19 Mar Great Floridian, Wonderful Friend: Spotlighting Sarah Dukes McKay
“Make the most of yourself by fanning the tiny, inner sparks of possibility into flames of achievement.” – Golda Meir
When it comes to JLGL Past President Sarah Dukes McKay, she has fanned her possibilities into a veritable bonfire of accomplishments. Named a “Great Floridian” by a proclamation of the State of Florida, Sarah joins the ranks of such notable governors and grandees as Walt Disney, Lily Pulitzer, Spessard Holland, Henry Flagler, Mary Bethune Cookman, and even Ponce de Leon! At 91, Sarah is still going strong and stoking the flame both in service and philanthropy as evidenced by a vast array of awards and honors for a lifetime of service which still continues.
It is safe to say that faith, family, and education are what make Sarah tick. A devout Methodist who attended Wesleyan Conservatory in Macon, Georgia, Sarah developed a lifelong love for civics and history in high school. “I owe it to two high school teachers, Miss McIntyre and Norma Warren,” said the Lakeland native. Additionally Sarah’s love for the arts culminated in her auditing art classes at the University of South Florida, and these early loves have been recurring passions throughout her life.
As a young mother to Kirk (III), Mona, and Paula and wife to Kirk, Jr., much of Sarah’s early volunteer work revolved around her children’s school and extracurricular activities where she was involved in everything from being a Scout den mother to PTA. Sarah also taught Sunday School at College Heights Methodist to various age groups and shared that she has served on “just about every committee” in the church. Not surprising considering her talents. Sarah also confessed that while music is something she loves, hers is not a choir voice, stating, “Had I sung in the choir, people would have fled the building!” While Sarah is no doubt being modest, the comment is a testament to the humor that is often reflected in her sparkling eyes.
Sarah’s wit, brains, and sense of duty were rewarded when she was invited to become a member of the Junior Welfare League, the predecessor of the Jr. League of Greater Lakeland. The League was involved in a variety of worthy causes during Sarah’s active years such as purchasing and manning a bookmobile for the library, donating crutches and braces to disabled children, and fostering a sense of appreciation in children for the performing and visual arts through children’s theatre, symphony programs, and suitcase exhibits at schools. Sarah’s hard work and devotion were rewarded when she was elected to serve as the 1964-65 League president.
After the leadership training League members receive, sustainers in particular have been highly prized members on various community boards, and Sarah is certainly no exception. Sarah has served on the Board of Trustees for The Polk Museum of Art, receiving their Lifetime Achievement Award, and she shattered the glass ceiling by serving as the first woman chairman of the board of directors for Lakeland Regional Medical Center where she was named LRH Philanthropist of The Year and is a member of the Morrell Society. Sarah also proved her mettle when she served as the first woman president of the Florida Southern College Board of Trustees, leading the college in long range planning.
After her husband died, Sarah took the reins of the family business firmly in hand and was so successful the Chamber of Commerce honored her with the George W. Jenkins Award for Small Business. Sarah has also served on the Downtown Lakeland Partnership, the Polk Theatre Advisory Board, and the boards of the United Way and the Community Foundation of Greater Lakeland (now Givewell Community Foundation) which awarded her its Legacy Award for civic leadership and counts her among its Platinum Donors.
In terms of education, Sarah has made a lasting impact in both the public and private sectors. Not only does Sarah serve on the Polk Community College Foundation Board, she endowed PCC’s Sarah D. McKay Scholarship. Sarah’s commitment to civics led Florida House, on whose council she serves, to create the McKay Civics Initiative for middle schoolers and garnered her the first-ever and much deserved Champion of Education Award.
The point at which many of her passions meet is Florida Southern College, a fact recognized by her FSC Honorary Doctorate of Public Service. For in addition to having chaired their Board of Trustees, Sarah serves on the Board of Governors for the Lawton M. Chiles Center for Florida History and has made possible both the college’s Sarah D. And Kirk McKay Jr. Archives Center and the McKay Chair for American History, Government, and Civics. No small accomplishments!
This brings us to an important part of Sarah’s repository of talents — her ability to mentor. Not only has Sarah served as a trusted advisor to her children and as sustaining advisor to one of our most accomplished JLGL presidents (Anne D. McLaughlin), Sarah has served as a confidante and guide to Dr. Anne Kerr, Florida Southern’s first woman president who has led the college on a major expansion of its facilities footprint as well as efforts to widen the recognition for and restoration of its treasured Frank Lloyd Wright architecture. Further, Sarah has supported efforts for the college’s formation of a dynamic partnership with the Polk Museum of Art.
In view of her ongoing efforts and achievements, there is little wonder that Sarah was awarded the Stanley S. Kresge Award from the United Methodist Church Higher Education Foundation. This national award is the highest honor a person can receive for “dedicated membership in the United Methodist Church and for unselfish support of United Methodist-related education”. Along with this honor, the Foundation created a scholarship in Sarah’s name.
While many of Sarah’s awards have been catalogued by the press, one of her very favorite awards is the Rotary Club’s Four-WayTest of Things We Think, Say and Do: “Is it truthful? Is it kind? Does it build a better friendship? And is it beneficial to all concerned?” There is little wonder that Sarah passed this test with flying colors; these traits are ingrained in her very nature.
For many decades, this incredible woman has been making a difference in the lives of others, sometimes “the” difference, and what a worthy example we have in Sarah’s altruistic and dedicated nature. Sarah is not only a Great Floridian, she is a Great American and an even better friend. We are so blessed to have her among our ranks, and nothing gives me more pleasure than to thank Sarah on behalf of the League for her years of loyal friendship and service. Sarah, you are truly heaven-sent and loved beyond measure!