Miami Stories

His love for working on airplanes led him to Miami


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HistoryMiami invites you to share your story about how your family found its way to South Florida.

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About this project: Miami Stories is a collaboration by HistoryMiami, The Miami Herald, Arva Moore Parks, Miami-Dade County Public Schools and National Conference on Citizenship Chairman Michael Weiser.

Special to The Miami Herald

After being discharged from the Navy in 1947, I went back to Deland in central Florida to stay with my parents. After three months of adjusting to civilian life I made plans to enter Embry Riddle School of Aviation, based at Opa-locka Airport, to get an aircraft and engine license. Serving in the Navy as an airplane mechanic made me aware that I liked working on airplanes.

When I arrived in Miami to enroll, the classes were filled until late 1951. I enrolled for the 1951 class and returned to Deland. A close friend, Dr. Garwood, dean of men at Stetson University, advised me to get a degree while waiting. I followed his advice and graduated with a degree in business administration in 1951.

I married my college sweetheart, Marilyn Pitts, who also graduated in 1951, began aviation school and started working part time for Loffler Brothers Oyster House in Coral Gables. I traveled to work on a Cushman motor scooter while my wife used our 1947 Chevy to get to her job with Lindsley Lumber. Later she worked for the State of Florida and retired in 1991.

In the 1950s, 36th Street was the main road at Miami Airport. Eastern and Pan Am each had their own terminals on 36th Street and National Air Lines had their hangars on the east side of Le Jeune Road across from the airport.

It seemed like there was a Royal Castle on every corner offering 5-cent hamburgers and 5-cent birch beers in cold glasses. There was a mom and pop restaurant close to the Seaboard Rail Station on Seventh Avenue named the “Shrimp Place.’’ Dinner was 75 cents and included the entree, 2 sides, bread, drink and dessert — and the shrimp were fresh caught.

After finishing my class at Embry Riddle, I was employed by Pan American World Airways and retired in 1991. When Pan Am moved their maintenance department to New York, I worked for Eastern Airlines for four years until Pan Am moved back to Miami and recalled me.

In June of 1952 we joined Riverside Baptist Church, then on Ninth Avenue and First Street in downtown Miami. We are still members of Riverside Baptist Church, which is now located in Kendall.

Having been a scoutmaster while in college, I agreed to work with a group of boys from fourth through 12th grades. This group was called Royal Ambassadors or R.A’s . In addition to mission education, the boys learned canoeing, cooking, games, sports, crafts and nature study. I still work with these boys. My wife worked with the girls in a group called Girls in Action. They did mission education and crafts and games also.

In 1953 we purchased our first home in Virginia Gardens, a five minute commute to Pam Am. It was a three-bedroom, one-bath new home with a garage for $11,000. We put $385 down and paid $80 a month. Needing more space, we relocated in 1960 to Westchester, where we bought a home on a one-acre lot. We still live there

As church attendance grew, it became necessary to think about building a larger sanctuary. The old sanctuary had been built in 1922 and renovated after the 1926 hurricane. Under Dr. James Parrish, the church began construction on the new sanctuary in 1958 and finished in July 1959. The new building was beautiful with a tall steeple and green and white furnishings inside.

On the way home from Sunday evening church service, we would stop at the Krispy Kreme doughnut shop on Southwest Eighth Street and purchase a dozen fresh hot doughnuts. With our three children in the car, they were all gone by the time we arrived home.

By the end of 1970, attendance at Riverside Baptist was very low. Many members had moved to unincorporated Dade County where new homes were available. The church building was sold downtown and property was purchased on Southwest 104th Street. We had our first service in the new building on Easter Sunday, April 10,1977. Last fall, the church celebrated its 90th anniversary.

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