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Martin County woman inducted into Florida's Women Hall of Fame

Posted at 10:47 AM, Feb 04, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-04 10:51:29-05

INDIANTOWN, Fla. — An Indiantown woman who fought for access to healthcare and affordable child care just received one of the highest honors in the state.

Thelma Waters was inducted into the Florida Women’s Hall of Fame for her lifelong contributions to build a better future for women and children in small, rural town in Martin County.

“I knew early in life that kindergarten, daycare, childcare, and early education made a big difference in a child's life,” said Waters.

The induction ceremony was hosted virtually from Tallahassee on January 28th, however, friends and family of Waters honored the occasion with a celebration at Timers Power Park in Indiantown.

Thelma Waters is known throughout the community as a tireless advocate for women, children, and farm workers throughout Indiantown.

From her very first job, Waters began a decades-long mission of caring and advocating for others, particularly women and children.

It is a pattern that played out again and again over the course of eight decades.

According to relatives, if Waters sees a need or encounters injustice; she acts and finds long-term solutions so her can turn her focus to solve other problems within the community.

Waters has been a leading force in her community for civil rights, suitable farmworkers’ and affordable housing, medical care, early childhood education and quality daycare, access to a voting precinct, and political representation.

In the 1960s, Waters started a daycare center for farmworkers’ children.

She was passionate about educating parents about health issues after having to pull worms out of a four-year-old’s body.

Waters became passionate about connecting the community with quality health care that the Rural Improvement Council (FCHC) opened a satellite health clinic within months of her presentation to Martin County commissioners.

“I would always find one or two people that seemed to be interested in what I was saying,” said Waters. “So I always made sure I had my eyes on those people.”

Thelma Waters also directed the East Coast Migrant Head Start Program for nearly two decades after convincing the Agricultural Labor Program to fund a Title XX Program.

“We had no child care center here period,” said Waters. “No early learning, no nothing. People were just leaving the kids with whomever they could leave them with and you know they weren’t getting any education.”

Waters was also passionate about ensuring working families had safe and affordable housing options.

“So I just started asking questions,” Waters said. “You have to express your needs. I went to meetings in Apopka and Lakeland at night. I was by myself and I was a long way away from Indiantown.”

Waters would drive home from Central Florida to Indiantown late at night after the meetings ended.

“Some nights I will get to Yeehaw Junction at one o'clock in the morning or two o'clock in the morning as I was on my way home.”

Waters served on Indiantown’s Neighborhood Advisory Council while leading boards and committees related to childcare, housing and health care.

In 2017, Waters became one of the three signatories, founders, of the Articles of Incorporation for the Village of Indiantown.

Since then, she has been referred to as the founder and unofficial “mayor” of Indiantown.

On the same day Waters was inducted into the Florida Women’s Hall of Fame, the Village of Indiantown Council approved a resolution to take all steps necessary to rename Magnolia Street as East Thelma Waters Street.

“We find it appropriate to celebrate her accomplishments by renaming Magnolia Street as East Thelma Waters Street on the same day that she is being honored at the state capitol,” said Mayor Janet Hernàndez.

The Public Works Department will replace the street signs along the corridor in the upcoming weeks.

Magnolia Street runs east-west from SW 168 Avenue to SW 173 Avenue.

Gov. Ron DeSantis selected Waters as one of three inductees to the Florida Women’s Hall of Fame for 2020.

She is the only living member of the prestigious trio.

The Florida Women’s Hall of Fame was created by Florida Statute in 1982 to honor women who, through their lives and efforts, made significant contributions to the improvement of life for women and all Florida citizens.

To learn more about the inductees or to nominate an outstanding Florida woman, click here.