Tuesday, January 06, 2015

The Achiever: Maggy Hurchalla

In the spring of 2014, Gov. Rick Scott's re-election campaign was in trouble. He needed an edge. In April, he reached out to Maggy Hurchalla, our first "Achiever" of 2015.

Scott's opponent, Charlie Crist, had made significant inroads on environmental issues, amplified by popular anger in mostly Republican areas that the Scott administration was siding with polluters. The 2013 flood of destruction of the St. Lucie River and the Indian River Lagoon -- Hurchalla's abiding passion -- was an issue siphoning voter support from the first term governor.

It was unprecedented for Scott to reach out to an environmentalist, a harsh critic of state water policies at that, but the results speak for themselves as Scott prepares to be inaugurated for a second term.

Maggy, an iconic figure in Florida's environmental movement, served four terms as a county commissioner in Martin County. Few know she was born and raised in Miami or the experiences that helped shape a life of advocacy for sensible planning in defense of quality of life and for the state's dwindling natural resources.

As a child, Maggy was one in a group of siblings including a future financial columnist for Newsday, a court bailiff and extraordinary outdoorsman, and the former Dade county attorney then attorney general of the United States, Janet Reno.

With Maggy, there is no mistaking her fierce intelligence, independence of thought and loyalty to place. In 2014, Maggy was inducted into the Everglades Coalition Hall of Fame.

I spoke with Maggy recently at the Reno homestead in Kendall, a relic of natural Florida on four acres tucked away behind a busy, nondescript section of suburban Kendall Drive. The place is a piece of old Florida in the most unlikely place. It makes you squint and blink your eyes in astonishment. Then, you talk with Maggy Hurchalla.

EOM: Maggy, how did you and your family get here?

MH: My grandfather, on my father's side, was from Denmark. His name was Rasmussen. He left his wife and two boys and came over in the early 1900's to work in a tire factory in Ohio. That's when we made things in Ohio. After a year he saved enough to bring everyone over here in 1912. When he got back he changed his name to Reno. Not too long after, he moved the family to Bartow, Florida where he set up a photography studio. In 1920 or 1921, grandfather became a photographer for the Herald.

EOM: How did you get to Kendall?

MH: It wasn't Kendall then. It wasn't much of anything. When they first married my parents had built a house in Coconut Grove, and then when we started coming along and around 1942 they moved to an old 1920's house off Red Road. I was born in 1940. I remember we always had animals roaming around. Turkeys, chickens, ducks, and guinea hens. But then South Miami started booming and my daddy bought 21 acres right here in 1947. If he paid $100 or $200 an acre, that would have been a lot. North Kendall did not go out to Krome, it hit a marsh out there at 117th and it was a pot holed mess.

There was a house on the property. It would be pretentious to call it a ranch house. We called it the little yellow house. Built up on short Dade pine pilings you couldn't drive a nail into. It leaked the cold northwest wind off the Everglades. The ranch manager's wife told us that the house did just fine in the 1926 hurricane, "it lifted up, honey, broken the plumbing, and sat back down." The house weathered the 1947 hurricane except for being surrounded by water. We had gone to my grandmothers. We left a crowd of small animals on the porch - a calf, a turtle, a pig and I forget who else.

My parents in 1949 sold half the property to Gladewinds Farm. The whole area was pine and palmetto. The eastern half of our land was pasture, and it was marvelous for us children. There were cow skulls and rusty equipment and wonderful things to discover. We had ponies and pigs and cows and donkeys.

There were no other children in the neighborhood. Just all my brothers and sisters. Camping in the Everglades was pretty much taking sleeping bags and bicycles and going out into the yard.

We regularly went over to Marco Island and camped on the beach. Nobody minded, right up through the early 1950s ... sand flies and mosquitoes were awful ... we fried mullet for breakfast from the fishermen who threw them out. Then the Colliers decided to declare ownership. We used to cane pole fish along Tamiami Trail. We would go down to Plantation Key and fish for grunts and snapper and snorkel all around the front yard and whatnot. Mark (Reno) joined a boyscout troop run by Norman Benson who introduced us to Florida's blue springs. He had a copy of the old USGS book of first magnitude springs of Florida. The one where it gave directions like, 'you pass pig farm on left and take a left turn at the sand hill and find Ichnetucknee. My mother had a penchant for getting stuck in mud roads. She would take us four kids to Flamingo. The road was all marl, potholed grey and greasy and you got to Flamingo and the only thing there were some docks and net racks. I remember coming back and getting stuck in the marl and getting out and all of us pushing in the dark. In my high school years, my mom became the unpaid public relations person for the Miccosukees for which she probably got an illegal egret headdress. Her favorite Miccosukee story was sitting one night at the Green Corn Dance -- pretty rare to get an invitation if you're not a member of the Tribe -- and a tribal leader at the time, her friend Howard, leaned over to her and said, "When the world gets old you see strange things..."

