The city of St. Cloud this week issued a proclamation in honor of Black History Month, which Mayor Nathan Blackwell presented to two local community leaders.
Honored at the brief ceremony at City Hall Tuesday morning were Deloris McMillon, a longtime Osceola County educator, and Gus Odom, a longtime civic activist.
Odom moved to St. Cloud in 1961 prior to integration, and recalls being bused to school in Kissimmee. He dropped out of school and joined the Job Corps in California, but returned to St. Cloud three years later. He landed a job at a butcher shop and learned to be a meat cutter. He recalled some customers wouldn’t let him wait on them.
“Some people would wait for someone else to wait on them, even when I was available,” he recalled. “But after a while…they would wait for me. They didn’t want anyone but me to wait on them. When you be patient with people and show yourself friendly to them and not get mad because you got rejected, things will work out. God will always work on your behalf.”
Returning to night school to get his GED, Odom went to work for the South Florida Water Management District in 1983, and ultimately retired from there. For years, he has been a civic volunteer and activist, including taking care of the East Narcoosee Civic Club cemetery.
“It was a privilege to me to look after that cemetery all those years,” he said. The city assumed responsibility for the cemetery in 2020.”
McMillon served in the Osceola County School District for nearly 40 years. She recalled moving to the county in 1966, but couldn’t work locally because the county’s only all-black school was already fully staffed. So she worked in Orlando until 1969, when integration was mandated in Florida. She joined the faculty at St. Cloud High School and started blazing a trail for many others who would follow after her.
She was the coach of the school’s first girls’ basketball team, leading them to a number 6 state ranking. She went on to serve as assistant principal at Osceola High School and principal at Parkway Middle School.
“I was a strict disciplinarian,” recalled McMillon, now the president of the local chapter of the NAACP. “But I had the respect of the students and the community. I am thankful to God for all that he has allowed me to do.”
City Manager Bill Sturgeon lauded the two for their contributions to the community.
“I stand here in honor of these two people,” Sturgeon said. “I see their hearts. I see how much love they have in caring about our community. I know the challenges they’ve faced; I’ve listened to the stories. I thank you both for your service and your commitment to caring about other people.”
Mayor Nathan Blackwell said Black History Month serves as a reminder to all of us.
“Black History Month is a special time for all of us to remember diversity and that we’re all Americans and we need to work together, love together and serve together,” Blackwell said.