INDIAN ROCKS BEACH — The names Bie and Walsingham are intertwined with the early history of Pinellas County, as members of both families were among the area’s first, and most successful, settlers. 

Records show Jesse Ancil Walsingham came to the region in the late 1890s when it was still part of Hillsborough County. Walsingham was known as a businessman and civic leader who is credited with helping found the Pinellas County Fair, among other accomplishments.

Norman Bie was a Tampa real estate agent who moved to Indian Rocks Beach during the Depression and whose original family home — a 100-old boat house at 81 Gulf Blvd. — today is a local landmark and a popular vacation rental.

On June 25, descendants of both families — Joyce Walsingham Nicholson and Billy Bie — met at the Indian Rocks Beach Historical Museum at the urging of Walsingham’s neighbor, Pat Klimczak, and her friend, Jan Walker, in an encounter that could only be described as historic.

“I moved in next to Joyce, and she told me she’s a pioneer here,” said Klimczak, a Chicago native who moved here from South Florida a few months ago. “So, I told Jan and she immediately said we need to take her to the historical museum in Indian Rocks Beach.”

Walker told Klimczak she had visited the museum at 203 4th Ave. N. one week prior and met Billy Bie and his wife, Shera, who were serving as docents; when the group returned with Walsingham the next week, there was an unexpected reunion between ancestors of two of the area’s most recognizable families.

“It turned out Billy and Joyce went to school together!” Walker said of the former Anona Elementary School students, who were separated by three years but recalled each other immediately. 

“We haven’t seen each other in 70 years,” Walsingham said with a laugh, adding, “We’re the original Florida crackers!”

As Joyce, Billy and Shera, his spouse of 62 years, sat around a table sifting through old photos and county records, Mayor Cookie Kennedy popped in and shared her thoughts about the historic meeting.

“This is so exciting to me because my dad taught history at Largo High for 40 years and he was a big history guy,” she said, with Joyce noting she also attended LHS, Class of ‘55. “So, when Pat called me and told me what was going on I said, ‘Oh my God, I have to run over there because the story is so incredible.’”

Indeed, seeing the group reminiscing about the true “good old days,” when Joyce would sell orange blossoms while barefoot from her father’s uncle, Jesse Ancil, orange grove, or the time Billy stood shirtless on the back of horse in the Gulf of Mexico, was like looking through a window into the past.

“I was born on the corner of what’s now Walsingham Road and 131st Street, in a house my grandfather used to own, and we used to ride our bicycles over here,” Walsingham said, citing the road that now bears her family’s name and noting the streets were unpaved and goats were as common a sight as cars.

Shera Bie explained that Norman Bie had six kids and Billy was the youngest, and “they were Tampa people who started coming over here and building summer houses and summer cottages. Billy’s father was on the city council and knew the next boom would be on the beaches, so he figured he could find something cheap, he started fixing it up, and now the Bie family still owns it today.”

When asked if they could foresee Pinellas County becoming a bustling metroplex bursting at the seams with residents, visitors and development, Joyce replied, “Oh no! People complain about the traffic now, but I remember when there were no cars here,” while Billy said, “No, we didn’t think about it, because we were already here.”

Between taking photos with the mayor and chatting, Pat Klimczak was asked why a recent transplant to the area would want to help connect two of the county’s oldest families. 

“We talked about how people really don’t pay attention to the history of the area, and it’s sad,” she said of a conversation with Walker. 

“There are so many people here from other areas, we think it’s important to know the history of the area,” Walker, a 40-year IRB resident, added.

When asked after the meeting how the reunion made her feel, Joyce Walsingham didn’t hesitate to reply.

“That’s the most excitement I’ve had in years!” she said by phone a few days later, adding she knew Billy was still living in the area. “But after school, I lived on the mainland and he lived on the beach, and he went one way, and I went the other.”

She went on to praise Klimczak for being the new neighbor she had prayed for.

When asked if she was ready for the newfound attention that could be coming her way after Mayor Kennedy promised to have an official recognition ceremony during an upcoming commission meeting, Walsingham said: “I may be in a wheelchair before it’s all done, but I love it! It’s crazy how this all came together. It makes me wonder how many more there are around, because I don’t think there are too many of us left. A lot of friends have moved or passed away, but I’m still here.”_