The Coastal Branch Library began in 1986 when John Foster and 20 friends donated 250 books. The Friends of the Coastal Branch Library was founded a year later by that group, providing volunteer staffing for the facility until 1988 when the Walton County Commissioners agreed to make the Costal Branch part of the County Library System.

A Special Gift

Folks enjoying the quiet of the new Coastal Branch Library have an equally quiet donor to thank for much of it.

Santa Rosa Beach resident Laura Dugas is the polite and unassuming spirit behind the Dugas Family Foundation, which gave $265,000 to the Friends of the Coastal Branch Library. The donation, which was made to the Friends during their 2000 fundraising campaign, was the single largest contribution to the library.

The Friends recently unveiled a plaque recognizing the foundation's contribution. The foundation donated $250,000 toward the west wing and $15,000 toward the reading garden, both have been named in honor of the family's donation.

An avid reader who encourages her own family to read, Dugas said when the Friends approached the foundation for a donation it was easy to say yes.

"I was in the old library a few times and I definitely saw the need," she said with a gentle laugh.

The old library had been housed in a strip-mall along U.S. 98. The new library, located at the Government Education Center off State Road 331, has 12,500 square feet which is significantly bigger than the old one.

For Dugas, the donation to the library was one more step in building a better community. Besides the library, the foundation has made contributions to the Children's Advocacy Center in Niceville and the Sacred Heart Hospital on the Emerald Coast.

She felt the addition of a library and the hospital reflected not only the area's growth but South Walton's shift toward a more permanent community. Her own family moved to South Walton in 1989 after many years of enjoying the beaches on vacation.

"When we used to come here in the sixties and seventies and bring my children on summer vacation, it was a little fishing village, and it's changed so much since then," she said.

Dugas said the funding of projects is partially based on the location of her sons, two of whom live in the area.

"I like to include them in our decisions," she said, and added that the foundation also funds projects in Texas, where the third son resides.

The foundation was started by her father, the founder of the Dollar General corporation.

"When my mother died in 1988, a foundation in her name was funded... and I chaired that in Kentucky. And we kept money in that area, where my mother grew up and we grew up. And then, as time went on and we did our estate planning, we funded a Dugas foundation, mainly with Dollar General stock," Dugas said.

Today, the retired Dugas keeps busy cooking, doing needlepoint and working as a board member of the Sacred Heart Hospital on the Emerald Coast when the foundation is not demanding her time. She wouldn't want to have it any other way, she said.

"I've been blessed, believe me I know that. I say a prayer every day, but I've been blessed most of my life," Dugas said.

The County System now includes the library in DeFuniak Springs, Freeport, and the North Walton Branch. The Coastal Branch has become a central core of the South Walton community.

Mission Statement:
Provide Walton County residents, visitors, and businesses with information to meet their business, educational, and personal needs.

Linda Thompson, Librarian
Library Telephone: 850-267-2809