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Past and Present

When it was founded in 1964, DBHS set out to collect and preserve the stories, artifacts, and memorabilia from the area’s founding families to provide an authentic record of how we got started and where we are going. READ MORE »

Author Archives: admin

Tips for Recording Oral Histories

By Kate Teves 

At the Delray Beach Historical Society, we heartily encourage our audience to share interviews, songs, and other oral histories with our archive. Keep in mind that everybody has a story – you don’t need to be famous or accomplished in any way. (Also remember there are some important ethical guidelines to keep in mind.)

Any topic is good fodder, but here are some I’m especially keen to pursue:

  • Land development
  • Race relations, segregation, integration
  • Hurricanes
  • Tourism
  • Political elections
  • September 11th
  • Beach conditions & cleanup efforts (oil waste, plastics, etc)
  • All wars – veterans and survivors
  • The New York Effect (the Yankee flood to South Florida)
  • The Great Depression
  • Fashion trends


Here are some tips from the folks at StoryCorps for how to conduct a meaningful interview. Remember, collecting an oral history is not the same as conducting hard-nose journalism. Relax!

  • Who has been the most important person in your life? Can you tell me about him or her?
  • What was the happiest moment of your life? The saddest?
  • Who has been the biggest influence on your life? What lessons did that person teach you?
  • Who has been the kindest to you in your life?
  • What are the most important lessons you’ve learned in life?
  • What is your earliest memory?
  • What is your favorite memory of me?
  • Are there any funny stories your family tells about you that come to mind?
  • Are there any funny stories or memories or characters from your life that you want to tell me about?
  • What are you proudest of?
  • When in life have you felt most alone?
  • If you could hold on to one memory from your life forever, what would that be?
  • How has your life been different than what you’d imagined?
  • How would you like to be remembered?
  • Do you have any regrets?
  • What does your future hold?
  • What are your hopes for what the future holds for me? For my children?
  • If this was to be our very last conversation, is there anything you’d want to say to me
  • For your great great grandchildren listening to this years from now: is there any wisdom you’d want to pass on to them? What would you want them to know?
  • Is there anything that you’ve never told me but want to tell me now?
  • Is there something about me that you’ve always wanted to know but have never asked?
  • If you could interview anyone from your life living or dead, but not a celebrity, who would it be and why?

Visit for more tips on how to create memorable oral history projects.


Great oral history doesn’t require fancy technology! You can interview people with your iPhone! But keep in mind that it can be difficult to transfer large files from your iPhone (usually recordings longer than 8 minutes pose some trouble). We recommend recording directly to your computer.

If you would like to edit your recordings, consider using Audacity. It’s a fantastic free audio editing software.

If you are interested in creating more sophisticated field recordings, you can email me for equipment needs. Also check out recommendations online, for example this one.

Lastly, if you are interested in creating clean sit-down interviews to publish on, say, NPR, you will need to invest in a little more equipment. Email me.


We would be thrilled if you shared your field recordings with our archive! Please do not email audio files directly to me. Instead, send me a note and I’ll coordinate the best method for your files.


Kate’s Corner: The Art of Oral History

Frances Densmore and Blackfoot leader Mountain Chief listening to a cylinder recording, 1916. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.





In 1877, a not-so-little thing called the phonograph burst onto the Victorian tech scene.

Bulky and unwieldy though it was, anthropologists fell in love. Within a few years, they were carting the new devices off to remote corners of the globe to record oral histories, vanishing languages, and folk music.

Historians, on the other hand, were less impressed. Many viewed this new form of storytelling with distrust. The storytellers, they argued, were subjective and biased, and they embellished the details of their lives.

But the oral history fad persisted. As the 20th century reshaped the cultural and political boundaries of the world, universities and libraries invested heavily in field researchers. The data the researchers collected revealed that people all over the world were hungry to finally tell their own histories, from their own perspectives.

Historians debated this populist blow for generations. But after several waves of theorizing, most professional historians will agree that history – that is to say, the depicting thereof – is a subjective, creative process, regardless of whether it comes out of the mouth or the pen. To know the past is to produce the past.

But professional historians have also learned to fight against the slippery slope of fictionalized narratives. In the 21st century, the discipline tends to believe that truth–or at least “truthiness”–can emerge when diverse narratives overlap, intersect, and even contradict. History is alive and very, very feisty.

