Dr. Benita Tillman-Brown served as Mistress of Ceremony. Welcome and the occasion were given by Joy Benjamin-Fieulleteau. Following singing of “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing”, Eurilynne Williams gave the invocation and blessing of the meal.
A delicious meal was served and Nisondra Jones-Smith was featured in song. The 2012 Violets and Pearls honorees, Strong Women of our Community, were presented by Shenique Gilbert.
The following women were honored during the luncheon:
• Honoree, Dr. Annye Louise Refoe, retired educator. Refoe has touched the lives of many young people. She taught English, a subject she loves dearly, at Lake Howell High School.
After receiving a Masters Degree in Teaching, she taught at Seminole Community College, Rollins College and the University of Central Florida as an Adjunct Professor. On August 2, 2003, Refoe received the Doctor of Philosophy Degree from the University of South Florida in Tampa.
Since she retired from Seminole Community College, she started a business, Shellye’s Kitchen, Inc., named in honor of her dear mother, Shellye L. Refoe. She bakes delicious cakes and sells them via personal orders and at the Saturday downtown Sanford Farmers Market.
Dr. Refoe currently serves on the Board of Directors of Creative Sanford, Inc. and performed in the play Celery Soup, and Florida’s Folk Life Play. Dr. Refoe says she is grateful for what her parents instilled in her, the awareness that, “There, but for the grace of God, go I. That keeps me humble, grateful and happy.”
• Honoree, Pastor Valarie J. Houston, a gifted pastor, teacher, administrator, workshop leader, and writer.
A native of Polk County, she says her experiences teaching gifted and SLD students in the Polk County schools allows her to be sensitive to the needs of God’s people. After 18 years of teaching school, she accepted the call to preach the gospel. She was ordained an Iterant Deacon, and Itinerant Elder.
She stepped out on faith and accepted a full-time pastoral ministry. She pastored two churches and became pastor at Allen Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church-Sanford, in September 2001, where she is presently serving.
Pastor Houston is the first female to hold many positions with the A.M.E. Central Conference, i.e., Ministerial Efficiency Chair of Finance. Other firsts include, first female Pastor of St. Paul-Ft. Meade, FL; first female elected delegate of the 63rd Session of the Orlando Conference 2002; first female to preach the Annual Sermon of the 66th Session of the O.F.C.; first female Pastor of Allen Chapel A.M.E. Church; the only female delegate elected to the 68th Session of the Orlando Conference to attend the Historic 2004 General conference; the first female to preach at the Annual Martin Luther King, Jr. (MLK) Interfaith Religious Service.
She has received numerous awards including the 2006 MLK, Jr. Humanitarian Award.
Pastor Houston states, “You can do the seemingly impossible; love can and will take you to greater heights.”
She is the wife of Rev. James L. Houston; they are the parents of a blended family of 4 children, 2 sons, 2 daughters and 11 grandchildren. Her favorite bible verse is Proverbs 3:5-6.
• Honoree, Dr. Gail Johnson Choice grew up in the historic Goldsboro area in the inspiring 60s and 70s. Dr. Choice says the community provided a nurturing, supportive environment.
The tightly woven community contributed to the success of its sons and daughters. Our role models, says Dr. Choice, lived in the community. Major influences in her life were a network of educators, church family and an extremely supportive family, most notably her mother and aunts, Mae, Carrie and Eunice Wilson.
“I am also blessed with a supportive husband, Rev. Arthur Choice and children Anita, Carron and William,” she said.
The public schools of Seminole County played a pivotal role in her life. After graduating from Seminole High School, she furthered her education at Florida A&M University, majoring in Elementary Education, where she developed an increased passion for children. She taught in the Atlanta, Ga. public school system. Returning to Sanford, she worked in the Seminole County Public Schools as a teacher, and Assistant Principal at three schools.
For three years she worked for the State Department of Education providing professional development and technical assistance to 10 Florida districts in closing the achievement gap and reading education.
She currently teaches undergraduate and graduate students and coordinates the Master’s in Reading Program at Stetson University in DeLand. Her commitment to the children of the community is evident in the organization she founded and is Executive Director of, “Free to Be Me, Inc.”, a non-profit organization whose primary mission is to promote family unity by empowering parents and their children with skills required to improve family literacy and students’ academic skills.
Their summer program, the Central Florida Freedom School and After School Project, runs for 6 weeks, June 18-July 27. Dr. Choice says her desire is that future generations “dream beyond their reality, create their reality and refuse to have it designated or passed on to them. The power of education is having the passion for education.”
• Honoree, Mrs. Ernestine Gould-Jackson, a lifelong resident of Oviedo and the founding President of Johnson Hill, Washington Heights Community Outreach, Inc., a registered 501 (c)(3) organization, established in 2008.
Their mission is to strengthen the environmental health of the community by partnering with residents, businesses, churches and other organizations to positively enhance the community. Under Jackson, her husband William Jackson, Jr., and volunteers, programs and services to benefit the residents and the community have been developed.
Some of their ongoing projects are: community beautification, elderly assistance, an Annual Black History Program, and youth programs. The 2009 Black History Program was recognized by The Seminole Voice, a hometown newspaper. Mrs. Jackson received the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Community Service Award presented by the Oviedo Citizens in Action and the City of Oviedo. She works with the Improving Oviedo Neighborhood Committee and with City officials to identify the desires and needs of Oviedo residents. Jackson holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Public Administration from UCF; she was awarded the UCF Student Development and Enrollment Services “Community Connection Award” for her contribution to the community. She has four children. A member of Antioch M.B. Church, she says she stands strong on her faith and relationship with God.
• Honoree, Dr. Barbara Kirby-Bentley, is a native of Sanford. She says she observed her parents’ Oper Collins and the late Horace Collins, work ethics and their commitment to a better life for her.
That is how and why she is the lady she is today. Bentley says her parents instilled lifelong values, integrity and hard work, and daily ingredients of being happy first, then successful second. After graduating from Crooms High School, she attended Daytona Beach Community College and Knoxville College in Tennessee, where she received a Bachelor of Science Degree in Psychology. She returned to Sanford and taught 5th Grade at Altamonte Elementary School, which she found rewarding and exciting.
She holds a Masters Degree in Elementary Education from UCF; and a Specialist in Education Degree from Stetson University in Administration/Supervision; and a Doctorate Degree in Educational Leadership. While attending college, she worked as an Adjunct Instructor at Seminole State College.
Dr. Bentley, a Principal in the Seminole County Public Schools, where she been employed for more than 40 years. She says each of her experiences in education has touched her life in meaningful ways. She is very active in school-related organizations and has held many offices, she was the first black office holder in the Seminole Education Association; Vice President; By-laws Chair; a team negotiator of 11 years; the first black female president of the Florida Association of Alternative School Educators; first regular education black female secondary principal in Seminole County. She says, “Do what you can when you can and make sure you are doing something to change your community; and help others”.
She is married to Kenneth Bentley; they have one son, one granddaughter, and many loving aunts. She says, “Education will always be my passion.”
Special thanks to the community for supporting the Violets and Pearls Annual Luncheon.
• A&A Women’s Health Support Group is sponsoring a Community Outreach, Rummage Sale & Car Wash, Saturday June 23 from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Historic St James A.M.E. Church, 819 Cypress Ave. in Sanford.
Activities include: blood pressure checks; diabetes information; enrollment for veterans services (VA representatives will be on site); other services; raffles and prizes; giant rummage sale; food (hot dogs, drinks, baked goods) and more.
Everyone is invited to support this community project.