Miss Nancy’s Story: In Search of History on the Internet

Nancy Tribble Benda was a Florida educator and host of a 1960s TV show for children.

Nancy Tribble Benda had a long career in education but she may be most remembered as one of Florida’s mermaids and for a children’s TV show that was syndicated across the country in the 1960s.

UPDATE: Miss Nancy passed away on July 28, 2015. Her obituary is here. My thoughts and best wishes go out to her friends and loved ones, who will surely miss her. Thank you for contacting me with the sad news.

I fell in love four or five times in the 1960s. My first, most passionate love was with an older woman, Leslie Boullion, who was in the second grade. I was in the first grade, although they nearly promoted me in the middle of class one day. That was a bizarre disruption but it can wait for another time.

My second love was Miss Nancy. She was the star of an afternoon television show, Miss Nancy’s Store. You can hardly find anything about it (or about other local or regional children’s television shows from the 1960s) on the Internet today. There are a handful of people who vaguely recall the show.

Unlike Captain Kangaroo, Miss Nancy did not have a nationwide audience (so far as I know). And her show was scheduled at 5:30 PM (NOTE: Wikipedia says 5:00 PM but I’m sure I had an alternate source for the 5:30 showtime), Monday through Friday. But because the show was produced by Florida State University it was more than just a local television show. I have found a couple of references to it from people who lived in Georgia and Tennessee. I was one of the lucky kids who could watch the show in a fairly clean broadcast format on Miami’s Channel 2. Apparently most kids had to watch it on UHF channels, which in the 60s had weaker signals than the VHF channels.

In any event, I lived in an area that received a clear broadcast. And so I watched Miss Nancy faithfully every day after one of my friends told me about it. I was bored with television in the afternoon. It was packed with shows that were mighty boring for me, but Miss Nancy captured my attention and my heart with the very first broadcast I watched. She had that enchanting quality that some women have which fascinate young boys.

I don’t remember a whole lot about the show, except that she had a little puppet friend who was always wanting to do a “find the pea” trick with three cups. The puppet always managed to drop the pea into a hidden cup and Miss Nancy always pretended to be fooled by the clever trick. Well, that is how I remember the routine.

So why dwell on Miss Nancy’s television show? Well, a while back (a few years ago) I was wandering down the yellow brick road and I came upon the idea of searching for historical articles about television shows I watched as a kid. As it turned out, there are a multitude of amateur Websites out there celebrating lost television shows many of us watched in the 1960s and 1970s. “Kimba, the White Lion” is one of the most famous kid shows I recall, although I could only watch it when I was visiting my cousins in the Midwest.

Unlike most kid shows of the time, Kimba had a story arc. I remember watching several episodes and being surprised that they led into each other. I think I came in around the time Kimba had to go save a giant tree (he failed). But there was another episode where Kimba persuaded all the meat-eating cats in his area to feast on grasshopper eggs rather than all his little animal friends. And some episode or two later all the big hunting cats had become rotund fat hunting cats that could barely stand up.

Sergeant Preston of the YukonThere is no connection between Kimba and Miss Nancy’s Store of which I am aware, except that I watched them both. Another show I vaguely recall (my cousins watched it all the time) was about a member of the RCMP. The only show I can find on IMDB that seems to resemble it was named Sergeant Preston. That must be the guy because I remember his uniform was bright red.

I recall so little about the show except that I was relieved my cousins actually watched some show I could almost relate to. I don’t mean that in a bad way. It’s just that they grew up in a world filled with snow and I grew up in a world filled with hurricanes. We had very different priorities in life, or so it seemed to me at a tender young age when I missed Miss Nancy’s Store because we were “on vacation”.

As I recall, I was never able to interest anyone else in watching Miss Nancy. One of my friends thought it was kind of creepy that I was so fascinated with her. Then again, he didn’t understand what I saw in Leslie. I don’t know. It’s hard to think and feel like a six-year-old any more. Frankly, I’m not sure it’s legal to do that anyway.

