Reed celebrates 90th birthday

Jo Reed celebrated her 90th birthday on March 10. She worked for 30-plus years for what used to be Keystone State Bank iin Keystone. She was bank president for eight years.

Editor’s note: Most of the material for this story, except where noted, was taken from a speech Deb Reed gave at Jo Reed’s birthday party.

Josephine “Jo” Reed has lived a full life, indicated by not only the 90th birthday she just celebrated, but also by the number of people who helped her celebrate.

A party was held at Lake Swan Camp on March 10, with 155 in attendance.

Reed was born March 10, 1934, at the Lake Butler home of her parents, Seeber and Donnie Brannen. During that time of the Great Depression, the family was poor. Seeber worked for Southern Railroad, which enabled the family to live in railroad housing. Reed recalled walking a mile from her home so that she could attend Sunday school.

A son, Buck, joined the family two years after Reed’s birth. She and her brother were exceptionally close until he passed away at the age of 54.

The family moved to Carraway (between Florahome and Palatka) when Reed was in the seventh grade. Again, they lived in railroad housing just beside the tracks. Seeber rode a push car to and from work.

Donnie held various jobs over the years, working at an egg plant, at Camp Blanding and at a laundry in Palatka.

An interesting incident from Reed’s childhood had her going to Florida State Prison when she was 12. She broke her arm playing football with her brother. The prison was the nearest medical facility available for her to go to. Reed later went to a specialist in Jacksonville to have a steel plate inserted.

Reed graduated from Mellon High School (today’s Palatka High) in 1952. She wasn’t of the “popular crowd.” She wasn’t a cheerleader and didn’t participate in any school activity, having no transportation or the ability to pay for things.

She was nominated for “Most Likely to Succeed,” but a “popular” girl won the title. Therefore, Reed was a proud mother later in life when she saw her daughter, Deb, win “Most Likely to Succeed” when she was a student.


Finding love

Church was a large part of Reed’s youth. She and a group of friends attended the Church of God in Florahome, traveling there on the church bus, which was driven by the older sister of Reed’s best friend.

A Sunday school teacher felt that the girls needed to meet the Reed boys, who lived in a Christian home. Arrangements were made for the Reed boys to attend a church function. One of the boys — Kenneth — didn’t find the love of his life there, but the other boy — Gilbert — did. He and Jo began dating. He was older than her and had a car, which he used to pick Jo up from her job at five-and-dime store in Palatka.

“I was just a sophomore in high school at the time,” Reed said in her 2016 Telegraph-Times-Monitor interview.

She can tell you stories about she and Gilbert eating at Angel’s in Palatka and Gilbert parking his car under a streetlight so that she could knit.

The young romance wasn’t fleeting. They married on June 15, 1952 — two weeks after Reed graduated from high school. In the Telegraph-Times-Monitor interview, Reed said Gilbert, as he was proposing, told her, “You’ve stolen my heart.”

“I cried when he proposed to me,” she said. “I was so happy.”

The couple lived in Jacksonville, where Gilbert worked. They lived in several apartments — all of which had a bathroom at the end of a hallway that all the tenants shared.

It was a marriage that lasted 62 years until Gilbert passed away in 2014.


Jo Reed (second from right) is pictured at her birthday party with her daughter, Deb Reed, granddaughter Alison Reed Davis and her son, Arnold Reed.

Keystone State Bank

Reed moved to Melrose when Gilbert got a job with Clay Electric. She applied for a job at Keystone State Bank.

The bank president called her one day and offered her the job and asked her to start that same day. Reed was so excited that she wasn’t going to tell the president she had no way to get to the bank that day. She had no driver’s license, but she took Gilbert’s car, which was at home (as he had gotten a ride to work that day), and managed to handle the stick shift and make her way to her new job. She continued to drive without a license for several months until the bank president learned of the situation and advised her to get her license.

Her entire career didn’t take place just at Keystone State Bank. After leaving her job to prepare for the upcoming birth of her son, Arnold, Reed went to work for a bank in Starke. She would, however, return to Keystone State Bank, taking the position of drive-in teller.

Reed moved her way up at the bank, which was purchased by Gainesville State Bank, Compass Bank and BBVA during her time there. She would become only the sixth woman in the entire state to become the president of a bank.

Deb said her mother’s story is inspiring as she didn’t follow in the footsteps of relatives who worked at the bank. Reed grew up poor, but worked her way through the ranks.

Reed served as president for eight years and worked at the bank for more than 30. She retired in 1988.

While interviewed in 2016 by the Telegraph-Times-Monitor, Reed said she has been approached by so many people over the years who thanked her for giving them their first loan.

She’s also received thanks from people who credit her with helping them achieve their dreams of starting a business. Reed told the Telegraph-Times-Monitor it makes her feel good to know she played some small part in that, saying, “It’s really rewarding to see their businesses flourishing now.”


The birthday party, which was attended by 155 people, featured a display of photos of Jo Reed from throughout her life.


While working at the bank in Keystone, Reed and her husband opened what she described as a “neat, unique” gift shop — Plain & Fancy, which remained open for five years.

“My husband said it was the most expensive hobby his wife ever had,” Reed was quoted as saying in a 2016 Telegraph-Times-Monitor story. “That’s the truth. It was more of a hobby. It certainly wasn’t profitable, but it was something I dearly loved and enjoyed.”

Something else she enjoyed was cooking, inspired by her mother, who was an outstanding cook. During her 2016 Telegraph-Times-Monitor interview, Reed said she learned how to make biscuits as a child by standing on a chair in the kitchen and watching her mother.

In 1983, Reed published a recipe book: “Plain & Fancy, but ‘Jest Good Eatin’.” Reed published a second edition in 2016.

The book was a way for Reed to show others that delicious meals didn’t have to be complicated. In her Telegraph-Times-Monitor interview, she said, “My goal in the first one was to do some (meals) that had easy, simple recipes that people were able to go to the grocery store and buy the ingredients. They didn’t have to go to some gourmet shop to get the ingredients. Most of them are only five or six ingredients.

“That was my goal, to do something simple and easy that had been tried and tasted and was good.”

Later in life, Reed would become involved with glass art, something she discovered in Waynesville, North Carolina — an area she and Gilbert loved to visit. They eventually had a home there at Winchester Creek Campground.

As part of a Nov. 16, 2017, Monitor story, Reed described how she and family members went to thrift stores, yard sales and estate sales, looking for glass pieces, such as candy dishes, plates and other tableware. She would find pieces that matched and assemble three to five pieces into multi-layered flowers.


A mother’s example

At the birthday party, Deb Reed talked about her mother’s life and the influence she had on her. She remembered her mother working in their church, leading the singing and the youth choir and singing solos.

Gilbert was involved, too, teaching children’s church.

Life lessons Deb said she learned from her mother were: Don’t judge people because you have no idea what you would do in their situation; you never have to defend yourself to people who don’t know you because God knows the truth; and God will fight your enemies, and his punishment is worse than anything you could ever dish out.

“Those principals have guided my life and made it easier to live,” Deb said at the party. “Thank you, Mother, for the lessons you taught me.”

What better birthday present could one have at 90 years old or any age, really, than the love of your children and knowing that you helped shape their lives for the better.

Reed may not have received that “Most Likely to Succeed” award while in high school, but her life and the number of people who helped her celebrate 90 years are proof that she did in fact succeed.