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SAMUEL PROCTOR ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at
the University of Florida.
University of Florida
Interviewee: Florence Burton
Interviewer: Helen Smith
H: We are going to be talking this afternoon about Florence's
experiences over her lifetime, particularly with reference to her
community activities in Ocala which have been considerable.
Just to get us started, Florence, can we start with where you
came from and how you got to Ocala.
F: Well, that's quite a story. My father was a minister in a small
denomination called Nazarene. In fact, he was sort of a rebel.
He left the church he had belonged to for so many years and went
out and started the Nazarene Church. So, I guess I came honestly
by wanting to go out and start things. He moved about often, so
when my brother, who is two years older than I, was born, they
lived in Boston. Two years later they were passing through
Louisville, Kentucky when I came along. By the time I was three
years old, my father was ready to move on again, this time to
Los Angeles, California.
I really feel like I grew up in Los Angeles, however, I didn't
grow up very big because I was only fourteen when we moved on to
Colorado. We were there only a few years, when he decided that
was too cold. He didn't like that cold country, so we packed
things in our Model T and drove down to Florida--Miami, Florida--
in the middle of the winter. It was freezing cold when we left
My father was a bit of an inventor, too. This was the time
before anyone had heard of trailers--in fact Model T's didn't
even have trunks. So my father decided the Model T, with us
moving all of the time, needed a trunk. He made a box and
fastened it onto the back of the Model T. Then he thought, well
now, that's a long trip (of course there were no motels for this
was way back in 1924, and I was fourteen.) So he somehow cut the
back of the front seat and put hinges on it so it would lay back
and so would make a bed in the Model T. Then he got a side tent
to drape over the car. He put two cots under the side tent. My
father an my brother slept on the cots under the side tent, and
my mother and I slept in the Model T. Later he found that didn't
work so well and so he built, he literally built, a trailer. He
make it the size of a mattress, thinking this would be a good
sleeping place and covered it with oil cloth. We didn't have
plastic in those days.
H: Did you cover it with canvas
F: No, not canvas. It was oil cloth painted black. We packed all
our pots and pans and all of our clothes and everything in this
trailer. We had a hitch put on. Now this was back before hitch
and trailer days, and we were on our way. It got so cold out
there. We had to take everything out of the trailer to sleep in
it at night. The next day, then, we had to put everything back
in again. Well, who do you think was the one small enough to
crawl in there (Laughter) and put things back in?
Anyway, it was quite an experience coming from Colorado down to
Florida. Of course, the cars had no heat in them in those days,
so we kept taking off clothes--layers of clothes. By the time we
got to Florida, we didn't even have sweaters on. I think that
winter was probably one of the warmest winters Florida ever had,
or maybe it was because our blood was thick. (Laughter) I don't
think I had a coat on all winter long in Miami.
H: How long did it take you to come from Colorado? Do you remember?
F: About three weeks
H: Is that right?
F: Yes. In a Model T a hundred miles a day was very well, and we
didn't always go that far in a day.
H: Were the roads good?
F: As I recall, the road were fairly good, but filling stations were
far apart. There were running boards on Model T's, of course, so
we tied on a five gallon can of gasoline and another five gallon
can with water in it. We also had bags hanging on the car for
drinking water---that would sort of keep them cool for drinking.
When we would stop at night, we had to move all of the stuff into
the tent---it was just standing around.
One day we took a picture---the pots and pans and large cans were
on the car and everyplace else. A little girl looked at the
picture and asked, "When did you have that accident?" It really
did look like an accident. In those days, there were very few
bridges, and it seemed like we were always fording a stream.
H: Fording it?
F: Yes, fording a stream. The cars would be going along and it
would be getting dark---there were no motels, my goodness, nobody
ever heard of anything like a motel in those days.
H: So what would happen?
F: About dark, a car would just pull off to the side of the road and
begin to put up their tent--or put up whatever they had. They
got out their little stoves to cook---always somebody had a
phonograph. We have radios now, you know, but in those days
somebody always had a phonograph.
I can remember, another car would pull in and another and
another. They would say, "Well, I guess we'll stop." Sometimes
there would be ten or fifteen cars---just pull in and make our
own little place to spend the night. They would ask, "How was
the road where you came from?" Someone would say, "Well, you had
to ford the stream down there, but if you go up a little bit, you
can see where we came out on the other side." This is the way we
made our way along. It was fun, I guess, but it certainly cured
me from any kind of traveling without the niceties--you know, hot
and cold running water, wall to wall carpeting, color TV.
H: You did not turn into a camper as a result of that trip?
F: I did not. That did it for me.
H: What was your father's name before I forget to ask?
F: Howard Eckel.
H: So you were Florence Eckel in those days?
F: I was Florence Eckel, and now that I'm a widow---all my legal
papers and everything say Florence Eckel Burton.
H: I see. Well, 1924 was the time when there was a boom in Florida.
F: You are so right. It made a big noise when it popped. Yes! I
can remember, of course, I was just a girl, but I can remember
people talking about it. They would say, "I bought this, I
bought that" and in the next breath, "I lost this and I lost
that". Much of it was on paper, of course. The exchange was on
paper, but it really left Miami in very bad shape. It was round
about that time, or a year or so later, that the big hurricane
H: Do you remember that?
F: Oh, yes! In 1924 Miami was quite young. It's not an old city at
all. Many years ago when it was young, the houses were not built
We lived in a frame house. The house stood up a foot or so off
the ground--just on concrete blocks--just standing there. I can
remember the night of the storm. I had a date that night. Radio
stations were announcing (by this time we had a little crystal
radio set), that a hurricane was coming. We said, "Hey, a
hurricane is coming. Imagine that! What's a hurricane? It's
Well, I went out with my boyfriend, and came back. I suppose it
was eleven o'clock. Oh, the wind was blowing---it was really
blowing. We said, "Look, the wind is blowing. The hurricane
is going to come after all." My boyfriend went home.
About two o'clock we were in the middle of it. That little frame
house---when the wind would strike it, it would just sort of move
on the block foundation. To match the frame house, we just had a
tar paper roof. Well, sheets of that tar paper began to go
someplace else, and the house would go jerk and then drop back.
The rain started to pour in---the mattress began to get soaked.
