Henrietta de Hoernle, known as Rita to her bridge friends and ‘The Countess’ throughout Palm Beach County, died Friday in hospice care at a hospital in her adopted hometown of Boca Raton, the Glick Family Funeral home confirmed Sunday. Funeral arrangements are pending for the woman whose 100th birthday was feted by the city with “Countess Appreciation Day.”
When Hoernle turned 100 years old in 2012, she estimated she had donated more than $40 million to her chosen causes since she and her late husband, Adolph, moved to South Florida in 1981.
We recall our interview with The Countess when she turned 100. Here is an excerpt from the 2012 interview:
Palm Beach Post’s Barbara Marshall: “What do you hope people remember about you?”
Henrietta de Hoernle: That I was a generous person, that I loved people and that I was willing to help.
What really gets my goat is seeing people having yachts, big apartments, chauffeurs and limousines and all that. That money could have been spent more wisely on people who need it, especially now.
There is a feeling that’s indescribable when someone comes up to you and says, “you saved my daughter,” “you saved my son.” People stop me in the streets and say, “you do such wonderful work.”
In honor of National Nude Day today, we are dialing the wayback machine to the late 1970’s, to revisit North Palm Beach’s former, though unofficial, clothing optional beach.
At the time, a nearly two-mile stretch of untouched beach hammock in North Palm Beach was known as Air Force Beach. Then part of insurance billionaire John D. MacArthur’s vast north county holdings; today it’s MacArthur State Park.
The name dates back to the Korean War in the early 1950’s when the county’s beaches were segregated but the Air Force needed a place to train black and white servicemen together, according to the Palm Beach County Historical Society. The fly boys chose this beach, which at the time was a remote spot on the north end of Singer Island.
MacArthur, who at one time owned most of northern Palm Beach County and plenty of Martin County as well, bought the land but didn’t develop it or care who made the long, hot trek through the sea grapes to visit it.
After MacArthur’s death in 1978, the State of Florida bought the land. Naturists and even the strait-laced MacArthur Foundation reportedly asked the state to set aside a clothing-optional portion of the beach.
The State of Florida stripped that idea from park plans, setting off years of cat-and-mouse skirmishes between park rangers and scampering nudists.
For years afterward, there were periodic requests that the state reassess the idea of allowing nudity at the park’s north end, but the idea was apparently never seriously considered.
However, a few hold-out nudists can occasionally be found together in the altogether at the dune line at the park’s far north end, usually surrounded by a homemade privacy barrier.
But the most shocking part of the Air Force Beach saga isn’t that people regularly took off their clothes there.
The astounding part of the story is how close Palm Beach County came to having nearly two miles of ocean-to-lake land clothed in concrete.
The bare facts are these: The Palm Beach Post archives contain a 1980 survey from an area engineering firm, revealing a developer’s nakedly avaricious plans for a subdivision of 594 homes, a beach and racquet club and pool complex to be built on the undeveloped land, including 107 proposed homes for Munyon Island in the Intracoastal Waterway.
“The site is one of Florida as it was created by nature,” the firm’s senior vice-president was quoted as saying. “We propose a single-family development which will enhance the…property.”
If the state, encouraged by Palm Beach County, hadn’t stepped in, a wild and beautiful stretch of beach in Palm Beach County and one of the country’s most productive sea turtle nesting sites would have become private, “enhanced” with concrete, lawns and tennis courts.