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SoWal Spotlight on the Soap Pedaler

November 1, 2011 by Gwen Break

Celeste and Ted Cobena represent what is best about South Walton. Long-time transplants from Louisiana, they built their home some 20 years ago. Both saw South Walton for the paradise it is. Because they saw that, Celeste has worked hard to preserve it.

For a number of years she fought to preserve the ecological integrity of South Walton. She looked around and saw things, “that just weren’t right.” A geologist herself, Celeste was able to connect the dots as it were, and see what a particular project would impact.

During the late ‘90s and into the 2000s, Celeste was often the only one at county commission meetings who would stand up and demand answers as to why something was being done the way it was being proposed. She ranted and sometimes even raved. She was an “in-your face” kind of woman and didn’t hesitate to call any government official on his or her BS. She was passionate. She was vocal. Many saw her as the enemy of growth and progress in Walton County.

I don’t know if Celeste created Beach to Bay Connection -- I certainly don’t want to overlook any of the other people who may have contributed -- but it is always Celeste with whom I associate the organization. For me, a former newspaper editor, she was Beach to Bay.

Created to “enhance and protect” Walton County’s natural resources, to “gather and disseminate information specific to our ecosystems,” and to “act as stewards of our public lands,” Beach to Bay was a force to reckon with when building in South Walton at the turn of our century. I suspect at least one of the developers that fell victim to Celeste’s insistence to “do it the right way,” and abandoned his project on 30A is now giving thanks for not having a multitude of empty storefronts and hotel rooms

At some point, Celeste burned out. After she and Ted built many of the greenway trails that zigzag South Walton, she took less interest in politics. She did not feel it was right that she, and sometimes she alone, should be the only one who cared about the future of South Walton and how its resources could be squandered by uncaring developers and rules that seemed to change from project to project. She backed off. Then she backed out.

Still, in visiting her home last week, she had to show me a photo of an endangered woodpecker. The man who gave it to her said he had taken it in an area where a new road was being proposed across the Intracoastal. According to Celeste, he was the only one who spoke at a public meeting to discuss the new construction, which if completed will link the new airport to South Walton. I got the impression he and Celeste were the only ones there that really gave a damn about the poor bird and its habitat.

Nowadays Celeste’s passion is making soap. She has a cottage industry and hand makes the pretties for wholesale in the fancy shops on Scenic 30A and some out of state retailers.

She is known as the Soap Pedaler. In addition to the wholesale orders she makes, she rides every Saturday morning to Seaside to sale her imperfect creations at the Seaside market. She calls it her “outlet location.”

A spare room in her house, once filled with topographical maps, development plans and blueprints, is now filled with racks of soap and all the magic ingredients and tools used to make the sweet smelling bars. In typical Celeste fashion, she shops hundreds of sites on the Internet to search out the best oils, fragrances and creams for each product she makes.

Every bar she makes has its own unique ingredients. The smell from her potions fills the house with an indescribable fragrance, a potpourri of the best perfumes Mother Nature has to offer.

As I was leaving, she took me to husband Ted’s recording studio, a room boxed in between the house stilts filled with mixing boards, drums, a keyboard and a collection of music-making devices and memorabilia. Ted has become a musician of some renown, working with singers, songwriters and bands across the country via the Internet. Additionally, he writes and records his own music. But Ted is whole other story which I will write about another day.

In typical Cobena fashion, Celeste filled a bag for me with her soaps and bath fizzies and cajoled Ted into giving me a copy of two of his CDs. That is always the way I have known these two despite not having had much contact with them through the years.

Passionate about what they do. Caring about those around them and the world they live in and generous with their time and selves. Strong, confident, each one a person unto him- and herself, with interests and activities all their own, and yet partners in life and love.

Many people in South Walton can boast of being wealthy but few are as rich as Celeste and Ted Cobena. It is amazing, as Celeste says, how “lucky and blessed” they are.

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Gwen Break

Gwen Break loves to write and she loves to keep up with almost everyone and almost everything going on in South Walton.

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