Dot Binger is helping children and helping herself to another glass of Coca-ColaAn Inspiring LifeDot Binger Continues To Serve Children In Need
By Virginia Newman
Longtime Guardian Ad Litem volunteer Dorothy “Dot” Binger recently was named one of the state’s top five mentors by the Florida Mentoring Partnership, an alliance of organizations across Florida managed by the Volunteer Florida Foundation. Binger was chosen for her work over the course of 18 years as a volunteer in the Guardian Ad Litem program, serving as an advocate for children who are under court jurisdiction because of abuse, neglect or abandonment.
“Especially noteworthy for this senior citizen was her work in advocating tirelessly for six children whose mother suffers from mental health problems and whose parental rights had to be terminated,” T. Willard Fair, chairman of the State Board of Education for Florida, said of Binger’s Award of Excellence. “Through the courts, Mrs. Binger successfully reunited them in one foster home.”
But the 83-year-old told organizers she was unable to attend the banquet to accept the prestigious award. As was typical of her, she chose not to go to the tribute given in her honor in St. Petersburg because she was scheduled to be in court that day to represent the children involved in the case that was cited in her nomination for the award. She has represented about 33 such cases in court and has provided training for other volunteers.
“I was where I needed to be,” Binger said of her decision.
While she may be described as “senior” in years, Binger’s energy and enthusiasm still are in high gear. When it comes down to it, Binger shatters every stereotypical view of a senior citizen. At her age, both personally and professionally, she could easily look back on a lifetime of accomplishment and rest on her laurels. Instead, she is still going strong.
Over the years, Binger has continuously led an inspirational life, combining a career as a successful teacher and accountant with countless activities as a nurturing and caring wife and mother, mentor, colleague, volunteer, role model, community stalwart and church worker.
In those roles, she has touched and enriched countless lives. Not only has she achieved many milestones herself, she also has helped others to lead better lives – often to levels beyond their own expectations.
“Somehow, if you come into the realm of her existence, she takes you to her heart and you become a lifelong friend and admirer,” said longtime friend Bettye Roberts. “Her impact on the lives of others is of immeasurable value and significance.”
The only question is, how in the world has Binger found the time and energy to do it all?
It seems to go back to her family’s 500-acre farm in Bushnell, Fla. As a child, Binger asked to pick beans to earn her daddy’s piece rate pay of 5 cents per hamper. The eighth in a family of nine children, she realized early on the value of hard work and using her time productively to achieve the best results.
“Being highly efficient and keeping everything in its place is one of her big secrets about how she always has a gorgeous home and gets the work of six people done in any given amount of time,” according to her brother-in-law Weyman Carver. “Not only is she organized to the nth degree, she moves fast.”
And Binger moves with thoughtful precision. She met her husband, Bob, when he moved to Bushnell from Pennsylvania in high school. One of her closest friends, Ruth Coe Chambers, assembled a booklet of personal memories on the occasion of Binger’s 73rd birthday, recalling among other reminiscences that “obviously, Bob wanted to be with Dot very badly. He asked her for a date that turned out to be an evening at his house vaccinating chickens. Always the excellent teacher, Dot then invited him to her home. She spent the evening grading cucumbers. It must have been about then that this Pennsylvania lad realized he was dealing with the finest of Southern flowers, the steel magnolia.”
Eventually they were married in a wartime wedding, Bob in his Navy dress uniform and his bride in a perky little hat.
But years earlier, when she was preparing to leave home to attend Florida State College for Women (FSCW) in Tallahassee, her mother had advised her to study to become a teacher. She resisted, aspiring to be an accountant instead.
“I didn’t want to be a teacher, but eventually I did become one and spent a career loving it,” Binger said. “What I did was teach accounting.”
She earned an undergraduate degree from FSCW. After World War II, the couple had earned master’s degrees at Florida State University, and she found her first job as an accounting teacher in Sopchoppy. There, students became lifelong friends, including Bettye Roberts, who named one of her children after Binger.
It was at FSCW that Binger grew into a lifelong passion for Coca-Cola. Binger shares stories with her grandchildren of those college days when Cokes were pretty scarce. During World War II, anything with sugar was precious, and Binger and her friends waited eagerly for the Coke truck to arrive and fill the empty machine on campus.
