By Martie Thompson
Ken Overman is a natural storyteller… which is good, since that is his latest business. Over his lifetime, he has been a world traveler with a wide assortment of jobs; he has written four memoirs. He has extensive knowledge of foreign countries and cultures and many more stories than space here will permit. From his upbringing in Southern California, to a tour with the Army in Turkey, to stints with late wife Barbara in Germany, Spain, and Greece, he has, by his own count, visited 106 countries. Twenty-four years ago, he and his family made Ponte Vedra Beach their home. He started his business, BiographyMasters, nine years ago and now helps others write their biographies. He says it’s an honor to have people tell him their life stories.
Q: What can you tell us about growing up in Southern California?
A: I lived outside Long Beach and my mom raised me with my three brothers. I had mediocre grades in high school. I grew up on a surf board and later was taught to sail on a dragon-class sloop by the millionaire who lived across the street from us. (We were not millionaires.) By 11th grade, I had fixed up an old star-class sloop and sailed her out into the Pacific every day after school. After I graduated I went to junior college, but I didn’t attend my classes. When I received my draft notice for the Vietnam War, I decided to enlist instead. I was in Airborne for awhile and then went into communications and was sent to Turkey.
Q: How was living in Turkey?
A: It was in Turkey that I met Barbara. She was the associate director of the USO and our first date was going to a showing of the movie “Doctor Zhivago.” Six months later, the day after my honorable discharge, we were married in a little Anglican church in Turkey. One of our premises of getting married was we wanted to see the world and not live in the U.S.
Q: So where did you live abroad?
A: We worked at a ski lodge in Germany. We moved to Spain and lived on the Atlantic Coast where I developed two businesses: a leather goods boutique and a water skiing/boat rental business. We were hippies by this time, known as “Barbie and Ken” since we were both blonde. We also became Christians in Spain via some missionary friends. Shortly after this, we decided it was time to “grow up” and I decided to go back to school via the GI Bill. I was accepted at the American College of Greece, so we packed up our three dogs and moved to Greece, where we ended up living for nine years. We also adopted our daughter, Lisa, in Greece. She is now a diplomat with the State Department in Lebanon.
Q: What was your next step?
A: After living abroad for 15 years, we decided it was time to go back to the States, but we didn’t know where to settle. So first we prayed, then we saw a magazine in a kiosk in downtown Athens featuring an aerial shot of an in-water boat show in Annapolis, Maryland. So we moved there. We experienced reverse culture shock; after being Americans living overseas as Europeans, it took about three years to feel like we were on an even keel.
Q: How did you end up in Ponte Vedra Beach?
A: Our daughter, Lisa, had joined Youth with a Mission and was doing relief work on a mercy ship that stopped in Jacksonville. Barbara had a friend with a summer home in Ponte Vedra Beach and wanted to visit. As soon as we came across the J. Turner Butler bridge to the beach, we knew we were home. We moved to Ponte Vedra in 1994. Since I’ve lived here I’ve taught at Florida State College at Jacksonville, worked in international marketing for a marine company, served as president of a luxury yacht company that unfortunately was one of the first dominoes to fall in the recession, and worked in relief and development in Afghanistan for USAID (United States Agency for International Development). I started my biography business nine years ago and I’m currently working on my third novel.
Photo courtesy Ken Overman