Couple Who Championed Nudism Found Dead in Spa


Two pioneers of the American nudist movement, who for more than five decades promoted in-the-buff vacations as wholesome family fun, died this week while soaking together--naked, of course--in a hot tub at the Riverside County club they founded.

Ray and Mildred Connett, both 82, were found in a group-size spa Wednesday at the Glen Eden Sun Club, a nudist mobile home and camping resort in the scrubby desert of Temescal Canyon.

Club officials speculated that the two had fallen asleep and drowned in the hot tub.

But Riverside County Coroner’s Deputy Alendra Birdsall said that “everything appears to be consistent with a double suicide.” Autopsies to be completed today may indicate the cause of death, she said.


Riverside County sheriff’s deputies also are investigating the deaths. “If one person dies in a Jacuzzi, that’s kind of understandable, but two people--that’s not normal,” sheriff’s investigator C. Gilbert said. “It could be a double homicide, it could be a murder-suicide, it could be an accident.”

Mildred Connett was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, and had lived in a nursing home for several years. Her husband took her to the club at least three times a week for lunch and to soothe her stiff, aching joints in the spa, friends said.

While both Connetts practiced nudism, Ray Connett also preached it--loudly. Friends knew Mildred as the socializer, Ray as the agitator. He was the visionary. Although a receptionist at the nudist club still answered the phone Thursday with a chipper, “It’s a wonderful day at Glen Eden,” veteran nudists expressed sorrow and dismay as they sorted out their loss.

“Ray was a very farseeing, far-reaching individual,” said Jack De Pree, vice president of the American Assn. for Nude Recreation. “If a movie were made about Ray’s life, it would be [starring] Charlton Heston, and it would be an epic, a big-screen epic.”

A former Canadian postal worker who took up nudism in the 1940s, and who shocked his fellow government employees when he posed bare-chested for Time magazine, Ray Connett was always determined to push his au naturel lifestyle into the mainstream.

He started recruiting fellow nudists through a sunbathing column he wrote for Health Magazine after World War II, and organized several clubs in his native Canada. But then, longing for a bigger market, he moved to Southern California. He bought a deserted olive grove and founded Glen Eden in 1963.


And Connett immediately set about winning converts.

Every chance he got, Connett would spread his gospel: Nudists, he would insist, were not perverts or oglers or nymphomaniacs. They were simply ordinary folks who eagerly stripped off both clothes and pretensions when they came to his club, kids in tow, looking to relax.

“He spread the word that we’re just normal people, the same as everyone else, except we recreate in the nude,” said Richard Hirst, general manager of the 155-acre Glen Eden resort.

To underscore that point, Connett joined the local Chamber of Commerce, proving that a nudist club was a business like any other. He invited reporters and the public to visit the club--and within 15 minutes, many of the visitors had shed both clothes and inhibitions to join the hundreds of others hiking, playing tennis and attending concerts wearing nothing but sneakers, according to Jeannette DeRosier, the resort’s publicity manager. In recent years, the club has even held a nudist chili cook-off contest to reach out to the community.

To further buff the image of nudism, Connett maintained strict rules at the club, which he eventually turned into a nonprofit cooperative owned by its 2,000 members. He banned both cameras and provocative behavior. He prohibited alcohol for years. And for a time he insisted on seeing a marriage license whenever a couple appeared at the check-in desk ready to drop their drawers and pitch their tent.

Connett also made a point of welcoming children--and protecting them.

Riverside businessman Grant Hageman, now 29, spent every other weekend at the resort from the time he was an infant until midway through high school. He remembers certain sour-tempered adults yelling at the kids every time for making too much noise. But he said Connett always stepped in to defend the children.

Hageman recently returned to the club with his fiancee (“she was naked before I was,” he said) and instantly remembered why he found the nudist lifestyle so appealing.


“When people have clothes on, it’s like they’re wearing costumes,” he said. “This guy is in a three-piece suit and this guy is in a T-shirt and torn-up jeans, so you’re going to look at those people differently. But at the club, this guy is naked and that guy is naked . . . and so you can’t relate to them as a rich guy and a poor guy, because you have no idea [who’s who]. It’s much harder to put people in categories.”

Connett’s success at spreading that spirit earned him a spot in the American Assn. for Nude Recreation’s Hall of Fame.

The board had to reschedule an award ceremony honoring his 50 years of nudism because Mildred Connett--true to her famously stubborn spirit--refused to come out of her trailer while “The Young and the Restless” was on television. The association finally got both Connetts out on stage at the national convention and presented them with medals--which they proudly wore over their birthday suits.

In his acceptance speech, Ray Connett urged fellow nudists to be proud of their anti-clothing stance.

“Mildred and I have been in nudism for 50 years and we have seen overall growth and progress,” he said. “But for real growth in the next 50 years, we will all have to lift our heads, look friends in the eye and say, ‘Sure, I’m a nudist. Have been for years.’ ”