BY LOUIS C. WARD
LEESBURG – Mama Hawk is flying free in the great wonder of the retirement realm.
There’s only one Mama Hawk aka Linda Shepherd, former principal of Lake Minneola H.S. The City of Clermont recognized her contributions to education and renamed Fosgate Street to Mama Hawk Way. This is significant because most people do not get a street named after them while they are living. That attests to Mama Hawk’s legacy.
No one has impacted the lives of students, teachers and parents like Mama Hawk, a moniker bestowed on her by her students at Carver Middle school in Carver Heights in Leesburg, Florida.
The name Mama Hawk evolved from a classroom walkthrough, Ms. Shepherd revealed. “I was simply checking on a class to make sure all was well. A student responded by saying, ‘Ms. Shepherd, you act just like our Mama.’ Another student echoed and said Hawk. And the rest is history.”
Mr. Marc Dodd, Chairman of the Lake County School Board, said, “Ms. Shepherd is a legend and has a legacy that impacted lots of students and teachers. Her shoes will be hard to fill. She’s an incredible educator.”
“Ms. Shepherd has the uncanny ability to love and care about the people who worked for her”, said Brian Haugabrook, who was hired by Ms. Shepherd as a teacher for Carver Middle School, his first teaching position. “If you worked for her you were family.”
Ms. Denise Kinsey, who worked with Ms. Shepherd for 16 years at Carver Middle School and went with her to Lake Minneola H.S. said, “Linda K. Shepherd is a blessing to Lake County, Florida, not only to the school system but to the communities and surrounding areas as a whole.”
“She is a leader, leading by example from a heart of commitment and love for all.” continued Ms. Kinsey. “She takes her mission wholeheartedly; she serves. She plants and inspires. She loves.”
“She always made everybody feel welcomed. She didn’t treat anyone like a stranger,” said Ms. Jennifer Pease, Carver Middle School Secretary, who worked with Ms. Shepherd for 10 years. “I love her.”
Many co-workers and friends talked about how Ms. Shepherd loved hard and had high expectations for everyone, teachers and students. People commented on how she always pushed you to do more. She pushed teachers to become administrators.
“Ms. Shepherd was that type of principal. Ain’t no one like her. She can’t be duplicated,” a former co-worker said at the retirement party held for Ms. Shepherd at the Porch in Montclair, Florida, Saturday, June 3, 2023. More than 150 people from all over the sunshine state attended.
“I am grateful for those kind words,” said Ms. Shepherd, responding to those heartfelt comments. “I am humble and fortunate to have been surrounded by such a supportive and loving student body, faculty, staff and community.”
“The outpouring of love that I have experienced over the past couple of months has been overwhelming. I am so thankful for God taking a back roads country girl from South Carolina and allowing me to teach such wonderful people. I am blessed and grateful to all,” a passionate Ms. Shepherd stated.
While waiting for Ms. Shepherd to come into the retirement party, the speaker had prepared a song to be sung upon her entrance. However, Ms. Shepherd did her own thing and walked in through the back door.
Her husband was asked; Why did you let her come in the back door? He replied, “What… I can’t do nothing with her.” Everyone just laughed.
Ms. Shepherd, who taught in Lake County’s school system for 37 years at first wanted to become a mortician, but a job shadowing experience changed her mind. She became a speech and language Pathologist at Leesburg H.S in July 1986.
Ms. Shepherd attributes her successful career to her relationship with God. “Once that relationship was established, my daily prayer was for God to work through me in order to establish a genuine and sincere learning environment for all.”
In addition, Ms. Shepherd said, “Loving parents and family laid the groundwork for my love and support for others and my legacy. As the youngest of 12, I was blessed to have loving parents and family. That was my true inspiration moving forward in education. I found modeling to be the most effective instructional strategy of all.”
In addition to keeping God first and at the forefront, it is essential focus and energy stays on the students, emphasized Ms. Shepherd for new teachers and administrators. “Then genuine sincerity that is placed on students will also affect the faculty, staff and community in a positive way.”
What’s on the horizon for retirement? “I have been chasing after my breath for 37 years. So now, I will take some time to catch my breath,” remarked Ms. Shepherd
Mama Hawk, you definitely deserve to do that and enjoy your retirement to the fullest.