As a young girl in Lake Wales, Bennye Milton kept busy helping her mother and six siblings cook and clean at the family-run boarding house. Running the family business was difficult work, but it was necessary if the children were to fulfill their mother's dream that they all receive an education. Mrs. Milton's father died when she was 10, leaving the children to help their mother make ends meet.
"My mother worked awful hard and made many sacrifices for me to be able to go to college, and I am thankful for that," said Mrs. Milton, 59, of Crystal River.
"Going to college was a must in my family because my mother expected it. There was never a doubt in my mind that I wouldn't get an education," said Mrs. Milton, the youngest of six children. Four of them graduated from college.
Mrs. Milton attended Florida A & M, earning a bachelor's and a master's degree. She now is assistant principal for 835 pupils at Crystal River Middle School.
Her daughter, Lynnette Hardy, also graduated from Florida A & M and works in St. Petersburg as a counselor for parents of children who have dropped out of school.
Mrs. Milton has worked in public education in Florida for 37 years, 20 of them in Citrus County as a teacher and later an administrator. "I know it seems like a long time, but I have loved every bit of it," she said.
"I have worked here so long that I am seeing children of the children that I used to teach walking through these doors."
Had Mrs. Milton followed her earlier dreams, she might have spent the years singing to packed opera houses instead of teaching youngsters.
"I always wanted to be a concert artist, so I majored in voice in college. But once I got into education, I fell in love with it," she said.
"I really enjoy what I am doing now. I am able to make an impact on teachers, which therefore helps children," she said. "The excitement and daily pleasure you get out of seeing the behavioral changes in children is priceless."
Mrs. Milton said her outlook on people has changed during her career as an educator.
"At this point in my life I see people as people. I am not confined to an all-black world. I want to see all children learn for the sheer pleasure of learning."
Mrs. Milton said one of the biggest changes she has seen in education over the years is that minority children have more opportunities than she had as a child.
"I could have been in the Met (Metropolitan Opera) if I were just
finishing college today. With my talent I could have really aspired," she said. "But I don't regret one day having gone into education. It has been a most rewarding experience."