Main Street Spotlights the DeFuniak Springs Woman’s Club “Women of Light” in honor of Women’s History Month
In celebration of Women’s History Month, Main Street DeFuniak Springs is spotlighting the DeFuniak Springs Woman’s Club Women of Light program, started by the civic organization in celebration of its 100 year. Follow along as we share local women who have made significant contributions to our community, as well as others.
Ina Thompson: Mrs. Thompson graduated from Walton High School in 1920. She then graduated from Florida State College for Women in 1924. She was a teacher of English and Math at Walton County High School. She became the first general supervisor of schools in Walton County in 1945. In 1955 she became the first woman to be selected for the “little cabinet” of the governor of Florida, LeRoy Collins. She was the first woman to head a Florida state agency as the Commissioner of the Department of Motor Vehicles. The first state agency day care center was named the Ina S Thompson Day Care Center in honor of her. She was awarded the Distinguished Alumnus Award from the College of Education Alumni Association at Florida State University. She was a member of the Eta Chapter of Delta Kappa Gamma, a national organization recognizing leadership in general education. She also was a member of Kappa Delta Pi, a national organization honoring educators. She was listed in Who’s Who of American Women in 1959.
Gladys Milton: Mrs. Milton was recruited and trained as a midwife by the Walton County Health Department in DeFuniak Springs to fill a need for delivery services to poorer women in the Walton County area. Mrs. Milton delivered approximately 3,000 babies in her notable midwifery career from 1959 to 1999. She was inducted into the Florida Women’s Hall of Fame in 1994. She opened the Milton Memorial Birthing Center, the first in Walton County, in 1976. She was the center of a court case to determine if lay midwives could continue to practice in Florida. The courts decided in her favor so lay midwives practice their art today. A library was opened in Flowersview, Florida and is named the Gladys N. Milton Memorial Library in her honor.
Rubye Burton: Rubye Burton was born in Dudley Georgia but moved to DeFuniak Springs in the early 1930s with her husband and daughter to open an automobile dealership and gasoline distributorship. When her husband died a year later, Rubye requested the ownership be transferred to her. Although reluctant in the beginning, Rubye proved herself capable and became the first woman distributor for the Gulf Oil Company. She also owned several service stations. She was a president of the local garden club and held the position of treasurer at the age of 100. She was know as the “Lady of the Lake” because of her landscaping work in the lake yard. She was inducted into the Hall of Fame by the Florida Federation of Garden Clubs in 2000. The town of DeFuniak Springs voted Mrs. Burton Woman of the Year in 1966 for her many accomplishments.
Ann Robinson: Mrs. Robinson graduated from Walton High School in 1945. She attended Florida State University and graduated in 1949 with a degree in theater. Mrs. Robinson was one of the founders and first president of Grit ‘n’ Grace which takes Walton County oral history and translates it to the stage as a folk life production. She was on its board of directors and acted in most of the productions since its inception in 2000. Because of her long time contributions, Ann was awarded their first Lifetime Achievement Award. She was president of the Walton County Heritage Association when the city was proposed as a National Heritage site and Historic Register plaques were placed on the older buildings. Ann was president and on the advisory board of the Florida Chautauqua Theater on Baldwin Avenue. She was a senior warden at St Agatha’s Episcopal Church. She was program chairman for the revived Florida Chautauqua and helped keep Chautauqua active in DeFuniak Springs.
Lt. Col. Juanita Little: After graduating Walton High School in 1940, Juanita attended the Sacred Heart School of Nursing in Pensacola. Upon graduation in 1943, she and her entire class volunteered to join the Army to support the war effort. She was then sent to France and assigned to the 176 General Hospital near Omaha Beach of D-Day fame. When WWII ended, Juanita worked as a civilian nurse in DeFuniak Springs and Florala. As the conflict in Korea began, Juanita was recalled to active duty, this time in the US Air Force. She attended flight school in 1951 and became a flight nurse. Lieutenant Colonel Little retired from the Air Force in 1970 after more than twenty six years of service that spanned three wars.
Mildred Wilkerson: Mrs. Wilkerson graduated from Tivoli High School in 1949. She earned a Bachelor of Arts in Elementary and Secondary Education from Florida Agriculture and Mechanical University. She later earned her Science Education Certification from Florida State University to teach middle and high school. In 1969 she became the eighth-grade science teacher at Walton Middle School where she taught for thirty-three years. In 2000 Mrs. Wilkerson decided to focus on a different aspect of education. She was elected to serve on the Walton County School Board from 2000 to 2012. She was the first African American woman to be elected for this position. She served as chairperson of the school board many times during her twelve-year tenure.
