The History of Duplicate Bridge in Fort Walton Beach
The Fort Walton Beach Duplicate Bridge Club didn’t come into existence until September of 1993. In the early days of duplicate bridge in Fort Walton Beach each director was responsible for finding a place for their game(s) to be held.
Current members played duplicate bridge games in the area were as early as 1963, although there were probably games in existence well before that. Early games were held at Miramar Hotel, upstairs at Staff's and at Eglin AFB . The Director was Elvin Martin.
Later games were held at various other sites under various ACBL sanctions.
ARC (Association for Retarded Citizens) rented space for the bridge games at their facility on Truxton Ave. near Choctawhatchee High School. George Marshall Directed.
The Jewish Community Center was the next stop for the bridge games. Carolyn Walters directed. Some say we were asked to leave because we were “too messy”.
Games were then held in the Theo Docie Bass Recreaton Center at Ferry Park in NE Fort Walton Beach.
The Fort Walton Beach Yacht Club was the next site where games were held. Don Mcsheehy directed. This site would have continued as home base for Duplicate Bridge in Fort Walton Beach had one of the Yacht Club’s directors not decided that the bridge games were paying too little for the use of the facilities and they wanted to triple the rent.
At the same time games were being held at the Yacht Club, Friday morning games were held at Fort Walton Beach Sail & Power Squadron on Green Acres Rd. Jeri Arnold directed these games. Jeri says, “When I directed there I had to break all their tables (big) down put mine up and break mine down when I left. I also had to take the garbage home ....it was a complete day.”
The next stop in the continuing Odyssey to find a home for our bridge games was Fort Walton Square, now known as Uptown Station. The Friday morning game moved here too, since it was more convenient. There was an agreement with the rental agency for the development that allowed for use vacant store fronts for minimal cost. The problem was tables had to be moved from one storefront to another as the space being used was leased by a more permanent tenant. Directors were Elvin Martin, Don McSheehy, George Marshall, Carolyn Walters, Joe Elias, and Jeri Arnold.
In 1993 Beni Ballmes (see picture below) donated the building at 100 Buck Dr. that is still being used for bridge games, with the proviso that the existing mortgage of approx. $18,000 would be assumed. The F.W.B. Duplicate Bridge Club, Inc. was incorporated as a not for profit organization to assume the mortgage. The mortgage has long since been paid off and the bridge playing community has enjoyed the continuing benefits of having a permanent site for the last 20 years.
Beni passed away in 2012 and on December 8, 2012 our building was officially dedicated as the Beni Ballmes Memorial Bridge Center in a ceremony presided over by President Keith Johnson.
Games at the current site have been directed by Donna Moore and Jan Omley (former) and Jim Jones and Jeri Arnold (current).
Contributors: Nancy Scrivner, Jeri Arnold, Joann Walker