My family moved from Washington, D.C., to Hollywood in 1926 due my father’s severe asthma attacks during the cold Northern winters. My sister, Shirley, was 4 and I was 2.
Our sister, Isabelle, was born in Hollywood.
In 1928 we moved to 1625 SW 15th St. in Miami. I went to Shenandoah Elementary School when it was a row of wooden portable buildings with a boardwalk between them. The custodian improvised, with a set of tablespoons he altered, to retrieve the lunch coins that many of us dropped between the cracks of the boardwalk.
Kent Kelley and I started out in kindergarten together in Mrs. Patterson’s portable classroom and remained close school mates through high school, remaining good friends until now.
Shenandoah Junior High School was next. We thought that was the big time – going to school in a real two-story building. In 1937 my father passed away. I worked in the school cafeteria drying trays in return for my lunch. My best buddies were Walter Jessup, Joe Heard and Kent Kelley. My fifth-grade English teacher, Mrs. Hancock, drilled us so well in diagramming sentences that I did not learn anything more in English classes through college.
Miami High School holds many fond memories as a part of the Class of 1941. Walter Jessup and I both had Miami Herald delivery routes that required us to get up at 3:30 a.m. and deliver our papers by bicycle with a large wooden basket attached to the handle bars. I traded a paper every week for a haircut every two weeks, at the barber shop next to the Tower Theater on Southwest Eighth Street. Walter and I traded papers for a day-old pie at the bakery across the street from the Tower Theater and then traded a paper for a quart of milk from a McArthur Dairy truck driver. We sat in the Gulf Station at the corner of Southwest Eighth Street and 17th Avenue, sharing the pie and the milk while we folded our papers for delivery.
Miami High School in those years had a national championship football team with David Eldridge, Bruce Smith, Arnold Tucker and many others. Walter and I were cheerleaders. We almost created a riot during one Miami High – Edison game. Edison cheerleaders placed a red lantern in the bleachers behind our goal posts. Walter and I ran up the bleachers and took it back to our side. The police closed in and averted further contact.
Many of us from the Class of ’41 went into the armed services after graduation to serve our country in World War II. Bruce Smith went to the Naval Academy to play football and Arnold Tucker went to West Point to play football. They both became flag officers, Bruce an admiral, and Arnold a general. I met up with Walter during the war at North Island Naval Air Station, where I was stationed at a hanger next to the one where he was stationed. We arranged to take liberty together to go to Los Angeles to see the Rose Bowl Game.
My sister, Shirley, MHS Class of 1939, enlisted in the Navy Waves. Our mother, Bertha, and four of her brothers were in the U.S. Navy during WW I. Mother was a wireless operator in St. Augustine. She was a Miami community leader in the 1930’s and 40’s.
After attending the University of Colorado on the GI Bill, I decided to help my mother, who had cancer, to operate Camp Wohelo, a small girls’ camp she founded in 1929, in Waynesboro, Pa. During the winter of 1953 I met Kev Klein, a school teacher, who was teaching at the Lear School on Miami Beach. We were engaged six weeks later and married in Mansfield, Ohio. Kev became the assistant director of Camp Wohelo, and I built Camp Comet for boys on the adjacent mountain. We have been happily married for 59 years.
Our children, Jay and Bari Sue, were born and raised in Miami. Jay is a retina surgeon, practicing in Miami and Bari is teaching at the University of Miami/Canterbury Child Care Center. Jay and his wife, Kerry, have two beautiful children, Haley, 10, and Easton, 3.
In 1985 we moved to West Dade after selling the camps. I became a political activist, co-creating the West Dade Federation of Homeowner Associations with Jesse Jones. As WDFHA president for 17 years, I lead the incorporation movement for Doral, which became a city in 2004. Five years later, the Doral City Council voted to name a beautiful 10-acre park, Morgan Levy Park, at Northwest 102nd Avenue and 53rd Street.
After Hurricane Andrew in 1992, smoke from burning debris was a serious problem. I started a “Stop The Burning” movement in West Dade and teamed up with the South Dade Soil and Water Conservation District in Homestead that was fighting the same problem. We ground up 4.5 million cubic yards into mulch and delivered it free to South Dade farmers, enough to fill a line of dump trucks from here to Atlanta.
As a result of my volunteer work for that project, Jack Campbell, then chairman of the soil and water district, asked me to go to work as their administrator. I am still working as the administrator of the district after 18 years and I hope to remain on the job.
This is not the same little community in which I grew up. I am proud to see the growth and development that has taken place. I am always happy to call “Miami” my hometown.