St. Joseph Bay, Port St. Joe and this reporter lost a friend Sunday evening.
After a courageous and all too brief battle with liver cancer, Herman Jones passed away at his home.
We talked last week, he called to say goodbye.
The prior three months had been h-e-double-toothpicks for him and he had been brought home in his final days to pass away with family and familiar surroundings.
The conversation was emotional, moreso maybe because of all the pain and destruction caused by Hurricane Michael.
His house was fine, Herman said, he not so much.
I had not a clue he had been sick, though he had complained at times of an inability to eat.
So, to have Herman, a friend, a compadre in all things local history, announce he had only days to live, that was a gut punch to equal anything Michael dished out.
Herman was 71, looked about 15 years younger and so enjoyed his life he was an example to us all.
He may have been the only person whose level of curiosity eclipsed mine and his willingness to share that curiosity, and the knowledge it allowed him to soak up, was extraordinary.
“I didn’t need to worry about knowing anything because he knew it all,” his wife Pam said Monday.
Herman was deeply generous to the paper, producing numerous articles concerning local navigation history, the origin of the name of local bodies of water, scallops and oysters, sharing maps, trinkets and photos from a deep collection.
And he was incredibly picky about how those stories were published, how photos were used and if any word was to be changed, that req uired consultation.
On B3 of this edition is Herman’s obituary, which he wrote and sealed (Pam does not know its contents) and insisted be published as written, word-for-word.
In a sense, and Herman would pish-posh the idea, Herman was something of a Renaissance man; there seemed no bounds to his knowledge, and the breadth and depth of that knowledge.
Or his glee in assembling and disseminating that knowledge.
If I had a question about local history, Herman became the man I called.
If he didn’t know the answer, he would find out; it was also education for him.
I am sure, though I have no evidence beyond the number of former students who praised him and said hello to him that is part of what made him such a great teacher.
Herman taught science at the former Highland View Elementary School, sixth-grade science, I believe, and his retirement was just another phase of his learning.
The man was constantly outdoors, on his boat, diving, riding his bike, seeming to be constantly on the move, producing memories, apparently, every time.
The community has lost too many of those steeped in Gulf County’s past, from Capt. Dave Maddox and Tom Parker and Billy Howell.
Herman learned from them and expanded their encyclopedia of local history and its manifestations for future generations.
And with Herman’s passing, I will also make a pledge.
Herman manifestly believed that preserving St. Joseph Bay and Apalachicola Bay could be accomplished by the construction of locks within the waterway of the Gulf County Canal and Lake Wimico just west of White City.
Placing that lock, Herman argued, would allow Lake Wimico and the Apalachicola River to flow naturally to Apalachicola Bay, increasing water levels for the oyster beds.
And, a lock would stop the flow to St. Joseph Bay of freshwater, pesticides, treated sewage, urban drainage and agricultural runoff upriver.
Herman had been boating and snorkeling that Bay for 50 years and believed he had the solution for both St. Joseph and Apalachicola Bays.
He spoke to several civic organizations and had support from others among the grassroots troops for whom protecting St. Joseph Bay is a calling.
And, let’s be honest, Herman long said the natural cut for the Gulf to make into the Bay would be Eagle Harbor in the peninsula state park, not the Stump Hole.
Michael proved him correct.
But the idea has never found traction where it was needed, in the halls of governments with the funds to make it happen.
Herman believed it was the perfect project for Triumph Gulf Coast.
Several times we had scheduled a boat trip to Lake Wimico in order for Herman to provide a backdrop for his preaching about saving the Bay.
Weather and schedules interfered and the last time he visited he said he had not forgotten.
The next time we talked, he informed me he had just days to live.
So, I will take that trip in black-and-white, in written word.
To encourage a closer look at the concept of locks, of protecting the Bay that Herman so loved, to continue to nurture a love of the natural beauty and history of Gulf County and its famous Bay that was so much Herman’s calling card.
And, in a way, Herman’s passing provides foundation for such a calling, coming at a time when for many the importance of that beauty and history has been shaken by Mother Nature.
See you in the next life, Herman.
Here is Herman's self-penned obituary
Herman Jones, underwater explorer, historian, artifact collector, educator, shipwreck diver, rogue.
I grew up on the shores of St. Andrew’s Bay. Ever since the age of 10 I’ve owned a boat. Since I was born with a few fish genes, and with the trust of my parents, I spent many days exploring the waters of the bay and its surrounding forests.
At an early age I collected spear points and Indian pottery from around the bay shore. This sparked an interest in archaeology and I eventually got my degree from FSU in 1969. While at Gulf Coast in 1967, I met the greatest treasure of my life, Pam, and she became not only my wife, but my best friend, dive buddy, travel companion, and best lover any man could want. Whenever I had some crazy place to explore, she was always ready to go, not as a follower, but as a fellow explorer. What a lucky guy I was.
We had one child, Herman Jones III (Trip). He would share our adventures for the rest of his life.
To avoid becoming “cannon fodder” in Vietnam, we moved to St. Joe Beach in 1969 so I could teach school. Teaching was a deferment. My Dad, who had fought German in the Battle of the Bulge, told me this was a war for nothing, and he was not going to lose his only child.
My first year was at Washington Elementary in North Port St. Joe. I was hired because I was white. Integration was coming and students needed exposure to white teachers. The next 29 years I taught sixth grade at Highland View and retired in 1999.
For 50 years, Pam, Trip and I collected the largest collection of St. Joseph artifacts from Depot Creek and the Bay. We also collected the second largest Indian artifacts collection from the Chipola River. We excavated an old steamship and collected relics from local shipwrecks. We’ve had three Master’s Thesis written on our collection.
I loved the natural beauty of Northwest Florida as much as life itself. I could never have lived anywhere else. We were blessed to grow-up and live in Gulf County before the influx of newcomers and tourists ruined it. People today would have no idea of the freedom and adventures of those early years.
I’ve had a marvelous life, fun, adventure, health and financial stability, and what a love life. I would not trade my life for anyone else’s. I’ll sure miss it.
And when I reach the other side, I’ll find a place to rest my spirit if I can. Perhaps I may become a treasure-diver again, or I may simply become a single drop of rain, but I will remain, and I’ll be back again.
A memorial service will be held 11 a.m. until 3 p.m. ET Saturday, November 17 in the Port St. Joe Elementary School gymnasium.
In celebration of Herman, please wear a Hawaiian shirt.
Online condolences and memories may be shared at www.WhatleyFuneralServices.com.