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New residents appreciate Crestview’s hospitality

While visitors to their both at the arts and craft show appreciated their creations, the Greeleys, who moved to Crestview from Tampa in March, appreciated the welcome they have received in the community.

“It’s (the move to Crestview) been great,” Misty said. “Everybody has been really nice. Everybody is extremely helpful they go out of their way even when I stop by the Publix pharmacy, they were extremely helpful. It’s so much better than the area we were living in. People were just crazy and it’s more relaxed here.”

Tired of life in a major metropolitan area, the Greeleys looked around for about a year before deciding to make the move to North Okaloosa County

“It’s the smaller town feel that I’ve been missing,” Misty said. “We debated where to move before we decided to move up here. We just wanted something that was calmer more like where I’m from.”

Being new to the area, Misty said she learned about the arts and craft show through the city’s website.

The show was only her second to sell her sea shell creations.

“All of the shells are from Florida,” she said. “We collected all the shells from the beach. We clean them, paint them and drill them out and then I bead them and put them together and make wind chimes. Everybody that has come by has complimented me. Then they asked how long it takes it to makes them.”

The longest it has taken her to make one is three months, but that was the first one she made. Misty can now make one in about two days.

The price of the moguls range from $15 to $300. She said she wanted to keep the moguls affordable so several were priced between 35 and 50 dollars.

A whole lot of crafting going on

Tonya and John Layton of Laytonmade made the trip from Fort Walton Beach to show a variety of items they make.

“I’m a glass artist,” she said. “He makes all of the pens, and all of the lathe work and chain work and I make all of the glass and copper work. We mostly make beads and glass items, bottles and vessels and I make jewelry out of all that glass. I also donate a large part of what I do to the Beads of Courage program for the hospital.”

Tonya said the Beads of Courage is for children that have been battling severe diseases that require extended stays in the hospital.

“Each time they have a hospital stay, a needle stick or a treatment, they get a bead and it kind of helps them tell the journey of their treatment,” she said. “That’s a big part of what I do. That’s why I started doing glasswork. He got a lathe and started working with the wood. He makes all the pens and bottle stoppers and some beautiful woodwork. And I do all the glasswork.”

They attend about 10 or 12 shows a year and enjoy coming to the Crestview show.

“They take such good care of us in Crestview,” she said. “They really have a good organized website. We get a lot of mentions in their advertising and downtown marketing materials.”

Kathy Crook, owner of Sweet Bar Fudge, came down from Andalusia, Ala., for the craft shows with a tent full of deliciousness. Crook has been enticing people with her sweet creations for more than a quarter of a century.

“I’ve been doing something like this for over 25 years,” she said. “I opened Sweet Bar in Andalusia about two years ago.”

But even with a store to run, Crook keeps busy at shows.

“I try to do a show every weekend,” she said. “I travel all over to about eight different states. I travel to Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, Georgia, Florida. An hour drive is a lot better than my usual eight to 10-hour drive. The furthest show we have done is Illinois.”

Crook doesn’t have a website for her business, but she does have a Facebook page for Sweet Bar for those wanting to purchase some of her goodies.

Crook said she will continue to make the short trip to Crestview because of the way she is treated by the community.

“I love the people here,” she said. “I’ve been doing other shows here for a while and I love the people. I like coming back here. I love the small-town community.”

Local gun show held by retired officer

Rogers may have been born and raised in Laurel Hill, but he might as well be a local—he’s been living in Milton since 1973.

“I came to work with the Santa Rosa County Sheriff’s Office in 1974, and I retired in ’03,” Rogers said. “Now, one day a friend of mine says, ‘Somebody needs to do a gun show here in Santa Rosa County.’ I looked at him and said, ‘That’s a good idea.’”

Rogers has been putting this event on for 22 years now. “Some of my vendors have been with me since the first show,” he said. He rents out the Santa Rosa County Auditorium, provides insurance and charges admission so he can pay his people—hopefully, he’ll have some left over for himself.

As a retired law enforcement officer, Rogers knows guns. He and a friend used to shoot competition out at Whiting Field. His qualifications also speak to his knowledge of gun safety. People bringing guns into the show check them at the door, where the guns are ensured to not be loaded and are zip tied so they cannot be fired.

