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Jax Daily Record Monday, Feb. 4, 201312:00 PM EST

50 years ago this week

by: Max Marbut Associate Editor

Have you ever wondered what life was like in Jacksonville half a century ago? It was a different era of history, culture and politics but there are often parallels between the kind of stories that made headlines then and today. As interesting as the differences may be, so are the similarities. These are some of the top stories from this week in 1963. The items were compiled from the Jacksonville Public Library's periodical archives by Staff Writer Max Marbut.

• During a local-bill legislative hearing concerning a proposed Jacksonville-Duval County port authority, County Attorney J. Henry Blount made a plea for cooperation.

"I thought I was coming here to see a wedding, but it looks more like a divorce," Blount said after several City officials attacked much of the bill. The legislation was presented by an advisory committee of the County Commission.

"Why can't we join together and go forward on our port activities," said Blount, after whom the island in the St. Johns River between Arlington and Dames Point already had been named.

Principal faults brought up during the debate included:

The Municipal Docks and Terminals operated by the City had shown a profit every year since 1951. Under the proposed legislation the facilities would become property of the port authority 90 days after the law was enacted, but the authority would have five years to reimburse the City.

The maximum which would be paid to the City for the docks and terminals would be $1.5 million, the City's bonded indebtedness for the facilities.

Employment for some 40 permanent employees of the MD&T might be jeopardized when their jobs became under the control of the authority.

The composition of the board of directors also was questioned. The City advocated an authority composed of elected officials while the legislation proposed an appointed board.

Speaking against the proposed bill were City Commissioners J. Dillon Kennedy, Louis H. Ritter and Claude Smith. City Council member Clyde Cannon, City Attorney William Madison and City Council Attorney Harry Fozzard also spoke against the bill.

"We object strenuously to a board composed of appointed persons. We would rather go back to the old plan of a port authority board composed of City and County commissioners. If that's too large a body, let's have three members each from the City Commission and the County Commission and if they insist on the governor getting in on it, let him appoint the seventh member," said Smith.

State Rep. Harry Westberry said some of the speakers seemed to treat the Municipal Docks & Terminals as a private enterprise.

"It belongs to the people of Jacksonville and we are trying to do what is best for the people of Jacksonville and all of Duval County," he said.

State Sen. John E. Mathews Jr. said despite the considerable opposition to the details of the proposal, "some sort of port authority legislation" would be enacted during the session, which was to begin April 2.

• State School Superintendent Thomas Bailey said a "crisis" existed in Florida and cited Duval County's public schools as an example. He said textbooks being used in local classes were so old that Adolf Hitler wasn't mentioned in the books, much less Nikita Khrushchev.

Bailey also criticized the textbooks for not mentioning the Salk polio vaccine. He said the dictionaries being used in schools were so outdated that penicillin was listed in the "New Words" section.

The discovery of penicillin was 13 years before the introduction of Salk's polio vaccine in 1955.

• Jacksonville University broke ground for a $740,000 music and fine arts building and began a $100,000 fundraising drive in what was described as "the largest development program in the school's short history."

The two-story building would be constructed between Swisher Auditorium and Swisher Gymnasium.

Among those turning spades to ceremonially start of construction were Carl S. Swisher, past chairman and lifetime honorary member of the university's board of trustees, and Frances B. Kinne, dean of the College of Music and Fine Arts.

The fund drive, which was led by the University Council, officially began at the Founder's Week Banquet in Wolfson Student Center at which British historian Arnold J. Toynbee was the featured speaker.

• Ed Allen, who was the assistant agricultural agent of Duval County, might have set a world record in 1963, but it wouldn't be known whether he did until 1965.

Allen planned to make 100 grafts on a camellia plant, which would not bloom for two years. If more than 40 lived on the plant, Allen would likely become the world's champion camellia grafter.

He was doing the work at the home of former County Commissioner C. Ray Greene Sr. at 8211 E. Concord Blvd. Greene and his wife, who were camellia fanciers, supplied Allen with a 16-year-old bush to use as understock for the grafting.

• Herbert F. Underwood was named chairman of a nominating committee to select committee members for "Operation Alphabet," a project aimed at reducing illiteracy in Duval County through the medium of educational television.

Releford McGriff and Fred B. Noble were named vice chairmen to work with Underwood.

• Charles Steinmetz, who weighed 740 pounds and said he craved food as an alcoholic craved alcohol, died in a local hospital at age 38.

It took 16 men to lift Steinmetz into a funeral home's flower delivery van to get him to the hospital after he complained of lung congestion.

"I crave food like an alcoholic craves alcohol. Other people smoke or drink when they worry. I fry myself a chicken," he said in an interview just days before his death.

Steinmetz was eight inches wider (76) than he was tall (68). He said doctors told him repeatedly there was nothing physically wrong with him.

"I have no health problem, no diabetic problem. Just overeating," he said in the interview.

Steinmetz was a graduate of St. Paul's High School and had worked as a clerk typist in the overhaul and repair department at Jacksonville Naval Air Station for more than 16 years before he retired on a medical pension.

"State agencies and others agree that I'm in a category all by myself. They have funds for cancer patients, alcoholics, TB patients – but nothing for overweight persons," Steinmetz had said.

• A six-member coroner's jury returned a verdict of accidental death in the case of a teenager who was shot and killed by a friend.

The verdict freed Perry Bridges, 21 in the death of 18-year-old Charles Thomas Denefield.

City Detectives L.A. Hamwey and K.O Helsabeck said Perry told them he and Denefield were engaged in a conversation near 19th and Fairfax streets when Perry took a .38-caliber revolver from the glove compartment of a car and the pistol accidentally discharged, the bullet striking Denefield in the chest. He was pronounced dead on arrival at Duval Medical Center.

The jury met before Justice of the Peace Genevieve K. Medlock.

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