Cassie Gholston, Director of Marketing,
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In Memoriam: Beulah Bernice Wiley Hodge

Beulah Hodge lived her 90 years with a grace and completeness that has been a gift to all who knew her. She was born on August 29, 1919, in Galesville, Wisconsin, the daughter of Guilford M. Wiley and Beulah Bernice Arnold; she died on November 28, 2009.

She arrived in Austin with her husband Francis Hodge and daughter Betsy, in 1949. Beulah's grandparents, Captain Alexander Ahab Arnold, a lawyer and a farmer, and his wife Mary Douglas gave the town of Galesville the land for its Pine Cliff Cemetery and the County Fair Grounds. Their Victorian brick house, built in 1874, now belongs to the Garden of Eden Preservation Society. Its unique barn had been a National Register Building before it collapsed several years ago in high winds.

Beulah was born on her grandfather's farm and spent her childhood between Galesville and La Crosse, where her father was Superintendent of Schools and her mother ran a loving and chaotic household of four children and gave energy and strength to her community. Beulah played a great game of golf and as a teenager was a state champion; she detassled corn, picked beans and caddied in the summer. Beulah graduated in 1937 from Central High School in La Crosse, and, in 1941, she earned her degree in English and theatre from Carroll College in Waukesha. Her senior year she fell in love with her young theatre instructor, Francis R. Hodge, from Geneva, NY, and married him in 1942. Also that year she completed her Masters Degree from Cornell University in Ithaca NY and returned to Carroll College to teach dramatic interpretation and English literature, while her professor husband served as a propeller specialist in the United States Army Air Corps.

Their single child, Betsy, was born in 1945. Beulah and Fran returned to Cornell after the war to complete Fran's Ph.D. in theatre, taught briefly at the University of Iowa, and made their way to the University of Texas at Austin in 1949 in an old Ford. For the next 30 years, they spent their academic winters in Austin and many summers teaching at the School of Fine Arts in Banff, Alberta. Summer vacations included annual camping treks through the national parks in the United States and Canada to visit their respective families in NY and Wisconsin. Beulah served as principal critic and a constant source of inspiration and support for her husband's work as a professor and play director in the Department of Drama.

By the late 1950s she was embarked on her own career in community service that included lobbying for protective legislation for migrant farm workers with the American Friends Service Committee, urban planning and political education with the League of Women Voters. In 1963 she entered the new field of Public Television and for almost 20 years was known and loved by Central Texans who watched and listened to her many hours of interviews on KLRU television (then KLRN) and KUT-FM radio. She hosted her own show “Nigh Noon” in the 1960s and “People and Ideas” in the 1970s (originally “Men and Ideas”!) in collaboration with her producer and friend Marye “Chub” Benjamin. She produced and hosted numerous specials that included exploring social and career issues for high school students, and hours of programming in science, music, the arts, election analysis and observation of the workings of state and local government for the Austin community. Her shows were conversational and her interviews were creative and intimate.

From the 1960s on Beulah and Fran's modest-budget travels took them all over the world on trains, buses, and ships. He recorded his impressions in small sketch books and later in self-published stories. She tracked their budgets and itineraries. Upon retirement in 1979, they teamed up to produce several more editions of Fran's book on directing, “Play Directing: Analysis, Communication”, and Style. Beulah sewed her own wardrobe, created amazing Halloween costumes for her daughter (under Fran's direction!), and later for her grandsons. She was a great cook, serving solid Mid-Western fare and homemade bread. At heart she was a farm girl who made a comfortable home for her visitors, whether they were students, famous actors or writers, community organizers, or her many friends. It did not phase her one bit going after a bat in her grandfather's farm house with a tennis racket.

Her interviewing skills in television and radio really stemmed from her strong personal attributes as a sensitive listener and a genuine liking for people. Her daughter Betsy recalls her favorite image of her mother hanging out the laundry in short shorts, dripping in the heat, but looking as cool as a cucumber with her long legs and beautiful smile. She enjoyed her coffee black and her beer from Milwaukee (until her dear friend and neighbor Danny Roy Young introduced her to Shiner Bock) — always a lady, with her beautiful silver hair, her dramatic earrings, and her great laughter, which pealed above the rest of the audience during any performance.

Francis Hodge, her partner and devoted husband of 66 years died in April 2008. She spent her last two years enjoying the quiet, her friends and reading four books a week. Loving and missing her terribly are her brother Guilford “Bud” Wiley and his wife Pat from Oshkosh, WI; her daughter Betsy Hodge Flack, son-in-law Jim Flack, San Francisco, CA, and grandsons, Andrew, San Francisco, and Bardin, Kona, HI; her sister-in-law Helen Hodge Hofer, Fairport, NY; her six nieces and nephews and their children in Ohio, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Georgia; her phenomenally generous and loving neighbors on Bluebonnet Lane and the Girls in the Bluebonnet Book Club; her Sewing Circle of 50 years and their daughters; and our family friend Phyllis Rothgeb Schenkkan who made the many trips to the doctors a labor love and conversation.

Heartfelt gratitude and thanks to her wonderful new and life-long friends, administrative and dining room staff at Westminster Manor residential community in Austin; and most especially in recent weeks to the staff of Westminster Health Care Center and Home Health Services, who loved her and cared for her and considered her individually their special friend. A gathering of friends and family will be held at 3 PM on December 29, at Westminster Manor Chapel, 4100 Jackson Avenue, Austin. A memorial garden fund is being established at the family farm in Wisconsin.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

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