The Way We Were: Merle Dekle Teate

The Way We Were: Merle Dekle Teate

Teate_08Although her vision and hearing are fading, once Merle Dekle Teate, 97, of San Jose settles into a favorite chair overlooking her backyard and lake, her Maltese poodle Angel tucked by her side, she’s eager to share timeless memories. Still a lovely Southern lady with the sunniest of personalities, Teate’s home off San Jose Boulevard was once the center of a vibrant social circle reflecting the music and entertainment of the time.

“Things were different then. People often entertained at home. If we weren’t going out for dinner and dancing to Abe Livert’s Band on Saturday nights at San Jose Country Club, we invited friends here. We’d take a boat ride, dine together…then the music and dancing started,” she said.

Stacks of record albums in her Marianna Road home prove the music rarely stopped, especially when U.S. Air Force and Florida National Guard pilot, the late Lt. Col. Thomas “Tommy” Luten Teate was home.

Teate was the son of Thomas Abner Teate, Jr., and his wife Billie Octavia Duncan Teate, a well-known local ballroom dance instructor who acted in early Jacksonville-produced silent movies. Tommy learned to dance from his mother in the family home on Liberty at 16th street in Springfield. He was often her partner and later taught Merle to dance. Merle says that Teate especially loved his family, flying, and dancing, a passion they shared throughout their 65-year marriage.

“We danced every weekend. There were always dances at the National Guard Armory in Springfield or at the Masonic Lodge downtown on Newnan Street. Our favorites were ballroom, the Cha and square dances,” Merle said.

Teate_04            The well-worn Teate album collection has neat handwritten notes on each cover indicating song number and title for favorites. They played Pete Fountain, Count Basie, Tommy Dorsey, Duke Ellington, the Glen Miller Orchestra and Vaughn Monroe hits. Big Band, Dixieland, Jazz, Swing, Latin music and movie themes sung by stars of the day are dear to Merle. Songs they practically wore out were: Green Eyes, Sugar Blues, Marie Elena, Mamselle, Sleepy Lagoon, Mood Indigo and Little Brown Jug.

The family lived on Catalonia Street before moving to the Marianna Road home, which Tommy just had to have, Merle recalled. Its large yard, private lake and island were perfect for their family and entertaining.

“Tommy wanted this home because he loved the water. We had a pontoon boat named The Love Boat and jet skis. He fished, catching brim and 10-pound wide-mouth bass,” she said. “We liked to boat to the island, roast hotdogs and picnic. Along the way we’d invite neighbors who were outside to boat over and join us…such fun.”

Merle Dekle was born June 6, 1917 at home, 325 Cottage Avenue between 10th and 11th Streets in Springfield. Her older brother, Vaughn, is deceased. Her parents were Julian Arthur Dekle and Zimmie Harrison Dekle. Nearly 100 years ago, Julian founded the Dekle Lumber Company downtown, which he later sold to the Mason Lumber Company, predecessor of The Charter Company.

“My lifelong friend, Virginia “Ginger” Dell, 96, lived on the corner of Pearl and 11th Streets, so close I could walk outside and call her, and she’d hear me even if she was in her backyard playhouse. She was like my little sister. We attended Miss Cadine Montgomery’s Kindergarten in a house next door to mine. I remember walking Ginger to her first day of kindergarten, her first day at Kirby Smith and to Andrew Jackson High School. The only time we ever argued was over Betty Boop paper dolls we cut out of the Pictorial Review Magazine every month. The only naughty thing we ever did was to skip school and borrow my brother’s 1935 cream-colored Chrysler Convertible to go to the beach. Ginger was only 16 but she knew how to drive. Unfortunately we got stopped by the police for speeding, but they let us go without a ticket,” she said. Dell went on to found Virginia Dell School of Dance in Jacksonville, a love of dance she and Merle have shared for nearly a century.

Merle was the first Bolles Sweetheart in 1934, chosen at a dance she attended with John Thomas, a boarder at the then all-male Bolles Military Academy. The Dekles’ porch and kitchen were home-base for Bolles students who visited Merle and her girlfriends on Sunday afternoons after church, hosted by her parents.
Both are Jacksonville natives who attended the same schools, and the handsome, romantic Tommy would walk to Merle’s house from his home, whistling so she would hear him coming. The date June 6th, Merle’s birthday, was significant throughout their lives. They graduated together on June 6, 1935 from Andrew Jackson High School and married on June 6, 1939.


Merle Teate and lifelong friend Ginger Dell)

Tommy Teate served in three wars, flew countless dignitaries including Presidents Roosevelt and Kennedy and taught Charles Lindbergh to fly a B-29 Superfortress bomber during WWII. Lindbergh’s historic 1927 cross-Atlantic flight inspired Teate to earn his pilot’s license at age 16. He retired from the military in 1977 but continued as Winn Dixie and Davis family pilot and as a flight instructor via computer simulation right up to his death. He and his sons founded Enviro-Test Services, Inc. environmental testing company, now located in Columbia, South Carolina. Tommy also served as a volunteer missionary pilot, flying supplies to disaster zones worldwide, including medical evacuation services.

They celebrated their 65th wedding anniversary before Tommy’s death in 2003. His last words were “I love you, Merle.” She still treasures the watch he gave her engraved with her name, so that she would not forget him while they were apart. The plane he flew during his military service had “Merle” painted on it. She was often told by returning military personnel that they recognized her husband because of her name on his plane.

There are three Teate children: Thomas “Deke” Teate of Ortega, Suzanne Teate of San Jose and son Terry Lee Teate of South Carolina. Four grandchildren include Suzanne’s son Rik Bos and Terry’s children Travis, Tara and Tiffany.

Merle expects to continue well past her 100th birthday because she has two friends who lived to 104. She enjoyed bowling, bridge, pottery, collecting dolls, and sewing or knitting clothing for her family and the Salvation Army. The Teates were active at San Jose Episcopal Church, All Saints Episcopal in San Marco, and later at All Souls Episcopal in Southside, where Merle was a volunteer. These days Merle enjoys her family, dining with friends and is delighted to tell visitors that she is ready to go dancing any time.

By Julie Kerns Garmendia
Resident Community News


1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (No Ratings Yet)

You must be logged in to post a comment Login