Ocala Style | January 2022

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JAN ‘22

RIDING HIGH

Best Life

GOOD VIBES


Just Listed

Just Listed

29 Acre Equestrian Farm – Across from HITS

Oak Creek Caverns

Beautiful equestrian farm with scattered Live Oaks, lush green pastures, 4 bedroom/3 bath home, 22-stall barn, storage equipment, plus 2 bedroom/2 bath living quarters. Located across from HITS. Just minutes to WEC. $1,897,000

3 bedroom/2 bath home on 1 +/-acres in gated community close to town. Spacious kitchen opens to family room with brick fireplace. Formal Living room with wood floors and large picture windows. $475,000

Just Listed

Just Listed

White Oak Villages

White Oak Villages

Located close to shopping, hospitals, and restaurants. Chef ’s kitchen with center island & granite countertops opens to family room. Sliding glass doors lead to screen enclosed lanai. 3 bedroom/2 bath home. $369,500

Don’t miss out on this beautiful 5 bedroom/2.5 bath home in sought after White Oak Village. Spacious kitchen overlooking the great room, dining area, and screen enclosed lanai. Conveniently located close to all amenities. $389,000

If you’re considering buying or selling, give us a call today! List your property with Joan Pletcher... Our results speak for themselves.


Gated, Brand New Construction Located in Summit Neighborhood. 3.81+/- Acres. 4 bedroom/4.5 bath - 5,900+ sq. ft. home. Formal living, dining room, and office/library. Magnificent Chef ’s kitchen, walk in pantry, wine cooler, top of the line appliances, including pot filler above range. Master Suite with sitting area, expansive walk in closet, and master bath. Large den or recreation room with 14’ ceilings, built in beverage area plus fireplace that opens onto the pool and lanai making this a perfect place for entertaining friends and family. 3-car garage plus portico and circular driveway allow for ample parking areas. This home is truly a must see to appreciate all the home has to offer. $2,494,000

Gated, 26+/- acre Equestrian Oasis. Beautiful Modern mixed with Rustic. Beautiful Modern mixed with Rustic, gated equestrian oasis nestled perfectly on 26+/- acres. This exquisitely designed 5,300+ sq. ft residence is truly about the details which include high ceilings, unique granite, extensive millwork, plus generator. Foyer opens to an impressive living room, formal dining, and office. Fabulous gourmet kitchen, Butler’s pantry, 2 islands with granite countertops are perfect for entertaining. Home also offers a spacious entertainment room which could be a theater room, game room, or home gym. Screen enclosed lanai with evening lighting, brick paver deck, pool, and summer kitchen & grill area. The equestrian will enjoy the 18 stall CB stable, office and a 2 bedroom/1 bath guest apartment. $1,800,000

Let Joan Pletcher, Realtor list and/or sell your property Wishing you a Happy New Year! May it be filled with new adventures & good fortunes!

For these and other properties, visit JoanPletcher.com for information, videos and photos. Call or Text: 352.266.9100 | 352.804.8989 | joan@joanpletcher.com | joanpletcher.com Due to the privacy and at the discretion of my clients, there are additional training centers, estates and land available that are not advertised.


Publisher’s Note he quote included in this issue by artist Gene Hotaling, that “Ceramics is always a battle between too wet or too dry,” feels like the perfect metaphor for life. I think it was our Editor in Chief, Nick Steele, who initially envisioned the theme of this issue—living your best life. As you read the articles inside, I think you’ll find they reflect that living your best life means different things to different people, but all include challenges or sacrifices of some kind. Shaping clay is on my list of things to try to do one day. But, like many of you, time is a commodity in short supply and so I often do what I need to do with little left over for extracurricular activities. I count myself lucky, however, that I enjoy my work, particularly the impact it has on a community I care deeply about. This community has so many interesting, good people in it—some of whom you will meet in this issue. I have admired from a distance the work of two local married couples over the past year, so it was fun to discover some interesting things about their lives. I remember calling earlier this year to congratulate Andy Pozzuto, (pg. 36) following his victory with the Southern Law Center challenging the City of Ocala’s cycle of incarcerating homeless people for the mere act of sleeping outside. He said that the case reminded him of why he became a lawyer. Indeed, it is a noble profession with the potential to help so many. Can you imagine belonging to a profession that requires you to be part of furthering justice for all? How lawyers respond to that duty is varied but, this year, in the case of Pozzuto, it’s been nothing short of inspiring. Also inspiring is the story of he and his wife, attorney Shanta Matthews Pozzuto, and their commitment to each other. Another professional couple featured in this issue are the Kuhn’s. They too have stepped up to deliver on a duty they felt they owed to the community in a very meaningful way over the past two years. During the onslaught of the pandemic, when government agencies failed to provide data to the public in an easy to understand format, which we needed in order to make decisions, the Kuhns took the lead locally in disseminating crucial information. Given the political stigmas that became associated with COVID-19, it couldn’t have always been easy—which makes them heroes in my book. I hope you take away from this issue that, oftentimes, living your best life requires giving unselfishly and meaningfully because your best life is, most likely, lived in concert with others.

Jennifer Hunt Murty Publisher 2

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Publisher | Jennifer Hunt Murty

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Magnolia Media Company, LLC (352) 732-0073

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DIRECTOR OF SALES & MARKETING Andrew Hinkle andrew@magnoliamediaco.com CLIENT SERVICES GURU Cheryl Specht cheryl@magnoliamediaco.com

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EDITOR IN CHIEF Nick Steele nick@magnoliamediaco.com SENIOR EDITOR Susan Smiley-Height susan@magnoliamediaco.com ASSOCIATE EDITOR Kristine Nolan Kristine@magnoliamediaco.com PRODUCTION COORDINATOR Lisa Maliff lisa.maliff@magnoliamediaco.com CONTRIBUTING WRITERS Julie Garisto JoAnn Guidry Scott Mitchell David Moore Jill Paglia Max Russell Dave Schlenker Leah Taylor

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ACCOUNT EXECUTIVES Evelyn Anderson evelyn@magnoliamediaco.com Sarah Belyeu sarah@magnoliamediaco.com

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Sin ce

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in this issue

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60

54

ins id e r

living

features

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SCHLENKERISMS

Rigby, the new “dude” in the Schlenker household, has taken over Dave’s favorite chair.

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A WALK ON THE WILD SIDE

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BALANCING ACT

Jill Paglia shares how mixing healthy and decadent dishes can be a recipe for a satisfying meal.

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TEACHER’S PEZ

David Steffey’s huge display of candy dispensers started with two gifts from students.

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CONSCIOUS LIVING

Dr. David and Susie Kuhn found calmness in the chaos of navigating personal and professional challenges.

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A GIFT FOR LIVING

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Andy and Shanta Pozzuto have built a purposeful life together full of adventure, service, sacrifice, generosity and love.

vow s

From top-ranked equines to their unique wedding venue, the Pickerrells are crafting a legacy.

THE HIGHER EDUCATION PACT

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Silver Springs State Park offers several great trails and a day hike there can transport guests into the unspoiled natural Florida that is often overlooked.

VOWS

Join us in celebrating local brides and grooms.