“The people that rent the tables, they’re either buy, sell or trade,” Rogers said. The other category of people paying to rent a table for the weekend are collectors who might have antiques or valuables to show off. “We adhere to all of the Florida laws when it comes to background checks,” he noted.

In addition to spending days placing signs and setting up the auditorium, Rogers makes sure there are concessions for the vendors and visitors to enjoy while they follow the rules and have a good time.

When he’s not putting on the gun show in April, June or July, and September, Rogers can be found produce and tree farming on his land. He also operates Rogers Dozer Service, which is a land clearance company. On top of all of that, he leases several big trucks to different companies and pulls a hazmat liquid tanker all around the U.S. and Canada.

The next gun show is June 4 and 5, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., at the county auditorium. Admission is eight dollars, and renting a table is fifty dollars. Rogers typically has 90 to 100 tables at the show.

“Everybody should participate in their local gun show to keep their rights and privileges alive,” Rogers said.

Anyone interested in having a table to buy, sell, trade or show collectibles at the gun show should contact Billy Rogers at one of his two numbers: (850) 957-4952 or (850) 261-8407.

Strawberry farm is a place that brings families together

Just imagine the list of things Bubba, in the movie Forrest Gump, would have come up with had he been a strawberry farmer instead of a shrimper.

He might have mentioned strawberry jelly, strawberry jam, strawberry preserves, strawberry cake, strawberry short cake, strawberry pie, just plain strawberries and so many other items that make one’s eyes get larger at the thought of them.

Located at 5670 Griffith Mill Rd. in Baker, Brooks Farm is a favorite location for those wanting to pick strawberries.

Julian Hall was busy working the cash register on May 7, but she still had a little while to talk on the busy Saturday.

“On a good day, or whenever there is any kind of celebration it is packed,” she said. “Strawberries are all about family. People like to pick them together and then get together and eat them.”

Spending time with family is the reason the Crumpler family from Destin made the trip to Baker to pick strawberries.

“We just wanted to get out and do something fun with the kids,” Brian Crumpler said. “It was nice weather and we looked up a local strawberry patch and we came up. We did it a couple of times in Georgia, but this is our first time here.
“The farm is really nice. It’s beautiful. It’s nice up here.”

Quinn, age seven, was with her dad as the rest of the family was picking in another part of the patch.

“I picked a lot of strawberries,” Quinn said with a smile as bright as the May sunshine on her face.

When asked what her favorite part of picking strawberries is, her answer was one most people can relate to.

“You get to eat them later,” Quinn said.

That thought of eating the strawberries later is undoubtedly why there was so much picking and grinning going on at Brooks Farm’s Strawberries.

Seeking answers for substance abuse

Whatever the reason or excuse for wanting to feel good or get high, it all boils down to addiction.

A group of Crestview High School students recognized the problem and sought to offer solutions. In doing so they organized Students Working Against Tobacco, also known as S.W.A.T. What started as a concern for tobacco use and vaping spread to other areas of addiction such as opioids, other narcotics and alcohol.

S.W.A.T hosted a panel discussion with leaders from the community on April 28 to talk about the issues surrounding addictions of any kind.

Panel members were Ann Wing, Circuit Network Coordinator Northwest Florida Health Network; David Manger, Celebrate Recovery, Alcoholics Anonymous Mary Esther United Methodist Church; Denise Manassa, Director of Community Prevention CDAC Behavioral Healthcare; JB Whitten, City of Crestview Mayor; Jessica Trimboli, Investigator, Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office Chair, Drug Endangered Children and Communities; Stephanie Wedel, Recovery Minister, Crosspoint Church, Founder of Freedom Life Compass Inc.; Thomas Harvell, Assistant Principal of Discipline, Crestview High School.
Students of S.W.A.T. were Lauren Woodward, Julianna Bascom, Daniela Elliott, Marta Elliott, Khila Hoffman, Gabriella Pittman, Kiley Smith.

One of the major drug problems in the country, county and state is fentanyl. Mayor Whitten cited a study that showed the illegal use of fentanyl is up more than 1,000% between 2012-2018. If you do the math that is an increase of about 115% a year.

Wedel pointed out that a little more than 3,700 people were arrested on drug-related charges last year. Deputy Trimboli said that drugs lead to other crimes such as robbery and domestic violence.

