CRESTVIEW — The Hub City's growth is due, in part, to one woman who is a part-time homemaker and part-time community volunteer, but a full-time giver.
Sharlene Cox, 69, is on the move each day, donating her time and talents so her community’s youths can have the best opportunities possible. She's been at it for the past 40 years and is still going strong.
'A PEOPLE PERSON'
“I’ve logged in 800 steps so far,” Cox said, referring to her pedometer, which tracks her daily activity including tending to her family and meeting with local residents. “On an average day I do a mile or over.”
The type of energy she projects landed her as an honoree in the 2009 Okaloosa County Women’s Hall of Fame, with her photographs on display at two key county buildings.
“I’m a people person,” Cox said.
Cox, who began community volunteer work in Okaloosa County in 1974, could be considered for the who’s who of Crestview movers and shakers; she's touched the city in many ways.
She is the Crestview Exchange Club's secretary and youth pillar. It is one of 30 Exchange Clubs providing community service to Florida cities and towns and 700 nationwide. The first one was founded in 1911 and is the country’s oldest service organization operating exclusively in the United States.
“We develop the nation’s youth, serve senior citizens, promote Americanism — among other things — and our national project is to prevent child abuse,” said Cox.
At a recent club meeting after pledging allegiance to the American flag and chanting the club’s oath, Cox got down to business, providing assistance to the FamiliesFirst Network. The Gulf Coast-based organization provides emergency shelter, foster care and adoption services.
Carrie Queen of FamiliesFirst — who was on hand to display school supplies the Exchange Club provided through club donations — said Cox is someone she counts on in a pinch.
At times, the organization needs to do emergency 24-hour placement to put children in a safe environment. Cox is a club catalyst to meet their physical needs.
“You can call her in the middle of the night,” Queen said. “Formula, diapers and food — anything the children need to get settled for the night — she makes happen.”
IMPROVING THE COMMUNITY
Not all of Cox's volunteer work involves mending broken situations. Much of it provides future opportunities for Crestview youth and overall community enhancements.
She was a substitute elementary and high school teacher from 1975 to 1985; became a back-up rural Crestview mail carrier, 1985-1987; has been a poll worker and trainer for local and county elections for a decade; and was a co-chairman of the Crestview Triple B Barbecue Festival for three years.
With the latter, Cox played a key role in bringing the event from Spanish Trail Park to historic downtown Crestview, which significantly increased its attendance, promoted tourism and economic development, and raises up to $30,000 a year in the chamber’s general operating funds, according to Wayne Harris, executive director of the Crestview Area Chamber of Commerce.
“The Triple B Barbecue draws 15,000 people in eight hours and is the largest draw of people in the chamber’s history,” he said. “Sharlene was one of the impetuses to being the success it is today.”
Recently, Cox helped local doctors organize the annual No Child Without Healthcare Fair.
Once the school year starts, she will be on the move again; this time to meet with elementary and high school students and prepare selected candidates to advance to the national level and compete for Exchange Club scholarships ranging from $500 to $10,000.
Then, come Christmastime, Cox will log more miles on her pedometer during the annual Tour of Homes fundraiser as treasurer of the General Federation of Woman’s Club of Crestview Inc.
She is a liaison to Crestview High School's Juniorettes, the youngest members of GFWC Florida Federation of Women’s Clubs, which is the world’s largest and oldest service organization of volunteer women and in more than 20 countries.
Together they serve as hosts to local homes with holiday decorating flair where the owners agree to allow the general public to take a tour.
Improving the community is important, she said.
After all, "as the community grows, if people don’t do things to improve it, people don’t want to stay here,” she said.
In Cox's various clubs she’s held titles like president at the local and state level and director or she's been seated on the board of directors.
Devoting time to all these responsibilities requires prioritizing.
“My family comes first, but I enjoy working in my community," Cox said.
In 1965, she became the wife of a career civil service test design engineer who retired from Eglin Air Force Base in 1995.
“We’ll be married 50 years in January,” she said.
The two met on base, where Cox was a clerk. They left to raise a family with the addition of their first baby, whom they adopted in 1967, followed by their second child, adopted in 1972. She now has two grown grandchildren, all local Floridians and steadfast in the community as well.
Crestview has been shaped partly through one woman’s community spirit and family commitment.
And if family genetics prove favorable — with Cox’s mother living to almost 101 years old — there are many more decades for her to affect people’s lives.
Because community service is Cox's passion.
“I enjoy the different activities, end results and the feeling it gives your heart,” she said.