Embodying the Spirit of Opelika

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Shirley Flora’s impact on community spans more than two decades
By Donna Williamson
Opelika Observer

Many would agree that one of the best days for the city of Opelika occurred in 1991 when Shirley Flora and her husband Bud chose to retire and move here. Shirley’s energetic personality, unyielding work ethic, and love for people embody the true spirit of Opelika.

Shirley and Bud moved to Opelika to be closer to their daughter Cindy Mirarchi, her husband Ralph, and their two children Matthew and Laura. Their son Michael and his wife Carla have three children: Caitlin, Alyssa and Bryson, who is deceased. Although Shirley and Bud were invited to live in Mt. Airy, Maryland, with Michael and Carla, they thought Opelika was a better fit for them.

After three months of retirement, Shirley’s “honey-do list” became too big for Bud and he started working at the Auburn University book store, where according to Flora, “He loved his position at the store and the people who worked for him and one of his greatest joys was seeing the Auburn University football players come in. Some football players would walk into the store and pick him up and he would come home and say, ‘Guess who picked me up today?’” Flora loves to reminisce about her beloved husband, who died after a long battle with cancer. “I still use the plural ‘we.’  I just can’t say ‘I,’” she explained.

Flora is probably best known for her many years of service as the first Executive Director of Keep Opelika Beautiful (KOB).  However, most people may not realize that she was also the founder of KOB and that she worked for months as a volunteer, without pay, to organize KOB as an affiliate of Keep America Beautiful.

She saw a need and took action. The Chamber of Commerce was concerned about environmental issues and had a Beautification Committee within the Chamber, but that wasn’t enough. “The Keep America Beautiful requirements are very strict. It took a year to get the paper work done; plus to become an affiliate, we needed structure. The Chamber backed us financially to attend a Keep America Beautiful day-long affiliate training session.” She praised the Chamber, saying, “To this day, the Chamber continues to provide KOB with space.”

The first city-wide cleanup was in 1997. “The tremendous turnout of volunteers for the cleanup is what got our organization going,” Flora said.  “Dr. Bob Patton was KOB’s first president, as well as the head of KOB’s first cleanup.” With a smile she added, “He calls me the trash lady.”

In order to receive its charter, KOB had to have a paid director. This was the KOB board’s biggest challenge. However, initial money was found and the charter was granted in 1998. Later, the money ran out; however, Flora continued working. “We almost closed. I worked for a few months without pay,” she said.

In an attempt to save KOB, Dr. Bill Lazenby, a KOB board member and a member of the city council, and Mrs. Lee Sadler, KOB president at that time, presented the city council with a long list of things that KOB had done for the city. Sadler also shared that KOB had received two Keep America Beautiful awards. “A motion was made and passed that the council fund the executive director’s salary and the council continues to do so today,” Flora said.

Because of her husband’s failing health, Flora retired from KOB in early 2009. However, her legacy with KOB will never be forgotten. KOB established the Shirley Flora Award in 2012 and, of course, Flora was the first recipient. The award is given in recognition of her dedication to promoting a clean and beautiful environment and establishing the mission of KOB. Flora is happy that her friend Bob Patton was the 2013 recipient of the Shirley Flora Award and that he still serves as head of the city-wide cleanup.

Flora’s service extends beyond KOB.  She recently resigned her position as a member of the Board of Zoning Appeals after serving 14 years. In 2009 the Alabama Planning Association awarded Flora under the category “Friend of Planning.”  Jerry Kelley, Opelika City Planning Director, nominated Flora and wrote the proposal for this award. “Jerry, not only nominated me, he drove me to Orange Beach to the award’s banquet,” Flora said.

In May, the Board of Zoning Appeals held a special ceremony to recognize Flora for her years of service. Kelley, as planning director, worked closely with Flora and has the highest regard for her.  “Mrs. Flora’s love and devotion to Opelika is contagious.  One does not say NO to Shirley when there is a task to do!! And do you know what? She never takes any credit for herself, but always to others who participate in the cause or activity she is pursuing,” Kelley said.

The Rotary Foundation of Rotary International named Flora a “Paul Harris Fellow,” the Rotary’s highest award. Flora said, “This award has community significance and promotes people working together and it is humbling to be named a Rotary Paul Harris Fellow.”

When asked what she loves most about Opelika, Flora answered without hesitation, “the people.”  It is this endearing quality that makes “the people” love her in return.

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