During the 1950s and 60s, economics and skin color determined which social, and educational opportunities were available to rural southern residents. Wilma Owens was born to share croppers, with dark skin in Selma, Alabama. These were barriers that could have confined her to a cycle of poverty. Early on, her mother realized that education was the tool to break that cycle and she encouraged her children to be good students and to go to college.
With her Mother’s encouragement, Wilma graduated from high school, signed up with an employment agency and boarded a bus to New York where she worked as a sleep in domestic. The plan was to earn enough money to pay for the first semester of college and return to Alabama. They’d figure it out as they went. They accomplished that goal and Wilma entered Alabama State University in January of 1967. She graduated three years later and landed her first teaching job. The stint in New York had awakened something in Wilma that she didn’t realize she had – a desire to see more of the world. So after three years, she looked around for jobs with more excitement and travel opportunities. The United States Marine Corps seemed to fill the bill.
With a commission as a Second Lieutenant and a new outlook, Wilma embarked on a fourteen year journey that took her to duty stations across the United States and to several countries in Asia. Being one of the first female officers in the Corps to be trained as logisticians, she was usually the first and the only female in her unit.
During a tour in South Korea, life took another turn. Marines overseas often take on community service projects and Wilma’s unit chose to work with some of the many orphanages in the area. It was there that the plight of Amerasian children caught her attention. She volunteered to extend her tour in Korea so she’d have time to complete an adoption.
When the two year tour of duty in Korea was completed, Wilma and her baby girl went to Washington, DC where she quickly realized that being a single parent and a Marine were not always compatible. As a Major, she resigned her commission in the Marines, moved to California, got married to Reginald and they added a son, Nicholas, to the family.
Since 1994, Wilma has used her passion to help the residents of North County, San Diego improve their social and economic well-being through education. She and her husband live in Fallbrook. Their daughter is an educational software consultant currently working in Orlando Florida. Their son, Nicholas is a senior at California State University, Northridge.