We at the Delray Beach Historical Society find ourselves excited by the unfinished art of oral history, and we hope you do too. If 19th century researchers were excited by the phonograph, we 21st century researchers are excited by the smartphone. We urge everyone in our community to use the technology at your fingertips to document the lives and memories of South Florida.

Click here for tips on how to conduct an interview.  


Zora Neale Hurston, a folklorist and writer from Eatonville, believed in the power of storytelling to communicate and transform the truths of Florida’s African-American populations. By 1938, she used this passion to publish several novels, including Their Eyes Were Watching God—one of the most highly prized books in the American canon.

Soon thereafter, she joined the Federal Writers’ Project to collect oral folklore and music from communities most wounded by the Great Depression. She traveled across the state meeting with African-American workers, musicians, elders, and storytellers to capture the triumph and tragedy of the country’s blindside.

You can listen to several of her recordings at the State Archives of Florida right here.


Kate’s Corner: History & Hurricanes

By the grace of God or the whims of weather, Hurricane Irma gave Delray Beach little more than a sideways glance. But in the days following the storm, we watched harrowing images pour in from our southern neighbors. DBHS is so heartbroken, and profoundly humbled, to see the devastation. We send our love and prayers to all.

Irma’s fury was of course bookended by Hurricane Harvey’s and Hurricane Maria’s which tore apart Houston and Puerto Rico respectively. This hurricane season has given all of us in Delray great pause as we reflect on our town and wonder what could have been and what, someday, could still be.

As cultural historians, we at DBHS are keeping in touch with the work of cultural organizations in the affected regions. We are following their progress so we may both support them and learn from them. In particular, we are watching the excellent work of the following:

The Key West Art and Historical Society
The Dade Heritage Trust
Preservation Houston
Preservation Texas
Puerto Rico Historic Buildings Drawings Society
National Trust for Historic Preservation
Florida Division of Historical Resources



The memory of the 1928 Okeechobee Hurricane still haunts Floridians, and in many ways it has become the reference point for natural disasters in the state.

It was apocalyptic. After shattering Puerto Rico in September 1928, it headed straight for West Palm Beach with 160 mph winds. No part of Palm Beach County was spared. But it was the inland areas around Okeechobee that suffered the most. An estimated 2,500 people died, many of their bodies swept into the Everglades and never recovered. A mass grave in Port Mayaca holds the bodies of 1,600 victims.

The September 28, 1928 Palm Beach Post describes the damage to Delray:

I confess feeling a macabre comfort in this reckoning because it reminds me that we, as a state, can recover from nature’s most violent rages. If history has a purpose, it may simply be to sit with us in our tragedies and patiently remind us that we don’t walk alone. Our road is well-trodden by those who have suffered before us, and they will quietly guide us through this forest of pain.



As I was working on this blog post, I had a surprise visit at the archive from one of my favorite Delray nonagenarians, Mr. Bob Miller. Born in 1921 in the building that now houses The Original Popcorn House, Bob remembers the hurricane through the eyes of a child. What a wonderful member of our community:



Mrs. Olive Chapman Lauther described the 1904 Hurricane in her beautiful memoir The Lonesome Road. The memoir is filled with her original poems, and this cheeky one shouldn’t be missed:




Finally a note on our archive.

While DBHS has a superb record showing how Delray Beach weathered past storms, nothing can quite predict how the city will fare in these new superstorms. But like our ancestors, we ought to leave a record of how we are experiencing this meteorological chapter.

Here are some ideas for things we always love receiving from the public:

  • photos, hard or digital copies
  • diaries, letters, stories, or other prose
  • poetry
  • song lyrics, scores
  • audio recordings, analog or digital
  • video recordings, analog or digital
  • original artwork, comics
  • iconic or striking advertisements

Some of the best items in our archive are those that are unrefined. An impromptu song recorded on the deck of your fishing boat is just as appealing to us as an original score written in your studio.

We also encourage you to tag images on social media with #delrayarchive.

May you and your loved ones stay safe throughout our hurricane season,

Kate Teves
DBHS Archivist


Our New Board Members

Sylvia Gwynn Pecaro with her husband, Father Bernie Pecaro

Sylvia Pecaro is the daughter of one of the original founding members of the historical society, William E. Gwynn. She is a local CPA and owns her own firm located on W. Atlantic Avenue, just across the street from the police department. She took over her father’s firm after his lengthy career of over 50 years. Amazingly, he still comes in the office every day at the age of 87. Sylvia looks forward to joining the Board again, meeting the new members and being part of the continued success of the DBHS. She is married to her husband, Bernie and has 2 children, Rachael 22 and John 19.



