One of the island’s leading ladies has left us
Evelyn Wilbur Darna, a well-loved member of the Boca Grande community, died surrounded by family in Englewood on June 6, 2022. She was 82.
You could pick Evelyn out of a crowd the minute she laughed … and she laughed often. Her sense of humor and twinkling eyes matched her husband’s (Babe Darna) and if they were in attendance anywhere, laughter surrounded them. Evelyn’s infectious smile and compassionate heart ensured she never met a stranger. Her family and the island community were her greatest loves, and she was a fierce protector of both.
Evelyn was most comfortable caring for others, whether at the salon she owned, at the Boca Grande Health Clinic or at home. She often anonymously contributed to families in need and raised her children to quietly give whatever you can to others. She often told her daughter from the time she was very young, “It’s not about how much you give or that everyone knows you did it – what matters is that your gift, whatever it is, helps the family.”
Born in Rangely, Maine on Oct. 10,1939 Evelyn Wood Dubois and her widowed mother, Zelia Dubois Wilbur, first started coming to Boca Grande when her mother worked as a maid cleaning rooms at The Gasparilla Inn during the social season. They moved to Boca Grande permanently when Evelyn was a teenager, where she attended the old Boca Grande High School with her soon-to-be husband and many others who became her friends for life.
After high school, in 1959, she went to the Valdez School of Hair Design in Tampa. She later opened Evelyn’s – the island’s only beauty salon at the time. Her clients came from all walks of life and were treated equally.
It was in 1962 when a president was elected to the Boca Grande Woman’s Club who had never even attended a meeting. A girl, just out of high school and 19 years old, took the gavel. It was Evelyn.
“Evelyn was a bright new star,” said one of the leaders of the Woman’s Club at the time. “She brought the club youthful energy and enthusiasm that gave the club new life.”
Under Evelyn’s presidency, the Gilchrist Avenue medial between First and Fifth streets was planted with hibiscus and grass. Though it was very beautiful, it required a lot of work. Back then, water on the island came from cisterns and wells, and the women would haul large trash cans kept in the old bowling alley that was then a storage shed near where Park Place Condominiums are now. They would haul the water in those cans in the back of “Mama Dear’s” (Mrs. Fred Thompson) old woody station wagon to Fugate’s, where they would get water from a cistern under the store. The women would water the plants three times a week, and would take turns pushing the lawn mower that was kept in the front of Evelyn’s beauty shop.
The Woman’s Club and the Health Clinic weren’t the only organizations that Evelyn played a part in. In November of 1980 she was named vice president of the Boca Grande Community House. In 1984 Evelyn planned island socialite Timmy Smith’s last birthday party. According to newspaper accounts from the time, Timmy giggled like a little girl throughout the entire party.
Evelyn later went to work for one of her clients, Mrs. Jane Englehard, and upon her passing, Evelyn went to work for the Boca Grande Health Clinic.
Evelyn took care of her mother until the day she passed away in 1987 in Evelyn’s home on Pilot Street – a home that Evelyn loved so much. Years later, in 2012, she helped start a dementia and Alzheimer’s group that was sponsored by the the clinic.
The weekly program would run from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. every Tuesday at The First Baptist Church of Boca Grande and would help to stimulate cognitive skills for Alzheimer’s patients through physical activities, socializing, bingo, art and music. It also allowed primary caregivers time to rest while knowing their loved ones were cared for … a scenario that Evelyn was well acquainted with.
She loved her time with the “Forget-Me-Nots” group, and her booming laugh and easygoing repoire with the people in the group made it easy for everyone to have fun.
Evelyn was a friendly and familiar face to everyone on the island and was known for her meticulous style. Her beautiful smile and big heart will be greatly missed by all who knew her, but especially by her husband, Merritt “Babe” Darna of Englewood; her children, Merritt “Scooter” Darna of Boca Grande and Susanne (Chris) Dudley of Tallahassee; and her four grandchildren, Brianna Darna and Brandon Darna of Englewood and Colgan Dudley and Levi Dudley of Tallahassee.
Services for Evelyn will be held at The First Baptist Church of Boca Grande on Friday, June 10. An opportunity to visit with the family begins at 10 a.m., followed by a Celebration of Life Service at 11 a.m. The family will hold a private burial.
In loving memory of Evelyn, wearing color and vibrant florals to her celebration are encouraged. Donations may also be made in her honor to The Englewood Hospice House, 12050 N. Access Rd, Port Charlotte, FL 33981 or to the First Baptist Church of Boca Grande.
Strong women aren’t simply born, they are made by the storms they walk through. This is Evelyn, through and through. She will never be forgotten.