You could press them and hear them soaking up the water. The
clothes in the closets were all soaked---the colors ran back and
forth. Then it sort of let up. We thought it was gone. I can
remember I tried to find a place to lie down to go to sleep---in
all of this wet---then it came back! This time the storm came
back from the other side. Just as much as it had bounced the
house that way, now it bounced it this way. But it stayed on the
foundation. By morning the worst of it had gone on beyond Miami.
But that city was one devastated city!
H: How did you feel about it? Were you at all frightened when it was
F: Well, I was just a fourteen-year-old kid. My brother was sixteen
and my sister, who was living with us at that time, had a
thirteen year old son---there we were, thirteen, fourteen and
sixteen. It was fun, (Laughter) I'll have to say. We did not
have sense enough to know that it might be dangerous. The boys
kept running outside. They would say, "Oh look, that (or this)
blew away." My father was just desperate when they would go out.
Luckily nothing damaged anything very badly---like breaking
windows and blowing glass about. But I don't remember being
frightened. That is real strange that I wasn't. (laughter)
Years later--years, years later after I was married and living up
here in Ocala (I had four children by this time), I went down one
summer to visit my mother and father who were still living in
Miami. A hurricane came. Miami, by this time, had new codes of
building. They had concrete block, casement windows and tile
roofs. They were pretty much protecting themselves from the
winds. I called my husband who was here in Ocala and asked him
if he would come to Miami with me. I said, "A hurricane is
coming. Why don't you come down?" He said, "You stay in the
house, you will be alright." I said, "That isn't what I'm
thinking about. You've never seen a hurricane. Don't you think
you ought to come down and experience a hurricane?" I think he
never did think I was bright (laughter)---mentally bright---or
H: Was there a lot of damage from this first hurricane?
F: Yes. The hotels---I can remember walking around Miami---whole
sides of hotels would be gone. Just like you would look in a
magazine and see a bedroom or a kitchen, you could look in and
see the arrangement of the rooms. Then the telegraph poles, the
trees--all down--oh, it was really a damaging storm.
H: Were you without water for a while, and electricity?
F: We were without everything. The next day, the sun came out just
like nothing had happened. Here we were, flooded---our clothes
soaked, our mattresses soaked, our tar paper roof gone! But, I
don't remember that a lot of people were really hurt. I don't
know why. The streets, you couldn't drive through---you couldn't
drive through them at all until they had been cleaned up. It did
make Miami realize that they had to have new codes for building.
H: How long did you live in Miami?
F: I graduated from high school there, and then went to Miami
University when it was a hotel in the middle of Coral Gables. It
was just a beginning little university. They were trying to see
if they could make a go of it. We were having classes in the
hotel right in the middle of Coral Gables.
H: Do you remember the name of the hotel?
F: No. I knew you were going to ask that, but it is still there, I
understand. At any rate, I went only one year. My older brother
and his wife came back from Japan. This brother was eighteen
years older than I. He had been in Japan for a number of years
and had four children-- twin boys who were six a little girl
who was eight, and an older boy who was about fifteen. He had
brought the fifteen year old boy to Miami to live with my parents
and go to school in America.
My brother's problem was to find a teacher for the children back
in Japan. They were too young to go off to boarding school and
there was no English speaking school in Kyoto where he lived.
By this time, I was out of high school so he asked me if I would
come over to Japan and teach the children. There was a school in
Baltimore that furnished correspondence work to children living
in foreign lands. We would get the books and outlines for daily
lessons. Would I please come with them? I was just a kid.
H: How old were you?
F: I was out of high school---eighteen going on nineteen---but I
wasn't old enough to go without my parents' permission. I was the
youngest of six children and sort of my papa's pet. My father
did not think a young girl--that's what he thought of me--should
go that far away. He said, "No". So I had a session with my
mother and said, "You know, I think I'd really like to do it."
My brother and I knew if we convinced our mother, the battle was
half won. Eventually, she talked my father into it. I couldn't
get a passport unless they agreed, and they finally did. I got
This was before airplanes flew to Japan. So my brother, his wife
an I took a train from Miami to California, and there we got on a
Japanese boat--The Asama Maru. Asama is the name of a mountain
and Maru means boat. It took three weeks. We just sailed along,
it was beautiful out there in the middle of the ocean. If there
is no storm, it's just like glass. You just float along. It is
Here I was, a nineteen year old kid, and they thought it would be
fun to have a game with an American girl. (These were the boat
officers.) Most of the people on the boat were older, so that
made me a little different. Twenty-one is game in ping pong.
Well, they would give me twenty and then they would win.
(laughter) It was quite an experience.
Finally we came into Yokohama. This little girl from Florida
stood on this great ocean liner and looked out there at all those
strange people. They wore wooden shoes that went click-click-
click. On the cement floor they sounded like horses, and they
were all in kimomos--this was different. As I looked at them I
suddenly realized they were all the same, I was the one that was
different. This was the first time that I'd really had that kind
of a lesson--the feeling of being different. This is something I
think everybody should experience at one time or another in their
H: How did it feel to you?
F: Not real good right at that moment. I thought, "What am I doing
over here?" I soon learned that Americans were not that
plentiful in Japan at that time. Sometimes I would be walking
down the street and they would stop right in front of me and look
at me. I felt like a monkey--out of a cage--but a monkey. They
would just stop and look and say something in Japanese (of
course, I couldn't understand it). All of this was a very good
lesson for a young girl. People are different around this world.
They look different, they talk differently, they dress
differently. And I soon found out they ate differently--chop
sticks instead of knives and forks.
H: Florence, when did you get to Japan? What month and year?
F: Well, it was along in the late summer of 1928. The ocean was
still nice. We were having good weather for our travels. From
Yokohama we went by train to Kyoto, this was where my brother had
lived for many years. They were living in a great big western-
style house. They did not live in a Japanese house with tatami
on the floor.
To get from the railroad station to their house, we had to go by
jinrikisha. This was an interesting experience. I had gone by
Model T, by train, by boat, but I had never before been pulled by
a human being in a two-wheeled cart. This man never seemed to
get tired or out of breath. He paced himself, never missing a
step. I only weighed ninety pounds in those days, but I felt
like I must have weighed a ton. I began to hold my breath,
trying to make myself lighter, but I soon found out I could not
hold my breath all the way across the city. So I began to look
around an enjoy what I was seeing. It looked different and it
smelled different. It was exciting! This was a new beginning, a
whole new life. I was going to have to fit into the Japanese way
of life or be quite unhappy.