Matt Shipley

Matt Shipley is a native of Delray Beach and son of past board member Kari Shipley. Matt was born at Bethesda Hospital and was surfing by the time he could stand. His father, John Shipley III, was always taking his 3 sons, Johnny, Walker and Matt, out into nature, especially the beach. Matt was always inspired by nature, which drove him to study environmental issues at the University of San Diego. After receiving his BA in Spanish and Environmental Studies, Matt joined the Peace Corps. He served in Paraguay as an environmental educator where he started an environmental group that focused on reforestation. Upon completing his service, Matt went back to California to receive a MA in International Environmental Policy at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies. Matt is currently the co-director and co-founder of Community Greening, a non-profit that mobilizes neighborhoods, businesses and the city to create and maintain green space for people and nature. His work in the community of Delray has led him into conversations about the rich history of Delray and the stories of the past. He is excited to continue his family legacy at the DBHS.


The History of the Gladioli Festival

“It is the purpose of the South Florida Gladioli Festival and Fair Association, Inc., through its officers and board of directors to exhibit, develop and further the agricultural, horticultural
 and other resources of south Florida, and in connection therewith through displaying, advertising and other media, to present to the people of south Florida, and the world in general, the many and varied advantages to be had and enjoyed in this section of the Sunshine State.” 

– a 1948 Delray News article featured the original mission of the Gladiola Festival


A Gladiola Queen


Long before the Delray Affair in its current form came to dominate Atlantic Avenue, the Gladiola Festival had a successful 8-year run as Palm Beach County’s feature attraction.

After a long depression beginning in Florida during 1926 and the difficult years of World War II during the 1940s, the people of Delray Beach decided to have a big festival and fair to celebrate and promote the gladiolus farming business. From 1947 through 1953, the festival welcomed movie stars like Vera Ellen to West Atlantic Avenue. It was a modern day fair, with special exhibits and farm animals. Local builders brought miniature homes to showcase their projected developments, cars were given away, and there were even regatta races on Lake Ida. The Gladiolus Festival Parade was the biggest event in town, with lavish, flower covered floats and the crowning of Gladioli Queens.

The main attraction, however, were the Gladiolas, brightly colored flowering plants from Africa. The gladiolus growing business began in 1939 and the 1940s and 1950s were the heyday for farming. Centered between Boynton Beach and Delray Beach, there were at least 11 nurseries growing 14 varieties of gladioli, making Palm Beach County the leading source for the popular flowers. By 1950, Delray producers were shipping out 2 million gladiola bundles and paying $500,000 in annual wages. Delray Beach became the leading grower of Gladiolus flowers in the US, with more than 13 Gladiolus growers, contributing to a more than a $1 million-a-year industry. An area totaling 1,600 acres was under cultivation, producing varieties such as the salmon-colored Picardy, the magenta Paul Rubens, the delicate pink Rose Van Lima, the Morning Kiss and the Snow Princess.

The current Delray Affair has evolved into a multi-faceted extravaganza. Development in the city’s western reaches, combined with a shift in farming from flowers to vegetables, turned the Gladioli Festival into a small Agricultural Expo. In 1962, community leaders organized a committee that wanted to expand it to include arts and crafts. “The Delray Affair” was chosen as the name of the bigger event. The committee was money-minded, too. By scheduling the festival later in the year, they could effectively extend the tourist season by tempting snowbirds to postpone their homeward migration until after Easter, and extend the tradition of commerce, frivolity and flowers, culture.

The Delray Beach Fire Department Turns 100!

With the 100th Birthday of the Delray Beach Fire Department upon us, we thought we’d take a look back at how it all began and reflect on the amazing journey the Fire Department has taken from a small volunteer force to what it is today.

The Town of Delray voted on Sept. 19, 1911 to incorporate with 56 citizens voting in the affirmative.  On July 29, 1912, the new City Council approved an application for franchise to construct a water works system in the town. On August 12, 1912, the City Council discussed organizing a fire department. This was the first mention of a fire department in the minutes of the newly formed Town of Delray political history.

The actual formation of a formal fire department was approved on April 23rd, 1917.  The Town Council minutes refer to the formation of a Fire District. Because there is no real distinction between a Fire District and a Fire Department, this date is used as the formation of Delray Beach Fire-Rescue.

