Maude Storr, A Local She-ro
By Nichole Richards
During Woman’s History Month, we have a tendency to focus our admiration on national figures, often times forsaking the important community work of our local she-roes. Although acclaimed changemakers, such as Shirley Chisolm and Angela Davis, have monumentally changed the course of history in this country, our local teachers, church mothers, and neighbors have had similar profound effects on our communities and deserve the same recognition, appreciation, and gratitude. One such woman is Fort Lauderdale’s own Ms. Maude Lewis Storr.
“I was born out in the country, just as far back in the woods as you could get.” She joked.
At 92 years old, Ms. Storr is still sharp and playful, lightheartedly recounting stories from the 1940s, 50, and 60s, a time when Broward’s Black community was close-knit and self-sufficient.
A Florida native, Ms. Storr grew up in Alachua County, near Gainesville, Florida, moving permanently to Broward County in 1943. She was raised on a farm with five siblings, receiving her first seven years of schooling in a one room schoolhouse with her mother as her teacher.
“I was 9-years-old when my father died,” she explained, “And my mother was left a widow with six children.”
Undoubtedly, the loss of her father and the strain it left on her mother fueled a life-long pursuit and love of education. As a result, Ms. Storr went on to forge a dynamic career in the educational field, accumulating degrees and accolades along the way. According to Ms. Storr, her career as an educator was, in a sense, already chosen for her. As a Black woman, the options were few.
“There wasn’t really anything else to do,” she said, “The only thing I knew Black people could do professionally was to be a teacher or a nurse or else you were working for white folks. Especially as a woman.”
Ms. Storr knew this firsthand. At just thirteen years old, she worked for a white family as a cook, maid, and nanny for two small children, at times struggling to juggle all her responsibilities. Looking back, she considers the job a blessing in disguise as it afforded her the opportunity to meet Dr. Mary McCleod Bethune when she accompanied her employer on a trip to Daytona Beach, FL one summer.
“I told Bethune about my upbringing and my Mom,” Ms. Storr recounted, “She was really impressed that she was a widow with six children to take care of. She hugged me and told me to make my Mom proud. I never forgot that.”
After graduating from high school as valedictorian at 16 years old, Ms. Storr went on to study at Florida Normal and Industrial Institute in St. Augustine, now Florida Memorial University in Miami, receiving an Associates of Arts Degree. To fund her studies, she worked as a waitress, maid, and secretary for the University’s leadership.
At 18 years old, she began her dynamic 46 yearlong career in Broward County School System, primarily focusing on Reading and basic education for underprivileged youth. She taught at several elementary schools, most notably Braithwaite Elementary in Deerfield Beach and Walker and Sunland Park Elementary schools in Fort Lauderdale. Ms. Storr’s work in the classroom extended beyond teaching reading and arithmetic; she also served as a social worker in an innovative way.
“Have you ever heard of the phrase ‘teaching the whole child’?” she asked, “That’s what I did. You can’t just get upset with a child concerning schoolwork because you never know what could be going on at home. I always understood that.”
Once, after observing a child’s hesitation in engaging in classroom activities, Ms. Storr announced a class talent show on a Friday. She fondly described the children’s excitement and her delight in the targeted child’s spectacular karaoke performance of Elvis Presley’s “Blue Suede Shoes”, a hit song in the late 1950s.
“I never had a problem with him again!” She laughed.
When she realized a group of siblings did not come to school for nearly a month, she paid the family a visit to find them struggling financially. Impoverished and unable to purchase clothing detergent, their Mother was too embarrassed to send her children to school with dirty clothes.
“I made sure they had soap to wash clothes,” she said, “I pinned money to the inside of one of children and told her to make sure her Mom got the money to buy soap. They never missed another day of school.”
Ms. Storr’s dedication to children in need helped spur her commitment in creating innovative programming to help underprivileged children improve their reading skills. In 1957, she became a Corrective Reading Teacher and in 1965 assisted in the research, writing, and creation of an innovative supplementary reading program in Broward County. She was an integral part of the team responsible for writing the original Education and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), Title I Grant Application for five mobile reading trailers and the Reading Center facility, which included plans for diagnostic and therapeutic reading programs. The program was recognized as a national model and Ms. Storr received a U.S. Department of Education Award.
Ms. Storr continued to climb the professional ladder within Broward County Public Schools System, touching even more lives and expanding her reach. She served as BCPS’s Chief Reading Curriculum Specialist, Educational Specialist – responsible for Title I/Chapter 1 remedial programs in targeted schools, and eventually Director II of Special Programs, a position she held until her retirement in 1992.
Throughout her career, Ms. Storr’s personal love of education never faltered. She pursued a Bachelor’s degree from Tuskegee University and received her Master of Education degree from Northwestern University in Chicago, IL. She also completed advanced post-graduate work at Florida State, Florida Atlantic, and University of Miami. Despite her many accomplishments, Ms. Storr exudes humility and genuine generosity.
“I knew that whatever I did, I would do really well,” she humbly explained, “I just wanted to do good.”
In addition to her contributions to Broward’s educational arena, Ms. Storr has focused on preserving the historical, social, and cultural essence of Broward’s Black community. For over 50 years, she has remained actively engaged in several church and local socio-civic activities and clubs, once serving as the chair of a multi-million dollar fundraising project for the New First Baptist Church Piney Grove, of which she is a longstanding member. She is also actively engaged in the Le Bonnes Amies Club, Inc, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, and Delta Kappa Gamma Sorority. As a member of the Friends of the Von D. Mizell Library (now Friends of the African American Research Library and Cultural Center) she has also served as co-chair of the institutions annual Community Fundraising Committee.
“What I liked about the Von D. Mizell Library was the easy access the community had to Black history and literature,” she said, “It was right there on the first floor. It really kept Black people informed on what was going on with us.”
This spurred in her a passion to encourage the community, particularly our youth, to read about our cultural heritage in Broward County. As a result, she has spent a great deal of her retirement writing a series of children’s books called “Ordinary People Who Did Extra-Ordinary Things”, which documents the lives and contributions of four early Black settlers of Broward County: Mr. Eddie B. Holloway, Ms. Annie Mae Dailey, Mr. Granison Gaines, and Ms. Lillian Cousins. These books can still be found in Broward County Public School libraries.
An accomplished and recognized leader, Ms. Storr has been nominated for various recognitions, including Who’s Who Among American Women and Broward County Woman’s Hall of Fame, and received notable awards, such as the First Literacy Day Award from the Broward Reading Council, the YMCA Distinguished Service Award for Outstanding Service on the Board of Directors, and, most recently, the JM Family Enterprises, Inc. African American Achievers Award for her contributions to Arts and Culture.
Despite leading a decorated life full of substance and good work, Ms. Storr feels most proud of her family. With her devoted husband of over 50 years, Fredrick Leon Storr, who is now deceased, she has raised a wonderful family and remains a loving mother and grandmother to one daughter, two grandsons, and one great-grandson.
It may be difficult to find a better example of what a life lived on purpose looks like. Every arena of Ms. Maude Lewis Storr’s life was positively infected with her hard work ethic, ambition, and genuine love for her community. When asked whether she felt she had lived her purpose, she responded in the most humble and thoughtful way:
“I don’t know if it was purpose,” she immediately said, “I just wanted to help people in any way I could.”
Without a doubt, Ms. Maude Lewis Storr has made her mom proud.