H: What was your brother's reason for being there?
F: He was a missionary and a teacher in the University. He got
about by bicycle and street car. I soon learned I had to do the
same. Kyoto had a beautiful street car system. You would pay
when you got on and tell them where you wanted to get off. They
had an outline on the transfer showing the whole street car
system. They punched where you got on, where you wanted off, and
where you must transfer.
Soon they learned where I lived. They just punched without
asking me. They knew where I was going. At first this
frightened me, but then I thought that there were few American
girls in Kyoto and this was protection. They knew me. No one
would do anything to me when they knew where I was going. So it
was great fun.
H: You taught your niece and nephews?
F: Yes. I set up a school room in the big house. I had a little
bell to ring and I went right in there like it was a real school.
We started at nine o'clock, had recess and a lunch break--the
whole thing. Of course, being in the home, the kids just
could not realize that this was really school. Sometimes those
little six-year-old, twin boys thought recess was the time to
just quit and not come back. I would lose them every once in
awhile and would have to go hunting. They knew where to hide,
and it was hard to find them on some occasions. But I finally
got everything going.
*H: When did you come back?
F: I was there about four years.
H: Why did you come back?
F: Well, because I went for that length of time. I guess that was the
main reason. I had decided that was how long I would stay and so
when that time was up, I got awfully homesick. I really did!
When I first went over, I couldn't speak the language so right
away I started to study Japanese. The Japanese had been studying
English for years, but it is like many languages when you study
in school--you can read but you cannot carry on a conversation.
So when I appeared on the scene, there were many Japanese college
boys who decided they wanted some conversational English, so I
did not lack for teachers. I would exchange a conversational
English lesson for a Japanese lesson.
I used the regular little first grade Japanese book and they were
showing me how to make the Japanese characters. Sometimes they
would take me out and show me the sights in the city--the art
galleries, the temples--just to practice using their English. I
felt like it was a fair exchange. I got to see alot and hear
alot and they had their conversation.
I'm not sure I remember too much of my Japanese. I learned to
say, "How much is it? How are you?" and to count--things like
that. It is a difficult language and I have had no use for it
for the past fifty years, so it has sort of faded away.
H: You have not really needed to use it here in Florida. You did
just mention in passing that your brother had a rather harrowing
experience getting out of Japan just before the war. Could you
just tell us about that before we move on?
F: I, of course, had been gone from Japan for many years by the time
this happened. My brother was a short man, rather heavy, and
when he smiled, his eyes almost looked slanted. When he wore a
Japanese kimono he could pass for a Japanese. He loved the
Japanese people and he didn't want to leave. As the war days
came along, he was quite torn between being a good American
citizen and being a good Christian missionary--where did his duty
Because he had been there so long, and because he was short like
they were, and because his Japanese, by this time, was
quite fluent, he was able to go places and do things that
somebody else could not have gone and done. We, his family, did
not know until much later of his activities. He took pictures of
warships, of government restricted areas, of airships--somehow he
would be there and he took pictures. Some of these pictures got
back to America. The Japanese found out about this. They threw
him in jail and on several occasions, beat him up pretty badly.
His Japanese Christian friends were worried. They knew he had to
get out for his own safety. So one day a group of them came by
and said, "Don't pack. Don't do anything unusual, just come with
us as we all get on this boat."
And that was the way it was. He and his wife and his friends
went down and got on the boat. The friends one by one later
slipped off. But they brought no clothing and none of their
beautiful things they had collected. Throughout those years,
they had collected china and all sorts of beautiful Japanese
paintings and silks and so on--all was left behind. They had to
walk away from it all. The boat they came back on was blacked
out the whole way across the ocean and did not go a straight
line. This was the way he finally escaped from Japan.
H: What year was that?
F: It was just before Pearl Harbor. He came back with so much
information and as many pictures as he could carry on his person.
He immediately contacted Washington. Soon he had many sessions
with high officials, and so they learned much about Japan and
their war preparations. Our government knew so little about the
Orient and especially about Japan in those days. So he came back
with a great deal of information for the government which was the
basis for some of those early bombings of Japan.
Strange as it may seem, he was still torn between his duty to his
country and his duty to the people that he loved so much. Years
later, when MacArthur finally went back and opened up Japan, he
was one of the first to be invited to come back. He did. He
went back and he could not believe the devastation and
starvation. It was just pitiful. When he would write home he
would say, "Send me candy,send me sugar. I cannot talk to my
friends until they have something to eat."
He was still representing the Nazarene church. Now he began to
buy up some property. Land was on sale cheap, for the Japanese
needed the money. So he bought land and buildings and turned it
all into a school--the first Japanese Christian school. He
started down at the very beginning again to build up some kind of
church work, for practically all of the original church buildings
that had been destroyed. He went back to find where his house
had been--nothing--just gone, bombed. He lived for a good many
more years there in the land he loved.
H: Is that right?
F: Yes, it was his life. He was as much Japanese as American in his
attitudes and his thinking--the Oriental way of thinking.
H: What happened to you?
F: When I came back, it was time for me to go back to school--I had
been gone four years. My parents were now in California. I
lived with them and went to Pasadena College, a Nazarene church
college. My father, who was a very healthy man, lived to be
ninety-seven. In his seventies he was still serving in small
churches. Many ministers had gone to the War as chaplains and
the older men were called back.
We returned to Florida. We packed up the Nash and I drove. I
drove from California to Florida. By this time there were motels
to stay in. It was different from the Model T days. My father
immediately took a tiny church in a village in Marion County
called Sparr. A wealthy woman had opened this small church and
supported it. So we went to Sparr. I took correspondence work
from Gainesville during that year we were there.
There was a bachelor in Sparr. He was more than twenty years
older than I. When he began to show some interest in me, I
thought, "Hey, that's not bad!" (laughter) Through those years
in Japan, I had been associating with adults. Young men my age
now seemed immature; I couldn't believe how young they seemed.