Records show the opening of the Fire Department occurred on October 1st 1917, under Chief, F.A. Leanard the first Fire Chief, Volunteer.  October 14th, 1918, D.J. Davis was Fire Chief of the Volunteers.  On October 9, 1919, A.F. Miller was appointed Chief.  In those days, Delray Beach was a sleepy farming community spread out over much the same area it now occupies.  It had its tourist season to be sure, but for the most part it was rural in attitude and make up.

The first piece of fire fighting equipment arrived in 1919, a hand drawn hose cart. The downtown area had a water tower and a few fire hydrants to use for fire protection. They had no pump or motorized vehicle to respond, so they bought a hand drawn hose cart with several hundred feet of hose. The firemen would respond on foot to the fire dragging their hose cart and then hooked up to the closest hydrant, using the pressure the water tower developed for their fire streams.

Chief O. Helland was appointed Chief in 1921 and the department took delivery on their first motorized vehicle. A Brockway Torpedo and 1000 feet of hose. An ordinance creating a fire department was approved on February 28th, 1923.

Dewey Morris was appointed Fire Chief on January 14th 1924. In 1924 the first public fire was responded to by motorized fire equipment.  The fire was at the Tembrook Garage and Machine Shop.

On March 18, 1925 the Delray Beach Fire Department was called to help fight the fire at the Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach.  Fire departments from Ft. Lauderdale to Ft. Pierce responded to that fire.

On November 8, 1926, Lonnie Cook became the first paid Fire Chief with John Gregory as his assistant.  Until that time Lonnie Cook was a combination Building and Electrical Inspector.  Now the Chief and his Assistant could devote all their time to the volunteer firefighters and fire protection.

On September 16, 1928, Delray Beach was hit by a major hurricane and the Fire Department played a major role in protecting property and saving lives.  In a journal of Lonnie Cook, he states: “The emergency alarm was sounded at 3:00 PM on September 16, 1928 and the Fire Department was here and ready in no time.  We organized a First Aid Station in the Chamber of Commerce Hall and moved from there to City Hall after the Chamber Building was wrecked beyond Safety.  Men, women, and children were brought from buildings and automobiles and kept in the City Hall until the storm was over and help came from other organizations and moved them to the Alta-Repp Hotel.”

The Fire Prevention Bureau was also started in 1928 with the adoption of the Fire Department Ordinances on Feb. 13, 1928.  During these first years they literally took the Department from hand drawn fire equipment into the modern era of motorized fire pumpers and rescue crews.  In fact, Delray Beach was one of the first places in the country to offer fire-rescue units.

Delray Firedrill Team 1937, Florida State champions.

With the advent of World War Two, Chief Lonnie Cook and Assistant Chief John Gregory went to Boca Raton Air Field to head up the “Crash and Structure” units.  Victor Croft took over as Chief of the Department with Dan Meadows heading up the Volunteers.  Croft served until 1945.

About that time the first paid personnel were hired to compliment the force of volunteers. These paid men, Thomas Lyman, Stump Wilder, Ward Williamson and Richie Knapp, worked twenty four hours on and twenty four hours off.  In addition to Saturday morning training with an extra “Kelly” day off every fourth weekend.

John Gregory returned to Delray Beach after the War in 1945 and was Chief until 1967 when health problems forced his retirement.  During his term as Fire Chief there were many changes in Delray Beach and the fire service.  Delray Beach was growing — by 1956 there were 15,000 people living here.  More tourists began to discover Delray Beach.

In 1953 City Hall, the Police Department, and the Fire Department were all housed in one building on SE 5th Avenue called the Municipal Building.  From there the Fire Department and City Hall went to their own locations, both on NW 1st Avenue.  The Police Department stayed in the old building for a period of time.

Chief Gregory and his Assistant, Joe Quinn, took on more paid men and improved the services.  In 1956 the Fire Prevention Bureau became active and started to enforce Fire Codes.  The Fire Prevention Bureau wrote 1,500 citations in one week on fire hazards in brush fire ridden Delray Beach. These clean up notices put a big dent in the 150 brush fires per month.

In 1967, Joe Quinn succeeded Chief Gregory and chose as his assistant Clarence Cook (Lonnie Cook’s nephew).  Chief Quinn’s brief stay as Chief cannot minimize the impact and contributions made to the Fire Department.  During Quinn’s term a new fire station on SW 15 Street (now Linton) was built and we saw the demise of the Volunteers and replaced by full time paid firefighters.

