The Newtown Florist Club has been a key player in the Gainesville-Hall area for decades, and Mozetta Whelchel was one of its hardest-working, founding members.
The Newtown Florist Club recently announced its desire to honor Whelchel by naming the group’s Girls Summer Leadership Program in her honor.
Whelchel joined the likes of activists Ruby Wilkins, Rose Johnson and her sister Faye Bush in the 1950s, when the club was founded by local women to raise funds for flowers for funerals. In time, the club would evolve into a group of women focused on improving the health of the entire community, defending civil rights and supporting the environment.
According to Rose Johnson, Newtown Florist Club executive director, Whelchel was an “unsung heroine.”
“She had gone through and worked on every single kind of issue in the Newtown community that the community faced,” Johnson said. “She was such a committed woman.”
Whelchel, who died in 2010 at 84 after battling cancer, also worked diligently to improve the living conditions in the Newtown community. She was one of the Newtown Florist Club women who led the “toxic tours” through Newtown in the ‘80s, after conducting community surveys and learning residents were suffering from high rates of autoimmune diseases due to toxic releases in the area.
“She was one of the members of the community who became sick,” Johnson said. “She had a brain tumor, her son died of cancer, her daughter died of cancer and her husband died of cancer. After all of them living in the same house…. So hers was one of those examples where we really felt the pain of these cancers and illnesses the most. And she raised her voice against the issue, against the pollution from the industry in the area.”
Johnson said Whelchel fought and vouched for improvement in housing, paved sidewalks and children’s programs.
“When I was young coming up in that community and she was an adult, there was at that time dilapidated housing, no sidewalks, no place for the kids to play,” Johnson said. “She was one of the women whose voices raised the loudest to make sure we all had a place.”
The girls leadership program was established in 1994 to help girls ages 11-17 develop leadership skills. It is also designed to create opportunities for low-income girls to grow in a healthy environment.
“When we sat down and thought about this 20-year-old program that needs to have a name and an identity that reflects why the program is so important, Moz was the person that we all knew would be the best person to honor,” Johnson said. “Now we can tell other young girls and women about the work of women like her during tough times to make the world better.”
Pre-registration for the Mozetta Whelchel Girls Leadership Program begins today. The program itself will begin June 1. For more information, contact the Newtown Florist Club at 770-718-1343.
Donations to support the program can be mailed to the Newtown Florist Club, 1064 Desota St. Gainesville.