Myrtle Scharrer was born in a pioneer home on Caladesi Island, two miles offshore of Dunedin, Florida, in 1895.
Her childhood was lonely yet never lonesome, as an islander’s life was inherent to her.
From an early age she reveled in hard work. When her Mother died, Myrtle had just turned seven years old. From that time on she became her Father’s “right-hand-man.” She mastered all the skills necessary for pioneer living.
She was a lifelong observer and protector of the wildlife native to Florida. Her Father taught her to live a lifestyle that respected and preserved the abundance of nature’s gifts with which our area of Florida was blessed.
As an only child, living in a somewhat remote location, Myrtle craved an education. At the age of nine, she was allowed by her Father to row St Joseph’s Sound daily in order to attend the one-room school located at Highland and Main in Dunedin. This image of the sturdy little girl pulling long steady strokes against the wind, tide and salt spray, seeking to improve and educate herself, is a fit symbol for Myrtle’s entire life. Without realizing it, she set a standard of self-determination, self-sufficiency, wisdom and courage. She truly did not perceive herself as singular or special, yet years after her death stories of her actions of courage, and the daily ways that she helped others, are still retold.
As a young woman in the 1920’s and 30’s Myrtle was a commercial fisherman in partnership with her husband, an unusual occupation for a woman at that time. She always grew a vibrant garden, and was a fine and efficient cook. In the 1940’s and 1950’s she worked at the Dunedin Fish Company when it was owned by John Bolger and later, George Saunders. During the years of WWII she wrote anonymously for the Dunedin Times an article called “Pinch Hitting for the Old Salt,” which gave local news from the waterfront and usually included a seafood recipe.
Pressured to sell her Caladesi Island property in 1946, she placed on it a deed restriction that would preserve that 157 acres as a park to which no alteration could be made without the express permission of the Clearwater Marine Science Center and the Audubon Society.
In her 87th year of life she wrote her memoirs, Yesteryear I Lived in Paradise. Myrtle’s writing style is direct and genuine, factual and informed. It conveys the daily experience and highlights of her Swiss Father’s life as a young man traveling across the U.S.A. — an immigrant who chooses to become a U.S. citizen and homesteader on a Florida barrier island. Myrtle also relates her own life experiences as a child and young woman living a pioneer lifestyle.
A portion of the proceeds from the sale of Yesteryear benefit the Henry Scharrer Memorial Fund. Contributions go fully to support preservation, education and conservation activities at Gulf Island State Parks, especially Caladesi Island.
In 2000, Myrtle Scharrer Betz was recognized as a Great Floridian by the Florida Department of State. It is fitting that her plaque is placed on the Harbor Master’s Quarters at the Dunedin Marina in Dunedin, Florida, as from that location one can look across St. Joseph’s Sound to the south end of Caladesi Island, Myrtle’s birthplace, and her heart’s home. Myrtle Scharrer Betz was born to seaward and that is how she lived.
~ Terry Fortner, the author’s granddaughter