In 1971 Joe Quinn retired and Clarence Cook was appointed Chief and Paul Wickert became his assistant.  (The name Assistant Chief was changed to Executive Captain.)  1973 brought about the EMT (Emergency Medical Technicians) and a new Rescue Unit donated by the Women’s Club.  The fire and rescue runs increased, the number of rescues far out numbering the fire calls.  By the end of Chief Cooks term of office in 1977, rescue was a vital part of the Fire Department’s operation.

In 1977 Captain Todd Jackson was appointed Chief and his Assistant Chief was Paul Wickert.  Chief Jackson’s first priority was to implement an Advanced Life Support Service which included Paramedics and ALS equipment.  The Fire Department received a Class 4 rating from the ISO and improved Fire Insurance Rates for the City.  Additionally, Chief Jackson, Jim Rasco, and Dr. Carlos Smith organized and started the Fire Academy at South Technical Educational Center, where all successful graduates could get state certification as firefighters.

Chief Jackson served as President of Palm Beach County Fire Chief’s Association for two terms.  Jackson was responsible for a fourth fire station at the intersection of Barwick and Lake Ida Roads.  Chief Jackson had to retire early due to health reasons in November 1984.

Kerry Koen was appointed Chief of the Department December 1985.  Chief Koen came from the Memphis, Tennessee Fire Department where he worked directly under the Memphis Fire Commissioner.  Chief Koen was originally from Palm Beach County and even worked for the Delray Beach Fire Department early in his career as a Firefighter.

The City of Delray Beach went through some major changes during Chief Koen’s term.  The Utility Improvement Bond and The Decade of Excellence Bond paved the way for the Fire Department to make improvements to all its facilities, a new station on the Beach (Stn.2), a new fire station on Linton Blvd. (Stn.5), a new Fire Department Headquarters at 501 W. Atlantic Avenue, and upgrading of most of the equipment and apparatus.

The Department received a Class 3 rating from the I.S.O. in 1992. Additionally, the Fire Department contracted with the Town Of Highland Beach to provide a full service fire department to that Town.  After hiring additional personnel to cover Highland Beach, the city received a Class 2 rating from the Insurance Service Office (I.S.O.) in 1994.

One of Chief Koen’s priorities was education.  Many personnel attended the Executive Fire Officer Program at the National Fire Academy in Emmitsburg Maryland, and from that exposure many new and innovative procedures began to surface.

Delray firefighter Jon Way does some acrobatic maneuvers while repelling from the aerial platform of one of the department’s trucks during a demonstration at the Delray Beach mall as part of National Fire Prevention Week. 10/9/1985

After Assistant Chief, Roseke retired, in 1988, Chief Koen brought Assistant Chief Bob Rehr on board.  Chief Rehr brought with him many new and innovative ideals to the Department.  Chief Rehr was a 25 year veteran from the City of Miami Fire Department.  The rank structure changed to include Battalion Chiefs, Division Chiefs and Assistant Chiefs.  In 1990 Assistant Chief Rehr took the position of Fire Chief in West Palm Beach, Florida.

In 1994, Chief Koen was offered the position of Fire Chief in Boca Raton, Florida and accepted.  Bob Rehr returned to Delray Beach from West Palm Beach and was appointed Fire Chief.  Chief Rehr brought with him the same professional standards the department was accustomed to and continued the forward motion of the department.

Chief Rehr introduced the concept of Fire Department transportation to health care facilities, and by doing so, generated revenue for the Department.  Chief Rehr continued to upgrade the Fire Department facilities and has brought the department to the level where it is considered one of the best in the Country.  Chief Rehr retired from the Delray Beach Fire Department on January 12, 2001.

In January 2001, Kerry Koen returned to Delray Beach as Fire Chief.  He continued upgrading the department, improving the facilities, the fleet, and the use of technology.  The focus of the department has been on serving the community.  Over the years, Chief Koen has tried to focus the staff on providing the community with the “wow” factor that comes with going the extra mile. The employees of the department are empowered to solve problems. They are encouraged not to just think outside the box, but to get rid of the box. That focus is now a way of doing business at Delray Beach Fire-Rescue. Chief Koen retired from the department in the fall of 2007.

