The Way We Were: Karyl & Bert DeSousa

The Way We Were: Karyl & Bert DeSousa
Karyl Crowley and Bert DeSousa

Karyl Crowley DeSousa remembers when there was no Beach Boulevard in Jacksonville.  “We lived on Belden Street in St. Nicholas and we’d take the bus down Atlantic Boulevard to the old Pier at Jacksonville Beach,” said Karyl. “There was an arcade and there were rooms to rent at the Pier.  Mother, my cousin Yvonne, and I would rent a room for the weekend.” 

Growing up in Jacksonville, Karyl attended Spring Park Elementary School, which was about five blocks from her house on Belden Street. She remembers walking to school, always with a quarter in her shoe for a phone call; she also remembers dancing around the May Pole and eating at her favorite restaurant, Beach Road Chicken Dinners. 

Cousins Yvonne O’Steen and Karyl Crowley

Cousins Yvonne O’Steen and Karyl Crowley

In seventh grade, she was bussed to Riverside to attend Annie Lytle School. “I smoked cigarettes for six weeks when I was in seventh grade and then my Granny found out,” recalled Karyl.  “I never smoked again.”

Back in those days, the worst punishment of all was disappointing Granny. “When we acted up, she made Yvonne and me sit in the corner with our noses to the wall. My Granny was awesome.”

Granny…Karyl’s beloved grandmother, Allie Braddock…grew up on a farm in Hilliard, Florida (near Kings Ferry in Nassau County) and, despite being stricken with polio at an early age, was the mother of eight children, including Karyl’s mother, Linda Crowley. A marquee at the Florida Theatre advertising the Jason and Karyl Show inspired Linda Crowley to name her baby daughter Karyl. “And there was already a Jason in our family – my cousin who was four years old when I was born,” noted Karyl, an only child who grew up surrounded by the love of her mother’s large, close-knit family.

Even today, as Karyl and her husband, Bert DeSousa, sit on the couch in their comfortable family room, they are surrounded by attractively framed photos of family, with Granny Allie Braddock at the top left and Bert’s grandparents, Florian and Julia DeSousa, at the top right. Photos of Karyl and her cousin, Yvonne, prompt stories of Yvonne being more of a sister to Karyl than a cousin, and Aunt Aggie (Yvonne’s mother, Agnes O’Steen) being a central figure in her childhood as well. 

In fact, when she was 14 years old, Karyl went to work for her Aunt Aggie and Uncle Herman O’Steen at their business, Florida Dry Cleaners and Laundry on Davis Street downtown.  Being too young to work around machinery, the enterprising young girl did paperwork. When she became a Junior at Landon High School, she opted for the Diversified Cooperative Training (DCT) program, attending school from 8 a.m. to noon, and working at the Credit Bureau of Jacksonville from 1 to 5 p.m. She also worked at the Credit Bureau on Saturdays, making $1 an hour. 

Karyl Crowley, Landon High School

Karyl Crowley, Landon High School

During both her junior and senior years at Landon, Karyl was voted a DCT Superlative student – Best All Around and Most Promising. After graduating in 1962, she continued working for the Credit Bureau. 

“I got my ‘MRS’ degree in 1963,” she joked, noting that when her son, Todd, was born in 1968, she quit work for a short time and watched soap operas. “That was not for me!” declared Karyl, who has since worked for several firms in Jacksonville, including Armstrong Fence Company, Jacksonville University, Patrick & Sties CPA and James & Harris CPA. 

For the past 33 years, Karyl has worked with Howard Publications of Jacksonville, a family-owned business with home offices on Oak Street in Riverside. “I respect David and Hayes Howard so much,” Karyl said. “They ask rather than tell…they know how to treat their staff. I have no plans to retire any time soon.” 

“She is the energizer bunny!” declared Bert DeSousa, Karyl’s husband of 38 years. “She never stops, and she always seems to be doing five things at once!” 

Recalling that they met at a Friday night dance held by the Florida Divorce Association back in 1983, Bert DeSousa joked that Karyl was a “goody-goody” and he was a “low-life sailor.” When they married, each of them had a son from a previous marriage, Karyl’s son, Todd Carter, then 12, and Bert’s son, Michael, then 18. Today, they proudly display wall photos of their sons and grandsons, Daniel DeSousa, and Jared and Trevor Carter. 

Having traveled around the world twice with the Navy for 20 years, Bert DeSousa settled down in Jacksonville, working for 20 more years with the Naval Air Defense Department at NAS. Bert introduced Karyl to travel and at one time, the couple owned six time-shares. They have traveled to more than 60 places including Spain, Portugal, Hawaii, Bermuda, Alaska and throughout the United States. Smiling fondly at her favorite sailor, Karyl said, “If I never go another place, Bert has given me vacations to last a lifetime.”

Bert and Karyl DeSousa

Bert and Karyl DeSousa

In addition to working, traveling, scrapbooking, and gardening, Karyl DeSousa, the aptly nicknamed “Energizer Bunny,” has been an active member of the Pilot Club of Jacksonville since 1984. For the past 25 years, she has been the manager of the Annual Charity Antiques and Vintage Show & Sale, the Pilot Club’s main fundraiser which is held in late January at the Jacksonville Fairgrounds Expo Center. For the 2017-2018 budget year, the Pilot Club provided funds to help Angelwood, Brooks Rehab Clubhouse, Children’s Home Society, City Rescue Mission, Community Hospice, Dreams Come True, Girls, Inc., Jacksonville Speech & Hearing, K9s for Warriors, PACE Center for Girls, Girl Scouts, Mission House, Safe Harbor Boys Home, UCOM, Volunteers in Medicine and the YMCA.

In addition to providing funds, Pilot members volunteer their time in hands-on projects such as providing meals for Adoptive Parents Support Group at Children’s Home Society, sponsoring and serving at quarterly awards ceremonies at PACE Center for Girls, conducting quarterly clean-up in the Adopt-a-Highway Program, collecting used cell phones for Hubbard House, small hygiene items for Mission House, and more.

Karyl’s enthusiasm about the Pilot Club of Jacksonville is nearly tangible. “Our club is rich in so many ways,” she said. “Pilot friendships are endearing, loving and supportive and there is the camaraderie resulting in our fundraising and hands-on projects. My favorite thought is that we don’t just help one person – we help multitudes.”

By Susan D. Brandenburg
Resident Community News

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