As executive director of the United Way of Corinth and Alcorn County, it is a trait she admires in the community and demands of herself, as well.
“I love working with volunteers, but I don’t feel like it’s fair for me to ask others to volunteer if I’m not willing to volunteer myself,” she said.
Whether teaching first aid for the Red Cross, leading a Girl Scout troop or working with Habitat for Humanity, she has striven to see the needs of such organizations from inside and out.
Her role in the community grew from her own family’s involvement through the years, dating back to the era when she walked to school every day.
“I can’t remember either my mother or my daddy or both not being involved in something all the time, whether it was Christmas baskets or the Chamber of Commerce. It ran the gamut,” said Whitehurst. “Anything that was going on in the community, they were involved.”
The Corinth native originally embarked on a career in education after getting a bachelor of science degree in math and a master’s degree in education. She taught school for a couple of years in Savannah, Tenn., but soon came back to Corinth.
In the mid-1970s, the secretary for the Alcorn County Community Fund decided she wanted to focus on her dress shop.
“They were looking for somebody basically just during the drive to keep the books and write quarterly checks,” said Whitehurst.
It paid $65 a month during the three fund drive months and $50 a month for the rest of the year. Within six months, the Jacinto Foundation was also looking for someone to keep the books, and she took on that role as well. Director of United Way didn’t become a full-time job until the late 1980s when larger industries began to kick in more support.
The prominence of Jacinto has grown significantly from the days when she had to explain its location to the state so they could put up some signs pointing the way to the landmark. She recalled that it was the late Frank Chapin, who was director of Corinth Theatre-Arts at the time, who proposed a July 4 festival.
“He said we would have thousands of people. I thought we would do well to get 200 people, but I went along with him and we did a lot of publicity,” said Whitehurst. “He always thought way big over the top.”
The big day came, and she was stunned by the crowds that flocked to the ghost town.
With political speaking tied to the event, the Jacinto planners decided a few years later the festival should maybe take a break during the slow political years. But no one notified the governor, William Winter.
On July 4, they got word from the newspaper that the governor was coming to Jacinto, and panicked phone calls ensued.
“I called everybody I knew,” said Whitehurst. “We got a smattering of maybe 50 people together.”
The festival has been held every year since.
“Every year has a character of its own,” she said. “You never know who’s going to show up.”
She appreciates the reverence the community has for the old courthouse, which predates Alcorn and Prentiss counties.
“The people who live in that community have such a soft spot in their heart for Jacinto, for the courthouse, and such a feeling of ownership, which is as it should be,” said Whitehurst.
Now, her daughter, Beth, is executive director for the Jacinto Foundation, but she continues to have a hands-on role.
She keeps busy with three grandchildren these days and enjoys getting out in the community.
“I have trouble staying home a whole day unless I am just sick,” said Whitehurst.
She has hardly given retirement a second thought. Her feeling about that is much the same as how she felt when she resigned from United Way after taking on the Jacinto Foundation duties and asked to have the job back only a few days later.
“I love the contacts I make that I wouldn’t know any other way,” she said. “I love the people.”