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Amazing Woman of the Suncoast: Jo Rita Stevens

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Jo Rita Stevens spent the first six months of her life in Riley's Children's Hospital in Indianapolis.

"I had a tumor at the end of my spine," says Stevens, "and as a young child they told me it was another baby that didn't develop."

And these cloudy pictures are the hospital records she recently obtained of her birth.

"It was to be another child."

But Jo Rita had no health problems growing up.

"My mother was deaf and she couldn't hear anything. And we never learned sign language. She was great at reading lips."

After high school, she became a flight attendant. But it was a short career.

"Because in those days, in the early 50s, a woman couldn't be a flight attendant when she got married."

As she stayed home to raise her two boys, she started volunteering. Two places were the PTA and the school board. She also volunteered for Goodwill, where she was volunteer of the year and for the non- profit, Kiwanis. Kiwanis served the children's hospital where she was born and started a career.

"I worked for not only the state treasurer but the lieutenant governor of the state."

When her boys got married and her marriage ended, she moved to Sarasota. She got a job, but continued to volunteer with Goodwill. And what she learned helped when her 32 year-old son was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis ( MS).

"I was able to cope with the MS and the handicap much easier, had I never had the experience around handicapped people like I did at Goodwill."

She has been a member of Kiwanis ever since they allowed women to join, serving as secretary for ten years .

She''s also on the board of trustees at the First United Methodist church and works with the Sarasota Historical Society.

Her life lesson?

"To give back and don't see a stranger."