A First Coast son looks back


A lot has changed in Northeast Florida over the decades, but those who grew up here in the ‘50s and ‘60s still treasure fond memories of a simpler time on the First Coast.

Patrick Park is among them. Today a resident of Covington, Louisiana, Park is a native of Jacksonville Beach, born in 1946. He was 12 when he and three siblings were adopted and moved to Ponte Vedra Beach.

He attended Ponte Vedra Palm Valley Elementary School and Fletcher High School and dated a local girl from his school.

“We would walk down from Fletcher to the Dairy Queen store and get chocolate-covered ice cream cones after school,” he recalled.

Looking back, many will remember restaurants they once frequented, and Park is no different.

There was The Inlet near the beach, The Homestead restaurant and Nick’s Pizza, a local favorite. Park also recalled The Green Turtle and a special treat he enjoyed as a boy.

“My grandmother used to work there,” he said. “She’d bring hushpuppies home all the time.”

As a boy, he played for the local Pee Wee football team and swam for various teams, including the one at Fletcher, where he was coached by John “Wimpy” Sutton.

Before completing high school, the Park family relocated to Coral Gables, Florida.

At 17, Park joined the U.S. Navy, telling the recruiter he wanted to be a frogman like Mike Nelson in “Sea Hunt.” He spent two years aboard ship and entered Navy SEAL training, where he encountered a familiar face.

“I thought: I know this guy, but where do I know him from?” he said.

Then, he had it. Joining him in SEAL training was a friend from Ponte Vedra, James “Jimmy” Thames. Both went on to serve in the Vietnam War, though in different SEAL teams.

Thinking of his youth on the First Coast, Park recalls searching for shark’s teeth and shells on the beach, jumping off the Jacksonville Beach pier and diving for golf balls at the Ocean Course.

“I sold them for 10 cents apiece,” he said. “I’d sell the ones that didn’t have gashes in them for 25 cents to golfers that would come by.”

Park went on to sell real estate in Alabama and New Orleans but never forgot the beachside community from which he came.

“I think, overall, Ponte Vedra was one of the finest cities to grow up in,” he said.