So when I met this older man, he sort of fit into the pattern of
what I had become used to for the four years that I was away. I
am sure this influenced my interest in marrying a man much older
Well, he didn't talk about marriage as soon as I thought he
should have. (laughter) So I said to my parents, "Let's go back
to Miami, and I'll go to Miami University." So we did. We moved
back to Miami, and I attended Miami University. Well this sort
of made him decide it was time to get married. So I only got to
finish two years of college. I went through the process of
graduating without moving my little tassel from one side to the
other. And I got this nice little diploma that said "License of
Instruction". This happened at eight o'clock at night, and I
married at ten o'clock the next morning.
H: Is that right? When was that?
F: That was in June of 1935. That very day we drove back to Sparr
where his large home was. So I didn't finish college since I
soon started my own little kindergarten. We just had one child
after another until we had five--Lorraine, Kathleen, Philip,
Sylvia and Douglas.
H: And what was that bachelor's name?
F: I didn't give him a name, did I? Stephen Burton--but he always
went by S.P. All his business was S.P.
So I now became known as Mrs. S.P. Burton. I didn't go by
Florence at all in those days. I was Mrs. S.P. Burton. It was
about 1944 that our oldest child, a girl, entered the little
country school in Anthony. There was no white school in Sparr,
only a black elementary school, so she had to take a bus to
Anthony which was only three miles away. As I said, we had five
children. So by the time the last one was out of college,
twenty-six years had gone by. That's a long time to be involved
H: Yes. It really is.
F: Yes, head lice (laughter)
H: Head lice launched your career?
F: That launched my career into volunteer work. I soon found out
that what goes on in that school influences what goes on in my
home. If that school is not clean, some of that gets carried
into my home. In those days, Marion County had no county health
department. We had one doctor, Doctor Linder, he was the county
health department. He would come out to our little school and
look at the little heads and he would say, "Go home, go home".
I didn't know what head lice looked like, but I can remember
looking at my little girls and their shoulder length hair and
thinking, "My beautiful little girls. They don't have anything
like that!" Well, guess who came home the next week? And
that's what did it. I said, "Enough of this!" I went down to
that school. I stormed that school. I told the principal to
shut the doors of that school, to have the buses and school
fumigated, to send the children home and not let them come back
until they had passed examination by our county health department
(who was Dr. Lindner).
In those days, what could you do to get rid of head lice? I found
out about that too. You took a mixture of kerosene and some kind
of oil--it did not matter--baby oil or cooking oil. Mix those
together and rub on the head. I tell you, this is really what
launched my career. From then on I said, "You had better watch
what goes on all over this place."
H: Did they do what you suggested they do?
F: They did. (laughter) They really did! This made me realize,
there is power when you just stand up and say something has to be
done. It can get done. They fumigated the bus, the school, and
the children all had to come back with their little papers
signed saying they had been to the doctor and their heads were
now clean. And that really gave me a feeling of, "Okay kid,
what's the next thing now?" The head lice experience sort of
pointed up that we didn't have a real county health department.
That one little doctor was just not sufficient for the whole
school system of Marion County.
By this time I was involved with the county PTA. I always felt
like you needed to cooperate with somebody to get something done.
I got to looking around and I found the Junior Chamber of
Commerce was one of the most active groups at that moment, with
Dr. Williams as president. He is still here in Ocala.
H: Which Dr. Williams? Dr. Bob Williams' father? Dr. John Williams?
F: Yes, Dr. John Williams. He was president of the Junior Chamber,
but he also had children in school and was in the PTA. We were
back and forth a lot. We both knew about the schools and their
problems so we agreed that if the PTA groups and the Chamber of
Commerce got together, perhaps we could bring about something
that would develop into a county health department. So we set up
a speaker's bureau and, between the two groups, we went to all
the schools in the county an talked about the need for a county
Soon we had the State Superintendent of Health, who was located
in Jacksonville at that time, come down to speak to us. We went
in the high school auditorium (we had only one high school). He
told us what procedures we would have to follow--a request to the
state and so on. We did everything that we were supposed to do
and before we knew it, we had and old building and the very
beginning of a Marion County Health Department. This, I thought,
was quite an accomplishment because now we began to have nurses
who would go around and visit the schools. This was something we
H: Do you remember who any of those early nurses were?
F: No, I do not recall any of their names', but we did begin to have
health services in our schools.
H: What was Dr. Lindner's connection with the Health Department
after it was organized?
F: He became our first administrator of what we now call the Marion
County Health Department. It was a beginning. We felt so proud
Now the next thing that soon appeared to me, as a PTA officer in
the county, was the fact that we had children who were
exceptional and we had no service for them.
A teacher is born, I think, to be a teacher!
Out in the little school where my children went, in Anthony, we
had a Mrs. Smith who was an exceptional teacher. In her
classroom, she had a couple of children who were non-readers.
She, on her own, had gotten some old crates and sort of crated
off a little corner and called it the "library". She put little
books in there and a table and a couple of chairs. She would
have the different children in her class take these children who
were slow learners,and try to teach them spelling or reading or
math. I can remember my youngest daughter had her turn one day
at trying to teach these children. When she came home, she was
telling me about it. She said, "You know mother, she did not do
too well, but she sure tried--she tried so hard."
Well, here was a teacher that was trying, with no money, with no
supplies from anybody, to give special services to the children
in need. So this pointed up something else to me. We needed
special services in our county for special children. So again,
we set out to try to do something about that. We worked with the
principals on this. The local PTA's, the principals, and the
teachers. The teachers would point to the children that could
benefit from something like this. So we set up a day and had a
professor, Dr. Hale, come down from Gainesville. He set up all
his equipment for testing--hearing, eyes, and reading. All day
long we kept bringing children in from the various schools in the
county. As a result of this, we got our first exceptional child
supervisor. That was the beginning of what has become a
H: What was Mrs. Smith's first name?
H: Ollie Smith?
F: Yes, Ollie Smith, and she is still living. She is quite elderly
and still is living out at Anthony.
H: Is that right? Did she continue on at Anthony School?
F: Yes, for years.
H: I see. When you did this, did you do it as an officer, or through
the PTA, or as a community group?
F: It was the county. I was president of the county PTA at that
time. The exceptional child testing program was done through
cooperation with the local PTAs, the principals, and the
teachers. When the need was shown, the program was started.
From then, it has grown until now where we have all sorts of
supervisors. At that time, our one supervisor visited all the
schools. She is still living but has moved from Ocala. She is
quite an elderly woman, but she was very good at what she was
doing. She was very, very good.
