When historians look back on 2021 in Gulf County, they will likely conclude it was a pretty good year, particularly for what it didn’t have.
There were no major hurricanes, no massive destruction of the sort wrought by Hurricane Michael three years prior.
There were no significant COVID-19 outbreaks, of the sort that took place a year earlier, when the county had to cope with the ravages of a raging epidemic.
The unemployment rate, devastated by 2020 closures due to the coronavirus, continued to improve, to the point where at 3.2 percent, it ended at a third the rate it had been in early 2020.
The year opened up on a tragic note after former Dalkeith fire chief William “Bill” Davis, Jr., drowned in the waters near Battle Bend, in the Apalachicola River.
On Jan. 4, Davis, 76, and wife Lois had traveled out on the water to their houseboat, moored near the confluence of the Chipola and Apalachicola rivers. After diving in to retrieve their boat as it drifted away, Davis had been unable to climb on to it, and slipped beneath the surface.
The couple, married 57 years and lifelong residents of the area, save for three-and-a-half years away while Davis was in the Army, have two sons and two daughters, one of whom preceded her father in death some years back.
This year also saw a change with the South Gulf Fire Department, where a new chief took over after a controversial water rescue.
Vince Bishop, chief of the South Gulf County department, resigned March 16, the same afternoon Monte Lucas, who headed the department’s water rescue unit, helped fish from the water a 67-year-old man who had fallen off a sailboat near Black’s Island.
Named to replace Bishop, who had begun as chief in June 2018, was Mike Barrett.
Two major fires were reported in November, one a tragic accident that destroyed a Port St. Joie family’s entire home while the other, in Howard Creek, was believed to have been intentionally set after a non-fatal shooting that occurred the day before.
There have been plenty of uplifting events as well, such as when a plaque honoring the Class of 2020 of The Florida Veterans Hall of Fame was displayed in the rotunda of the Florida Capital, and included on it was Port St. Joe businessman George W. Duren.
The finishing touches of a new boat barn going up at the St. Joe Marina were applied, and the Port Theatre was put first in line to secure a $500,00 piece of more than $8 million needed for renovations.
Gulf County was set to get a new circuit county judgeship, and it won’t be long before Gov. Ron DeSantis has to make another nomination in the 14th Judicial Circuit, since Circuit Judge John Fishel II is retiring at year’s end.
Romance was in the air as well, as Port St. Joe businessman Peter Izzo was one of 30 men who competed on ABC’s “The Bachelorette” to win Michelle Young’s heart.
Port St. Joe High School got a new principal, Sissy Godwn, but the city stuck to its incumbent, Mayor Rex Buzzett, and Commissioners Eric Langston and David Ashbrook were returned to office without opposition.
Looking to the future, a major dune restoration project began at Indian Pass, while Wewahitchka looked to its past as it embarked on a major examination and compilation of its rich history.
The local community has had its share of news in 2021, but some stories affected, engaged and caught the attention of readers more than others. Here is a look back at the Star’s top ten stories from this year.
- Hurricane Fred makes landfall at Cape San Blas
- Red wolf flees St. Vincent Island
- Inmates break out of Gulf County Jail
- Three years after Michael, the community keeps faith
- Gulf County sues FWC over Indian Pass oystering
- Eastern finishes off Staten Island ferries
- County srambles to prevent prison closures
- Gulf County combats autumn Red Tide bloom
- County, cities pass controversial RV ordinances
- Tourism increase calls bed tax allocation into question