Fern Underwood has a list of credentials a mile long. Those who knew her well have nothing but smiles on their faces when they talk about her and all she did for the children of the community.
Underwood was a Christian, a writer, a community activist and a kind heart to those who needed one. She so frequenly read to children at the elementary school that she had her own lanyard and identification badge. She handed out pencils to the students that were engraved “Fern loves you.”
“She couldn’t stand the thought that some kids thought they were less valuable than others,” said Ronda Wishon, longtime close friend of Underwood.
Underwood was the major cause of the Reading Program getting started at the elementary school, along with others. She hosted the Fern Underwood Free Swim at the Osceola Family Aquatic Center so that families who couldn’t afford to swim otherwise would be able to. The swim will continue as Fern Underwood Memorial Free Swim.
“She was a champion for the underdog,” said Jan Rychnovsky, friend of Underwood.
What Underwood claimed to many as her greatest achievment was a church program that she, along with others from the Osceola United Methodist Church, did quite a few years back. Underwood and the group went to a trailer court in the outskirts of the county and held church, sitting outise on the ground for all the residents and children.
“She always said that’s what church should be,” said Wishon. “She took God to the children of that trailer court.”
Underwood was a well-known author in the community as well. She enjoyed learning peoples’ stories and putting them on paper. She interviewed many veterans in the county and wrote their stories for them. She was interested in families and how people came together and stayed together through it all. Many of her works can be found at the Osceola Public Library. She wrote short articles, a booklet of prayers and even co-wrote a book with Catherine Hickland called “Cat and Fern’s Excellent God Adventure,” available on Amazon.
She always used her computer to type her stories, emails and letters. As she aged, her handwriting worsened, so learning to type and send emails was her way of continuing to stay connected and make others feel special.
“She was a very intelligent person,” said Wishon. “She was amazingly adept at using a computer for someone her age.”
Underwood was also adept at making others around her feel incredibly special. She would send emails to people to remind them that she cared about them, that someone was thinking of them. If she wanted to contact a person who didn’t have email, she would type up her letter and mail it to them.
“When she was talking to you, you thought you were the only person she cared about. She gave you her whole and undivided attention,” said Wishon. “It didn’t matter if you were 3 or 93, she really listened to you.”
Underwood died Sunday, Sept. 2, at the age of 103. Mayor Thomas Kedley honored Underwood by holding a City Council meeting in her honor and by giving her the Spirit of Osceola Award in recognition of being an outstanding citizen.
“She put her community first, she put her family first and she put her God first,” said Kedley. “Her selfless service to our community deserves the utmost respect.”