Not many people get to become a legend in their own time, but Leon Sulfrridge was one who did.
Sulfridge was known throughout the South Walton community as Bicycle Jack. He was legendary for many reasons, and the bikes that were lined up neatly all in a row each morning in his front yard was just one.
In the week since Bicycle Jack, 91, was found dead in his front yard, somewhere around 100 people have gone out of their way to stop at the red house where he lived quietly on Mack Bayou Road. Some knocked on the door to offer condolences to Jack's sister; some left bouquets of flowers in the front yard or at the door; and one man simply pulled into the driveway, got out of his truck and saluted.
That's how much of the community thought of this retired gentle man who lived quietly in his understated red house on Mack Bayou Road.
His habits were routine and simple, but his impact was profound.
He asked nothing of the community, but gave back much, say those who remember him.
He was known to be in his yard by around 8:30 each morning, moving his array of refurbished bikes from his living room and porch outdoors into a neat line. Once that was accomplished, Jack took to his porch chair and rocked and waited for someone to stop by who was in need of a bike. While he waited, he waved to all who passed by ... and they waved back, sometimes tooting their horns to say hello.
Around 6 p.m. each day, Jack would take his bikes back inside or to the porch.
Jack was a native of Virginia who moved to Michigan as an adult. He lived there until he retired from a paper box company. At retirement, he brought his wife, Norma, back to her native Florida in 1988. Norma was an artist whose paintings adorn their walls.
Jack's art was tinkering and working with his hands to fix things — something he learned to do as a kid helping his dad in the garage and the machine shop his father ran.
Jack began fixing up bikes when he found some that had been dumped down the road a piece from his Mack Bayou house. He gathered them all up and took them home, fixed them up good as new, and sold them. Most went for around $40. But if you needed a bike and didn't have the $40, he would give it to you.
"He loved making sure everyone had a bike," said Patty Hall, who bought three from him.
The Halls lived down Mack Bayou and passed Bicycle Jack's house every day. Patty became friends with him and took him pizza every Thursday, and would sit on his porch with him and chat while he ate.
"He was very humble. He told me he got the nickname 'Jack' while working in Michigan," she said. "He kept a list of cars he owned and how much he paid for them. Everyone will remember him sitting on the porch in a chair waiting for someone to stop. Some people just stopped to talk."
Patty's husband Michael agrees. "He was truly a pleasant sight to see as he always sat on his front porch waving to people. He touched so many lives," he said.
Faith Saganek was another who went to Jack for bikes when she moved here. She got to know him and used to bake things and take them to him.
"We would go to him to trade in bikes and get new ones ever since we moved here six years ago. We got all our bikes from him," she said. "A lot of people donated bikes to him, and he in turn helped a lot of the foreigners and others who needed bikes."
Saganek recalls the time she went by there to look for a bike and the one she wanted was one he had been riding to the grocery store. He insisted she take it.
"He really cared about people and wanted to do something nice for people. His wife and son preceded him in death and he didn't have any family in the area but those of us in the community who knew him felt like he was part of our family. He loved his wife and talked about her all the time. He was a great guy, a kind man who will most certainly be missed," said Saganek. "He was friendly, a good old soul and I will remember him sitting on his porch every day waving and waiting."
When Jack's sister arrived at her brother's house from Virginia Thursday evening, the first things she saw were the balloons, flowers, and homemade signs from the community expressing how much they would miss Bicycle Jack.
Billie Hubble was Jack's baby sister. Even though the siblings lived in different states, she said they remained close.
"He was soft spoken and humble, and I never heard him say a harsh word," said Hubble.
Jack's wife died in 2000, and his son in 2007. Hubble said she noticed that lately, her brother was talking more about missing his wife and wanting to be with her.
Although Jack is with his wife now, he will not be forgotten by the community he helped and gave to.
"Among gift offerings left in the yard, we have found a child's sandpail with flowers in it that I know must have been left by a child who he probably helped get a first bike," said Hubble. "And, a set of training wheels with a bow around them. I heard he gave the little girl the set of training wheels and she returned them to him now with a bow."
During trips down to see her brother, Hubble would sit outside in his swing with him.
"Cars would pass and blow their horns and people would wave and we would wave back, but I had no idea the impact he had on the community until now," said Hubble. "Everywhere you go, everyone knows him."
Hubble said she wants to thank everyone for the food, flowers, and words of kindness. Her brother, according to his wishes, will be cremated and there will be no services, also according to his wishes.
Mack Bayou's Bicycle Jack's legend will not be forgotten.