Campbell: Dialing up new era

Pioneer politician paves tough road for future women

Keynoter ContributorJuly 11, 2008 

These are my memories since April 1947, when Tex Campbell and I came to the Keys on our honeymoon and fell in love with the color of the water, the gorgeous cloud formations of the sunsets, and all the flowering trees and plants.

Tex said it looked like Hawaii (he went there in the Navy) and he asked, “What are we doing in New York City when there is a place like this on the mainland?”

Just to be sure it wasn’t “honeymoon-itis,” we went back to New York City (he was a plain-clothes policeman, and I was singing in a night club), and we changed our vacations to September (the hurricane season). We still thought it was gorgeous — even with the high humidity and the mosquitoes and the “no-see-ums,” so we put a down payment on five acres on Grassy Key ($28,500, where the Dolphin Research Center is now), and went back to quit our jobs.

We honestly said we were never sorry. Our phone number was Grassy Key No. 1, and our New York friends were astounded. After two years, the Marathon published phone numbers were 23 in a “phone book” the size of an 8-inch envelope (one page folded), and since they didn’t know of any more Grassy Key possibilities, they dropped Grassy Key No. 1 and added us to Marathon No. 24.

My mother (Eva McKinney) moved to the Keys with us, and with her master’s degree, was hired as the principal of the two-room Sue Moore School. Gerald Corothine taught grades five through nine, and Mother taught one through four. She had many prominent Keys citizens in her third-grade classroom — Franklin Greenman, Bettye Chaplin, the two Schmitt brothers, Mike Puto and one of the Keys millionaires in Key West — Edwin Swift Jr. She taught them all to read and write (cursively rather than print).

When the expanding Keynoter needed some new presses, they offered lifetime membership subscriptions to raise the money (I can’t remember for sure, but I think it was $500). I am curious if any other lifetime subscribers are still in the area? I wonder how many have moved away, or passed away like Tex.

In 1959, I ran for the School Board, and was the first woman elected to any board or commission — a beginning of a long line of firsts.

I didn’t get a second to a motion (to put the bread and milk out on bids) for two long years. The chairman of the board had been selling milk to the schools for 20 years for more money than he charged the restaurants (even though the statutes demanded all purchases over $1,500 be put out for bids). Robert’s Rules of Order allow only motions that are seconded to be printed, so it was as if I never made a motion for two years. The only time my name appeared was that I was present and when I voted no on the motions.

It took Robert Vargas (a native-born Cuban from Key West) to change the political climate. He became the youngest School Board member elected in Florida (he was 21 years of age). Working together, we seconded each other’s motions, but we were still powerless, until Billy Warren joined us.

He was a wonderful native Conch bachelor who loved children, and realized that what we wanted to do was direct our funds toward better educational opportunities for the children and the teachers instead of handing business to friends and/or lining people’s pockets illegally. It was very clear that two people cannot change anything for the better unless they can convince a third person to make a majority.

I became the first woman chairman in the county (12 years of my 36 years in Office) and when I retired in 1992, I became the longest serving School Board member in Florida, as well as the longest office holder of any elected official in Monroe County.

My daughter, Bonnie Cucchi, graduated from Marathon High School and still lives in Marathon. She enjoys providing trees and plants from the mainland to Keys landscapers to beautify homes and businesses, and she is the organist for the early service at St. Columba Episcopal Church as well as the organist and choir director of Presbyterian Kirk of the Keys.

I spent many years as choir director of the Methodist church and Kirk of the Keys, and continue playing the organ for the early service at Martin Luther Chapel, and singing in both the Lutheran and the Kirk of the Keys choirs. I also belong to the women’s barbershop group (Island Harmony) and the Marathon Community Theatre Chorus, and still enjoy teaching piano lessons to both children and adults.

I’m sure that all the old-timers who are still here are pleased and proud to have such a wonderful hometown paper as the Keynoter. I look forward to many more years of interesting and informal editorial comments, a wide variety of letters to the editor, fair and complete coverage of happenings in our unique communities, and excellent color photography of our unbelievably beautiful Florida Keys.

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