My fascination with old television shows extended to Miami’s Skipper Chuck (a morning cartoon show host) and Banjo Billy (an afternoon cartoon show host). I think both those guys were just local personalities, but they may have been syndicated. I used to find more Websites mentioning Skipper Chuck than Banjo Billy, but I thought Banjo Billy was the more interesting show. He had a riverboat (or played banjo on a riverboat) that was represented by a little model they sometimes showed. One October Banjo Billy decided he would dress up for Halloween as the Man in Black, a mysterious villain who occasionally menaced the show’s hosts. Unfortunately for Billy the Man in Black found out about his nefarious scheme, knocked him out, tied him up, and impersonated Banjo Billy impersonating the Man in Black.

My family moved right after that so I never found out if Banjo Billy escaped confinement and rescued his friends (or if the show was cancelled soon after instead). You have no idea of what it is like to have to live with that open question for decades. Well, maybe you do. We all lose favored television shows, don’t we?

But though Skipper Chuck, Sergeant Preston, and Banjo Billy (yes, I believe he really played the banjo — well, it was television, so who knows?) all have Websites or articles devoted to them, there is almost nothing coherent about Miss Nancy Benda. Nothing coherent, I say, but apparently she is all over the Internet. You just don’t know that it’s her.

A Biography of Nancy Tribble Benda, Educational Television Star

While searching for more information about the television show I stumbled across all sorts of documents official and otherwise mentioning Nancy Benda. Now, I believe there are other Nancy Bendas (including some much younger than me) so it is possible I have woven a few separate lives together with this fabric. Therefore what follows may only be fan fiction based on disparate truths, separately but equally factual concerning different people. Then again, I’m only relating a fraction of what I have discovered on the Internet.

Nancy Tribble Benda, 1946, Weeki Wachee, Fl

Nancy Tribble Benda, 1946, Weeki Wachee, FL

Nonetheless, our story begins with a teenage girl named Nancy Tribble (credited as “Benda”). I don’t know where the “Tribble” family name came from, if it was a nickname or a given name, but it was given (as a nickname?) well before David Gerrold stirred the creative airs of Star Trek with “The Trouble with Tribbles” in the 1960s. In 1946 our Miss Nancy was a teenage girl working a summer job at Weeki Wachee, what we who grew up in Florida at the time would have called a “tourist trap” (forgive me if I offend anyone). I remember visiting a couple of weeki-whatevers as a kid. I’m not sure if that was one of them. And we loved the Parrot Jungle (now Jungle Island, I suppose and also now a bit Jurassically creepy), but I digress.

What finally explains it all to me is that I fell in love with Miss Nancy because she was a Florida mermaid. You just never know what turns up in the history of those old television shows. Of course, as I said, that could be someone else. Frankly, that’s just not a very good picture of her face and it has been a few decades since I last saw her on television. But you know, there is just something about that human bipedal form that seems familiar to me.

By 1951 there was a Nancy Benda attending Florida State University. Several websites documenting portions of yearbooks mention her name but as those are for-profit sites (and I am not sure they are even authorized to publish that material) I shall not link to them. There was a James E. Tribble also attending Florida State University in the 1950s. He passed away on October 27, 2008 and his obituary says he had a sister named Nancy Benda. Same Nancy? I don’t know.

The Nancy Benda who attended Florida State University in the 1950s was a member of the Alpha Omega chapter of Alpha Xi Delta. She served as chapter vice president according to the 1952 Tally Ho yearbook, a page from which I found here on Mocavo. You can see the Alpha Omega chapter from that year in the picture below. I have circled the girl who is said to be Nancy Benda but I have no way of knowing if the caption is correct or if that is the future star of the television show.

1952 Alpha Omega chapter of Alpha Xi Delta.

1952 Alpha Omega chapter of Alpha Xi Delta.

According to another page from the Tally Ho on Mocava, Nancy Benda was a senior that year, majoring in Education. She received an Applied Baccalaureate, which is a four-year degree that emphasizes a lot of “applied work”. I don’t know what was required in the 1950s but when I attended college Education majors had to complete a year of field work (student teaching). I remember a student teacher from my third grade year, Miss Kidd. We loved her. But I digress. Anyway, I am sure student teaching has been around for a long time.

Nancy Tribble, FSU Tarpon Club, 1950s

Nancy Tribble, FSU Tarpon Club, 1950s

Another club or group Nancy Benda was associated with was called the Tarpon Club. Anyone who has lived in Florida for some length of time should recognize the word “tarpon”, and as you folks might infer it was a (synchronized?) swimming club. Specifically for mermaids, I suppose. You can see a larger picture of Nancy Tribble “with her tail” here.

