BY JAMES HARPER
A hometown hero comes in many dimensions – war hero, law enforcement officer, educator and civil rights activist.
There are many others who could be classified as hometown heroes but don’t get the attention they deserve and, in many cases, are not seeking recognition.
That changes every year during Daytona Beach’s Juneteenth celebration when a committee overseen by Linda McGee, recreation manager for the city’s Leisure Services Department, selects local Hometown Heroes from a list of nominations.
Lillie Bell Beckton is one of the 20 Hometown Heroes to be honored during a Juneteenth banquet on June 13 and festival on June 15.
Beckton, who moved to Daytona Beach in the 1950s, was born Lillie Bell Darrisaw in Tennille, Ga. She was a New Year’s Day baby – born on Jan. 1, 1933.
Decades as domestic
She would eventually bear two sons – Brian and Eric. She raised them in Daytona’s Pine Haven projects, working sometimes three jobs at the same time to take care of the family. Brian would eventually graduate from Cornell University and earn a degree to practice medicine. Eric remained in Daytona and, among his many jobs, he was a successful construction worker.
Like many Black women in the ’50s and ’60s with only a high school diploma, the only work Beckton could find was in housekeeping and work at the former Morrison’s Cafeteria, which she welcomed and did proudly.
Those initial jobs would lead to a job as a cafeteria worker at Campbell Junior High for 20 years where she became very popular with the students.
Started prison ministry
While working for Volusia County Schools, she had another job working for NASCAR and was responsible for cleaning the offices of Bill France, Sr., his son, Bill Jr., and his wife, Betty Jane, in addition to the offices of other VIPs.
She also maintained housekeeping jobs at a number of private homes, including the Frances and the home of Dr. and Mrs. Gilbert Martin.
Beckton’s philosophy is “It’s not what (money) you make but how well you manage it.”
She never forgot where she came from because so many people helped her along. She vowed to do the same.
Her philanthropic endeavors include a prison ministry she began about 30 years ago after learning some of her friends and family members had incarcerated loved ones they could not afford to support while they were locked up.
Still helping inmates
Beckton began setting aside money to mail to these loved ones who were incarcerated in addition to keeping up a correspondence with them.
At one point she was mailing out money to as many as six inmates a month. When she first started 30 years ago, she would send them $5 a month. Currently, she has two inmates she supports sending them $25 a month.
One inmate she supported for 30 years until he was released. He and his family have expressed gratitude to her for the decades of support.
Started own Meals on Wheels
Beckton also prides herself on her cooking and is well known in the community for the different salads she makes – from potato salad, macaroni salad, garden salad and a creation of her own called “Heavenly Hash,” which is a fruit salad with other ingredients.
She started a Meals on Wheels program of her own and started taking hot meals to the elderly and homebound as well as taking food to family members who were having trouble making ends meet.
Beckton does this in addition to visiting nursing homes taking literature, fruit and giving the seniors she has “adopted’’ what she calls a “goody bag.’’
She is a faithful Member of Mt. Calvary Seventh Day Adventist Church and no matter what – she believes in tithing every paycheck.
At 80, she still works full time for NASCAR and plans to do so as long as she is able. She says working gives her purpose and allows her to continue making a difference in others’ lives.
Other Hometown Heroes
Along with Beckton, other Hometown Heroes who will be recognized during the June 13 banquet at the Midtown Cultural and Education Center and at a Juneteenth Festival on June 15 at Cypress Street Park include: Duane Fernandez, Charlie Lydecker, Launa Taylor, Dr. Alma Dixon, Korynne Lamitriz Burgess-Turner, Charles Bethune, Suzanne Grubbs, Isabel Berber, Maureen Taylor, Ronnie Williams, Chris Daun, Perman Shepard, Joanne Foster, Ivette Delgado, Tim Huth, Rafael Ramirez, Dixie Morgese, Christine Davis and Cheryl Coxwell.
On June 19, 1865, Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas, and announced the end of the Civil War. This was two and a half years after slaves had been freed by the Emancipation Proclamation, which was signed by President Abraham Lincoln on Sept. 22, 1862.
Daytona Beach is one of many communities across the country that celebrates Juneteenth, which marks the time Texas slaves learned they were free.
For more information on Hometown Heroes, the banquet, and the festival, contact Linda McGee at 386-671-8337 or email her at email@example.com.