VOWING TO SUCCEED

FORM & FUNCTION

Artist Gene Hotaling gives us a tour of his ceramics studio.

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An agreement between four women to support each other in the quest to obtain doctorate degrees provides a formula for success.

On the cover: Dr. David and Susie Kuhn Photo by Maven Photo + Film This page, left and center photos by John Jernigan, at right, Maven Photo + Film

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Horse Farms Forever Conservation Summit Inspires Dialogue about Smart Growth and Land Conservation

Charlotte Weber, the owner of Live Oak Stud, center, is awarded the Acorn Conservation Award by Bernie Little, the Horse Farms Forever President, left, and Mark Casse, at right, a two-time Hall of Fame Thoroughbred Trainer who trained Weber’s horse World Approval and many other of Weber’s winning horses.

On November 23rd, Horse Farms Forever (HFF) held the second annual Conservation Summit at Ocala Breeders’ Sales Company, attended by more than 400 people in person and online. Speakers included Dr. John C. Malone, CEO of Liberty Media Corporation and Kevin Sheilley, CEO/President of the Ocala Metro Chamber and Economic Partnership (CEP). Charlotte Weber received the inaugural Acorn Conservation Award. Worthy of Preservation The 193,000-acre Farmland Preservation Area is unique because of the deep limestone base that enriches the soil with minerals. “It is no coincidence that many of the world’s best horses have ties to Ocala. Our mineral rich soils have produced some of the strongest, best equine athletes in the world,” said Sara Powell Fennessy, HFF Executive Director.

Malone, the largest private landowner in North America, with more than 2.2 million acres, including Ocala’s Bridlewood Farm, said he purchases land for conservation and to practice sustainable ranching and forestry. “We hope these lands will end up with some level of affirmative preservation, whether owned by my family or a foundation,” he said. “Ocala, which has this great heritage in horses and Thoroughbred horses, it’s kind of a unique area when you think about areas that deserve preservation. There aren’t that many places on the planet that are great for raising and training horses. The best ones have deep limestone soils.” Quality of Life Survey Sheilley presented results of the Marion County Quality of Life Survey, conducted by The Matrix Group. The survey was organized by HFF and


Sponsored supported by sponsors including the CEP, College of Central Florida, Florida Thoroughbred Breeders’ and Owners Association, Ocala Horse Properties and the Hotel Design Management Group. The number one concern for the future of Marion County, at 29.5%, is the preservation of land and natural resources, followed by transportation and traffic (21.4%), population growth (19.3%), affordable housing (11.2%), economic development (8%) and employment opportunities (3.8%). More than 90% agreed with the statement: “Marion County’s Farmland Preservation Area is home to some of the richest soils and pristine fresh water aquifers in the world and that it is critical to maintain its resources to ensure that the community’s legacy as the Horse Capital of the World remain for future generations.”; and 86% supported comprehensive planning at the county level to protect agricultural lands and enhance urban areas. Sheilley said the county’s population is projected to increase by 150,000 to reach nearly 500,000 by 2040, according to the US Census Bureau. The CEP has been an integral part of the boom in industrial, distribution and manufacturing industries but Sheilley and the CEP have also been huge supporters of the equine industry, which has a $2.6 billion economic impact annually. “The ideas of growth and conservation are not always in conflict,” he said. “We can have it all.” Acorn Conservation Award Charlotte Weber, owner of the 5,000-acre Live Oak Stud for more than 50 years, received the Acorn Conservation Award for her contributions to the preservation of horse farms in Marion County. She was introduced by Canadian and National Hall of Fame trainer Mark Casse, which was fitting as they have won many top horse racing awards together. “I’m hopeful I can inspire many people in the county and the commission and people in our country and around the world to really look to planning and save land,” she said. “I came here, as many of you did, because it was rural. It was quiet. You could have a nice little place. Now? 10,000 houses going up on this corner, 20,000 on the next. It gives me great concern…help us preserve it.” Visit www.horsefarmsforever.com for more information.

Kevin Sheilley, the president and CEO of the Ocala Metro Chamber and Economic Partnership.

Sara Powell-Fennessy, the executive director of Horse Farms Forever.


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INSIDER

Social Scene

Sometimes the very best way to see the splendor of Light Up Ocala is to be perched atop the shoulders of a loved one. After the annual tradition kicked off on November 20th, the glittering lights and holiday displays continued to enchant visitors to downtown Ocala throughout the holiday season. Photo by AlanYoungblood


INSIDER

Light Up Ocala

DOWNTOWN OCALA Photos by Alan Youngblood

T Charlotte and Travis Williams with Megan Ambrose

housands of attendees were on hand for the illumination of millions of sparkling lights during one of Ocala’s most-loved annual holiday traditions, which took place the evening of November 20th. The celebration showcased downtown businesses and included live entertainment and numerous vendors.

Cora, Kiera, Knox and Kali Oakleaf

Heather Snare Brown of Audio Exchange

Jesse and Hazel Greer

Variations on

Opening Night REILLY ARTS CENTER Photos by Meagan Gumpert, courtesy Reilly Arts Center

T Matthew Wardell, Conductor

Victoria Billig and Joel Downing

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he elegant new lobby of the expanded Reilly Arts Center was filled with patrons dressed to the nines for the Ocala Symphony Orchestra’s season-opening concert on November 20th. A celebratory post-event soiree took place in the venue’s spacious new black box theater.

Hon. Steven and Rebecca Rogers; Amy and Sen. Keith Perry

Kami Moretti and Stacey Rollins

Lauren Debick and Krystal Berry


Santa and Mrs. Claus

De’Janae Thurston with the Vanguard High School Marching Band

Ocala Christmas Parade

SILVER SPRINGS BOULEVARD Photos by Bruce Ackerman

T Grand Marshal Ben Mariciano and family

his beloved annual holiday event, which took place on December 11th, featured groups such as marching bands, dancers and ROTC units, along with decorated floats and, of course, Santa & Mrs. Claus.

Aliyah Sadik and Rheanna Tolbert of Sunrise Elementary

Ride Run Roll Relay

FLORIDA HORSE PARK Photos by Bruce Ackerman

M

Molly Parady, Leigh Ann and Isaac Thompson and Carson Watts

Alexis Hoade

ore than 100 teams of equestrians, bicycle riders and runners pounded the grounds along the Marjorie Harris Carr Cross Florida Greenway State Park on November 20th as they raised more than $8,500 to help volunteer groups maintain the 340-plus miles of multiuse trails. Food trucks and raffles added to the festive atmosphere.

Sadie Cain on Bear

Jennifer Jones, Tiffany Atteberry and Caren Risley


On the Scene A guide to our favorite monthly happenings and can’t-miss events

Evening with Judy Collins 7 An The Sharon 7:00pm

Collins is a Grammy award-winning singer-songwriter celebrated for her imaginative interpretations of traditional and contemporary folk standards and her own poetically poignant compositions. Tickets start at $35. Visit thesharon.com for details.

Ocala Winter Circuit 18 HITS HITS Post Time Farm 8:00am

Each year, HITS Ocala is host to 10-weeks of USEFrated hunter/jumper competition from December through March, culminating with the Great American $1 Million Grand Prix. January dates run from the 18th to the 30th. Visit hitsshows.com for more information. 18-23: Ocala January Classic I – National / 5* ($25,000 SmartPak Grand Prix & $50,000 HITS Grand Prix). 25-30: Ocala January Festival II – National / 5* ($25,000 SmartPak Grand Prix & $50,000 HITS Grand Prix).