H: What was her name?
F: Charise Welch.
H: Oh, I've heard of her. She had a very fine reputation. How did
you get into PTA? Did you start at Anthony?
F: Yes. My children had to go to school there because that was
where the bus went. The Anthony nomination committee was looking
for a president and here I came--a new mother. So the new mother
got drafted real fast. I found myself president of the PTA
before I knew what it was all about.
From there I went into the county work and eventually that led
into district and state. I was on the state board for ten years.
I was state vice-president in charge of organization when I had
to retire. My husband was quite ill and I had to retire.
H: What I cannot help wondering about is how you found time to do
all of this with five children and running a household.
F: That is what people would say when I would go off to meetings and
gone for several days, "And you have five children?"--as much as
to say, "What are you doing here?"
Well, as I have said, my husband was older and was just living
this business of being father of a big family--he had been a
bachelor all those years. I always figured when anybody liked to
do something don't spoil it! He had seen taking care of
himself. He knew how to cook. So when the babies came along, he
just loved to mix formulas--I would not spoil that. My goodness!
Anybody that loved to mix formulas! He loved to take care of the
babies, and even changed diapers. Sometimes, when I got home,
you know what was waiting for me, but then the baby was clean.
Also, I had a full-time maid. So between my husband, who was
home all the time, and the full-time maid, and my children who
were getting along toward their teens and each of them had their
chores to do--like take care of their rooms--things moved along
smoothly without me. This was before t.v. dinners came into
style--so I invented my own t.v. dinners. I would get a big
roast of beef. Some would become roast beef for dinner, and some
would become a big pot of soup. But whatever it would become, I
would divide it up and freeze it, and mark it. Then I would put
on the refrigerator door Monday this, Tuesday this so that all
the time I was gone, all the family had to do was take out these
homemade t.v. dinners. The maid was there to keep order and to
do things. One of our family quotes through all of these years
was made by our oldest daughter. She said, "You know, Mother
was always easier to get along with after she had been off to one
of those meetings." (laughter) I thought that was a bonus.
H: Well, was it your PTA that let you into running for the board of
F: Yes, it was. A man who lived in Citra, Mr. Bill Bishop, had been
on the board and for some reason felt like he had been on there
long enough. One day he came by for a visit (Citra is just a
little north of Sparr). He knew I was active in PTA, and when he
said, "Wouldn't you like to run?" I thought, "Well, there is a
challenge." My husband was in agreement and consented if I
wanted to do it.
I think I will have to say right here. Even though my husband was
much older than I, he certainly was an understanding person. He
could see that I was an equal rights person. From the beginning
of our marriage, he seemed to realize I had my own life tp live
in order to survive. This was quite unusual. Looking back, I
don't know that I always appreciated that fact.
He let me have much free time--that meant time away from the
family. He knew they were not neglected, he and the maid were
there--all the clothes were washed and clean and folded neatly in
their little dresser drawers--something clean to put on every day.
Yes, they were well taken care of, they were not neglected. So
when Mr. Bishop came down and asked if I thought I would like to
go into politics--I guess I said yes.
F: I guess I said yes. One had to be a property owner to qualify.
There were only three on this board and they had to be from three
different county commissioner districts. Two of us could not be
from the same district, there are five commissioner districts.
We had to have a petition signed, I think by twenty-five property
owners. Somebody always did this--I never did--so I am not sure
of the number.
H: It is twenty-five for counsel. It may be the same.
F: Somebody would always get up that petition and before I
knew it I was up again. Every two years we were elected.
H: Did you have opposition?
H: Not even the first time?
F: Never. No pay, nobody wanted it.
H: Did you have to run as a partisan candidate.
F: I did not make any speeches. I never went about. I do not think
any of us did because none of us had opposition. Whoever would
qualify--and we were qualified, Dr. Cumming and I--just went on
year after year. The third member of the board changed often,
but Dr. Cumming and I--we just buzzed along. Every two years we
were elected without opposition.
H: Well, refresh my memory. What was the function of the board of
trustees to the Marion County School Board?
F: We were a recommending board. We made recommendations only. We
had no vote at all. And for some reason we got along well with
the school board which I guess was a bit unusual. I learned, as
I would go about doing my PTA work, from people from other
counties and other parts of the state, there was always friction
between the two boards. So the people would vote to discontinue
the trustee board. So over the years they were discontinued here
and discontinued there, but Marion County just went on and on
with their two school boards. Perhaps this was so because we
knew what our place was. We were only a recommending group. We
were not trying to take any power, but we did try to do
everything that the law required us to do.
The main thing that we did in this county--the most important
probably--was the hiring of teachers. We developed a process of
consulting with principals in the county when they needed a
teacher. Teachers would apply to this particular school and this
particular principal. When he felt satisfied, he would recommend
this person to us. We would study their qualifications--we
really studied them--and on occasions, we would have them come in
for an interview. If we felt the teacher was qualified at all,
we would then recommend them to the school board for approval.
Marion County, at this time, paid just a bit more salary than
some of the surrounding counties so there were always teachers
looking this way. Then we, the trustees, after going over the
list (and really putting in hours of study), would recommend to
the school board that these teachers be hired. The school board
just accepted that. They did not question at all. They just
accepted it. This was probably the greatest service that we
H: What did you do during integration?
F: That was sort of a problem for everybody in the south--a bad
time. When somebody tells you that you have got to do something
that you have never done before. When it's the tax supported
system with different schools for different colors, to have them
suddenly say, "Hey, you can't do that anymore!" That was pretty
big. The teachers especially were having problems accepting
During that time, the school trustees sat in on school board
meetings quite often. We were with them as they were making
decisions. We did not vote, but we were there hearing the
discussions. We could talk, we just could not vote. The
teachers were getting very angry. They wanted more money. The
board, of course, could not see where they were going to get the
money. There is always a shortage of money. Do you know in all
of these years, from way back then until the present, the
problems are pretty much the same--no money, teachers wanting
more classrooms--too few, numbers of children too large,
curriculum, you name it. It just seems to go on and on, the
problems that you have in a school system.
At any rate, one day we were all sitting there, the board, the
trustees, the officers representing the teachers association--they
were all getting angry. I guess I got a bit angry too, for I can
remember hitting the table very hard and saying, "Oh, you make me
think of those men over there in Korea trying to decide what
shape to make the table so they could sit down and talk to each
other. Can we not do better than that?"
