CRESTVIEW — Okaloosa Head Start supporters want to honor the memory of Gloria Jean Tippens, the program’s long-time director, who died at age 81 in late February.
Head Start — funded through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services — educates children 3-5 years old from low-income households. Tippens, who led the Okaloosa program for 26 years, is credited with reviving it after funding stopped.
The program, then under Community Action Partnership, lost its funding in 1976, but Tippens and other volunteers pounded the pavement to keep it going.
"My mother started walking door to door asking for donations," Beatrice Jackson, a retired medical technician and Fort Walton Beach resident, said. "She also got the support from the local mayors and city officials at the time."
"In 1971, there was only 100 students. Now, there are like 400," Jackson said.
Crestview has four Head Start sites; Laurel Hill has one.
However, growing the Head Start program didn’t end with Tippens’ retirement.
She helped her successor with grant writing, even when she was restricted to a bed, friends said.
‘The community didn’t appreciate her enough’
Crestview resident Deadra Wilson, who worked with Tippens for 25 years, said she felt that Tippens didn't get the send-off she deserved. She said that many residents, including her, were unaware of Tippens’ death until several weeks after the fact.
"Her family felt like the community didn't appreciate her enough," Wilson said. "Now I am making sure that they know."
The public, especially those who have benefited from the Head Start program, may commemorate Tippens on Saturday at Beulah First Baptist Church in Fort Walton Beach.
Crestview Mayor David Cadle and Fort Walton Beach Mayor Mike Anderson are expected to attend the event, Wilson said.
Supporters are asked to wear the Head Start program colors of red, white and blue.
A free service
Wilson had three children who benefited from the program, which prepares children from birth with tools they need for cognitive, social and emotional development.
"I saw what it did for my family and I saw what it did for other families," she said.
The rewards are plenty, considering the free cost, supporters said.
"All they would have to do is bring their kids and a change of clothes, and that's all," Wilson said.
Additionally, the program offers multiple resources for families including housing referrals and information on GED programs.
For Okaloosans, Tippens’ influence, and the impact of going door to door 37 years ago, should be remembered, Jackson said.
"I still come across people who tell me ... your mother put education in my mind," she said.
Want to go?
A Gloria Jean Tippens memorial ceremony is at 2 p.m. Saturday at Beulah First Baptist Church, 109 McGriff St., Fort Walton Beach.
Contact News Bulletin Staff Writer Matthew Brown at 850-682-6524 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @cnbMatthew.