Cover photo for Rhonda Wharton's Obituary
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1953 Rhonda 2021

Rhonda Wharton

October 26, 1953 — December 7, 2021

Birmingham, Alabama

Rhonda Henley Wharton Obituary

October 26,1953  - December 7, 2021

Rhonda Wharton, native name Ozawaa Bizhiw, was born in Birmingham, Alabama and came home from Jefferson/Hillman hospital (now known as UAB) to her 3-year-old brother, and a very thrilled 7 year old sister, who considered this her very own, real-life baby doll. By the time she was 3 years old she was in ballet shoes and, as she was born to do, did not take them off for the next fifty of so years. She trained at an early age with Steeple Arts Ballet School. She attended Jefferson Co. Schools and became one of the first students to participate in the newly created Alabama School of Fine Arts, which soon established a campus in downtown Birmingham. She trained and performed with Birmingham Civic Ballet, under direction of Gage Bush and Richard England. As winner of the American Ballet Theater Scholarship, she spent 1967 – 1970 dancing in New York City, even performing a pas de deux with the company’s Russian-born choreographer, and later director, Mikhail Baryshnikov. She was a Principal Dancer with The Memphis Civic Ballet, and with UAB Ballet under direction of Stevan Grebel. With the formation of Alabama Ballet, she became a Principal Dancer of Alabama’s Premiere Professional Ballet Company founded and directed by Dame Sonia Arova and Thor Sutowski in 1981. A talented dancer, Rhonda was known as Birmingham’s favorite Sugar Plum Fairy for several years in Alabama Ballet’s annual production of The Nutcracker at Birmingham Civic Center. She also taught ballet at her own studio in Mississippi, and later in her own studio in the Birmingham area.

Along the way as she became the mother of four children, two “nieces” that she raised, and stepmother to an additional three. There never was a lack of action at the household of nine children! When they were all teenagers, the street they lived on looked like a parking lot, even though there were always one or two vehicles in the repair shop at any given time. Amazingly she still found time to perform, teach dance, and participate as a member of the Birmingham Chapter of the National Society of Arts and Letters. She loved being out among nature, and she had a special relationship with animals, which she must have inherited from her Grandmother Santineau. She lived most of her life in Birmingham, Alabama, but as her children got older, she enjoyed traveling to Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands, Quebec, Italy, Ireland, Scotland, and to France with a group of her French-speaking cousins to visit her family’s ancestral village in Normandy. She will be well remembered for the fact that in addition to all of this she always found time to help those in need. This is a trait she inherited from her parents, Dr. Felix Thompson Henley, M.D. of Mississippi, and Helen Ana Santineau, of Northern Minnesota, who both predeceased her.

She is also pre-deceased by her maternal grandparents Francis Edward Santineau, of Wisconsin, and Katherine Elizabeth Klein, originally of Germany; and by her paternal grandparents George Phelix Henley and Mary Jane Hatchett, both of Mississippi. She is survived by husband Col. Paul Wharton, Son Joseph Towey (Kim Kish) of Kenosha, Wisconsin, Son Joshua Towey (Brittney Bruno) of Hoover, Alabama, Daughter Ashley McCormick Bahr (Chris Bahr) of Hoover, Alabama, Daughter Lauren McCormick of “Off-the-grid”, Tennessee, and by her grandchildren, who have always had a special place in her heart: Emily Towey, Katelyn Towey, Jonah Towey, Louis Bahr, Sylviane Bahr, Kennedy Ratliff. She is survived additionally by “nieces” Pam Clecker and Amber Dennis, and by stepchildren Tracy, Kimberly, and Jaron Wharton. Rhonda is also survived by sister Janelle Henley Whetstone (Dr. Bob Whetstone) and brother Michael Henley (Karen Gunthorp). She is also survived by nieces and nephews: Lee Picard (Michelle Marston), Dr. Christopher Picard (Dr. Anne B. Davis), Brandon Henley (Carissa Gurly), and by great nieces and nephews: Daniel Picard, Wesley Picard, Stephen Picard, Elise Picard, Caden Henley, Willow Henley, and Oliver Grey Henley. She is survived by many cousins from way down South at the mouth of the Mississippi River to its headwaters in Minnesota, and by her Lac Courte Oreilles, Wisconsin family, especially Maryellen, Karen, Courtney, Honyere, and Suzanne. She will also be missed by her long-time best friends Debbie Grebel and Natasha Russo. And last, but not least, her sweet dog Daisy, who kept watch over her until the end. Surely, she is dancing with the spirits in the next world and watching over all the living that the Great Spirit has created, and ready to help those in need.

Funeral Ceremony will be on Saturday, December 11th from 9 am to 1 pm at Currie-Jefferson Funeral Home, 2701 John Hawkins Pkwy., Hoover, Alabama. Her final resting place will be at Alabama National Cemetery in Montevallo, Alabama. A gathering to celebrate Rhonda’s life will be at the home of Ashley and Chris Bahr at 3 PM on Saturday, December 11th, at 205 Westcliff Drive, Hoover, Alabama 35226. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Alzheimer’s Association of Alabama,

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Service Schedule

Past Services

Funeral Service

Saturday, December 11, 2021

Starts at 9:00 am (Central time)

Currie-Jefferson Funeral Home

2701 John Hawkins Pkwy, Hoover, AL 35244

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