Haddonfield students' two-year project is now a book

The new book “Samuel N. Rhoads of Haddonfield, NJ: Birds, Books and Big Adventure” is the work of the Haddonfield Middle School Nature Club and fetes Rhoads, a globe-trotting naturalist from Haddonfield.

It took more than two years of dedicated hard work, but 16 Haddonfield students are published authors this weekend.

In January 2014, the Haddonfield Middle School Nature club began putting together a children's textbook biography of Samuel N. Rhoads (1862-1952), a well-traveled naturalist from Haddonfield.

The book is finished, and a launch will be held at Haddonfield Friends Meeting on Sunday.

The 62-page book, Samuel N. Rhoads of Haddonfield, NJ: Birds, Books and Big Adventures, is being published by the Historical Society of Haddonfield, which Rhoads helped establish in 1914.

Kim Custer, a teacher's aide in Haddonfield and a member of the society, said she got the idea for the book in 2013 as she was researching Boxwood Hall, a historic property long associated with Rhodes, though he never lived there.

Custer remembers calling the Academy of Natural Sciences at Drexel University to inquire about Rhoads.

"They said, 'You need to come in here yourself to see it,' " Custer recalled.

The academy houses thousands of specimens that Rhoads collected around the turn of the 19th century of birds, mammals, insects, and plants.

The Historical Society of Haddonfield houses his personal writings and photos, Custer said, and the students were able to combine these resources to document both the professional and personal aspects of Rhoads' life.

The students worked on the book every Tuesday and finished about two months ago, Custer said.

The students were responsible for things such as transcribing Rhoads' writings, researching his life, and creating illustrations.

Natalie Naticchia, 15, a freshman at Haddonfield Memorial High School, wrote about when Rhoads ventured to Ecuador on a solo trek in 1911, where he discovered three new bird species.

Naticchia said she was proud to share a hometown with Rhoads.

"Just the fact that he grew up in our town and he got to somewhere so successful, I just think it's really inspiring," Naticchia said. "He was one of us."

Custer said the book will be part of the third-grade curriculum in Haddonfield beginning this fall.

Natalie's sister Sarah, 13, a seventh grader at Haddonfield Middle School, said she hopes the book will have a positive effect on the younger students.

"I wonder if this book will inspire today's kids to look at nature differently, and to make an impact on the world around them," she said.

Custer and the students said they learned a lesson in persistence because the project took much longer than expected, but the authors agree their hard work was well worth it, including Custer's daughter Claire, 15, a ninth grader.

"It's just a whole new book from when we started, and I think we've made it to the best of our abilities," she said.

In 2014, when a developer was interested in erecting an apartment building on the site, Custer and the students attended borough meetings to urge Haddonfield's commissioners to preserve the Boxwood Hall property from development.

"We told the commissioners, 'You guys are going to write the end of our book,' " Kim Custer said. "Is it going to be a park where people can come and learn about (Rhoads), or is it going to be a development?"

The borough purchased the property from the developer in September of 2014.

At the launch event on Sunday from 2 to 4 p.m., Custer said the student authors will be signing copies of the book.

Mayor Jeff Kasko said the borough commissioners will attend and would have an announcement about the future of Boxwood Hall.

The books will cost $10 at the event, and $12 after.

Haddonfield Friends Meeting is located at 45 Friends Ave., Haddonfield.