Eloy "Pancho" Gallegos has seen a lot of the United States and even some of Africa during a short stint with the Air Force — and yet his favorite place is home in Santa Rosa Beach.
"This area has the prettiest beaches in the world," he said. "It's the prettiest area of all the places I've visited and worked. And Florida is the prettiest state."
Gallegos was born in New Mexico. Both of his parents died when he was just a toddler and so he was raised by his grandfather, a full-blood Apache Indian. While he never visited the reserves of his ancestry, Gallegos had a taste for the Indian lifestyle raising horses and sheep on his grandfather's property.
"I've worked hard all my life," he said.
When he was sixteen, he left home to join the Air Force. His grandfather helped him lie on the application.
"I think he wanted me out of his way because I was trouble," Gallegos said with a laugh.
He spent four years serving his country; six months were spent in North Africa. He carried on his hobby of boxing, something he picked up in high school, and acquired his nickname.
"They called me Pancho, because they couldn't pronounce my name," he said. "Now, everyone calls me that except for my family. It doesn't bother me, it's just a nickname."
Gallegos never thought to make a career out of boxing, but out of 49 fights, he had 39 knockouts. He said he used this talent to protect his family and female friends.
"I was fast and quick, but I didn't care too much about it," he said of his short-lived boxing record.
Perhaps his military friends could have called him Running Bear, which is the American translation of Eloy. The name fits Gallegos well since after the military he visited several places in the Southeast.
In 1953, Gallegos married his wife Joan, whom he met in Albany, Ga. Two years later, they had a daughter, Charlene, and six years later came their son Gary. Joan's father has his own construction business and introduced Gallegos to the trade. Eventually, work would lead him to Destin.
As a construction engineer, Gallegos helped bring condos such as Hidden Dunes and Surfside to fruition.
"They didn't have the new Highway 98," he recalled. "You had to use the old road."
Gallegos remembers too the development of Walton County beaches.
"I remember when 30A wasn't even paved," he said. "Before Seaside was built, you could walk the beach, there weren't any houses or anything. I remember lots were $150 an acre in the 1960s. I thought about buying, but decided not to. I could've been a millionaire."
Even in it's infancy, Gallegos knew that Destin was going to change drastically over the years.
"I knew it was going to happen," he said. "People were buying the condos before they were even built.
Gallegos and his family moved to Florida in the late 1950s. They took up residence in Joan's grandparent's house, which was built in the 1800s. It was once a vacation spot for the family, now it was home. Gallegos still lives in the house today. He hasn't made any changes to the house since Joan died in 2007.
"When I was little, I was a daddy's girl," Charlene said. "I remember we used to go squirrel hunting, or fishing and look for seashells on the beach."
Celebrating his 80th birthday last weekend, Gallegos said the secret to a long, healthy life is to "work hard, quit drinking and stay away from wild women."
Gallegos has worked hard all of his life, a trait that he learned from his Apache grandfather. Before he retired, he was readily called on by elderly neighbors to fix things around their house. Nowadays, he's taking it easy, spending time with his family, including his grandson Eric, and working on crossword puzzles.
"I've had a good life so far," he said.