Fort Walton Beach received a new city slogan in April 2016—“The Welcome Home City.” In March, the city elected a new mayor, Dick Rynearson, who was sworn in April 1 after serving two terms on the city council.
Rynearson and his family arrived in Fort Walton Beach in 1981. The Ohio native graduated from Kent State University in 1967 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Aerospace Technology. He served 11 years in the United States Air Force as a pilot and missile test engineer. Rynearson also served a tour in Vietnam as a C-7A aircraft commander and instructor pilot, along with two tours in Guam as a B-52G aircraft commander flying missions over Southeast Asia.
Rynearson’s combat service resulted in his being awarded the Air Medal with seven oak leaf clusters, the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Silver Star. After his military service, he joined Hughes Aircraft Company/ Raytheon as a missile systems test engineer. In 1995, he earned a Master’s Degree in Business from Troy University. Rynearson retired from Raytheon in 2005.
“The Welcome Home City” has so many places for visitors to see. “Take time to enjoy the downtown area,” says Rynearson. “There are many shops and restaurants downtown along with the Landing Park, the Indian Temple Mound Museum, and the Gulfview Hotel which was built in 1906.
“The Emerald Coast Science Center is located on Memorial Parkway close to Highway 98. We have a great recreation center on Jet Drive that offers a special rate for visitors. Don’t forget about the Bud and Dorie Day Patriots Trail in honor of Vietnam War hero Bud Day and his wife.”
Fort Walton Beach Landing Park on Brooks Street offers concerts and movies during the spring and summer seasons. Residents and visitors can bring lawn chairs and coolers and enjoy the sights and sounds.
“The council applied for BP oil spill money two years ago for a project to improve the Landing, and we were approved for funding,” says Rynearson. “BP has paid the feds, the feds have paid the state of Florida, and we are now waiting on the state to release the money.” Plans for improvement include the building of a natural amphitheater and a stage over the water.
Rynearson is excited about the growth and direction the city of Fort Walton Beach is taking. The mayor and city council meet once a year for strategic planning. The appearance of properties within the city limits was discussed at the most recent strategic planning session and is a major priority for the council. There are strong property ordinances in the city to deal with abandoned and dilapidated buildings and unkempt properties.
“The city bends over backwards to help residents and business owners with keeping their properties up,” says Rynearson. “We have two code enforcement officers who processed 1,460 cases in 2015 and 2016 alone. The goal of code enforcement is always compliance. Citizens need to know that levying fines or liens is a last resort.”
He points out that the city leaders want residents, business owners and community partners to take pride in where they live. Beautification is a shared responsibility. Fort Walton Beach is a beautiful place to live, work and play.
“We are seeing established neighborhoods being improved as developers buy and tear down older homes and build new ones in their place. If we are not growing, we’re dying.”
As far as a second bridge connecting Fort Walton Beach to Destin, Rynearson notes that it would have to be a toll bridge. That is a directive from the Florida Department of Transportation.
The state will, however, replace the Brooks Bridge from Fort Walton Beach to Okaloosa Island without imposing a toll.
“We may be inconvenienced during the construction phase, but we have been reassured there will always be four lanes open for traffic throughout the process,” says Rynearson.
Rynearson and wife Janey (the owner of PS Gifts in Fort Walton Beach) have four children and 10 grandchildren, all of whom reside in Fort Walton Beach. The Rynearsons spend much of their time attending all types of events in the city including their grandchildren’s sports activities.
Contact Mayor Dick Rynearson at firstname.lastname@example.org.