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Destin Snowbirds are here and staying as active as ever, despite no club and COVID-19

Tina Harbuck
The Destin Log

They miss the club, but not the snow and cold weather. 

For the first time in more than 40 years, the Destin Snowbirds didn’t cut the ribbon to the “roost” at the Destin Community Center because of the COVID-19 pandemic that has swept across the world. 

Usually, the Destin Snowbirds meet weekly at the roost, as well as participate in various activities throughout the week from card games, pickleball and golf, to the occasional trip to Biloxi, Mississippi. But when the club decided to cancel the season, all official gatherings were canceled. 

Bob and Linda Hart were among the snowbirds enjoying a walk on the beach in Destin recently.

However, the cancellation didn’t discourage some from making the trip south for the winter. 

Pete and Dianne Sikkenga of Michigan have been making the trek to Destin for the past 15 years and participating in the Destin Snowbirds. Pete serves as treasurer of the club. 

More:2019 - DESTIN SNOWBIRD CLUB: So much for snowbirds to do while here

“Oh, my goodness, you wouldn’t believe how much we miss it. We love that club, it’s just wonderful,” Dianne said. 

The Sikkengas came in November and plan to stay until April. They stay in a condo on Holiday Isle in Destin. 

“We love being down here and waking up to the sunshine … we love everything about it,” she said. 

Dianne said her parents lived in Shalimar in 1969, so they were familiar with the area. She even had fond memories of eating at the old Blue Room on U.S. 98 in Destin. 

Since the Sikkengas have been here, they have kept busy. 

More:2019 - Snowbirds officially open “Roost”

“We love the library," Dianne said. "The library in Destin is wonderful. It’s a great place to go and very helpful.  

“There's is so much here for us to do. We didn’t want to sit in the snow … we didn’t want to be cold, so we came down here,” she added. 

Pete plays golf while he’s here and takes the precaution of riding one to a cart. 

“Truthfully, we’re as careful here as we are at home … and we still want to have a life,” Dianne said of COVID-19. 

Dianne said they have been tested for COVID-19 and are negative. 

“Vaccinations … that’s our problem. We’ve tried but can’t get one,” she said. 

Dennis DeBroka of Michigan and Jean Henry of Kentucky take a break between pickleball games at the Destin Community Center. Both miss the Destin Snowbird group.

Dennis DeBroka, also of Michigan, has been making the trek to Destin since 1990 and has since bought a unit at Breakers East in Destin. 

DeBroka said he wasn’t hesitant at all to make the trip south amid the pandemic. 

“I was hoping they would have (the club), in maybe a smaller version,” DeBroka said. 

More:Jan. 2020 - Trio of longtime Destin Snowbirds help define group’s continued success

Nevertheless, he’s been doing plenty to stay busy. In addition to working on his unit at Breakers East, he’s been playing pickleball, golfing with buddies and reading books. 

“I’ve been sitting on the deck and watching all the action on the ocean … the fishing boats,” he said. 

DeBroka did make note that this is the first time Canadians have not been able to come south. 

“They can’t cross the border to come here,” he said, noting Canadians make up about 25% of the club's population. 

He also mentioned that at the condo where he stays, they usually have about 52 rental units filled with snowbirds. However, this year, he said there were only about 20 rented out. 

As for Sandy Mettle of Ohio, she’s been coming to Destin for about 35 years but doing what she called “snowbirding” for the past five years. 

Monica Stuart hits a shot while playing tennis with other snowbirds at Seascape Resort in Destin.

She and her husband have been in Destin since Jan. 1 and plan to stay until the end of February before heading down to Fort Myers for a month. 

And they weren’t the least bit hesitant to make the trek. 

“Not afraid at all,” Mettle said. “We practice being safe, we wear our mask and hang with the same group of people.” 

As for getting a vaccination, “We haven’t been able to yet. We want too, we’ve called,” she said. 

“And we absolutely miss the club … that was the best,” she said. 

In the meantime, they have been playing pickleball, eating out, shopping, fishing and playing board games. 

“We meet with some of our friends at night and play,” she said. 

Steve and Jackie Myers of Illinois has been doing a lot of the same things. 

Kenny Gilbert holds the flag while fellow snowbird Steve Myers makes a putt on the 18th hole at Seascape Resort in Destin.

The Myers have been coming to Destin for the past 11 years and were not hesitant to make the trip this year. 

As a matter of fact, they have taken a few day trips while here. They recently visited Fairhope, Alabama.

“It was a neat little town,” Jackie said. “We like to take just day trips.”

The Myers are staying at Ariel Dunes at Seascape, just east of Destin. 

“There are 20 couples from our hometown that are here. Sometimes we get together with them,” Steve said.  

Steve Myer of Illinois has enjoyed playing pickleball at the Destin Community Center.

“We miss the Canadians that are not here, but we’re making new friends too,” Jackie said. 

Mary Pierce, who serves as publicity director for the Destin Snowbirds, has been here since October from her home in Ohio. 

“It’s weird, there’s a lot of us down here, but we’re not meeting,” Pierce said. “When we bump into each other at the grocery store or the parking lot, it's kind of exciting.”

The Destin Snowbirds have started a Facebook group and have been able to keep up with one another that way, Pierce said, noting it already has 300 to 400 followers. 

Nevertheless, she said, “I absolutely miss meeting as a group.” 

The Destin Snowbird board is still having monthly Zoom meetings. 

But the question remains, will the Destin Snowbird group be back at the roost next year? 

“The board is kind of putting it on a ‘wait and see,’” Pierce said. 

Don Collins, president of the club, is in Canada and has had no choice about coming because of the closed border. 

“So, it’s just let's wait and see … see how the vaccines go, let’s see what the community center has to say. It’s wide open right now and there haven’t been any decisions made yet,” Pierce said. 

“But if we do, it will be great,” she added.

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