by Mallorie Ann Ingram
What does a firefighter with a military background look like? Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Don Whitman comes to mind.
Whitman’s Air Force military background took him around the world with life experiences, journeys and endless stories; but at the end of 1999, his life changed. It was then he met the love of his life, Jeanne. They lived in Fort Lauderdale, where Whitman was a firefighter at Fort Lauderdale International Airport, but after the 9/11 attacks, he was faced with a major decision. His reserve unit called and told him to pack his bags for a
“I had never in my life said, ‘no’ to anything the military asked of me because that was the path I’d chosen,” Whitman says.
As he watched what it was doing to Jeanne, and having suddenly the option to stand down because he was the last to deploy, he made a life-changing decision.
“I looked over at her, there was a dead silence on the phone, and I said, ‘you know what, I’m going to stand down,’ I’m doing this because I’m looking at our future,” Whitman says.
It was at this point he realized he was starting the next chapter of his life. Time passed and other doors opened on his career journey; training in aerospace physiology at the University of North Dakota, flying missions and aerial surveillance in Iraq, and so on.
“Jeanne and I understood if I kept doing this, we would be apart too much,” Whitman says.
So, he decided to take on a role at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station as a firefighter with primary support to space missions. “It never gets old watching rockets go up,” Whitman says. “When the first stage lands, there is a double sonic boom right before touch down that
startles me every time.”
For the first time in his life, he could be in one place with stability and most importantly, the love of his life. Whitman makes one thing clear when it comes to heroes and fighting for what you believe in. “There are a lot of people that answer the call when opportunities arise to help and be a hero,” Whitman says. “I know that firefighters, police, military, and like can put on a uniform and it’s great. But to me the heroes are the people that are doing it without getting the glory. Our teachers, for instance, are great examples. Even a homeless person can be a hero.”
Whitman has the upmost respect for law enforcement, firefighters, nurses, and other leaders, especially when these individuals live their lives with humility and kindness. Whitman says he has so much to learn still and makes it a point to achieve this daily.
“You have to believe that you’re going to put yourself in a position every day to help someone and then just go do it,” Whitman says.
Sheriff Wayne Ivey
One of the area’s key influential leaders, Sheriff Wayne Ivey, lives by a simple yet impactful motto, “It takes a community to protect a community.”
“It really comes down to this,” Ivey says. “When you realize you have been given the honor to serve as Sheriff of a community, you also get the opportunity to be involved with many other different aspects of helping
Ivey expresses that it’s not his actions as the Sheriff that protect the community, but instead it’s the BCSO Team who are out there each and
“I am surrounded by an amazing team and I’m smart enough to stay out of their way,” Ivey says. “Take the crime rate-we’ve dropped it by almost 20 percent, that’s huge.”
One of the biggest accomplishments highlighted in the community are the well-known efforts made by Sheriff Ivey and his team with animal control. At the time the Sheriff’s Office took over Animal Services, the live release rate was at 55 percent, an amount that Ivey says is depressing to even think about.
“I love animals,” Ivey says. “I wanted to take over animal control because it was the right thing to do and I knew we could make a difference in the lives of animals.”
Ivey’s task was to find the right team of individuals to create a no-kill facility within two years. “In order to be classified as “No Kill” you have to maintain a live release of 90% annually,” Ivey says. Many people told Ivey this couldn’t be done but once again, this didn’t stop him. He recognized the importance of this to people in the community and of course, the animals, so he did what he does best. “I picked the right team to get in there, and in 18 months, we achieved no kill status,” Ivey says. “It goes back to that mindset that it takes a community to protect a community.”
Today, the team is asked to travel around the country to teach other shelters how to achieve no-kill status.
Ivey isn’t just an average sheriff, he’s a leader practicing humility and recognizing what matters most to individuals in our community.
For nearly 22 years, Desmond Blackburn has dedicated his career to the school system and since the summer of 2015, he has been the Superintendent of Brevard County Schools.
Blackburn’s journey began as a young child when his parents chose to take advantage of the economic boom and put him and a sister in a moving truck heading south with nothing but a prayer.
“My father always said that it was the best decision he could have done for our family,” Blackburn says.
This opportunity not only opened the door for Blackburn’s future of success, but it also taught him to recognize the importance of growth, family, and practicing humility along the way.
“The people in this community truly value what public education can do,” Blackburn says. “Of course, this creates a high expectation for those of us that work for the school system, but there’s no way we could perform as well as we do without that belief across this region.”
Blackburn gives credit to his team and support of individuals in the community. He describes his role as someone who must understand the wants of this community, where this region wants to go and succeed.
“Having my ears wide open and hearing the passions of these people is what I live by,” Blackburn says.
With the strong presence of various corporations, a thriving school system, nearby cities, and phenomenal communities for individuals to live in, it’s no surprise this area is booming.
“Brevard County has been one of the best-known secrets in the south,” Blackburn says. “I would say though that it is becoming more well known as a place to live, learn, work,
As SpaceCoast Living went to press, we learned that Superintendent of Brevard Public Schools, Desmond Blackburn is resigning after three years to become chief executive officer of a California-based nonprofit education organization, New Teacher Center.
Founded in 1998, the organization is “dedicated to improving student learning by guiding a new generation of educators.” NTC works closely with school districts, educators and lawmakers, to increase the effectiveness of teachers and administrators.
A familiar face and long-time resident of our Space Coast region is that of Paul Joyal, owner of Joyal Homes. For many years, he has not only been serving the community but he has spent time building a successful, large family, with three grown children, five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
“My two brothers and I started in probably the worst recession of this area, back in 1974, but we still made it,” Joyal says.
Thanks to their giant support system, this family business stayed strong and persevered. For the past 44 years, they have been building custom homes for people to enjoy in the area. How did his journey begin? He started out in the aerospace industry, much like others in the community, but then felt it was time for a change.
“I knew the space program here in Brevard would be changing so I decided to go into business with my two brothers,” Joyal says. “They were both carpenters and builders so we put our talents together for good use.”
What does Joyal attribute his success to over the years, especially with this ever-changing community? It’s simple. “We never get over-extended,” Joyal says. “We were strong enough to overcome challenges along the way but we always lived by this mindset and maintaining a strong organization with qualified contributing employees.”
Joyal comes from a long line of hard workers. He says it’s also critical to make time for family, friends, and most importantly, Florida Gator football.
Currently, Joyal Homes is building in the luxury community of Valencia of Addison Village in Viera (prices starting in the mid $600’s) and in the southern living home style community of Aurora Woods in Melbourne (prices starting in the high $400’s). A great deal of Joyal Homes projects are on the owners’ private lots, many of which reside on the ocean, river or larger land parcels throughout Brevard.