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The REPORTER



Mary Dodge

Mary Dodge, a longtime journalist, poses with her Haitian sculpture named Molly in her cozy Port St. Lucie home. ANTHONY INSWASTY

BY JESSICA ARMSTRONG

The Haitian sculpture towers in Mary Dodge’s Port St. Lucie living room. Hand-carved out of ebony-colored wood, it shares space with many other artifacts and artworks from the veteran journalist’s travels.

Dodge bought the sculpture in the 1970s in Nassau where she met husband, Jack, and has hauled it along on every move since, evoking the protagonist in the 1982 film “Fitzcarraldo” who was determined to drag a boat overland from river to river.

Jack named the Haitian female bust “Molly,” a witty take on Mary’s folly. It speaks to Dodge’s persistence and fascination with intriguing places.

So, it was fitting that Dodge settled in Port St. Lucie, a place colorful in its own right back in 1980 when she arrived to work as a stringer for the Palm Beach Times. Its population that year was under 15,000, less than a 10th of what it is today at roughly 185,000.

In those days Port St. Lucie possessed a spirit of adventure and comparing it to the Wild West is not a stretch, she says. Cowboys, pioneers, outlaws and prospectors — the same cast of characters in the Old West occupied Port St. Lucie.

“The first week here I drove west of Florida’s Turnpike and saw a vulture eating a rattlesnake,” she recalls, while sitting in her cozy condo in old Port St. Lucie where early General Development Corp. homes are now appreciated for their mid-20th century modern design.

“After seeing that I thought, ‘I’ve gone far enough,’” she says. “Drug traffickers were landing planes out there. At that time, the city had no police force and only one officer who patrolled at night.”

After the Times folded, “going the way of a lot of evening newspapers,” as she notes, Dodge, 77, held positions with the Scripps-owned Stuart/Port St. Lucie News, including Port St. Lucie bureau chief. She retired from there in 1996.

The couple spent the next 20 years traveling. Dodge also started a novel inspired by untamed Port St. Lucie and its environs circa 1980. The Reel Hot Summer channels the craziness of South Florida in the style of Carl Hiaasen and is sold by Amazon Digital Services.

Despite traveling far and wide, the couple is rooted in Port St. Lucie. A native Canadian, Jack became a U.S. citizen about 10 years ago after she told him if he was going to complain about U.S. politics he should be eligible to vote. Jack worked in radio, most recently as morning announcer for station WQCS in Fort Pierce, the NPR station for the Treasure Coast.

Today, Dodge devotes much time to local organizations, serving as secretary for the Port St. Lucie Historical Society and volunteering for the St. Lucie Audubon Society and other agencies.

“She’s just a treasure and is always volunteering for whatever she can,” observes friend Christine Williams, who is treasurer for the historical society and husband, Dennis Grabhorn, is chairman. A position he says he “couldn’t do without Mary.”

Dodge designs and maintains websites for these organizations and several others, a skill she gained at the start of the technology. “I had a personal website in the early 1990s that I recently took down, which I did mainly to learn how to do websites.”

Her website provided a platform to chronicle her travels. Many of those trips were a spiritual quest. She has meditated at Machu Picchu in the Andes Mountains of Peru, at the Egyptian pyramids and Stonehenge, where she needed special permission to meditate on the site of England’s prehistoric monument.

When asked if mysticism conflicts with her training as a journalist — she earned a journalism degree from the University of Iowa — she responds with an unequivocal no. “Journalists are curious people, and there’s something about ancient civilizations that interests me,” she said.

Fascination with ancient civilizations may have sparked an interest in Port St. Lucie history. The historical society is working to establish a museum of area history and is one of her causes.

“We need to record the first city hall, the first mayor, the first police department, so much needs preserving.,” Dodge says “When I came here, city hall was one building and you could walk into the mayor’s office, the council office and police department and have a conversation.”

Though Port St. Lucie has outgrown that small town intimacy, she wants it to grow conscientiously. Preserve and maintain green spaces and parks. Develop town centers equitably with each area getting its fair share of the city’s revenues.

Dodge is headed to the Galapagos Islands with Williams. She’s been there before, but wants her friend to experience the volcanic archipelago. As with every adventure, she’ll be happy to return home to Jack and Molly.



MARY DODGE

Age: 77
Lives in: Port St. Lucie
Occupation: Retired newspaper journalist
Family: Husband Jack, two grown step-daughters, five grown grandsons
Education: B.A. in journalism, University of Iowa
Hobbies: Computer websites, travel, birdwatching, exploring ancient civilizations, genealogy
Who/what inspires me: “The strengthening wave of strong, independent women.”
Something most people don’t know about me: “I have mediated inside Machu Picchu, Peru, at night and twice inside the Kings Chamber of the Great Pyramid of Giza.”