Her mission has been to serve
Sherry Washington learned tolerance at an early age growing up in Fort Dodge.
She was one of the first black students to attend Cooper Elementary School in the early 1970s.
Prior to that she was attending Pleasant Valley Elementary School near her home, Washington recalled.
Earl O. Berge was serving as superintendent of Fort Dodge Schools.
“The schools were still segregated at that time,” Washington recalled.
A high number of black students were attending Pleasant Valley, while other Fort Dodge Schools had very few minorities attending the other schools in the district, she said.
“The schools thought that was an issue,” Washington said. “So they spread us out.”
Washington was selected to attend Cooper. The school is located north across town from her house.
She remembers getting dropped off for the first time.
Her parents, Charlene Washington and Willie Washington, drove her.
Sherry Washington learned that while others may look different, everyone is created equal, she said.
“My parents gave me a nice little lecture about respecting people and that not everyone may look like me, but they are good people,” she said. “That was always instilled in us. To respect people, but to be who we are and to be the best that you can be.”
At first she was scared, but the fear didn’t last.
“I remember having my book in hand and just vaguely there was a little fear because I wasn’t going to be around my family,” she said.
She found out that people in Fort Dodge were accepting.
“Everyone has their own story,” Washington said. “For me, I thought I was treated like anyone else. Everyone was friendly and very nice. I think that has a lot to do with how I was raised.”
Washington, a 1986 Fort Dodge Senior High graduate, grew up in a family with two brothers, Tommy Washington and Murphy Washington.
Her family would have conversations every night at the dinner table at the same time, she said. And it wasn’t a choice.
“Everyone had their chores and we didn’t have the option of being at the dinner table at 6 p.m.,” she said. “You were in that chair at 6 p.m.”
That time with family was valued, she said.
Sherry Washington said those traditions have changed with modern families.
“It’s gone,” she said. “Kids are in one room playing video games. Dads and moms are working, so family units aren’t what they used to be.”
Serving others is another value Washington learned from her parents.
“My mom taught me that a woman is never a guest,” she said. “If you go to someone else’s home, you are never a guest. You are always available to serve.”
So when Sherry Washington took her first job at McDonald’s in the 1980s, she was prepared.
“Naturally for me, serving was OK,” she said. “A lot of southern American families were taught that.”
Sherry Washington’s parents grew up in Mississippi before they moved to Fort Dodge to raise a family.
Willie Washington worked at Hormel up until his retirement. He passed away in December of 2012.
“He was just a very kind man,” Washington said.
Charlene Washington worked at Elanco Animal Health, commonly known as Fort Dodge Labs, up until her retirement.
Washington said faith has always been important in her family.
“Both sides of my family were rooted in churches,” she said.
Although her family were members of the Second Baptist Church, Washington recalls attending a majority of churches in Fort Dodge.
“We went to everyone’s churches and still do,” she said. “We support everyone.”
Washington helps organize gatherings at the Coppin Chapel African Methodist Church.
Community dinners and community choir are examples of events held there.
It’s a way for Washington to help others.
“We have been able to help so many people,” she said. “You just don’t know who’s hungry and that’s also a good way to fellowship.”
Listening to others has impacted her.
“You are humbled when you hear other stories,” she said. “That’s when you find out how blessed you are. You look at someone and you wouldn’t have a clue what they’re going through.”
“It kind of helps everyone to have fellowship,” Washington added.
Jane Burleson, Julia Naylor and the Rev. Carolyn Stevenson are others who often participate at the church, she said.
Washington said more dinners will be hosted at the Coppin Chapel in 2017.
Washington has also volunteered her time addressing mental health in Webster County and working with the Fort Dodge Residential Correctional Facility.
Having a voice is important to her.
“It’s about input and collaboration,” she said. “Working with how we can have minorities’ input on some of those committees.”
Washington said her selfless attitude is the best compliment she has ever received.
She has helped raise seven nieces and nephews.
“Those are my children,” she said.
Fort Dodge is a place Washington is proud to call home.
“Growing up I never felt segregated or felt that I was any different than anyone else,” she said. “But then, when you go outside of Fort Dodge, people can tell you are not from there. People can tell you are from the Midwest, which is a great thing.”
“I was always very happy about Fort Dodge,” Washington said. “I thought it was a great place to grow up and I am very happy that this is my hometown.”