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Qualls' Contribution Brings Congressman's Memorabilia Back to Public

02/24/2004

The "He-Coon" is back where it rightfully belongs -- at Crestviews Okaloosa-Walton Community College Sikes Center in the office of the late Congressman Bob Sikes --after being rescued of sorts from the auctioneer's gavel by Fort Walton Beach businessman Al Qualls.

"I knew Congressman Sikes from my grade school days when he was running for election and gave our class embossed pencils to take home to our parents," explained Qualls, who purchased most of the veteran politician's memorabilia after the items were removed from the O-W Center and placed on the auction block by one of the beneficiaries of the Sikes estate.

"Mr. Sikes got the name of "He-Coon" from a comparison to the smartest and wisest raccoon in the woods. Those imprinted pencils he gave the grade school class eventually got his name to our parents with the message to vote for the congressman," said Qualls.

The stuffed raccoon dubbed the "He-Coon" that was emblematic of Sikes' nearly 40 years of representing Florida's First District in Congress and now stands watch in the second floor office where a virtual laundry list of items Qualls purchased at auction are on permanent loan to the college, restoring the historic office to near original condition.

"I did it because this is a part of our history and needs to be preserved," Qualls said at a private reception reopening Sikes' Office for public tours. "There were others who helped and I know the college foundation was also able to obtain some of the things at the auction."

Dr. Bob Richburg, president of OWCC, and Crestview Mayor George Whitehurst lauded Qualls' effort to regain the items for the college center, which formally housed the city's library as well as the congressman's permanent archives.

"What Al Qualls did was above and beyond the call of duty," said Richburg. "He has enabled us to carry out an important part of the reason why our college is in the center. We want to be the curator of the congressman's papers and other artifacts."

Richburg said the OWCC Foundation already received a donation and has established the Robert L.F. Sikes Endowed Teaching Chair in History and Government. "We have been waiting for the appropriate time because of legal events to hire a curator and assist with the research of Bob Sikes impact on this area," he said. "That time is here."

Whitehurst also praised the work by Qualls and the college "to keep a valuable part of our heritage. When people from our community and from other places visit this facility they will see and learn so much about Congressman Sikes and how he shaped Northwest Florida."

Richburg and Whitehurst also commended the efforts of OWCC Center Director Gail Kaltz, who assisted Qualls at the auction identifying everything from Sikes' awards and hats to important photos and his congressional license plate. "Gail Kaltz has put in a lot of hours getting everything in the display ready," said Richburg.

For more information on tours of Congressman Robert L.F. Sikes Office at the OWCC Sikes Center, located at 805 US Highway 90 East, next to Twin Hills Park, contact Kaltz at 689-7911 or 729-5346.