Ranking history: Determining the 10 people and stories that shaped our century
One hundred years is a long time in anybody’s book, but in “Okaloosa County Memories” that 100-year span represents almost the entire lifetime of the place we call home.
While preparing the 144-page coffee table picture book for the county’s centennial in 2015, The Daily News pored over historical accounts of the area, talked to the descendants of Okaloosa natives, and consulted our archives for stories about how the county has changed over the last century.
We divided our findings into two lists focusing on the key events and people in our county’s history.
What follows are some of the contenders who vied to be our men and women of the century.
Who will be the men and women of the century? Here are some of the folks we considered.
Al Capone is often tied to the Emerald Coast, years before the Tampa Tribune dubbed Northwest Florida “Little Las Vegas” because of the illegal gambling outfits. He is even said to have owned the now Eglin Eagle Course.
Annette P. Edwins was a classroom teacher and then became an assistant principal. At the time of her retirement she was principal of Annette P. Edwins Elementary School.
Charlie Hill broke Fort Walton Beach’s color barrier in 1973 when he was elected city councilman at the time 90 percent of Fort Walton Beach’s voters were white. He served from 1973 to 1981.
Chester Pruitt was the first black policeman in Fort Walton Beach. He was hired in 1949 to patrol the black neighborhoods, and for the first half of his career, was forbidden from arresting white people.
Claude and Cebelle Meigs moved to Boggy, later known as Niceville, in 1918. He started the first commercial fishery in the area in 1921. Cebelle owned the Bay Hotel and Café on Bayshore Drive.
Claude Jenkins, who arrived in the area in the 1950s, was responsible for the regional nickname “Miracle Strip.” Jenkins encouraged use of the name and a plaque near the Chamber of Commerce building credits him.
Clifford Meigs was a mayor of Shalimar and a developer. Meigs donated land for Choctawhatchee High School, which became Meigs Junior High in 1966 when Choctaw moved to its new building on Racetrack Road.
Danny Wuerffel quarterbacked the Fort Walton Beach High School Vikings to a state championship, then the University of Florida Gators to a national championship, and won the Heisman Trophy. He also played in the NFL.
Don Gaetz served as superintendent of schools in Okaloosa County for two terms and is credited with elevating the school system to an A-level district. He later ran for the Florida Senate and became Senate President.
Frank Perrine, a Chicago promoter, founded the city of Valparaiso in 1919. “Valparaiso” was named after the city in Indiana and means “Vale of Paradise.”
Col. George “Bud” Day was held prisoner in North Vietnam for many years. He returned to Fort Walton Beach and became an attorney, suing the government on behalf of veterans to guarantee their health care.
Gladys Milton was a licensed practical nurse and midwife. She persuaded state officials to regard midwifery as a “legitimate medical profession.” The black community activist was inducted into the Florida Women’s Hall of Fame in 1994.
Brig. Gen. (Ret.) Harry “Heinie” Aderholt was a special operations pioneer and was instrumental in developing special operations command at Hurlburt Field. He aided in the evacuation of the Hmong from Laos.
Houston McTear of Milligan holds the unofficial world record in the 100-yard dash with a hand-recorded time of 9.0 seconds. He once raced against a horse in a promotional event and beat the horse.
James E. Plew, founder of Valparaiso, donated 1,597 acres of land to the War Department in 1933 in hopes that a military payroll would boost the depression-stricken local economy. The facility became Eglin Air Force Base.
Jay Odom is a developer who owns Crystal Beach Development, builder of Water’s Edge, Destiny by the Sea, and Hammock Bay. His company refurbished Uptown Station (then Fort Walton Beach Shopping Center) and owns Destin Jet.
Jessie Alma “Granny” Edge was born in 1900 but waited 63 years to launch her political career. Edge was elected to the Niceville City Council in 1983, the oldest American to win a bid for office.
Dr. J.H. Beal wasa chemist and pharmacist who summered at Camp Walton. He and Thomas E. Brooks built a casino on Okaloosa Island as well as Beal Memorial Cemetery. Beal was an avid shell collector.
Doctors and brothers Jusius O. Enzor and Olin Oliver Enzor established the county’s first hospital in 1926 in the Crestview area. The hospital of record in Crestview today is known as North Okaloosa Medical Center.
Lance Richbourg was a high school baseball star who played college ball, then professional baseball from 1921-1932. He then moved on to become an educator. Richbourg Exceptional Student Educational School still bears his name.
Liza Jackson moved to the area permanently in 1932. She financed the building of a public health clinic, served on the town council, managed a clothing and gift shop, and pioneered many local community organizations.
Mattie May Kelly and her husband, Coleman, were pioneers in Destin and started many of the commercial businesses and cultural endeavors in the city. She founded the Mattie M. Kelly Fine and Performing Arts Center.