Maharajah Flamenco Trio Saturday, February 5, 7 p.m. Tickets on sale at Eventbrite.com or visit AppletonMuseum.org. Sponsored by Fine Arts for Ocala and Angie Lewis State Farm.

Appleton Museum, Artspace and Store

COLLEGE OF CENTRAL FLORIDA

Tuesday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Sunday, noon-5 p.m. 4333 E. Silver Springs Blvd. | AppletonMuseum.org

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@ocalastylemagazine @ocalastyle @ocalastyle

Follow us on social media to keep up with the latest news, events and more! #RealPeople #RealStories #RealOcala

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The Po’ Ramblin’ Boys

the World in 80 Days 20 Around Ocala Civic Theatre Adventures abound in this whirlwind farce performed live on stage by The Marion Players, which runs through February 6th. Five actors play 39 characters in this hysterically fast-paced comedy. Showtimes vary. For details, visit ocalacivictheatre.com

Ann Womack 21 Lee Reilly Arts Center 7:30pm

Womack captured the public’s hearts with her No. 1 hit I Hope You Dance on both the country and adult contemporary charts. Over the years, she’s developed a signature sound infused with country, soul, gospel and blues. Visit reillyartscenter.com for more information.

and BBQ 21 Bluegrass Tuscawilla Art Park 6-9pm

Lee Ann Womack

The Tuscawilla Art Park Series, organized by Ocala Recreation and Parks, features performances by Grammy-nominated bluegrass musicians The Po’ Ramblin’ Boys with Applebutter Express, barbecue, a cash bar, and local artisans. Tickets are $7 online and $10 at the gate. For more information, visit ocalafl.org/artpark


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‘68 to Vegas 21 Elvis: Circle Square Cultural Center 7-9pm

Local Elvis tribute artist Cote Deonath is one of the most-awarded in the world. This concert will feature him performing songs from Presley’s hit 1968 television show to his legendary stage shows in Las Vegas. Tickets start at $15 and VIP packages are available. All proceeds benefit Habitat for Humanity of Marion County and their mission to build affordable homes for low-income families. Visit csculturalcenter. com/events for details.

Equine Conference 21 Ocala Hilton Ocala This program of cutting-edge lectures and handson instruction for equine professionals, organized by the Florida Association of Equine Practitioners, an equine-exclusive division of the Florida Veterinary Medical Association, is focused on providing equine-focused learning opportunities and access to products and services. Visit fvma.org to register.

Judd & The Big Noise 27 Wynonna Reilly Arts Center 7:30pm

As one-half of the legendary mother/daughter duo, “The Judds,” Wynonna was dubbed “the greatest female country singer since Patsy Cline” by Rolling Stone. Tickets start at $25. Visit reillyartscenter.com for details.

Camellia Show 29 Ocala Ocala Golf Club 6-9pm

The public is invited to attend the Ocala Camellia Society’s annual camellia flower show and plant sale on the 29th and 30th; general admission and entry for your blooms are free. Judging takes place on the 29th at 10:30am, with entries accepted from 7-10am. The show opens for public viewing on the 29th from 1-5pm and 9am until 4pm on the 30th. Call (352) 895-8762 for more information.


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Sweet Surrender By Dave Schlenker | Illustration by David Vallejo

I

have surrendered my man chair to a Muppet. To the point: Rigby Floyd officially became a Schlenker in October. He is a Golden Doodle named after The Beatles’ Eleanor Rigby and the Muppet bassist for Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem (there is a remarkable resemblance). Rigby came into our lives not long after our beloved Abbey the corgi—also named in honor of the Fab Four—passed away at age 14. Rigby has big paws to fill, no doubt, which is good because his paws are the size of bear claws (not the pastries so much as the bear that fought Leonardo DiCaprio). Rigby will be a big boy. As of this writing, he is a 14-week-old puppy with razor teeth and a hankering for soccer (the taste of the ball, not the competition). He is growing fast and, by the time you read this, he may be bigger than the DiCaprio bear. But my, oh my, oh my, is he adorable. I call him a Muppet because he is joyful and floppy and hairy. Also significant: He is a he. After 15 years, there is another dude in our house. Since the death of Taylor Wolverine the cat, the Schlenker home has been a big sea of estrogen from daughters to cats to dogs. There are a few dude trappings in our home, including an impressive Hot Wheels collection and a big, built-for-a-king leather chair, designed for watching John Wayne movies if John Wayne movies existed in the Schlenker home. That chair was the subject of a column last year in

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this magazine because a few women in my life were determined to evict it and replace it with something prettier and more in line with things seen on HGTV. I paid $99 for that chair at a thrift store and the general consensus among the estrogen delegation is that I paid $99 too much. I love that chair. You know who else also loves that chair? My only son: Rigby Floyd. I would like to say he sits with me and watches movies with explosions and fast cars, but he’s really in it for the belly rubs. It fits both of us nicely—for now—yet his puppy enthusiasm and puppy bites sometimes send me to other areas. Recently, I found myself sitting on the floor watching football as Rigby slept in my man chair hugging a plush elephant that squeaks. I sincerely did not remember how this arrangement evolved. I just remembered thinking, “Why am I on the floor?” and “Will Dan Mullen be fired this week?” But such is life: One moment, you are a single young dude with hand-me-down furniture that may or may not be ugly—who cares?—and the next moment, you are married to your high school crush with two brilliant daughters, two loud cats and a deliriously happy, floppy, funny, licky Muppet son with great taste in furniture. And that is as it should be in January 2022: One new dynamic. Several new messes. Same sweet life.


Places to live, places to love–

Home is our favorite destination. For over two decades, our REALTORS® have helped thousands of customers find their home right here in Central Florida. Ocala and the surrounding area is full of a variety of properties that suit every lifestyle– and we’d love to show you everything the area has to offer. If you’ve been considering finding your new home, farm, land or maybe even a home for your business, contact us today to get started on your journey.

