If you read the Cemetery article in last week’s edition of the Coastal Breeze News, you will recall the horrific 1973 incident where two local teens were found dead of self-inflicted gunshot wounds in the Marco Island Cemetery. It seems the old settlers 'cemetery had fallen into disrepair and had deteriorated into a haunt for unsavory characters and a hangout for bored local teens.
The tragedy led Marco Island Woman’s Club members Jane Hittler and June Murphy and their fellow Marco Island golf buddy, Bernice Newton, to initiate a public cleanup of the cemetery. These ladies also involved the Woman’s Club in the effort, leading to the creation of a Woman’s Club memorial garden at the cemetery, which they maintain to this day.
But that wasn’t enough. In a recorded video talk, available at the Marco Island Historical Society, you can see and hear Jane Hittler musing that while Marco Island had Yacht Clubs and Golf Clubs and Bridge Clubs for the adults, there was nothing here for the Island’s youth. And so began a major push to establish a Youth Center on Marco Island. The ladies formed the nonprofit Marco Island Youth Center, Inc. and obtained a state charter.
In the recording, Jane Hittler explains how she and the ladies lobbied Deltona for their support. Deltona provided a one-dollar per year lease for an 8.7-acre tract of land, cleared the land and developed the plans for an air-conditioned building, an outdoor patio for cookouts and a recreation area for baseball, football, and softball, as well as a bike path leading to the tennis courts in a major planned 120-acre recreation complex.
Now the ladies had to come up with $65,000 to endow the building. They got to work organizing a house-to-house fund raising drive as well as an all-out effort to involve the community. In her talk, Jane Hittler noted that the Woman’s Club agreed to provide a monthly stipend to support the venture.
The women were successful and Jane Hittler became the first President of the Board of Directors for the new Youth Center. Never short on ideas, Jane and the Board had plans for expansion. Once again money became an issue. The Board petitioned the United Fund for financial assistance. The United Fund could not help because, according to its bylaws, the Youth Center was duplicating an already available resource in Collier County - the Naples YMCA.
Modern Marco Milestones
New Post office
First Bank of Marco Island
In 1977 the two organizations combined to become the Marco Island YMCA. The Marco Island Youth Center offered a number of varied activities, tailored to the community, and not available at the Y. The Y offered management as well as fundraising experience and expertise. While officially it was considered a merger, Jane Hittler called it a marriage.
The following year, Jane Hittler served as President of the Marco Island Woman’s Club for the 1978-1979 term. She died in January 2006 at the age of 91.
If Jane were alive today, she would be so pleased to see how her Youth Center has evolved into the current day Marco Island YMCA, an organization that serves all ages in so many ways. She also would be gratified to know that the Marco Island Woman’s Club, an organization she once led and often relied on, continues its mission to serve and give back to the community.
Thanks to the Marco Island Historical Society, and especially to Heather Otis, Collections Manager, for invaluable assistance in researching this article. Original article written by Lenore Yale, Historian, Marco Island Woman’s Club.