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John Brelsford Dunkle

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John Brelsford Dunkle

John Brelsford Dunkle (1928-2005), Palm Beach County Clerk for 33 years, was born in West Palm Beach. His maternal grandfather, Edmund Munger Brelsford, had come from Ohio in 1880 and was the first postmaster of Palm Beach and the first commodore of the Palm Beach Yacht Club. He sold part of his homestead at One South Lake Trail in Brelsford’s Cove to Henry Flagler for Whitehall, today’s Flagler Museum. Dunkle’s father, David F. Dunkle, was the mayor of West Palm Beach in 1920-21. When he lost his money in the Great Depression, the family stayed with the Brelsfords. Years later Dunkle fondly recalled “living in the grand old mansion in Palm Beach, hunting alligators and shooting rabbits on Worth Avenue in the summertime.”

John graduated from Palm Beach High School in 1945 and attended Bucknell University and the University of Miami. Dunkle’s ambition was to play tennis professionally. He taught the game on local municipal courts during the winter and in the summer traveled as tennis pro to the Rockefeller family. During the Korean War, Dunkle served overseas as a military police officer.

After the war Dunkle briefly ran his father’s mortgage company before he accepted an invitation to run for clerk of the Criminal Court of Record. His win at age thirty made him the youngest elected official in Palm Beach County. He ran for circuit court clerk in 1964 and when he won, he consolidated the two positions. His new job description included custodian of all county documents as well as all county funds. When new jurors began a trial, Dunkle enjoyed putting them at ease with a few jokes.

Dunkle enjoyed being a servant of the people until he retired in 1991. During his thirty-three years in office, his staff grew from 7 to 670 and his annual salary from $10,000 to $87,548. Although he changed his political affiliation as needed for reelection, many times Dunkle ran unopposed.

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