Sylvia was born at Beersheba Springs, Tennessee and grew up in Chattanooga, Tennessee, where she graduated from Tyner High School in 1958. She worked for Continental Film Productions while attending the University of Chattanooga (now the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga), then worked at the Library of Congress in in Washington, DC, and for the Western Union Telegraph Company in Cookeville, Tennessee, and Macon, Georgia.
At Macon, she met and married her husband, Jerry Flowers from Headland, Alabama, in 1964 and later began her career as a National Park Service Ranger at Ocmulgee National Monument. In 1987, she earned a commission from the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center at Brunswick, Georgia, and in 1988 was presented the National Park Service's prestigious Freeman Tilden Award, the Service's highest commendation for interpretive excellence for creating the park's innovative Discovery Lab and Teacher's Guide, which were widely emmulated at other historic and natural sites and museums across the country. Sylvia received extensive training in cultural resources management and museum curation. In the year 2000, the State of Georgia named her a Woman of Outstanding Achievement in the preservation of the State's history. The same year, Principal Chief Perry Beaver of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation presented her an award recognizing her efforts in preserving Muscogean history. She retired in September 2003 as one of only two rangers in the National Park Service to earn the title Master Ranger.