January ‘22

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INSIDER

A Walk on the Wild Side

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s explorers, we often overlook our own backyards and choose far off destinations. Travel is wonderful and broadens our horizons but it is also expensive and often downright frustrating. Consider a drive to Tampa or Orlando to catch a flight, a rental car, lodging, meals and the return trip home and it can become a serious commitment. Enter the often-overlooked daytrip: more specifically, a visit to one of our many local hiking trails. Silver Springs State Park offers several great trails that are both scenic and relaxing. The trails range from less than a mile to almost five miles in length. They are safe, well laid out and can be enjoyed without a major commitment of time and money. The natural beauty of the state park comes through in many ways. Visitors can stroll through diverse habitats from open, sandy pinewoods to shaded hammocks to flooded river swamps (best viewed from elevated boardwalks). Each of these hikes can transport guests into the unspoiled natural Florida, one that is often overlooked. Strolling through the woods allows for peaceful reflection, wildlife viewing, photography, exercise and more. There are even subtle seasonal changes to be seen. Maples and other hardwoods show color in the fall with splashes of reds and yellows. Cypress trees change from a verdant green to a golden brown as the season passes. Beautiful explosions of color during wildflower season in the spring and summer are a bonus. In the winter, we see a variety of interesting migratory birds. 22

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Wildlife viewing in Florida can be exciting but is not normally dangerous. Most critters run when they see a hiker, so a quiet, easy approach will yield more sightings. In Silver Springs State Park, expect whitetail deer, wild turkey, gopher tortoise and fox squirrels, to name just a few. Beyond the state park, numerous hiking trails wait to be explored. Marion County is blessed with wonderful public lands that include our city and county parks, the Florida Greenway, state lands such as conservation areas and state forests, and the Ocala National Forest. The Florida Trail, which extends across most of the state from the Everglades to Pensacola, passes through Marion County. Day hikes are best approached with some basic supplies that should include a good map, water and snacks, sunscreen and insect repellent. Wear comfortable shoes and dress for the season. It is smart to let someone know your plans and check the weather forecast before venturing off (especially in the summer when storms can roll in). So, in between getaway trips, consider a day out on a local hiking trail as a way to explore and relax. Scott Mitchell is the director of the Silver River Museum & Environmental Education Center, which is located inside Silver Springs State Park. He has worked as a field archaeologist, scientific illustrator and museum professional for the last 25 years. For more information, visit silverrivermuseum.com or call (352) 236-5401.

Photo courtesy of Silver River Museum.

By Scott Mitchell


Sponsored

NEW WOMEN’S CENTER IN SOUTHWEST OCALA

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lorida Mammography has opened a new women’s center inside Triumph Radiology in Southwest Ocala. The women’s center offers 3D mammography, breast ultrasound, and bone density services with all breast exams read by a Breast Fellowship Board Certified Radiologist. Preventative annual screening mammograms are key to early detection. The earlier breast cancer is detected the better the prognosis and the higher probability of surviving. Many women have delayed getting their annual mammogram due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It is critical that they now reprioritize their annual screenings to ensure that a significant increase in later stage cancer diagnoses is not in our future. Kerry Lawrence, owner of Invision Diagnostics of Florida aka Florida Mammography, would like the women of Ocala to know, “We are in your corner and committed to providing women’s healthcare in a wel-

Drven to defeat breast cancer

coming and safe environment. Whether it has been 1, 3, or 10 years since your last screening mammogram, we are here for you.” With a 3D mammogram, or digital breast tomosynthesis, the imaging machine moves in an arc to capture more X-rays that are then put together digitally to allow the doctor to see the tissues in three dimensions. According to the American Cancer Society, “Many studies have found that 3D mammography appears to find more breast cancers and lower the chance of being called back for follow-up testing.” As well, several studies have shown it can be helpful in women with dense breasts. Dr. Ryan Polselli, MD, the Lead Radiologist for Florida Mammography, shared, “Screening with 3D and having a breast fellowship-trained radiologist interpret the mammogram are two of the most important factors to consider when choosing where to have a mammogram.” Current breast cancer screening guidelines from the American College of Radiology and Society of Breast Imaging, inclusive of all women at average risk, recommend women should have a risk assessment by age 30 and that annual mammography screenings should start at age 40 and continue past the age of 74 unless severe comorbidities limit life expectancy. As well, their guidelines call for heightened screening attention for transgender individuals, black women and other often overlooked or underserved populations. Those who wish to schedule an appointment for a preventative screening mammogram must have a current primary care physician or OB/GYN, to whom results can be sent. Appointments only take 15 minutes and next day scheduling is available. Those seeking appointments for bone density, diagnostic mammography and breast ultrasound screenings must be referred by a physician.

To learn more or schedule an appointment, go to www.triumphradiology.com or call (352) 877-9221. Screening mammogram appointments can be made online under the “Schedule Your Appointment” tab. Triumph Radiology also offers X-ray, open MRI, CT scan, and ultrasounds and can be reached at (352) 554-4878.


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GIFT SETS THEY'LL LOVE

© 2022 Pandora Jewelry, LLC • All rights reserved

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GIFT SETS THEY’LL LOVE

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he Barn at Martin Farms in Ocklawaha FL is just a short drive from Ocala and The Villages. Here at The Barn, we want you to have the Wedding of your dreams, and a memory that will last a lifetime. We offer so many barn additions and packages for our Weddings and other Special Events such as Sweet 16’s/Birthday Parties, Graduations, Christmas Gatherings, and Corporate Parties/Meetings. The Barn is truly breathtaking, and it is a must see. Schedule your tour today, so you can see the true “Southern Elegance in the Mist Rustic Charm” that this venue has to bring to your special event.

www.barnatmartinfarms.com 8540 S. Hwy 314A, Ocklawaha, FL 32179 352-598-8760


VOWS

Celebrate... You are cordially invited to celebrate Ocala’s newest brides and grooms, get a glimpse into their most special of days and hear firsthand about the memories that will always hold a place in their hearts. Pictured: Miranda Thompson | Photographed by Rachel Weber of R. Weber Photo January ‘22

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VOWS

MIRANDA & ZACHARY THOMPSON October 9th, 2021 Photography by R. Weber Photo Venue: Ocala Boat Club Their favorite memory: “The moment we realized it was forever. Seeing each other and feeling an overwhelming amount of love and seeing all of our friends and family there to witness and love us—that was the only thing we could ask for!”

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KIMBERLY & LIONEL LEWIS October 16th 2021 Photography by Espeute Productions Venue: Mt. Moriah Missionary Baptist Church Florist: Amazing Florals Their favorite memory: “In addition to engaging in praise and worship at the wedding ceremony, the guests were intrigued. We had only a few lessons prior to the wedding, but we wanted to do something different. We improvised a Bolero dance. We thoroughly enjoyed the reaction of our guests to our grand entrance. Our hearts remain warmed by the merriment shared among family and friends.”


Image by Molliner Photography


aWeddingVenue TO MATCH YOUR DREAMS

Your special day can be everything that you’ve imagined. We offer a variety of services to match your wedding style. Customize your total experience from engagement parties to bridal showers and rehearsal dinners. Stunning indoor & outdoor venues | Professional wedding experts | Customized catering menus Guest accommodations weddings@goldenocala.com 352.629.6229 | goldenocala.com

January ‘22

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Conscious Living This Ocala couple found innovative ways to navigate the personal and professional challenges of the pandemic.

By Susan Smiley-Height Photography by Maven Photo + Film


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t the height of the pandemic, Dr. David Kuhn and his wife Susie, of Trinity Clinic, were in the spotlight. It was an uncomfortable place to be at times and finding calmness in the chaos became vitally important to their quality of life. From figuring out how to help their patients, loved ones and staff stay healthy in the face of the rampant COVID-19 virus and its variants, to finding themselves in the center of some community drama, the Kuhn’s relied on their varied skills and deep commitment to each other and their community to find a positive path forward. Through 10 years of marriage and six years working together full-time at the clinic, they have forged new friendships and alliances, discovered new interests and found ways to merge their core values with some of the needs that surfaced during the past couple of years. Now, they are embracing a new normal while looking to the future with renewed zest and enthusiasm. The couple recently took some time to talk with us about how they came to be in Ocala, their involvement in the community and how they worked to find solutions professionally and personally to help them navigate the challenges of life in a pandemic.

