Making African-American history in Polk

Alice Manley: A lifetime of service

(above) Alice Manley stands with four generations of directors for the health department.  From left to right: Dr. Ulyee Choe (November 2012-Present); Dr. Daniel Haight (July 1996-November 2012); Dr. William F. Hill (January 1967-June 1985); and Dr. Kevin Sherin (July 1988-October 1993).  Photo courtesy of the Florida Department of Health in Polk County

There are countless sayings about achieving a job well done and a life well lived, but to do both you just need to look at Alice Manley.  She recently retired from the Florida Department of Health in Polk County after 57 impressive years of service as a public health nurse; in fact, she was the first African-American health nurse to work at the department.  Her influence has spread across the county and beyond, and her praises are sung by colleagues and clients like a favorite hymn at church— loudly and often.

Alice’s life is one of service to her community and the people around her.  She maintains that she always wanted to help people, even as a young child.  She was raised in Lake Wales as the middle child to Johnnie and Almeta Stanfield.  Inspired by her great grandmother— a midwife who lived with the family— young Alice’s dream was to be a doctor.  She practiced on her dolls and children in the neighborhood, holding onto that dream until her mother told her straight, “You’re going to be a nurse, and then you can send yourself to medical school.”  That’s pretty much what Alice Manley did.

Upon graduating from Roosevelt High School, Alice started college on a scholarship at Dillard University in New Orleans; there she joined the Delta Sigma Theta sorority.  After graduating in 1955 with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing, she worked for a time at Charity Hospital and then for the Caddo Parish Health Department in Shreveport.  It wasn’t until she came home for a visit that her destiny’s path started winding through Polk County.  A good friend took her over to the Polk County headquarters to secure Alice a nursing position at home; she was offered a job that day.

Alice was soon working for the Lake Wales division of the Health Department.  She married and started a family while she worked, volunteered and traveled to clients’ homes, while simultaneously dealing with issues like racism and segregation.  However, she doesn’t dwell on such aspects of her career; she’d much rather tell about the time the other nurses kept sending patients to her line to draw blood because she was so good at it.  Instances of prejudice or discrimination are more like a bump in the road that Alice laughs about and then moves on.  And move she did.

Revisiting her life-long dream to be a doctor, she went back to school in 1972 at Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tennessee.  With a degree in hand as an Advanced Registered Nurse Practitioner, Alice returned to run a series of Pediatric Clinics for mothers and their babies, held in every corner of Polk County.  It seemed fate wanted Alice working with the little ones, and she shares that she always liked children, noticing that she could, “reach them quite well.”  She tells a funny story about a young boy who was kicking during his examination.  Alice bent down and whispered, “I’ll tell you a secret . . . If you kick me, I’ll kick you back.”  The boy was startled and delighted by her obvious joke, so he started smiling instead of kicking.  In 2004, she transferred to the Auburndale Clinic to see patients, conduct pediatric classes for nurses, and serve as a Preceptor for nursing students; it’s where she stayed until retiring at the end of 2013.

Proof of Alice’s special way with people is given freely by her coworkers at the Auburndale Clinic.  “I never saw a child who didn’t respond to her,” says Michael Gustin, a LPN.  Monica Guy, another LPN at Auburndale clinic, adds that Alice Manley’s attention wasn’t for the clients alone, “She cared about everyone like family.”  Jennifer Dickinson, the Senior Community Health Nurse Supervisor, likened Alice’s special brand of magic to “being like everyone’s grandmother or mother; she put people at ease.”

It’s lucky for many that Alice Manley had such a special way with people, because her influence in the county is immeasurable.  The praise of Steve Hicks, the Health Center Administrator, points out, “The extensive knowledge of Ms. Manley in the care of both adults and children has directly contributed to the health and wellbeing of thousands of Polk County residents.”  Her coworkers marvel at the sheer number of individuals who benefited from her knowledge and patience.  Alice herself is proud of her influence over generations of nurses, from her position as an instructor to inspiring those who chose the profession because she herself was a nurse; Michele Ford, Director of Nursing and Community Health Services considers Alice “a pioneer and trail-blazer.”  Sherry Roth, a RN at Auburndale Clinic, maintains that Alice “was committed to patient care . . . she was always educational, both for the staff and the client.  She accepted everyone on a one-on-one basis.”

Alice Manley certainly was committed, and her list of accolades and good works are numerous.  She has volunteered, counseled and donated time and energy at every turn.  She served on the Lake Wales Care Center Board for over 10 years.  In 2003, she was recognized as an “Outstanding Woman in Health” by the 100 Black Women of Polk County.  In 2009, she was honored with a Keeper of the Flame award by Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.  Alice also coached and managed a girl’s softball league— her personal favorite— to more than one championship.

Alice Manley’s triumphs and honors culminate in a life well lived, but in no way is she finished.  She is still active in her sorority, and she sits on many social committees, such as the Martin Luther King Committee, the Roosevelt Alumni, and the Social Action Committee; they do the good works that Alice Manley is all about.  With additional plans to visit family near and far, retirement isn’t going to slow Alice Manley down one bit.  She’s still the epitome of a life well lived and a job well done, and she’s an inspiration to all of us who aspire to serve a cause greater than our own.



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