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T H E M O S T A D V A N C E D H E A LT H C A R E I S R I G H T H E R E .

He had a stroke last October. Today, they’re leaving on a cruise.

Bon voyage, John and Nancy.

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Learn more at Compassion. Innovation. Trust. We’re your family’s choice.

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KENDALL YERTON Florida Southern College Website & Print Work. FOCUS MAGAZINE POLK COUNTY JULY 2012




2012 • Issue 08-05

In this issue • Local Polk County Page 6

• Feature-Political Candidates Page 10

• Spotlight-Michael Ray Page 14

• Business Profile-Tom Edwards Page 17



JULY 2012


See why everyone is driving to Bartow to buy a car from TOM EDWARDS.

One thing this month is for certain - we’ve had more than our fair share of wind and rain. Florida’ s tropical storm season creates plenty of activity to keep The Weather Channel folks hopping and the emergency preparedness organizations on their mark. But Floridians, like all Americans, are survivors. It’s times like these when we realize once again the power of creation. While the winds and rains can do damage, when we focus on the bright side of the wet weather we see that it also replenishes our water supply and refreshes our sun-sheltering trees and foliage. We’ve needed it and we’re thankful for the cleansing showers. But we’ve also learned that planning and precautions can help everyone do their part to prepare for and prevent excessive damage. Focus also hopes to prepare readers for the upcoming elections with photos and information about the candidates who feel inspired to seek or continue in public office. For some deeper insights into what motivates each, we’ve included a link to questionnaires they completed for Business Voices. You’ll be impressed by the thoughts expressed in their responses that will most likely incite you to vote and take a more active role in our government, too. True Americans - every one of them. And on that patriotic note, we wish you a safe and happy Fourth of July. We trust most of you will take a little time to celebrate our freedoms with family, friends and maybe even some fireworks. We hope so, because our mid-year holiday tradition is definitely one worth safe-guarding. On this her 236th birthday, let’s all focus on what’s great about America. We believe the best is yet to be.

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PINS 4 PAWS O n June 9th, people of all ages laced up their bowling shoes and had fun supporting their four-legged friends at the first Pins 4 Paws charity bowling event to benefit the Humane Society of Polk County. Held at Imperial Lanes at the Eagle Ridge Mall in Lake Wales, the $20 ticket included two games, shoes rental, two slices of pizza and a soda – a good deal for a great cause! Participants also had the chance to win several great raffle prizes like gift certificates and vaccination packages, all of which were generously donated by individuals and local businesses. The event was coordinated by Humane Society volunteer Stacy Nichols,, a cat foster mom who has housed over 100 kittens in the last four years. She got the idea after seeing the success other shelters had with similar events via Facebook. “Social media has really been helpful with informing people about our cause and our events. Three years ago we only had 50 likes on our page and now we have over 1,000. We hope that this event will raise awareness of our needs and raise money for a new building. We have the land, we just need money to actually build on it.”


JULY 2012

Going for the spare. Photo by: Valerie McCutcheon


The current building was constructed in 1980 and is now overcrowded and in poor condition. “We are the only no-kill shelter in Polk County,” says Humane Society employee Laura Chaikin. “But, we are just a small shelter. We have six full-time employees who care for about 50 cats, 20 dogs and two rabbits 365 days a year. We’re trying to get the word out that we need volunteers and foster homes, and since we are funded solely through donations, we need to raise money to help these animals.” The event raised just over $1,000 for the Humane Society, and with such a great turnout, will be held again in November. For those interested in volunteering, donating, or fostering, please visit the Humane Society’s website at http://www. or call (863) 324-5227.

Organizer Stacy Nichols (in red) with volunteers and participants. Photo by: Valerie McCutcheon

Volunteering at the Humane Society is a great way for high school students to earn community service hours this summer! The shelter is located at 555 Sage Road in Winter Haven, and is open Tuesday – Saturday from 10 am to 5 pm. Volunteers at the welcome table. Photo by: Valerie McCutcheon

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LOCAL » FOCUS won their weight classes, both going undefeated. Winter Haven’s Austin Kibbee won the 50-pound class and Cole Mueller won the 195-pound junior class. Makayla Groth, 14, the only girl on the Auburndale High School wrestling team, competed in her second Sunshine State Games this year, going 1 – 2, pinning the only other female in her weight class. Her other matches put her up against boys. “I’m happy with my performance, because I’ve improved a lot. I didn’t even place last year. I used to compete against peewee and middle school wrestlers, and now I am wrestling seniors, and I had a winning record

Weightlifting competition. Photo by: Valerie McCutcheon


A wrestling match. Photo by: Valerie McCutcheon


lthough the final day of the Sunshine State Games was anything but sunny, Tropical Storm Debby didn’t dampen the spirits of participants, spectators and volunteers fortunately competing indoors at the Lakeland Center and Polk State College the weekend of June 23 – 24, 2012

Beginning Saturday, June 16 with a two-day table tennis tournament held at the Simpson Park Community Center in Lakeland, and concluding with fencing, judo, karate, taekwondo, weightlifting and wrestling the following weekend, Lakeland played host to more than 1,000 amateur Florida athletes for the fifth year in a row. A product of the Florida Sports Charitable Foundation, The Sunshine State Games is


JULY 2012

Florida’s Olympic-Style Sports Festival. Since 1980, athletes of all ages and all skill levels have a chance to compete in approximately 30 different sports at different locations throughout the state each year. The sports vary through the years, with certain sports taking the place of others as they grow in popularity. In addition to those played in Lakeland, this year’s lineup included traditional items like swimming, basketball and lacrosse, a newer inclusion, as well as some more creative offerings like jump roping and artistic roller skating. Some Polk County athletes benefited from the home field advantage. The Judo club team from Summerlin Academy in Bartow brought home two gold, four silvers and two bronze medals at the Games. Wrestling brothers Kaleb and Kai Cook from Lakeland

14-year-old wrestler Makayla Groth. Photo by: Valerie McCutcheon

last season,” she says. She hopes to earn a scholarship to Missouri Valley or Oklahoma State and then continue on to the Olympics. She would be in good company, as quite a few Olympians first medaled in the Sunshine State games, including runner Justin Gatlin, swimmer Ryan Lochte, and tri-athlete Hunter Kemper. The Florida Sports Foundation will once again be visiting Polk County at the end of the year, as the Senior Games will be held December 1 – 9, with slow-pitch softball being played November 3 – 4. Volunteers are always needed for these events – visit for opportunities.

LOCAL » FOCUS “With the songwriting process there’s still progress, even in the studio with Aaron [Marsh]’s input as we’re recording the different tracks,” Josh told Focus. “New ideas are coming up. The songs have not become petrified in a particular form like the first time around. They’re still malleable.” So is the band. In 2012, they welcomed Art and Aaron Kretzer, brothers who were fans and friends of Nora’s in the ‘90s. “Back then Josh was my best friend. I knew Danny. And me and my brother Aaron would actually go and listen to practices,” says Art, who joined as Nora’s first-ever keyboardist. His brother Aaron stepped in for Dan’s brother, former bassist Tom Sharrett.


