One Big Episcopal Family: merger fulfills dream of many visionaries

The story of Beaches Episcopal School, St. Mark’s Episcopal Day School, and Episcopal School of Jacksonville goes back to many visionaries in the Jacksonville community. The Reverend Dr. Robert Ray Parks and Jacksonville attorney and Episcopalian, Lucius Buck, had long dreamed of creating an Episcopal high school in Jacksonville, a dream that began with 265 students in September 1967, on the Munnerlyn Campus, as Jacksonville Episcopal High School (JEHS), now Episcopal School of Jacksonville.

But even before JEHS was established, The Rev. Parks had founded St. Paul’s by-the-Sea Episcopal Day School, now Beaches Episcopal School, while he was rector of St. Paul’s by-the-Sea Episcopal Church. The parish day school was established in 1957 as a school that would serve pre-kindergarten through sixth grade students, though prekindergarten and kindergarten had been offered since 1952. The new school’s board of trustees included Buck. By 1966-1967 there were six full grades, with Spanish, religion, and physical education offered as enrichment classes.  

Parks and Buck had always been interested in establishing an Episcopal high school downtown, but the vestry of St. John’s Cathedral was uninterested in their proposals. However, in 1959, fate intervened. The Dean of St. John’s Cathedral, The Very Reverend Charles McGavern, dean of St. John’s Cathedral, died suddenly in a plane crash. With the approval of The Right Reverend Hamilton West, bishop of the Diocese of Florida, Parks was named to succeed McGavern. Parks would leave St. Paul’s By-the-Sea for the Cathedral in downtown Jacksonville, helping to pave the way for the establishment of Episcopal School of Jacksonville. 

Soon after his installment in the fall of 1960, Parks took to the Cathedral vestry a question: Should St. John’s Cathedral leave downtown Jacksonville and be moved to a new site on Keystone Bluff or should the Cathedral remain in Jacksonville’s urban core?  The property he had in mind, and on which ESJ now stands, was originally donated to the Cathedral by Mary Packer Cummings, and upon her death, it was to be used as a home for boys, which closed in 1953 for financial reasons. The vestry voted to build a high school on the 28 acres of waterfront property, keeping the Cathedral downtown. The elderly parishioners of St. John’s Cathedral joyfully received the news that their beloved church would stay put with cheers and the banging of canes and walkers.

The next few years were busy ones. In 1962 the United States Supreme Court banned prayer in public schools (Engel v. Vitale), spurring on the desire for an Episcopal school. In 1965 a planning committee, called “The Committee of 100” and headed by Buck, was formed to explore establishment of the high school. In 1966 Horton Reed was installed as the first Jacksonville Episcopal High School (JEHS) headmaster and was charged with hiring faculty, fundraising, marketing the school, and establishing a curriculum, one that would include Latin, Greek, and Russian, as well as physical education, language arts, mathematics, and sciences.

The curriculum “should be strictly college-preparatory and designed to develop children for leadership,” the report of the planning ground stated. Boys were expected to wear coats and ties every day. Buck in particular wanted students to be what he called “muscular Episcopalians,” who could withstand all challenges with both their intellectual and their physical vigor.

Three years after JEHS held its first day of school, St. Mark’s Episcopal Day School was founded on the west side of downtown. The school was originally established in 1970 as a non-profit Christian school, located on the grounds of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church as an outreach mission. It began to serve children on September 8, 1970, with one class per grade, grades one through six, with a total enrollment of 107. The Rev. Robert Clingman was the rector of St. Mark’s at the time of the school’s founding. The classes were held in rooms within the church facility, and the school soon outgrew them. Adjacent properties were acquired allowing for further expansion, including the addition of a pre-school. A new rector, Father Barnum McCarty, arrived at St. Mark’s in 1971, and helped to refine the concept of the parish day school. 

The original vision for the Episcopal school system in Jacksonville was that of a wheel, with the parish elementary schools serving as spokes that fed into the center  – the high school. The many founders, faculty, clergy, and volunteers who helped to establish the three schools could not have anticipated the seismic shifts that would take place in the world and in Jacksonville over the next 70 years. 

“We have our Lord’s command – Go Teach!” stated Buck, who served as chairman of the Board of Regents for Episcopal Day Schools in the Diocese of Florida. The founders did not just want to build private schools; they dreamed of founding Episcopal church schools like no other. Today, true to their dream, the three schools continue as one.

St. Mark’s Campus: Founding Board of Trustees, 1970-1971

  • Chairman: Mr. William T. S. Montgomery, Jr.
  • Vice-Chairman: Mr. Thomas M. Donahoo
  • Secretary:  Mrs. Marianne G. Crosby
  • Treasurer:  Mr. Kenneth E. Atkins
  • First Headmaster: Reverend Norman A. Lowe
  • Mr. Frederick W. Brundick, III
  • Mr. Bruce A Chappell
  • Reverend Robert C. Clingman
  • Mr. Barnwell R. Daley
  • Mrs. Sally G. Evans
  • Mr. John H. Fewell, Jr.
  • Mr. Robert B. Laseter, Jr.
  • Reverend Norman A. Lowe
  • Mrs. Conway West Read
  • Mr. Steele R. Simcox
  • Mr. J. Jerry Slade
  • Mr. J. Frank Surface, Jr.
  • Mr. Joseph D. Weed, Jr.
  • Mrs. Mary B. Winston
  • First teachers: Margaret Blume Foerster, Kim Mason Gibbs, Kay Hazlehurst, Charlene Boggs Hughes, Jane McCullagh, and Dr. Janet M. Myers, Mr. Hayes L. Basford, Jr.

Beaches Campus: Founding Board of Trustees

  • Chairman: Lucius A. Buck 
  • Vice Chairman: Fred Jones
  • Secretary: Faye Adams
  • Treasurer: Ralph Fischer
  • J. T. McCormick

In 1967, the 1957 goal of a pre-kindergarten through sixth grade school had been reached and the faculty roster was as follows:

  • Principal: Florence Hartsuff
  • Director, Kindergarten: Virginia Huxham
  • Pre-Kindergarten: Marie Collyer
  • Kindergarten: Virginia Huxham, Mary Brant
  • 1st Grade: Margarethe Wellwood
  • 2nd Grade: Florence Hartsuff
  • 3rd Grade: Lois Jones
  • 4th Grade: Mary Abdullah
  • 5th Grade: Corella Johnson
  • 6th Grade: Anne Williamson
  • Music: Virginia Hawkins
  • Spanish: Flora Crow
  • Physical Education: Mickey Kohnke
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