Christmas caroling to honor former Lakeland commissioner, raise money for camp close to her heart

Polk County

LAKELAND, Fla. (WFLA) – Debra F. Jones found a way to remember her childhood singing partner this holiday season after a random robbery ended with her violent death last month.

“Everybody’s just really sad, whether they knew her or not, it was just such a horrible thing to happen in our nice neighborhood,” said Jones, from her home near Lake Morton.

Jones has been singing Christmas carols with her family for 64 years.

Photo courtesy Debra F. Jones

On Dec. 18, her socially-distanced front yard caroling event on the 800 block of Mississippi Avenue will have a more somber tone than usual.

“I just wanted to do something. We all want to do something,” she said.

She’s dedicating her Christmas caroling this year to Edith Henderson, known publicly as Edie Yates, and her husband, David Henderson, who were killed in their home in November.

Courtesy: city of Lakeland

Jones and Yates sang together as teenagers.

“Caroling makes sense and I thought since she was an accomplished musician, what better way to honor her than through music?” asked Jones.

Jones will be collecting tips for Camp Wingmann, a youth, faith-based camp in Avon Park, established in 1939.

“The Yates family is the reason why the camp is here today. They actually started coming here back in the 60s,” said Josh “JJ” Joseph, Camp Wingmann’s director.

Joseph tells 8 On Your Side, Edie Yates and family members attended the camp as children and purchased the camp in the late 90s when it was in dire shape.

Edie Yates’ brother, Bill, served as director before Joseph.

“They are the reason why Camp Wingmann is back here,” said Joseph. “The reason why for the past 20 years, we’ve been able to work with thousands of students all throughout the central Florida area to really kind of enhance who they are, building character, helping them navigate through the hardships of life.”

Yates, a former Lakeland city commissioner, did all the accounting work for the camp until the day she died.

“She has worked with our numbers for all 20 years free of charge, never asking for a dime,” said Joseph. “So really just saving the camp thousands and thousands of dollars just helping us out in that respect.”

Yates Hall

Renovation plans are underway for “Yates Hall,” the former mess hall dedicated to the Yates family.

“It’s kind of like when [Lebron James] got that second wind after Kobe passed away. He’s like ‘I gotta kind of carry the torch as best as I can in his memory.’ There’s kind of a sense of that. We really want to do great and we really want to work as hard as we can because we really want to honor the family,” said Joseph.

To donate to Camp Wingmann, visit https://secure.qgiv.com/for/cwi.

Lakeland police say Marcelle Waldon robbed and killed the couple at random.

A grand jury indicted him on burglary charges related to another home on Lake Hollingsworth days before the murder.

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