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Longtime Friend Finances, Strengthens Collection

Sheares keeps her philanthropy simple with yearly planned giving through her IRA.

Ora Myles Sheares has come a long way since her insulated origin story in West Monroe, Ouachita Parish, Louisiana.

She and the late Rev. Reuben Sheares, director of the United Church of Christ’s Office for Church Life & Leadership, moved 11 times during their 39-year marriage as he followed the path ordained for him to serve. Still, Sheares, a retired librarian, sticks with the fundamentals: Knowledge is power, and education is the way forward.

“I come from a family that really values education. Education is as much a part of raising children as any of it: You feed, clothe and educate,” Sheares says from her suburban Chicago home. “You produce citizens who are contributing members of society.”

Sheares met “Preacher” on campus at Talladega College in Talladega, Alabama. It was the first time she’d left Louisiana. Like all new arrivals on campus, Sheares took the campus tour to Savery Library to view artist Hale Woodruff’s acclaimed “Mutiny on the Amistad” murals. This 1938 commission tells the story of La Amistad in its three panels: “The Revolt,” “The Court Scene” and “Back To Africa.”

“They took us to the library to explain the story of Amistad. A replica of the ship was painted on the floor. It was sacred. You never walked on it,” Sheares says.

Sheares was always a member of one of the now-defunct local Friends of Amistad groups that supported Amistad Research Center. The Chicago chapter kept her abreast of happenings at the Center. She’s been a donor for nearly 10 years.

Sheares donates annually through her Ora Sheares Charitable Fund. End-of-year distributions are administered from her Individual Retirement Account.

“I give so much every year. It’s simple. It’s money that I give to charity,” Sheares says. “I decide how much I’ll give. I’ve got a certain amount of money.”

A mother of three sons, Sheares delayed graduate school for 12 years while raising her family and traveling with her husband as he completed his doctorate, served several stints as pastor and helped grow the UCC church as a board member. She earned a master’s degree in Library Science from Pratt Institute in New York. For 14 years she worked as school librarian at Vernon L. Davy Jr. High in East Orange, NJ. (The school was later renamed Cicely Tyson School of Performing and Fine Arts.)

“We’ve been especially blessed. We’ve come a long way,” Sheares says, remembering when Rev. Sheares drew $40 per week in pay and they lived in the parsonage. “I had to be able to get a job because we didn’t have any savings.”

Although it’s been a while since Sheares last visited New Orleans, her son visited a few years ago in conjunction with Amistad’s exhibition on African American freemasonry in Louisiana. Sheares’ father, Reuben Myles, was a Mason and her family donated items to Amistad that were used in the exhibition.

Likewise, the Sheares Papers contain the Rev. Sheares’ sermons and ephemera from his work with Community Renewal Society (“Forward. Responsible. Freedom.”) in Chicago from 1968 to 1974; correspondence during his 14-year tenure as director of UCC’s Office for Church Life & Leadership; and a copy of his crowning achievement, the Book of Worship, a collection of prayers and verse for UCC ministers.

Do you know what you’re sitting on?,’ Clifton H. Johnson, Amistad Research Center’s founder, asked Sheares after the Rev. Sheares’ untimely death in 1992. ‘You know Reuben wants those papers in here.’ Thus, Sheares gathered and submitted her husband’s papers in 2004. And she’s so glad she did.

“They house the stories of so many people. Some of whom I knew and loved, and others whose stories are just so important to hold on to,” Sheares says about her financial support to Amistad. “The stories that they hold are just so rich. So valuable.”

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