Phelps partnered with Walt Ruckel and A.L. Johnson to build Niceville’s first true shopping center, Palm Plaza which included a
Editor’s Note: This is the second of an eight-part series featuring the inaugural inductees in the Niceville Valparaiso Civic Hall of Fame. The series is sponsored by our Community Partner, Twin Cities Hospital. The 2017 inductees will be announced at the Civic Hall of Fame Luncheon on July 19.
Plenn Howell Phelps, Sr., a Niceville businessman who was born in 1931 to Leonard and Mattie Howell Phelps — two of the 333 original residents to signed the charter which established Niceville in 1937 — was a true “Boggy Boy” who enjoyed swimming in Turkey Creek, hunting on the reservation and fishing in the local bays and bayous. Phelps graduated from Niceville High School in 1950 and was the first in his family to go to college. There he met his wife with whom he celebrated 50 years of marriage with before his death in 2004.
Phelps graduated from Niceville High School in 1950 and was the first in his family to go to college. There he met his wife with whom he celebrated 50 years of marriage with before his death in 2004.
Phelps spent two years in the Army before returning to Niceville to help with the family business, Phelps Department Store. He then taught at Choctawhatchee High School making positive differences in young lives. After teaching, he was self-employed as a local entrepreneur for over 40 years as a merchant, general contractor and land developer owning and operating many businesses expanding commerce in the Niceville area.
Phelps was the general contractor with a vision for Rocky Bayou Country Club house and one of the Charter Members.
Phelps partnered with Walt Ruckel and A.L. Johnson to build Niceville’s first true shopping center, Palm Plaza which included a bank, drug store, grocery store and restaurant. He felt that every town needed a movie theater and fitness center and ran those two businesses himself after the original proprietors backed out.
Elected to the Okaloosa County School Board in 1963 because he said, “I believe the time has come for definite action that will guarantee our children that a first-rate education is being offered in our county. I believe that the people will not settle for less than the best education for their children.”
Phelps was a major proponent for the then Okaloosa-Walton Junior College to locate their main campus in Niceville. He stood behind this in the face of adversity. Mayor Randall Wise later sent a letter to Phelps stating “I would like to express to you both personally and on behalf of the city officials and our community, sincere appreciation for your untiring efforts and work in securing Niceville as the permanent location for the Jr. College. I realize these things do not just happen, that your energy and ability supplied the drive to make this happen.”
No stranger to controversy, Phelps and 17 other NHS Boosters were honored for supporting the build and design of the NHS stadium. The design was controversial, but the boosters felt strongly about giving Niceville a college stadium feel and experience which is still used and enjoy today. Phelps and his wife Norma made many lasting contributions to many local community organizations and causes including Little League, Band, NHS Athletics and funded a room at the Children’s Advocacy Center.
SEE RELATED POST: Civic Hall of Fame Series: Niceville Mayor Randall Wise