Mrs. Frances Bourque’s Keynote Address from our 2017 Annual Meeting

When we think of the word legacy, what comes to mind? It can be a daunting word. 

When we think of the word legacy, what comes to mind? It can be a daunting word. 

In my youth, I thought of legacy in terms of a person’s will, and the property and money left to their children and grandchildren.  

Over time, as I have grown in wisdom and maturity, I have come to consider legacy in a different light. 

The second definition of legacy is: something, like memories or knowledge, that comes from the past or comes from a person of the past. 

Memories. Isn’t it interesting that memories from our youth are sometimes more vivid than memories of yesterday?

Sights, sounds, and feelings, all are clearly preserved in the deep recesses of our mind, just waiting to be called up by the colors of a sunrise, the sound of a child’s laugh, or the smell of turkey baking in the oven. 

Then, as now, my family would gather together each Thanksgiving Day. When I say family, I mean one great-grandmother, one grandfather (the other had passed away before I was born), two grandmothers, one father, one mother, two brothers, three sisters, eight cousins, two aunts, two uncles, one great-aunt, AND A PARTRIDGE IN A PEAR TREE. Twenty-four people, all of whom were connected to me, and who formed what is now known as my family constellation.  

I speak today of three ancestors, my great-grand-mother, my grandfather, and my great aunt because each of them had a story for me. And, of course, our story is our history and, as we all know, every good story has a moral. I didn’t know it at the time, but I do now.

The brightest star, the one who defined True North for all of us, was my great grandmother Mary Araminta Young Creech. She had been born in southern Georgia in 1848, married my great grandfather and bore 8 children. 

After Araminta, Mammy, as we called her, was finished raising her eight children, she moved to Belle Glade in order to be near her eldest son, my grandfather. Mammy loved flowers and, with the help of her daughter, Sara, opened up a flower shop. “Flowers by Creech” became the “go to” place for flowers, to celebrate births, anniversaries, Valentine’s day, proms, and weddings.

People also bought flowers to mark the sadder times; funerals, sickness and, sadness.

As a teenager, I helped out at the shop, and learned more lessons about the importance of community than I ever would sitting in a university lecture hall.

However, it was the FIRST lesson, the first story actually, that informed my life, for the rest of my life. 

One day Mammy called me to sit beside her in the garden.

I was the first great-grandchild and held both a reverence for this stately woman, and even at a young age, a certain awe mixed with responsibility to listen carefully to all she shared to be able to pass these lessons on. 

As I sipped sweet, iced tea and crunched down on classic pecan divinity, a candy as light as a feather, I listened.   “Do you see those flowers over there?” she asked.

“Yes, ma’am.” I answered.

“What do you notice?” she asked.

“Well, I said. The lilies over there, they have the same shape, but they come in different colors, like white, yellow and orange.”

“Yes,” she said. “What else?”

“Well, roses are like that, too. See? The rose bushes have all kinds of roses, yellow and red and pink and white, and some are combined. But, they are all roses.”

“That’s true.” she said. “Anything else?” 

“Well, now that I look around, I see that the flowers are planted in a thoughtful way. The rose beds are over there, and the lilies over here, and all of the other flowers are planted around the sides of the house and the trees in groups and patterns.”  

“Now why do you think we need so many different flowers?” Mammy asked.  

“Well,” I said. “Flower arrangements would be kind of dull with only one kind of flower.

And, some people want daisies for their wedding, not roses.” Many years later, perhaps without remembering why, I chose daisies for my July wedding.

“So,” Mammy said. “I want you to think about this.

I want you to think of our family. If you were to compare each of us to a flower, would you say that we are all roses?”

“Oh, no! “I squealed with laughter, just thinking of my brothers as roses.

“Definitely not!”   

“When you think of us, EACH of us ONE at a time, if we were flowers, what do you see? “

It took me awhile, and a few more mouthfuls of divinity, but I did it.

I named each member of our family and assigned a flower to them.

“Each of us is different. But, we are all flowers. And, we have something to contribute. By our very presence, we make the flower basket more beautiful.”

“It will be your job, Frances“ she said,” to find out what your special contribution will be to this world.

You were born for a purpose, we all were, and it is time NOW for you to being searching for yours.”

“But how will I know?” I asked.

“Whenever you begin a project, or volunteer, or have an idea, think of how that action makes you feel.

