EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second in a two-part series to give you a little insight to the folks that were chosen to represent Destin in this year’s 35th annual Christmas Parade. The city of Destin has selected two to serve as grand marshal for this event - the Burns family, who will represent Matt Burns who passed away earlier this year, and Dot Jones.
At the age of 84, she’s accumulated a lot of accolades such as the Ross Marler Award for volunteerism, Senior of the quarter, and has even been given the "key to the city."
But for Dot Jones, being selected to serve as grand marshal for this year’s Destin Christmas Parade tops her list.
"I think this one here is top of the ladder," Jones said sitting in her home on Main Street almost in tears. "I was shocked ... it never never, never crossed my mind that I’d ever get it. I was absolutely speechless."
Lisa Firth, co-chairman for the Destin Parade Committee and Parks and Recreation Director, said Jones was chosen because of her countless hours of volunteering in the community.
"Miss Dot has volunteered her time to city boards, fall fest food drive and any special events that the Parks and Recreation is involved in," Firth said. "And I see her around town planting flowers and caring for her city of Destin."
Firth said she has known Jones for a number of years.
"Meeting Miss Dot in the ’70s was a treat in itself," Firth said. "Miss Dot would dash around the city and ask children and adults questions for her ’Dashing with Dot column. My children were asked great questions with adorable answers."
Jones, a native of Marianna, moved to Destin in 1955.
"It was a totally different place (back then)," Jones said.
Her earliest memories of Christmas in Destin was at the elementary school.
"We’d put stuff out on the stage and the children would come along and pick out a gift ... it was interesting. Every year we did that for Christmas," Jones said.
As for her memories of Christmas parades in Destin, she said she’s been to so many they all run together.
Jones has seen a lot of change in Destin in her 64 years.
She recalls when Destin Water Users were digging their trenches and when the Destin Fire Control District was still volunteer.
The restaurant situation was very limited and if you needed to go to the hospital, it meant a trip to Fort Walton Beach.
"It was very limited to what we had," she said.
And the price of property was nothing like it is today.
"When we came here, Mr. Kelly would sell you a lot for $500. We owned three off Second and Third Avenue," she said.
Jones rattled off a list of other changes she has witnessed in the last six decades.
On that list were the installation of sidewalks, widening of streets, addition of churches, the incorporation of Destin, the opening and closing of a hospital in Destin, and the building of the Mid-Bay Bridge.
Jones said she remembers when talks began about building the Mid-Bay Bridge, they were calling it the "bridge to nowhere ... and a waste of money."
Although she has seen a lot of change, she wasn’t one to just sit back and watch — she volunteered.
She served on several committees in the early days of Destin’s incorporation, such as the emergency planning board, airport committee, environmental board and recreation committee, which she continues to serve on today.
She has also been involved with Founder’s Day, the October Destin Fishing Rodeo and a prison ministry.
In the early days, she served as head of the PTA at Destin Elementary School.
"I really admire the high school bunch," she said referring to the steering committee for the Destin High School and their foresight.
"We do have and will have two and three times the students we have now," she said. "We’ve just seen it grow from a quaint village to a large city ... with very little space."
There were times Jones could have moved away, but she stayed the course.
"Sitting back and thinking about it, it’s rewarding to know that you got to see it and experience it. You pick and choose what you want to do. I’m glad I chose to stay," she said.
As for the parade, Jones is looking forward to seeing the many people of Destin and everybody that made it possible.
"It’s been 64 years of a hard trip, but a good trip," Jones said. "I was glad I got to see Destin before and after. And I’m glad I was part of witnessing and being part of some of the changes."