It's only fitting that the man recognized as Destin's first snowbird was a pilot.
After Ivan "Red" Lyon, a TWA pilot was forced to fly the coop and retire at only 51 years old due to a heart problem, Red and his wife, Virginia, flew south.
They left their home in Missouri behind for a new life in Florida, where they spent their first winter season in Destin in 1973-1974.
Leading a small group of similar people who had recently become Florida residents, Red organized potluck dinners, card games and other activities in the area.
“They made me president because I was the youngest one of the bunch,” recalled Red in a 1994 article in the Northwest Florida Daily News. “They kind of framed me. Our meeting room wasn't much bigger than this living room.”
The newly formed group took on the name The Snowbird Mockingbird Club, where, in its first year, it had 90 members. The inclusion of the mocking bird was in recognition of local residents who joined.
By the winter of 1978, the club had more than 270 members and they had serious trouble finding a location large enough to hold their entire flock for meetings and various activities. They finally perched at the Destin Sea Dome Resort, until 1987 when a fire broke out, causing more than $40,000 in damages. After the fire, the Snowbirds moved their nest to Sundestin Condominium.
The following year, in 1979, the club filed papers to officially become an incorporated, non-profit club, giving flight to the Destin Snowbird Club, Inc., that we're familiar with today.
Red and other Snowbird leaders set up a five-person board and wrote the club's first by-laws that same year.
The club's first historian Addie Selid, who is still a Destin resident, told The Log that Red was in a position of power, becoming the club’s first president.
Over the next few years, the club grew in membership under the leadership of Red — adding a number of activities, such as magic shows and Snowbird talent shows.
Leading two of the primary sources of entertainment for the Snowbirds and the Destin residents — The Destin Village Players and Gold Diggers — Red became known as a local celebrity of sorts.
Jeanne Boyd, who knew both Red — who often donned a bright red jacket, and Virginia — who was known to wear sparkly, golden shoes — told The Log that Red was "very entertaining."
"He did it all — he could sing, dance, act and he loved to tell jokes, he was so funny," said Boyd. "He told a lot of jokes about mules — Missouri is known for their mules, I guess they must be funny, or they were to Red."
The Destin Village Players, which staged a production for the community every January, was an acting troupe made up of both Snowbirds and residents that ran from 1980 until 1985. The Gold Diggers held on for 14 years — from 1980 until 1994, when Red passed away. The song and dance group was compromised of Snowbirds and Fort Walton Beach senior citizens, who performed in February for the club's members. With Red often directing, the group, which dubbed themselves "amateur vaudevillians," also performed year-round at local festivals, nursing homes and other charitable organizations.
Although Selid didn't know him very well, she recalls the time she saw him perform with the Gold Diggers.
"He was very outgoing," Selid said.
Submitting his resignation as Snowbird president in 1985 — effective the end of March 1986 — Red's health was failing and he stepped down. He continued to serve as chairman of the entertainment committee until '94 when he passed away on April 1.
Currently under the leadership of it's 28th president, Timi Millar, the Destin Snowbird Club continues to grow annually, thanks in large part to Red, according to Selid.
IN HIS OWN WORDS
In a 1992 Northwest Florida Daily News article, Ivan "Red" Lyon did some Snowbird mythbusting.
He took on the misconception that they're terrible drivers; they're everywhere; they're rude, noisy, cheap and they crowd loyal locals right out of their own hometown restaurants, bowling alleys and golf courses.
“People (here) put ads in the Canadian papers and papers in the northern states, promoting this as an area for us to come, but then they complain when we do,” Lyon told the paper at the time.
Also called “winter visitors,” snowbirds are the folks in their 60s, 70s and 80s who come by the thousands from Canada and far northern states in the United States to spend the winter months in the Destin area.
Uncharitable stories describe snowbirds stiffing waitresses, sharing a single cup of coffee — via refills — arriving places without warning in groups of 30 or 60 or 100-plus, eating their evening meals from free hors d'oeuvres during happy hour, asking for cash rather than merchandise for gift certificates and driving so slowly they're ticketed as a traffic hazard.
“Older people and Canadians abide by the speed limit laws. That's why people are complaining that we drive too slow. But they are the ones who are driving too fast,” Lyon says.
Lyon conceded, however, that snowbirds are careful with money.
“Maybe it's true that the snowbirds pinch a dollar a little tighter than the younger people do,” he said. “But these are mostly older retired people, who grew up with different ideas of spending money than the younger people have now.”