In the late 40's, a friend of daddy's loaned him a four horse van. He put two bunk beds in it, an ice chest, and my parents brought along a tent for themselves. That was the original camper van. We drove to Marco Island, up the west coast all the way to Pensacola and back to Tallahassee. I remember the road between Florida Supreme Court and the Capitol was all red clay. We drove across to Jacksonville and down to Miami. Took us three weeks.

In 1947, the entire side of the ten acres over there, the entire area was under water. It rained 105 inches in 1947. There was no dike out there to block the Everglades. We loved it as children. For two months most everything here was under water. Baptist Hospital was under water for a long time. (The current Baptist Hospital is about two miles to the east of the Reno homestead.) To get anywhere, you had to go around by Sunset Drive. I was seven then and I remember the water on the golf course at Coral Gables was over my head in places. My grandmother lived about a block from there. Mark got a racoon for his sixth birthday, that my mother had gotten for him. But daddy would acquire things at the Spotlight Bar. It was the Spotlight Bar and the only other thing on Sunset Drive was Mr. Shirley's Sugarcane Farm. The Spotlight was run by Leo and Little Francis. Daddy would go to the bar, and someone would be there saying we got a macaw to get rid of, or the wife doesn't like the donkey, and so daddy would say, "I'll take it", so we always had animals around. Two donkeys, not just one.

EOM: How about US 1?

MH: US 1 was nothing. It was a nice road. When we lived in South Miami, some of my earliest memories were of this time during the war when we had gas rationing. There was one gas station in the whole of South Miami. Daddy took the bus to the Herald and we lived maybe a mile from the bus station. My mother would hitch Tony the Pony up to the cart you could fit four children on and we would ride daddy to the bus stop and with our dog galloping behind us and not another car on the road.

Daddy became the Herald police reporter and was for 35 years. He didn't have a desk there. Just a little desk at the Juvenile Bureau and he went around from police station to police station for stories. There was no phone line out here on Kendall. Finally the Herald put a phone line out here so they could call and give him assignments and tell him what to do. Right here he had a gardenia bush and rose bush. In the mornings, he would pick gardenias and pick roses and then he would call on every police station in town and talk to everyone. That's how he got his stories: donuts, sweet heart roses and gardenias to thank the women who ran the stations.

Across the street from where Dadeland there was a prisoner of war camp, some blond German soldiers ... must have been hell for them in August. We'd pass them regularly on the way to South Miami Elementary.

There was no 112th Avenue on Kendall. We just would have a fire break bulldozed to protect our home. Every five years there would be a roaring fire come down on you. There was no Metro Miami-Dade. No fire department. You were on your own out here. Daddy would take us to where the fire was coming at us. Being the oldest, Janny (Janet Reno) got to light the backfire. The littler ones got to stamp it out from spreading with green palmetto fronds.

In 1954, say, the idea that pine rock land could be rare was just about unimaginable. The pine rock land, that was just something walk through, to fall from your horse onto. Damn that stuff is sharp. When I was in high school there was still some emptiness in the world.

(The second part of the EOM interview with Maggy Hurchalla)


Anonymous said...

Wonderful I love it!

Anonymous said...

Great story. I found the property and it looks spectacular. Is she looking to adopt a nature-loving family? LOL

Anonymous said...

I would be interested to hear how she "helped" Scott and if she attached any attitude change conditions to her helping?

BTW, the new:
Please prove you're not a robot,
sucks big time, very difficult to make out letters!!!!

Anonymous said...

Wow. Great lady. Great story.

Anonymous said...

Love this story. Thanks.

HBernstein said...

What great stories.

When I was a little kid in school on Miami Beach in the early sixties, our science teacher, who lived in Kendall, would bring in indigo snakes and gopher tortoises he used to catch on the weekends to show us.

The South Florida environment, rich as it is, grows poorer every day,

Anonymous said...

I love reading stories like this. Looking forward to the second part.

Alexandria Larson said...

Just a great interview. Maggie is part of the history. Marjorie Stoneman Douglas is spinning in her grave. Maggie is hanging on. Rosa Durando is also someone EMO should interview.The true environmentalists are a dying breed. The one thing I have learned :There is no compromise. There is no holding hands with developers. Just say NO and Hell NO. A new take on an old joke. What is 1000 developers on the bottom of the ocean? a good start.

Myra's Musings said...

Love you Maggie❤️

Marty Baum said...

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would be interested to hear how she "helped" Scott and if she attached any attitude change conditions to her helping?

here; As I remember it, she told him she would give him credit for the good things, but would not support him overall...