Their members have come and gone, the audience has shifted and recording is more fluid than ever. But Dan has come to peace with change. “The music is a part of your life, so it goes along with you - wherever you are in life.”


e’re all familiar with the garage band. The group of teens or twentysomethings that plays passionately, and for better or worse, plays loudly. The students who buy instruments from the last of their paychecks and book shows until their passions or wallets run dry. When they do, the aspiring rock stars swap their guitars and drums for career and family and the story ends. But there’s a local alt rock group that’s defying that tired cycle, returning to music after a 15-year hiatus: Nora’s Breakfast Club. Composed of building contractor Dan Sharrett, teacher Josh Britt, software engineer Travis Britt, funeral director Art Kretzer, and policeman Aaron Kretzer, the band balances busy home lives and demanding careers with recordings at Lakeland’s premier studio, The Vanguard Room. Focus met there with Dan, Josh, Art, and their producer Aaron Marsh to see why the band’s return is worth watching. Nora’s Breakfast Club, or Nora’s for short, played their first show in 1994. The boys met in high school and began performing shortly after, making appearances in closed down buildings and teen clubs like Java Hutt and The Mad Hatter. When asked about venues, the band shared memories of coffee, black lights, angst-y fans and, of all things, pillows. “It was a reoccurring thing that when we played people would bring pillows

to the concerts,” says singer, songwriter, and guitarist Dan. Fans who usually listened to aggressive lyrics and throbbing instrumentals were caught lying down, absorbing Nora’s mellow music. This unusual blend of introspective and innovative sound made the band stand apart. “It was punk and hardcore music and then there was us,” says drummer Josh. “We were unique in our style, which is what helped us in the beginning.”

revolutionized recording, giving musicians the freedom to tweak their songs every step of the way. Rather than recording a track in one sitting, after months of practice, a band can record a track piece by piece, sometimes playing a song for the first time. Creativity is unrestrained.

To see them live, be sure to catch Nora’s next show at Evolution Records on July 6, 2012. You can hear their music on the official site, and keep up with the band at Nora’s is slated to debut three new songs this Fall, so watch for them on internet radio and Delta Airline’s Hello Music station.

“Helped” is an understatement. Nora’s Breakfast Club became the centerpiece of Lakeland shows, inspiring musicians who would later play for nationally acclaimed bands like Copeland and Anberlin. Recently, famous fans have attended Nora’s performances, paying homage to the group they looked up to. “To some extent,” says producer and former Copeland frontman Marsh, “I’d consider Nora’s the grandfather of the Lakeland sound.” But the band doesn’t live in the past. Since they reunited in January, Nora’s Breakfast Club has focused on looking forward. “We’re re-learning everything this time around,” Josh explained. “Which places to play. How to get shows.” Adds Dan, “We’re taking it a show at a time. We decided to get some new material, see what we could do with it. A lot of things have changed since we were doing music several years ago. There’s different ways to promote music and produce music.” They shared how computers have FOCUS MAGAZINE POLK COUNTY JULY 2012



CANDIDATES Politics and elections are hot topics this year - even more so than usual. With that in mind, Focus thought it might be helpful to share with readers some information on candidates from Polk County for the various public service offices.

We’d like to credit Business Voice, Inc., a separate group formed from members of the Lakeland Area Chamber of Commerce in 2000 as a Political Action Committee. Each year the group interviews local candidates who complete a questionnaire with responses to some great questions. We encourage readers to view those questionnaires published on the BV site at We promise you’ll be encouraged by the concern of these “citizen servants” for the future of our County, State and Nation.


Incumbent and Candidate for Supervisor of Elections P.O. Box 1083 Bartow, FL 33831

Lori Edwards, a Polk resident for 30 years, began her career in radio broadcasting and then served in the Florida Legislature from 1992-2000. Lori has served as Supervisor of Elections since 2000, conducting more than 140 successful elections with an impressive team of election workers. She believes your elections office should be friendly and convenient, so her community outreach team is busy every day offering voter registration services in schools, businesses, and community gatherings. She opened eight Early Voting sites so voters can cast their ballot at their convenience. She knows also that many people find the internet the most convenient way to do business, so she has added online precinct lookup, voter registration and mail ballot requests to her full-service website. And, Lori is a pennypincher, so she keeps a close eye on spending, making certain your tax dollars are carefully accounted for. Lori earned a BA degree in Business Administration from Warner University in Lake Wales. She gained certification as Supervisor of Elections from the Florida Department of State, and has earned her CERA certification from the national Election Center in cooperation with Auburn University. She serves as Presidentelect of the Florida Association of Supervisor of Elections.


Candidate for Supervisor of Elections (2012) P.O. Box 5833 Lakeland, FL 33813-5833 863-698-8636

As the second oldest of six children raised in a military family, Colleen Burton has known public service all her life. At an early age, Colleen’s parents instilled in her a sense of pride in serving your community, whether it is your country, state, local area, or your family. Colleen has carried that message with her all her life. Serving “the Heart of Florida” for nearly two decades, Colleen Burton is seeking your support for her election to the office of Polk County Supervisor of Elections. She and her husband Brad have lived in Lakeland since 1993, enjoying the evolving and diverse community of Polk County, and raising three children, Chris, Tim, and Elizabeth, along the way. Constantly seeking new opportunities and methods to promote and serve her local community, Colleen has held a variety of positions in Polk County over the years. After serving as the Polk County Director of Big Brothers, Big Sisters and the Executive Director of the Imperial Symphony Orchestra, Colleen helped launch Polk Vision, Inc., and served as Executive Director from the non-profit’s inception in 2004 until April 2012. Through her leadership with Polk Vision, Colleen has become thoroughly involved in the community from all angles, and has constantly been at the forefront of the issues that affect the citizens of Polk County.





Candidate for Polk County Commission, District 5

Candidate for Polk County Commission - District 1 GeorgeLindseyforPolkCountyCommission

Candidate for Polk County Commission, District 3 P.O. Box 10 Lake Alfred, FL 33850 Facebook: Tracy-Garcia-forPolk-County-Commission

Candidate for County Commission, District 5 1245 George Jenkins Blvd. Lakeland, FL 33815 863-670-5635

Ricky Shirah, owner of Shirah’s Towing, seeks election to the Polk County Commission for District 5. In the candidate questionnaire Ricky completed for Business Voices, he explained why he was running for this office. “I have a love for this county. It’s home. I want to be a voice for the citizens of Polk County and bring a common sense approach to local government.

George Lindsey is a third generation Floridian, who was born in Jacksonville, raised in Gainesville and moved to Polk County 32 years ago. He and his wife Nancy Niekro have a blended family of four children and one grandchild.

The summer Tracy Garcia decided to make Polk County her home, it would take more than hurricanes Charley, Frances, and Jeanne to uproot her family. Through those historic storms of 2004, she experienced the kindness of new neighbors and ever since has looked for ways to give back and make a difference.

Chris Dowdy, a 32-year resident of Polk County, grew up in Lakeland and graduated from George Jenkins High School. After earning a Bachelor of Arts degree from Trinity Baptist College in Jacksonville, Florida in 2002, he served five years as Youth Pastor at Calvary Baptist Church in North Lakeland.

In addition to local fundraisers for charitable causes, Ricky is a member of the Kathleen Lions Club, the First Baptist Church at the Mall and serves as a board member for the Kathleen Historical Society. He has served as well as President of the FFA Foundation for Polk County and on SAC committees for Kathleen High School and Kathleen Middle School. The Polk County Board of County Commissioners also appointed Mr. Shirah to the MSTU Parks committee. Prior experience as a warehouse supervisor for Publix Super Markets and his own towing company have given Ricky an understanding of the difficulties local businesses encounter. He explained his purpose in running for office, saying, “I have a civic responsibility to give back to Polk County.”

The University of Florida graduate began his career with a municipal utility system. Over a 17-year period he rose from laborer to assistant general manager of public utilities. Since moving to Polk County to start his second career in real estate, George has become active in the community, serving on the board of directors of the Lakeland Area Chamber of Commerce, Lakeland Association of Realtors, Polk County Builders Association, Lakeland Economic Development Council, and Peace River Community Health Organization. He is a Rotarian, a former Boy Scout leader, a Leadership Lakeland XVI graduate and has also served on the Polk County Comprehensive Plan Citizens Advisory Committee, Polk County Charter Review Commission (2001, 2009), and the Lakeland Electric Utility Advisory Committee. Lindsey said, “Running for public office has been a humbling and gratifying experience. I believe my public and private sector experience will help our economic development team expand our job base by bringing new businesses to Polk County and encouraging existing businesses to expand.”

