Destin residents help 94-year-old check snorkeling off her bucket list

Tina Harbuck
The Destin Log

When the call came in to help a 94-year-old fulfill a last wish, there was nothing to do but try and make it happen.

Mary Lou Bickes, 94, of Roswell, Georgia, visited Destin this past week with family with one wish in mind ... to go snorkeling.

"I used to snorkel way back ... I wanted to have one last try at snorkeling. That was my one wish," said Mary Lou.

And on Tuesday, with help from area locals, her wish came true.

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Mary Lou Bickes, 94, got to fulfil a wish this week in Destin by taking a little snorkeling adventure near the jetties.

Mary Lou, who was put in hospice care about three weeks ago, set out to accomplish a "bucket list" of sorts. On her list was to play nine holes of golf, which her son Tom helped her do last week. 

Tom explained that up until recent years she played golf a couple of times a week. However, she now suffers from vertigo that affects her balance.

"So it required me holding her hips while she was swinging the club ... that was quite a site to see," Tom said. 

On Monday the Bickes family arrived in Destin and on Tuesday, Fletcher Shackelford, managing partner at Legacy Boating Club, arranged for them to get Mary Lou on the water for some snorkeling.

Kathy Rice and Tom Bickes assists their mother Mary Lou Bickes, 94, in taking a little snorkeling adventure in Destin.

"Mary Lou Bickes is a true inspiration in these challenging times," Shackelford said. "Instead of succumbing to fear, Mary Lou inspires others to courageously live life to the fullest. I was fortunate to get the call to take her out. Mary Lou and her amazing family gave me a memory I’ll never forget."

They loaded up in a pontoon and headed out near the jetties. Beach safety chief Joe D'Agostino of the Destin Fire Control District and his crew assisted in making the wish come true as well.

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“The Destin Fire Control District is all about helping people. As an avid free dive spearfisherman, I had to try to assist in any way possible to fulfill a 94-year-old’s dream of snorkeling one last time," D'Agostino said.

D'Agostino coached them on how to do the snorkel trip safely and organized his lifeguard team to assist with the dive. Lieutenant Bryce Orchard stayed close to the action and helped get Mary Lou back on the pontoon after snorkeling.

Jim Bickes, Kathy Rice and Tom Bickes assist their 94-year-old mother Mary Lou Biickes while she snorkels via a snorkeling raft earlier this week in Destin.

The snorkeling was done via a snorkeling raft where she could lay on the raft safely and look through a window to see what was under the water.

"The way it worked was Mary Lou was on her snorkel raft while her oxygen bottles were towed behind on a second little raft. You got to love it," Shackelford said.

“It was one of those memories that remind us all of why we work on the water all those long hot days. It’s more than a job. It’s an opportunity to make a difference," he added.

And Mary Lou loved every minute of her time on the water.

"I did see some stuff. I didn't see any coral ... I was looking for coral," Mary Lou said. "Little fish came in ... they were tiny, tiny fish.

PHOTOS:The ULTIMATE Northwest Florida Bucket List

"It was great. I had my last dive," she added, noting it was nothing like when she went diving in her earlier years in Australia. "But this raft you could look down through it ... it was really great."

The Bickes family picked Destin for the snorkeling adventure because they had vacationed here on numerous occasions.

Tom and Joey Bickes accompany their mother Mary Lou Bickes, 94, out on the pontoon for a snorkel adventure in Destin this week.

"It was close enough to be able to drive her down instead of getting on a plane," Tom said.

"It's such a beautiful area down here," Tom said, noting she has enjoyed sitting out on the porch at Jetty East and looking at the Gulf of Mexico. "She's loving it."

"I sat out today on my porch and looked right out over the ocean," Mary Lou said Wednesday afternoon.

The 94-year-old still has a sense of humor as well. After being told to lay low on Wednesday by her hospice nurse back home, she called and told her she went parasailing.

Although she didn't attempt parasailing, she does have one more thing on her list to accomplish - to go tubing on Cherokee Lake in South Carolina on "big Mabel," but not before having a margarita.

In addition to tubing on the lake, her daughter Joey Bickes, who is her primary caretaker, says they have a few day trips planned as well to go to Chattanooga, Tennessee, to the aquarium and to her home in Blue Ridge, Georgia. Joey is one of Mary Lou's six children. The oldest son passed away last week, leaving five that traveled with her to Destin.

But for now, "she definitely wants to ride big Mabel. She's going to be a hard act to follow," Joey said.

"I've had one wonderful life and one fantastic batch of children," Mary Lou said.