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Mountain Lake Sanctuary

In his book, The Americanization of Edward Bok, Edward Bok, one-time editor of the Ladies’ Home Journal, tells a story about his grandfather, who lived in Denmark. It seems the grandfather had been commissioned by the King of Denmark to lead a band of soldiers against pirates who were playing havoc with shipping along a certain coastal area. The elder Bok set up his headquarters on a lonely, rocky, desolate island just off the coast, and after a few years was able to clear the pirates out of the area.

Upon returning to the mainland Bok reported to the King. The King was very pleased and offered Bok anything he wanted. All he wanted, he told the King, was a plot of land on the island where he had just lived and fought for so many months. They told him the island was barren. Why would he want to live there? “I want to plant trees,” was Bok’s reply. “I want to make the island beautiful.” The King’s aides thought he was crazy. The island was constantly swept by storms and high winds. He would never be able to get a tree to grow there.

Bok, however, insisted, and the King granted him his wish. He went to live on the island, built a home, and finally was able to bring his wife to it. For years, they worked industriously, persistently, planting trees, shrubs, grass. Gradually the vegetation took hold, the island began to flourish. One morning they arose to hear birds singing. There had never been any birds on the island before.

Eventually the island became a showplace and now is visited by thousands of tourists each year. When he died the grandfather requested that the following words be inscribed on his tombstone: “Make you the world a bit more beautiful and better because you have been on it.”

But the story doesn’t end there. Edward Bok, the grandson, who had become an American citizen, believed that anyone who was able to do so should retire at 50 and spend the rest of his life making the world a more beautiful and better place to live. And he was as good as his word. At 50 he retired as editor of the Ladies’ Home Journal.

One day, while traveling around central Florida, he came upon Iron Mountain, elevation 324 ft. above sea level, the highest point in Florida. Immediately the thought hit him—why not repeat in America what his grandfather had done in the old country? He bought the site and set to work. Eventually he was more than successful. The place is called Mountain Lake Sanctuary, Lake Wales, Florida. Upon his death, Edward Bok willed it to the State of Florida, and it is now a major tourist attraction. Upon the younger Bok’s catafalque were the words: “Make you the world a bit more beautiful and better place because you have been in it.”

Bits & Pieces, March 31, 1994, pp. 17-20