On March 20, 1936 Dr. Turner was out on the waters off Cedar Key catching sea turtles when somebody went to get him for a delivery. Shirley Beckham was born that day in one of the houses where the Park Place office is now located. Four years later she moved to Jacksonville with her brother, her uncle Quitman Hodges, her parents and grandparents. This was during WWII and the men worked in the shipyard there. Shirley's mother passed away at age 25 and the family returned to Cedar Key, living in a house next door to the Island Hotel. They lived there until it was destroyed by the 1950 hurricane.
Shirley talked about the hurricane and the effect on Cedar Key. Without the technology we have today, the residents didn't know the hurricane was coming. Winds were 125 mph and the back of the house collapsed into the yard. Many people lost their homes and the school was used as a shelter. Shirley's father took a rope, secured it across the street at Randolph Hodges' home and pulled the children across one by one.
When asked about her school days on the island, Shirley explained there was no gym or lunch room. The high school building had just been rebuilt after having burned in 1943, and there was an elementary school. She played basketball for six years outside on a slag court. There was one row of lights and people sat on a wall to watch the games. If it was cold, they'd build fires to keep warm. She watched the new gym being built for two years but never got to play in it. During those years children either went home for lunch or brown bagged. Very few of the teachers had automobiles so most people walked to and from school.
Clothes were purchased from mail order catalogs. There were two places on the island where clothes could be purchased: a shop where the book store is now located and a dry goods store on 2nd Street.
To make extra money during her school years Shirley worked as a soda clerk at the drug store on the island and she babysat. After graduating high school she chose not to go to college. Unlike today with no dress code, she explained that back then a college wardrobe was a high budget item. In 1954 Shirley and two girlfriends left the island to find work in Jacksonville. She secured a position with Atlantic National Bank where she worked for four years. She then married and returned to Cedar Key. Church and family has been a major part of her life and she spoke with pride of her son, three daughters and eight grand-children.
In 1959 Shirley worked as a hostess at the Island Hotel, then owned by Miss Bessie. During that time there was a desk in the lobby. Patrons would choose their meal from the menu, go into the bar for a drink and be called to their table when the soup was being served. She spoke of the Palm Salad made famous by Bessie Gibbs and still on the Island Hotel menu today. In addition to other jobs, Shirley worked in the ice plant, and she was a teacher's aide at the school for six years.
She then became secretary to State Representative Gene Hodges for sixteen years. She also worked for State Representative Allen Boyd in Bronson and retired three years ago, after working for the Florida Legislature for 30-½ years. When questioned about her interests since retiring, she stated, "Grandchildren, reading and travel."
Shirley Beckham is a delightful and knowledgeable woman. Seeing Cedar Key through her eyes was a pleasant reminder of yet another local resident who has helped form the history of our island.