If your HEART begins to beat with happiness, and you feel JOY just thinking about this idea, and yet you know you can’t do it alone, then you are on the right track.”

One day, many years later, when our four children were on the verge of leaving the nest, I was standing in front of a run down, boarded up, old school building.

As I stood there, memories of my school days came flooding back to me. The smell of newly waxed pine floors, crayons, lunch being cooked in the cafeteria.

The din of children talking, laughing. The feel of the brass door handle as I opened the big, wooden door to a new year with a new teacher.

Would she like me? Would I like her?

There was good homegrown, homemade food cooking in that lunchroom. Real biscuits, fresh green beans, real fried chicken. And peach cobbler for dessert.

I guess they didn’t worry about us getting fat in those days. 

Anyway, as I stood there, I wondered if there were OTHERS in the community who shared my fond memories of school and who, if asked, might like help preserve this building and find a new purpose in a place that had meant so much to so many and held the lost history of a town nestled between the OCEAN and open farm land.

I felt happy just thinking about it. 

And then, I remembered what my great-grandmother had told me. 

And, I got to work.

I felt the JOY and my Heart beat with happiness, as it still does when I think of the life and purpose these sites are returning to our community.

I called around to friends and members of this community. I found kindred spirits everywhere. We had meetings. We came up with proposals. We enlisted the help of other people who had good ideas. We kept going. It seems everyone had something to contribute and that continues today.

Mammy’s firstborn son was my grandfather, Bob Creech, a pioneer farmer in the Glades area during the 1920’s. He continued farming until the late 1960’s, when he retired with my grandmother.

My grandfather’s legacy to me was love of the soil. Not just any soil. I am talking about the black muck of the Glades. Granddaddy farmed when there was no farm machinery, only himself and a mule. He started farming the islands in Lake Okeechobee known as Tory, Ritta and Kramer. He survived the hurricane of 28 and helped bury the thousands who died. There is a historical marker of this devastating event in Port Myaka where many were buried.

During the Great Depression, he kept on farming, kept on buying a piece of land here, a piece of land there. “People have to eat,” he said, and so farming vegetables like sweet corn, celery, lettuce, and radishes was his way of helping, not only his own family, but the community.

“Long as we have fresh vegetables,” he said, “we’ll not starve to death.”

When he retired from farming, he kept growing, not vegetables, but flowers and plants and trees. His roses were legendary.

He was up and out by seven each morning, and had no patience for grandchildren who liked to sleep in.  

“Get up! You’re missing it!” he would say. And out we would straggle.

He was right. Sunrise is not just beautiful but a visible reminder of a new beginning. Perseverance is important.

The third ancestor who gave left me a legacy was the youngest of Mammy’s eight children.

My great aunt Sara Creech, passed away several years ago. She was a businesswoman, working in the insurance industry and later running the floral business with Mammy. 

Sara was the Past State President of the Florida Federation of Business & Professional Women as well as a member of the first Inter-Racial Council formed in Belle Glade. This council, composed of 15 blacks and 15 whites, was formed to effect better racial relations.  

Sara was deeply instrumental in the development of the Wee Care Center in Belle Glade, realizing that education was a key to success in life and recognizing there was an undeserved population who needed equitable access to early education. This is much like our treasured community resource, The children’s Achievement Center.

Sara was always mindful, observant, and keen to right a wrong if within her power to do so. One of these observations led her to develop the first anthropologically correct black baby doll.

After noticing some young black girls playing with white dolls, she felt this was wrong.

‘If you do it out of choice it’s fine, but to have no choice, that’s wrong.’

After an odyssey which involved many prominent leaders and influential people of the day, the doll was manufactured as the Sara Lee Doll. The process was daunting during these segregationist times, but Sara was buoyed on by encouraging words from, among others, author Zora Neale Hurston. Zora had previously spoken before the Inter-Racial Council and a friendship had developed as Zora would spend time in Sara’s home.

Zora also provided letters of introduction to prominent black contacts. Eleanor Roosevelt held a tea for Sara and the doll, inviting a handful of both black and white influential citizens to help select what skin color they thought was most appropriate. Young black children from the Glades were chosen as models. This tea gained national attention and the doll was swiftly put into production.” 

Years later the Sara Lee Doll and the history that went with it were exhibited at both the Cornell Museum and the Spady Museum here in our own community. Aunt Sara attended both exhibits and I was very proud to have our lives joined in this important story. 