The spiritual strength and commitment to community learned as a young girl through her family’s working-class roots provided Tracy’s foundations for life: study hard, work hard, pray hard. And always put family first. She worked her way through school to earn two degrees and a career in civil engineering. Eighteen months after meeting Ray Garcia of Lake Alfred in 2002, she followed her heart to Polk County. Working in her field, she gained valuable knowledge of local land use, zoning laws and government regulations. With their daughter Lindsay, the Garcias learned the challenges of raising a child with special needs. Tracy helped start a Down syndrome support group to help others and raise awareness among elected leaders. Her passion for this and other issues led her to seek public office. She and Ray, with kids in tow, visited door to door to earn a seat on the Lake Alfred City Commission in April 2009 and recently completed her term as Mayor. Tracy has been a strong and consistent voice for policies that attract jobs and help working families make ends meet. Her platform resonates with the business community because, as part owner of a small business and through private sector work, she understands the difficulties of making payroll, tax issues and keeping a business alive. She is honored by endorsements from the Lakeland Area Chamber of Commerce and the Central Florida Chapter of the FMHA. Tracy would appreciate the opportunity to represent District 3 and all of Polk County’s citizens for whom she continues to work.

In 2008, Chris became involved in the political process by running for County Commission and chairing the Polk County Campaign for Amendment 2, One Man One Woman. After the 2008 election, Chris was hired as the District Assistant for State Representative Kelli Stargel. He has spent the last four years learning policy and meeting people all over Polk County. His platform is one of “low taxes, personal freedom, and bringing good jobs to Polk County..” Chris explained, “I am running for this office because Polk County needs solid conservative leadership in Bartow - consistent and articulate commissioners who are unashamed of their principles. Our next Commission will preside over the coming economic recovery and we will need those committed to keeping taxes low and those who understand that private property rights are the backbone of capitalism…” Chris is married to Carolyn Dowdy, a teacher at a local middle school. They have a daughter, Annalise, who is less than a year old.



Richard Castret and his wife Karen moved to Polk County with their four children over 12 years ago. He coached and sponsored their activities in youth sports programs. At this time, two daughters are Florida State University graduates, the third daughter is a Gulf Coast University graduate and their son will attend the National Aeronautics Academy (NAA) this fall.

Stacy Davis Butterfield, Director of Finance & Accounting to the Board of County Commissioners and Clerk, has been employed for the past 26 years by Richard Weiss, Clerk of the Circuit Court and Clerk, Accountant and Auditor to the Board and County Comptroller.

Candidate for Polk County Commissioner, District 1 863-640-3127

Castret is a Vietnam Veteran who served with the Army Security Agency. His career background is in the automotive business and real estate industries. Since 2007, he has been the sole owner/real estate broker of Advantage REC, Inc. He is a member of Lakeland Association of Realtors, LAR/ CID Commercial Investment Division, Florida Association of Realtors and National Association of Realtors. Explaining his decision to enter public office as a candidate for Polk County Commission, District 1, Castret said, “After raising family here in Polk County I have fallen in love with the area, especially the beautiful parks and recreation areas and all there is to see and do.” He continued, “This is an office that serves and is voted on by the entire County. I plan to pour my full time efforts into community involvement and meeting with voters, in order to hear their concerns and suggestions for better County Government.” Even though Castret is nonpartisan, he is pleased to have endorsements from the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1625 and from the Lakeland Democrats Club.

Candidate for Polk County Clerk of Courts P.O. Box 1202 Bartow, FL 33831-1202

Her duties include preparation of the County’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Report and the Citizen’s Popular Annual Financial Report, which consistently receive the Certificate of Achievement in Excellence and the Award for Outstanding Achievement by the Government Finance Officers Association. Stacy began her career with Evans, Parrish & Fisk, CPAs. The Certified Public Accountant earned her Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees from Florida Southern College and is a graduate of both Lakeland Leadership and Polk Leadership programs. Stacy currently serves on the Polk Vision Steering Committee, Polk Vision Government Day (Chairperson), Leadership Lakeland County Government Day (Chairperson), adjunct professor at Florida Southern College, and on the Lake Victoria Homeowner’s Board. Her professional memberships include American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, Government Finance Officers Association, Florida Government Finance Officers Association and the Article V Team for the Florida Association of Court Clerks. Stacy believes “Polk County taxpayers deserve a Clerk with experience in both court records operations and as watchdog over Polk’s $1.3 billion budget. My CPA background and more than 25 years of experience in the Clerk’s Office make me the best candidate for the position.”






Candidate for Clerk of the Circuit Court P.O. Box 1397 Lakeland, FL 33802

Candidate for re-election as Polk County Sheriff Website:

Candidate for Polk County Sheriff P.O. Box 7757 Lakeland, FL 33807-7757 863-698-8543

Candidate for Polk County Property Appraiser PO Box 7593 Lakeland, FL 33807-7593 Facebook: Marsha Faux for Polk County Property Appraiser Website:

Candidate for Polk County Property Appraiser 1417 Bramblewood Drive Lakeland, FL 33811

Samuel Johnson, Chairman of the Board of County Commissioners, seeks election as Clerk of the Circuit Court. Johnson is now in his 8th year as commissioner. He is married to Michelle and they just celebrated their 25th anniversary. They have one daughter.

Grady Judd was born and raised in Polk County. As a child, he dreamed of becoming Sheriff. At the age of 18, he began working for the Sheriff ’s Office as a Telecommunicator, but transferred to a deputy sheriff position soon after. He quickly advanced, holding every rank from Sergeant to Colonel. In 2004, Grady was overwhelmingly elected Sheriff by a 64% majority vote against two opponents. In November 2008, he was re-elected, with 99% of the vote. Sheriff Judd has acquired higher education, having obtained both a Master’s and Bachelor’s degree from Rollins College. He is a graduate of numerous leadership programs, including the FBI National Academy, Senior Management Institute for Police, FBI Law Enforcement Executive Development Seminar, and FBI National Executive Institute. His civic involvement is vast, as he serves the community on several boards and committees, including the InterAct Alliance and VISTE.

Michael A. Lashman, a board member of the Lakeland Democratic Club, holds a B. A. in Criminal Justice and Fire Science from Williams Town University. Prior to relocating to Lakeland 12 years ago, Lashman was recognized three times in the Palm Beach Post newspaper for solving crimes in Belle Glade.

Lakeland native and Florida Southern College alumni Marsha Faux considers it an honor to serve Polk citizens as Property Appraiser and to protect their taxpayer rights.

Lakeland businessman and contractor Steve Blake qualified to run for Polk County Property Appraiser by gathering more than 3,256 signatures on petition rather than paying the approximately $4,200 filing fee. He said, “This offered the opportunity to meet thousands and gain support of the Polk voters I want to work for.” In the four-year-term position, the Property Appraiser determines market values for and accurately appraise properties for submission of a tax roll so local officials can prepare annual budgets.

Of the new role, he said, “Excellence will be our goal in working with the Board of County Commissioners, the courts and the public.” Politically speaking, Johnson explained why he’s running for the office of Circuit Court Clerk: “I want to ensure confidence in Polk County residents that their money is spent and accounted for accurately and that county programs have effective procedures and internal controls. I look forward to continued enhancement of the electronic record process and expanding safe, convenient and effective online record access and e-filing.” The former school administrator’s education includes a B.S. in Business from Florida Southern College, an M.S. in Educational Leadership from Nova Southeastern University, NACo/ NYU Robert F. Wagner School of Public Service leadership institute and many additional leadership trainings. Johnson is very involved in local, regional and state boards. He explained why: “Our community and our future are determined by those leading us today. My work on these many additional boards allows me to learn and better provide guidance to steer us toward a future with optimism, opportunity and promise.”

For 40 years, Sheriff Judd has committed himself to the safety of Polk County. As a leader, he has implemented proactive policing efforts that have resulted in significant crime reductions and the arrest of hundreds of child sexual predators. Grady is married to Marisa, his wife of 39 years. He has two grown sons and eight grandchildren.

