Today we are celebrating the legacy of Marjorie Kinnan. Marge was a pioneering advocate for civil rights, women’s issues, and school reform and is credited with helping to shape Manatee County’s social service, mental health, and education system.
Marjorie Gearhart was born in In Pittsburgh, PA graduating from the University of Pittsburgh after majoring in Latin. She started her career in social services during the Great Depression and married Joe Kinnan in 1940; in 1951 they moved to Bradenton, FL with their three children.
After moving here she immediately involved herself in the community and helped found the AAUW and the Manatee County Mental Health Association.
After her husband died, Marge had to reenter the workplace to support her family – she worked in telemarketing and a doughnut shop before pursuing her master’s degree in School Psychology at the University of South Florida. After graduation, she volunteered to become one of the first white educators to work in a traditionally black school – as a guidance counselor at Lincoln Memorial. After 10 years Marge retired in 1976 and decided to run for School Board. She kept her seat on the School Board of Manatee County for 16 years, during her time on the board the Florida School Boards Association ranked her among the top School Board Members in the state.
Marge pushed to get more female employees promoted, she got the Reserved Officers Training Corps program into the schools and was recognized by the NAACP for her leadership in integrating county schools. Even after she gave up her school board seat she remained involved in the schools and was a frequent guest at her namesake, Kinnan Elementary School.
During her lifetime of Marge received many honors including being named Manatee County Distinguished Citizen of the Year in 1999. In 2000 she was awarded the Distinguished Alumni Award from the University of South Florida and became the first woman to receive the Salvation Army’s Crystal Shield Award.
Marge passed away nine years ago at the age of 95; her legacy lives on in her three children, 5 grandchildren, and 6 great-grandchildren.