When she was younger, Grace Marse remembered Walton County being mostly Democratic.
After moving away with her husband, who was an Air Force pilot, Marse returned about 30 years later to find Walton had swung conservative.
But it took Florida's 2000 presidential recount — which resulted in George W. Bush winning the presidency over Al Gore — to transform Marse from a simple voter to an activist.
Six years later, she would create the Walton County Democratic Women's Club.
Tuesday, members and friends of Marse gathered at Cantina Laredo in Sandestin to eat, reminisce and honor the women's club founder.
“Grace was a pioneer in the efforts to establish the Democratic Party in South Walton in 2006,” said Thomas Wolfe, executive committee member of the Walton County Democratic Party. “She chartered the women’s club.”
He said the Democratic Women’s Club and the Democratic Party are two separate organizations, and that Marse, who also served two terms as club president, established the women's club during a hostile time for Democrats in Walton County.
When it became her turn to speak to the nearly 50 people at the luncheon, Marse struck a tone of gratitude.
Her efforts in Walton County haven't weren't to wage war against Republicans, but let the county's democratic voice be heard.
“It’s OK if you’re a Republican, we’re kin to you, you know, we’re shirt-tailed cousins, so lets make it a better America,” Marse said.
Sue Bowden, who became the club’s president this year, said they’re required by Florida’s Democratic Party to meet at least once a month — but Tuesday's meeting was specifically to honor Marse, adding that her work to establish and build the club has been remarkable.
Bowden hopes to grow the club and work more on bipartisan issues that affect everyone in Walton County.
“I think a lot of people don’t know that we have Democrats in this county,” Bowden said. “There’s like 9,000 registered Democrats and 19,000 or something registered Republicans, but there are Democrats here, so the biggest thing we want to do is have people know we’re here and kind of know the things we value and what we’re about.”
Marse reminded those attending that they are Floridians first, and Democrats second.
"The biggest challenge I think was for all of us to work together and pull together, and we have a mutual respect for all the residents in Florida," Marse said.