In addition to his management work in private industry, Michael, a father of two, has worked five years in law enforcement and three as a volunteer firefighter with the Mulberry Fire Department. Memberships included the Lakeland Citrus Kiwanis Club and United Food & Commercial Workers Union, Local 1625. Among the write-in candidate’s lengthy list of suggestions to protect Polk County’s citizens and visitors are included overall cost cuts through reduction of the agency’s upper management and crime reduction through targeted programs, joint efforts with surrounding law enforcement agencies and the addition of more deputies. Lashman said, “I believe I can bring pride back to Polk County. As your sheriff, I will start the war on Meth, implement proactive programs that have been around for decades, and eliminate the image that Polk is the Meth capital of the U.S. I will also introduce proactive programs to teach children awareness of sexual predators because Polk County has more than any other in Florida one predator per every 584 citizens.”

She began her career with the Property Appraisers Office in 1992 as Director of Tangible Personal Property and was elected Property Appraiser in 2000, 2004 and 2008. She has proven through experience, leadership, and integrity her ability to efficiently run the Property Appraiser’s Office. Prior to 1992, Marsha was involved in the process of ad valorem property taxes during her 21 years with Publix Super Markets. She believes Polk citizens deserve someone as knowledgeable about the daily operations of the office, Florida Statutes, Administrative Codes and Legislative changes regarding ad valorem property taxation. Since 1985, Marsha has been a member of International Association of Assessing Officers. Continuing education and certifications include: American Society of Appraisers Machinery and Technical Specialties classes, Certified Florida Evaluator (CFE), American Society of Appraisers designation, Certified Florida Appraiser (after election as Property Appraiser and must complete 24 hours of continuing education annually to maintain this status), CFA reaccreditation (now valid thru 2014), USPAP Certificate (Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice). Marsha describes herself as “working member” of her team, saying, “I do not expect my employees to perform duties I cannot do myself… I believe my 20 years in the Property Appraiser’s Office is a tremendous amount of experience and I am the most qualified candidate to represent our citizens.”

The 51-year-old owner of Blake Painting and Remodeling LLC has more than 20 years of extensive experience in construction, remodeling, historical restoration, management and real estate investment in residential, commercial and industrial properties. Politically, this is his first attempt at elected public office. As precinct committee leader for the Polk County Republican Executive Committee, Blake has realized that in order to be part of the solution, he needed to get involved. He believes, “Complaining about problems in government doesn’t do anyone any good. Action is needed for positive change.” Blake and his wife Doris have three children. In addition to volunteer work for various local non-profit organizations, he has coached youth football, teaches a weekly class in a 55+ community, and serves as an elder at Lake Morton Community Church.


Candidate for Florida House of Representatives District 65 3601 Cypress Gardens Road Winter Haven, FL 33884 813-324-9663 John Wood, a State Representative for District 65 since 2008, seeks re-election to the Florida House of Representatives for District 41, which encompasses northeastern Polk County. He serves on the Health and Human Services Quality Subcommittee (Chair), Insurance and Banking Subcommittee, Health and Human Services Committee, and Healthcare Appropriations Subcommittee. The Polk County native’s lifelong commitment to public service began as an Eagle Scout in Winter Haven. The Santa Fe High School graduate continued education at Georgia Tech, the University of Florida, and Columbia University (B.A. Economics, 1974). After receiving his J.D. from Florida State University (1977), he was admitted in to the Florida Bar in 1978. As a real estate attorney and C.E.O of John Wood Enterprises, the longtime Polk County home and apartment builder has provided hundreds with jobs and thousands with new homes. He knows firsthand the need for smart growth policies at local and state levels. His community service involvement includes service to the Boy Scouts of America, Girls, Inc. in Winter Haven and Meals on Wheels. In 2007, Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Fred Lewis recognized Wood for his pro bono legal work with Florida Rural Legal Services. Wood is a Chamber of Commerce member in Winter Haven, Haines City, Auburndale, Lake Wales and Dundee. Other memberships include the East Polk County Association of Realtors, Polk County Builders Association, Florida Association of Realtors, Florida Bar, Lakeland Bar Association and the Florida Homebuilders Association. John is most proud to be father to two wonderful adult daughters, Malloy and Johanna, and grandfather to Oliver and Bennett.


Candidate for Florida House of Representatives, District 41 P.O. Box 2388 Winter Haven, FL 33883-2388

Karen Cooper Welzel has served as Chairwoman of the Polk County Democratic Party and is active in the Winter Haven Democratic Club. She seeks election to the Florida House of Representatives, District 41. As for the top three issues facing the State, Karen lists job creation, education, and issues affecting equal rights for all Florida citizens. The Winter Haven resident moved here from Michigan in 1994.Together, she and her husband of 21 years, George Welzel, have three grown children and two grandchildren, in San Francisco, Northern Virginia, and Baltimore. Her long career as a Human Resources professional in the hospitality industry in Washington, D.C. and Florida began at Grenelefe Resort here in its heyday and culminated in service as HR Director for two Westgate properties, River Ranch and Grenelefe Resort. Karen is confident her expertise in employee-based corporate excellence has equipped her to fully address the broad array of issues facing families, local businesses, and our communities. In asking for your vote, Karen explains: “I take pride in my community, and I have a great appreciation for the people who live and work here. I support local business at every opportunity. The people of Florida House District 41 deserve a representative in Tallahassee who understands them, who listens to them, and who truly represents them. As your representative, I will voice your concerns and offer family-based and community-based solutions.”


Candidate for Florida House of Representatives, District 39 P.O. Box 91786 Lakeland, FL 33868

Lakeland native Neil Combee’s family has been involved in Central Florida agriculture for six generations. For years the family owned and operated a dairy farm, sod farm, cattle ranch and did some truck farming with watermelons and cantaloupes. Neil graduated from Lakeland High School in 1977, then studied agri-business at Polk State College and Florida State University. Elected to the Polk County Commission first in 1988, the Republican was re-elected in 1992, 1996 and 2000. Although eligible, he chose not to seek a 5th term and re-election in 2004. Governor Jeb Bush appointed Neil to the Southwest Florida Water Management District Governing Board in April 2005, as Polk County’s member. He served as the Board’s Treasure, Vice-Chairman and Chairman. He resigned his sear on the Governing Board in May 2012 to focus on the race for State Representative. Neil has been involved in real estate sales and purchases as a licensed agent since 1986, with a primary focus on acreage, farmland and ranch land. Neil and his wife Linda, married for more than 30 years, have two grown sons and live today on their ranch north of Lakeland. As to the top three issues facing Florida, Neil lists job creation, reduction in the size and scope of government, and working with the Governor’s office to enact reforms to education and redirect existing funding.




Candidate for Florida State House of Representatives, District 41 P.O. Box 1407 Dundee, FL 33838 863-258-5341

Candidate for Florida House of Representatives, District 15 P.O. Box 2158 Auburndale, FL 33823 Facebook: http://www.facebook. com/JackMyersFL?ref=ts

Candidate for Florida Senate District 15 Kelli Stargel Campaign P.O. Box 8804, Lakeland, Florida 33806 Facebook: Vote Kelli Stargel

John W. Lindsey, Jr. and Laina, his wife of 22-years, have three sons, a daughter-in-law and a granddaughter. With more than 24 years in the environmental field, John has worked for the Environmental Engineering Section of the Polk County Health Department, for the Florida Rural Water Association, and for the Environmental Laboratory at Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute.

Jack Myers, a Polk County resident since 1973 and former County Commissioner, seeks election to the Florida Senate District 15, which covers parts of five Central Florida counties: Hernando, Lake, Osceola, Polk and Sumter.

Representative Kelli Stargel was elected to the Florida House of Representatives in November, 2008. After serving two successful terms in the Florida House, Representative Stargel is now running for the Florida State Senate District 15 seat representing parts of Polk, Orange, and Osceola counties. Being a civic-minded, small business woman and an involved parent has enabled Kelli to truly represent her constituents and their concerns.