Well, that sort of brought things to a head and so the board
decided to recess until after Christmas. Perhaps we could come
back then and talk about it. By that time tempers had sort of
leveled off a bit and we did come to some conclusions--but the
teachers went on strike. People from the community went into the
classrooms and substituted for about three weeks and then things
sort of leveled off.
I would say, as much as we had to change at that time, we did it
without too much unhappiness. We did not have any burning of
buildings and no one got shot, and before we knew it--looking
back--things had changed.
H: Well, you were a school trustee at a time when there were a lot
of rapid changes. I think that you mentioned that the trustees
were phased out by the state in 1969. Is that correct?
F: That is right. I do not know how long Marion County might have
continued trustees, but the state finally decided since there were
so few over the state (different counties had sort of eliminated
them on their own), the state finally just eliminated all
school trustee boards.
H: Do you remember when you started the first year?
F: I was on the board seventeen years. Take that away from 1969.
H: That would be 1952. Does that sound right?
F: I think that sounds about right. From 1952 to 1969.
H: Yes. That was a period of rapid change. Not only, I think the
integration went on into the sixties but also the teachers'
strike, and the teacher complaints about salary and classroom
size... There as quite a bit going on. Who were some of the
people that you remember in the school system who were
F: There were two superintendents that I thought did a splendid job.
Broward Lovell, who was in there for years, and Johnny Seay.
They were two of my favorite superintendents. I got along with
all of them, but I felt these two had a sympathy for parents and
the problems of parents, and for teachers and the problems of
teachers. It takes quite a bit of that to get over those hard
Some of the principals, I thought, did a very astounding job too.
In the little school in Anthony, we had a principal named Newt
Perry. That was a combined elementary and high school.
Sometimes there would be eleven or twelve graduates and he was
very good with those high school students who were mixed in with
the elementary children. It was much later that the North Marion
High School was built in Sparr.
H: Newt Perry was a swimmer at one time and was in some of the Tarzan
movies, wasn't he?
F: Yes, that is right. So he was big for athletics. He did quite a
bit of good in that little school. My children all went to Ocala
to high school. One was musically inclined and I wanted him to
get into the band. Then I felt they all needed to study a
language and since they were not teaching languages in Anthony,
we sent out children in town to school.
H: Newt Perry just retired not too long ago, I guess.
F: That is right.
H: He had been a principal in Ocala. Who were some of the others?
F: The principal of the Ocala Eighth Street Junior High, Wayne
Millard, was also an excellent principal. He was excellent
because he understood his teachers and always supported them. He
seemed to be able to smooth over parent problems--but he didn't
like the PTA. I used to have some very friendly sessions with
Mr. Millard, but he just could not see the need of organizing
parents in his school. But he did run a very fine school.
And there was Mr. Johnston, Cecil Johnston, in South Ocala
Elementary school that was also very good. He initiated, on his
own, the teaching of Spanish. I thought this was a very good
program--and he just did it because he wanted to do it.
H: How did he happen to settle upon Spanish?
F: There were some Cuban refugees that had come into Ocala.
H: This was at the time of the first wave after Castro?
F: That is right. The teacher was a very attractive woman. I went to
a a trustee one morning to observe how she was teaching. It was
amazing the interest those children had, how they knew what she
was saying, how quickly they would pick it up, and how pleased
they were with themselves that they could understand and could
answer. It is a pity that we do not have languages in our
elementary grades. That is when children learn.
H: Yes. Your functions as a trustee involved not only hiring of
teachers, but a number of ceremonial functions evidently.
F: Yes. Some things that I rather enjoyed doing. I would
substitute for the superintendent since I was the chairman of the
trustee board for the whole time. The other two members were
usually men and did not want to be bothered. So I just went on
and on a chairman.
Before integration, the white teachers would often have their
district meetings off in another county. So that would leave the
black teachers having their district meeting here in Ocala. On
several occasions the superintendent asked me to welcome the
colored teachers to Ocala. They had some very excellent speakers
come. One was the president of the black university up in
Tallahassee. He was telling these colored teachers (he could
have said things to irritate them and make them feel discouraged)
but he said, "Just think what you have now that you did not have.
Be thankful for what you have. You did not have running water,
and now you have got running water. You did not have new books.
Now you have new books." He went down the list of things and
make them feel very proud that they were teachers at this
district meeting in Marion County. I thought that was an
excellent thing that he did. On other occasions I was asked to
go and speak to the graduation classes and present diplomas. I
can remember going to this colored school down in South Ocala.
By the time they were graduating they had grown quite tall (I am
only five feet two). I can remember how exciting it was and yet
a bit frightening. As they would come up to take their diploma,
they were expecting me to say something to them. I thought.
"This is important to them, make it good!" This was very
Another responsibility as chairman of the trustees was to sign
my name on all diplomas. So all of my children have their
mother's name on them. I am not sure they are proud of that, but
(Laughter) I think it was exciting.
Something happened when my oldest daughter graduated that was a
surprise (by this time we were having graduations out in the
football field because there was not any place else large
enough). Mr. Lovell, who was superintendent, had
a son graduating and I had a daughter graduating. Mr. Lovell, of
course, was handing out the diplomas but he asked me if I would
like to give my daughter her diploma. Well, I went goose-pimply.
(laughter) You know, this would be something wonderful. My
daughter did not know this, so when it came time for her, I
stepped up and handed her her diploma and gave her a kiss. She
was so embarrassed! But it is something I still remember after
all these years--presenting my own daughter, my first child, her
diploma. That was an experience, it was a pleasure.
We sometimes had experiences that were not pleasures. Sometimes
teachers and principals did not get along.
H: And did you get involved in that?
F: We usually would get involved with having to make some kind of
decision and then recommend what to do.
H: Was that was one of the things that made your job a little bit
F: Yes. Every once in a while there would be a conflict between a
principal and a teacher and the teacher would be on continuing
contract--which meant that they are there--like, "Okay,
principal, I am here."
This would happen in various schools so we sort of developed a
This principal would say, "Well I will take yours if you will
take mine." This would then not break the continuing contract
for the teacher, but it would give relief to the principal so he
could start the new term fresh with a new teacher.
