Murray Hill neighbors and MHPA board member Len and Vicki Burroughs are featured in the June issue of The Resident Community News.
Murray Hill gained two of its strongest supporters when Len Burroughs and his wife, Vicki, moved to Jacksonville in 1972. As busy professionals with no children, most of their spare time was spent renovating the Ingleside home they bought in 1976. Then, in the early 1990s, two changes that would greatly alter the community turned them into determined activists for Murray Hill.
“We joined Murray Hill Preservation Association (MHPA) in 1990 when Vicki became concerned that during the review and reapportioning of City Council districts, it was proposed Murray Hill be removed from District 14 (which includes Riverside and Avondale), and be included in District 9. She asked me to get involved because Murray Hill is much more like the historic districts than the District 9 communities to the North and West,” said Len. “We stopped that change, and Murray Hill remained part of District 14. That was the first time I spoke before the City Council.”
Len said his good friend and Ingleside neighbor, Chuck Mann, 81, was his mentor in becoming involved in resolving community issues.
The second proposed change that activated the Burroughs and MHPA members occurred a few years later when the United States Postal Service tried to require curbside mailboxes in Murray Hill. The USPS planned to stop front-door delivery to individual residences.
“We fought the postal service hard on that and prevented curbside mailboxes,” said Len, who is the longest-serving MHPA board member. He has served on the board since 2000 and was vice president for several years.
Len, 67, and Vicki, 69, stay informed and are passionate about anything that affects their community. Len’s authoritative, radio-announcer voice commands attention and although never a public speaker, he was surprised that during the many times he spoke before the City Council in support of Murray Hill issues he was never nervous.
The couple’s favorite neighborhood activities have been coordinating events to promote Murray Hill and bring the community together. Favorite memories are the groundbreaking May 5, 2004 on Edgewood Avenue as part of the Edgewood Avenue Improvement Plan, and planting the new medians. The $300,000 project was a joint effort between the city, JEA and MHPA to beautify Edgewood Avenue between Plymouth and Mayflower Streets, and transform its appearance.
A favorite event they’d like to see revived is the festive Evening on Edgewood holiday celebration which was held in the 1990s. At that time, Edgewood Avenue was closed off, wreaths and decorations hung, luminaries lit, fire trucks carried dignitaries, and horse-drawn carriage offered rides to residents.
The Burroughs said they are concerned about future over-development in Murray Hill, and of Edgewood Avenue becoming congested and crowded. They believe it is important that appropriate development be managed.
“We’re the next Park and King, 5 Points or Avondale. Our property values are rising. More people are moving here and renovating properties. We need to plan more parking and preserve the open spaces and passive parks we still have,” said Len. “Future maintenance of the islands is an ongoing concern because they are cleaned four times annually by volunteers. We’re encouraged that adjacent businesses are helping.”
The Burroughs said they fell in love with their mid-1920s Prairie Style home on Ingleside Avenue when they saw it in a realty listing. Correction, they fell in love with the exterior of the two-story, dark reddish-brown brick home, purchasing the two-bedroom, one-bath home for $28,500.
“It had no central heat or air, just a working fireplace and space heater. Its incredible woodwork was hidden under about eight layers of white paint. We saw beautiful heart pine and oak because two things were left unpainted: one downstairs window frame where the air-conditioner was and the fireplace mantel. The sub-floor and upstairs floors are heart pine. The stairs, banister and downstairs floors are all oak,” Len said. “When I chipped some paint off the baseboard we saw it was originally varnished so at least the paint could be removed. It took us two years working on it together to strip and refinish everything.”
Fortunately Len grew up in Birmingham, Alabama, learning woodworking and refinishing from his late maternal grandfather, Eugene Jordan. Jordan was a tinsmith skilled in carpentry. The Burroughs, who are happiest doing things together, divided tasks during the home renovation. Vicki took charge as interior designer and assistant, while Len handled construction and contracted workers.
