By Tiffany Merlo Phelps
All it took was one eastbound drive over the Intracoastal Waterway bridge on J. Turner Butler Boulevard for Steve Sheffield to fall in love with the Ponte Vedra Beach area. He was visiting Florida, and the beautiful water, grass and wetlands took his breath away. While he loved his home of 55 years in the Mount Vernon area of Virginia, Sheffield and his wife, Bonita (his high school sweetheart), always wanted to move south. When his oldest daughter, Sybil, moved to Ponte Vedra Beach, the perfect time presented itself in 2005. A grandbaby on the way gave them an extra incentive to move. And it was another drive — this time over the Palm Valley Bridge — that brought Sheffield to his current Palm Valley home off Roscoe Boulevard. Sheffield said he and his wife just randomly drove north underneath the bridge in hopes of finding waterfront property even though they were told it was hard to find. Sheffield said Bonita knew immediately upon entering the house that this would be their home. Five years later, his second daughter, Selena, also made the move to Ponte Vedra Beach. Sheffield feels lucky to live on the Intracoastal Waterway with all of his family nearby — now including three grandchildren, aged 15, 13 and six.
Q: You mentioned that you became very interested in beekeeping in 2014. What interests you about this hobby?
A: I just happened to Google beekeeping one day, and the more I looked into it, the more I wanted to learn. I started with one colony and built up to nine colonies, which were all lost in Hurricane Matthew. Then I built up again to seven colonies, which were lost in Hurricane Irma. Then I started up again and built up to six colonies. I buy the bees from Hives and More, a honey farm in the Fruit Cove/Switzerland area of St. Johns County. I was asked to teach a course on the hobby of beekeeping at the University of North Florida, which I have done twice. I used to give people honey, and then I sold it for a short while; however, I ran out every year, so now we just keep it for our own use. I was always more interested in making more bees to sustain for the ecology of the world than selling honey. Eighty percent of crops are inadvertently reliant on bees. Losing a whole batch of bees twice was devastating to me emotionally.
Q: What does a beekeeping course entail?
A: It was a senior learning course with about 12 to 14 students. Some were interested in bees for gardening and pollination purposes, and a few wanted to become beekeepers. I was able to teach them the history of bees and talk about modern theories and techniques during the seven-week course. We took a field trip to my house, and each student was able to hold a frame of bees. They called me a “bee whisperer.”
Q: What are your other hobbies?
A: I have had a lifelong interest in boating, sailboat racing and motor cruising. I have been around boating all my life from the age of 10. I own two boats, and I was licensed in 1992 by the United States Coast Guard as a boat captain. I also worked part-time on the dinner cruiser “Sundance” out of Palm Coast for several years. I got ordained to be a minister, so that I could do weddings on the cruise too. I am also very interested in computers and anything to do with electronics. And I am a member of the American Legion and two Fraternal Order of Police Auxiliary organizations.
Q: What is your military background?
A: I enlisted in the Navy in 1969 during the Vietnam War. I served during the war, but I was not in the war. I was in the Atlantic Fleet, and I was on active duty for two years. It was a six-year enlistment.
Q: Where did you work for most of your life?
A: I worked in construction with various companies, but mostly for my father. I worked for him as a carpenter, a foreman, drew up plans and ultimately became the vice president. He inspired me greatly. I started my own building and development company in 1975 and built more than 100 houses. In 1993, I built weekly rental, oceanfront houses in Kitty Hawk, N.C., which are still providing my main source of income. I retired partially in 1996. My life motto is “Never let an opportunity go to waste.”
Photo courtesy Steve Sheffield