James Warnke, Marion Bentley Wall and Roland James Dack,
founders of Roving Photographers.
By Mary Thurwachter
In 1972, an amateur photographer and world traveler from Gulf Stream joined two men whose skills complemented her own to form a company called Roving Photographers and Associates.
The trio married their love of travel, history and capturing images on film to create travel and history books and training movies for industries, including Reynolds Aluminum, where they photographed the first aluminum boat built in Florida.
Marion Bentley Wall (of the Bentley automobile fortune) founded Roving Photographers after she returned from an around-the-world cruise where her photographs were displayed. She told a reporter for a newspaper in Owosso, Mich. (where she was born and raised) that so many folks wanted to buy her pictures she decided she might as well go into business selling them.
Bentley Wall, who died in 1980 at the age of 71, moved to Florida in 1933. She and her husband, the late Thomas Ferguson Wall, had an oceanfront home near the Gulf Stream Golf Club.
Roland James Dack and James Warnke were the other “Rovers.”
Dack was a professional photographer, pilot and scuba diver. His photos frequently appeared in Life magazine. One of his claims to fame was having shot some of the underwater scenes in Thunderball, a James Bond movie.
Warnke, a historical researcher who had retired after a 32-year career with Southern Bell Telephone Co., founded the Palm Beach County Archeological Society. He was an author, skin diver and newspaper columnist and wrote scripts for films and books made by Roving Photographers. Like Dack, he also had a pilot’s license.
Warnke’s son, Tom, of Boynton Beach, remembers going to play at Bentley Wall’s home on A1A when he was a child.
“It was like a museum,” he said, “with ivory tusks and tribal masks from New Guinea. When she got older, my dad was her personal secretary so he got some of her relics after she died.”
Among the books produced by The Roving Photographers were Balustrades and Gingerbread, Key West’s Handcrafted Homes and Side Roads of Florida.
“They made money with these books,” Tom Warnke said.
Tom Warnke recalls a time Bentley Wall worried that a shipment of books would not arrive in Europe by the due date.
“So she boarded the Concorde to England and took the books herself,” he said.
While all three of the Roving Photographers have died, their work comes to life again with the re-release of a 1976 documentary, The History of Boynton Beach, Florida. A digital transfer, funded by donations in honor of the late former mayor and fourth-generation Boynton Beach resident Harvey Oyer Jr., means the old 16 mm film is currently available on DVD.
The History of Boynton Beach, Florida was written by James Warnke.
“My father could see Boynton was changing so quickly,” Tom Warnke said. “There were 1,000 people a day moving to Florida then. Boynton was growing by leaps and bounds. I-95 had just opened here. ... He (dad) thought it was a good time to make a time capsule as to the way it was at that time and also provide context from early habitation through the present.”
The Roving Photo-graphers, known to use Hasselblad cameras, boarded Bentley Wall’s private plane to shoot aerial images of Boynton Beach for the documentary and also shot street-level scenes from open convertibles.
James Warnke persuaded Lowell Thomas from the syndicated TV show Lowell Thomas Remembers to narrate the original film, which cost $10,000 to produce in 1976. Half of the money came from donations, while the city of Boynton Beach paid the remainder.
“Until the 25-minute film was digitally transferred, viewers could only see it on a poorly made VHS copy,” said Ginger Pedersen, vice president of the Boynton Beach Historical Society.
Florida Legacy Productions of Margate supervised the digital transfer and produced a new introduction for the documentary by Oyer’s son, Harvey Oyer III of West Palm Beach. New images of the city were added, too.
As a bonus feature, Tom Warnke talks about the Roving Photographers and his father’s role in the company.
Ron Hurtibise, owner of Florida Legacy Productions, said the History of Boynton Beach, Florida DVD he edited is a great example of how today’s technology has made it easier and more affordable to share stories through on-camera interviews and architectural images.