Road construction may typically be a man's world, but in Walton County, Stephanie Jones is running it.
After 17 years working for the county, Jones recently took the position of District 5 road foreman in July.
"I'm proud to be in this position and I hope to represent it to the best of my abilities," she said. "I'll give it my best shot."
Jones first went to work for the county as a general laborer in April 1996. After Hurricane Opal, she had lost her job cleaning hotels and needed a paycheck. Eventually, she saw an opening for work in road construction.
"I kept moving up," she said. "I got my CDL and became an operator. In 2008, I became assistant foreman and when the foreman retired, I applied for his position."
As assistant foreman, Jones worked with Roy Brown Sr., who worked with Walton County for 32 years before retiring.
"He would show me things here and there," Jones said. "Some of it didn't make sense to me at the time, and now I'm using what he taught me."
A Freeport native, Jones has a love for the area and its residents. Helping the public is her favorite part of the job. "I love it," she said. "You get to help people and you get to meet new people."
As the District 5 foreman, Jones is responsible for road construction for "everything south of the Bay." Within a month of her new position, a portion of County Road 30A fell in to Redfish Lake. One of her top priorities as foreman is to personally answer all calls that come to the office — something she's fallen a bit behind on.
"Whenever the storm hit, we were here seven days a week," she said. "We normally work 10 hour days Monday through Thursday, but we were here sunup to sundown and sometimes later."
Those kinds of unexpected emergencies have taught Jones that you can't please everybody when it comes to serving the public.
"Some days you might get cussed at and some days you might be praised," she said with a laugh. "I've learned a lot of patience goes a long way. Listen to people, let them get through with what they're saying before you talk."
The District 5 road crew is comprised of about a dozen individuals. Often, Jones is called upon to get back behind the Badger tractor, which she enjoys.
"It's a little bit of hard work," Jones said of the job. "Sometimes you might be on a shovel, sometimes you might be on the flag. But I like it. I'm not one to sit around behind a desk."
On a Wednesday afternoon, Jones is making her way out of the office to fill in for a crewmember who had a doctor's appointment. She hops in the Badger and drives it down the road a couple of miles to the spot she has to dig up.
"We're like a team," Jones said of the road crew. "If you keep an open mind and try to get along, you get a lot more accomplished."
Being the first female foreman is something Jones is proud of, but she's quick to point out that she's not the only female driving tractors for Walton County.
"There's a few women in the road crew," she said. "There's one that runs a tractor and she's very good at it."
And even though Jones is a self-processed tomboy, she believes women can do anything if they're willing to work.
"There's nothing you can't do if you're willing to get your hands dirty a bit.”