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Hernando mental health activist Evelyn DeHart dies at age 92

Evelyn DeHart took a lead in bringing a chapter of the National Alliance of Mental Illness to Hernando County.

Special to the Times

Evelyn DeHart took a lead in bringing a chapter of the National Alliance of Mental Illness to Hernando County.

BROOKSVILLE — Evelyn DeHart dedicated her life to serving others.

She had a sister who suffered severe depression and a child with autism. Both shaped her passion for helping those in need.

Mrs. DeHart is largely credited with bringing a chapter of the National Alliance of Mental Illness to Hernando County. She was also a veteran of World War II, a public school teacher and a political activist.

Each chapter of her life was marked by advocacy.

Mrs. DeHart died at home on Friday (March 6, 2009) at age 92. Her funeral was Tuesday.

A passionate activist for the mentally ill, Mrs. DeHart spent years serving as the local president of NAMI.

"A crusader would not be too strong a term," said her daughter, Lisa O'Neill.

"She was ferociously independent," O'Neill added. "She lived life on her own terms."

Mrs. DeHart was able to bring to fruition the dream of a drop-in center for those with mental health needs. She was intent on having the center, the Beautiful Mind on Spring Hill Drive in Spring Hill, run independently by those who use it.

"She said they don't need (anyone) running it for them and telling them what to do," said longtime friend Deron Mikal.

In an August 2007 letter to the editor in the Times, Mrs. DeHart railed against "fat cats" in county government, frustrated by what she saw as bloated salaries, particularly compared to many county residents who lived hand to mouth.

"Can you imagine how much and how long we will have to keep feeding this greedy bunch?" she wrote. "Their retirement is based on last year's salary, so we will have them feeding at the public trough for a long, long time to come."

A passionate Democrat and former chairwoman of the Hernando Democratic Executive Committee, she would often call her close friend, Dr. B.J. Tipton, for assistance typing letters to local newspapers.

"She'd dictate it, and I'd type it," Tipton said. "She'd proofread and sign it."

"We were true blues no matter what," said Tipton. "People were switching parties left and right — it wasn't going to happen to us."

Mrs. DeHart was delighted when Barack Obama became president.

"She was glued to the TV set," O'Neill, her daughter, said.

Born in Alabama in 1917, Mrs. DeHart spent her early years working at the Pentagon during World War II as a member of the Women's Army Corps.

After the war, she took advantage of the GI Bill and studied education at Cornell University, where she met her husband and fellow activist, Ralph DeHart. They settled in New York, and she taught elementary school.

After retirement in 1982, they moved to Hernando County and became politically active.

After her husband died in 1993, Mrs. DeHart continued her activism. She was a person of faith, and friends considered her to be very open-minded.

"Above everything, Evelyn tried to practice her Christianity and be a good person," said Tipton.

Mrs. DeHart's guiding philosophy was simple and service-oriented, her daughter said.

"(She believed) you can't be an island. You can't live within yourself. You do what you can for your community — those are the best rewards you can get."

"She really soared in her retirement," O'Neill said. "At 92, that's pretty good. Her story is pretty amazing."

Hernando mental health activist Evelyn DeHart dies at age 92 03/10/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 10, 2009 7:39pm]
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