Jennie McKeon

Digital Content Producer/Reporter

Jennie joined WUWF in 2018 as digital content producer and reporter.

After graduating from University of West Florida in 2009 with a B.A. in Communication Arts/Journalism, she worked for print publications across Northwest Florida including InWeekly, The Destin Log and Northwest Florida Daily News. In 2016, she was named Features Writer of the Year by Gatehouse Media.

Born in Pennsylvania, she admits to being a "Yankee who drinks sweet tea." She dislikes cold weather and is happy to trade a white Christmas for 75-degree weather anytime.

Jennie is a proud volunteer of Gulf Coast Kid's House and Save our Kittens and Cats (SOCKS) in Fort Walton Beach. When she's not reading or listening to podcasts, she enjoys photography, 80s movies, re-watching "The Office" and looking at pictures of your cats.  

Ways to Connect

Jennie McKeon/WUWF Public Media

Memorial Day weekend is a big holiday at the Air Force Enlisted Village where residents are either retired service members or spouses of service members. 

And even as the coronavirus pandemic disrupts aspects of daily life, AFEV wasn’t going to let the military holiday go unnoticed. 

Saturday morning, residents in red, white and blue waved to a parade of vintage cars, motorcycles and first responders. Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA” blared from a car speaker and the loop of resident halls and apartments were lined with American flags. 

Jennie McKeon/WUWF Public Meida

The Shark Gym owners, Suzy and Cozmo Digiano, remember the exact moment gyms were closed in Florida.

“March 20, 1:40 p.m.,” said Suzy.

It was a harsh reality for the small business which opened in 2018. Until gyms reopened statewide on May 18, the Digianos were trying to stay positive while handling an “influx of cancellations.” 

“We held our breaths for a little while,” said Suzy. “We knew people were being affected (by the pandemic). We just leaned further into our faith.” 

Public Domain Image

Local governments worked overtime last weekend to submit their safety plans for short-term rentals in hopes of restarting the tourism industry in the Panhandle. And they're starting to get approvals back today. 

The scramble started Friday afternoon when Gov. Ron DeSantis laid out his “full phase one” reopening plan for the state, which includes resuming short-term rentals on a case-by-case basis. 

Jennie McKeon, WUWF Public Media

It’s been nearly two weeks since most local beaches have reopened. Safety officials say, for the most part, people are maintaining their distance and complying with new guidelines. 

“The numbers (of people) are picking up and that’s expected,” said Rich Huffnagle, beach safety division chief for Okaloosa County. “We’re at about 50% occupancy rate compared to what we normally see this time of year. It’s mostly locals.”

Leah Thornton

Florida Forest Service firefighters continue to reinforce containment lines and mop up hot spots of the 2,215-acre Five Mile Swamp Fire. Tuesday morning, FFS reported the fire was 90% contained. 

Monday’s red flag warning has expired, but Blackwater Forestry Center spokesman Joe Zwierzchowski says the weather continues to be a challenge.

“It’s still dry, still dangerous,” he said. “We want people to be cautious until we see some decent rainfall.”

Blackwater Forestry Service

The Five Mile Swamp fire 75% contained, a week after it started.

The fire reached a total of 2,215 acres, said Joe Zwierzchowski of the Forestry Service’s Blackwater office. 

While it is an improvement, Zwierzchowski said the area’s red flag warning – meaning high temperatures, low humidity and stronger winds – has firefighters still working harder to extinguish flames and prevent further spreading. 

“What we are doing to mitigate is we have firefighters within 50 feet of the containment line smoldering hot spots,” said Zwierzchowski.

Jennie McKeon/WUWF Public Media

Local governments took strong measures to detract visitors when they closed beaches in March. 

Now, most have reopened as the state moves into phase one of its reopening plan. But with the short-term rental ban and social-distancing orders still in place, the peak season will be a bit different. And local tourism offices are sharing that message with incoming visitors. 

“Open beaches come with responsibility,” said Destin Mayor Gary Jarvis. “We want everyone to be good neighbors. Don’t be part of a potential problem, but a participant in the solution.” 

Jennie McKeon, WUWF Public Media

The first thing Jane Mihanovich did when she arrived at Okaloosa Island Friday morning was stick her feet in the emerald water. 

“I came here to see and to touch the ocean,” said the native Croatian who moved to Fort Walton Beach in 2007. “When I got in, it felt incredible … indescribable.” 

Jennie McKeon/WUWF Public Media

Walton County beaches opened Friday and people showed up with their umbrellas and coolers in tow. 

But Daniel Uhlfelder showed up in a black linen robe and a plastic scythe. 

Walton County

Yes, you can sunbathe on Walton County beaches. 

Walton County Commissioners revised their beach reopening resolution Thursday afternoon after some confusion and consternation following their original resolution which prohibited sunbathing and limited beach activities to walking, jogging, fishing, swimming, paddle boarding, surfing, and boating.

The revised resolution allows all normal beach activities allowed under the Walton County Waterways and Beach Activities Ordinance — in other words business as usual. 

Flickr

Destin beaches will also be open May 1. 

City Council members deliberated the issue Wednesday night for more than two hours before voting unanimously to open beaches from dawn to dusk. Beachgoers are to practice social distancing and keep groups to 10 people or fewer. 

Across the Panhandle, county commissions and city councils have had similar discussions. Each have their own hours of operation and restrictions, which the council considered. 

“It makes my head hurt reading it,” said Councilmember Chatham Morgan. 

Walton County Sheriff's Office

The Walton County Sheriff’s Office is doing its part to protect residents from spreading COVID-19 by delivering more than 3,700 safety masks to residents from Paxton to Miramar Beach.

“Our first duty is public safety,” said WCSO Public Information Officer Corey Dobridnia. 

The Sheriff’s Office spent about $15,000 on masks purchased from Professional Products in DeFuniak Springs. The funds come from forfeitures — proceeds of criminal activity including cash, technology, cars, and more. Attorney Clayton Adkinson also donated funds to the cause. 

Jennie McKeon / WUWF Public Media

Starting May 1, people will be able to enjoy Navarre Beach from 2:30-7:30 p.m.

Santa Rosa County Commissioners voted Thursday to reopen the beach in a limited capacity. Additionally, commissioners voted to reopen the Navarre Beach Fishing Pier to annual passholders, including those whose passes have expired in the last three months. 

“None of this is something we normally deal with and we’re not going to be able to accommodate everyone and make everyone happy,” said Commissioner Lane Lynchard before the unanimous vote. 

Savannah Vasquez/Courtesy Photo

Okaloosa County Board of Commissioners voted Tuesday morning to reopen all beaches from 6:30 to 9 a.m. and 4 to 7:30 p.m. daily starting May 1. 

Chairman Trey Goodwin said he believed the limited reopening was a “reasoned approach” at a time when people have been asked to give up a lot from closures of recreational facilities to layoffs.

“Folks are wearing out with this,” he said. “Fortunately, in Okaloosa County, our citizens are good stewards of the public and have done their part to reduce the spread. This gives us a plan, a target. It is cautious, but it is movement.”

A Sign Of Hope

Apr 20, 2020
Jennie McKeon/WUWF

In these socially distant times, it may be hard to find someone to confide in, especially those who live alone.

That’s why Jon Becker, senior minister at Concord Presbyterian Church in Gulf Breeze, decided he would reach out not just to his congregation, but the community.

On the church’s marquee, by the side of U.S. 98, are the words “Nervous? Afraid? Just need to talk? Call my cell,” followed by Becker’s personal number. 

“Some have just called to say thank you,” said Becker. “Some people just need someone to talk to. I’m mostly listening.”

Pages