Maxwell (Max) Bruner Jr. moved to the Fort Walton Beach area in 1951. He served as superintendent of schools from 1965 to 1984. He was active in the local business, civic and church communities.
Moses Asberry Sapp’s blueberry plants became a major agricultural industry in the Auburn, Garden City and Silver Springs areas. For a while the area was even known as the “Blueberry Capital of America.”
Nathan Fleet, a shoe store owner, was the first Capt. Billy Bowlegs in 1955.
Newman C. Brackin was a Democrat who served in the Florida State Senate representing the 1st district from 1945 until the 1959 term. At one point he was named president of the Florida Senate.
Oscar Bengston became the first town “constable” for Fort Walton Beach. At that time Fort Walton Beach was not incorporated and there was no “Beach.” One of his primary jobs was keeping livestock off the streets.
O.T. Melvin came to Destin in 1910 to join the fishing crew of Captain Leonard Destin. He was a renowned fisherman and is credited with leading the effort to dig the trench that came to be called Destin’s East Pass.
Peter Bos is the CEO of Legendary Inc., based in Destin. He was a driving force in the development of Sandestin and went on to develop the Destin Commons shopping center and the Emerald Grande.
Purl G. Adams Sr. was a school teacher before becoming an attorney. During his life he served as Crestview High School principal, county prosecuting attorney, state representative, state senator, state attorney, and mayor of Crestview.
Red Lyon is regarded as a Snowbird pioneer. Arriving with his wife in 1973, the Missourian organized potluck dinners, card games and other activities for new arrivals. The group took on the name of the Snowbird Mockingbird Club.
Richard O. “Dick” Covey was an Air Force officer and a NASA astronaut who flew on several space shuttle missions. His voice can be heard on replays of the shuttle Challenger disaster, “Go at throttle up.”
Robert L. F. “Bob” Sikes was a U.S. representative who exerted a significant influence on Okaloosa County. His representation was crucial to the development of Eglin Field and the dredging of the East Pass.
Samuel Allen: This Richbourgh High School instructor became the first black elected official in Okaloosa County. He was a Crestview city leader during an unmatched decade of progress. From 1969-1979, the council built a new fire department, police department, City Hall, and created a recreation department.
Samuel Hayes was one of Crestview’s first black elected officials and served as a councilman for many years.
Silas Gibson is said to have moved to Okaloosa County from Canada in 1916 and allegedly built the first dairy farm, roads, schools, and a golf course.
Theo and Molly Staff, owners of Staff’s Restaurant and the Gulfview Hotel. The first Catholic mass said in Fort Walton Beach was at the Gulfview, and radio station WFTW was once upstairs at Staff’s.
Thomas E. Brooks built Tower Beach. His company was known as Island Amusement Company. Tower Beach included a boardwalk, casino, restaurant, pavilion and beach cottages. He was later a mayor of Fort Walton Beach.
William Chipley chartered and completed the P&A railroad, which ran between Pensacola and Jacksonville. Thanks to the P&A Railroad, much of Okaloosa’s commodities traveled to Florida’s east coast. The town of Chipley was named after him.
William Mapoles was the Florida state representative who introduced a bill in 1915 to create a new county. He named it after a steamboat, “The Okaloosa,” named after a Choctaw word for “black water.”
Willie D. “Cooter” Douglas of Laurel Hill edited the Okaloosa News Journal for county “father” W.H. Mapoles. He would later buy and edit the Okaloosa Messenger from 1941-46 before moving to the radio and widespread fame.
“Uncle” Willie Pryor and “Aunt” Frances Pryor: Uncle Willie at one point was mayor of Fort Walton Beach and was the area’s first superintendent of schools. Aunt Frances was the area’s first postmistress and a philanthropist.
WHO DID WE MISS?
Add your suggestions below. We may publish the best in a future story in the Daily News.
Please join us Dec. 4 from 3 to 7 p.m. at Destin Commons for the unveiling of "Okaloosa County Memories" and The Ten. There will be prizes and refreshments to celebrate the event. Copies of the book will be available for purchase at a discounted rate and pre-ordered books will be available for pick-up. For more information or to order by phone, call 850-315-4489.
THANKS FOR THE MEMORIES
From the days when there was not a single paved road in Okaloosa County, to when F-35 jet fighters first roared across the sky, “Okaloosa County Memories” presents the stories and photos that tell us who we were, and how far we’ve come the past 100 years.
While the Daily News had many photos in its files, the vast majority were supplied by the people who’ve lived here for decades and the organizations charged with protecting our history.
This book would not have been possible without all the community contributions. We’d specifically like to thank the Baker-Block Museum, Crestview Public Library, Carver-Hill Museum, The Heritage Museum of Northwest Florida, Northwest Florida State College, Fort Walton Beach Public Library, Destin History & Fishing Museum, City of Destin, and Indian Temple Mound Museum.