They remodeled the downstairs breakfast nook into a second bathroom, installed central heat and air and completed two additions over the years. First they added a 500-square-foot great room onto the back of the home. Then they converted a deck and screened porch into a 160-square-foot dining room large enough for a dining room table that comfortably seats 12 to 14 guests. They enjoy hosting dinners with tennis and biking friends and are part of a monthly dinner group that has been dining in each other’s homes for 35 years.
The Burroughs moved to Jacksonville for Len’s career in the pest control business. Although Len was offered tempting career opportunities to leave Jacksonville, the couple stayed in Murray Hill, and he retired from Ecolab Commercial Pest Control in 2011 as the Northeast Florida District Manager. Vicki worked 34 years as a medical secretary.
If you see an extremely fit senior riding the streets of the historic districts on a specialized Roubaix bike, it’s probably Len. He has been biking for 50 years either by himself, with Vicki or with members of the North Florida Bicycle Club (NFBC), which he joined in 2010 to support the group. Since his retirement, Len said he bikes four to five days a week, 35 miles a day with the club. He’s been a board member since 2012, general director for two years.
In the best shape of his life since college, Len broke the treadmill during his last stress test. When the medical technician told him, “Okay, this is ridiculous, you can stop now,” Len wanted to see how long he could run. The treadmill gave out before he did.
“It’s much safer to ride with a group. Your job is keeping yourself and everyone else safe. A psychologist friend of mine calls it the ‘herd mentality.’ You’re always looking out for your herd,” Len said. “This is the greatest group of people, plus the health benefits of biking. Diabetics start biking, get in shape and no longer have diabetes, likewise high blood pressure.”
The Burroughs’ favorite bicycle ride is the Jacksonville-Baldwin Rail Trail or NFBC-sponsored Sunday Social rides, which last two to four hours and are easier. Len is the leader of these rides, which tour the historic districts, parks and Southbank. Beginners are welcome.
Len has been a member of the Southwest Citizens Planning & Advisory Committee (CPAC) since 2003, when he was appointed by former Mayor John Peyton. He has been a member of the Bicycle Pedestrian Advisory Committee (BPAC) since 2014.
Vicki is originally from Rockford, Illinois and of Swedish descent. In 2002, after her father, Clifford Victor Johnson, died, her mother, Ingeborg, visited more frequently. In 2008 Ingeborg moved into the Edgewood Condominiums in Murray Hill, a few blocks from her daughter.
“My mother emigrated from Sweden at age six. An artist, she painted many oil paintings that hang in our home,” Vicki said. “Mother designed and sewed my sister’s and my clothing, including our wedding dresses and headpieces. She grew vegetables, herbs and was a gourmet cook.” During the last few years of her life, Ingeborg developed Alzheimer’s disease, and Vicki cared for her mother until she died at age 93 in 2015.
Vicki said she loves gardening. She and Len have painstakingly created a lush oasis in their large backyard. She’s a photographer and Cummer Museum member. She plans to begin mosaic classes at RouxArt on Edgewood Avenue and attends Jacksonville Symphony Coffee Series Concerts with her neighborhood friend, Joan Potter.
A 35-year tennis player at Boone Park where she played 20 years with the Working Women’s B Team, Vicki now plays friendship doubles with three different groups of friends who travel from other areas of Jacksonville and Amelia Island.
The Burroughs are Alhambra Dinner Theatre season ticket-holders and are members of the Jacksonville Zoo. They frequently travel and have visited the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone in 2014 and Banff, Alberta Canada in 2015. This summer the couple will drive to Rockford, Illinois for a memorial service for Vicki’s mother, then plan to tour Iowa. They enjoy getaways to their house on Lake Mitchell in Clanton, Alabama, as well as visiting their extended families.
Len’s sister was the late Jennie Jordan Burroughs, a well-known resident of Avondale. She was a beloved kindergarten teacher at Venetia Elementary for many years. Jennie died in 2002 at the age of 51 from Lupus and complications. She often sang with a Bluegrass trio that performed locally.
The Burroughs will celebrate their 45th wedding anniversary in June. The couple’s immediate plans include more leisure and less activism. They are delighted and encouraged that younger Murray Hill residents are becoming involved, proactive and showing community leadership.
By Julie Kerns Garmendia
Resident Community News