“The addiction problem in Okaloosa County is huge,” she said. “I don’t know the percentage, but most calls we go to have something to do with drugs. Most violent crimes have something to do with drugs.
“Most child crimes have something to do with drugs, so I would say it’s a massive problem here. In the school system it is a major problem. I was just an SRO (School Resource Officer) supervisor for approximately a year and the amount of THC (cannabis oil) vapes I took out of just Choctaw High School (was huge) so I can’t imagine the other high schools.”

Harvell said that cigarette and other tobacco issues at Crestview High School have almost disappeared but have been replaced by the vaping craze.

“It has all gone to vapes,” he said. “There are all varied kinds of them whether it be a flavor, whether it be a mix with nicotine or a mix with THC. We have seen a mix of it (THC) of two or three percent all the way up to 80 percent.
“When you look at the lab reports of these companies that are selling them (the vapes) they have to put them up online and we are seeing levels of up to 92-99 percent.”

Trimboli stressed Harvell’s observation about the kind of vapes she sees.

“These vapes are not just nicotine vapes,” she said. “It’s a high percentage of THC in these vapes to make the kids act disoriented in schools. You’ve got 13-year-olds and 14-year-olds disoriented in schools now.
“THC vapes are the most prevalent drug in schools now. It has a distinctive odor, and we usually see it.”

Harvell said the students he has talked to about vaping are almost always doing it because of peer pressure or for a coping mechanism.

He also said the more involved a student is with extracurricular activities the less likely they are to be vaping or using other substances.

“You see a decrease (in vaping) in our athletes and kids that are involved in clubs and organizations as compared to kids that are not,” he said. “You have to find a way to fill that void with something or somebody else will. We do have athletes that have used vapes, but a large of majority are the kids that just have nothing else going for them.
“If you look at the athletes it’s more sporadic use like maybe on weekends or a certain situation compared to those kids that are using daily because they don’t have to worry about the physical aspect of it.”

Wedel said events like the panel discussion are important to give people a forum to talk about the addiction problems and let them know what resources are available for those battling addictions.

“I think it’s very important to get awareness out there and educate our community about what’s going on and what resources are available,” she said. “We have so many things going on and we have to have a way to get that information out to the community and these types of events allow us to do that.”

Wedel also pointed out the role that faith-based organizations play in helping those seeking recovery.
“A lot of the resources in our community are provided by our faith-based partners,” Wedel said. “Homeless shelters, food banks, these recovery resources are being provided by our faith-based partners. So, if we are not including them in this we are missing out on tons and tons of resources.”

When asked, Wedel mentioned other addictions people might be battling aside from drug or alcohol abuse.

“It can be pornography, it can be shopping, it can be food,” she said. “They call them acceptable addictions. Alcohol in the community is normal, food in the community is normal but they are still an addiction that takes our will.
“We no longer have a choice. We are doing it because we have an impulse to do it. I heard a sermon that was really, really good and he said at the root cause is all sin and we have to figure out what our sin is and we have to get on our knees and give it to him (God) and ask him to give us the strength to deal with it.”

Harvell had nothing but praise for the students of S.W.A.T.

“For them to come up here and put this on and put it on social media, that takes courage,” he said. “You are going to have kids–talk about peer pressure–that are going to look at them and think, ‘Why are you wasting your time?’ Or probably crack a joke here or there.
“For these kids to do something positive and try to rise above it to do something positive in this community and school is outstanding.”

Crestview High robotics team competes in Houston

Approximately 450 teams and 35,000 people were in attendance at the competition held in the Houston Convention Center.

Sophomore Christina Lasky is a sophomore programmer on the team and said the experience in Houston was something to remember.

“It was very stressful being one of the programmers and one of the drivers,” she said. “I went and spoke to other teams from Paris and Israel and all across the United States and worked with them to help us develop strategies that would help us win that match.
“The best part was communicating with people from other teams and talking to people from other countries and seeing how they built their robot, how they programmed their robot and that was amazing.”

Lasky said she has enjoyed building robots since she was a little kid and being on a team and competing adds another dimension to robotics for her.

“It’s just a really cool atmosphere to be a part of,” she said.

Freshman Roy Thomas is a builder on the team. He explained the difference between the builder and the programmer roles.

“We build the house and they (programmers) turn on the lights,” he said.

Thomas was drawn to robotics because of the analytical thinking involved with them.