H: It was just kind of an informal thing and it worked through your
board, more or less?
F: Yes. We tried to keep it sort of quiet. It would be done when
we had the new appointments and changes of teachers ready for
the next year. This teacher would be appointed to that other
school. It would just sort of easily go that way.
H: When you were reviewing the teachers' applications and their
educational backgrounds, did you notice that there was a
difference between the blacks and whites in terms of
F: Well, of course, on paper it looked the same. If they graduated
with certain subject matter, on the paper, it would look the same
as the white teachers. But we found there was a big difference in
their abilities to teach. This is one thing that has been a
handicap in the integration thing. These teachers went into
white classrooms not trained as well as the white teachers, and
yet we had to have a percentage of colored teachers in there
teaching the white students. I think this was probably a
H: When they were in separate schools, were they paid on the same
F: Pretty much in this county, but salary scales varied from county
to county. This brings up the subject of where some of our money
F: As I said earlier, there is always a need for money. I don't
care what year it is, there is never enough money. So we, the
trustees, found out that in other counties the horsetrack money
was going into that county and being divided between the
commissioners and the school board. Not so in Marion County. We
had quite a few sessions with our commissioners to let them know
we felt this would be a nice Christian thing for them to do--to
share with the schools.
Speaking of Christian, some of the people said that was dirty
money. Race track money was dirty money. How do you educate
children with dirty money? We, the trustees, felt that money
would buy books. Money was money and we needed money. Also,
other counties were using it. We finally did get money from the
H: What did you have to do to get the money?
F: We, the trustees, had several sessions with the commissioners. I
can remember going in one day, they were not happy about our
coming at all, and they looked awfully glum. I said, "My, it
looks like it is going to snow in Florida." But we got the
H: I guess you got to know the commissioners quite well.
F: Yes. They got used to seeing me come because I was going before
them asking for things all along. Our schools had small
libraries. Ocala had a small library. We felt like Marion
County deserved more than what we had. At that time I was vice-
president of Friends of the Library. We, the Friends of the
Library, decided that we would go to the commissioners and ask
them to set aside a certain millage--let it pile up year after
year until they had sufficient money, and then do something about
building a new library. (You have to go and request money--you
do not expect them to do it out of the goodness of their hearts.)
So we, the Friends of the Library, met down in the public room at
the First National Bank. The courthouse was still in the center
of town (that building should never have been torn down, but that
is another story). We met there and marched through the streets,
up to the courthouse in the center of town. At that time, people
were marching all over this country for one thing or another. We
were out marching for the library and carrying our banners that
said "Friends of the Library". We requested the millage--that a
certain amount be set aside. As a result, some years later, we
did get a new library.
H: Was this for the library building or was this for the regional
F: Well, it became the regional library when we got the new
building. Soon we went before them again for money to set up a
bookmobile. We got the bookmobile. Now it goes buzzing around
over the county. It is a very good thing, a very good thing!
H: I know, I am interested in the Friends of the Library. Was it
started as an organization just for this purpose, or had it been
in existence for a while?
F: The Friends were set up just for that. The regular library board
took care of the other things. Just as we had done earlier for
the county health department, we now did for the library. We
went around to the various communities in the county speaking in
favor of setting up a new library. It was done!
H: Speaking of the county health department, were you not also involved
with something called "mental health?"
F: Yes, soon that problem came to our attention--the problem of
mental health. We learned that when somebody would be picked up,
like an elderly person or anyone having mental problems, we had
no place to put these people but to throw them in jail--into what
they called "the tank". Just about this time, the Monroe
Hospital was beginning to talk about building new rooms. Again
we went before the commissioners to see if we could get them to
build security rooms into the new hospital. They did. Again we
felt like this was something very worthwhile.
H: At the time this happened, Monroe was the only hospital
in town and the only place that this could be done except in the
F: That is right. We did get the rooms, but soon they began to have
medication to quiet the people and we found we did not need quite
so much security as we first supposed. But again, we felt like
we had made a move in the right direction.
Some years before, I was with a group that organized the Mental
Health Association. I served on that board for many years and in
1970 was appointed by the county commissioners on to what we now
call the Human Resources Board. The name changed from Mental
Health Association to Human Resources.
H: Yes--Human Resources.
F: We now have a new building and many paid workers, but I served
that first year during organization.
H: You've had a remarkable career as a woman in the community. What
do you feel proudest of?
F: I guess a little bit of all of it. When I hear people say the
county is getting too big, I think, you would not have liked it
the way it was. You wouldn't have liked it as all. I feel like
I sort of grew up with the town.
You remember, I spoke earlier about the courthouse in the center
of town.....I was appointed, by the commissioners, to serve on
the committee saying, "What shall we do with this building?" We
looked at it--it was a substantial building. We recommended that
it be used for a museum, artifacts or something--keep it,
preserve it. They fired us!
H: They did?
F: They fired us, and appointed a new committee.
H: Who is they? The county commission?
F: Yes, they fired the committee that wanted to save the courthouse
and named a new committee. The new one said, "Let's tear it
down!" Which they did. I have had a war going on with uptown
Nobody knows it, but I know it--my own private war going on with
uptown. I can't appreciate the little water fountain at all.
H: Is that where it used to be? Where the water fountain is? On
H: Right across from the Chamber of Commerce?
F: Yes, it was a period building. It was the one building uptown
that had character. Everything else is like six-gun territory--
just little buildings. But that was a building of character and
of a certain period of time. It had a tower with a clock. It
was worth preserving.
H: Was it built after the great Ocala fire? I think so, it was
probably built afterwards. The walls were wide. There was a
winding stairway in the center. It was an interesting building;
it should have been preserved. We now have men in our town who
are thinking in terms of preserving some of the buildings--but
not before a theatre was also destroyed, one that should have
H: Where was that?
F: Where a parking lot is by the telephone company.
H: Oh yes, right across from the library.
F: Yes. That should have been preserved too. We just do not seem
to get around to thinking about those things until they are gone
and it is too late.
H: We have not talked at all about your church work, and I know that
has meant a great deal to you.
F: One more thing before we get to the church. One more
thing about the schools. Way back when my children started, I
used to go to the little country school, at Anthony, and peel
potatoes. This was something else I felt like the school should
have charge of. After some effort, we finally did get a
supervisor of lunchrooms.
