Carter Burrus, 72, lives in Southwest Miami-Dade with his wife, a professor at Miami Dade College. He’s a counselor at his alma mater, Christopher Columbus High School, and tells a story of his days as a student and football player there. He recalls his childhood in Coral Gables, where he’d jump off the rocks at Venetian Pool and bask in the mosquito spray at the local drive-in. He’s a bit of a Miami national park expert. Burrus is a Gladesman, part of a group deeply connected with the Everglades. He studied Biscayne National Park for his doctorate and tells stories of meeting the colorful characters who once resided there. Although he wasn't born here, he's a Miami man through and through:
My parents were both in the United States Navy during World War II. They got together and lived in Virginia for a while. I was born and we moved to Miami when I was 3 years old.
First, we lived in West Miami for a period of time. Two sisters were born there and I went to school at Saint Teresa in Coral Gables.
We moved closer to the school in the early 1950s to Schenley Park right by Miami Children’s Hospital, now Nicklaus Children’s Hospital. I had two more sisters at that house, four sisters in total.
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My mother worked at Doctor’s Hospital for the next 14 years and my father sold insurance.
As kids, we loved to go to the movies on Saturday. The only movies we’d go to were in Coral Gables. The movies for kids were at the Miracle, which is now a playhouse. Once you became a teenager you would go to the Coral, which was on Ponce. When you really got grown up and wanted to date, you would go down to The Gables.
We’d also go to the drive-in movies every Friday or Saturday night. I’d go with my family and we’d sometimes take lawn chairs. My dad would make popcorn at home and put it in a big grocery bag.
I remember they’d spray for mosquitoes at the movie and you’d just be sitting there in a big cloud. Who knows how many brain cells were killed in that process.
During the week, I’d get home from school, get on my bicycle and ride to Venetian Pool. Every single day.
At the pool they had a tower. If you dove off the tower you’d get kicked out of the pool. So about 15 minutes before closing, all the kids would go up the tower and jump into the pool. We’d get kicked out but we were out of there anyway because the pool was closing. That was a kid’s paradise.
I went to high school at Christopher Columbus, a Catholic high school. There, I ran track and played football. I was captain of the football team. While I was in Columbus I had my first real official job working at this grocery store called Food Fair.
Once I graduated from Columbus, I decided to go to the United States Naval Academy, following in my parents’ footsteps. While in school, I played football. I broke my hand and decided to leave the Naval Academy for Michigan State.
My first job in Michigan was at a reform school. I knew while I was there that I wanted to be a teacher. And so I asked myself, where were the most pleasant times of my entire life? Columbus. So where do I want be a teacher? Columbus!
So I came back to Columbus, coached football and started my teaching career. After I quit football, I ran the intramural program and taught history there for 23 years.
From there, I had an opportunity to teach at Miami Dade College. I was reluctant, but I went and stayed for 20 years. There I got involved in developing, and then running, the honors program. The program eventually morphed into something called the Honors College, which is in existence today.
When I retired from Miami Dade, I wanted to return to Columbus and ended up taking several different guidance counseling positions.
I’ve been to so many reunions and have taught multiple generations of fathers and sons. Even now, when I get together with my old classmates, it’s like no time has passed.
A lot of people say they don’t want to go to an all-boys school, but there’s just something special about it. You form a very strong bond.
My other loves are nature and the Everglades. As a kid, my father would take me fishing out on Tamiami Trail. I’d also go to the Everglades with my friends and we’d wander around sometimes and go hunting. You can’t do that anymore.
For many years I had a sailboat and when it was peaceful and calm I would go to the Biscayne National Park.
My doctoral dissertation is on the history of the islands and the waters of the Biscayne National Park. So I know all about Biscayne National Park.
During my research, I interviewed Virginia Tannehill. She lived on one of the islands, Swiss Family Robinson-style, before she had to move out because of Hurricane Andrew. She told me about a box of silver coins she found as she was walking on the beach and then gave me one. It was cool because I'm studying this island and writing the history of the site and now I've got a piece of it.
There was another guy who lived there whose name was Sir Lancelot Jones. He was a fishing guy who took almost every U.S. president out fishing. He told me his favorite was Herbert Hoover, whom he called “Herbie Hoover.” He was an amazing character.
I’d always done the sailboat thing, but for some reason I decided to give my sailboat away and become an air boater. I now have my own boat and belong to an airboat club, Airboat Association of Florida, which was founded in 1951. I have started getting more and more involved in the Everglades. When you have your own boat, you go to places you could never ever go before.
I’ve been to places that are just so tranquil and peaceful. As soon as you turn the engine off, you become part of nature. It’s a real spiritual feeling that the most people here in this urban environment never get to experience. I feel tranquil and at home in those areas on the water.
I’m pretty educated and I’ve done a lot of things, but I still enjoy the simplicity of nature and I want to protect it.
Today I live right down the road from Columbus with my wife. She’s a professor at Miami Dade College.
I frequent my favorite Miami hot dog place, Arbetter’s, for lunch. Everybody’s famous somewhere. I'm famous in Arbetter’s. My high school jersey is in the corner at Arbetter’s because I’ve been eating there for 50 years. I love it because it’s the most egalitarian place. You can be a lawyer, a doctor, a ditch digger; everybody's the same at Arbetter’s.
I’ve loved watching this whole area of Westchester change. At one time it was a Jewish enclave. Gradually, as the Jewish population moved to North Miami, the Cubans moved in and made this area come alive. I love the diversity and the different kinds of people. When I go to the middle of the state, I see areas where everybody is homogenous. I just think to myself, “There’s something wrong here.” It’s like getting your food and they forgot to put the spice in it.
That to me makes Miami really, really special. I never want to leave.
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