Florence Beeman celebrates her 100 birthday on December 30.
Family & Children’s Services applauds Florence with a look back on her lifetime of compassion, support and love for others.
Happy Birthday, Florence!
Originally published December 3, 1986, in the Tulsa Tribune (an afternoon daily newspaper published in Tulsa, Oklahoma).
Story written by Tribune Writer, Ron Jensen
For love of people
After 28 years, Beeman says goodbye
Florence Beeman is a cheery, wide-eyed optimist with an easy laugh and an unshakeable love of people.
For the past 28 years at Family & Children’s Services, she has been a listening ear and a helping hand for thousands of people burdened by marital strife, parental woes or some other emotional or social malady.
“I’ve never lost my faith in people,” she says as she approaches her retirement at the end of the month.
That faith has been tested at times. She discovered early in her career that not everyone wants to be helped.
“That was one of the things I had to learn,”she says, “I wanted more for people than they wanted for themselves.”
A teenage girl who wanted to drop out of high school helped Beenman learn that lesson. Beeman counseled the girl on the benefits of an education and of the hard life of a dropout.
“She and her boyfriend went out and robbed a filling station and loused up the whole plan,” Beeman recalls.
If such an outcome threatened her faith in people, it was restored by another teenage girl. This girl had tried suicide, and, against Beeman’s advice, dropped out of school and ran away.
“We didn’t know where she was for a couple of years,” Beeman recalls.
One day a picture arrived in the mail. It showed the young dropout in her high school graduation robes, standing beside her husband.
The accompanying letter read, “You and John (the husband) were the only two who cared.”
“I have a very basic belief in the strength of people,” she says.
As a counselor, she tries to find that strength and help the person build on it. A common trait among those in need, she says, is a low sense of self-worth.
A few minutes with the affable Beeman, however, can put a more upbeat step in the gait of even the most downtrodden individual.
“She’s been a symbol of vitality, said Gail Lapidus, who has worked with Beeman for 12 years. “She seems to be invigorated by being able to help people.”
During her years at Family & Children’s Services, Beeman has become so closely identified with the agency that its name and her have become synonymous.
When Lapidus, recently named the agency’s director, speaks to groups, she is invariable approached by someone who asks about Beeman.
“People equate her name with the agency,” Lapidus said. “In fact, she is known around the office as ‘Mrs. Family & Children’s Services.'”
At the end of the month, Beeman’s name will be associated with the counseling service only in the past tense. After nearly three decades at “my only paid job,” Beeman is calling it quits.
Beeman was a sociology major at Cornell College in Mt. Vernon, Iowa, when a professor saw in her the qualities of a great social worker. With his encouragement, she continued her studies at the New York School of Social Work, now part of Columbia University, and the University of Minnesota.
She was doing volunteer work when she was invited to join the staff of Family & Children’s Services in 1958.
Since then, she has served in a number of the agency’s programs, including adoption services, foster care, homemaker service and Skills for Living. She created the “Understanding Your Teenager” program for the agency.
“In the 60sm we placed quite a few children for adoption,” she says. “They come back and visit sometimes, and it’s nice to see what has happened to their lives.”
When retirement rolls around, Beeman, the 1976 Oklahoma Social Worker of the Year, will remain active. She will teach at Tulsa Junior College, something she has done for one year and loves. She will do more volunteer work and run a private service out of her home.
Around the Family & Children’s Services office, they will miss her smiling face and professional acumen.
“She has done wonderful things for the agency,” said Jacqueline Tomsovic, the board president. “I think that Family & Children’s Services has really grown as a result of Florence.”
Although Beeman will be gone, her name will remain at the agency. The board has created the Florence Beeman Community Education Fund, which will pay for trained counselors who speak at churches and organizations unable to pay the usual fee.
Lapidus said one of Beeman’s most telling qualities is the perspective she has on her work. Social workers often take on more specific labels: counselor, therapist, etc.
Lapidus said, “Florence has always taken pride in introducing herself as a social worker.”