So little by little, the potatoes turned into (laughter) a
supervisor. So many things! They sort of needed a push! Again,
when people say the county is getting too big--I do not think so.
I think we need everything we have and maybe some more.
But to get to the church. I have belonged to the First Methodist
Church for the past thirty-eight years. I joined when it was a
H: Where was that?
F: Across the street from the Barnett Bank parking lot. There was a
hotel that was near the Church. When my children were small we
would go to the hotel (it was the one place to get uptown) for
Sunday dinner. My husband, being so much older, felt germs were
ever present so you had to protect your children from germs. We
had three children at that time. We took three little aluminum
cups with us always, so they could drink out of their own little
cups. We went in there so often that one Sunday, when we forgot
our little aluminum cups, they gave them to us when we came back
the next Sunday saying, "Here, you forgot your cups." I still
have those little aluminum cups; they sort of represent
But you mentioned the church. I first joined a Sunday school
class and then the circle meetings. Soon I found myself involved
with the Total Woman Society. We were being faced with the
problem of integration. The Methodist Church, on their higher
levels of boards, were saying, "Tell your members now. You are
going to have to begin to think about this because this thing is
coming. We are going to have to integrate."
They sent material. I looked at the material and it made sense
to me. After all, I had lived in Japan and I could see no reason
why people of a different color could not sit along side of me.
So I got up a real nice program. I was so proud of it. But when
I got through, I think they wanted to tar and feather me.
H: They were not quite ready for it here in Ocala.
F: No. We still do not have black people coming to our church, but
the Methodist churches integrated do totally. In the district which
we belong to--Gainesville District--we have more black United
Methodist Churches than any place else in Florida. There is a
black one in Ocala, so they have their own United Methodist
Church. I think this is the reason they do not feel they need to
belong to ours. When we have special meetings they come--there
is no difference now. They can sit any place. But they belong
to their own church and I think they are probably happier that
H: There was a time when groups of blacks tried to integrate white
churches. Did that happen here at the Methodist Church?
F: There was an awful lot of conversation about it. Our ushers had
a session saying, "If somebody comes and says they just want to
come in, we will usher them in. We will do it." I do not
remember that we ever had a problem. We had several people come
and sit sort of in the back of the church, but soon got up and
left. There was no problem.
H: We do not have much time to go.
F: One more thing about churches. Here I am now up in the senior
citizen age. I've been through all those other ages. My husband
passed away five years ago, so now I am a single senior citizen.
This week I had a session with the pastor about organizing a
senior citizen singles group. I went to a workshop out at the
Junior College not long ago. They explained this senior citizen
group has four divisions--the young-old, the middle-old, the old,
and the old-old. I think they are right. There is a big
difference in the needs of the young-old and the old-old.
One of the first things we plan is to try to get those people who
are the old-old (whose bodies are not really functioning the way
they should, but their minds are) on telephone committees so they
can talk to each other. This way they could feel responsible for
each other...."I'm supposed to call Mrs. Smith or Mrs. Jones
today and see if she is able to get up." That is a fear when you
get that age and are living alone. It is so easy t slip and fall
and nobody will know. I think this is something we should do
because our church has a great many elderly people in it and when
you find that many elderly people, you find a lot of single
women. I think there is a place for this.
H: You are not giving up organizing. (laughter)
F: I say to my son, "Why can't I quit?" But there always seems to
be one more thing.
H: Florence, you have been an equal rights person for a long time,
Anyone who would go off to Japan all by herself at the age of
eighteen, I think has led a pretty liberated life. What are you
doing about that nowdays?
F: Well, I have just had a letter from Paula Hawkins, our senator,
in answer to a communication that I sent to her. If you want me
to I will read it to you.
H: Please do.
F: She starts out:
"Dear Florence, thank you for expressing concern about my views
on the issue of abortion. Many of my constituents have expressed
to me their deep concern about this subject and this issue would
continue to receive much attention in the senate.
Because I believe life begins at conception, I feel that the
termination of an unwanted pregnancy is the same as taking the
life of a human being. Despite what public opinion polls may
have to say, it is difficult for me to justify the death of
dependent individuals who have no choice. Although I support a
human life amendment, I will continue to be receptive to all
ideas and suggestions. Please do not allow our divergent
positions on this particular issue to prevent our working
together on other important areas of mutual concern.
Thank you again of taking the time to share your concerns with me.
Well, that sort of raised my little thermometer. I answered her
letter by saying:
Dear Senator Hawkins:
I am in receipt of your communication of Feb. 4, 1982 in reply to
my communication about abortion, I thank you.
I am seventy-two years old, the mother of five (two sons and
three daughters), the grandmother of seven (five boys and two
girls) and married to the same man for forty years. He passed
away five years ago. But to get right at it. I do not believe,
as you attest to believing, that a living, thinking, human being,
with tax credits and all other legal rights, begins at the moment
Usually the point of view to which you attest, is bathed in some
religious pretext. The God that I pray to and believe in put
into my mind and heart a different view. My God says to me that
bringing a human being into the world is right only if one can
love it and care for it with all of one's soul, one's mind, one's
spirit, and support it with one's money. Otherwise, one is
putting on unfair burden on to this bit of protoplasm forming in
the women's womb--whether by design or by accident.
We wonder why there is so much crime! Perhaps there are too many
unwanted children around, trying to fight their way through a
difficult and demanding society. This need to fight has nothing
to do with the economic standing into which this child would be
born. Youthful crime is in all strata of society. Unwanted is
the key word. If a child is unwanted, for whatever reason, then
the woman should have the right to say so and terminate the
pregnancy. This must be an individual decision between the woman
and her God, not your God.
This is not a political decision. How can you and those men
sitting next to you in Washington--men who will never feel the
pains of childbirth of have the caring of this potential human--
tell this woman she must have this child no matter what. Who are
all of you, anyway, to assume such power over any woman's
body...and then you cry about the youthful crime and the abused
I ask you, what about the rights of women, all rights of women?
Since our opinions differ so in this matter, I doubt that I will
feel you can ever evenly balance other problems that are of
concern to us as women, as human beings, or as world citizens.
All of this will influence my vote at the polls next time around.
A grandmother with a mellowed heart,
H: Thank you very much for this interview.
F: You are welcome. It has been my pleasure.