They Came to stay
Snowbirds become sandpipers
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Wintertime on the Emerald Coast brings the annual migration of Snowbirds — visitors from the frozen north who come here for sun and fellowship. But, as it turns out, not all of them head back home. We recently visited with three couples who have come to plant their feet in our sugar-white sand on a permanent basis.
Todd Douglas Photography
The Brinkleys both enjoy nature, especially the tranquility of living near water. They try to spend as much time near and on the water as possible.
The Brinkleys’ road to living in Destin’s Sandpiper Cove started in Spencer, Iowa, and ran through Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and Cleveland, Mississippi.
Weldon Brinkley’s study to become a Lutheran minister took him and his family to Wisconsin; his “first call” meant relocating to Cleveland, Mississippi, located about 100 miles south of Memphis.
Taking daughters Jodi and Sara and son Marc to Disney World, in the early 1980s, meant discovering Destin.
“It was not like it is now, but we were quite intrigued,” Weldon said.
“I fell in love with it the first time,” Barb said.
“Barb started coming for visits with friends, then after that, we started coming with our family for a week,” Weldon recalled.
Sometime around 2007, “the dream” took hold, so the Brinkleys rented in Chateau La Mer for the month of November.
“Just to see, long term, if we would like it,” Weldon said. “Then, four years ago this October, we bought here and moved here. We wanted to be on Scenic 98, but we couldn’t find anything we wanted until Barb found Sandpiper Cove.”
What she found had two bedrooms, two baths and 1,132 square feet of space with “a nice patio.”
When the Brinkleys first walked in, they had a special feeling.
“We got to about where we’re sitting right now and said, ‘This is the place,’” Weldon said. “We liked the looks of it, but we had no idea of all the benefits that were here. We found that out later.”
Those benefits are the nine-hole, par-three golf course laid out between the condos. “So you have to be careful,” Weldon said with a laugh.
Sandpiper Cove also features five swimming pools, three hot tubs, six tennis courts and one pickle ball facility.
“And we’re by the beach; that’s what I wanted,” Barb said. “And there’s a lot of nice restaurants here. Plus, we’re centrally located, and that means a lot.
“In the summer, when the traffic’s so heavy, we have Winn-Dixie, we have Target and we’re not far from HarborWalk Village. Plus, a water taxi comes here and we can take it to HarborWalk, so we don’t have to drive in that traffic. And when the traffic is bad, all we have to do is go across the street to get what we need.”
But the Brinkleys agree that the prime benefit of living in Sandpiper Cove is the natural surroundings.
“That’s what started it,” Weldon said. “It’s an awesome sight coming over that (Marler) bridge and seeing that water.”
Moving to Destin in October meant getting involved with the Snowbirds, who proved very willing to share their local knowledge as well as play darts.
“We became real involved with Snowbirds, and it was through them that we got to know Destin, really,” Weldon said. “We would’ve gotten to know Destin, but not nearly as fast as we did, and they welcomed us just as if we were Snowbirds.”
Which made Barb smile. “Now we’re what? Sandpipers,” she mused.
Moving here was not complicated for the Brinkleys. They sold everything but their clothes, a desk and a daybed. Their condo was furnished when they bought it.
“Barb had been wanting to come this way forever,” Weldon said, “and we had a big house with a big yard, and one day I came in hot from working, and I said, ‘Let’s sell and move to Florida,’ and away we went.
And they’ve been having fun ever since.
“There’s always something to do here,” Barb said. “In other places we’ve lived, there was nothing to do.”
Weldon said one of his favorite events is the Tuba Christmas concert presented at Baytowne Wharf. He also still practices ministry at Good Shepherd Lutheran in Shalimar.
Barb’s mother, Norma Breidinger, lives in Westwood Retirement Resort in Fort Walton Beach. Barb’s sister, Jo Albright, and her husband, Don, from Nebraska, spend the month of October here. And the Brinkleys’ three children have a total of five children who look forward to their respective annual trips to the Emerald Coast to see their grandparents.
“They all come and visit,” Weldon said.
“Everybody likes it here,” Barb added.
Individually and together, the Brinkleys are not shy when asked about living here.
“We have people talk to us about coming here, and my advice to them is always, ‘Come down here and spend a month or two in the wintertime when the rates are low, and get the feel of it.’ Because September, October and November here are fantastic.”
“We have about five couples that we know that own condos here but just come part time,” Weldon said, “and we keep saying, ‘You need to retire completely and come here full time.’”
Not long ago, someone asked the Brinkleys where they spent their vacations.
Weldon’s reply was, “We’re on vacation 365 days a year. Why go anywhere?”