BETSCH MaVynee Betsch (christened Marvyne Elisabeth Betsch) and known as “The Beach Lady”, was born on January 13, 1935, in Jacksonville, Florida. She made her transition from her home on American Beach on the morning of Sept. 5, 2005. The daughter of John Thomas Betsch, Sr. and Mary Frances Lewis Betsch, Ms. Betsch was strongly influenced by her great-grandfather A.L. Lewis whose legacy she protected and advanced for 30 years. A.L. Lewis, one of seven founders of the Afro-American Life Insurance Co., was a major businessman, civic leader and philanthropist. The insurance company that he founded, the Afro-American, was the first insurance company in the state of Florida, and he became Jacksonville, Florida's first black millionaire. MaVynee attended public schools in Jacksonville and Washington, D. C., and a private Methodist, all girls middle and high school, Boylan Haven School in Jacksonville. She graduated in 1955 with a double major in voice and piano from the Conservatory at Oberlin College. Ms. Betsch went to Europe following her graduation where she studied voice and sang lead roles in German State Opera. In 1962, she returned to Jacksonville and began to both study and promote conservation and protection of the environment. She moved to American Beach, a place that her great-grand father A.L. Lewis in 1935 took leadership in purchasing for the “recreation and relaxation without humiliation” of African Americans during the era of segregation. MaVynee Betsch, known as the unofficial historian of American Beach, directed much of her passionate advocacy of the environment to the preservation of her beloved beach. Up until several weeks before her transition, she enthusiastically carried out “Black history tours with “The Beach Lady”. As a founder of the A.L. Lewis Historical Society, she and her allies lobbied to place American Beach on the national register of historical places; to make Nana, the 60 foot sand dune on the beach, the property of the national park service; to protect an old bridge as a fishing pier; and to provide a buffer of intact land between American Beach and development to the north. She was also a force behind countless other environmentalist causes. One of the endangered right whales, “whale 1151” named MaVynee by biologist who came to Amelia Island in the 1990's, is a whale known as a particularly rambunctious female. MaVynne Betsch, “the Beach Lady”, is an icon among environmentalists and a shero to all who know and love American Beach. The story of her life and work, is the centerpiece of a book by Russ Rymer, “American Beach: a saga of race and memory”. Articles chronicaling her deep convictions, extraordinary courage, razor sharp intelligence and impish wit are in numerous publications including New York Times; USA Today; Essence; Preservation, the magazine of the National Trust for Historic Preservation; and Sierra, (the magazine of the Sierra Club); Coastal Living; Southern Living. The Beach Lady has also been featured on CBS and CNN. The Beach Lady's work will be carried on by her two siblings, sister, Dr. Johnnetta Betsch Cole, president of Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, N.C.; brother, John Thomas Betsch, Jr., a musician of Paris, France,; an adopted sister, Mildred O. Tucker of Greensboro, N.C.; niece, Peri Frances Betsch of Atlanta, Ga., three nephews, David K.B. Cole (wife, Janet, daughter Marissa Kritikson) Tampa, Fla.; Aaron A. Cole, of Richmond, Va.; and Ethan Che Cole (wife Dr. Jennifer Rivers Cole) of Boston, Mass., and her spiritual daughter Carol J. Alexander and her three sons Garrett, Gibran, and Akeem; other family members and her countless friends and allies. At her request, the body of the Beach Lady will be cremated. Her indomiatble spirit, phenominal life and work will be celebrated at a public gathering on American Beach at a later date to be announced. In lieu of flowers, her family request that donations be sent to the A.L. Lewis Historical Society. Arrangements are under the direction of WENDELL HOLMES FUNERAL DIRECTORS, INC. 2719 W. Edgewood Avenue. Wendell P. Holmes, FDIC. Please Sign the Guestbook @ Jacksonville.com
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Published in Florida Times-Union from Sep. 7 to Sep. 8, 2005.