Audubon Florida – MaVynne Betsch’s Legacy Lives On in Protected Coastline

NPS Photo/Charles Stankiewicz.

Getting the most from the least and living peacefully in harmony with nature is the most rewarding lifestyle.” ~ MaVynne Betsch

Reaching out across the undulating waves of a deep blue Atlantic Ocean, the NaNa Dunes cover more than 8 acres; their tall, sandy forms are topped with sea oats and short, scrubby oaks. As the tallest dune system in Florida, they showcase an impressive example of the power of wind and plant roots in sculpting our coastal ecosystems, and they stand as a remarkable testament to the conservation efforts of MaVynne Betsch.

The Beach Lady

MaVynne Betsch, born in 1935, was nicknamed “The Beach Lady” for her relentless efforts to preserve American Beach in Northeast Florida. She descended from a long line of community leaders: her great-grandfather, A.L. Lewis, founded the Afro-American Life Insurance Company, becoming Florida’s first Black millionaire.

A classically trained musician, Betsch sang opera across Europe before permanently returning to American Beach, Florida, where she championed conservation and historical preservation. In an article for the Smithsonian, her friend Russ Rymer writes that when she returned from Europe, “[s]he jettisoned more than her diva status. She also gave away her significant inheritance, writing checks to conservation causes until the money ran out in the late 1970s, with the intangible compensation that a textbook on butterflies is dedicated to her and an Atlantic-traveling whale has been given her name (MaVynee #1151) by biologists at Boston’s New England Aquarium.”

She promoted the planting of trees and native wildflowers and was an avid wildlife lover, posting signs to alert locals and visitors to nesting sea turtles. Former Florida Senator Bill Nelson described Betsch as “a recognized leader in preserving land and history in the South.”

Read the full article here.

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