Harlem library namesake influential in community

BELLE GLADE — The longtime teacher and community mentor after whom the public library in the Harlem area of Clewiston was named, Florida B. Thomas, died on Sunday, March 11.

Florida B. Thomas was born Jan. 23, 1938, in Tallahassee, to the late Walter and Ethel Bryant and is survived by her husband, Melvin S. Thomas Sr., whom she married on Nov. 16, 1974.

She held a bachelor of science degree in library science from Florida A&M University and a master’s in administration and supervision from the University of South Florida. After graduating from college, she moved to Clewiston and later met and married the love of her life, Melvin Thomas Sr.

Florida B. Thomas

Florida Thomas was converted at an early age from a Primitive Baptist Church in Tallahassee. In Clewiston, she continued the work of the Lord at Greater Friendship Missionary Baptist Church under the pastorates of three pastors, the Rev. L.H. King, the Rev. James W. White and Rev. G.L. McNealy.
Mrs. Thomas served at the church for 59 years. There she was on the finance committee and served as a choir member and secretary. She began teaching in 1960, and dedicated 40 years to the Hendry County School District.

After she retired, however, she felt there still was work to be done. She then began working full-time as a librarian at the Harlem Library, and retired from that position in 2014.

Mrs. Thomas accomplished much and achieved many prestigious awards. To name a few, she was the first black librarian in Florida within the immigrated school system. She was named Children Intermediate School Teacher of the Year in 1987. She was an active member of the Order of The Eastern Star fraternity since 1970.

The Harlem Community Library was dedicated and renamed after her in May 2017.

The pastor of Greater Friendship Missionary Baptist Church, the Rev. McNealy, said, “She was an educator, a friend and mentor and the church secretary, who really was the glue that held many of the administrative aspects or duties of our church together. She will be greatly missed. She was a personal confidante (to me) on many issues. Those types of persons may never be completely replaced. We live on and have wonderful memories of her.”

He went on to say that the Friends of the Library in Harlem would greatly appreciate donations in her memory.

Janet B. Taylor, who served as a Hendry County commissioner for 20 years, in the county schools and as a Clewiston police officer, remembers: “It was a community effort to rename that library after her. At that time she had put in 54 years with the library system. That same library that she retired from is the one that she began working at in 1960. “And that library was the hub of our community. And she was the individual that did everything for every organization that came forth, whatever they were doing. Every church, every organization in that community, she had their hands in it. She’s been an icon in (Harlem) … and she did so much for that community. If you had seen the turnout on Saturday, you would realize the impact she’s had on the lives of all the students who went through Harlem Academy, and especially Central Intermediate School and Westside.”

Asked whether she thought there are people whom Mrs. Thomas took under her wing who will try to follow her footsteps in service to her fellow citizens, Ms. Taylor said: “Well, I’m one of them. She was my mentor … I graduated in 1963. She was a great mentor. And she had quite a few young ladies that she has helped get through their GEDs and through college and everything, so she has a great following that she has mentored. I don’t know if anybody is ever going to carry on that torch because nobody has the time that she had to devote.”

Ms. Taylor said she traveled to Washington, D.C., last week, to pick up some recognitions of Mrs. Thomas issued by Congressmen Mario Diaz-Balart and Alcee Hastings, who entered a memorial into the Congressional Record.

“He is one of the ones that helped us to build that library,” Ms. Taylor said. “He came to the one event that we did, A Night to Remember, for building that library. The money from that event and from the state library system is what built that library.”

A memorial service for Mrs. Thomas took place Friday, March 22, at the Greater Friendship Missionary Baptist Church in Clewiston, where the funeral was Saturday, March 23.

Interment was in Harlem Memorial Gardens.

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