LAUREL HILL — Creating colorful arrangements in her silk flower gift shop brings comfort to a north county woman whose illness cost her a teaching career.
Devona Willis, 64, has prepared synthetic flowers for 12 years; the hobby helped her cope after quitting her 20-plus-year teaching career due to fibromyalgia, a common syndrome that causes muscle pain.
"It’s chronic fatigue and pain," Devona said. "It changed my life — deeply.
"I still have dreams where I am still in the classroom teaching. I thought that was my calling."
Now, she’s fashioning a hobby into a home-based business.
"I spend most of the day inside the shop," Devona said, referring to The Shepherd’s Daughter, her business in the family’s former garage, near Almarante Cemetery.
"Out there is death; in here is life," Devona said.
Devona and her husband, Dale, have been married nearly 45 years and have lived in Laurel Hill since 1976.
Dale — a retired educator and baseball coach — supports his wife’s endeavor.
"Its something she likes to do and she is good at it," he said.
The couple has two grown children and five grandchildren. Their son and daughter have followed their parents’ example and became educators. Brad Willis, 42, teaches near Dothan, Ala.; Kelli Donofro, 43, teaches in Crestview.
Dale spends his time hunting and fishing in the north county’s rural area that has, as he says, limited recreation options.
"Up here, there is not a lot for ladies to do," he said.
It took some divine inspiration, as Devona believes, to find what was missing.
That muse was a sign she passed one day while driving from a visit with one of her children. The sign said “The Carpenter's Daughter,” and though that title was taken, another one came clear.
"The Holy Spirit whispered to me, ‘Devona, you can be the Shepherd's Daughter,’ she said. "It began to make sense to me."
Devona — whose maiden name is Shepherd — wants to share her hobby with women who need their own comfort.
"It’s therapy for me, but it's a getaway place for women to come," she said. "It's a feast for their eyes and it's a healing for your heart and soul."
It starts with a stick
Devona said she designs the arrangements on her own with no pictures to inspire her.
"Everything in here is one of a kind," she said.
It starts with placing a stick in a foam base. She then decorates the tree with floral tape, ribbon and silk flowers.
If requested, she adds a personal touch.
"I can make a Hobo tree and Bulldog tree," she said, referring to the Laurel Hill and Crestview athletic teams’ mascots. She also fashions seasonal trees for Christmas and Valentine's Day.
The work is time consuming — “the broomstick trees can easily take a couple of hours to do,” she says — and materials are expensive.
And she’s a stickler for quality.
"I have been known to take the arrangements apart and start all over," she said.
In addition to synthetic floral arrangements, the shop has a selection of Christian themed books and children’s DVD's.
Willis plans to add candlewarmers to the shop's inventory this year.
The shop has irregular hours, and Devona said people could call her cell phone, 496-0353, to set an appointment.
With her creativity intact, despite a chronic condition, the designer hopes others can see misfortune’s unseen benefits.
"There are times that I have energy that is through the roof, and other times I would just crash,” she said.
“Nevertheless, "I'm at the point of my life where I can see the total picture. I know for women that go through heartache or disappointment, there (are) other things ahead."
Want to go?
The Shepherd's Daughter is at 3647 Highway 602 in Laurel Hill.
Contact News Bulletin Staff Writer Matthew Brown at 850-682-6524 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @cnbMatthew.