John is currently the Business Development Director for Flowers Chemical Laboratories, Inc., one of the largest privately owned labs in Florida. With four offices from Madison to Marathon, the company provides analytical and field sampling services throughout Florida and the country. The community-minded John is active with various civic, religious and community political, including the Winter Haven 9-12, Methodist youth work, Boy Scouts of America and various Republican organizations in Central Florida. He serves as VP of the Republican Club of East Polk County, acting Chairman of the Republican Liberty Caucus of Central Florida, member of the Polk County Republican Executive Committee and was recently selected as a Delegate to the Presidency 5 “Straw Poll” to be held in Orlando. In 2010, John campaigned for US Congress in Florida’s 12th District, receiving more than 31% of votes despite being outspent by the opponent more than 30-to-1. As candidate for election to the Florida House of Representatives, District 41, this “citizen statesman” and his volunteer campaign staff believe in the US Constitution, State Sovereignty and Personal Liberty.

He and Karen, his wife of 27 years, have two children: Jay and Mary Margaret. After graduation from Auburndale Senior High, he earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration from Florida Southern College in 1981. Myers was first elected to the Polk County Commission in 2000 and has served as Chair three times during eight years of service. Previously, he served as an Auburndale City Commissioner and Mayor. Until its acquisition by MidFlorida Real Estate Sales LLC, licensed realtor Jack Myers, owned and operated Mary M. Myers Realty, Inc. As a community leader, he has been active in business, civic and governmental organizations. Among other civic groups, Myers has chaired the Central Florida Development Council, Polk County Community Relations Advisory Council, the Polk County Tourist Development Council and the Transportation Planning Organization of Polk County. (Visit for additional details.) His vast experience as a businessman, community activist and elected official has prepared him to address the significant issues facing Florida. Myers is a strong proponent of policies needed to jumpstart Florida’s lagging economy and to protect businesses from frivolous litigation.

Representative Stargel is a sixth generation Floridian. She and her husband, Circuit Judge John Stargel, have five children ranging in age from 27 to 15 years old. Kelli grew up in the Tampa area where she met her husband. In 1988, they moved to Tallahassee where she supported the family while her husband attended FSU law school. Afterwards, they settled in Lakeland in 1992 where she has managed their family real estate business. Representative Stargel has served at her church, her children’s schools, and on various community boards. She has also been involved with the Republican Women’s Club of Lakeland, is on the University of South Florida Educational Advisory Board, and was appointed to the Education Commission for the States and to the Commission on Marriage and Families Support Initiatives. A proven conservative Republican, Stargel is dedicated to growing the economy through supporting small businesses, balancing the budget through efficient use of resources, and protecting American values.


Candidate for State Senate, District 15 P.O. Box 91893 Lakeland, FL 33804

Candidate Stego Blue is a 17-year veteran of the United States Navy, rising through the ranks from Seaman Recruit to Lieutenant. After graduating high school at 16, he chose to serve his country, joining the Armed Services days after his 17th birthday. At the first command he was assigned to, he was nominated and chosen for the Navy’s Broadened Opportunity for Officer Selection and Training Program. After B.O.O.S.T. graduation, he received an NROTC scholarship to the University of NebraskaLincoln where he graduated with a Bachelors of JournalismBroadcasting before becoming the Communications Officer aboard Pre-commissioned Ship USS Mustin. Stego Blue moved to Florida after leaving active duty and joined the Reserves in Orlando, serving in a Security Unit protecting merchant ships navigating chokepoints through the Middle East. While in that Unit and maintaining a management job in the private sector, Stego was chosen to return to the Middle East to join the Combined Maritime Forces, where he participated in 24 drug and contact-ofinterest interdictions and over 132 incidents of counter-piracy operations, including the pirating of the Maersk Alabama. He was asked to return three times. Stego is married to Laura, his wife of 15 years, and has one son. He seeks election as Florida State Senator for District 15.

on the Rise

Country Music Talent

Interview by Cheryl Johnston | Photos courtesy of Michael Ray

Michael Ray Country music phenomenon Michael Ray was raised on 10 acres in Central Florida surrounded by extended family. It was here that today’s humble 24-year-old talent realized he was born to sing, play stringed instruments and entertain appreciative crowds. Now both Nashville and a steady fan base know it, too. The musical legacy Ray inherited and honed from his early years as a toddler onstage with a toy guitar has since evolved through a debut album, another in the works, and regular appearances in Music City and the southeastern U.S. Following a June fundraiser performance for the Little League in Tavares, Michael joined the Focus TV team in Plant City to film this month’s Spotlight interview. We’re certain our readers will enjoy getting to know him, and like us, will become intrigued enough to follow his career’s rise. Focus: Tell us a little about your musical family, Michael, and how you got your start. RAY: My very tight-knit family lived in Eustis on 10.5 acres in a little blue doublewide mobile home. The extended family included everyone from my great-grandfather to the youngest cousins. I saw my grandparents all the time. My great grandmother, Zettie Roach, would feed breakfast to everyone in the neighborhood and the working adults from the nearby bus stop. It was just normal to me to be surrounded by people. You didn’t go to great grandma’s house without seeing aunts, uncles, greats, and cousins. You don’t realize as a kid just how special that is. I think that’s why older people are very important to me. From the time I was born until about age four or five, our family had a band. My dad was lead vocalist, grandpa played lead guitar and my cousins were on rhythm. From the time I could stand on stage, I had a Kermit the Frog toy guitar to play along with them. Focus: What instruments do you play? RAY: Rhythm and bass guitar and mandolin. Focus: What were some of your early musical influences? RAY: I was raised on old country and I love the music of the outlaw era. I grew up listening to and watching Porter Wagoner and Gene Watson. During my middle school years I began to enjoy Top 40 Country. By the time I was 16, I knew music would be the way I wanted to earn my living. At the Opry in Eustis, Florida I was privileged to play with Wagoner, Ray Price, Bobby Bare and others. I’m also a fan of Garth Brooks, Waylon Jennings, Merle Haggard, George Jones, and Gary Allen. Focus: So, were you a totally confident performer during your high school years? RAY: Not especially, but three teachers helped me along the way: Ms. Hites and Ms. Bellamy in elementary school, and Mrs. Butler in high school. I graduated from a small private high school, Blue Lake Academy, which was connected to the First Baptist Church of Eustis attended by my whole

family. Mainly I played and sang during chapel on Wednesdays. I was more nervous in front of my peers. During high school I worked first as a phone tech, until I took a job at Music & Stuff in Tavares to teach guitar. The employees there were a huge support team and this job led to other gigs. It was then I felt like I was meant to do this (make music).

I played with the house band at the Eustis Sunshine Opry. The owner approached me about playing every other Saturday night here and then once each month we’d have a Saturday show of our own. God just kept putting people and circumstances in my path. That built my confidence. Focus: From the cross you wear on your neck and arm and from the reference you just made, it seems like faith is an important part of your life. RAY: Yes, it is. I grew up on gospel music, too, and I believe music is part of His plan for my life. My favorite song from the first album is Psalm 23, written by my friend Jeff Hurst with Joe Doyle. Folks can hear a bit of it on my website Focus: What took you to Nashville? RAY: When I was 18, I met songwriter Jeff Hurst. We played acoustic in bars and then formed a little band. We rented a tiny car, drove to Nashville almost weekly and spent every dime we had in recording studios. Everyone turned us down. It’s an intimidating town because there’s lots of talent in Music City and rejection shoots you in your gut. You have to have tough skin. But we kept trying and we’d read stories about how Garth and even Elvis had been turned down. Now we live in Nashville. Focus: You write songs as well, correct? RAY: Yes, I wrote 8 of the 16 on my first CD, recorded at Ocean Way Studios in Nashville with Austin musician/ producer Dwight Baker who worked with Kelly Clarkson, Alana Grace and Bleu Edmondson. Sometimes songwriting comes easy. It’s easiest when I can write what I relate to. I’m an eavesdropper and get some material off of my own family’s experiences. But I want to make great records, whether I write them or someone else does. Nashville is full of great songwriters and musicians. I don’t want to box myself in, so I’m always listening to songs others write. It’s also important to me that the songs I write mean something to the listeners, whether they’re 15 or 50.

make you feel like you’re a part of their family. They impact us way more than we do them. It’s cool to know how much they care.

