Dr. Theodore L. Yarboro Sr. has experienced successes and hardships in his life because of his race, but he never thought he’d live to see the milestone of the country’s first African-American president.

“I knew eventually it would happen,” Yarboro said while relaxing in his Hermitage home with his wife of 48 years, Deanna.

But enjoying Obama’s victory is just one of many things Yarboro can be proud of in his life, one of many stories he has to tell.

Just one day shy of 77, he turns 77 feb. 16 Yarboro is still a working man with no plans to retire soon from his Sharon doctor’s office, where he’s practiced general family medicine since 1965.

“Until I tell him he can stop,” Mrs. Yarboro said about when her husband can retire.

The Yarboros, who have three children and eight grandchildren, have led busy lives, each having been Buhl Day honorees — Mrs. Yarboro, a retired social worker, in 1977, and Yarboro in 1999.

Yarboro credits his mother and the life example of his grandfather with getting him to where he is today. He was born in Rocky Mount, N.C., and raised in Fayetteville, N.C., to Bessie Edwards Yarboro and Colonel (his first name, not a military title) Yarboro, and the family grew to eight children.

Yarboro’s parents separated when he was five, so he never really got to know his father. His mother successfully raised Yarboro and his siblings on her own. She died in 2003, just two weeks away from her 106th birthday, he said.

Growing up without a father figure in his life, Yarboro admired his grandfather, William Foster Edwards, even though he died a month before Yarboro was born.

Edwards was born into slavery and became a doctor. Yarboro’s mother saved his medical books and Yarboro knew from a young age he wanted to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps.

“I was 12 years old when I decided that’s what I wanted to do,” he said. One of his children, Theodore Yarboro Jr., is also a doctor who lives in Sandersville, Ga.

Throughout most of his life, Yarboro has encountered racism, but he’s never let it bother him or stop him from achieving his goals.

He attended segregated schools; drank from public water fountains labeled “colored,” sat in the back of the bus, and rode the first passenger railcar designated for black people, behind the engine.

When he decided as a boy to become a doctor, it never occurred to him what the odds were against him in reaching that goal. He graduated from North Carolina Central University, Durham, in 1956, but it took some searching to find a medical school that would accept him because of his race.

“There were probably less than 225 black students in the entire United States entering the first year of medical school when I started in 1958,” Yarboro said.

He made it into Meharry Medical College, Nashville, with financial assistance from the Southern Regional Plan for Education, a program for black students. He graduated with his doctorate in 1963, but not without some racism along the way.

For years there was a large billboard on the northern and southern borders of the county where he lived that said, “This is Klan country.”

One morning in 1960, he was awakened by the sound of windows breaking in his dormitory building at Meharry. The home of a civil rights attorney across the street had been bombed.

Yarboro was drafted into the Air Force in 1957. He and two other men from his unit had a layover at Dallas Airport on their way to an assignment, and Yarboro had to eat in the colored section of an airport restaurant. That embarrassed the two other men, who were white.

“It did not matter that I was dressed in the uniform of the United States Air Force. ... You left the base and it was a different story,” he said.

After he was honorably discharged from the Air Force, Yarboro had an internship at Trumbull Memorial Hospital, Warren, Ohio, a residency at the hospital of what is now Sharon Regional Health System, and more schooling at the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Public Health.

He and his wife settled in the Shenango Valley in 1965 because he enjoyed working for Sharon Regional, only to face more discrimination. When they decided to stay in the area, Yarboro needed a $2,000 loan to open his office. One bank told him he was turned down for a loan because he couldn’t project what his income would be once he opened his practice.

“The mortgage was less than $100 a month,” he said, adding he was able to get a loan from another bank.

As the Yarboro family grew, they made plans for a larger home. They checked deeds of some available properties only to find the deeds specified the land was not to be sold to black people.

They were able to obtain the property where their current home was built in 1972 because the land was owned by the Gibbs, a black family.

Yarboro said the Shenango Valley has been good to his family and his practice.

He’s mentored students who became doctors; helped establish the Shenango Valley Urban League; wrote a medical advice column for The Herald from 1990 to 1993; taught a course on the history of medicine from 1979 to 1993 at Pennsylvania State University’s Shenango Valley Campus, Sharon; and been active with his church, Ruth A.M.E. Zion Church, Sharon.

Racism still exists in the area even though you don’t really hear about it, but Yarboro said he can’t let it get to him. He looks to Obama, his mother and grandfather for inspiration when he needs it.

Obama’s rallying cry of “Yes we can” is not new to Yarboro and he’s continued to live his life by the motto, “Lend a helping hand to others while climbing.”

“Yes we can! Frankly, I never thought that we couldn’t,” he said.

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