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Difference Maker: Shirley Aaron

Shirley Aaron has spent a lifetime building bridges from hopelessness to hope. She has lived in Havana since 1978 with her long-time friend, Ethlynn Earnhart.

She taught Library Science as a professor at Florida State University until she retired in 1994 as Professor Emeritus. She has not spent her time since retirement just playing golf, though that is one of the loves of her life. Aaron has been involved in many community endeavors and has garnered many honors. Still, she insists she did nothing by herself.

Aaron asserts she was always surrounded by others who worked by her side. At 77 years of age, Aaron says she is slowing down, but she shows no signs of it. Presently she is on the recreation sub-committee for the Havana Town Council, which is attempting to develop a recreation program for area code 32333.

She also wants to see a performing arts center in Havana. Aaron says she has been characterized as “crazy and controversial” because she attempts projects no one believes can be accomplished. With her past record of getting things done, it may well happen, however.

Tell me about your volunteer activities.
There are so many, and I did none of them alone. Before the 2004 election, I coordinated an effort for voter registration, and we managed to register 600-700 voters – a feat recognized nationally. I started the Havana Democratic Club and was the president for several years. In 2007 I coordinated an effort to repair the very dilapidated elementary school. In 2008 I helped coordinate an effort to provide Christmas gifts for 250 children in Havana and Midway. In 2009 I worked on an effort to replace the elementary school with a state of the art green school, but it didn’t happen. In 2010 I started a tutor program for failing 5th graders and worked with Nell Cunningham to help set up a playground at Eugene Lamb Park. I also co-chaired the steering committee for medical and dental services for school children. FSU, FAMU and TCC were all involved. I’ve also served on school advisory committees and the Senior Citizen Board. The effort that touches my heart the most is when I served as co-chair for Relay for Life one year and we raised $55,000. The underprivileged second grade students I read to secretly raised $50 and presented it to me. I still keep that contribution can from them.

What about your school mentoring?
In 2005 I started “I Can”, a program to teach parents of failing students how to teach and help their children. In 3 years 67 out of 70 did not fail. We also began “I Can 2,” a program to help parents get their GED. I read to students for years, but what I want people to know about mentoring is that mentoring the parents is the most beneficial. If you mentor a student, you help 1 student. If you mentor the parents you help a whole family of children.

Have you won any awards?
I’ve been blessed to be awarded several honors such as the Havana Volunteer of the Year in 2005. In 2008, I was a finalist in the Volunteer of the Year in Tallahassee and ended up with the Volunteer of the Year in Education and Outstanding Volunteer of the Year. In 2010, I won the first Martin Luther King, Jr. Unsung Hero award. I won the Golden Democrat Award from the Capital Democratic Women’s Club. In 2011, I was honored by TCC for Women’s History month. I also won the DAR Service to Community Award and the Girl Scout Woman of Distinction Award in Education. Oh, I almost forgot that I was listed in the Tallahassee Democrat as one of the Twenty-five Women You Should Know. Yes, I’ve been blessed.

If you could live your life over, what would you do more of?
Two things. I retired to become an artist, but when I wasn’t perfect, I gave it up. I wish I hadn’t done that and had painted more. I also would play more golf.

If you could live your life over, what would you do less of?
I would want to be less judgmental. I would want to impose my will less on others. Do you have any words of wisdom for the citizens of Gadsden County? We have so many talented people in every culture in our county that I wish we could all get together and utilize that talent. I wish we could have a time of unification. I think a performing arts center in Havana could be a wonderful start toward this.

By Judy Conlin