Focus: What advice can you offer to other young musicians who are following your career? RAY: If you know that music is what you are meant to do, keep your faith and keep strong because everybody will try to tell you no, that you can’t make it. If it’s meant to be the right people will come into your path. Don’t lose your focus. Be prepared to work hard and miss some of the social activities with family or friends. Focus: What do you enjoy most about the business aspect of music? RAY: I enjoy getting to meet new people and watching those I don’t know from different walks of life, different states, and different cultures. I’m learning so much from my producer and co-manager, Jeff Bates. The business is changing me in a good way. It’s made me grow up. I take what I do very seriously. I’m awake early and I’m present to win because hundreds of musicians will work harder if I don’t. I want to be able to reach out and talk to more people. Performances are only 30 to 90 minutes of onstage fun. All the rest is business, so it’s important to stay involved. Focus: Does your family support your career now? RAY: Oh, yes. I have one of the best support systems of most musicians I know. If I play in Florida or Georgia, they will be there, helping to sell merchandise, book shows and talk to fans. They get excited, too and I want to make them proud. Focus: How can fans reach you? Do you enjoy the interaction? RAY: They can message me on Facebook (www.facebook. com/MusicMichaelRay) and I’ll do my best to respond quickly. Definitely, I enjoy the interaction. After shows we have young musicians who seek us out to ask questions or ask us to listen to the CDs they’ve made. Jeff Bates, my producer/co-manager is a master at working with fans. We always make sure we take the time to sign autographs and thank them each personally. They are who I’m doing this for. I want fans to feel like they’ve known me forever.

Focus: Can you describe the thrill of being onstage and doing what you love? RAY: There is not better feeling. During some performances, there is a moment in time when my band hits its stride - the crowd feels it, the band feels it and something becomes magical. When those moments click, there is no better feeling and the energy is amazing.

Focus: So what would you like your future to hold? RAY: One day, I hope to have a wife and kids. I would love to pass down the music like mine did and provide them the choice to make their living this way. Music is a great help to imagination. My wildest dream in 10 years would be to keep going strong and maybe perform in stadiums like Kenny Chesney. But I’ve already learned that success doesn’t have to mean an audience of 65,000. A show with five to ten thousand can be just as good.

Focus: How about your fans? RAY: Country music fans are the most loyal of any genre. They’re the best. The will drive everywhere to watch you perform. The young women make stuff and bring stuff to our shows. They make time to support your music and they

Focus: Thank you, Michael, for your time and our talk. It’s been a pleasure to learn more about your rising career. Be sure to keep us in the loop on your area performances and we’ll be watching for your next CD. If the music is as good as your first, we expect it will also be a winner. FOCUS MAGAZINE POLK COUNTY JULY 2012





At La Porta Rossa, we showcase Italian Cuisine with modern twists bringing you tastes from all over the world, our Executive Chef is skilled in multi-ethnic cuisine and is prepared to surprise and delight your senses over and over again.





Isn’t it beautiful? Let’s keep it that way!


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BUSINESS PROFILE » FOCUS “If we don’t have what they want onsite, we can always search for it,” Randy stated. “We have a wide array of dealerships we can contact and a large inventory we can search through.” Personal customer service doesn’t end with the car sale. The dealer also provides vehicle loans, repairs, and replacement parts. Every Saturday the dealership hosts a free clinic to teach new owners what to expect with their vehicle, regardless of whether or not it was purchased at Tom Edwards.

Tom Edwards Chrysler Dodge has been owned and operated by three generations – Tom Edwards (in the background portrait), his son Randy (left), and grandson Clint (right). Photo by: James Coulter


Treating customers like people has allowed the dealer to serve generations of customers for nearly 40 years, to survive two bankruptcies and harsh economic times, and to win countless awards. “We have received more awards in the past than all other Polk County Chrysler dealerships combined,” Clint Edwards said. But the best reward, according to Clint, has “always been the many thank-you letters from satisfied customers.”

One letter on the company’s website tells the story of a father searching for a present for his daughter. “Not once did I feel the pressure of a sales pitch or feel like I was another score for the salesperson,” it reads. “What I did experience was the highest level of respect, patience, appreciation and personal effort to deliver the perfect car for our daughter – down to the big red gift bow placed on the car at delivery.” If you’re looking for a new or used car from a dealer that puts your needs first, Tom Edwards is the one for you.

INFORMATION 1425 West Main Street Bartow, FL 33830 Phone: 863-533-0793 Fax: 863-533-2932 Website: Facebook: Tom Edwards ChryslerDodge-Jeep Hours of Operation Monday-Friday: 8:30 a.m. – 7 p.m. Saturday: 8:30 a.m. – 5 p.m. Sunday: Closed


he story of Tom Edwards is one of American entrepreneurship, a rags-toriches story of a man who started life in a Mississippi cotton mill before joining the Air Force and going through several jobs until realizing his calling in car sales. His career began as a salesman in Tampa during the 1950s. He eventually worked his way up the career ladder through several car dealers until opening his own in Bartow in 1973, later opening the current facility in 1990. Even after his death, his legacy of providing personal customer service lives on through his son Randy Edwards and his grandson Clint.

“My grandfather’s philosophy was that customers would buy from you if you treat them like people,” Clint Edwards said. “Most other places treat customers like dollar signs, but the secret of our success is to treat them like people.”

Customers start receiving personal treatment with their first phone call. Rather than navigate an automated messaging system, they will be greeted by a live sales representative, and when available, the owner himself. When customers arrive at the dealership, one of the many long-term, highly experienced employees will help them with the purpose for that particular visit. Repeat customers can always expect to see a familiar face and be recognized for their past business.

The showroom displays its two top models: the 2012 Dodge Challenger SRT 392 Yellow Jacket and the 2011 Chrysler Town and Country Touring. Photo by: James Coulter

“Our employees have been around for a long time, which shows that we’re good honest people to work with,” Randy Edwards said. One thing customers won’t experience is deceptive advertising. The price they see advertised is what they get, without the real price being buried under a mountain of legal jargon. Low overhead ensures that customers receive the make and model that’s right for them at a convenient price.

According to its website, the service department boasts a “combined total of 82 years of Certified Trained Technical Experience.” Photo by: James Coulter FOCUS MAGAZINE POLK COUNTY JULY 2012




encouraged new investment by the private sector. The downtown area is now a hub for the high-tech and medical industries.

schools, as well as the creation of the Polk State College Collegiate High School and New Beginnings Charter High School.

Local education is another important area impacted by the first visioning. Local school grades improved and several specialized academies were established at existing high

Now it’s time to look at our future again. Contact Aspire Winter Haven and schedule a small group meeting today.


magine Winter Haven 10 or 15 years from now. Imagine the community where your most cherished ideas, dreams and expectations have been realized. Imagine your home and the community in which you live. If you have children or grandchildren, where do they go to school? How do they learn? What do they do when not in school? Think about your free time – playing, relaxing and gathering with friends. Where do you go when you want to experience nature? Where do you go to attend events, to shop, to dine, to worship? As you travel about to all of these activities, how do you get around? What type of job do you have? What makes your community prosper?

While much progress has been made in Winter Haven over the past 10 years, since the first vision process – Our Future by Design – was completed. Now it’s time to set new goals. The best way to voice your ideas about Winter Haven’s future direction is to host a small group gathering. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a member of a church, neighborhood or business group – Aspire Winter Haven will send a representative to your group to gather more ideas. To schedule a meeting for your neighborhood or organization, call 863-325-5515, or visit

What are your ideas for how we, as a community, can achieve the dreams that are important to you and your quality of life? What can we do to make Winter Haven the best that it can be in the coming years?

As a result of Our Future by Design, new recreation opportunities were created in the city’s Nature Parks. Youth sports offerings were expanded and a new soccer complex was recently completed. Downtown cultural arts events are scheduled regularly and the annual Florida Outdoor Sculpture Competition is featured in the downtown parks.

