Vance Millender, a longtime leader in the county’s seafood industry, will don the cape as King Retsyo, at the upcoming Nov. 1 and 2 Florida Seafood Festival at Apalachicola’s Battery Park.
Millender, one of six generations to be part of the family business in Carrabelle, will join Franklin County sophomore Morgan Martin in reigning over the golden anniversary of the festival.
Retsyo, son of Neptune, is the guardian of inland waters, bays and estuaries, and each year the festival board selects a king who symbolizes Apalachicola Bay and the bounty harvested by the seafood industry.
“I was really honored to be asked, especially since this is the 50th anniversary,” he said. “This is the first time I’ve ever done anything like that.”
Millender is not without showmanship in his blood, having played tenor sax and bass guitar for the local rock band Locomotive, together with his brother Johnny and friends.
Millender, a Carrabelle native, was selected as sovereign due to his role in the Millender and Son Seafood Company, a legacy handed down to him by his father Farris Millender, and before that his grandfather Braxton Millender, who started the business in 1942.
About six years ago, Millender handed over ownership to his sons, David, 34, and Stephen, 32, who lives with his Crystal and Millender’s first grandchild, Jaxon, in Carrabelle.
Millender, 60, graduated from Carrabelle High School in 1971, and then went for two years to Tallahassee’s Lively Vocational, where he earned a certificate as an industrial electrician.
“I used it for a little while I stayed in Tallahassee,” he said. “I decided really it wasn’t what I wanted to do for a living.”
Millender returned to Carrabelle and got into the seafood business with his dad in 1973, the same year he married his high school sweetheart, the former Virginia Dale McMillan. They’ll be married 40 years on Nov. 17, the same day Jaxon was born.
Millender served in the Navy from 1974 to 1977, including time in the Pacific at the tail end of the Vietnam War, aboard the USS Enterprise, CVN-65, the world's first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier.
Millender returned home as a petty officer second class, and began work in earnest as the third generation of Millenders in the seafood industry, handling wholesale sales and processing.
Millender’s dad died in 1999, and his mom Betty Millender, lives nearby in Carrabelle. In 2009 the company built a plant at 607 SE Avenue B, and introduced retail into the mix.
“We do not do nearly as much processing as we did in the 60s, 70s and 80s, not on a large scale,” he said. “We do processing of seafood, shrimp. We really sell a lot of different types of seafood but the main thing is shrimp.”
Millender said sales have improved every year, and that he enjoys carrying on the family business with his sons.
“We’re fortunate to have the kids here and work with them,” he said. “It’s really a blessing.”