“The Kiss”

Could it have been kismet, given the past couple of years, that Susie and David met because of an influenza virus? Susie, who is from northern Vermont, double majored in early childhood education and early childhood special education at the University of Vermont before obtaining her master’s degree in education from Lyndon State College. While working on the latter, she became a single mom. David, whose family moved to Ocala when he was 6 months old, completed his undergraduate studies at the University of Florida, went to medical school at American University of the Caribbean, completed clinical rotations in New York City and finished his internal residency training at the University of Mississippi in Jackson.


Too often people get lost on the quest for happiness and success and forget to be grateful for the present moment. -Susie Kuhn

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In 2010, Susie became very ill with the H1N1 virus and did not want to expose her infant son, so she quarantined herself in a motel room. She says it was freezing outside, she could barely breathe between coughs and the television was broken. “I did have a poor internet connection and remember thinking, why not sign up for a dating website,” she recalls. “I came across his very funny and unexpected profile. We exchanged phone numbers and would talk for hours every night. We shared a mutual love of golf, history, traveling, music, food and the list went on. We had an instant soul connection and joked that it just seemed too good to be true.” They even feared that when they finally met in person, they would find that they had been catfished, which is a common risk faced by online daters and refers to a deception in which someone creates a fictional persona or fake identity. “We were both leery,” he adds, “but after a few weeks of amazing and meaningful conversation, we decided to finally meet in person.” “We decided to meet in Boston. Bear in mind, the Craigslist killer was still on the loose and I wanted to meet in a neutral location, where my sister and her fiancé could, unbeknownst to him, stalk us and make sure he really was who he said he was,” Susie shares. “I made the three-hour drive to the city and the entire way I was regretting the pact we had made, that when we met in person we would not say a single word…but instead kiss. The romanticism of the idea slowly transformed into utter fear and, as I saw him standing there for the first time, I drove right past him and around the block! I finally gathered the nerve to park and got out of the car and he was smiling at me. I walked up and head butted him right in the face in my panicked effort to kiss him. It was so embarrassing! We both laughed and I think cried from the pain a little bit. Then he said, ‘Maybe a helmet next time?’” “She approached me like a gazelle running towards its prey,” he recalls of that first meeting. “Our first contact was a medium force head butt, but eventually our lips found each other and our hearts were soon to follow.” A year later, they met again at the same place and he proposed marriage—she accepted

Coming To Ocala

Susie moved to Ocala with her son Austin in 2012, just a few months before she and David, or “DK” as she sometimes calls him, were married in an intimate ceremony in the Florida Keys with their immediate families, including his son, Max, from a previous marriage. She says they faced the normal challenges of

blending families, along with sharing a home and work life. “It was nearly 24 hours together for almost six years,” while working together at Trinity Clinic she notes. “I am not sure how we managed to pull that off without a divorce, but we have always made a great team. We share similar visions for the life we want to share and our values are closely aligned. We both have big hearts and helping others is at the core of our beings. I think our ability to share and define the ‘why’ behind the way we choose to live our lives has enabled us to be better equipped to navigate the highs and lows of our personal and professional lives.” “When Susie joined the team, our clinic was truly elevated to another level,” David asserts. “I can say without hesitation that she truly has the best work ethic of anybody I have ever known in my professional career.”

The Pandemic

In the early months of 2020, people around the world began to learn about COVID-19 and its rapid spread and sometimes fatal implications. Locally, residents wanted to know how it would impact their lives, how prevalent it was in our community and how they might best respond. David was eager to learn all he could—and, more importantly, share what he knew with others. “If there was a war happening in your neighborhood, you may not want to, or be able to, participate but I believe that most would feel inherently compelled to provide necessary local information so those of the highest risk could make the best and most informed decisions about how to protect themselves and their loved ones,” he offers. “I was not working in the hospitals where the real heroes of the pandemic were forged but I felt it was my duty to make a contribution to our local pandemic response.” “My husband had been monitoring the situation and we had been bracing for its impact, but I am not sure either of us could have ever anticipated how much it would change our lives,” Susie notes. “Initially, there was so little information available to even the medical community and the lack of resources became an obstacle. Guidelines kept changing as we learned more about the virus and its transmission. DK and Max decided to film our experiences in the clinic in a Facebook series. They wanted to document this major historical event to share with their children and grandchildren.” One day while David was working late, Susie, who freely admits she has issues with anxiety, says she took an “anxiety-fueled deep dive” into analyzing and graphing data and realized “we were on target January ‘22

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for a major spike and outbreak if the trends discussing politics when they banded together to continued.” From that research, their subsequent try to create change and preserve life. I am beyond presentations on social media became a significant grateful to every single member of the medical resource for local COVID data. community for their service and for sacrifices they “I am very proud of the Facebook community have all made,” Susie states. “It often did feel as culture we helped to curate, particularly given the though we were at the crossroads of the drama very polarizing nature of the pandemic locally,” locally. This was the most difficult part of our she states. “I feel we allowed individuals to share journey, because if you knew us pre-pandemic, we concerns, ask questions and voice differences of were both very private people. Suddenly, everybody opinion while doing our best to maintain a culture of knew of us, often without truly knowing us, and the respect and compassion, which was often absent on mischaracterization or image people created of us other local social media platforms.” was so much more polarizing than I could have ever “Not only had we become a very public source imagined. It was far more challenging on a personal of information, but we would spend a great deal of level for me than I think it was for my husband. My time late into the evenings and nights messaging or biggest fear was someone was going to target our on the phone with individuals in our community that office or our home. That was when I started to take were usually not even our patients,” she adds. “We intermittent breaks from social media to preserve would share resources and information, and even my inner peace. Despite any of the challenges and pray with members of moments where I may have our community at night wanted to throw in the towel, to help keep their spirits my husband would always up when they were remind me of why what we do admitted to the hospital matters. ‘If we can save one life, or ICU and had no one it will all be worth it,’” he would else to reach out to. I say. - Dr. David Kuhn am very open about my David recalls that the early struggles with anxiety days were mostly learning how and being able to be informed about where we stood to navigate the uncertainty of a pandemic and how to on a local level and not just on a sensationalized be a voice of reason. mainstream media level made me feel more in “The more I learned about the behavior of the control and make the choices I felt were right for me virus in conjunction with also learning the behavior and my family.” of our society, my fears diminished and it became easier to help bring a sense of security to the people of The Drama Marion County,” he shares. “I think it was important David spent a great deal of energy to ensure that that I was able to be that voice because there was so other medical providers in the community had access much misinformation being shared and the political to resources in the beginning of the pandemic. When polarization was becoming so ugly. I believe we would the numbers of cases continued to rise locally, he serve ourselves better if we had more voices of reason, wrote a letter to the Ocala City Council in July 2020 compassion and understanding to help moderate the asking the members to pass a face mask mandate extremes and buffer those that spew hate for sport.” and asked fellow health care workers to also sign the “Physicians do not usually involve themselves letter. In two days, the letter contained more than into politics,” he continues, “but because I am fiercely 500 signatures. non-partisan and I believed so strongly that we as A few weeks later, the city council passed an a community and a local government needed to do emergency mask ordinance, at which time Marion all that we could to protect those most vulnerable, County Sheriff Billy Woods told his employees they it made enduring the hate and threats a little more would not wear masks at work and said visitors tolerable. It taught me both humility and diplomacy to their offices could not wear masks. Woods’ and how important genuine compromise is in a mandate, along with steadily increasing numbers of functioning democracy.” local cases, landed the sheriff and Marion County in David says that later, nearly a year into the the national spotlight. pandemic, with a lot of the turmoil behind them, he As happened in many areas around the nation, was eagerly anticipating the release of the vaccine. such mandates quickly faced legal challenges and ‘We developed a great relationship with a great also created rifts within communities. asset to our community in Marion County Health “I am not going to discuss the politics of this Department Administrator Mark Lander,” David virus, because the medical community was not shares. “The moment when the three of us were

