at that point, but Rhodes did not.

She got her GED at 29 and went on to earn her bachelor’s degree. In 1987, she received her doctorate, following the wise words of her mother, “Better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it.”

Rhodes put her degrees to work, purchasing space behind a laundromat on Wright and Battery in southwest Little Rock and turning it into an adult education program.

“I started the GED program around the folding tables. Thank you, Jesus, right there in the laundromat,” she recalled.

Rhodes continued to serve her community by revitalizing buildings and bringing in much-needed services like a utility payment center. All the while, she encouraged anyone she passed on the streets to continue their education.

“Have you got your high school diploma? And they’d say, ‘I don’t yet because….’ and I say, ‘Would you like to get it?’” she said. “I said because if you would, I’ll help you.”

Today Rhodes’ efforts continue, working with kids on anger management issues and conflict resolution.

“I’m excited about serving. I really am,” she said. “I’m excited about serving and about making a difference in the lives, especially of the young people.”

Her office on Wright Avenue overlooks the old laundromat, surrounded by countless awards and accolades, including her induction into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame in 2006.

“It tells me that people are still watching, and people are still listening, and they are still taking my advice and saying, ‘Okay if you did it, then I can do it,’” she said.

It’s a reflection of a life well lived, and a remarkable story still being written.

“I don’t have words enough to express how thankful I am to still be in demand, for the services that I can offer,” Rhodes said. “I want to do more!”

Rhodes will do more, and she has won yet another accolade. She has been named the 2023 Remarkable Woman of the Year.

The award comes with a $1,000 donation to the group Project Renew made in her honor, and Rhodes is in the running for the National Remarkable Woman of the Year to be awarded in Los Angeles this weekend.