Stiles named Outstanding Senior of the Year

Pam Griffin | 315-4491 | @DestinLogPam |
Pat Markey, the city of Destin Seniors Coordinator, surprises Donna Stiles with a plaque and cake recognizing her as the Outstanding Senior Citizen of the Year. SPECIAL TO THE LOG

In the past, winners of the Senior Citizen of the Year award were limited to seniors who went beyond the norm to help with the senior programs.

But this year it was changed to include how the candidates also help the community.

"Donna Stiles has been involved with the Destin Seniors Group for at least the past 10 years," Pat Markey, the city of Destin seniors coordinator, told The Log. "She also heads up the volunteer program at Henderson Beach State Park and is very active at her church. She epitomizes what a true Senior of the Year is all about."

Stiles was totally surprised by the award, which was announced at the seniors annual picnic on Oct. 21 in Clement Taylor Park.

"I was about to leave at 12:45 to help set up for early voting, and Pat Markey asked me to wait a minute," Stiles said. "Then he started making a speech about me and presented me with a plaque and a cake. For the first time in my life, I was speechless."

Stiles moved to Destin in 1998 from Little Rock, Arkansas, after her husband passed away and she retired from teaching. Her son, Chuck Stiles, and his wife, Carmen, live here and own Graffiti Restaurant, which allowed Stiles to help with her grandchildren, Hayden and Lily.

"My family is the reason I moved here and never had any regrets," she said.

Stiles has been very involved in Destin United Methodist Church since she arrived and volunteers in many areas. She is now vice president of the Destin United Methodist Women, and you can see her working every year at the Fall Flair Arts and Craft Show every September.

"She has been a gracious mentor and friend to me in the Destin United Methodist Women this year as I have been president," said Jane Carron. "Donna is very organized with a happy, fun personality, loves helping people and is a dedicated grandmother and mother. She is always looking for someone to help."

As soon as she moved to Destin, she began volunteering at Henderson Beach State Park. She and a group of volunteers organized a community service organization. In 1999, Stiles was one of a group of 10 who organized Friends of Emerald Coast State Parks and became officers and board members. At the present time, Stiles is president of the group, which has a 10-member volunteer board and a membership of about 50.

"To raise money, we sponsor events, have a store at both parks and rent kayaks and canoes at Fred Gannon Rocky Bayou State Park in Niceville," she said. "We’re proud of all the work we do for the parks in helping to ensure the preservation of God’s natural environment for generations to come."

Stiles is also secretary of Beta Mu Master, a Beta Sigma Phi sorority chapter, and serves as a poll worker at DUMC.

"I thank God everyday that’s he’s given me the spiritual gift of service, and the strength to carry out His plan for my life. I am so blessed," Stiles said.

More than 300 people age 50 and older participate in the 23 to 28 activities each month in the Senior Program held at Buck Destin Park and the Community Center. They also meet at other venues for activities such as restaurant visits, golf, tennis, day trips and even cruises. The very tight group sticks together in both the good and bad times.

"I love Destin," Stiles said. "It’s a safe place for all ages to live, and I am fortunate to be a part of the Community Center and its senior activities. When I’m not volunteering, going to church, playing bridge or doing things with family and friends, then I travel. People kid me about always having a bag packed and ready to go.

"I have to give all the glory to God, who has given me good health and a wonderful life," she added. "He has blessed me in so many ways and receiving this Outstanding Senior Award is one of His greatest gifts."