Shirley McFarland, a tireless advocate for her neighbors in Portland’s Sagamore Village neighborhood, died Sunday. She was 80.

Mrs. McFarland was instrumental in starting various programs, including a health clinic, a food pantry and day care service. She was the driving force behind the success of a community garden that brought neighbors together and kept kids out of trouble. In 2003, she was recognized with a Jefferson Award for outstanding senior service. In 2008, the community center was named in her honor.

Hundreds of people are expected to gather Sunday to pay tribute to her.

“Shirley was amazing. She had this heart of gold,” said Peggy Akers, a nurse practitioner who worked at the Sagamore Village Health Center. “She was just absolutely incredible in how she built all these bridges in the community for everyone.”

Mrs. McFarland moved to Sagamore Village in 1966 with her three young children. She was a single mother who worked odd jobs to put food on the table. At the time, she was on welfare, receiving $147.50 a month.

Her daughter Julie McFarland spoke Thursday about their struggle growing up and her mother’s relentless advocacy for others facing hardships in life.

“She was all about the community and doing things for the families in Sagamore,” her daughter said. “I left Portland and went to the land of opportunity. Mom stayed to give all the other kids hope.”

Mrs. McFarland, known for wearing colorful tie-dye shirts, was the driving force behind the success of its community gardens. She led popular gardening programs for local youths that helped build their confidence and kept them out of trouble.

Helen Mohn, who lived in Sagamore Village for 10 years, said the gardens brought neighbors together. Mrs. McFarland led nutrition and cooking classes using produce from the garden. She also donated produce to families in need.

“I don’t know what I would have done without her,” Mohn said. “She was a tremendous volunteer. If she saw something that needed to be done, she found a way to get it done.”

Mrs. McFarland volunteered for the University of Maine Cooperative Extension. She also served as treasurer of the Sagamore Village Tenants Council for more than 20 years. Her service led to various outreach efforts, including a food pantry, a bread program and community policing efforts.

Mrs. McFarland also advocated for the creation of the Boys & Girls Clubs’ Sagamore Clubhouse.

Her son Bruce Wayne McFarland said she devoted her life to the community and its local youth.

“She kept kids on the straight and narrow,” he said.

Another hallmark of Mrs. McFarland’s life was advocating for health-based services for her neighbors. Her efforts led to the creation of the health center, a community-based, nurse-managed clinic that provides primary care, public health and mental health services to residents. The center has provided training to dozens of nursing students over the years.

“She had such a passionate concern for the residents,” said Helen Peake-Godin of South Portland, who works at the center. “Shirley used to bring people over to the clinic. I remember many days her walking with a resident we hadn’t met yet.”

A celebration of her life will be held from 3 to 6 p.m. Sunday at Jones, Rich & Barnes Funeral Home, 199 Woodford St., Portland. Following services, friends and family are invited to the community center at 21 Popham St. in Portland.

Melanie Creamer can be contacted at 791-6361 or at:

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