Just when you think you know someone, you delve deeper and realize there is so much more to learn. Shorty Robbins is one of those people. As this week’s The Big Five guest, we get a taste of Florida history mixed with a wealth of environment, sprinkled with a passion for preservation.
Tell readers a bit about yourself and how you came to be in Florida.
I came to Florida with my family in 1972, kicking and screaming, but I quickly became a Florida girl. Graduated from Vero Beach High School and UF. Moved to Jacksonville, began a career in Parks and Recreation, started a family. I came to work in St. Johns County in 2001, and it’s been “home base” ever since. While living here I came to appreciate and be involved in the rich history that Florida has to offer, and helped plan and develop a few historical and environmental parks. I’ve been a living historian for over 25 years, focusing mainly on the 1860’s time frame, but have also played with the Spanish Colonial and Flagler periods. In 2016 I retired after 35 years in public parks and rec, tried the private sector for a couple years and came back to work for Rep Cyndi Stevenson where I manage the District office and work on constituent services.
Towards the end of my parks career, I discovered the tiny house movement, and built and now live in my house, Nawaka, which is a mobile living history exhibit, with hidden modern amenities. I serve on the national boards of two tiny living organizations, the Tiny House Industry Association and the American Tiny House Association, and am an advocate for alternative living and movable tiny homes.
Locally, I serve on the boards of Friends of Alpine Groves Park, the Stetson Kennedy Foundation, and the St. Johns County Parks Foundation.
- You are actively involved with some very interesting organizations across the region including the Stetson Kennedy Foundation. What is the mission of the organization and why do you enjoy it?
Author/activist Stetson Kennedy was born in Jacksonville in 1916 and attended Lee (now Riverside) High School. As a young man, he went to work for the WPA “Writer’s Project” and traveled Florida collecting stories, folklore, and oral histories. He worked with writers like Zora Neale Hurson. In the 1940’s, he infiltrated the Klan and wrote a book about it. as well as exposing secrets on the “Superman” radio show. He knew Studs Terkel and Woody Guthrie. He moved to Northwest St Johns County in the 60’s to some family property on a lake he named “Beluthahatchee”. He remained an advocate for social justice, the environment and folklore and history throughout his life.
I met Stetson in 1998. He was just beginning to be recognized for his lifetime of activism. I joined the Stetson Kennedy Foundation as a county liaison in 2003 and St. Johns County acquired his cabin at Beluthahatchee in 2006, turning it into a park and retreat center. Stetson died in 2011, but the cabin looks like he’s just gone out for a walk. The Foundation he started continues his life’s work through environmental education, house concerts featuring folk music and an artist in residence program. His archives are also open for scholars to research.
The Stetson Kennedy Foundation is dedicated to human rights, social justice, environmental stewardship, and the preservation and growth of folk culture.
Our mission is to do all that we can to help carry forward mankind’s unending struggle for human rights in a free, peaceful, harmonious, democratic, just, humane, bounteous and joyful world, to nurture our cultural heritages, and to faithfully discharge our commitment of stewardship over Mother Earth and all her progeny.
Why do I enjoy it? I joke that I’m the conservative that keeps them all grounded. I promised Stetson that I would.
- You are also part of the newly formed St. Johns County Parks Foundation. How did this exciting endeavor form and why is it so important?
The St Johns County Park Foundation is a non-profit organization that supports the parks, trails, natural lands and recreational facilities of St. Johns County, Florida, including the cities of St. Augustine and St. Augustine Beach. It was created by local citizens to provide a vessel for independent support and philanthropy to enhance and endow the existence of these facilities that do so much to make St. Johns County a great place to live, work, visit and play.
The Foundation seeks involvement from interested persons who want to support, sustain and enhance these special and precious public assets with their time or treasure. These are just some of the things that we do:
– Take and hold by bequest, gift, grant, purchase or lease any personal, real, tangible or intangible property and manage in the best interests of the residents and visitors of St. Johns County.
– Improve, enhance and endow the many facilities that comprise the physical assets of the parks, trails, natural lands and recreational and sports facilities of St. Johns County.
Funds provided by St. Johns County Parks Foundation are used as a supplement to the Parks and Recreation Department budget and do not replace allocated tax dollars. These additional funds help acquire, manage, maintain, improve, and enhance services provided by the Parks and Recreation Department. The Foundation enjoys a 501 (c) (3) not-for-profit exemption status.
Our mission is to utilize charitable purposes to acquire, develop, maintain, improve, expand, erect, support, preserve, restore, fund, encourage and sustain parks and recreational facilities operated and owned by St. Johns County and within St. Johns County, for benefit of the general public.
- The Stetson Kennedy Foundation recently selected a noted photographer and environmental advocate, Rhonda Lovett for an award. Share a bit about it and why she was selected.
The Stetson Kennedy Foundation gives the “Fellow Man and Mother Earth Award” periodically to Northeast Florida individuals who have demonstrated leadership and stewardship in one or more of the three tenents of the Kennedy Foundation’s mission: Social Justice, Earth Kinship and Cultural Heritage. Rhonda Lovett is an outstanding recipient for this award. She documents and educates about our natural and cultural environment and sends out such a positive message about the area where we live.
- Floridians seem to have a natural passion for history and the environment. What do you think it is about Florida that inspires advocacy and a desire to protect what you love?
From my perspective- I moved here from Lexington Massachusetts. Shot heard ’round the world and all. I was really a history snob- moving to the cultural wasteland here. Wow, was I wrong! We have 450+ years of history right here and I fell right into it. I married into an old Cracker family- my kids are 5th generation Floridians. My granddaughter and I are going to do the cross-Florida cattle drive reenactment in December in honor of her heritage. There is so much to embrace here. The landscapes, the sunrises and sunsets, the wildlife (that Rhonda documents), you just feel so close to it all here. I think it inspires the transplants as much as native Floridians. It’s an amazing place to live.