What is Founder's Day?

Savannah Vasquez
This undated photo is from a Founder's Day celebration held at Clement Taylor Park.

Every year, the city of Destin celebrates Founder’s Day on Mother’s Day weekend, but just why is this day celebrated and for whom?

“We are honoring the founders of Destin,” said Deputy Recreation Parks Director Lisa Firth. “We have a mailing list and invite the founding families. Of course it’s growing every year because of children and grandchildren, but it’s almost like a family reunion for them.”

History and Fishing Museum Director Kathy Marler-Blue grew up going to these reunions, even before the city started Founder’s Day. She said she had memories of them being held in her house as a small child.

“The Marler family and Destin families came together and started to have a family reunion, fish fry and covered dish,” she said. “It was a time when everybody could come and meet and socialize with each other, all the older families. Then it began to grow and became unmanageable to have at someone’s house. Ultimately it was stopped, but then the city started Founder’s Day and it kind of took the place of the family reunion.”

Marler-Blue explained that although the list keeps growing as families marry and grow larger, the original founding families of Destin are seen as those that lived in the area before the Destin bridge was built.

“We commemorate 16 last-name families that came here the first 100 years before the bridge was opened,” she said. “Those families are: Brunson, Calhoun, Chambless, Destin, Jones, Kelly, Maltezo, Marler, Melvin, O’Neil, Pas-cal, Shirah, Taylor, Walter, Wells and Woodward; those are the 16 we look at that were here be-fore the bridge was put in 1936.”

The first city-celebrated Founder’s Day was held in May 1997 on the Destin harbor but soon migrated to Clement Taylor Park.

“I believe in 1999 we moved it to Clement Taylor Park because that is where the first school house was and all the founders went to school there,” said Firth. “We made it a picnic in the park. One year it rained, and so we moved it to the community center and ever since then we’ve had it there.”

Now, each year Founder’s Day is celebrated with a huge fish-fry, dessert competition, historical family information and other fun and games.

“We honor the locals, the founders that founded Destin, we have a little dessert contest and just have a lot of time catching up,” said City Councilman Cyron Marler. “A lot of people come from out of town to be a part of it and we have prizes for the oldest founder still alive, and the family member that came from the furthest away; we have a good time having fun and getting to know each other.”