Dolly Hand, matriarch of Belle Glade, dies at 95

Frances R. “Dolly” Hand, a pioneering leader of the Glades and one of Palm Beach State College’s most outstanding alumni, passed away January 6 at her home in Belle Glade. She was 95 years old.

Services will be held at 11:00 a.m. on Friday, January 12, at Community Methodist Church of Belle Glade, 401 S.W. First Street,  Belle Glade.  A private entombment will be held later at Foreverglades Cemetery in Belle Glade.

“Palm Beach State College and the Belle Glade campus extend our heartfelt condolences to the family and friends of Dolly Hand,” said Dr. LaTanya McNeal, executive dean of the Belle Glade campus and dean of student services at the Belle Glade and Loxahatchee Groves campuses. “She was a staunch advocate for the Glades community, and her outpouring of generosity through the years to support PBSC students and their future career goals certainly has not and will not go unrecognized. She leaves an indelible footprint and legacy both at Palm Beach State College and in the Glades community, and will truly be missed.”

Dolly Hand and her husband Homer were instrumental in bringing Palm Beach Community College to the Glades, with the establishment of a permanent Belle Glade campus in 1977.  The Dolly Hand Cultural Arts Center opened on the campus in 1982, thanks largely to the Hands’ work to secure state and private funding, including their own substantial contribution. An alumna of Palm Beach Junior College, Dolly was a College trustee from 1973 to 1989 and also served as board chair. The Hands gave financial help, from scholarships to clothes, to hundreds of college-age students in the western communities. Through their CAFE (Cultural Arts for Education) Series at the Dolly Hand Cultural Arts Center, started in 1983, over half a million students, averaging 12,800 students per year, experience live performances designed for school-age children.

Dolly and Homer Hand in 2007. Photo courtesy of Alan Luby.

Dolly Hand spoke about the cultural arts center that bears her name in the book “Rooted in the Muck,” by Sofia Valiente, which features stories of influential citizens from the Glades communities. “We’ve been very, very fortunate that we have been involved in this community. The Dolly Hand Cultural Arts Center is an excellent example of that. The way the Glades people come together to accomplish things and care for each other is amazing. Homer and I helped develop a strategy for providing a local theater, but it is this community at large that has made it such a success for so many decades.”

Her family provided the following obituary.

Considered by most as the Matriarch of Belle Glade and its Guardian Angel, and loved by all who knew her, Dolly was a very special lady who spent her life looking for ways to help others.  Her passing leaves a hole in the heart of this community.  Dolly lost her beloved husband of 69 years, Homer J. Hand, with his passing just over a year ago.

Dolly was born in Good Samaritan Hospital in West Palm Beach 95 years ago, to her pioneering parents Fleming L. “Slim” Rutledge and Frances Post Rutledge.  The Rutledges first moved to Belle Glade in 1926 and experienced the “Killer Hurricane of 1928.”  Barely surviving the storm herself, Mrs. Rutledge gave birth three months later to a tiny baby girl who would affectionately be known as “Dolly.” Ironically, 1928 is known as the year that 3,000 lives were lost in the Glades, but it was also the year that brought the birth of someone who would ultimately have a profound and positive affect on the lives of many times more people in the Glades area.

Dolly grew up in Belle Glade and graduated from Belle Glade High School at the tender age of 15.  From there, it was Palm Beach Junior College (now Palm Beach State College), Stetson University and Stetson’s College of Law.  Pretty, athletic and brilliant, Dolly had plenty of opportunities to have fun at college, but she also possessed a fierce work ethic and a laser focus on the task at hand that truly distinguished her as the remarkable young lady she had become.  Dolly received her LLB degree from Stetson’s College of Law in 1949, where she became not only the youngest to obtain a Stetson law degree at age 20, but also the first woman to graduate from this law school.

Dolly Hand at the cultural arts center that bears her name.

As anyone in the Glades can attest, Dolly and Homer had an incredible impact on their community.  Their philanthropy is legendary in Belle Glade, but they have also led the town by teaching about integrity, generosity, hard work, faithfulness and community service . . . all through their example and deeds. Dolly was honored in so many ways throughout her life:  Belle Glade Outstanding Citizen of the Year, Stetson University’s Distinguished Alumni Award, Florida Arts Council’s Recognition Award, NAACP’s Humanitarian Award, Governor Lawton Chiles’s Heartland Award, and Florida Women’s Hall of Fame finalist.  Both the Stetson Law Library and the Stetson Art Center bear her name, along with Homer’s. In 2007 Dolly was inducted into the Stetson College of Law Hall of Fame. She received an honorary doctorate from Stetson in 2008 and was named Trustee Emerita in 2012.  She has served as Chairman of the Palm Beach Community College Board of Trustees, Chairman Emeritus of the Board of the Bank of Belle Glade, and on the Board of Trustees of Stetson University.  Dolly was a lifelong member of Community United Methodist Church, where she served as a Trustee and a Sunday School Teacher.

As one community leader said upon learning of Dolly’s passing, “Our loss is Heaven’s gain.” She will never be forgotten.

Dolly is survived by nieces Brenda Lopez (Pepe), Karen Arcadipane (Phillip), Dale Rackley, Joyce Richards and Beth Peretti and by her former wards Kathy McRae and Bill Prescott and their families.  She was also preceded in death by her sisters-in-law Imogene Bryant, Majorie H. Martin and Mona L. Rader, in addition to Homer.

For those considering memorials, the family suggests the Community Methodist Church of Belle Glade or the Dolly Hand Cultural Arts Center, 1977 S.W. College Drive, Belle Glade, FL  33430.

Glades Funeral Chapel has been entrusted with the arrangements.

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One comment on “Dolly Hand, matriarch of Belle Glade, dies at 95”

  1. Dolly was a lady, a grand lady. We played softball together many years ago. She always had a smile and always had time to chat. Dolly remembered everyone. Again, what a wonderful lady.

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