ST. PETERSBURG – Friends and family gathered to honor a local icon in the nursing community. Catherine Crumbs was awarded the Community Service Award by The Princess Hirrihigua Chapter Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), and she was nothing but smiles.
“The first thing I asked was, ‘Do they realize I’m an African American?’” said Crumbs.
If you were to peruse the DAR website you might come across an old photo, one depicting the First Continental Congress of the DAR back in February of 1892. When looking at the 30 or so women, their long dresses a statement of the fashion of the time, it almost immediately becomes apparent what Crumbs is talking about.
All the women in the organization at that time were white.
The National Society Daughters of the American Revolution was founded on October 11, 1890 by women wanting to express their patriotism but who were excluded from men’s organizations. But times have changed and so has the DAR organization.
Any women, regardless of race, religion or ethnic background can become a member of DAR as long as they can prove their lineage to a patriot of the American Revolution. More so, the DAR recognizes community members who have impacted those around them in a positive way.
Jeanne Siegel, historian for the DAR, is a longtime friend of Crumbs and the woman responsible for bringing her accomplishments to light with the organization.
“Jeanne was the person I could talk to, she understood me,” said Crumbs who views herself as a little eccentric in her ways.
When Crumbs was just a young girl she realized her passion for helping others. A sickly child herself, she was often visited by a nurse and from there her love affair with the profession was born.
“I love it when a child has an attraction early on and turns it into a lifetime of achievement,” said Community Service Awards Committee Chairperson Susan Riggins.
At just 13, Crumbs had already signed up for an American Red Cross course and almost immediately followed that up by volunteering as a candy striper. Later she became a nurse’s aide at Mercy Hospital.
At each level of achievement in her nursing education, Crumbs wanted more. She felt the need for more education to broaden the scope of her skill and nursing practice. She began with practical nursing and then enrolled in an associate degree program at St. Petersburg Junior College. A bachelor’s degree from the University of South Florida (USF) wasn’t far behind, and finally Crumbs earned her Master of Science in nursing also through USF. She worked as a nurse the entire time.
“The history of her education, employment and volunteer service will make your head spin,” said Riggins. “She never stopped. I don’t think she even paused.”
Crumbs touched the lives of many in the St. Petersburg area during her tenure as a nurse. From Bayfront Hospital to the Pinellas County Health Department, and even Bay Pines Veteran’s Hospital, Crumbs brought her special brand of skills to those most in need. In 1990, she quickly became an advanced registered nurse practitioner (RN), received her clinical nurse specialist certification, and made the decision to change career paths by joining the nursing faculty at the St. Petersburg College Health Education Center.
“It is indeed an honor and a privilege to be a recipient,” said Crumbs who has seen how community perspectives have changed when speaking of race in the past few decades, especially in organizations such as the DAR. Although their objectives to remind others of the historical importance of America’s fight for independence, the educational need to cultivate knowledge and the patriotic obligation to cherish our freedoms and foster a love for America have remained the same over the last 125 years, the many faces that make up the DAR are no longer of one race. “They have changed 100 percent,” chimed in Crumbs.
Cindy Weatherby, Regent of The Princess Hirrihigua Chapter enlightened those in attendance on the goals of DAR. The organization was formed to perpetuate the memory and spirit of both the men and women who achieved American independence and to foster patriotic citizenship.
“We celebrate diversity, I want you to understand that,” said Weatherby pointing out that they have patriots of Spanish descent in their organization as well as other ethnicities and cultures.
The Princess Hirrihigua Chapter of DAR diligently works to pay tribute to the outstanding accomplishments of any person who has contributed to society in a meaningful way. They also call attention to groups that should be honored due to national holidays such as Veteran’s Day and Native American month.
“May we never let down those who have served for this country,” Weatherby continued stating that every American has the duty to uphold the values, freedoms, and dignity for others, which so many have died for. “May we lead the world by example, by our own conduct, kindness and tolerance.”
In keeping with the community service theme, the next day Weatherby and the DAR gang headed down to the Lincoln Cemetery to clear off gravesites and place American flags on headstones that were marked with military distinctions.
Lincoln Cemetery is the final resting places for more than 6,000 African Americans, many of them veterans with some dating back to the Civil War.
Councilmember Wengay Newton stopped by to help locate some graves that have been covered over by grass and invasive flora such as the Brazilian pepper trees.
“We are in the process of having the ownership handed over to a non-profit,” said Newton who recently met with the Pinellas County Urban League, a member of the Gulfport city council and Lawson, McRae and Creal funeral homes to figure out a solution to the problem.
“I’ve been at this for a while and I have an inch thick of requests with people looking for graves, said Newton. “The grass has grown over the headstones and it’s almost impossible to find one. Every now and again we will stumble upon one, but with maps, proper maintenance and Cindy Weatherby and the Daughters of the American Revolution, we will get this place better than what it was.”
You can check out the Daughters of the American Revolution on their website at www.dar.org. Not only do they have a complete history of the organization, but also ways African Americans can research their lineage. According to the website, more than 5,000 African Americans or mixed descent patriots served in the American Revolution during or in some military campaign against the British from 1775-1783 as civil servants or through their patriotic service.