After life of luxury, she chose life on farm
Sally Larkin Dinsdale Auel's grandfather was a well-known Tampa developer. She picked a different path.
By MARTY CLEAR
Published February 3, 2006
SALLY DINSDALE AUEL: 1918-2006.
NEW SUBURB BEAUTIFUL - Sally Larkin Dinsdale Auel's childhood years were marked by luxury and privilege.
Her grandfather, Alfred Swann, was one of the first people to recognize the potential of Tampa to become a major city and world-class shipping center. Starting in 1904, he and a partner developed Suburb Beautiful, one of Tampa's first completely residential areas. He also acquired land and arranged for grants to dredge channels that created Tampa's port as we know it today.
As a girl, Sally Larkin lived half of the year in Tennessee and half in Tampa. She traveled in upper-class social circles, in a world of servants and cotillions.
"It wasn't until she went to college that she realized that kitchens came without cooks," said her daughter Sara Dinsdale.
She died Jan. 5 of a heart attack. She was 87.
As a youngster, she was adventurous and loved the outdoors. She spent her Tennessee summers riding horses and her Tampa winters in her own motorboat on the waters of Hillsborough Bay.
She liked to tell the story of the day she took some of her well-heeled friends out on the boat and the motor conked. The other girls panicked. One jumped overboard in a fur coat.
"Mom couldn't believe what a bunch of ninnies those other girls were," Sara Dinsdale said.
Eventually, she would choose the rugged outdoor life. She attended Wellesley College and, upon graduating in 1940, married a Massachusetts Institute of Technology graduate, James Dinsdale. He had an engineering degree, and she had studied English literature, but they decided to become farmers. They settled on her family's Tennessee farmland and had 11 children.
In 1957, the family moved to a dairy farm in Oregon, where they lived until he was killed in an accident in 1966. She continued to run the farm herself with the help of her five children who still lived at home.
In 1972, she married William Auel. They divided their time between the farm and a house on the Oregon coast until his death in 1993. (Her stepson, Ray Auel, is married to Jean Auel, author of The Clan of the Cave Bear.)
Although somewhat reserved, she took a genuine interest in other people's lives and problems.
"She always made connections with people, never in a cute, endearing manner, rather out of real interest beyond the superficial," her daughter said. "About 25 years ago, she overheard a man talking in the local grocery at the beach and realized he was completely broke and looking for work to shelter his wife and children. She gave him $200 on the spot, no strings. He worked to repay her and never forgot it."
She loved making pots and firing them in her kilns, often incorporating feathers and other items she found on the beach. She also developed fabric dyes out of natural materials.
Even though she hadn't lived in Tampa for many years, she was proud of her family's Tampa connection. She compiled extensive family histories for each of her children, detailing the contributions of the Swann family to the city. She also made a point of taking each of her children to Tampa to see the port, the South Tampa neighborhoods her family developed and the street named after the Swann family.
Mrs. Auel is survived by daughters Sara, Cecelia, Jessie and Grace; sons Peter, John, Sam, James and Alfred; and many grandchildren and great-grandchildren. In addition to her husbands, she was preceded in death by two children.