Life was very out of balance for the first year of the pandemic.


standing together at the very first public vaccination day drive up site, watching that first dose be given, was a moment I will never forget. For the first time in a long time, it felt as though we could beat this thing.” “I can sum up Dr. Kuhn and Susie Kuhn in three words—professional, passionate and persistent,” Lander offers. “All of my interactions with both have been completely professional at all levels, from the topics of discussion all the way to the interactions between our businesses.” He says that from the first time you speak to the couple, you see “their passion for the community and doing what is right, not for one but for everyone.” “I also can attest to the fact that if you want something done, just put them on the task,” Lander adds. “Any time I’ve had an ask, they have always come though on what I needed.”

Finding The Calm

For most of the past two years, the Kuhns were working from their home, which also was occupied by their sons and Max’s girlfriend. Fueled by a desire for personal space and an affinity for do-it-yourself projects, David and Susie turned the garage into a family play and workout area, complete with a PingPong table, dart board, gym equipment and home theater setup. She says the boys weren’t in school or participating in sports and couldn’t go out to a movie or attend their beloved Gator football games. “There was like a loneliness and the house felt like it was getting smaller. And there was this urgency to work out and maintain our health,” she recalls. “We had to get creative.” They made one room of their home a space for meditating. Susie discovered a knack for building and refurnishing furniture. They also discovered they make a pretty terrific team in the kitchen. “I think that too often people get lost on the quest for happiness and success and forget to be grateful for the present moment and the people we get to share it with,” Susie offers. “The best life is found in the kitchen with your family making dinner, in a wild game of Ping-Pong or in the moments where you see your child being a kind and good human to others.” “Life was very out of balance for the first year of the pandemic. We were so deeply intertwined in roles we had never expected or anticipated we would be called upon to fill. What got me through it was that at the end of the day we had each other. I always had my best friend there with me to share a laugh or a cry or a glass of wine,” David says. “We have always had pretty healthy lifestyles but it really felt urgent to try to maintain a calm mind so we could improve upon our existing standards of healthy living. Playing all of these

different roles during the pandemic was hard work, so we always tried to make it a priority to play as hard as we worked in the free moments that were lent to us and to rest when we were able to.” David says that among the changes brought by the pandemic, Trinity Clinic, along with many medical practices, has evolved in how it functions. “The clinic operates in a very cool way now. Our visits are a hybrid of telemedicine, curbside visits and in-office visits. Different patients want different things and the patients seem to appreciate having their healthcare needs met in more flexible ways than before and we have become more efficient in our ability to provide them with healthcare in ways I had never anticipated pre-pandemic,” he explains. “We have kept the safety of our practice, patients and our team as our top priority.” He says one important tool in coping with the pandemic is gratitude. “When so many have lost so much, you have to learn to be grateful for all that you have and it is very grounding,” he shares. “I believe living your best life means you are living your life on your own terms, surrounded by those you love. Lasting joy and fulfillment does not come from what you possess or the power that you wield, but rather from growing and giving.” January ‘22

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A Gift for Giving This inspiring couple built a purposeful life together full of adventure, service, sacrifice, generosity and love.

By Max Russell Photography by Michelle Liedel

I

f you ask Shanta Matthews Pozzuto if the circumstance that enabled her to save her husband Andy’s life was just an unlikely coincidence, she answers without hesitation, “It was nobody but the good Lord above.” That amazing chapter in the story of this Ocala couple’s relationship—which unfolds a bit later—is one of several unlikely circumstances that seem to be the norm, not the exception. For Andy, that was true from his birth. “My mother’s Jewish, my father’s Italian and I’m in

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therapy,” he jokes about his heritage. The second son born to his family, Andy came into the world with only one kidney. As a very young child, he was inand-out of the hospital until his condition stabilized. None of that deterred young Andrew Pozzuto from growing up active and involved in life, much like other kids in his Miami neighborhood. After high school, he attended Miami Dade Community College and then transferred to the University of Florida, where he majored in political science. After completing his undergraduate studies, he earned a


law degree in 1990. Following graduation, he moved to Ocala and took up practice as a public defender then continued his career as a criminal defense lawyer and managing partner of AP Law Group in Ocala and Gainesville. When Andy Met Shanta Shanta Matthews was born and raised in Ocala. She graduated from what she calls the “old” Forest High School, referring to the current location of Marion Technical Institute. She met Andy when she was a high school student in a work/study program at his law firm. But it was his partner, Tania Alavi, with whom Shanta would develop a close friendship and stay in contact following graduation from high school. Shanta pursued her undergraduate in psychology at Florida State University and on breaks from school would come to Ocala to work part-time for the law firm. As graduation from college approached, she recalls thinking, “I’m not ready to go out and get a real-person job.” Several fellow graduates were heading to law school so, almost as an afterthought, she decided to take the LSAT—the Law School Aptitude Test. She scored well and was accepted to the University of Illinois-Chicago’s John Marshall Law School. “I really didn’t go to law school for any noble purpose, like wanting to change the world,” she acknowledges. As it turns out, the decision certainly changed her. When Shanta came to Ocala from Chicago for Christmas break in 2006, she called up her friend, Tania, at the law firm to see if she would go to the movies. “I was dying to see Dreamgirls, which had just come out,” Shanta recalls. Tania didn’t want to make the drive from Gainesville to Ocala but suggested, “You should call Andy. He’d probably like to go.” “Why would I call Andy?” Shanta thought. “I only ever speak to him when I’m in the office.” Nonetheless, she texted him, “Hey, I’m in town. Want to go see Dreamgirls?” He replied, “I don’t text. Call me.” “I guess texting was a young people’s thing,” she says with a grin. They got together for dinner and in Shanta’s words, “We had a nice time, but I didn’t think much about it. The next day, I flew back to Chicago.” Over the next few months, that dinner date led to increasingly frequent phone calls. In March 2007, Andy flew to Chicago and they began to date steadily. He even travelled to Paris to see her when she was doing a study-abroad stint. That not only fueled their romance, it ignited a shared passion for travel. Shanta later returned to Florida and completed

her juris doctor (JD) degree at the University of Florida Levin School of Law. Andy and Shanta got married on September 2nd, 2012, and three years later, on September 2nd, 2015, got the news she was pregnant with twins. The next April, they welcomed daughter Cameron and son Anderson to their world.