“I’ve always liked big problems that I had to think on and separate and then organize and then find the answers for,” he said. “And that’s what this is.”

Aside from being a builder, Thomas described his role at the world competition as being the team mascot and generating energy for the squad.

“I got us to be recognized by a lot of other people there and that was fun for me,” he said. “Being able to get other teams to see we were there was a big accomplishment.
“The competition was overwhelming and then we had a blast. Just making it to the world competition was amazing.”

Tim Sexton is the faculty advisor for the team and an engineering robotics teacher at Crestview High School. Sexton is in his first year at the high school after spending 15 years at Davidson Middle School.

He moved to the high school to give students interested in robotics the opportunity to stay in Crestview without having to go to a school with a program in the south end of the county.

Sexton said the team won one of 10 matches, but he considered the competition to be a success as it was a learning experience for all involved. Fourteen students competed representing CHS. There were students on the team from Panama City and Collegiate High as well.

In addition to the 14 students and Sexton that made the trip to Houston 13 parents/mentors went as well.

“The thing that drives the program is mentors,” Sexton said. “I have good parents that also are mentors. I’m always looking for people that can help with organization, coding, electrical, mechanical.
”Anybody that wants to help the team is more than welcome to join us.”

Sexton said he’s already recruiting for next year. He’s looking for about 25-30 students and mentors as well. He said students don’t need to build or program robots to be a part of the program.

He’s looking for students that will be a cheer squad for the team, those that are interested in helping market the team and those that are good with social media.

It cost about $30,000 to operate the team for the year and sponsor or those willing to do fundraising are welcome too.

The team won’t officially start until school does next fall, but there will be summer activities involving the team.

“There are different parts that people can join,” Sexton said. “I just need for them to come and talk to me.”

You can contact Tim Sexton by his school email at sextont@okaloosaschools.com or look for the teams Facebook page FRC #8788 Special Forces Ballistabots.

Reenactor sees human side of war

“History keeps repeating itself and you can learn from these events,” Landry said. “You can then apply it to today and the future too as you see the patterns of history.”
Landry admitted to hating the World War II Germans at one time. As he studied the history of the German people, his perspective changed.

“When you look at it, a man is a man and a soldier is a soldier,” he said. “I hated the Germans until I started reading about them. And as I was reading about them, I realized they were soldiers just like ours. When you take the politics out you realize that we have common interests and desires.
“I love the humanity of it because you simplify things patriotically to say, ‘Well the Germans were the bad guys, the Americans were the good guys, the Russians were the good guys and not long after WWII ended the Russians were the bad guys,’” Landry added. When you set aside the complexities you realize we are much the same.”

Landry believes justice was served with the Allies winning the war, but that too often history is painted in strokes of black and white. Too often history fails to mention that enemy soldiers were just following orders and trying to survive just as American troops.

“I’m glad the Americans won,” he said. “I’m glad the West won against the Germans and Japanese it was righteousness. But we should never try to demonize the individuals involved besides some of the leaders. We should celebrate our side and recognize the virtues we fought for as a nation. I really enjoy those historic aspects of it.”

Crestview to observe Arbor Day

“The event centers around a recommitment of the city’s promise to preserving native tree species, and re-establishing original species in the park that have died over the years,” Ryan Knox said. “I believe the park is missing a few dozen of the original species.”

Mr. Knox said seven replacement trees were already planted at the McMahon Center in January, which is when Florida’s Arbor Day is observed. State Arbor Day dates vary depending on each state’s planting zone. For many Florida species, January is the best time of year for planting, arborists say.

University of Florida IFAS/County Extension agents will be on hand during the April 29 event to describe the species being planted and those planted in January, and to guide visitors around the center’s arboretum and through the on-site museum.

“This will be a yearly event, put on by the Citizens Advisory Council, but not always at environmental park though, to honor Arbor Day, and make good on the city’s promise,” Mr. Knox said.

The McMahon Environmental Center was established by retired Forester John McMahon of the Florida Forest Service. The late World War II hero and Crestview resident was also the Forest Service’s poet laureate.

The Citizens Advisory Council advises Mayor JB Whitten in various matters of community concern and recommends projects.

