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Children’s deaths 50 years ago led to Boca hospital

This fall marks the 50th anniversary of a movement born of tragedy that led to one of Palm Beach County’s premier medical centers.

In September 1962, 351 Boca Raton-area residents formed the Debbie-Rand Memorial Service League. Their goal: to raise money to build a hospital.

Their namesakes: two dead children.

Debbie and Rand were Debra Ann Drummond, 9, and her brother James Randall Drummond, 3.

The youngsters were victims of one of Palm Beach County’s most disturbing crimes: Their 11-year-old neighbor confessed to disguising poison as milk and sneaking it into their refrigerator.

It was 1962 and Boca Raton had only about 10,000 residents.

The nearest hospital was Bethesda Memorial, 15 miles away in Boynton Beach.

The children’s parents — their father was developer Robert Drummond — said having a hospital closer probably wouldn’t have made a difference, but the deaths spotlighted the need for one in Boca Raton.

Critics said a hospital there was unnecessary and would never happen.

But the town rallied — a history of the hospital says one of every three city residents donated — and within five years, Boca Raton Community Hospital had opened its doors.

Fiercely possessive residents call it “the miracle on Meadows Road.”

In the ensuing half century, the league’s efforts have helped contribute more than $30 million to the hospital and nearly eight million hours of combined service.

Its ranks have swelled to nearly 1,200, making it one of the nation’s largest hospital-based volunteer organizations.

Robert Drummond died at 58 in 1989, in the hospital his family’s tragedy inspired.

Gloria Drummond remained active with the hospital until her death in December 2011.

In 1996, many of the same people who’d supported the hospital over the years rose in protest when managers considered selling it for $187 million to a consortium of not-for-profit hospitals.

Residents said that might be a good thing, but feared the hospital would lose its role as a community treasure. In the end, the deal was called off.


This photo ran in the Palm Beach Post on the July 18, 1968, with the caption: “Boca Raton Community Hospital celebrated its first birthday Wednesday with the traditional cake, handshaking formalities and the untraditional lighting of the candle a la finger. The finger belongs to Richard Murray, personnel and development director. Doing the lighting honors is Mrs. Gloria Drummond, first president of the Debbie-Rand Memorial Service League. The birthday gathering was held in the hospital visitor’s lounge.” (Palm Beach Post staff file photo)

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Posted in Eliot Kleinberg October 18, 2012 at 10:00 am.

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Palm Beach County in the 1940 Census

Hotels and other transient housing

April 9, 1940, was the day designated for counting people in hotels. The official manual instructed enumerators: “You are to complete the enumeration of all tourist or trailer camps, missions, and cheap one-night lodging houses in your district on the evening of April 8th, and of all hotels in your district on April 9th.”

The tourist camp and hotel enumerations in the Census are separate from the street-by-street listings that make up most of the Census images for Palm Beach County (you can find all of the Palm Beach County images online here).

Here’s an example of one of the enumeration pages for Palm Beach hotels, listing the Surfside Hotel, Balmoral Hotel, Southland Inn, Ocean Hotel, and the Brazilian Court:


Click on the image to see a larger version.

Guests at the Ocean Hotel included a singer, a petroleum products salesman, a newspaper correspondent, a broker of hides, and a rubber goods exporter.

Only one guest was counted in the hotels in Delray Beach, a building management executive staying at the Colony Hotel. Others listed on the hotel page include hotel owners, staff and their families.

Two tourist camps were listed in Lantana, Young’s Tourist Camp and Jitterbug Jungle Camp:

Prominent locals

In April 1940 George Morikami lived on Federal Highway near the end of Old Dixie Highway in what is now northern Boca Raton. He was 53 years old and listed his occupation as farm operator.


Click on the image to see the whole page from the 1940 Census at 1940census.archives.gov.

Morikami had come from Japan with a group of farmers who planted acres of pineapples, peppers and tomatoes. Ultimately the Yamato Colony failed, and most of the farmers moved to other parts of the United States or returned to Japan.

George Morikami remained after the colony disbanded, and continued cultivating fruits and vegetables and buying land. He lost much of his land during the Depression, and later the federal government confiscated more of it for the Boca Raton Army Air Field, but Morikami eventually donated 200 acres to Palm Beach County, which opened the Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens on that land in 1977, one year after Morikami’s death.

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Posted in Flashback blog April 4, 2012 at 4:15 pm.

