Dorothy Reddell Caldwell
Raleigh, North Carolina
Dorothy Reddell Caldwell, a trailblazing advocate for childhood nutrition who had roots in Arkansas and blooms in Washington, D.C., North Carolina, and across the nation, passed away peacefully at her home in Raleigh, N.C., on Sunday, August 13, 2023. She was 87.
Dorothy– also known as Dot, Sis, Mom, and Mimi – was born Dec. 2, 1935, at her family’s home near Cotton Plant, Ark., to T.J. and Letha Reddell. She married Marvin Caldwell in 1957, and together they had five children who produced 15 grandchildren and 16 great grandchildren.
It’s impossible to fully describe the impact of the 50-plus years Dorothy spent creating and promoting standards, policies and programs that ensured children of all backgrounds had access to healthy meals in their schools. But her legacy extends far beyond her professional career as a registered dietician, writer, and educator. She also was a newspaper publisher and a leader in her church and community.
Most of all, she will be fondly remembered as the inspirational matriarch of a family that will tell stories of her benevolence for generations and how, in every aspect of her life, she actively lived out her faith in Jesus Christ.
Dorothy’s long list of personal and professional accomplishments would have been hard to predict when a doctor from Cotton Plant walked several miles to assist with her delivery at her parent’s small home in the hardscrabble, lowland farm country of Woodruff County, Arkansas.
It quickly became apparent, however, that she would spend her life affirming the cliché that big things come in small packages. She grew to no more than five feet in height, but displayed an early thirst for learning, was blessed with self-confidence, and developed the ability to take charge and get things done.
She and her siblings grew up in a two-bedroom home that had no electricity until she was in high school and no indoor plumbing until she left to become the first person in her family to attend college.
While the family lacked material possessions, it provided a warm and loving environment where Dorothy learned the value of hard work, the foundations of her strong faith in God, and the importance of helping others in need. Her entire life was marked by her willingness – insistence, some might say – to help those around her whether they asked or not!
At an early age, Dorothy became a voracious reader, checking out books from a bookmobile that would pass by the family farm, while also learning how to make her own clothes and turn homegrown ingredients into a meal fit for royalty. Her homemade rolls, brunch egg casserole, eggplant dip, shrimp Alice, brandied cranberries, cornbread dressing, and hot apple cider served to grandkids from her silver coffee urn were among many family favorites.
Dorothy was active in the 4-H club in school, and the extension agent and her teachers took note of and encouraged her academic potential. She graduated with honors from Cotton Plant High School in 1952 when she was only 16 and, with the help of a Sears Scholarship, personal savings, and community support, enrolled at the University of Arkansas, which, as her father noted, was a “fur piece” from Cotton Plant.
She excelled at the UA, earning three more scholarships and a degree in home economics. She also was a member of Mortarboard, president of the Four-H House, and vice president and chaplain of Phi Upsilon Omicron (the home economics sorority). As a senior, she was president of the Arkansas Future Teachers of America and travelled all over the state, as well as to San Francisco and Chicago in that role.
After graduating in 1956, Dorothy was recruited to Marianna, Ark., to teach home economics at Futrell High School. There she met Marvin, the owner, editor, and publisher of The Courier-Index newspaper. Not long after they married in 1957, Dorothy began working part-time as a columnist and features writer for the newspaper while they started a family.
In 1968, unhappy with the quality of the school lunch programs, Dorothy returned to the public school system as Director of Food and Nutrition for the Lee County School District, a role she held for 20 years. During that time she earned a Master’s degree in food systems administration from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. When Marvin died in 1983, she spent two years as publisher of The Courier-Index. And in 1987 she became the first female president of the Lee County Chamber of Commerce.
Dorothy was Director of Child Nutrition for the Arkansas Department of Education from 1988-97 before relocating from Little Rock to Washington, D.C., for a four-year career in with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Then she moved to Raleigh, N.C., where she worked for the Department of Health and Human Services and as an adjunct assistant professor for the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.
Throughout her career, Dorothy was active on state and national levels with professional organizations that helped shape child nutrition policy and action in America. She was president and later a board member of what’s now known as the School Nutrition Association (SNA) and the School Nutrition Foundation (SNF).
She also was on the board for the Arkansans in Coalition Against Hunger and the North Carolina Public Health Foundation, chair of the Arkansas Dietetic Association, a member of the Society of Nutrition Education and Behavior, and president of the Arkansas School Nutrition Association. And she frequently wrote articles and contributed to several books on topics related to child nutrition.