A Hitch In Happily Ever After Because of his kidney condition, Andy always had yearly tests to check his liver enzyme levels, which typically hovered above the normal average but within an acceptable range. He missed his regular checkup in 2015, as he focused on the pregnancy and the lengthy recovery of his mother and stepfather from injuries suffered in a devastating automobile accident on September 3rd, just one day after getting the news about the twins. When Andy went for his yearly liver tests in 2016, the news was not good. A person with only one kidney may have a “normal level” of about 1.8 or 1.9. His number had increased to 2.8 and continued to rise over the next few months. After testing at the University of Florida’s UF Health Shands Hospital, he was put on the waiting list for a kidney transplant. He was told the window of opportunity was fairly short and without a donor kidney soon, he would have to go on dialysis, a move physicians always want to avoid as it significantly decreases the likelihood of a successful transplant in the future. Andy and Shanta immediately sent out donor screening forms to family, friends and anyone else who might be a likely donor, urging all to return them as quickly as possible. January ‘22

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Shanta says she would call the donor screening team constantly to ask if a donor had been found. On one call, while she was driving down Silver Springs Boulevard, she heard the good news that a match had been found. Shanta recalls saying how thrilled she was and excitedly asking the woman on the other end of the line, “Will you call that person now and let them know?” The woman said, “Shanta, it’s you.” “That was shocking,” Shanta says. “What were the odds? It sounded so fantastic. I’m the one who ended up telling Andy.” “Obviously, it’s hard to comprehend,” says Andy, “and very complicated, especially with our two young kids.” But he can’t resist adding with a smile, “It’s almost like I had her blood tested before I married her.” Tough Choices Shanta as donor and Andy as recipient meant two concurrent surgeries, two recoveries and twice the risk that something could go wrong. It also meant the couple would have to rely on others to take care of them and their twins during their simultaneous recovery. Loving parents on both sides and a caring community of friends filled that need, for which the couple is eternally grateful. At first, the transplant seemed to go off without a hitch. Then, a few days into his recovery, Andy began to experience severe pain. Fearing his body had rejected the organ, surgeons performed a second procedure, discovered the problem and corrected it. He was discharged from the hospital the day

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before Thanksgiving 2017 and this past November 24th the Pozzuto’s celebrated the four-year anniversary of that occasion with deep gratitude. “I still get pretty emotional around the anniversary,” Shanta says. “Finding that I was a match was great, but also terrifying. “Being a donor was both the most selfless and most selfish thing I’ve done. Selfless because you’re literally putting your life on the line for somebody else. Selfish because it’s my husband and I like the life we lead, the things we do, and I didn’t want to see him go through dialysis and have our relationship completely change.” Andy says it was difficult to know that someone else must go through that for him. That’s one of the reasons he’s so willing to tell his story publicly—to get across the message of the importance of being an organ donor. He notes that the demand is great and it’s easy to designate willingness to donate on your driver’s license. Characteristically, Andy couldn’t resist revealing that he’d named his kidney Lennon in honor of John Lennon and had named Shanta’s remaining kidney Yoko. The eyeroll from Shanta—priceless. Great For Them, Good For Ocala Ocala is lucky to have a family like the Pozzutos among its citizens. As practicing lawyers, Shanta and Andy are making a mark in their own way and leaving their clients and our community better for it. In October of 2021, the Southern Legal Counsel (SLC) presented its Pro Bono Hero Award to Andy for his role in challenging the constitutionality of an open lodging ordinance in Ocala, which prohibited homeless individuals from sleeping in public spaces. Describing his efforts, the SLC noted that he, working alongside the SLC and the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, “showed incomparable compassion for the clients, who represented one of the most underserved and disenfranchised groups of people in the community.” When asked about his role, Andy says, “I’m a dreamer. I can hear an old speech from Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. and still get inspired. I get goosebumps when I hear John Lennon’s Imagine. Those things mean something to me. And this challenge to the ordinance meant something to me as well. I felt like a wrong was being committed. I’m a downtown property owner, but I think that there’s a better way of dealing with human beings than to arrest them and put them in jail for being homeless.” Andy’s commitment to the community extends beyond his law practice. He has served as president of the Ocala Lions Club, on the board of the Discovery


Science Center and as a member of the Public Policy Institute of Marion County, Inc. (PPI). Shanta serves as chair of the 5th Judicial Circuit Nominating Commission, vice president of the Marion County Bar Association and is a member of the Estate Planning Council of Marion County as well as the PPI. Like Andy, she integrates her commitment to community with her law practice, providing pro bono legal services through Community Legal Services of MidFlorida. Currently, however, she says probate work makes up the bulk of her practice. “What I genuinely enjoy about probate is that I can help people sort out their affairs and clear titles to land and property,” she notes, “It’s a huge problem, especially in communities of color where families are losing generational wealth, often because it’s difficult to know who actually owns the property. Even though it can be messy and time consuming, I do feel a pull towards trying to help people resolve those issues.” Shanta also has participated as a mentor in Take Stock in Children, a Florida-based nonprofit that “provides a unique opportunity for deserving, lowincome youth to escape the cycle of poverty through education” through one-on-one support and college scholarship opportunities. She says the program has enabled her “to meet some really cool young people doing really extraordinary things.” She notes that the first young woman she mentored recently finished her master’s degree at the University of Florida and her current mentee, who will graduate high school in the spring, just texted that she’s been admitted to college for the fall of 2022. “Oh, The Places You’ll Go!” Quoting Dr. Seuss, Andy and Shanta say traveling is their passion. Whether it’s a weekend getaway to Disney World or Busch Gardens, a family trip to

Yellowstone National Park or the Pacific Northwest, or a European vacation, they want their children to experience the world in every way possible. Even though the twins are still young, they say the key to helping them remember where they’ve been and what they’ve seen is to talk about their adventures and the fun they’ve had. The experiences they share with their children don’t always happen far from home. It’s not unusual for one or both of the children to accompany their parents to work at the law office. Shanta says Anderson likes to go with her on weekends, provided pepperoni pizza is included. “He’ll stay there with me for hours sometimes, drawing or just hanging out,” she shares. Even if there’s a Sunday visit to the office, the first stop is Sunday School for both children at the Ocala First United Methodist Church, which also plays a major role in their lives in all sorts of activities throughout the week. Giving It Their Best When asked what they’d like people to know about them, the Pozzuto’s were clear. While they take their professional and civic responsibilities very seriously, they don’t want to be defined just by titles and roles. Nor do they want to be recalled only as the husband and wife who share a kidney. “Those are simply parts of our story,” says Andy. “I hope others see us as people who are trying to give it our best each day. We’re committed to that. We love our neighbors and love being here for all the opportunities it has given us.” January ‘22

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The

Higher Education Pact

An agreement between four Ocala “Docs” provides a formula for success. By Leah A. Taylor | Photography by Dave Miller

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nly 1.2 percent of the U.S. population has a Doctor of Philosophy degree (Ph.D.) — throughout the rest of the world, less than 2 percent. Empirical data indicates that approximately 100,000 students in the U.S. pursue a doctorate degree each year. Nearly 40,000 drop out annually, however, many within the first year of their programs. When I spoke with Drs. Yvonna Baker, Anna Streater-McAllister, Anna Dewese and Keyana Lyde, affectionally known together as “The Docs,” a title bestowed on them by Streater-McAllister’s husband, George McAllister, I hoped to learn not only about their bond and journey together, but the rationale behind pursuing such a degree. Notwithstanding the strenuous curriculum of satisfactory completion of 60 semester credits beyond the master’s degree, the comp exams (a pass/fail comprehensive examination taken to measure acquired knowledge) and defense of dissertations, there are many other challenges, such as finances, time management and travel. Perhaps more important are two hidden issues linked to the high attrition rate—stress and the feeling of social isolation.

