Inspiring Okeechobee: Colleen Thomas treats everyone like family

OKEECHOBEE — This week’s Inspiring Okeechobee was a bit of a challenge, until I enlisted help from her children: Kristy Leon and Tonya Young. Colleen Thomas inspires her own children, but so many community members have felt the loving hand of Colleen’s extended in their time of need too.

Many of us who spent our high school days here in the 1980s had the pleasure of having Coach Delagall as a teacher, coach, mentor and friend. Our inspiration this week owes her profession to the guiding hand of Coach Delagall, who helped her obtain her first job while she was still in high school.

Colleen Thomas

Colleen Thomas, a longtime resident of Okeechobee, never knew her first job at Syble’s Flower Shop would lead to the achievement of a dream. For nearly three decades, Colleen has blessed the community with stunning work as a florist, and in 2004 achieved a life-long dream of becoming an owner of her own flower shop.

When given to the opportunity to take ownership of the already established Pat’s Floral Design, she knew it was in fact the right thing to do. Not only did Colleen set out to purchase the shop, she continues to use this as her outlet to provide a helping hand to all those she meets.

Colleen is one of 17 children, who moved here from Connecticut with her family because her father worked in the dairy industry. Colleen truly understands struggle and perseverance as she “came from nothing” says daughter Kristy.

Colleen has been married for 29 years, raised three daughters, helped raise one stepdaughter and two stepsons. Tonya and Kristy related that Colleen has also helped with raising several nieces and nephews. Colleen has five grandchildren and five step-grandchildren, who she enjoys following to their various activities and events.

While Colleen is known for her floral designs and meticulous work, she is also known for her giving spirit and compassionate nature toward all she encounters. Colleen prides herself on being available and willing for all those in need of a helping hand, even if just for a listening ear or a point in the right direction. You might even get prayed for while you’re on the phone with her!

On many occasions, the phrase “Colleen from Pat’s sent me” has been uttered when Colleen uses her connections and resources to help those in need.

Colleen has a heart for giving, which is what inspires those around her. While searching for information this week, there were numerous emails and calls exchanged of folks telling me stories of when Colleen helped them out of a situation.

Colleen has been a longtime member of The Church of Prophecy (Open Arms Ministries) and strives to minister to those around her.

While you and I might never have known it, she has supported those who are in need and many a homeless person has either picked up food from her shop or been given food because of Colleen’s heart for service above self.

Her daughter Kristy recalls there was a time when there was no food in the shop, so she loaded up the person and drove them to the grocery store to buy them groceries.

Without exception Colleen has volunteered for, been in attendance at or monetarily donated to numerous fundraisers to support local churches or schools on behalf of her business or as a silent donor.

She has continually been willing and able to lend a helping hand, kind word or friendly gesture of flowers and more on countless occasions.

Colleen has worked alongside others at the church’s food pantry, school supply drives and clothing giveaways. She has been an integral part of Big Lake Missions, who provides a meal to the homeless each weekday afternoon, as well as many other services to families in need for many years.

As a well-known member of Okeechobee who has gone above and beyond to be present and be helpful, Colleen has deep connections, friendships and treats those she meets as family.

Colleen knows that by God’s grace she will continue to be a philanthropic force within the community for years to come.

Daughter Kristy summed it up by saying, “No matter where she goes, her testimony is most important to her.” Thanks for inspiring us, Colleen.

Leah Suarez is a freelance writer.

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