Local Obituaries

Coconut Grove teacher Geneva Bethel Sands dies at 87

LONGTIME TEACHER: Geneva Adele Bethel Sands taught elementary school in Miami-Dade for 40 years. Active at Christ Episcopal Church, Sands was the first in her family to complete college and was determined that her students would become active in their community once settled into careers.
LONGTIME TEACHER: Geneva Adele Bethel Sands taught elementary school in Miami-Dade for 40 years. Active at Christ Episcopal Church, Sands was the first in her family to complete college and was determined that her students would become active in their community once settled into careers.

Geneva Adele Bethel Sands knew she was destined to be a teacher.

As a member of one of Coconut Grove’s earliest families, Sands, aunt to prominent activist Thelma Gibson, was the first in the family to complete a college education.

“There were 10 children and she was the only one who finished college and she wanted to make a difference in her community and to have the family proud of her because of their sacrifices to send her to school,” Gibson said.

Sands, who died at 87 on May 20, was a lifelong Coconut Grove resident. The location of the coming five-story apartment building, Gibson Plaza at 3629 Grand Ave., is by design. That’s the exact spot where Sands was born on Oct. 1, 1927.

“We felt that was significant, to give her a little story,” Gibson explained.

The $15 million Gibson Plaza, named for Thelma Gibson and her late husband Theodore, is rising in a neighborhood founded by Bahamian immigrants in the late 1800s. The site will feature 56 apartments and an educational complex run by Miami Dade College to offer workforce programs and job training for residents of the area.

For Sands’ memory, the educational component is fitting.

She taught thousands of children over the years after graduating from St. Augustine’s University in Raleigh, North Carolina, in 1950. She first taught elementary school at Paul Laurence Dunbar Elementary on Northwest 20th Street and Fifth Avenue in Miami. When the school was integrated in the 1960s, she was transferred to Coconut Grove Elementary. She taught there until her retirement in 1990.

“She always said she wanted to be sure every student she had could read and to be active in their community in whatever they did,” Gibson said.

The two were close in age and grew up together in the Grove. Sands, a Class of 1946 graduate from George Washington Carver High School, was Gibson’s mother’s youngest sister.

“I remember my mother saying to her, ‘I don’t want you to clean other people’s houses. You need to get an education.’”

Sands is survived by her husband, James, four nieces and five nephews.

A viewing will be at 5 p.m. Friday at Range Funeral Home, 3384 Grand Ave., Coconut Grove. The funeral will be at 1 p.m. Saturday at Christ Episcopal Church, 3481 Hibiscus St., Coconut Grove.

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