Clarabel Cline Talmadge

Clarabel Cline Talmadge

Clarabel “Toni” Cline Talmadge, 88, always wanted to be a nurse, but after moving to Miramar in 1970, found a new calling.

Originally from Virginia, Talmadge finished high school in 1944 during World War II and recalled a tremendous need for medical personnel at that time. She entered the Medical College of Virginia, now known as Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, and enrolled in an accelerated program in cadet nursing. Her collegiate and nursing classes were combined into a four-year program. Although the curriculum was extremely difficult, Talmadge’s longtime dream of becoming a nurse inspired her.

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“Nothing was going to stop me. I’d always wanted to become a nurse. We took classes and studied side-by-side with dental and medical students. Everyone felt tremendous pressure to do well, graduate as soon as possible and help the war effort. It was not a light-hearted college experience but a serious environment,” she said. “We lived in separate dorms for the men and the women, and it actually felt like we were already serving in the military.”

By the time Talmadge graduated in 1948 the war had ended. She met her future husband, Cleveland Bailey Talmadge, at a country club dance in Norfolk, Virginia. After they married, she continued post-graduate study, taking public health courses. She worked as a visiting nurse and later as a kindergarten teacher in a private school.

After living in several cities in quick succession, Cleveland’s successful career in financial management with city and federal employers soon brought them to Jacksonville in 1970 and Talmadge was delighted. She thought Jacksonville’s downtown, river and ocean were spectacular.

“We found our home on Heaven Trees Road and knew it was the perfect location for us and for our daughter Cassie. She had friends on Heaven Trees and many at Landon Middle School. She graduated from Wolfson High School and attended the University of Georgia,” Talmadge said. “At Wolfson, Cassie sang in the high school chorus…a talented group of students that traveled a lot for performances. The mothers who sewed got together and made the girls’ beautiful matching black performance gowns.”

Talmadge_02The family joined All Saints Episcopal Church in San Marco and Talmadge soon found her new calling when Father Jack Banks asked if she would start a preschool daycare and kindergarten at the church.

Talmadge readily accepted the challenge. She developed a comprehensive plan and spent more than a year canvassing San Marco and surrounding neighborhoods for interested families. She found it a wonderful way to meet her neighbors.

“I felt like it was my calling at that time and I couldn’t say no,” Talmadge said. “I had been successful teaching young children and wanted to give them a solid head start before elementary school.”

Talmadge served as the program’s director for approximately 20 years and has continued as a volunteer since then. She’s also credited for starting a much-praised senior daycare program, which brings children and seniors together for meals, activities and field trips.

Talmadge and her husband volunteered every week for many years at St. Luke’s Hospital. They explored Europe on vacations and often visited Virginia relatives. Talmadge is proud to have been an Eve Award nominee and finalist for her community service in the 1970s. These days she reads and does some needlework. She has many paintings of beach scenes and especially cherishes one by Northeast Florida artist Eileen Moore.

“When my parents, Ford and Catherine Cline, visited us we always browsed through the San Marco shops. On one visit, I saw a beach painting by Eileen Moore and loved it. Later my dad went back and bought it as a surprise for me… it’s such a sweet memory,” she said.

Their daughter, whose given name was Mary Catherine, was the joy of their lives. Cassie and her friends were often at the family’s Heaven Trees home; Talmadge fondly reminisced that she and Cleveland felt they had more teens to parent than just their only child. She recalled cautioning Cassie to “please be extra careful driving” because she and her girlfriends were regularly seen dancing in their seats and singing to radio music as they drove around San Marco.

Talmadge_03Cassie married in a memorable and joyous ceremony at All Saints Episcopal Church in 1984. She was the mother of the Talmadges’ only grandchild, Jacob, 20, of St. Augustine.

For Talmadge, 2002 was a heartbreaking difficult year because her daughter died from a sudden, severe neurological disease at age 43 within three months of Cleveland’s death at 82. In messages of condolence, Cassie was described as a true friend, remembered for her angelic voice and love of music. Cassie and Cleveland are both memorialized in the All Saints Episcopal Columbarium. The Talmadges were married for 54 years when Cleveland passed away.

On Sept. 8 Talmadge will celebrate her 89th birthday.

“I was ill recently and hospitalized but received wonderful care at Baptist. Every time I get to have another birthday I’m always surprised and thankful, but this year I will have even more reason to be happy and celebrate my birthday with all my friends,” she said.

By Julie Kerns Garmendia
Resident Community News

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