Today is a day Teddy Mariolis has longed dreamed.



Today is a day Teddy Mariolis has longed dreamed.

The World War II veteran and St. Joe Beach resident has for years been the driving force, the burr, if you will, spurring behind the scenes the creation of a county park to honor veterans.

Teddy Mariolis, in his 90s and health flagging, will realize the fruits of that effort, that passion, that drive, at 10 a.m. ET this morning when Veterans Memorial Park of Beacon Hill is formally dedicated.

The park is located at 8750 W. U.S. Highway 98 in Beacon Hill.

In addition to dedicating the renovated park, with an amphitheater serving as the fulcrum and including elements celebrating and honoring veterans from all branches of the military, county officials will also rename the the road that threads through the park Chris Blaschum Way.

Blaschum, a Port St. Joe native and Navy Lt. Commander and pilot, was killed in the early stages of Operation Iraqi Freedom, the most recent Gulf County casualty of war.

The renovated park, which in the future will include a memorial to all the county’s veterans who paid the ultimate sacrifice, has been a long-time dream of veterans in the county.

“The dedication means the culmination of a great effort by the Board of County Commissioners in securing the grant,” said Joe Paul, the county’s Veteran Services Officer. “and of a great effort by the veterans in the county.

“It’s a place where veterans can gather and reflect. It is a big deal for veterans.”

And to a significant degree, this morning’s ceremony will begin to pay a significant, and, realistically, out-sized, debt to those who left Gulf County to serve their country, those who returned and, in particular, those who did not.

A bill owed to Mariolis will also be whittled down.

“There have been many good people who have been eager to finally see the amphitheater completed on Beacon Hill,” said Rodney Herring, a Vietnam era veteran. “Sadly, quite a few have passed on, but for one, Mr. Teddy, the completion and dedication are within sight.

“This World War II Marine’s patience has paid off.”

The BOCC renamed Beacon Hill Park to honor veterans nearly a decade ago, but other than a sign denoting the “veterans memorial” honorific, little in the park, other than annual Veterans Day and Memorial Day events, screamed veterans.

Now, the park fairly shouts in honor of those who served.

Herring added that despite health issues in recent years, Mariolis’ vision continued to the fuel the conceptual planning, the dream, of a park in Gulf County, with its history steeped in love of military, dedicated to veterans.

One of the few, if not the only, county in Florida that keeps school open on Veterans Day, day of celebration of veterans by students.

“Mr. Teddy became the driving force to revitalize this project long after political commitments and promises had fallen by the wayside,” Herring said. “(Even with health issues) whenever there is a talk or action about Veterans Park, it is invigorating to note the return of the sparkle in his eyes, to see him rise up and stand a little taller, and to share in his enthusiasm.”

The park project was sparked to life nearly four years ago when the county applied for and received a Natural Resources Damage Assessment (NRDA) grant of $800,000.

The grant funded park renovations, which include expanded parking and recreational options, and put on track the effort to create a park celebrating the county’s, and country’s, veterans.

The most significant addition is a new amphitheater overlooking the beach and the pavilion of honor to the branches of the military.

A citizens committee is putting the plans in place for a future memorial to the county’s fallen in service to country.

That committee hopes to finalize a path forward this week, Paul said.

Herring is also a member of that committee, his desire for membership fueled by, who else, Mr. Teddy.

“If everyone of us could be inspired by Mr. Teddy’s love of country, our nation, these United States, could stand tall once again,” Herring said. “Mr. Teddy’s example is one that we can all aspire to emulate.

“As Sir Winston Churchill once said, Teddy Mariolis’ motto might well be, ‘Never, never, never give up.’”