Thank Turner—A Nudist Pioneer

Profile: Thank Turner
Profile: Thank Turner
Profile: Thank Turner

By: Mary Bowman-Kruhm

Jim drives a 16-wheeler. Other drivers at his trucking company were assigned spiffy new trucks with air-conditioned cabs. One horrendously hot day, while gas­sing up at his company’s headquarters, Jim, au naturel, jumped out of the cab and reached for the gas pump handle. “Get me a new truck with AC and I’ll put clothes on,” he yelled to his bosses. By the next week cool breezes wafted past his face as he drove.

Today we hear many stories similar to Jim’s, in large part because of people like Turner Stokes. Turner saw nudism as a civil rights issue in the 1970s and 1980s, and was willing to work for public acceptance of naturists as a lifestyle choice. With the flow toward a more liberal society quickening during those years, Turner and his col­leagues poked the right powers to make change happen. With Lee Baxandall, he was instrumental in forming the National Capital Naturists, was president of the American Sunbathing Association (ASA) for two years, and had a hand in transforming the ASA in 1994 to today’s American Association for Nude Recreation (AANR).

Turner first impressed me when we met at our Unitarian Universalist church. I was surprised when I learned that the person who handled the congregation’s technology was in his early 80s rather than 18. I was more surprised to discover he was a nudist. But he has always been someone who danced to the tune in his head. He has led services and preached sermons with titles like “It’s Turtles, All the Way Down,” and he enjoys relaxing with friends and recalling past pleasures such as Margarita-inspired dancing at an ASA conference.

Turner’s activism for the movement of nudity rights began many years before I met him. He grew up in a family seeking to make a positive impact on their bit of the world. He describes his tenacity for activism as inherited from a grandfather, whose determined research into the cause of parrot fever stopped only when he contracted the disease, unfortunately prior to the advent of antibiotics. His father took a case against prohibition to the Supreme Court. With Turner’s family history of liberal activism, he naturally gravitated to the naturist movement.

Turner says as a toddler that it was “hard to keep me in clothes.” One summer when visiting cousins, the youngsters pretended they were in a nudist colony and, as a teenager, he skinny-dipped with male friends. About the same time, in 1944, he bought his first real nudist magazine, Sunshine and Health, but his yearning for a naturist lifestyle lay dormant until 1977 when he and wife Laverne were empty-nesters and looking for a mutual interest. A chap at work happened to have a nudist magazine advertising Annapolis and Pen-Mar as what were then called nudist colonies. Pen-Mar a drivable 1. hours away, sent a friendly reply to Turner’s letter of interest, and he soon was involved as Treasurer.

As he moved through the ranks of officers in the local organization, Turner wanted to take the club in a positive direc­tion. The Naturist Society’s Lee Baxandall and other leaders were pushing for nude beach rights to be recognized, even if not formally acknowledged, at many sites across the country. Turner focused his energy on Assateague, a barrier island with 37 miles of immaculate sand and surf off the coasts of Maryland and Virginia, and belonging almost equally to both states. Three Kilometer Beach was on the Virginia end of Assateague, three kilometers north of the building for the National Wildlife Service (NWS), which then and now administers the Virginia portion of the park. People within NWS, sympathetic to the idea of a nudist beach, allowed the placement of two portable toilets with the understanding that the three-quarter mile of beach between them was accepted for nude swimming and sunbathing.

Profile: Thank Turner

Naturists in the area were thrilled…

and produced favorable articles spreading the word. The lead article in the February 1981issue of Beachhead, publishedto publicize nude recreational opportunities, began, “The two most importantnews events in the nation’s capital in 1980—at least as far as this area’snaturists are concerned—were the election of Ronald Reagan as the 40thpresident of the U.S. and the dramatic increase in the number of peopleparticipating in nude recreation in the area, specifically, Washington,Maryland and Virginia.” The article gave a full-page spread of photos, andlauded observance of National Nude Weekend at “the lovely and remote” ThreeKilometer Beach.

Turner and Baxandall formed the National Capital Naturists as a caretaker for the Three Kilometer Beach on Assateague. In the December 1982 issue of NCN’s newsletter, The Capital Sun, Turner wrote that a meeting with officials of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service “was a friendly one.” He cautioned fellow natur­ists to “take out whatever trash we bring in, maybe even a little extra,” and especially not to climb the dunes because of possible long-term negative effects of increased beach use.

Acting as good citizens wasn’t enough. Information about 3K Beach in the August 1982 issue of Playboy magazine led to concerns from an Accomack County religious community, and the local board of supervisors passed an ordinance forbidding beach nudity. Three Kilometer Beach quickly became a memory. Turner and his colleagues worked to overturn the ordinance until a Supreme Court decision on a different but similar case convinced them that further fighting would be a waste of money and effort.

 Our lives have small, crucial points when a seemingly minor event sendsus in a different direction. Turner’s experience in the fight for nude beaches helped elect him as Regional Director of the Eastern Sunbathing Association,but he almost missed this 1984 conference. Driving from Virginia, he was in a small rural town in Maryland when the front end of his rusted Datsun col­lapsed.He quickly maneuvered to get his car towed and rented another to take him toAnnapolis. Without attending and run­ning for Regional Director, he would not then have moved to an active role in the national naturist movement.

In 1986, Turner ran for presidency of the ASA. With a platform of “Get more involved in nudist rights,” he won. One person Turner remembers as especially supportive and helpful was Jim Hadley, owner of Cypress Cove in Kissimmee, Florida.

At this point manynon-landed club leaders and owners of the landed clubs and resorts viewed each other as competition, that folks going to the nude beaches would not need the resorts. Hadley felt they needed to work together as allies, not competi­tors.Turner still feels Hadley’s advice about fighting for nudist rights was spot on. “If we don’t fight them on the beaches, we will have to fight them at the gates” of our clubs, Hadley said.

 As ASA presidentfrom 1986-1988, Turner set several goals that included long-range plans for access to public beaches and recreational areas, enhancing public relations,and linking nudist rights with Washington politics. He was also a member of the first board of the Naturist/Nudist Leadership Council, which was supported by both The Naturist Society (TNS) and the ASA. Turner also was an initial board member of the Association For Clothes Free Rights (ACFRI) when it was formed in1989. Nude & Natural’s history of TNS in N 19.3 notes, “In many people’s minds however, the most useful function of ACFRI was that, for a while, it bridged the gap between TNS and theASA.”

Turner was elected to the Nudist Hall of Fame in 2006, and framed photographs of all the ASA/AANR presidents can be found at the American Nudist Research Library in Kissimmee, as well as a wealth of archival material on the evolution of nud­ism throughout the years. He is no longer visibly active in the nudist rights movement, but he welcomes being known as a nudist. When I heard that church members lauded Turner for his information technology work, I said that they should have mentioned he was a nudist as well as a tech person. He would have been proud because, like Jim the trucker, he has no qualms about nudism being part of who he is.

If you ever see a trucker sitting high in his seat, wearing a questionable amount of clothes, it may be Jim. Long hours on the road often lead to sleepiness, so he copes by driving clothes-free. “Always alert when I’m in the nude,” he says. Wave to him. And thank pioneers of the past like Turner Stokes. N

Special thanks to the helpful librarians at the American Nudist Research Library: Helen Fisher, Dave Fisher.

References

• Beachhead. (1981, February). Leisure Publications: Perris, CA. Berry, L. (Editor). (2006, June). The Bulletin, 55(6).

• Stokes, T. (1982, December). Still more about Assateague Island, VA. The Capital Sun, 3(4).