Julia Cousins Laning

Julia Cousins Laning, who came to Venice as a child and helped preserve its history, dies at 100
(Earle Kimel, Sarasota Herald-Tribune)

VENICE – Julia Cousins Laning was 5 years old in 1927, when her parents Mitt and Carmen Cousins moved from Virginia to a farm on Jackson Road.
The family lost the farm during the Great Depression and later moved a few miles west to Venice.

Mitt Cousins became the property manager for Kentucky Military Institute, which established its winter campus in Venice in 1932 and saved the city’s economy.
Carmen managed the tea room in the Triangle Inn, where Julia and her older brother Jimmy lived for three years, until the family bought an unfinished home on Nokomis Avenue by paying back taxes.

Those early years helped instill in Cousins Laning – who died Saturday morning at age 100 – a passion for the city of Venice and especially those people who worked to keep the city going during and after the Great Depression.

“She meant a lot to this community,” said Earl Midlam, one of the organizers of the Venice/Nokomis Area Old-Timers Picnic, as well as the main caretaker for Old Betsy, the city’s 1926 LaFrance Fire Engine. “She always believed in Venice and its people.

“You can see from the good work she’s done with the archives,” he added. “I remember when she used to drive over to the Triangle Inn and she worked there for hours.

“She was that type of person, she cared about her community and the people that lived it and its history.”
Dorothy Korwek remembered her friend and onetime neighbor as “a person very interested in Venice history and wanting to promote it – and also a very nice smile.”

Korwek, a former member of the City Council and Venice historical resources director, lived with her husband Philip just a few doors down from Julia Cousins Laning and her husband Dale Laning.

The two would often work together on promotional pamphlets for the museum.
Joanie Somoza was working at the Venice Museum when Cousins Laning was a volunteer. The two became fast friends and Somoza later became her friend’s primary caregiver.

“On Tuesdays we would have lunch together at the library,” Somoza said. “There used to be a little luncheon room there.

“We were the Tuesday girls,” she added. “That's what we called ourselves.”

The two had a lot in common, including a desire for healthy eating, using supplements and organic foods.

When Cousins Laning could no longer cook for herself, Somoza took up that task, preparing balanced meals.

Cousins Laning frequently opted for healthy eating vs prescription medication.

Somoza quipped that when Cousins Laning was asked about the secret of a long life, “Her comment was don’t go to doctors and don’t take their pills.”

Emphasis on history
Dale, who died at 93 in 2008, and Julia Cousins Laning were generous and frequently anonymous benefactors in the city, especially toward the arts community.

Cousins Laning worked as a volunteer in the Venice Museum and Archives, located in the Triangle Inn, which was moved in 1991 to its current location at 351 S. Nassau St. on the Venice Cultural Campus. In 2011, she and her husband set up a $1 million fund with the Gulf Coast Community Foundation, in the hope of helping to preserve the city’s history.
Rhonda Rogers, a longtime friend who works at the museum, said that Cousins Laning – who got more involved in volunteering after her husband died – watched more and more people drop off donations and declared that they needed more space, so she decided to make a donation to help procure it.

“When she announced the amount of her donation we about fell off our chairs,” Rogers said. “We had no idea whatsoever she was going to do something like that.

“A very, very generous offer. It shows you how important to her it was to preserve this history.”

Salli Struble, lead paralegal at Kanetsky, Moore & DeBoer, P.A. – where Murray Kanetsky handled the family’s legal work – developed a friendship with Cousins Laning.

“She had an amazing wit, she was a very, very intelligent, bright lady, loved her sense of humor," Struble said. “Caring and kind – one of those people who believe you give back. Whatever you get you give back and she did that wholeheartedly and she loved Venice.”
Most importantly, Struble said, Cousins Landing told her that her passion for preserving Venice history was grounded in her desire to preserve “the memory of those who helped Venice survive through the Depression.”

Family and city intertwined
The Cousins family played an integral part in Venice's history.

Her father – who also worked for Dr. Fred Albee, the surgeon and real estate investor who bought the original tract to the west that would become Venice – served as the city’s mayor from 1943 to 1945.
Her older brother Jimmy graduated from Kentucky Military Institute and helped found the Venice Airport.
Cousins Laning graduated from Florida Southern College with an art degree and moved to New York City, working at Reader’s Digest.

“She was born in 1921 and she graduated from college,” Struble marveled. “Women just didn't go to college back then unless you were going to be a nurse or a teacher.

“And she had an art degree and she went to New York City in the 1940s as a single woman.”

It helped, Struble said, that the Albees also spent time in New York City and were able to offer guidance.

“They took her under their wing when she was young.”

Rogers said that as Cousins Laning continued to work at Reader's Digest, she observed that many men were being promoted and the women were not.

“At one point, she – along with a number of other women – resigned” Rogers said. “They resigned en masse in protest.

“She felt so strongly it was not right.”

Rogers said she moved back to Venice and lived on rental income. She was 65 when she met Dale Laning. By then, she had not anticipated ever getting married.
Rogers added that the couple were together for almost 20 years; Laning said her only regret was that she hadn’t met him sooner.

Dale Laning, a former manager of an international law firm, left his wife a considerable inheritance when he died. The couple had no children and Cousins Laning wanted to use her inheritance constructively.

One of her early philanthropic ventures involved creating an exhibit room about Albee.
Her most high profile donation involved the million-dollar gift that was first earmarked for an expansion of the Venice Museum & Archives building.

When that proved unrealistic, it was repurposed to purchase the former Turner Photographic Studio – at 244 Milan Avenue, across the street from the Venice Cultural Campus – and  remodel it to serve as an archives building.

The city formally opened the Julia Cousins Laning and Dale Laning Archives & Research Center in October 2019.

It took a while for Cousins Laning to settle on the name of the building.

Ultimately that too, Somoza said, was meant to call back to Cousins Lanning's youth.

“She felt that her family – along with other individuals here – really kept the town alive during the Depression so she really wanted to make sure they were acknowledged,” Somoza said “I think the name of the building, the Julia Cousins Laning and Dale Laning Archives & Research Center, was really a tribute to her parents than to Julia and her husband.”
A celebration of life is planned for 1 to 3 p.m, Friday at Farley Funeral Home, 265 S. Nokomis Ave., Venice.

In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Gulf Coast Community Foundation, 601 Tamiami Trail South, Venice, 34285,  with In Memory of Julia Cousins Laning in the memo line.

Gifts will go to the Cousins Laning Historical Fund, which will support historical preservation efforts in the Venice area

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