Earl Hodges, long-time Naples resident, noted businessman, philanthropist and one of the namesakes of Hodges University, has died.
"The Hodges University family is saddened by the passing of our namesake Earl Hodges," said Dr. Jeanette Brock, President of Hodges University. "Words cannot express what Earl meant to this institution and to me personally. We will miss his constant encouragement and support of our students and our mission. His legacy will continue to serve as an inspiration to our students, staff, faculty and alumni for generations to come. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Thelma and the rest of Earl’s family as they struggle with the loss of their loved one."
The contributions of Earl Hodges are significant, spanning over 55 years of service in Southwest Florida. His generous gifts of time, effort and funds have strengthened the business environment, the role of charitable organizations and families.
Earl and his wife Thelma Hodges are perhaps best recognized as the namesake of Hodges University, an independent, not-for-profit four-year institution with main campuses in Naples and Fort Myers, Florida. In 2007, Earl and Thelma gave a $12 million gift to the institution, then known as International College. The institution’s Board of Trustees voted unanimously to change the name to Hodges University in recognition of the generous gift.
Earl Hodges was also founder of the Earl G. Hodges Funeral Chapel in Naples, which provided more than 40 years of business and service to the local community. The Hodges have had a number of other successful business interests both in and out of state and have been actively involved in a countless number of local causes.
Born in 1927 in Livingston, Tennessee, Earl and his family faced the challenges of The Great Depression. After high school, Earl worked for a funeral home until World War II, when he joined the military. He later returned to work for a year to save money to attend Gupton-Jones College of Mortuary Science in Nashville. Earl received his Tennessee Funeral Directors License in 1948 and had been licensed for over 50 years to practice in that state. He continued working for the same firm until the outbreak of the Korean War, which found him back in the service in the U.S. Army’s Grave Registration unit in Japan.
Earl came to Naples in 1956, earned his Florida Funeral Home License and in 1962 opened the Hodges Funeral Chapel.
Earl met his wife Thelma during a blind date about six months after he had moved to Naples. They were married on June 26, 1958.
Earl retired in 1993, yet remained actively involved as an officer or board member in a number of local civic and community organizations, had been involved with Swamp Buggy Days for more than three decades, was a past President and served on the Executive Committee member for the Collier County Junior Deputies League and was a member of the Collier County Sheriff’s Citizens Advisory Committee.
Earl had been honored as a recipient of the Naples Daily News Outstanding Citizen Award, the American Red Cross Outstanding Volunteer Award, the North Naples Rotarian of the Year Award and the Junior Achievement Business Leadership Award. In 2001, he was recognized as the Hodges University Humanitarian of the Year, and in 2007, the institution was named in honor of Earl and Thelma Hodges.
In 2012, Earl and his wife published an autobiography entitled "Plain Spoken." In it, Earl expressed his feelings about the importance of each day. "What we do today may not seem significant," he wrote, "but it could be our last day to do or to say something that needs doing or saying. If we keep that in mind, each day becomes important."