CRYSTAL BEACH — A few years ago, an anonymous donor floated an idea to CSA Palm Harbor, the area's recreation center.
We live on the edge of a bountiful Gulf of Mexico, which on calmer days approximates to paradise, the donor said. Many young people have never held a fishing pole. What if the Centre of Palm Harbor could sponsor a summer fishing camp, pairing local kids with professional fishing guides?
Who could make that happen?
"I said, 'I've got the perfect guy,'" said Erica Lynford, who directs CSA Palm Harbor/The Centre. Dean Parks, the gregarious bartender and fixture in the Tarpon Springs area, had been teaching kids at the recreation center to wade-fish or fish from bridges for years.
It was a good call. Contacted by the center, Mr. Parks quickly persuaded several other fishing guides to join him. Paid only with fuel, ice and soda, they would take 75 children from Ozona and Palm Harbor out fishing over three days.
Mr. Parks ran the fishing camps like mass baptisms, and won over hundreds of young converts.
"They were so excited," Lynford said. "Capt. Dean would fillet the fish, and they would take it home in a baggie. Most of them don't eat fish, but you would have thought they were bringing home prime rib to their family."
Mr. Parks donated his services again the next year, and the next.
A Dunedin native, Mr. Parks lived in Crystal Beach. An already wide circle of friends expanded with bartending jobs at the El Jalapeno bar and Neptune's Lounge in Tarpon Springs.
"He was the best bartender in the world," said Eddie Mullally, who owns Neptune's Lounge and a bicycle shop next door. "If he knew you and you drank Miller Lite, the minute you walked in you'd have a Miller Lite up there for you."
In recent years, Mr. Parks worked as a fishing guide and was a stay-at-home dad to his two children with Amanda Baty: Marlee, 6; and Fisher, 4.
Mr. Parks suffered a massive heart attack Jan. 10 and died at Helen Ellis Memorial Hospital. He was 50.
Hundreds of people gathered at the Crystal Beach Pier at sunset last weekend to remember him. "That is the biggest shock of somebody passing that I've ever been through," said Gunner Gause, a fellow fishing guide and longtime friend. "He was such an active person. It was just devastating for everybody."
Since her companion's death, many people have told Baty, 32, about some act of kindness Mr. Parks had rendered. No two stories were the same, she said.
Times researcher Natalie Watson contributed to this report. Andrew Meacham can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2248.