'Small token of appreciation': DeFuniak Springs celebrates Veterans Day with downtown banner program

Savannah Evanoff
Northwest Florida Daily News

DeFUNIAK SPRINGS — The banners hanging from 10 lamp posts on Baldwin Avenue between South Fifth Street and South 10th Street downtown were at one point dilapidated and flapping in the wind, going mostly unnoticed by those who strolled by.

Chelsea Blaich, the executive director of Main Street DeFuniak Springs, said they opted to redo them for the holidays at the end of 2019. Suddenly, the community noticed.

“People had such a great response to that, we thought, ‘What are the opportunities we’re missing?’” Blaich said. “Two of the biggest ones we thought of were veterans and Black History Month. We started with the veterans for November. This is such a big military community, so honoring those who live here, who have since passed, have family here and we’re very happy with how it turned out — the interest behind it and the support since they’ve been hung has been tremendous. It’s funny how many people actually look up and realize it’s not what it was before.”

Brooke Hoke nominated her father-in-law, Air Force veteran Robert A. Hoke, Jr., to be one of 20 local veterans recognized with banners lining Baldwin Avenue in downtown DeFuniak Springs. The city and Main Street DeFuniak Springs teamed up to organize the Hometown Hero banner project, which will be displayed throughout November.

Honoring DeFuniak history:The historic Walton-DeFuniak Library could be brought to its former glory with $50K grant

More like this:Veterans Park on Okaloosa Island will be home to women's veteran memorial

Twenty past and present servicemen and women are honored on double-sided banners through November. Blaich said her group plans to continue honoring veterans and Black History Month on the banners in the future, potentially expanding it to the lamp posts surrounding the lake yard.

In order to be recognized, nominators had to submit an application giving details and paperwork about the nominee’s service.

Brooke Hoke of DeFuniak Springs saw a flier about the 2021 Veteran’s Banner program on Facebook and wanted to submit her father-in-law, Robert (Bob) Hoke. He served the Air Force from 1962 to 1995 and worked for the Walton County Sheriff’s Office.

“We wanted to do something special for him to honor him,” Brooke said. “He does a lot for our family; always there when we need him. We wanted to surprise him with this, and he was definitely surprised and thrilled and humbled.”

Brooke told her husband, Bobby Hoke, about the idea and he was in full support of submitting his father. She then asked her mother-in-law for Bob Hoke’s service details

A family walks down Baldwin Avenue in downtown DeFuniak Springs, where banners of 20 local veterans have recently been placed. The city and Main Street DeFuniak Springs teamed up to organize the Hometown Hero banner project, which will be on display throughout November.

Brooke intended to surprise Bobby and film his reaction, but one of Bob’s friends told him before they could, she said with a laugh.

“It’s a small town and you can’t keep secrets in a small town,” Brooke said. “But he called me and he was very honored and very humbled.”

They plan to show Bob his banner in person on Veteran’s Day after the city of DeFuniak Springs’ ceremony.

Tyrone L. Broadus is depicted on the banner at Ninth Street and Baldwin Avenue, having served 25 months in the Army. He isn’t sure who nominated him, but he believes it was Carolynn Zonia.

Army veteran the Rev. Tyrone Broadus is one of 20 local veterans ecognized on banners lining Baldwin Avenue in downtown DeFuniak Springs.

Broadus is from Washington, D.C., but his mother’s family is from DeFuniak Springs, he said. He has been in DeFuniak Springs for 33 years and now pastors St. Mark Missionary Baptist Church

“I was elated,” Broadus said. “I’ve been very active in the community, and to realize people still think time served in the military was something worth noting, I was elated for them to recognize me.”

Veterans Day:Gulf Coast Veterans Health Care sets Veterans Day events in Mississippi, Alabama and Florida

More:Seven days: Veterans Day Ceremony, From Sea to Shining Sea headline patriotic week

Broadus said he entered basic training in 1965 as an action sergeant because he had been a lieutenant colonel in the high school cadet core.

Broadus met Martin Luther King, Jr. in a church, was the first African-American to serve in the honor guard at the Kennedy Gravesite in Arlington National Cemetery and was once featured in a documentary on the third anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s death. There is a photo of him holding an umbrella over Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis at his gravesite, he said.

U.S. Navy veteran William ÒBillÓ Bierbaum is one of 20 local veterans whose banners line Baldwin Avenue in downtown DeFuniak Springs.  The city teamed up with Main Street DeFuniak Springs to organize the Hometown Hero banner project, which will be on display throughout the month of November.

Broadus later served as a police officer until he was hit by a drunken driver and injured both knees and his back, he said. He has been retired 49 years.

Blaich looks forward to honoring more veterans in the future. DeFuniak Springs is built on history, she said.

“The town is rich in history and the individuals that helped build the town,” Blaich said. “You add the military element to it and the people who have served the country and have come back and they’re planting their roots here. The goal with Main Street is we want to create a downtown where people want to stay and their families want to stay, so they’re growing up the next generation of military families and people who want to go and serve their country as well. Showing that we really honor and pay tribute to those who have done so for us is a small token of appreciation.”