BY ANDREAS BUTLER
During the holiday season, Nancy Dawkins, 97, received a great gift.
The South Florida resident was honored last month for being the oldest member of the Bethune-Cookman University’s Miami-Dade Alumni Chapter. She was given a certificate and a drive-by salute at her home.
The retired educator is a longtime community advocate, working for decades to improve the lives of South Florida residents.
“I feel blessed. It is truly an honor. I still pay my dues and I’m active. They wanted to honor the elderly alumni members for Christmas. They wanted to know my story and about Dr. [Mary McLeod] Bethune. They asked if I knew more elderly members. As far as I know all my old classmates are gone.’’
It’s possible that Dawkins is the oldest alum in the state and the country.
Johnny McCrary, president of Bethune-Cookman’s National Alumni Association, told the Courier “We haven’t discussed looking into it as of yet, but it’s a possibility.”
Knew school’s founder
Dawkins attended then-Bethune-Cookman College from 1941-1943 where she earned an associate’s degree in home economics.
She attended Bethune-Cookman when the legendary founder, Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune, was running the school.
“I did get to talk to Dr. Bethune. They took us home economics students over to her house,’’ Dawkins recalled. “We went with her when she solicited money for the college around town. We served at the hotels during banquets while she was speaking.”
“I got to talk to her. She would often talk to me about my experience there. She would ask me what I thought about the school and the town.”
There are fond memories of Dr. Bethune, her personality and influence on others.
“She was a very trusting person. She had the mindset to do for others. which she instilled upon the students,” Hawkins related.
“She was a religious person. She trusted in the Lord. We took a Bible class as an elective and attended church services on campus at the school. She wanted to make sure we had that spiritual foundation.”
Her time at Bethune-Cookman has had a lifelong effect on Dawkins.
“The motto, ‘Enter to Learn and Depart to Serve’ stuck with me. I tried to do that my entire life. I went there to get an education and learned about life. I think I’ve done a remarkable job with serving from what I learned at Bethune-Cookman,” stated Dawkins.
Street in her name
Her years of service have even yielded her a street in her name.
In 2017, the City of Miami named a portion of a street as Mrs. Nancy Dawkins Way for many years of community service.
“The city wanted to honor me when they saw that I was still active. The Lord just blessed me to have a long life. I am thankful for it,’’ said Dawkins, whose husband was Miami City Commissioner Miller Dawkins. He died in 2010.
Even now, her hobbies include volunteer work and helping seniors.
From Dillard to Bethune
Dawkins was born Nancy Sidney and had a brother and a sister. She grew up in South Florida and attended segregated schools.
“We either had to go to Booker T. Washington in Miami or Dillard in Fort Lauderdale. I went to Dillard since it was closer,’’ she said.
Dawkins graduated from Dillard High School in 1941. While there, the principal often had college fairs where students got to visit Black colleges in Florida, including Bethune-Cookman, Florida A&M, Florida Memorial and Edward Waters.
“Our principal wanted us all to go to college. That is why he took us on those visits. That is how I ended up going to Bethune-Cookman.’’
Not only is she a Wildcat, Dawkins is also a Rattler. Dawkins went on to Florida A&M University where she earned a bachelor’s degree in home economics in 1946.
Delta and Quette
After college, she went on a 35-year teaching career in the Miami-Dade School District.
Dawkins married Miller J. Dawkins in 1952. They had one son, Myron Dawkins, who also is deceased. She has two grandsons, one great grandson and three great granddaughters.
Dawkins is also a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc. She’s also a Quette with a South Florida chapter of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc.
“I am the oldest with both. They call me a blessing,” Dawkins stated.
‘Pretty good’ health
The coronavirus pandemic has slowed her down a little. She’s still driving.
“I am truly blessed. I am still active and not in a nursing home. I can still walk and get around. I can still drive. However, I am not as active since the coronavirus pandemic,’’ she noted.
“I mainly drive three places doctors, shopping center or something. My health is pretty good. I stay home more now with this virus out there. I have challenges, but I can still make it.’’
Dawkins is a devout Christian who credits her longevity to her faith.
She said, “The only thing that I can do is tell you to trust Jesus! Serve the Lord.”