Homeschoolers discover the McMahon Environmental Center

NWF Share’s March 31 visit was one of the group’s periodic field trips, and it brought the kids, their parents and their siblings face-to-face with some of the native species of trees and foliage. They also got to experience the center’s collection of antique household goods, geologic and biologic specimens, cultural artifacts and a collection of stuffed critters including a rare albino racoon.

University of Florida IFAS/Okaloosa County Extension agents Sheila Dunning and Jennifer Bearden joined the group and conducted tours of the center’s facilities. Dunning even showed off some of the antique household appliances, including a hand-cranked wooden barrel washing machine.

“What 19-whatever age is that?” a young girl asked.

“More like 18-whatever,” Dunning replied. “This is from the late 1800s.”

Erin Brush, the homeschool group’s coordinator, said their visit proved inspirational for various science and environmental studies.

“There was tons to look at and learn inside the center and I know that the content has already inspired several projects and extensions of the lessons displayed in the building,” she said. “The kids also really enjoyed the discussion with Sheila on the tree identification.”

The McMahon Environmental Center was established and named for John McMahon, who, upon retiring as a Florida Forestry Service forester, started the center as a place where the community could find specimens of local Florida native trees. In addition to planning and planting the arboretum, Mr. McMahon converted the old forester’s house into a regional natural history museum, a facility now housed on the site in a newer building when the old house became unsafe. He was also the Forestry Service’s official poet laureate.

The center also contains a vintage 1950s Boy Scout hut (one of the few surviving in the county, which a citizens group has offered to renovate) and a 1950s fire-spotting tower that in January 2015 was placed on the National Historic Lookout Registry. It was the one-thousandth tower added to the registry and the fourth in Florida.

In 2021, the Crestview Kiwanis Club held a fundraiser to build a playground on the site of the forester’s house and named it in honor of Jimmy Lundy, a big supporter of the McMahon Center.

“The park is also a fun spot with lots of shade!” Brush said. “This will without a doubt be a repeat for our group to visit.”

Mastering technology at Northwood Elementary

“We are fortunate that we have a science teacher, and our students get to go to science class,” Northwood principal Dr. Donna Kelley said. “They get an extra science lesson in addition to what the classroom teacher teaches them. And Mrs. Coleman does a lot of one-on-one.

“She also has an afterschool robotics club and a drone club. It’s really fun watching the kids do the programs and watching the planes flying around. They have to know a lot of math and science concepts to be able to program everything to fly around.”

It only takes spending a few minutes with Coleman to see how she shares her enthusiasm for science with her students. Her easy smile and quick words of encouragement spur students on to excel in the First Lego League Challenge Program.

“As part of their (educational) enrichment we are participating in the First Lego League Challenge Program,” Coleman said. “These students are learning how to code. They had to build the robots and code the robots to solve the particular mission (related to theme of the program, which was online retail giant Amazon).”

Robots perform the tasks programmed for them to complete in the First Lego League Challenge at Northwood Elementary School.

The challenge was the logistical aspects of moving orders around points of distribution at an airport.

“They have a challenge in front of them and they have to figure out the solution,” Coleman said. “As they are building the robots and programming the mission, they have to do it trying to maximize the points, because there is a little bit of a competition or a coopetition as First Lego League likes to call it.

“They are trained to get the most amount of points for solving missions on the table in two-and-a-half minutes. So there is a lot of strategy to solving the program. We have a very large table and a lot of tasks formed to be moving a plane (airplane) and then dropping something.”

She continued, “It’s pretty neat to watch when we have everything put together. They are working on individual programs and to consolidate they are going to have to do the math and figure out what is the best bang for their buck once they have all of their individual programs to earn the most points.”

Coleman pointed out that the computers that are running the Lego League Challenge are more powerful than those used in the early years of NASA when the Mercury and Gemini flights were first taking American astronauts into space in the early 1960s.

The computer programs used in the First Lego League Challenge are seen here on a computer.

She admitted that it can be a challenge for her to keep up with all the changes in today’s world of science and technology.

“Fortunately, there are a lot of people that have learned some shortcuts that are kind enough to hand them off,” Coleman said. “But I learn along with the students and sometimes they will master something before I have.

“That’s great and that’s what I want to see because that’s them really adapting to the technology. If they are ahead of me on something, that’s outstanding. I am perfectly fine with the students learning faster than I do and learning from them, because once they are able to teach (a technology) someone else I know they have mastered it.”

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