This is an important question. No idea is too small, or too large. The new vision process “Aspire Winter Haven” plans to bring together local residents for a new journey into the future. The goal is to hold many small group gatherings to collect ideas about what YOU – the residents – want to see happen in Winter Haven over the next dozen years or so.

Economic development in Winter Haven is on the upswing to include projects like the CSX intermodal facility currently under construction, and The Landings, a combined retail, dining, entertainment and lodging complex is being developed. The city’s downtown core has also seen vast improvement as CRA projects, like streetscaping and other improvements


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fit into

Regular Hours

Walk-ins are welcome during these hours: Saturday 10 a.m. - 3 p.m. & Sunday 1 p.m. - 3 p.m.

No appointments are necessary for minor illnesses and minor injuries such as sore throats, ear pain, colds and flu.

Monday - Thursday 5 p.m. - 8 p.m


500 E. Central Avenue Winter Haven, Florida 33880 863.293.1191


After a long three hours of line dancing, they still look sensation for a group photo! Photo by: Ashley Kreager

LINE DANCING TUTORIAL: C lub goers know all about the Boots N Buckles nightlife from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m., but what they might not be aware of are the line dancing lessons from 7-9 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays. The free classes are divided into two categories: Wednesday and Thursday are more for line dancing beginners and Friday and Saturday are for the advanced dancers who have been doing this 20-plus years. Class sizes run from 10 to 60 people, depending on the night Faith Jones, an advanced class participant, has been coming to Books N Buckles classes for the past two years and has been line dancing for more than 30 years. She commented, “Felicia [ Jones] is one of the best instructors around. Some of us travel an hour or more to come to these lessons twice a week.” Felicia Jones, one of the two instructors at Boots N Buckles, teaches the Thursday through Saturday classes. When the class starts she does a warm up with the group, which is normally a well-known dance they’ve have done before. Then when she starts teaching a new dance, she breaks it down into 8-count steps so it’s easier to learn. She verbalizes and demonstrates the dance steps as much as needed until the attendees feel comfortable doing it with the music.

Felicia teaches one line dance at a time. After her students have mastered it, the group takes a three-song break, so everyone can rehyrdrate and be ready to learn the next one. By night’s end students will have learned two to three new dances and have reviewed some previous ones.


its own variations on each dance, the classes help beginners become familiar with the Boots N Buckles style. Mac described the atmosphere best by calling it: “12,000 square feet of fun.”

What more can you ask for? For more information about Boots N Buckles, visit or www.

Another more recent advance class attendee, Effie Zherzhi, commented on how it is hard to find a good country dance club in Florida, but because of a good friend, she was able to find Boots N Buckles. Felicia, Faith, and Effie wouldn’t have a place to line dance in Lakeland without Johnny Baxter and John Rush. Johnny Baxter, who goes by Mac, and John Rush opened Boots N Buckles Saloon in 2008. Mac and Rush have both worked in this business for many years in many different types of clubs. After 21 years as a bartender, Mac wanted to own his own club. After months and months of business plans, location scouting, and budget building they found what is now Boots N Buckles home on North Highway 98. Why line dancing classes? Ever since the movie Urban Cowboy with John Travolta, line dancing has been intertwined into the country culture. In the country culture, lessons are a norm. Because every club has

With microphone in hand Felicia Jones instructs the advance class step by step during the song to help them remember the fresh dance steps. Photo by: Ashley Kreager FOCUS MAGAZINE POLK COUNTY JULY 2012


DINING & ENTERTAINMENT » DINING PROFILE why. Mouth-watering, tender strips of steak and grilled red onions atop lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, croutons and blue cheese crumbles, tossed with homemade blue cheese dressing. This salad will fill you up and you’ll enjoy every bite! After glancing at the dinner menu, we’re eager to come back and try a whole steak, with a side of truffle mac and cheese. Average lunch prices run $7 - $9, and at less than $20 for a filet mignon, dinner prices are very reasonable, too. Special promotions include $2 Bud Light longnecks daily, a $5 drink of the day, All You Can Eat Wings on Mondays and a 10-ounce haddock filet on Fish Fry Fridays.

Service with a smile Photo by: Valerie McCutcheon



owntown Auburndale’s dining scene is heating up with the opening of Fire, an upscale casual eatery serving steaks, seafood, burgers, wings and more. Housed in an old brick building one block from Main Street, the feel is trendy yet relaxed, with wood floors, an original decorative metal ceiling, striking interior brick walls and an outdoor deck with additional seating. Owners Brett and Ashley Hill want patrons to feel comfortable here whether they are dressed up for prom, or fresh from the park in shorts and flip-flops. The Hills, Winter Haven residents who opened Fromage Steaks & Subs in Lake Alfred in 2008, moved their sandwich shop to this larger location in January, adding a full dinner menu and bar, serving lunch and dinner seven days a week. Brett, who studied at the Disney Culinary Academy, worked as a chef at various Disney restaurants for 18 years. It was there he met his wife Ashley, a Penn State graduate in Hotel & Restaurant Management. The couple has great things to say about the city of Auburndale and its residents. “It’s a great little town full of people who have really supported us,” says Brett. Ashley chimes in, “Fromage was so small that we feel like we knew every face who came in, but after opening Fire we really learned the


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scope of our clientele, as so many of them followed us over here. We have had a lot of local traffic this summer, which is great, since our staff of 22 depends on it!” The concept at Fire is simple…good quality food is cooked to order and paired with great service in a relaxed atmosphere. Their lunch menu is similar to the menu at Fromage, with burgers, salads, wings and plenty of sandwiches, both hot and cold. Their dinner menu adds several steak selections, all made with Angus beef, seafood, pork and chicken.

savory and topped with sesame seeds for a nice touch. The sweet red chili wings, with a sweet and spicy mix unlike any traditional wing sauce, were a unique and enjoyable offering. We commented how the wings had the perfect amount of sauce; the taste shone through without the wings being drowned in it. The dry rub Cajun wings were unique as well - bold, yet not overpowering, and the rub allowed the taste to spice through. We also tried the Char Crusted Steak Salad – a Fire Favorite, and there’s no question

Several of the entrees have recommended wine pairings listed on the menu, and their wine list is rather extensive for a casual restaurant. Ashley says, “Many casual dining spots don’t really focus on wine, but we enjoy serving good wine. We do tastings with the servers so they are all knowledgeable, and we want you to be able to enjoy a nice glass of wine, even if it’s just paired with a burger!” We visited at lunch, and the large space was filled comfortably with families and local businesspeople finishing their meals. We started off with a basket of fried pickles, perfectly crisp, not soggy or too spicy, served with a homemade avocado ranch sauce for dipping. All dressings are made in house for a fresh, non-bottled taste. We also tried a wing sampler plate with a few popular varieties. The Buffalo style wings had a little kick with plenty of nice, traditional flavor. The teriyaki wings were both sweet and

Char Crusted Steak Salad Photo by: Valerie McCutcheon

They also currently have live piano entertainment on Friday nights. The large space, stylish décor and great food make Fire the perfect venue for all types of parties. We predict that this new addition to the Auburndale restaurant scene will be a downtown hotspot for years to come!

INFORMATION 117 E Lake Ave Auburndale, FL 33823 (863) 967-2508] HOURS: Sun-Thurs-11AM-9PM Fri- Sat 11AM-11PM

We want to be your transportation center and we do business the right way!

The Sparkman Way!

“Bartow Chevrolet’s Service Department finished 2011 as the number ONE Customer Satisfaction Index ranked dealership in the entire state of Florida.”