Among the many causes she championed were efforts to standardize lunch times, create programs that provided students with breakfast, remove vending machines from schools, train local leaders on ways to develop healthy meals that kids would eat, and educate students about their nutrition.
As president of the 65,000-member SNA from 1993-94, she led the development of the Nutrition Integrity Standards and Keys to Excellence benchmarks. And as president of the SNF she co-chaired a campaign that raised $3 million for an endowment to support the foundation’s education and public relations efforts.
In celebrating its 50-year anniversary, the SNF recognized Dorothy as a “School Nutrition Hero.” In summing up her contributions it noted that she was “a recognized listener, speaker and writer. She has taught, she has mentored, she has advised, she has facilitated. She is a role model who has been, and continues to be, a School Nutrition Hero for many.”
Dorothy received numerous awards, including the Medallion Award from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the 21st Century Families Award for Enhancing the Quality of Life for Youth and Families from the Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service, the Glaxo Smith Kline Child Health Recognition Award, the Good for Kids Award from the North Carolina Pediatric Society, and the SNA’s Gertrude Applebaum Lifetime Achievement Award.
She was equally active in her church and community, regardless of which community she called home. She was a lifetime member of the Marianna Junior Auxiliary, active in PEO for 65 years, and a Sunday School teacher, chairman of the Council of Ministries, and a board member for the First United Methodist Church of Marianna.
In Raleigh, Dorothy was a member of Hayes Barton United Methodist Church. She was a trained Stephen Minister, providing one-to-one care to people who were experiencing a difficult time in life. An avid gardener, she also grew pounds of basil on her deck to distribute to local food banks.
While she enjoyed her work and community service activities, her greatest passion was creating experiences with her family, including her siblings and many nieces and nephews. Thousands of photographs, some framed and others stored in volumes of books or on her computer, recorded the time she spent with loved ones.
She covered her refrigerator from top to bottom with such photos, along with a 2003 “Family Circus” comic strip that shows a grandmother sitting with her grandchildren. The caption sums up one of Dorothy’s core beliefs: “The best things in life are not things.” Her family members, she said, were her “best things.”
Dorothy spent countless hours investing in her “best things.” She introduced her grandchildren to classic musicals, taught them to cook, gently (mostly) corrected their table manners, and took them on cultural adventures to museums and plays. All of her 15 grandchildren toured New York City courtesy of their Mimi, many seeing their first Broadway play. And when they graduated from high school or college, she was always there to celebrate – and to spring for dinner.
Dorothy also hosted regular summer trips to North Carolina’s Outer Banks, where 30-plus family members could spend a week eating, reading, eating, body surfing, eating, playing games, and, well, eating.
Dorothy was preceded in death by her parents, Thaddys Jefferson Reddell (1903-1982) and Letha Cisco Reddell (1905-1993); her husband, Marvin Bounds Caldwell (1926-1983); her brothers, Kenneth Howard Reddell (1925-1996) and Neal Donald Reddell (1930-1990); and two of her sisters, Patricia Ann Reddell Young (1942-2017) and Barbara Reddell (1939-1940).
She was survived by her five children, Catherine (and Bill) Eagles of Greensboro, N.C., Susan (and Rick) Farmer of Richmond, Va., Janet (and Mark) Gruchacz of Raleigh, N.C., Stephen (and Audrey) Caldwell of Fayetteville, Ark., and David (and Terrie) Caldwell of Morrilton, Ark.; by 15 grandchildren and 16 great grandchildren; by two of her sisters, Peggy Jean Reddell Curbo Rooks and Betty Jo Reddell Jones; and by many loving nieces, nephews, and their offspring.
The family would like to express our deepest gratitude to Rosa Murimi, Jacqueline Kimani, Hannah Kimani, Margaret Mwangi, Karen O’leary-Barber, Amy Hotchkin, Yazmine Taylor and the entire staff at Promedica Hospice. These individuals dedicated themselves to Dorothy’s care and well-being with professionalism and compassion. We will always be grateful for their support.
Memorial services will be held at 2pm, Friday, August 18 at Hayes Barton United Methodist Church in Raleigh, N.C. Another service will be held at 11am on September 23 at First United Methodist Church in Marianna, Ark. In lieu of flowers, consider a donation to Hayes Barton UMC (In As Much Fund) or the NC Cottey College Scholarship Fund.
For additional information or for service details, please reach out to the family directly.
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