The Appalachian Mountains in Tennessee have called and Emery Mitchell must go.
Last week, Mitchell, 62, retired from his 44-year-long career as maintenance superintendent at the Jetty East Condominiums on Destin’s Holiday Isle. He started as part of the construction crew in 1975 along with his brother, Dale, and stepfather, Norman Blow. Mitchell was just 19-years-old at the time, and new to the area after relocating from Milford, New Jersey.
Fast forward four decades and the time to retire seemed to happen serendipitously. Mitchell and wife Carol’s dream mountain home hit the market, their daughter, Jessica, was accepted to attend Appalachian State University in North Carolina, and a buyer purchased their home in Santa Rosa Beach -- all in the span of a few short weeks.
Mitchell and his family decided it was time to make a big change; to trade the clear waters of the Gulf for the crisp fall air and colorful leaves of Mountain City, Tennessee. But goodbyes are never easy, especially after years of lovingly boarding up Jetty East’s windows to weather powerful hurricanes, ordering new water heaters for condos, fixing leaky faucets and maintaining the grounds. For Mitchell, saying goodbye was much more than that.
“It’s the relationships, the people I’ve met along the way that have been a big influence in my life,” Mitchell said. “We’ve all grown together and we’ve become a family.”
Mitchell has played the role of friend, counselor, support system, mentor, and teacher to condo owners, snowbirds, and annual visitors alike. He has visited owners in the hospital when they’ve fallen ill, and he knows everyone’s names and where they are from. He can recall who purchased each specific unit and how long the family has owned it, as well as the generations of family members who also choose to make Jetty East their vacation spot.
“I used to think that I missed my chance to be in a ministry because I never went to college for that, but I realized that I live the ministry every day by working with all the people in this building,” Mitchell said. “I’ve always been able to go home and say ‘I found purpose in my work today.'”
Nancy Hall, who vacations at Jetty East for two weeks every year, heard about Mitchell’s retirement and flew from Morristown, Tennessee, to attend his retirement party, where over 100 Jetty East owners and staff and local service providers wished him farewell.
“Emery’s legacy of work, leadership, caring, and Christian faith has been witnessed and appreciated by thousands of Jetty East guests," Hall said. "Our family considers Emery to be a dear family friend, and he will be greatly missed.”
Mitchell still hasn’t absorbed the fact that he’s leaving the place he affectionately calls his “baby.”
“I’m a little numb from it all right now. My mind is going a mile a minute, but I’m at the point where, within my heart, I know it’s time to pass the torch.”
Jetty East association president Lynn Krupa has known Mitchell for over 30 years, and remembers seeing him throughout the building when she visited her grandmother’s condo in the summer months.
“He needs to weather the next storm with his own family instead of taking care of us,” Krupa said. “He has been the heart and soul of Jetty East since the very beginning.”
Mitchell will very literally be taking part of Jetty East Condominium to the mountains, as Krupa gifted him with two heavy candle holders made out of drilled concrete from the building itself.
Mitchell’s last official day of work was Jan 29. He is confident that the nine maintenance staff members that he carefully trained will serve the building and the owners of Jetty East very well.
“We hope that Emery and his family will come back often as guests,” Krupa said. “We can’t wait to see them someday all sitting under an umbrella with their toes in the sand, enjoying this piece of heaven that Emery built.”