Coral Gables loses a gem: Marge Hartnett, 1917-2012
A vibrant and admired fixture in Coral Gables business, civic and cultural circles for more than 60 years, Marge Hartnett died Thursday morning, Aug. 30, after recently entering hospice care, according to several close friends. She was 95 years old.
“Marge was nearly 90 when we first met and she left the most lasting impression on me as a new chamber president,” said Mark Trowbridge, president and CEO of the Coral Gables Chamber of Commerce.
“It could have been her eyeglasses — sans glass — omnipresent roses or her boundless affection and kindness that left its mark. A lifetime member of our chamber, she will be missed by all of our members, and it will always be our great honor to have known her and loved her.”
Wherever Mrs. Hartnett went – a chamber function, celebrating her Irish roots at the annual St. Patrick’s Day Festival or volunteering with the Coral Gables Police Mobile Patrol – she wore a contagious smile, as well as those festive frames with no lenses.
Known as the “Rose Lady,” she always wore roses, too, as a pattern in her clothing, ornament on her shoes or piece of jewelry. “Everything’s coming up roses – and that’s my theme!” she said in a March 2011 video.
The video was produced when the Coral Gables Chamber presented Mrs. Hartnett with its Margaret St. Germain Cornerstone Award for her tireless contributions to the Coral Gables community. (The award is named after chamber’s first woman chair.) It was among many tokens of honor and appreciation that Mrs. Hartnett, widow of the late Coral Gables Mayor Fred Hartnett, had received over the years from the community she loved so dearly.
Marjorie Fern Hunt was born March 7, 1917, on a farm in Herrick, S.D., the ninth of 12 children of Blenda and Douglas Hunt. Before Marge turned 2, the Hunt family moved to O’Neill, Neb. As an eighth grader, she taught Sunday School at the First Presbyterian Church of O’Neill. Later she was the queen of her O’Neill High School senior prom. After she graduated from high school, she passed the exam to become a teacher, and at the age of 18 taught in a one-room country schoolhouse in rural Nebraska for three years.
Since moving to Coral Gables in 1947 to take a sales manager position – a job offered to her by a couple she had met on vacation in New Orleans — she worked as a social director, actress and teacher while becoming a charismatic patch in the community quilt of Coral Gables.
In the 1960s she worked as a social director for cruise ships, traveling the world. A graduate of Florida International University, she taught subjects including social directing, creative writing, English and public speaking in adult education for Miami-Dade Public Schools and continuing education at the University of Miami in the 1970s. And in the late 1990s she taught again at schools, including Jones College and City College.
Marge and Fred Hartnett were married for 19½ years, from 1976 until his passing in 1995.
In an interview two years ago with GablesHomePage.com, Mrs. Hartnett said she lived the values that her mother instilled in the young brood of Cornhuskers:
“My mother always said you should always live a good, clean life and help others, and the 12 of us grew up with the Golden Rule. She led by example. She was always the one who taught us the most honorable thing to do.”
Before recently entering hospice care, Mrs. Hartnett and her positive outlook managed to deter illnesses – except for a broken hip about 12 years ago and a bout with sciatic nerve pain three years ago.
“I just don’t allow myself to be sick or have negative feelings like that,” she said in 2010. “I don’t have time for it.”
As recently as March 2012, Mrs. Hartnett attended the South Florida Emerald Society’s annual St. Patrick’s Day Festival, held at the venue named in her husband’s memory, the Fred B. Hartnett / Ponce Circle Park in Coral Gables.
She wrote that she was “pre-deceased by her exemplary parents Blenda and Douglas Hunt, and her 7 marvelous brothers, whom she idolized, and her 4 charming sisters, Ula, Audrey, Velma and Eunice. We never had an argument and we loved each other dearly.”
Mrs. Hartnett was also an integral part of several families locally who loved her dearly and whose children called her Grandma. Additional survivors include her nephews Doug Nodgaard, George Hunt and Thomas Hunt; nieces Carol Nodgaard and Jeanne Bartek, and legions of fans of the “Rose Lady.”
Mrs. Hartnett requested, in writing: “No change of anyone’s schedule to attend my memorial service or funeral, because I will have neither. Instead, please do something nice for someone who doesn’t get much attention. Take that person to lunch or send them flowers or whatever you choose to do.”
Van Orsdel Coral Gables Chapel, 4600 SW Eighth St., handled the arrangements.