The Way We Were: Betty Sterling

The Way We Were: Betty Sterling


By Laura Jane Pittman


When Betty Sterling and her husband Stu were looking to move from Memphis, TN in 1972 after Stu retired from being a Captain in the Navy, they had a wealth of familiar choices. The couple had lived in several U.S. mainland states, as well as more exotic locales such as Hawaii, Canada, and Italy.

After careful deliberation, however, they decided that Jacksonville, Florida would be ideal. They had visited the city before and thought it was beautiful and inviting. But once they made the decision to move, their choice of a house was a bit more spontaneous.

“Stu was in town and he saw this house for sale in San Jose Shores. It was on the river, and people were shrimping nearby,” recalled Betty. “He bought it on the spot, and I had never even seen it.”

It turned out to be the perfect selection for the couple, remaining their home until 2007. Many of Betty’s favorite memories revolve around the home, neighborhood, and life on the banks of the St. Johns River.

San Jose Shores was originally built and populated by a number of employees and executives of Prudential Insurance Company, which had selected Jacksonville in 1952 to be headquarters for their Southeast operations center. The Sterling’s home was 12 years old when they purchased it.

At that time, in the 1970s, residents cherished the river’s thriving ecosystem. From jumping schools of mullet to the roving alligator who swam by each evening, the water was an entertaining and inspiring backdrop for the Sterling family’s life.

“The river was full of water hyacinths, all along the bank and all the way out to the end of the dock. The manatees would come feed on them,” Betty shared. “I remember neighborhood kids swimming out and riding on their backs.”

Stu kept crab traps constantly baited with chicken necks and wings, and he caught crabs nearly every day. Grandchildren Tracy and Bobby, who spent their afternoons after school at Tutu and PopPop’s house, also caught crabs with nets while wading in the river’s edge. (Betty had become attached to the nickname Tutu – Hawaiian for grandmother – when she heard a Hawaiian neighbor’s grandchildren use it.)

“My grandfather would clean a whole bunch of crabs about once a week,” Tracy said.  “Tutu was a great cook, and she would make stuffed crab, put them in shells, and freeze them. I remember the wonderful hot appetizers appearing when company came over.”

Betty and Stu loved the river at night, enjoying the beautiful sunsets and watching the lights up and down the river from other residents enjoying their own outdoor spaces.

On weekends, the family often went to the beach. Mickler’s Landing had no houses built around it at the time, and they would trek right through the dunes to the beach. Sand dollars  and shells were abundant then, and the grandchildren brought them home by the dozens.

In 1974, Betty began volunteering for Baptist Hospital, and she just celebrated her 38th year with the organization. She served as president of the Auxiliary in the 1980s.

In addition to continuing to volunteer at the hospital, Betty now spends plenty of time with her abundant family. She and daughter BJ share a home, and son Bobby now lives in her former residence in San Jose Shores. Oldest son Skip is in Washington, D.C. Two out of five grandchildren and five out of 12 great-grandchildren also live in the Jacksonville area.

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