Sandy Dayhoff Oral History
Written by: Susana Perez
This past week I had the pleasure of interviewing Sandy Dayhoff, the founder of the Everglades Education Program. The oral history I conducted covered the cultural history of the Everglades, the founding of the education program, the Hole-in-the-Donut (HID), and Sandy’s experiences as a Park Ranger. Before our conversation, I was a bit nervous and starstruck, thinking this was the woman who started it all. But Sandy was very welcoming and engaging, easing some of my anxieties.
When Sandy started the education program in 1971 out of Loop Road in Big Cypress, the park did not believe she could do it. At the time, the National Park Service was still heavily dominated by men. Sandy lived next to the property she would purchase, that today, is the Loop Road Education site. She, Miccosukees, and fellow friends tore down the previous establishment and built the Loop Road station. Although this is technically in Big Cypress National Preserve, Sandy convinced the Park Service to keep it under Everglades National Park. Previously having worked at the Miccosukee Restaurant, Sandy became a defacto liaison between the Miccosukee and Everglades National Park. Through this relationship, Sandy included curriculum materials that taught Miami-Dade County schoolchildren about Miccosukee cultural heritage and traditions. It also established a positive relationship between Everglades National Park and the tribe, an accomplishment given that when the park was incorporated, a sizeable portion of Miccosukee land was seized. Sandy and other Park Rangers also developed a range of science and cultural curriculum-based programs for K-12 students that Everglades Education still uses today for students all around the country and the world.
Sandy’s husband also worked as a Law Enforcement Park Ranger for Everglades National Park. Interestingly, he was one of the rangers who settled disputes between the farmers and the park in the Hole-in-the-Donut during the farmers’ removal. Sandy expressed her sympathies for the farmers and how it was a difficult time during the 1970s when they were evicted from the park. One of the current education buildings where I reside as a member used to belong to a tomato farmer, Ralph Iori. The Robertson Building, then the Iori building, used to be where Mr. Iori stored the paperwork for his workers, farming equipment, and fertilizers. Sandy expresses how the Robertson Building and now the Hidden Lake camping site (a few miles from Robertson) were full of farming equipment and smelled of fertilizer when they began to clean it back in the late 70s. Funny enough, today, you can still find farming equipment remaining from the period. We concluded our conversation by talking about her thirty-three years of service with Everglades National Park and suggestions for future activities in HID.
There were some things about the Glades’ cultural history Sandy did not allow me to record; however, her details provided me with the guidance I needed to research the area’s history further. She was kind enough to give me some books to aid my research.