CRESTVIEW — Northwest Florida State College held a ribbon-cutting ceremony March 27 at the Robert L.F. Sikes Education Center in Crestview.
The ceremony dedicated a new North Okaloosa office for state representative Mel Ponder. It was also a showcase of the Bob Sikes exhibit, which flanks Ponder’s new office and is curated by the Heritage Museum of Northwest Florida.
Devin Stephenson, president of Northwest Florida State College, introduced Ponder at the event.
“We’re welcoming representative Mel Ponder, who is just a phenomenal servant, a servant leader to our area, to this campus by providing him an office and the technology that he needs to do good work and to bring home the bacon, which he’s done so well,” Stephenson said.
Stephenson praised Ponder for his efforts in shepherding a bill that would reduce or eliminate college tuition fees for active duty service members in the state of Florida. The bill, sponsored by Ponder, cleared both houses of the Florida legislature by unanimous vote and was signed into law March 13 by Governor Rick Scott.
Ponder spoke about the need to have an office in the north end of the county as well as the south.
“Our office is in Fort Walton, and although I was mayor formerly of Destin, we felt Fort Walton was where we were supposed to put that office,” Ponder said. “But Dr. Stephenson always had an idea of what could we do on the north end.”
Ponder praised the city of Crestview and Mayor David Cadle specifically, mentioning the city’s growth over the past few years.
“I’ve really loved the city of Crestview, and as I got to know it better – Main Street, downtown, the history of the city – you leave with a little bit in your soul,” he said. “And getting to meet the people here just made it that much better.”
The new office, on the second floor of the education center, is adjacent to the exhibition of Bob Sikes memorabilia, and is only a few feet away from Sikes’ former office.
Barbara Palmgren, chair of the board of trustees of the Heritage Museum, gave a brief summary of Sikes’ career. She spoke about his two terms as a state representative, drawing a parallel to Ponder’s career. Sikes went on to spend 38 years as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives.
Palmgren then talked about the exhibit, including Sikes’ former office, which she says has remained untouched.
“Around the back, you will see his office as it has been preserved,” Palmgren said. “We did not touch the office. It is not to be entered into lightly, because (Sikes) is still there.”