Her fondness for Coke eventually would lead Binger to an interesting hobby. She has become a knowledgeable collector of Coca-Cola memorabilia. Descend Binger’s basement steps, and you step back into those years when Coke was king.
With an eye for detail, she has recreated a “corner drugstore” with a round metal table and matching chairs. A glass holder for straws sits in the middle of the table, ready for the tray of Coke glasses to be filled. It’s easy to imagine a World War II scene with the lilting music of a swing band and the tinkle of ice.
The room is filled with everything Coke. “I don’t like reproductions, I look for the real old stuff,” Binger said. So nearby is an old-time Coke machine where the drinks cost a nickel. Antique serving and change trays, posters and other mementos line the walls. A large cardboard Santa stands with a bottle of Coke in its hand, there is a stack of old magazines with Coke advertisements, and stuck in an old typewriter a “Dear Santa” letter is begun.
To this day, Binger usually drinks a Coke every day, and friends know what to serve her when she visits. But Binger does a lot more than enjoy sodas.
If that basement could talk, it would spin tales of the times Binger became the third person hired at the then-new Tallahassee Community College. In the fall of 1966, the president, Fred Turner, set up offices in the Avant Building at the corner of Park Avenue and Duval Street. The building’s limited space was needed for work with the students; thus, the first “business office” for the college operated from the basement of Binger’s home using a card table and a hand-crank adding machine.
“The first months of classes, we still didn’t have administrative buildings on campus, so we set up tables in the back of the cafeteria at the Godby Building, separated from the noisy student eating area by a long counter,” she said. “Students could hear everything that was said!”
But the most exciting thing about that time to Binger was that they had no way to deposit the fees collected for the entering students.
“I just took the money home with me for the first night,” she said. “Then we crammed a bundle of money into the night depository, but it got stuck. We found a policeman, who notified someone from the bank to come down and retrieve that bundle. Actually, it all worked out fine.”
The second year, the little band of administrators moved into one of the college’s three buildings. Binger was promoted to Business Department head and instructor in 1967 – a responsibility that included teaching a full load of accounting, business and economics classes. When the college’s departments were disbanded and divisions created in 1973, she became director of the Applied Sciences Division, where she administered all occupational programs.
When Binger retired in 1997, she was honored for her years of service by the TCC Foundation, which awarded a Challenge Scholarship in her name to a local middle school student.
Another honor she cherishes is being named one of 15 women leaders at a 2003 Women’s History Month celebration at TCC, saluted as “Women Pioneering the Future in Our Community.”
Along the way in her busy career, Dot and Bob Binger filled their family with joy by adopting Norma, who was almost 4 years old at the time. Dot, who taught accounting for many years, would one day become the proud mother of a successful CPA.
Only a year later, their family became complete when they adopted a son, Gregory. Today, Greg is a talented musician, is adept with computers, and is an attorney living in Bangkok.
That basement that has served so many roles was called into service again when in December 1966 the Bingers took two foster children into their home. The teenage girls, Theresa and Margaret, lived there until adulthood and now have families of their own in Tallahassee.
Dot and Bob never seemed to help enough children. With all that she has accomplished – and still does – Binger has received public recognition for her outstanding work to serve others.
One of the founding board members of the PACE Center for Girls, Binger has served on that organization’s board of directors since 1993. The center provides a non-residential delinquency prevention program in 21 locations statewide, targeting the unique needs of girls between the ages of 12 and 18 who are identified as dependent, truant, runaway, ungovernable, delinquent, or in need of academic skills.
Other boards that Binger has served on, or is still serving on, are those of Envision Credit Union, the Girl Scout Council of the Apalachee Bend and 2-1-1 Big Bend. She was a member of the committee for the FSU Heritage Tower, a gift of the classes of 1946, 1947 and 1948, and was responsible for the time capsule that is incorporated into the monument, which stands near the University Center.
There’s more: Binger always has been active in the Methodist Church, and has influenced many through her religious example. She is held in such high esteem by friends, family and co-workers that the late Rev. Austin Hollady once proclaimed that if you carefully measured the shoe size of the famous “Footprints” poem, they would turn out to be the exact size of Dot Binger’s feet.
Another friend, Ellen Gillis, put it this way: “If the Methodist Church had saints, Dot would be one.”