So, is that the same Nancy in the Alpha Omega picture? Well, it kind of looks like her. Note her chin (which I think is cute, but that’s just me). And, more importantly, is that the face of Miss Nancy from Miss Nancy’s Store? Well, it kind of looks familiar in more than a humanoid bipedal way, but I was just a kid at the time. And I was more in love with Leslie Bouillion, to be honest.

In 1948 “mermaid” Nancy Tribble received a key to the city of Tampa, FL. In case you are curious, there are four search results for Nancy Benda on that Florida memorial Website (note: By early 2017 more pictures of Miss Nancy have been added). So far we have learned that she was born Nancy Tribble, worked as a mermaid at Weekiwachee in the 1940s while a teenager, was honored for her work as a mermaid, and that she attended Florida State University in Tallahassee, where she joined the Alpha Xi Delta sorority and also participated in the Tarpon Club (continuing her career as a “mermaid”). And somewhere along the way she married a very lucky Mr. Benda.

So what happened after she left FSU? I don’t know anything about Mr. Benda (have not looked) but Mrs. Benda went on to teach Social Studies, at least for a few years. Somehow she maintained or established new connections with Florida State University because this old news article from August 4, 1967 discusses the show’s cancellation. I think I was still living in the Miami area at the time, but I don’t remember hearing about the impending cancellation of the show or the effort to find new funding for it.

UPDATE: January 2016, I was contacted by Sandy Carlson, whose husband Keith Carlson was the show’s producer and director. Sandy told me that Keith accepted a job with WGBH-TV in Boston and so the show came to an end. She writes: “I’ll never forget the last show, when the puppets waved goodbye from their hot air balloon, with ‘UP, UP, and AWAY’ playing as they ascended into the sky.”

So far as I can determine the show was never revived. Miss Nancy went on to work at or with various projects for FSU but she eventually went to work for the Florida State Department of Education, supervising various programs. She retired eventually and has held board directorships for several community projects. In fact she may still be active now but I am reluctant to link to many Websites that have more current information about her.

There are many, many references to Nancy Benda in books, conference proceedings, and other content I have not found time to peruse. Frankly, I doubt I shall ever read it.

What fascinated me about this case study was the fact that I could piece together so much of Nancy Tribble Benda’s life story. I even found an interview with author Barbara Nimri Aziz that describes how Nancy Benda appeared at a book signing and ended up with a radio interview alongside Aziz, who insisted on telling everyone (including the radio journalist who had come to interview her) that Nancy Benda was one of Florida’s first mermaids.

Nancy Tribble Benda’s imprint on Florida history is greater than most people who don’t know her realize. She has held several departmental positions but she is occasionally recognized for her past public performance roles, both of which were pioneering in some way. To be honest, when I first searched for information about the star of Miss Nancy’s Store I didn’t find any of this stuff. Maybe it was online but the search engines did a very poor job of helping me put the pieces together. Across the years I have returned to searching for Miss Nancy because I have always wondered who she was and what she did when she was not breaking little boys’ hearts with her television show.

When I finally began to find interesting information I was surprised, but I was also disappointed to find no real profiles of her work as an educator and a social activist who has contributed toward improving women’s role in society. I don’t know how much she contributed in any capacity. But what I do know is that she lived the history we often read about in terms of the social revolutions (great and small) that have affected our society over the past 50-60 years.

We don’t celebrate those quiet workers in the background very much, nor pay much attention to their “other” accomplishments. But we all have a history and if you want to know what I think you should take away from this article, it is that the Internet does a very poor job of defining our legacy.

If you know someone whom you feel deserves recognition, don’t wait around for someone else to start the ball rolling. Start the process yourself. Some future biographer may thank you for telling a story that would otherwise be lost and forgotten. And if only 6 people a year read that story, you still did the right thing.

And Miss Nancy, wherever you are, I just want you to know that you inspired my imagination and made a big impression on me even though I hardly remember anything about the show other than you and the puppet with the sneaky pea game.

UPDATE 2019: I just discovered this fantastic tribute to Miss Nancy’s Store that was published in 2017. I think you’ll enjoy reading about her show if you haven’t yet found the article. Click here to visit Part 2 of Miss Nancy’s Story on The Florida Memory Blog.