Saving Cocoa Beach

Nancy Bleakley preserves Cocoa Beach history.

You can’t hurry a labor of love.

In the case of Nancy Bleakley, it took a decade.

Bleakley, a reference librarian at Cocoa Beach Public Library, spent 10 years trying to preserve the history found in a long-gone Cocoa Beach newspaper.

During the 1960s and 70s, the weekly “Surfside Slant/Islander,” aka the “Surfside Sun,” was the source for news in Cocoa Beach, from women’s club events to high school football games. Frayed and fragile copies of the paper reside bound at the library, but time had taken a toll on the newsprint. Bleakley thought the “Slant/Islander/Sun” deserved preserving for posterity and began researching ways to digitize all the copies at the library.

“It has been a goal of mine for many years, because it is a local snapshot of life in Central Brevard during the height of the space program, but the paper was deteriorating,” she said.

It was also dear to Bleakley’s heart, since she grew up reading it and as a teen even wrote a weekly high school happenings column in the early 70s. She remembers the weekly trips to publisher Doug Dederer’s office in Cocoa.

“He was always smoking a cigar, quite a character,” she said.

Dederer, a well-known journalist in the area, died in 1985 at age 58. He was the first aerospace reporter for Florida Today, according to the obituary published in The Orlando Sentinel.

Bleakley spent five years researching costs and procedures for digitizing Dederer’s paper, even enrolling in a class on digitization. The problem was the cost, which would have been prohibitive had she not been able to persuade staff of the University of Florida digital newspaper collection department to take on the project gratis, even though the program is very competitive.

After a process slowed considerably by the pandemic, the project is finished and Bleakley has retrieved the originals from Gainesville.

“What Nancy accomplished not only preserves this collection, but it will provide new insight and research capabilities to individuals all over the world who are interested in our space program and its origins,” said Michael Boonstra, genealogy librarian and archivist with Brevard Public Libraries.

The Slant also paints a picture of life in Cocoa Beach during the 1970s, tackling issues that ranged from new condo construction to topless bathing and everything in between.

“You see the names of people you knew and what the stores were and even how much hamburger cost back then,” Bleakley said.

To access the digital copies, visit newspapers.uflib.ufl.edu/ AA00063454/00028