College dedicates newly renovated Sikes exhibit

In Brief:

  • Northwest Florida State College’s Robert L.F. Sikes Center in Crestview unveiled a newly renovated exhibition honoring Bob Sikes, a long-serving U.S. House Representative for Florida’s District 1.
  • The exhibit showcases artifacts from Sikes’ career, including campaign memorabilia, awards, historic documents, and a collection of taxidermied raccoons reflecting his nickname “The He-Coon.”
  • NWFSC President Devin Stephenson and current District 1 Rep. Matt Gaetz highlighted Sikes’ significant contributions to the region, particularly in military and veterans’ advocacy.

Bob Sikes, the legendary politician who represented Florida’s District 1 in the U.S. House of Representatives for decades, liked to have his name on things. You can find it on things like roads, bridges, schools, libraries, airports, and just about anything else his constituents might come across in their daily lives.

Although he passed away in 1994, the ubiquitous presence of Sikes’ name across Northwest Florida landmarks keeps his memory alive. Now, thanks to the efforts of the faculty and administration at Northwest Florida State College, the legacy of the man known fondly to his constituents as “The He-Coon” is being celebrated with a newly renovated exhibition of artifacts
and memories.

On Monday, local dignitaries and members of the public gathered at the college’s Robert L.F. Sikes Center in Crestview. for the exhibit’s dedication.

“Today, we celebrate the legacy of a visionary leader whose contributions have profoundly shaped our region,” said NWFSC President Devin Stephenson. “This museum stands as a testament to Congressman Sikes’ enduring impact on our community, preserving his memory and honoring his remarkable achievements.”

Sikes, who served in Congress from 1941 to 1979, was famous for his efforts to build and
preserve major military installations like Eglin Air Force Base and the Navy’s Whiting Field in his district, which stretches across Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa, and parts of Walton counties.

In addition, he introduced the bill that established the Gulf Islands National Seashore, and used his considerable influence to advocate for veterans, active-duty military members, and retirees.

Current District 1 Rep. Matt Gaetz, the keynote speaker at the event, acknowledged
Sikes’ towering legacy, stating that every representative who has followed in Sikes’ footsteps
“has had to be a little bit like him.”

“Protecting our military mission, improving our infrastructure, honoring our environment, caring for our veterans … these are the things we will demand of our congressmen forever because of Bob Sikes,” Gaetz said.
The newly dedicated exhibit was a year-and-a-half long labor of love for J. Wren Supak,
the director and curator of the college’s Mattie Kelly Art Center Galleries.

While unpacking
dozens of boxes of artifacts, she discovered several treasures from Sikes’ career, including campaign bumper stickers, Masonic Lodge regalia, multiple awards, and numerous historic documents and photos. One thing she might not have been prepared for, however, were the numerous stuffed racoons that Sikes collected over his career.

“I’m not exactly a taxidermy specialist,” she said with a laugh.

The raccoons are on prominent display in the exhibit. For the uninitiated, a “he-coon” is the biggest, toughest specimen in a group of raccoons – the leader who ensures all the other raccoons’ well-being. Sikes titled his 1984 autobiography “He-Coon: The Bob Sikes Story”.

The exhibit, which shares space with Congressman Gaetz’ district office, is located at 805 East Jame Lee Boulevard in Crestview. To arrange for a visit, call the Mattie Kelly Arts Center
Galleries at 850-729-6044.

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