Sara’s lesson to me was the “POWER OF ONE”. Sometimes it takes a strong voice to motivate others to do what is necessary and right. However, once you have spoken, it is imperative to work together to accomplish a common goal. Cooperation is important. The power of one rarely becomes effective if it does not soon become the effort of many.    

Recently, I was standing near a garden with my granddaughter, Francesca.

I said, “Francesca, when you look at the flowers, bushes, and trees planted here, what do you notice?”

“Well,” she said, “I notice that some are the same and some are different. But, you know Mimi, they are all plants. Wouldn’t it be boring if they were all the same?”

Then she skipped away.

I smiled. I am still smiling.

Instead of asking my granddaughters, Maddi and Savanna, the same question, I asked them to tell me their favorite flower….Maddi, peonies, Savanna, tulips.

Because today, as I am getting older, I want to see vividly the basket of flowers that are becoming my legacy. 

With 6 grandsons and 3 granddaughters, I am observing the strength and leadership growing in the boys and I am watching the girls following my love for the arts in their study of ballet and dance. 

Our legacy is not in the bricks and mortar we leave behind, but in the life and dreams and preservation of history that emanates from these very buildings we save and revere.

I am proud of my children who have found their own way of experiencing joy in our community; Noel working on the successful Mark Gerritson Fishing Tournament for 13 years, keeping alive the spirit and meaning of Mark’s life. Andrew and Christopher finding their bliss is raising 5 talented athletic sons, Nicole and my daughter-in-law Julie teaching young minds the joy of learning and ultimately nurturing that very first basket of flowers.

So now, as we gather here today, I have a question for you.

Is there something you have thought about, some idea or dream, that you have held off pursuing because of doubt, or lack of time, or lack of energy?

Would that something, combined with your imagination and the resources of others, result in helping our community in some way?

I urge you to consider this.

Think of what might happen, not if you fail, but if you succeed?

Think of the impact this one, small idea might have on the lives of people in our community today, and in the coming years. You will never know until you try. 

You are each here, in this place, at this moment, for a special reason. There are no accidents. WE are all here standing on the shoulders of those who came before us and with this viewpoint we can peer into the future.

What happens here on this historical site filled with treasured archives is up to each of you. Bring these stories to life….allow the archives to teach us who we were in order to guide us to our future and DO NOT let anyone forget how important this Society is to our future…..not just our past.

I am standing here today, buoyed by the support of the members of this community who jumped on board a FARM girl’s dream and helped it to become a reality. Remember, the seeds we plant today will be found in the flowers of tomorrow.

A beautiful quote by John Ruskin says it best:

…”let our work be such as our descendants will thank us for, and let us think, as we lay stone on stone, that a time is to come when these stones will be held sacred because we have toughened them, and, that man will say as they look upon the labor and wrought substance of them, “SEE, this, our Fathers did for us”.

In closing, a beautiful Anonymous Greek Proverb paints a picture with words that could be a Monet…..

Close your eyes and paint your own with these beautiful simple words.

“A Society Grows Great
When Old Men Plant Trees
Whose shade THEY KNOW they
Shall Never Sit in.” 

Thank You

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The Ethel Sterling Williams History Learning Center & Archives

The core of our mission at the Delray Beach Historical Society is the maintenance, preservation and expansion of the historic archives of the City of Delray Beach. These archival materials are irreplaceable assets. The collection is housed in one of the City’s oldest buildings, itself a historic site to explore local heritage. Along with private donations, the City, County and State have invested in excess of $650,000 to ensure that Delray Beach historical records are secure, accessible and useful for educational and civic purposes. The Historical Society’s mission, the campus, the events and educational programs are essential to keep our history alive, encourage proper stewardship and to provide a legacy for future generations.

Our approximately 500 research and archival requests and visits per year come from individual citizens, writers, researchers, homeowners, the media, realtors, builders, students, businesses, other non-profit organizations and City groups such as The Delray Beach Public Library, Delray Beach Fire Service, Delray Beach Police Department, Parks & Recreation, Historic Preservation Department, the City Manager’s Office, the City Attorney’s office and the City Clerk/Records Department.

The Archive Collection features over 20,000 items, including photographs, real estate documents, architectural renderings, original charters, City of Delray Beach records, books, memorabilia, letters, newspapers, paintings, original drawings, rare artifacts, pioneer and family histories – both oral and video, clothing, and other three dimensional artifacts.

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