MaVynee Betsch known as "The Beach Lady", was born on January 13, 1935, in Jacksonville, Florida. The daughter of John Thomas Betsch, Sr. and Mary Frances Lewis Betsch, Ms. Betsch was strongly influenced by her great-grandfather A.L. Lewis whose legacy she protected and advanced for 30 years. A.L. Lewis, one of seven founders of the Afro-American Life Insurance Co., was a major businessman, civic leader and philanthropist. The insurance company that he founded, the Afro-American, was the first insurance company in the state of Florida, and he became Jacksonville, Florida's first black millionaire.
MaVynee attended public schools in Jacksonville and Washington, D. C., and a private Methodist, all girls middle and high school, Boylan Haven School in Jacksonville. She graduated in 1955 with a double major in voice and piano from the Conservatory at Oberlin College. Ms. Betsch went to Europe following her graduation where she studied voice and sang lead roles in German State Opera. In 1962, she returned to Jacksonville and began to both study and promote conservation and protection of the environment. She moved to American Beach, a place that her great-grand father A.L. Lewis in 1935 took leadership in purchasing for the "recreation and relaxation without humiliation" of African Americans during the era of segregation.
MaVynee Betsch, known as the unofficial historian of American Beach, directed much of her passionate advocacy of the environment to the preservation of her beloved beach. She enthusiastically carried out Black history tours with "The Beach Lady". As a founder of the A.L. Lewis Historical Society, she and her allies lobbied to place American Beach on the national register of historical places; to make Nana, the 60 foot sand dune on the beach, the property of the national park service; to protect an old bridge as a fishing pier; and to provide a buffer of intact land between American Beach and development to the north. She was also a force behind countless other environmentalist causes. One of the endangered right whales, "whale 1151" named MaVynee by biologist who came to Amelia Island in the 1990's, is a whale known as a particularly rambunctious female. MaVynne Betsch, "the Beach Lady", is an icon among environmentalists and a hero to all who know and love American Beach. The story of her life and work, is the centerpiece of a book by Russ Rymer, "American Beach: a saga of race and memory". Articles chronicaling her deep convictions, extraordinary courage, razor sharp intelligence and impish wit are in numerous publications including New York Times; USA Today; Essence; Preservation, the magazine of the National Trust for Historic Preservation; and Sierra, (the magazine of the Sierra Club); Coastal Living; Southern Living. The Beach Lady has also been featured on CBS and CNN.
Even after being diagnosed with cancer in the 2002, which caused the removal of her stomach, 'Beach Lady' was still working hard for causes that would benefit others. She planned to open a museum that would contain the history of American Beach, the town where she lived many of the years of her life. Betsch never married and never had children. She was the older sister of Dr. Johnnetta B. Cole, the first female African American president of Spelman College, and president of Bennett College.
MaVynne Betsch died of cancer on September 5, 2005.