There probably isn’t a single street in Opa-locka that Irma Skiles didn’t walk on.
Always dressed to the nines, Skiles was known for always walking to where she needed to go and only accepting rides to go to church or for special occasions.
“The walking lady of the city of Opa-locka, that was her name,” said Bernard “Hambone” Durham, her caregiver. “Everybody knew her, and she’d walk everywhere. They know Ms. Skiles is walking, and she wants herself no ride or whatever. She’d say, ‘no, I’ll walk.’ Was friendly and nice to everybody. That was her.”
Skiles, known as Mother Skiles, died on July 8 at the age of 96 inside the white, two-bedroom home she grew up in on Northwest 23rd Court, a road that’s also named after her.
The house includes an entire wall on which she proudly displayed her certificates and honors, which are going to be donated to the city.
“We are very proud of Mother Skiles and her contributions to the great city of Opa-locka,” Mayor Myra Taylor said. “She is Miss Opa-locka.”
Skiles’ family made history in Opa-locka by becoming the first black family to move into the then-segregated city.
At the time, her father, Ernest Ingram, was a maintenance worker for the city, making him the first black city employee.
In her lifetime, Skiles went on to become the city’s first black librarian and first black columnist for an Opa-locka newspaper.
She helped open the city’s first elementary school for black students, became the city historian and got involved in local politics by getting people out to vote.
“She was part of this community, and she loved it,” Durham said.
And she used her connections to get support for her causes, whether it was an event at her church, Greater New Bethel Missionary Baptist Church, or just asking for a favor.
“Whenever holidays would come around, she would always call me to make sure there was extra police protection around her house,” Commissioner Timothy Holmes said at a recent commission meeting that was dedicated to Skiles. “I’d say, ‘Lord have mercy, why is Mama calling me so early?’ ”
As early as Skiles’ calls came in, Holmes always answered — as most did.
“Her business hours were between 5 a.m. and 7 a.m.,” Taylor said about Skiles, adding that even at an early hour Skiles’ voice was always at her trademark steady tone.
Taylor said Skiles would always keep those talks straight and to the point, leaving little to no time for small talk.
Skiles made those calls on a rotary phone up until a decade ago, when it finally gave out and she was forced to get a push-button phone.
Although Skiles was known by many in her community, she was an extremely private person.
She would rarely speak of her daughter Creta, or any of her other family members, who have all since passed.
“She wouldn’t tell nobody nothing other than me,” Durham said.
Although she wasn’t quick to share details of her life, people often didn’t mind sharing the details of theirs with Skiles because of her friendly personality.
“I am going to miss coming over here and making her smile. If we started talking, I could make her smile,” Durham said. “We had a lot of fun together. It was a mother-son relationship.”
For years, Skiles kept dairies in which she would write out her thoughts, her blood pressure, and money she had coming in and out in her a neat, cursive handwriting.
“Whatever happened, she had to write it down,” Durham said. “She wrote up to the last few weeks of her passing.”
She even hand-wrote her funeral arrangements three years ago, with instructions on everything from the program to her casket.
While planning a funeral may not be common practice for most people, for Skiles, that kind of attention to detail was almost to be expected.
“She never left anything to chance,” Taylor said.
She even wrote a final message thanking her loved ones, thanking them for the flowers they delivered to her home.
“To my godchildren and many friends, you have given me my flowers while I could see them, smell them and feel them. You care for me with an abundance of love. Now do not fret, because I have gone in peace with God.”
She signed the message with “love always,” and her name.