Pensacola, Florida
Tuesday September 2nd 2014

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A City Built By Volunteers

GULF BREEZE CELEBRATES 50 YEARS
By Rick Outzen

The City of Gulf Breeze was formed in 1961 because its citizens wanted to control their own destiny, according to historian Ann Brodie. On Saturday, Aug. 15, past and present city leaders celebrated their little town’s first 50 years and honored those who have made Gulf Breeze’s destiny rich and fulfilling.

“We are a city built on service and volunteerism,” Mayor Beverly Zimmern told the crowd of over 100 people who filled the St. Ann’s Parish Hall. “Our city founders were impassioned volunteers dedicated to making Gulf Breeze a safe, secure place to live, work and play.”

Stuck on a narrow peninsula sandwiched between Pensacola and Santa Rosa Island, the bedroom community that was miles away from the county seat, Milton, realized in the late 1950s that incorporation was the only way to provide adequate fire, police and other services.

In 1958, a group led by Dr. Earl Wolf met at his home to explore three options: do nothing, annex to Pensacola or incorporate. At the meeting were Wayne Lee, Richard Brassell, James Lay, Dr. Charles Kahn, Richard Wetzel and Al Villane. A referendum was held on incorporation. It passed with 301 of the approximately 500 votes cast in favor of the proposal.

Today, the City of Gulf Breeze has over 5,700 residents and 87 full-time employees. It has elementary, middle and high schools that are consistently ranked academically as the best in the state. The town has a public library, nationally recognized hospital and a youth sports complex that is the envy of the region. And its property tax rate is only 1.9 mils, one of the lowest in Northwest Florida.

At the banquet, six individuals were honored for their significant contributions to the City of Gulf Breeze since the 25th anniversary in 1986.

A key milestone in the quality of life of Gulf Breeze was the opening of Gulf Breeze Hospital in 1985. Two honorees, Dr. Bert Jordan and Richard “Dick” Fulford, had close ties to that facility.

Dr. Jordan moved to Gulf Breeze from Huntsville, Ala. in 1969. He was elected to the Gulf Breeze City Council in 1972 and later that same year became the city’s seventh mayor. It was Dr. Jordan who convinced Baptist Hospital to expand to Gulf Breeze. He’s considered the “father of Gulf Breeze Hospital”.

Fulford was the hospital’s first administrator. Under his leadership, Gulf Breeze Hospital achieved top national honors year after year for customer care and service. He served on the Gulf Breeze City Council from 1977-1980 and again from 2007-2010. Fulford was honored in 2005 with the Ethics in Business Award by the Combined Rotary Clubs of Pensacola.

Lane Gilchrist was honored posthumously for his 27 years on the city council. Seventeen of those years were as the mayor of Gulf Breeze. He led the effort to make the city’s wastewater system, South Santa Rosa Utilities, the first in the two-county area to recycle 100 percent of its effluent. Gilchrist also helped the city recover from five hurricanes: Elena (1985), Erin (1995), Opal (1995), Ivan (2004) and Dennis (2005).

The 50th Anniversary also recognized the contributions of Ed Gray III, the youngest mayor in the city’s history and now director of the city’s bond sponsorship and financing agencies. It’s those bond financing efforts that contribute about $800,000 to the city’s budget, ensuring that the property tax rates stay low. While mayor, Gray spearheaded the effort to build the city’s recreation center.

The other two honorees were City Attorney Matt Dannheisser and City Manager Edwin “Buzz” Eddy. Both came on board in 1992 and have served together for the past 19 years. Dannheisser offered his sound legal advice as the city expanded its services. Eddy has been the lynchpin that has held the city together through hurricanes, recessions and an oil spill.

During her closing remarks, Mayor Zimmern said she was humbled by the accomplishments of those who have served the city since its incorporation in 1961 and was excited about the city’s next 50 years.

“To quote William Shakespeare,” said Zimmern, “the best is yet to come.”

Publisher Rick Outzen served on the Gulf Breeze City Council from 1992–2006.