‘Miss June,’ who hosted ‘Romper Room’ and saved the Don CeSar, dead at 87

The show ran 15 years on local television. With a classroom for a set and in-studio audience of six children, it taught educational, moral and behavioral lessons.
Published February 11
Updated February 12

ST. PETERSBURG — She was a classroom teacher, a writer, a model and a preservationist.

Yet most knew June Hurley Young for just one of her pursuits — as "Miss June," host of the Tampa Bay area's version of the children's weekday television show Romper Room from 1965-1980.

She was okay with that, daughter Kathleen Coker said.

“She wanted to be remembered for all the children whose lives she touched."

Mrs. Young died Feb. 2 of complications from pneumonia. A longtime resident of St. Petersburg, she was 87.

"She led such an exciting life," Coker said. "But Romper Room stands out."

Through that show, Mrs. Young, a twice-widowed mother of two, became known as the area's first television teacher.

The set was a classroom and the in-studio audience was six children, typically 4 and 5, who along with viewers learned educational, moral and behavioral lessons.

Regular characters included the happy "Do Bee" and angry "Don't Be" hand puppets.

"They were used for examples of what to do and what not to do," said Mike Clark, whose website big13.com chronicles the history of Tampa Bay area television during that era.

And there was the "magical" glassless mirror that Ms. Young would peer through and into the television camera while wishing viewers happy birthday by name, as though she could see them at home.

"I still have people who excitedly remember when my mom called their name," daughter Coker said with a laugh. "It was a big deal."

In Coker's opinion, her mom's greatest skill was hiding the chaos in the studio.

If a child in the audience had a bathroom accident or threw a temper tantrum, "my mom gracefully walked to the other side of the set to draw the cameras away from it" until the kid's parent calmed the situation.

"This was live television," Coker said. "They couldn't bleep or edit anything out."

Still, on some occasions, it was impossible to hide the bedlam, like when Busch Gardens brought a baby anteater into the studio and it "made a mess all over a table," Coker said with a laugh.

Another time, a child booked for the audience was late, so 3-year-old Coker filled the chair. When the kid arrived, he stormed onto set and angrily pulled Coker's hair.

"I started screaming, 'Mommy, bad,'" Coker said. "My mom loved that story."

Born in Cleveland, Mrs. Young was 14 when her family moved to St. Petersburg.

She was later named editor of St. Pete High School's newspaper and, as an 18-year-old, became a "Webb’s City Girl."

Webb’s City was a unique, 10-block department store that included live entertainment like dancing chickens and mechanical mermaids. Mrs. Young and other young women toured the country during the summer promoting St. Petersburg as a tourist destination.

Mrs. Young went on to graduate from Florida State University and teach in Pinellas County.

Then, in 1954, she combined her experience as an entertainer and educator to star in the WSUN weekday television show Make Believe Toy Shop, teaching kids how to create playthings out of everyday objects, daughter, Coker recalled.

Next was the WEDU weekday show Kindergarten Corner, where children learned basic educational lessons, and the same channel's monthly program Let's Look Around, with visits to kid-friendly sites throughout the area.

Romper Room, created in Baltimore in the early 1950s, was franchised to stations across the nation and each market used a local host.

The show first ran in the Tampa Bay area from 1955-57 on WTVT, historian Clark said, and again in 1960 on WFLA, each time with different hosts.

In 1965, Mrs. Young beat out 200 other candidates for the job on WLCY's version. With "Miss June" as host, the local show finally enjoyed sustained success.

Mrs. Young used her celebrity to help the community.

In the early 1970s, the legendary pink palace known as the Don CeSar hotel — opened in 1928 on St. Pete Beach — was set to be demolished because it had fallen into disrepair. But Mrs. Young published articles about its historic significance and led a citizens committee that successfully lobbied the city to hold off the wrecking ball until a developer was found to save the building.

"Her relentless commitment and passion for maintaining the character and culture of our community was the true catalyst which allows the Pink Palace to shine bright after 91 years," said Todd Gehrke, the hotel's director of sales and marketing, in a statement to the Tampa Bay Times.

Mrs. Young's persistence also gave Romper Room an added five years. When WLCY cancelled the show in 1975, she persuaded WFLA to pick it up, daughter Coker said.

After WFLA ended the program in 1980, Mrs. Young moved on. She returned to the classroom and focused on her writing, in articles about local history for newspapers and in five books, one on the Don Cesar.

"That was her pink castle," Coker said.

A celebration of her mother’s life is scheduled there at 3 p.m. March 3.

"One of her proudest accomplishments was how it has thrived."

Still, Coker said, besides her family, Romper Room was her legacy.

The final broadcast was March 30, 1980. Two weeks before that, in a column for the Tampa Tribune, Mrs. Young wrote about the show and the 4,000 live telecasts she counted.

"What a wonderful career — to have taught something to so many children," she said. "It won't really be 'goodbye' May 30. I'll just be saying I'll be seeing all you friends tomorrow."

June Hurley Young

Born: Jan. 30, 1932

Died: Feb. 2, 2019

Survived by: Children Sean Hurley and Kathleen Hurley Coker; grandchildren, Ryan, Collin and Brendan Hurley, and Morgan and Cole Coker; and great-grandchild, Lennox Hurley.

A Celebration of Life will be held at the DonCesar hotel, Sunday, March 3 at 3 p.m. Contact Paul Guzzo at [email protected] or follow @PGuzzoTimes.

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