My first encounter with Miami was in the 1940s after the war. We lived in Curacao, Netherlands West Indies, and traveled every year to New York City on vacation.
In those days of DC3 and DC4 airplanes, one could not fly nonstop to NYC – not even to Miami – because of refueling requirements. Pan Am’s route to Miami was via Ciudad Trujillo (now Santo Domingo), Port-au-Prince and Camaguey, Cuba. KLM had stops in Aruba and Jamaica.
Arriving in Miami in the afternoon, we would stay at the Miami Colonial or Columbus hotels on Biscayne Boulevard. The next day we would board an Eastern or National plane for NYC with refueling stops in Jacksonville, Raleigh, N.C., and Washington, D.C.
As a boy I was delighted to walk over to nearby Flagler Street for piña coladas at Sloppy Joe’s and cheeseburgers and chocolate milk shakes (neither of which were available in Curacao) at Walgreens. Best of all I got to go to double features at the Olympia Theatre (in Curacao movies were largely restricted for children).
Many decades later, my wife and I would attend performances of the Miami City Ballet at the same theater, now named Gusman.
Skip forward to the early ’60s when the first wave of Cubans were ousted by Castro. My father’s uncle and aunt from Havana, Henry and Elsa Senior, had taken up residence in Palm Beach – “temporarily.” My parents, who then lived in Caracas, had visited them frequently in Havana, now visited them in Palm Beach. They liked Palm Beach so much that they decided to establish residence there. My Curacao-born father died in Palm Beach in 1984 and my Budapest-born mother, who is 97, still lives there.
After graduating from Harvard, I returned home to Caracas. Later I got an MBA from Columbia University. While in New York, I met and married my wife, Suzanne Lesh of Indianapolis, who was working in fashion for Mademoiselle magazine. With my new bride I returned to Caracas.
After working for several companies in Caracas, I set out on my own, founding the first executive search management firm in the country. By the early 1980s, however, Venezuela, which had been booming for several decades, was facing an economic downward spiral.
The logical move was to Miami, which was becoming the place to do business for Latin America. Many U.S. multinationals had set up Latin America headquarters in Miami and Fort Lauderdale. We bought a “temporary” home in what is now Palmetto Bay, where we still live.
My daughters, Jennifer and Stephanie, born in Caracas, originally went to Gulliver, but changed to Palmetto High. They both headed north to college at Penn State, then attended graduate schools in Florida. After completing their education, both worked in Miami. They now live in Parkland and Palm Beach. All of our grandchildren were born in Florida – a family first.
And that is how my family from various points of the world all ended up in South Florida.