Inspiring Okeechobee: Sandra Pearce is secretly a pretty big deal

OKEECHOBEE — Last week, I had the opportunity to meet someone who turned out to be a delightful surprise. I had, of course, heard the name Sandra Pearce, but I did not know much about her. As a matter of fact, that was one of the first things she said when we met. “You don’t have any idea what I do, do you?” I had to admit, my idea of what she did was vague at best, but she just laughed and then, in her calm Southern drawl, began telling me about herself and tried to explain some of what she does.

Sandra Pearce

Sandra moved to Okeechobee from Wildwood in 1964. She explained, her parents actually moved here a year earlier, but Sandra was a senior in high school and was president of her senior class, which was practically unheard of in that day and age, so she asked to stay behind and finish out her senior year before following her family to Okeechobee. Her first job in Okeechobee was as a secretary for Judge Bo Bryant, and she lived in the little guest cottage on his family’s property. She babysat for his daughter Annmarie and became friends with his son Skip.

After working for Judge Bryant for three years, she decided she wanted to do something new, so she moved to Tallahassee to work in the governor’s office for the conservation department. Her sister worked there, too, she explained, but she worked in the law department.

Sandra says her husband calls her a rule-breaker. She believes that’s not necessarily true.

She will follow rules if they make sense. She just doesn’t follow silly rules.

“I follow rules that are important,” she says. When she was first trying to get her driver’s license, the man giving her the test told her to turn right, so she turned right — immediately! And he flunked her! She said, “He never said I should stop at the stop sign first.” She considers some rules a silly waste of time.

She asked, “Do you think flunking me on that test made me a better driver?”

Over the years, Sandra has had many jobs, but she said she was never fired. She feels God was preparing her to be a photographer.

“You have to really like people to be a photographer,” she explained. She pointed to a bookshelf full of black binders. She said, “Do you see those books? Those are people I care about. Those are people’s lives.” She went on to explain she has every negative from every picture she has ever taken because she can’t bear to throw them away. She keeps them because if anyone ever has a fire or a flood and loses their pictures, she wants to be able to say, “Look, here are your pictures. I saved them for you.”

She said she doesn’t really take on new clients anymore. She is too busy with teaching classes all over the country, serving as a judge in competitions and attending conventions. Her schedule is always busy, but she says that’s just the way life is. Sandra used to keep her life in Okeechobee separate from her life of fame, but now with social media, it’s hard to keep a secret and people are starting to recognize that she is secretly a pretty big deal. She has won national awards. There are so many trophies and ribbons in her office, there is barely room for her.

Sandra not only has a talent for photography, but she also does traditional painting.

“God put me on this Earth to paint,” she says. Although she enjoys painting and photography, her favorite thing to do right now is digital painting. She tried to explain this to me. She even demonstrated, but I still don’t understand how she took a photograph and, using Photoshop, turned the photo into what looked like a beautiful painting. It was absolutely amazing. “I paint the things I love,” she says, and it was obvious just by looking at her face that she loved what she was doing.

One of the things Sandra does with her many talents is to donate her time to a cause called “So Many Angels.” That’s a Facebook group made up of artists and photographers who, according to their Facebook page, “take photographs of children battling cancer and other serious illnesses and transform them into whatever they want to be when they grow up, then give them a canvas to hang on their wall.” Sandra said she takes on the difficult cases because she has the ability to do things not everyone can do. For example, she was given a picture of a newborn infant with an oxygen mask over his mouth. That was the only picture his mother had of him before he passed away, and the group wanted to find a way to give her a picture where she could see his face. Sandra said she could just barely make out his features through the mask, so she was able to paint the mask out of the picture and then paint in the baby’s little nose and a sweet smile. She said the mother used the picture on the tombstone. I can’t begin to imagine how precious that gift was to her.

There is one last thing to tell about Sandra before I wind up the story for this week. She is a clown — literally. She actually went to Toby’s Clown School back in 1997. She said it was her yearly “something different,” and being different is really what Sandra is all about.

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