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This week in history: Addison Mizner’s short-lived radio station launches

WFLA-AM, operated by Addison Mizner’s Boca Raton development company, went on the air on Feb. 5, 1927. “The Voice of Tropical America,” was touted as one of the largest radio stations in the country, “broadcasting all the warmth and beauty of sunny southland through to the ice-locked and snow-bound north.”

According to Donald Curl’s Mizner’s Florida: American Resort Architecture, the company ran out of money before it built a permanent studio, so WFLA’s broadcasts originated from a frame structure covered with palmetto fronds at the corner of Palmetto Park Road and NW Fourth Avenue. The station shut down within a year as Mizner’s empire collapsed.


WFLA radio towers in 1927. (Photo courtesy of the Boca Raton Historical Society & Museum)


The concrete bases for the radio towers are still visible on the lawn in front of the Boca Raton Museum of Art School on Palmetto Park Road. (Photo courtesy of the Boca Raton Historical Society & Museum)

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Posted in Flashback blog January 30, 2012 at 6:00 am.

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The crime that brought a hospital to Boca Raton

We’re finishing our 11th year of Post Time. Since Jan. 19, 2000, it has generated 623 columns, a webpage and two books, Palm Beach Past and Wicked Palm Beach.

We couldn’t have done it without your questions about the history of Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast. Please keep ’em coming! The end of the year also means transition. On Dec. 10, we marked the passing of Gloria Drummond, who used tragedy to make history. Here’s a May 6, 2001, column:

Question: What was the murder that helped lead to the creation of Boca Raton Community Hospital?

Answer: The hospital was founded by the Debbie-Rand Foundation, which has raised more than $16 million over the years.

Debbie and Rand were Debra Ann Drummond, 9, and her brother James Randall Drummond, 3. The youngsters were victims of one of Palm Beach County’s most disturbing crimes: Their 11-yearold neighbor confessed to disguising poison as milk and sneaking it into their refrigerator.

It was 1962 and Boca Raton had only about 10,000 residents. The nearest hospital was Bethesda Memorial in Boynton Beach.

The children’s parents — their father was developer Robert Drummond — said having a hospital closer probably wouldn’t have made a difference, but the deaths spotlighted the need for one in Boca Raton. One of every three city residents gave money to open Boca Raton Community Hospital, called “The Miracle on Meadows Road.”

Robert Drummond died at 58 in 1989, in the hospital his family’s tragedy inspired. Gloria Drummond remained active with the hospital.

In 1996, many of the same people who’d supported the hospital over the years rose in protest when managers considered selling for $187 million to a consortium of not-for-profit hospitals. Residents said that might be a good thing, but feared the hospital would lose its role as a community treasure. In the end, the deal was called off.


A painting of the Drummond children hangs in the hospital’s lobby. The children are (from left) Debbie, Bobby, Randy and Robin Drummond. (Palm Beach Post file photo)

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Posted in Eliot Kleinberg December 29, 2011 at 10:48 am.

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This week in history: Boca Raton Army Air Field opens

On Oct. 15, 1942, Boca Raton Army Air Field opened on 5,860-acres between Yamato and Palmetto Park Roads, from Military Trail to Dixie Highway. It was a flight and radar training base and home to some 16,000 troops. Boca Raton had fewer than 1,000 residents at the time.

The base was in operation until 1947. When ownership of the land was returned to the city and the state, part became Boca Raton Airport and the much of the rest eventually became Florida Atlantic University; the school’s unusually wide parking lots are former runways.

Read more about the Boca Raton Army Air Field at Palm Beach County History Online and in Small Town, Big Secrets: Inside the Boca Raton Army Airfield During World War II by Sally J. Ling


The Provost Marshal’s headquarters at the Boca Raton Army Air Field, around 1942. (Photo courtesy of the Boca Raton Historical Society)


Aerial view of the Boca Raton Army Air Field. (Photo courtesy of the Boca Raton Historical Society)


Col. N. L. Cote (front, center) escorts Maj. Gen. Walter R. Weaver (front, left) and others on a tour of the Boca Raton Army Air Field in this undated photo, circa 1940s. Historians have identified the building in the background as the Mizner Oaks Apartments. (Photo courtesy of Boca Raton Historical Society)

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Posted in Flashback blog and Our history in photos October 17, 2011 at 6:00 am.

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