Miss Destin and so much more

Tina Harbuck

She’s held babies, been slimed, given out rod and reels, and photographed with more than 300 fish and anglers — and all while wearing a crown and sash that bears the name Miss Destin 2019.

Proudly wearing that crown is Brooke O’Keefe and she has loved every minute of serving at the 71st Destin Fishing Rodeo so far.

“It’s so much fun … it’s everything I thought it would be and more,” said O’Keefe, a senior at Fort Walton Beach High School. “I’ve made so many new friendships, especially the people I work with on the docks.”

As Miss Destin, O'Keefe serves during the month-long Destin Fishing Rodeo and is down on the docks every afternoon to represent Destin and pose for photographs with the anglers and their catches.

But O’Keefe has done so much more.

“She’s one of a kind. She has taken to it like a duck to water,” said Helen Donaldson, executive director of the Destin Fishing Rodeo.

O’Keefe has stepped in wherever she is needed.

“If we need a fishing pole … she says I’ll go get a fishing pole. If you need to pick up that fish, she’ll pick up that fish,” Donaldson said. “When she comes in every day she’s delightful.

“And when she leaves every night and you think she should be dragging … she’s like woo-hoo! She just loves it,” she added.

Rodeo board member and past chairman John Brashears agreed with Donaldson.

“Miss Brooke O’Keefe is one of the best Miss Destins we’ve had in a long time. She's very energetic, always smiling, not scared to grab a fish, get sweaty, get slimed on … she don’t care,” Brashears said. “She’s a good girl for the Destin Fishing Rodeo … she jumps in and just handles it.”

And to talk to O’Keefe, it is apparent that she is enjoying and taking in every minute of the Destin’s longest running tradition.

“I really like learning everything,” O’Keefe said, noting she likes learning about the different species of fish, what they look like and which fish are more bloody.

Plus she has learned what hook to use to hang the different fish on the scales and doesn’t shy away from touching the fish.

“I kind of like it,” she said about carrying the fish to the scales. “I like it when my hands feel a little slimy … it’s all fun.”

She’s even had the chance to hold a couple of babies for photographs, which she said she loved.

But to hear the little girls walk by and say to their mothers “look mommy, there’s the princess,” is crazy, O’Keefe said.

“It’s so crazy because I used to be that little girl, so I’m super excited that I get to be the person they look up to … and let them touch my crown and tell them they’re gonna have the crown one day,” she said.

Although her afternoons and evenings are spent on the docks, she still has to go to school and juggling the schedule is a “little difficult … but so much fun,” she said.

“Today I was at school and walking down the halls and as I was walking out of my class, I got called Miss Destin,” she said. “It’s just a part of who I am now … I laugh about it because I don’t see myself at school as Miss Destin, but Brooke.

“It’s awesome that it stands out like that and people know, and that I can influence people through this,” she added.

Her takeaway so far from serving as Miss Destin is the opportunities it provides to meet new people.

“All the new faces and people I’ve met. I feel like I’ve made some strong relationships that will stick with me through the rest of my life," O'Keefe said. "And everyone I meet on the docks is so different … this opportunity gives me the chance to talk to so many people.

“It’s been so much fun,” she added. “It doesn’t feel like it’s been one week already, but then at that same time it does. I just don’t want it to end.”