The Destin Snowbird Club cut the ribbon Monday and the Destin Community Center became the Roost. While most members are here just for the winter, many snowbirds have flown south and never returned.
Some of the snowbirds, including former club presidents like Ford Sims and Joan Graham, have taken up permanent residence in Destin.
For Sims, a former executive for General Motors in Michigan, there was little question he'd purchase property in Destin the first day he arrived, back in the 1980s. Though there was little tourism business to speak of at the time, Sims knew that would change.
"I could tell it was coming from the first time I drove through town," Sims told The Log during opening registration Monday.
More than 100 people attended the first registration event of the year. Another 100 to 150 members are expected to be registered by the end of the year and more than 2,000 for the season.
When he got the opportunity, Sims purchased four condos — two each at Waterview Towers and Waterview Towers Yacht Club. Though he said those condos have made him a lot of money, he stayed in Destin for a different reason.
"I hung around a while to find a woman," Sims said.
Graham first came to Destin more than 15 years ago to visit her friend, Kitty Phelps, during her vacation. Soon after, both Phelps and Graham moved to Destin permanently.
One couple, Kitty and Charles Cassell, straddle the line of snowbirds and locals. Former long-time residents of Ohio, the couple live in Destin during the school year, and return to their other home in Powhatan, Va,. during the summer.
"I'm never quite sure where we belong," Kitty Cassell joked at the opening day festivities.
Cassell's daughter bought a condo in Destin about five years ago. Two weeks later, they moved here. With young children, Cassell's daughter and her husband decided they wanted to return to Ohio during the school year. So they talked Kitty and Charles into living in their condo during those months.
Though they may technically be locals, these snowbirds are still active members in the club. Graham said it's the camaraderie that brings her back to the group.
"You get to see everyone year after year," Graham said. "They all make a point of being here at this time."
Phelps added, "They are all very nice people."
SNOWBIRD SEASON MILESTONE
This year marks the 40th anniversary for the Destin Snowbirds. The club was started by Ocean Springs, Miss., residents Red and Virginia Lyons in the winter of 1973. The Lyonses were spending their first winter of retirement in Destin and organized a number of potluck dinners and other activities for themselves and other winter guests. They called themselves the Snowbird Mockingbird Club. Flash forward four decades and fees remain at $8 per person for the 2013-14 season.