More about Florence
Florence attended Cornell College in Iowa from 1939-1943 studying psychology and sociology. During this wartime, there were trainees for the Navy Air Force on campus taking basic courses. In 1943 there was a “women’s choice” dance with the trainees. Florence walked up and chose a tall, handsome man (Bill) to dance with. He walked her home that night and she went in and wrote in her diary that she had met the man she would marry. Florence went on to finish her undergraduate degree and she and Bill went their separate ways for a while but kept in touch. Florence moved to New York to attend graduate school at the New York School of Social Work, which later became Columbia University. While there, she lived in a settlement house and was responsible for activities and recreation for Irish and Italian kids. In 1945 Bill asked Florence to come and visit him in San Francisco. Florence told her mother that she was going to “pick up her engagement ring”. Indeed, Bill had a ring waiting for her and they were married in April of 1945. Bill and Florence had three children. In 1957 Bill got a job offer in Oklahoma.
It was in Oklahoma that Florence began her career in social work. From 1958-1986, she worked at Family & Children’s Services in areas including adoption services, foster care, homemaker service and Skills for Living (Family Life Education). After she retired in 1986, she continued to volunteer for the agency. She was referred to as “Mrs. Family and Children’s Services” and was very well known throughout Tulsa, speaking in the community about parenting, children and divorce. She also wrote columns for the Tulsa Tribune. At the age of 66, Florence retired from Family and Children’s Services. But her work was not yet finished. For the next 5 years, Florence worked at what was then called Tulsa Junior College, teaching classes on Family Life, Human Sexuality and Aging.
Florence loves to travel and has been to 19 countries. She is a people person and loves to tease. She says she got her sense of humor from her father.
Editor’s note: This is an occasional series of stories on Family Heroes, people who have done more than their share in helping people in their families and communities.
Queen Bee: For nearly half a century, Florence Beeman has served Family and Children's Services
Florence Beeman is an 82-year-old woman with a history of changing lives. Maybe you’ve run into her.
She was the one who explained in many Tulsans in the 1970s that teenager isn’t a disease.
She may have been the person who helped you the day you gave your baby up for adoption.
Or maybe you had her as a professor. She was the woman in her 60s who entertained people more than half her age on the topic of sexuality and human behavior.
However you met Beeman, you should know she is still around. Maybe her face hasn’t been in the paper as Tulsa’s most quoted family and marriage expert, as she was for 20 years. But she’s still doing what she can to help Family and Children’s Services, an agency she’s served as a staff member and volunteer for almost a half-century.
She still volunteers once a week at Family and Children’s offices on Peoria Avenue, even though she retired 17 years ago. The building may not be the same, but her presence in it is.
Executive Director Gail Lapidus considers her the “Queen Mother” of the agency. That’s funny if you consider that Beeman never intended to have a full-time job other than being a mother. She remembers the conversation she had with her three children when the agency offered her a job as a caseworker in 1958.
“I told my children that mother was thinking about taking a full-time job,” she remembered. “But I told them if I was getting called all the time and they were all fussing, I would come back home.
“Well, that never happened.”
Finding children homes
She was 38 when she took that job, her first. Before that, she stayed home with her children, despite having the training and college degree to be a social worker.
“My mother told me it was a waste of education to stay home and raise my children,” Beeman remembered. “But I told her the most valuable asset a child can have is a well-educated mother.”
After making the deal with her children and taking the job, Beeman soon became involved in handling adoptions for the agency. From the 1940s to the 1970s, about 600 children in Tulsa found new homes through Family and Children’s Services.
After the adoption program was fazed out, Beeman felt she had a responsibility to use her skills to help others find their way. She worked as a counselor for couples and individuals experiencing hardships in life, and she also started speaking on family issues at seminars all over the city.
“When no one else was talking about the problems we saw, we’d step in,” she said. “You can see why this agency is so well known. When we were called on, we were there.”
Beeman helped develop the agency’s Family Life Education programs, which deal with issues like working families, midlife crisis, teenagers and divorce. She was named Oklahoma Social Worker of the Year in 1976.
“There was a time when many churches didn’t offer support or help to those going through divorce,” she said. “The idea we had with these programs was to let everyone know they were not going through their experience alone. They had lots of company.
“For those dealing with a divorce, we told them they could fly, but the cocoon had to go.”
As a counselor, she’s been around long enough to remember when most of society shunned those who became pregnant outside of marriage.