Marie Lathinghouse: Mrs. Lathinghouse opened her first hair salon in her home and worked out of it for six years. She added onto her house so she could also devote a room to selling ladies dresses. She purchased a building in 1960 and called the business Marie’s Hitching Post because of the water trough and post for tying up horses in front of it. She had a hair salon plus sold fine ladies clothing. She then added a gift shop and tanning room plus a restaurant which she called Mia’s Cafe. Mia’s Cafe was listed in a book by Dawn O’Brien and Becky Matkov called Florida’s Historic Restaurants. Marie also opened clothing shops in Ft. Walton, Crestview, Niceville, Panama City, Destin and New Orleans. Marie’s most recent business venture is Sanford and Sisters antique shop. Her other passion was gardening and as a garden club member she did much of the planting at the historical sites such as the Chautauqua building, the Library, Train Depot plus the Visitors Bureau. She helped the club earn the Blue Star marker in 2007 for their plantings at the intersection of highway 331 and highway 90. She was generous with her own plants, many of the plantings around the city came from her own garden.
Ellen Mayfield: Mrs. Mayfield was born in Luverne, Alabama and graduated Luverne High School in 1957. She moved to DeFuniak Springs in 1960. Over the years Mrs. Mayfield has earned many accolades. She was elected to Who’s Who of Young Women of America in 1967. She was the Pilot’s Club’s Walton County Woman of the Year that same year. She was Beta Sigma Phi’s Girl of the Year in 1972. She received an award from the City Marshall and DeFuniak Springs Police for her generous support and community involvement. She has been involved in many city organizations. She and her husband Lynn have been grand marshals for the Fourth of July and Mardi Gras parades. Ellen herself was the grand marshal of the town Christmas Parade. She attends St Agatha’s Episcopal church where she has served on the vestry. For twelve years she has decorated many of the town buildings for Christmas Reflections. She is a past president of the DeFuniak Springs Business and Professional Association.
Jean Anderson: Mrs. Anderson was born in Bruce, Florida. She later moved to DeFuniak Springs and graduated from Walton High School in 1950. Mrs Anderson has been involved with many civic activities. She was a member of the Garden Club. Her favorite project was planting trees on Live Oak Avenue. As a member of the Pilot Club she helped organize Anchor Clubs at Freeport High School, South Walton High School and Paxton High School. While a member of the Walton County Historical Association she began decorating the Depot for Christmas. As a member of Partners in Progress Mrs. Anderson promoted the Christmas Tour of Homes, her own home was on the tour many times. She was also the Grand Marshall in the town Christmas Parade. Her proudest accomplishment was her role in establishing Christmas Reflections. The idea of John and Peggy Sims to have lights in the lake yard at Christmas time was presented to Jean and her husband and in 1997 that idea became reality. In 1998 Mrs. Anderson designed the Christmas Reflections logo of the original display animals superimposed on a wreath and had it trademarked.
Diane Pickett: Ms. Pickett was born in Atlanta Georgia but moved to DeFuniak Springs in 1942. She attended schools in DeFuniak Springs but moved again and graduated from Leon High School in Tallahassee in 1958. She studied business at Florida State University. She helped form a medical association and became the executive director of the Capital Medical Society. It provided seminars and practice management for physicians all over the country. Out of this grew one of her proudest accomplishments, a clinic that offered cancer treatment at no cost to patients. Patients came from fourteen counties from Madison to Apalachicola. In 1985, Diane returned to DeFuniak Springs. She launched several programs to bring visitors to the town and stimulate the economy. The Turn Around Society was first. Then Elderhostel, which brought visitors over 55 years of age to spend a week and study in DeFuniak Springs. Finally, in 1993, she revived Chautauqua and the town once again had this cultural and educational convention each year. Ms. Pickett wrote a book entitled “Never Isn’t Long Enough” in 2014, which won five awards to include the Indie Excellence Award and the Florida Publishers Award for best historical fiction. She continues to work for our town to encourage economic growth.
Beth Campbell-Work: Mrs. Campbell-Work was a lifelong resident of DeFuniak Springs. She graduated from Walton High School in 1968. She earned a Bachelor of Science in Education from the University of West Florida. She taught second grade for a few years but then decided to volunteer her time to impact children’s lives on her own terms. As an elder and deacon at First Presbyterian Church, Beth saw families with children come in for help. Out of compassion for these families she founded the Kid’s Closet where families need are given diapers, formula, clothing and groceries. It has served thousands of children over the years. It has been renamed Beth’s Closet in her honor. For nearly twenty years Beth directed children in musical plays at the Florida Chautauqua Theater. She made sure all children were included, even writing extra dialog, musical lines or dance numbers so all would have a part. Beth Campbell-Work worked for the Walton County Chamber of Commerce and the Walton County School System. She was honored by Chautauqua Rehabilitation and Nursing Center for distinguished public service and leadership and professional and personal achievements for theater and musical talent in November 2019.