Special to the Lake Okeechobee News Charlotte Delagall is pictured with her great grandson Channing.
“If I could do anything for people, I would,” said Charlotte Delagall. “I try to live by the Golden Rule.”
Mrs. Delagall and her husband Daniel moved to Okeechobee in 1957 to be closer to their families. She said both sets of parents and her grandparents were getting older and their health was not as good as it once was, so they felt it was important to be closer to them.
Mrs. Delagall taught elementary school and home economics in the public school system before she retired, and Mr. Delagall was the principal of the Douglas Brown school for many years.
Mrs. Delagall said she considered herself a tough teacher but it was because she wanted the students to do their best. She knew that one day they would appreciate it. Some of them have come back after they grew up and told her they did.
“I believed in them,” she said. “I think they appreciated that.” As the students got older, sixth grade or so, she began letting them make the rules and the outcomes for breaking those rules for the classroom. “They made harder rules than I did, “she laughed. “It worked out well because I could say I didn’t make that rule.” Many of the children in her classes called her “Mama,” she continued. “I love children. I didn’t care what color either. They could be purple, and I would still love them.”
Mrs. Delagall went to college — Florida A & M University, University of Florida and Florida Atlantic University — and had a career in an age when most women did not do those things, but she said her family believed in education and encouraged each member to go further. If one went for two years, her father wanted his child to go for four. If a niece was in school, the entire family contributed in some way to make it easier for her to be able to go.
“My mother made my dresses from flour sacks,” said Mrs. Delagall. “Most people don’t even know what that means. Sometimes she would buy two so she could match up the sleeves.” She said she even went to preparatory school to learn how to sit and walk properly — how to be a lady, but when her mother became ill, she had to leave school to come home because school was expensive and her mother was no longer able to work so they couldn’t afford the school.
She remembers when they first moved to Okeechobee, she went to Padgett’s Drug Store. “I didn’t know black people were not supposed to go inside the drug store. They were supposed to go around back and knock on the window,” she said. “Mary Padgett didn’t say a word though. She was always a kind woman. Everybody was nice. I didn’t find it hard to get along with people here.”
The town has changed a lot though — a complete 360 degrees — she said.
She remembers the old Gilbert Theater on State Road 70, D & D Grocery, Raulerson Grocery, Raulerson Department Store, the 5 and 10 cent store,which they later changed to the 5 and 10 cent and $1 store. And she really hated to see the hotel go, she said. The post office was even in there around the back.
The Delagalls raised four children in Okeechobee: her niece Mary Jackson; her sister Joyce Bass; their son Daniel and their son Tony S., who is married to Ethel. Tony S. and Ethel have a son named Tony R. and he is married to Danyta. They have two children, Ciara and Channing. Along with my brother Tony, my mother has always been my best friend, said her son Daniel. She has unconditional love and wisdom, but most of all, she is unshakable in her faith in God.
One of her sons was the drum major in the high school band, and her sister played in the band so Mrs. Delagall found herself a very active band mom for many years, she said. She was the treasurer of the band association for ten years. “Once,” she laughed, “we made uniforms for the band in Home Economics. The parents bought the pants, but we made the shirts.” They also used to make 100 candy apples in Home Economics to sell on Friday nights, and they even made and sold quilts to support the band.
“I believe I am God’s child,” said Mrs. Delagall. “God made every one of us.” She and her husband always kept extra groceries so they could help if there was ever a family in need. She said it was very common for a family to be burned out because they used pot bellied stoves and fires happened a lot. “Some of the other teachers, like Mrs. Raulerson, used to bring things over for us to store in case of emergency because they knew we were helping people,” she said. Each year at Christmas time, they “adopted” a family and took them all the groceries for a Christmas dinner and a gift for each child in the family. “I believe God leads me where He wants me to go, and I try to follow.”