Gwen Whidden Murphy
Gwendolyn “Gwen” Whidden Murphy
Early Years in Kissimmee
One of twelve children born to Lewis and Maggie Whidden, Gwendolyn “Gwen” entered this world on February 28, 1918 in their house on Cherry Street in Kissimmee, Florida. Her father had bought the entire block with an orange grove; in the middle of the grove sat their eleven room house. All of the children attended local schools and Gwen, a varsity cheerleader and member of the Glee Club graduated in 1937 from Osceola High School. Being a tall 5 foot 9 ½ inch skinny gal with prominent hips earned her the nickname “snakehips”.
A Life of Firsts and Community Involvement
There were many firsts in Gwen’s life – she was the first to organize and direct the children’s choir at the First Baptist Church, the first to give birth to a boy, Kenneth at the Air Force Hospital in Orlando during World War II and she was a member of the first class to graduate from Florida Southern College’s Frank Lloyd Wright Annie Pieffer Chapel in 1942. But her most memorable first was being chosen Teacher of the Year for Elementary Schools in Osceola County in 1960. She later became the first certified special education teacher for Osceola County.
When Beta Sigma Phi Sorority was formed Gwen was not only a charter member but also served as President. Proud of her grandfather Bennett Whidden, who served in both the Florida Indian Wars and the War Between the States, Gwen became an active member of the United Daughters of the Confederacy. She and Walter enjoyed retired life at their Lake Cecile home and Gwen remained there a few years after his death in 2000. She spent her remaining years living near family in Brandon where she passed away on December 18, 2009. Gwen firmly believed that if things went wrong, everything would always work out for the best, a lesson she probably taught to all her students.
Written by Anza Bast
Sources: “Kissimmee Gazette” June 2, 1960, “The Orlando Sentinel” April 8, 1990, June 19, 1994, September 11, 1994, December 20, 2009; “Osceola News Gazette” December 24, 2009