Vernon Bishop celebrated his 90th birthday at South Walton Baptist on the Bay April 6 with friends and family. The only problem was that he was so busy greeting everyone that he missed some of the party.
"I couldn't sit down," Bishop said. "I didn't even get the chance to eat anything until later in the party. But it was wonderful. If you missed it, you missed a good party."
Some of Bishop's popularity is because of the fact he has always been an active member of his community. Born and raised in Walton County, Bishop served in World War II, was a business owner, director of South Walton Mosquito Control District, chairman of the board for South Walton Fire District as well as an active member in his church and the local Lion's Club during his 90 years.
Inside Bishop's house, your eyes immediately meet balloons and a stack of birthday cards. A few of his gifts still remain on the kitchen counter — framed photographs of Bishop during his Army days and one of him in front of his grocery store, VR Bishop's Grocery Store.
Inside his den, Bishop sits down to start his story. An old Western is on the television and Rocky, Bishop's rescue dog, is asleep on the floor. A few more birthday balloons are tied to the arm of a chair, and a Walton Sun mug sits on an end table holding pencils.
"I've seen a lot of history in Walton County," Bishop said. "It's grown so much since I was a boy."
During Bishop's early years, kids were few and far between. You had to make your own play, he said. At school, one teacher taught eight different grades and if you wanted something, you had to order it from Sears Roebuck or Montgomery Ward. If Bishop wanted to go fishing, he fashioned a fishing rod out of found objects.
"If you had a long string, old, rusty hook, rusty nut and a crooked pole, you have a fishing pole," he said.
After marrying his wife, Loyce, and having two children, Bishop made a life for himself in Walton County and never regretted it.
Not just being a resident, but being a leader was important to Bishop. Leadership, Bishop said, is just what this community needs.
"We've got people in leadership. Sometimes they're doing good things, sometimes they're not doing anything," he said. "People need to get really involved in issues that we need and stay with it."
As a community leader, Bishop said he wanted to give future residents the chance to have things that he didn't have growing up, like parks. When local government wanted to sell a piece of land, now known as Legion Park, Bishop convinced local leaders to use the land as a public park.
"I kept the government from selling that land for almost nothing," he said.
Even holding a government position with the Mosquito Control District, Bishop said he tried to stay away from holding a county commissioner spot, even though he was asked to run.
"It always seemed like commissioners were always in trouble," he said.
While that hasn't necessarily changed, plenty has in 90 years. What surprised him the most about modern-day Walton County is the people, he said.
"They are so many people — all kinds," he told the Sun. "Spring break bothers me. I saw it start at my service station [Bishop's Pure Oil Service Station]. These people come here acting like a bunch of fools. They get to the beach and boy, they just mess it up."
As the years go on, the crowds are only going to multiply, Bishop said.
"It's going to build up like you won't believe," he said of Walton County. "You can bet your boots on it."
On turning 90, Bishop said the milestone doesn't feel too momentous.
"It just feels kind of old," he said. "But everyone tells me I don't look 90 and I don't act 90."
The only thing that bothers Bishop about turning another year older, is having to do less, he said. He's always liked fixing things around the house. Now, tasks like getting on the roof or a ladder have to be delegated to someone else.
But looking back on all that he's accomplished inside his house and around Walton County, Bishop said he is proud of the life he leads.
"Walton County has been good to me," he said. "I'm glad I was able to do everything I did."