'Ms. B' ready to retire after 29 years of hugs

By Michael Canning
Published May 25, 2007

It was the evening's most anticipated act.

Off stage, Bernestine Glymph was getting into the costume of a character she hadn't played in seven years. She was surrounded by the children of her preschool class, and they jumped with excitement as the gray wig and black shawl went into place.

Parents at the Kate Jackson Community Center buzzed about the impending appearance of Grandma Tippy Toes.

"I'm so sad, " Glymph, the one everybody calls Ms. B., said moments earlier. "I'm just trying to refrain so I don't break down and cry."

It wasn't the notion of dusting off her Grandma Tippy Toes routine that had Glymph so emotional this month. It was the final night of the spring Kate Jackson Children Adventure Movement Program, and Glymph's last time with a preschool class. The city parks and recreation department employee plans to retire after a 29-year stint.

Perhaps Glymph was reflecting on other experiences, considering that she was the first African-American preschool teacher for the city's parks department.

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Glymph was born in 1945 in the Jackson House, a once famous boarding house on Zack Street that is downtown's last remaining structure from the heyday of Tampa's Central Avenue district. Her great-aunt, Sarah Jackson Robinson, ran the house and Glymph's extended family lived there.

Glymph was little more than a toddler when the likes of James Brown, Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald and Duke Ellington stayed at the house in the days of segregated hotels.

"I can recall a lot of parties, a lot of laughter, " Glymph said.

After graduating from Middleton High in 1964, Glymph lived with her family in New Orleans for a few years. In 1968, they moved back to Tampa, and Glymph took a job with the city recreation department. She worked part time at Springhill Playground in Sulphur Springs as a recreation leader. She met the recreation director there, Lucious Glymph.

Within a year Bernestine resigned to marry Lucious, and she had two children. Once Lucious Jr. and Angela were school age, Glymph returned to work, serving food and driving a monorail at Busch Gardens.

In 1978 she wanted her old job back with the city. She hadn't worked two weeks at Riverview Terrace Playground when her supervisor told her, "Bernestine, it has come to my attention that we need to have a black in (our) preschool (program)."

She leapt at the offer. In the ensuing decade, she wound up working at all eight of the city's preschool facilities.

By 1988, Glymph ended up at Kate Jackson and assumed the role of preschool director. She soon realized that the park was where she would stay for the rest of her career.

"The parents here were so nice, " she said. "They never saw color." Neither did Glymph - the preschool classes at Kate Jackson are predominantly white. But "they're all children, no matter what color they are, " she said.

"When she opens her mouth, the kids just look at her and they listen, " said preschool mother Tania Kussel. "She's like the kid whisperer. They all love her and they want to make her happy."

"She knows how to discipline the kids without putting fear in them, " said Michelle Keeler, a co-worker who will replace Glymph when she retires. "As a parent, that really touches me."

Now at age 61, Glymph plans to lead summer camp classes at Kate Jackson through the summer. Her last day will be Aug. 31.

Gardening and taxiing her grandsons Nick, 11, and Joshua, 4, loom large in her plans. Now a widower, she also looks forward to spending time with her boyfriend, whom she knew in high school.

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Back on stage at Kate Jackson, Grandma Tippy Toes, a veteran character from Glymph's repertoire, shuffled out one last time.

After the skit, in which the old matron has a hard time convincing her children to go home and do their chores, Glymph heads backstage to remove the costume.

She thought it went well.

"I didn't get all teary-eyed, " she said. "I thought I would."

Fast Facts:


Bernestine Glymph, 61

The first African-American preschool teacher for Tampa's parks department.

Profession: Recreation leader for city of Tampa Parks and Recreation department

Family: Son Lucious, daughter Angela, grandsons Nick and Joshua.

Favorite restaurant: Rick's on the River

Motto: "Mind my own business. I'm not a gossiper."

Hero: Her daughter Angela, who is a guidance counselor at Orange Grove Middle Magnet. "I'm just so proud of the person and mother that's she's become."