From FBI to Destin’s Own Victory Garden!

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By Michelle Ruschman

If you’ve ever driven down Beach Drive, you may have noticed several gardeners working at the front of Destin Church of Christ and admired the incredible garden. The man who had the idea for the beautification project is just as extraordinary. Meet our hometown hero Richard Gliebe, a former FBI agent who desires to serve in all the ways he was created to.

Richard Gliebe Victory GardenBorn from the hardship of World War II, Richard Gliebe discovered a passion for gardening. During that time, Americans were encouraged to start gardens in their backyards to ensure an adequate food supply was available for civilians and troops. These gardens became known as Victory Gardens. Wanting to participate in the war efforts, the Gliebes, who lived in Napa, Calif., at the time, planted their garden and Richard, age 5, was given his first lettuce seeds. “I was amazed that a speck of a seed emerged as a beautiful plant that you could eat. This was the beginning of a life-long fascination that has never left me.”

In high school, Richard became fascinated with the FBI through a book called The FBI Story by Don Whitehead. When he finished high school, J. Edgar Hoover was the director at the time and they were looking for lawyers. “I went to college, got an accounting degree first, then got a law degree, and applied right to the FBI. They accepted me in 1966 and I had to train for 12 weeks. In the 9th week, we were brought to J. Edgar Hoover’s office and about 20 of us were lined up like you would in a military inspection. He walked up and down so each of us could introduce ourselves and he looked each man in the eye. He accepted me and I was able to continue my training.

I was first assigned to Baltimore and then I went on to Chicago where I got all my really interesting case work. I was first on the Fugitive Squad where we looked for unlawful flight fugitives who may have killed in one state and then went to another to hide. We were all a bunch of young guys who were gung-ho and willing to take chances. One of my first cases was when Martin Luther King Jr. got killed. James Earl Ray was identified as the killer early on and within hours of him being identified, leads went out across the entire country. He had strong ties in Chicago through friends, boarding houses and dance halls, and we were assigned to investigate these leads. He was eventually caught in Tennessee, but talk about your introduction to an interesting life!”

After a year, Richard was transferred to the Organized Crime Squad. Richard was the youngest member and he worked alongside FBI agents who were responsible for developing the investigative skills to combat organized crime. It was during that time that Bobby Kennedy, as the Attorney General, took special interest in this area. Richard’s squad was so advanced that it was Richard’s supervisor who briefed Kennedy about how to get this done.

In the 80s, when Richard was in his early 40s, he took a class on sustainable organic farming and gardening at the University of California which was on the cutting edge of this movement, even before it became part of the nation’s food culture. This, of course, was not a new concept, as using natural by-products and organic soil fertility practices, had been the original way of gardening. The university, however, was the first to develop a curriculum and Richard was among the first students. After taking the class, Richard stayed in California for the next two years and continued to work on a 17-acre organic farm and another organic farm whose produce was purchased by New York’s finest restaurants. He then developed his own 3-acre working organic farm to develop additional gardening techniques. The school he started with, the University of California, became his largest client.

Now, at age 85, Richard is known in Destin for his beautification efforts and gardening skills. “I have gardened for 80 years throughout the country, from California to Florida, and from Illinois to Arizona. I have been very fortunate to have worked and volunteered in many types of gardens.

One of the most rewarding gardening experiences I’ve had, however, involves Destin Church of Christ. I remember going by on my way to work one day and after seeing the sign for Hope Medical Center (a non-profit clinic inside the church), I just wanted to do something to acknowledge their efforts and give back. I knew that I could give the church and clinic more curb appeal with my knowledge of gardening.”

Richard brought his proposal for a garden to the church elders and after agreeing on the concept, resources were committed to start the garden. At the time, Richard had planned to work on his own, but since then, it has grown into a ministry of education, community-building and purpose. “When we started, it was two flower beds with a hundred plants. Two years later, and we have 12 beds with a couple thousand plants during the summer!”

As the gardeners worked on eight additional flower beds along the church frontage, neighbors noticed the effect of the beautification project on the whole neighborhood. With increasing frequency, people are dropping by to chat, ask questions, share their gratitude and ask how to help. “Early in the development of the garden, a couple of the church members started the Garden Ministry. Everyone is welcome to volunteer for various gardening tasks. To date, over 31 members have volunteered and the garden is now entirely grown and maintained by volunteers of all denominations.”

The other four churches on Beach Drive, Destin United Methodist Church, First Baptist Church of Destin, Corpus Christi Catholic Church, and Cornerstone Presbyterian are joining in the effort as well.

If you want to learn about gardening or have questions about the gardening projects, call Destin Church of Christ at 850-837-8050.

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