She remembers when no one thought a father needed to attend when it came to counseling the whole family. Through it all, she made it a goal to help people use their own strengths to keep their families together.
“Many people are stronger than they acknowledge,” she said.
During the same time, she also began teaching at Tulsa Community College, then known as Tulsa Junior College. What started as a substitute position for six weeks turned into a job for 10 years. She taught everything from sociology to sex and human behavior. And that didn’t stop her from volunteering for other organizations, as well.
“I just decided never to stop learning,” she said. “I don’t think we have the privilege to stop learning.”
When she met her in 1974, Lapidus was attracted not only by Beeman’s commitment but by her attitude about life.
“She was an incredible force to reckon with,” said Lapidus, who was then fresh out of college.
“She was always in the community talking about how people could strengthen families and improve marriages,” she said. “When I was a young social worker, I looked up to her. I wanted to be just like her.”
Today, Beeman takes care of all the inquires by adoptees and birth mothers connected to the organization. In the past 20 years, she’s been able to be a part of 26 reunions. Many times, she knew everyone involved.
Gary Strode was one of those adoptees. With the help of Beeman, he was able to see a letter his birth mother wrote to the organization. Because she had died 20 years earlier, it was the only piece of her life he could hold in his hands.
Strode, the leader of a local support group called the Adoption Triad of Oklahoma, said Beeman and the agency should be commended for not destroying their records, like many organizations have done.
The power of laughter
What Beeman remembers most about her work are the little notes she received from people she counseled or helped through an adoption. She still values the letter she received from a girl who had tried suicide, dropped out of school and run away despite Beeman’s counseling. Years later, Beeman received a picture of the girl in a graduation robe. The note said, “You were one of the only ones who cared about me. Thank you.”
She credits her good health at 82 to being raised “in a very positive family.”
“I was told to never lose my sense of humor, and I was blessed with a mother who told me a girl can do anything,” she said. “Life is kinda ridiculous because there’s so much that people take so seriously. Many things you have to laugh at to survive.”
Her family also offered her inspiration. “When I was a little girl, I remember my mother had a beautiful garden with vegetables and flowers. She would pick those and deliver them to people who needed them. She was so generous with her time and cared for other people,” she said. “That has always stayed with me.”
Beeman knows in her heart that her work did some good in Tulsa, despite its infamous struggles with high divorce and child abuse rates.
“Absolutely we did,” she said. “We helped keep families strong. We helped teach parents how to parent. They said, ‘I can’t do it.’ And we said, ‘Let us show you how you can.'”
IN HER OWN WORDS
Here are some of Florence Beeman’s thoughts through the years. She was the city’s most quoted family and marriage expert for decades.
“If you are fortunate enough to go through this life with your family intact, thank God for this blessing. I strongly suspect you are working very hard at it, too. It is still the best way to live, in my opinion. But let’s not count the family down or out who is not making it in the traditional family lifestyle either. Being happily married is still the healthiest way to go through life, but it isn’t available to everyone, and some of the alternatives aren’t so bad.”
“The neat little nuclear family . . . lives inside (its) porchless house. Their electric garage door opener lets them in and out of their garage, and no one sees them. There are no sidewalks, so the children don’t skate or bicycle in front of their homes. So, who is to relate to? Only their family. And if they don’t meet one another’s needs, God help them — or the divorce court. And many people choose the latter.”
“The period of adolescence is an extremely valuable time to be a skeptic because, during those years, kids are constantly questioning their sense of self-worth and asking, ‘Where do I fit in the scheme of things?’ Even though they might go through turmoil while they are questioning, they usually come back stronger in their own faith.”
“It is important for people to feel fulfilled in their work nowadays. And when people feel they’re not valued, they move on to find a workplace where they do feel valued and can be productive. Humanistic management turns a better profit.”
“As we become happier, so do the people around us.”
In a note to those who support the United Way: “I personally thank all of you for the opportunity provided all of us who serve as paid professional staff members to be of service to you. I thank you especially for that part of my salary you help to pay. Thanks to you — it works for all of us.”
“People are much more casual about getting a divorce. When (her late husband) Bill got married, my mother told me to make it work. She was renting out my bedroom.”