Bartow, FL • 863.533.0777 • 1475 W. Main St. • FOCUS MAGAZINE POLK COUNTY JULY 2012





If you have an upcoming event and would like us to add it to our calendar of events please email the information to:


» Lake Alfred 4th of July Celebration 10 am – 2 pm Little Miss/Mr. Lake Alfred Pageant, Lions Club Fishing Tournament, Food, Entertainment, Games, Vendors, Bounce House Lion’s Park, 175 N. Nekoma Ave., Lake Alfred 863-291-5275 » Thunder on the Ridge 12 – 9 pm Largest fireworks display in Polk County, arts, crafts, food, kids’ activities John Michael Montgomery performs at 7 pm 555 Ledwith Ave., Haines City Free admission 863-421-3700 » American Cornhole Organization Qualifier 1 pm Open Doubles Tournament with prizes. Max 32 teams 555 Ledwith Ave., Haines City $20 in advance, $30 walk-up 888-563-2002 » Red, White And Kaboom 6 – 9:30 pm Live Music with the Channel Z Band. Fireworks display at 9 121 S. Lake Ave., Lakeland 863-834-6000



» Reactory Factory Live at Lake Mirror Center 10 – 11 am Free event sponsored by the Lakeland Friends of the Library for the ”Dream Big – Read!” summer program, enjoy kid’s music that is fun, exciting and educational. Lake Mirror Center S Lake Ave., Lakeland 863-499-8282 » First Friday – Hats ON To Summer! 6 – 9 pm Downtown Lakeland


» Summer Jamz Talent Show 6 pm All ages welcome 1104 Martin L King Jr. Ave., Lakeland, FL, 338054406 $10 advance tickets 
 863-838-5678 » Invisible Elephant exhibition 10 am – 4 pm Runs until October 13 and features new works by Theo Wujcik and Kirk Ke Wang at the Polk Museum of Art 800 E. Palmetto St., Lakeland 863-688-7743

2301 Lakeland Hills Blvd.,
Lakeland Box seats: $7, reserved seats: $6. Under 14 and over 55 receive $1 discount. Free parking. or 863-688-8551

» Schmooze A’ Palooza At Chateau Brieann Restaurant 11:30 am – 1 pm Bringing Chamber members together for lunch and networking, 5125 S Florida Ave $25 – Reservations required 863-688-8551


» 3rd Annual Bunco Tournament 7 – 10 pm Prizes, refreshments, 50/50 drawing, silent auction. Proceeds benefit the projects and programs of the Junior Woman’s Club of Lakeland. 2600 Buckingham Ave., Lakeland $20 Pre-Registration, $25 at the door Register at


» Planet Cellular Blood Drive 10 am – 2 pm Gift bags for first 50 donors, every donor receives VIP Backstage Voucher for the Warped Tour. 18+ only 451 Eagle Ridge Dr., Lake Wales 863-679-3904


» Classic Car Cruise 4 – 9 pm Downtown Winter Haven

» Big Buck Expo 3 – 8:30 pm Friday, 9 am – 6 pm Saturday, 10 am – 5 pm Sunday Over 200 exhibitors and outfitters 701 W Lime St., Lakeland $12/Adults, $5/Children 7 – 17 Kids under 7, military, firefighters/paramedics, police: free



» Buckley’s Craft Fair 10 am – 5 pm Saturday, 10 am – 4 pm Sunday 701 West Lime St.,
Lakeland $6/person, 12 & Under Free
(one paid admission good both days with hand stamp)

MONDAY, JULY 9 Lakeland Flying Tigers 4th Of July Baseball & Fireworks 5 pm Flying Tigers vs. the Clearwater Threshers, contests, music, Para-Commandos and fireworks.

Old-fashioned political rally designed to acquaint the business community with those running for elected office. Open to any candidate/issue relevant to Winter Haven area voters 500 3rd St. N.W., Winter Haven Tickets available at 401 Ave. B NW 863-293-2138

» Destination Aviation & STEMtastic summer camps 9 am Weeklong programs through August 3 in residential or day visitor settings offered to 7-18 year old aviation enthusiasts. 4175 Medulla Rd., Lakeland » Lake Alfred Public Library Grand Opening 10 am to 2 pm Official Dedication, tours and activities 245 N . Seminole Ave., Lake Alfred 863-291-5378


» Whistle Stop VIP Reception 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. / Barbecue & Rally 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

» LA Fitness Expo 9 am – 3 pm Friday, 9 am – 2 pm Saturday Experience cutting edge fitness classes and sample the latest in fitness wear and health foods 6052 Pebble Beach Blvd., Winter Haven $8 for 1 day, $10 for both 863-595-1562


» Model Train Show & Swap Meet 10 am – 3 pm Early Bird: 9 – 10 am ($6) Sponsored by ExactRail 401 3rd Street S.W.,
Winter Haven $5/Adults, Under 12 Free

THURSDAY, JULY 26 – SATURDAY, JULY 28 » Polk State College Volleyball Elite Camp 9 am – 3 pm For girls in grades 8-12 999 Avenue H NE, Winter Haven 407-242-3498


» Highland City Farmers Market 8 am - 1 pm 5410 Yarborough Ln., Lakeland, FL 863-646-5570


» Saturday, July 14 Jerusalem’s Most Wanted - The Musical! 2 pm Presented by Lighthouse Homeschool Drama Club 1115 East Memorial Blvd., Lakeland 863-668-8787 » July 20 – 22 and July 27 – 29 Chicago Fridays & Saturdays: 7:30 pm; Sundays: 2 pm Presented by the Lakeland Community Theatre at the Lake Mirror Theatre Complex 121 S. Lake Ave, Lakeland $20/Adult, $15/College Student (with ID), $10/ Child (12 and under)


» Hairspray Fridays & Saturdays: 7:30 pm; Sundays: 2:30 pm Presented by Theatre Winter Haven $22/Adults, $19/Students

ONGOING EVENTS: TUESDAYS Free Clogging Lessons 8:30 pm Lessons by Mary Lou Bradley, former Grand Old Opera clogging champion with the Bluegrass Buddies Acropoli Italian Bistro, 28087 US Hwy 27, Dundee 863-421-0334 THURSDAYS Downtown Farmers’ Market 8 am – 5 pm Downtown Trailhead Park, Winter Haven Senior Adult Center Ballroom Social 7:30 – 9 p.m. 250 S. Lake Silver Dr. N. W., Winter Haven $3/person 863-291-5870 2nd and 4th SATURDAY Saturday Afternoon Movie 2 p.m. Winter Haven Public Library Multi-purpose Room Free admission 863-291-5880 TUESDAYS, WEDNESDAYS & FRIDAYS Winter Haven Public Library - Florida Youth Library Programs Held at the Ritz Theater, 263 W. Central Ave., Winter Haven Visit for schedule


We offer seven convenient locations, Board Certified Physicians, and a wide range of healthcare services for children two years-of-age and older, adolescents and adults. Auburndale Family Health Center 2028 Highway 92 West (863) 965-9327

If you are looking for family health care that’s professional, friendly and convenient,

Bartow Family Health Center 1625 N. Carpenter Ave. (863) 533-1448

Your local Family Health Center offers a wide range of healthcare services for

Winter Haven Hospital invites you to visit one of our seven conveniently located Family Health Centers. children two years-of-age and older, adolescents and adults — including school physicals, immunizations, basic x-rays and laboratory tests, minor surgery and

Dundee Family Health Center 5999 Dundee Rd., Suite 750 (863) 292-4656 Haines City Family Health Center 36245 Highway 27 (863) 421-9801

routine gynecological exams. When it’s your family’s health, you want the best doctors, the best nurses and next-door convenience. Each of our Family Health Center offices is open Monday through Friday, 9:00 am to 5:00 pm. Compassion. Innovation. Trust. We’re your family’s choice.

Lake Wales Family Health Center 201 SR 60 West (863) 679-9644 Southeast Winter Haven Family Health Center 6035 Cypress Gardens Blvd. (863) 324-4725 Winter Haven Family Health Center 100 Avenue I, N.E. (863) 292-4077

FIND A BOARD CERTIFIED DOCTOR CLOSE TO HOME: Call the Winter Haven Hospital Physician Referral Line. 800-416-6705.

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FOCUS Polk County 08-05  

FOCUS Magazine Polk County Edition Issue 08-05, July 2012

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