Yvonne Destin | Antigua
A father’s legacy kept alive by his daughter
In a family filled with nurses and government officials, there is also Yvonne Destin, a jovial entrepreneur who took on her father’s charge, continued the legacy he began and added her own twist.
On a recent visit to the Caribbean island of Antigua I ventured to the capital city of St. John’s to meet Yvonne at one of her enterprises, Destin’s Lumber Yard. There I found an exuberant mother and grandmother with a smile as broad as the island. Within minutes it became clear her arms opened equally as wide.
When asked to share her story Yvonne immediately offered dinner and a chance to talk. Upon hearing my time was limited, she launched into the short version of a story that spans eight decades. I listened as we shared beverages, rode through town, stopped at a street vendor for mangos and visited two of her real estate holdings, all before being dropped off for lunch at the Big Banana, a local hotspot for tourists and residents alike. In addition to her storytelling the ride was peppered with Yvonne’s extraordinary sense of humor, shout outs from the many locals who know her and some outstanding driving from the right side of the car.
So here’s the story.
It all began with Samuel A. Destin (1917-2012), affectionately called Uncle Love by his family and Papa Sita within the business and consumer communities, who 80 years ago acquired a large, three story building. He set the top floor up as a space to host parties, and the second floor was rented as a guesthouse. The street-level commercial space was turned into a community supermarket, from which Yvonne’s cousin, Samuel Aymer, laughingly admitted he and other cousins sometimes helped themselves to candy and ice cream. “Uncle Love and Yvonne always knew it was our doing. Yvonne covered for us and Uncle let it slide,” he added. Diagonally across from the market stood another building owned by Uncle Love, which housed Destin Lumber Company, a business Yvonne still runs today, also selling hardware and appliances.
At a young age Yvonne became a fixture in her father’s businesses, exhibiting a natural interest and strong knack for enterprise details. After finishing school she took on a leadership role, which led to her father’s decision to leave some of his holdings in her capable hands. Yvonne has done a job that would make him proud and proves him right. Building on her father’s legacy, Yvonne has created a real estate empire of her own. When a building facing the lumber store became available Yvonne bought that too and rents it out to others. During our brief tour earlier in the day she showed three properties she owns in the Kentish Village community. One is run as a local bar, featuring Antiguan rum, and two others are being renovated as homes for rent.
After lunch I returned to the store for more of Yvonne’s story. I learned that today the property that started it all is still owned by her. One section continues to serve as a supermarket, a much-needed staple in any community, and the other is a Chinese restaurant. One of her sons resides in what was once the guesthouse. I’m sure there’s more to her story, but the joy of what is known is that she stayed put.
According to an Antigua and Barbuda demographic profile, the 2016 estimated net migration rate from the sister islands was 2.2 emigrants per 1,000, a total of approximately 206 people out of an estimated population of 93,581. This is in sharp contrast to the large migration of Antiguan and Barbudan citizens from the 1950s on through the 1970s, when Yvonne became of age to seek her own way.
Some leave the islands seeking greater income and education opportunities in such countries as Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States. Caribbean migration since the late 1940s in some ways resembles that of southern blacks to the north for the same opportunities. While financial and academic gains may become available, what is clearly left behind are land, property and the opportunity to build on what family started. The question we should all ask, is what can we continue by staying put?
Photos and text © Jelani Bandele 2017