Making the world a better place

Staff Writer
The Destin Log
Bob and Annette Thompson with their dog, Dolly, adopted from Alaqua.

Walter Bellingrath wrote to his mother in 1892, “By God’s help I am going to try to make the world better and brighter by my being here”....I think Bob Thompson of DeFuniak Springs has made the world a better place by being here.

A garden is what you make it.  Some gardens are full of flowers, some are neat and tidy, others are wild with a devil may care attitude. Bob’s garden is filled with his woodwork and everything is neatly placed in just the right place.

Bob says, “At age 13 I was initially drawn to join the Boys Club in Gadsden, Alabama because they did woodworking. At age 14 and 15, I was selected Boy of the Year. By age 16 I was hired to be woodworking instructor.  The biggest lesson I was taught at the Boys Club was, I can do anything I want to do.”

Time passes, Bob marries Annette Blythe, graduates from college, and they move to Fort Walton Beach. It has now become payback time. Bob starts the Boys Club in Fort Walton in 1971 and he was asked to take the position of Executive Director.

“I didn’t want to act too excited about the job because there was only $6 on the books to pay me,” he said.  “I accepted the job and 90-days later the city of Fort Walton Bach gave us $25,000 to get started.  The first day of enrollment we signed up 400 kids and I continued to work there for 14 years.”

Bob tells me, “One chilly, cold day Annette and I drove over the bridge into Destin to look around and went to eat at the Rib Shack. There was no traffic and the beaches were beautiful. Right then and there we decided this is where we want to live.” 

It took them a while to work out all the logistics but in 1976 they moved to Holiday Isle and settled in Dolphin Point.

“People said to us, ‘There is nothing over there, why do you want to move there?,’” he recalls. 

As for his reply, “I predict in 20 years Destin will be the heart of the entire Panhandle.”

When Annette and Bob moved into Destin in 1976 Annette began working at the First National Bank.  The grand opening happened on July 4, 1976 and First National became the only bank in Destin. 

In 2007 Annette had a debilitating stroke that left her unable to speak or walk. She carries on with life and though unable to speak, she was able to sing a beautiful rendition of Happy Birthday to Bob on his recent 70th birthday. 

I’ll bet that many of you reading this article visited Bob as owner of The Trophy Shop located for many years on Palmetto and Mountain Drive.

Bob recalls the story about his scuba diving experience in Destin under the old, original, wooden bridge.  “I was scuba diving and enjoying all the fish swimming by.  You could hear and feel the rumble of the traffic overhead. I soon noticed a piling dangling in the water.  Soon another one appeared, and when I saw the third piling, unanchored and dangling, I thought, man I’m getting out of here. I called the road department, and they immediately came down to replace the pilings.” 

The bridge went up in the ‘30s and came down in 1978. With the new bridge in place, the wood from the old bridge went to local fishermen to create artificial reefs in the Gulf.

Moving to the peace and quiet of DeFuniak has brought Bob’s woodworking almost full circle. He has filled his yard with personal creations unique to his imagination and ability to work wonders with wood.  

A unique and intricate arbor graces the entrance to their house. An antique school bell hangs proudly from a pole, and the house sign out front is impossible to miss as it swings in the breeze. The large covered deck out back shows his handiwork as well.  Everything is neat as a pin with large concrete walks that allow Annette to cover the garden in her wheelchair. 

Bob spent many years working with the Boys Club and says he still befriends some boys on Facebook.  One adult recently wrote that Bob influenced his life more than anyone he knew. He has touched many hearts with positive possibilities.

Laura Hall is a longtime gardener and Destin resident.  She explores area gardens and other local topics with her cavalier spaniel Annie.  If you would like to show off your garden or be profiled in a future column, contact Laura at llhall4386@gmail.com.