FORT MYERS, Fla. — Tuesday, nearly 50 people gathered on Hendry Street outside of the Ella Mae’s Diner for a special birthday celebration for a historic Fort Myers woman.
The city held an event to announce that March 8Th, is now Dr. Ella Mae Piper Day. Despite nursing a broken leg, Mayor Kevin Anderson was in attendance to announce the proclamation.
He said that there was no way he would miss the event, even if he had to Zoom in from a hospital bed.
"There is a special place in my heart for the Dr. Piper Center," Mayor Anderson said. "I am very aware of the services they provide to the community."
"For Dr. Piper's birthday to be on the same day as International Women's Day that is exciting," said Irvine Bourdeau, development director for the Dr. Piper Center. "Looking at the history of Dr. Piper, all of a sudden I felt as a Black woman I have a chance to make a difference in this entire world."
That long history created a legacy that still lives on in Southwest Florida. After graduating college, Dr. Piper moved to Fort Myers and opened the first beauty shop in the area. After becoming an entrepreneur, she started practicing Chiropody.
However, she is most remembered as a visionary and life changer. She created a legacy of generosity and kindness by helping young people earn scholarships for college, aiding the underprivileged, the elderly and those with disabilities.
The tradition her mother started back in 1915 continues to this day: the annual Christmas Celebration.
“Fort Myers is a small entity. If our kids in our community engage that, we can actually have a better message," said Keith White of the Fort Myers Police Athletic League. "Because without that, our kids don’t know. They see a lot of national holidays but when you have someone locally doing something positive and you can actually go to her center and look at the things she has done and hear the history, it’s going to motivate our kids."
Dr. Piper's birthday fell on the same day as International Women's Day. As such, this year's celebratory theme is "Breaking the Bias."
"Not just that she was able to do it, but when she was able to do it." Mayor Anderson said. "It’s one thing to do it in modern day but she faced a lot of obstacles that women don’t face nowadays. It’s still a struggle, but she had a much greater struggle."
To read more about the history of Dr. Piper visit the Dr. Piper Center's website.