Dora Bean just seemed to be everywhere, at the right time.
A few years ago a teaching friend of mine died, and her family asked if I'd write her eulogy. Struggling with sadness and hoping to choose the right words, I answered a phone call and there was Dora. I'd never met her, but in seconds she soothed my grief and offered thoughts for the eulogy of my friend, who had also taught with Dora. Her words helped but I never thought to ask Dora how she came to call me.
Now I am looking for the right words to summarize the life of Dora, a longtime Land O'Lakes resident who died this past Christmas at age 83. Talk to anyone who knew her, and they'll have plenty to say.
"She was a woman of action. She lived her life helping other people," said her son, Jason Bean, offering fitting words about a woman who thrived on simply being helpful.
"She was an amazing lady who was always willing to get involved with anything that would make our community a better place to live," added Kurt Conover, who volunteered the last 18 years with Dora for community events including Keep Pasco Beautiful, the Great American Clean-up, the Coastal Clean-up, the Flap Jack Festival and the Heritage Park Foundation.
"She was a dedicated, behind the scenes worker," Conover continued. "In all the years I volunteered with her, she gave from the heart, never expecting anything in return."
Some years passed between the first time Dora called me and the next time we met. This time it was at the Lutz/Land O'Lakes Woman's Club scholarship banquet. Dora was diligent in her role as scholarship chairman and was always thrilled to see young people receive money for education.
Dora knew about tough times and going to school. Her father died when she was a toddler, leaving Dora, her mother and a brother facing the Great Depression. Her mother dug in, went to work, cared for her children and set them on paths to success.
Dora received a bachelor's degree from Northwestern University and later, while teaching and caring for son Jason and daughter Laura, earned her master's degree from the University of South Florida by attending classes nights and weekends. It wasn't easy, Jason said, but Dora never gave up.
Dora's own children have followed in her path to be successful. Jason is a local arborist and Laura served 20 years with the Air Force and now works as a designer of "green" parks near Seattle.
It's no surprise both children work with trees. Dora was proud of her Land O'Lakes Christmas tree farm of about 100 trees.
If something needed to be done, Dora was there with a warm smile and words of encouragement. She served as environment chair for the Woman's Club, volunteered for Relay for Life, AARP and many other causes.
She often pulled others into activities with her, adding a good dose of humor along the way.
"She was always willing to do whatever was necessary regardless of circumstances," said Juanita McGregor. She and Dora, both hired in 1972 to teach at Sanders Memorial Elementary, worked together for decades, sometimes teaching the same grade and participating in Alpha Delta Kappa, an honorary society of female educators.
Dora persuaded McGregor to go with her to O'Leno State Park in High Springs on a camping trip as Pasco school district trainers for Project Learning Tree, an environmental education program started in 1976.
"It was 29 degrees and we were freezing but Dora was happy and saying just to come on, that we would have the best time," said McGregor. "She was so good to do things with. I never want to forget her."
The purpose of Project Learning Tree was to develop an educational program for students, with teachers as trainers. Being a trainer came naturally to Dora, who loved gardening, growing things and helping students appreciate the joy of that.
She spearheaded the project at Sanders and the school was later recognized as the first Pasco elementary to complete the program.
"Dora had such a good personality and gave such good advice. She was sharp, and it just seemed like she knew everything," said McGregor.
"She had great wisdom that came from a special friend," noted Nancy Fisher, member of the Woman's Club, who praised Dora's achievements including, while president, leading the local club to the highest award the state federation grants to Woman's Clubs.
Betsy Crisp, from Pasco County extension and co-chair of Coastal Cleanup added, "Dora was one of the kindest and sweetest people I've ever known. When my children were attending Sanders Elementary about 20 years ago, she had an outstanding reputation even back then. It was so obvious that she loved her students and the feeling was mutual."
This love for children drove Dora in helping to establish the Little Lambs Preschool at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, where she was a charter member. I recall in past years, seeing small floats from Little Lambs at Flapjack Festival parades, a host of toddlers sitting on the float with Dora's arms safely encircling many.
It seems fitting that Dora's final resting place, by her request, will be in All Saints Memorial Garden, a small spot near the preschool.
Local community members who knew and loved Dora can attend a memorial service for her at 11 a.m. Saturday at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, 20735 Leonard Road, Land O'Lakes.