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What helped “The Docs” face impending challenges was a formula for success built on a strong resolve that they were better together. The Journey “Mommy! You’re home!” Those words, full of longing and urgency, spoken by Yvonna Baker’s daughter, Tyler, sent chills through her. Baker had, in fact, been home for a week without being present. At the time, she was a doctoral student and the moment had arrived for her to take the comp exams. Failure meant a denied opportunity to defend her dissertation. A passing grade meant she would become a Ph.D. candidate and could continue “the work.” That fateful week, her husband, Dallas, and her mother-in-law, Helen, took care of the household and family matters while she camped out on the formal living room floor with papers strewn all around. Perhaps she brushed her teeth over the course of the week, but she doesn’t truly remember. What she does recall is how dark and lonely the process had been before hearing the tender voice


of her child for the first time in four days, only moments after Baker clicked “send.” It was as if Tyler could sense the change in the atmosphere, affirming her desire for her mom. “The process was grueling,” says Baker. “The work”—as she defines the doctoral journey—included not only exams, but an eight-hour workday as a middle school guidance counselor in Ocala, driving to Tampa after work to attend Argosy University and arriving back home at 11pm each night. She would rest for a few hours and then get up and repeat the process. For nearly four years she maneuvered between work and a hybrid of classes, rounded out by another three years of preparation for her dissertation.

Streater-McAllister recalls discussions about attaining their doctorates. “If I go back to school, when I come out someone will be calling me doctor,” Streater-McAllister says she declared and Baker agreed. Streater-McAllister did not always want to be an educator. At South Carolina State University she worked as the editor of the college’s newspaper and interviewed people like “mad cool” Doug E. Fresh. Streater-McAllister envisioned a career in journalism with Entertainment Tonight. She giggles as she reminisces, “That was the dream, but education is my calling.” A job fair led her to a position at Fort King Middle School as a seventh grade English Language Arts teacher in January 1998. Streater-McAllister remembers meeting the other Anna, briefly, while working as a reading coach, but it was Baker who would - Dr. Yvonna Baker cement the connection. Baker met Anna Dewese in 2004 when she became the assistant principal at Howard Middle School. This was Dewese’s first job as an administrator but it would be far from her last. Before meeting Baker, Dewese was already a professional success story, having broken considerable barriers as a 15-year-old mother (a fact she willingly shares to encourage other young women in a similar situation). Dewese says her family moved around early in life and she did not want that for her son. So, once she graduated from Forest High School (FHS) in ’94, she committed to obtaining all of her advanced education while still “rooted and grounded in Ocala.” She wanted to provide stability for her child, which was possible through satellite programs at Central Florida Community College, now the College of Central Florida or CF. Dewese started teaching at Madison Street Elementary School in 1998. But, she recalls, she knew she would become a teacher while she was in the second grade because, “I had the best second grade teacher ever.” Ultimately, her first boss, Mrs. Bjork, saw something loftier for Dewese. During her first year of teaching, Bjork told her to go back to school, “Because you are going to be a principal,” Bjork urged. “She encouraged me to get a master’s,” Dewese says. Bjork also placed her into increasingly advanced positions while Dewese was still a struggling single parent. Her son was in the fifth grade when she wed her

Unity and togetherness are deeply ingrained in me. My upbringing instilled a team mentality and construct that people are better together.

Four In A Million Famed philosopher Aristotle coined the phrase: The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. And Baker sublimely identified the parts for this pilgrimage. A deeply optimistic and confident military brat from a close-knit family of five siblings, Baker became the bridging force that brought “The Docs” together. “Unity and togetherness are deeply ingrained in me,” offers Baker. “My upbringing instilled a team mentality and construct that people are better together.” This belief proved beneficial when she graduated high school in Germany and traveled for the first time to Tallahassee, Florida, to attend college. With her family still in Europe and no nearby relatives, Baker was quick to form familial relationships at work, school and church. At age 18, she began working at the Department of Education. She kept that job and three others as she matriculated at three state colleges. After receiving three degrees she relocated to Ocala to be near her fiancé. Baker accepted a position at Howard Middle School in counseling, working with then-principal Scott Hackmyer. Under his leadership, she immersed herself into the community and learned “how to do the right things for children,” she recalls. One community event—a scholarship fashion show— introduced her to Anna Streater-McAllister, the selfpossessed, supportive, storyteller and “historian of the group.” The two later bonded through their sorority’s graduate membership intake process.

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husband, Brian, after years of courting, and they began raising their blended family together. He also supported her dream of becoming a principal. But the objective of obtaining a doctorate was largely because of her dad urging her to reach higher. Each time she earned a new degree, “He always asked, ‘What’s next?’ and ‘What can you do with that?’” she shares. Right before he had a stroke and was diagnosed with dementia, Dewese received her master’s degree. She told her dad, “I can get a doctorate,” and, as was his custom, he asked her, ‘What can you do with a doctorate?’” She says she answered, “You can still be a principal but you can also work at the district office and you can become a superintendent,” And he said, ‘That’s what you need to do.’” As a heavenly gift to her father, she defended her dissertation on the first Father’s Day after his death. She tells everyone that if it weren’t for him, she would not have those three letters, Ph.D., after her name. The final connection in this inspiring group surfaced during a 2004 conference for guidance counselors where Baker reached out to the conscientious, self-described “momma bear” and the youngest of the four—Keyana Lyde. Even before moving to Ocala from Long Beach, California, Lyde knew she wanted to earn her doctorate. She confesses to praying for everything to align with God’s will and, sure enough, a job offer came her way “without setting foot on Florida soil.” Lyde accepted a guidance counselor position at West Port High School while her husband, Bertram, also received a job offer in Ocala. Her next prayer was to meet other young Black 42

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couples who were like-minded, driven and solid in their marital union. That happened too. “Miss Bubbly, Yvonna, came up to me like a breath of fresh air,” Lyde recalls. “She told me she was looking for young couples to do things with and invited us to go bowling.” Through Baker’s individual get-togethers with each woman, she recognized their commonalities. The women had the same goals for themselves, the community and their families. Furthermore, they all held master’s in education, worked for the Marion County School Board and had a similar outlook for educating children. She had an epiphany which led her to unite them. She believed their connection would “set them on a path to great things together.” The Commitment It was December 2005 when Baker set up a meeting with an advisor from Argosy University. They met at a local restaurant and she explains that is when the “unity and togetherness kicked in.” After learning about the program’s benefits, Baker says, “You would have thought we were the Lakers going to the national championship. The excitement started to swell up in each one of our bellies that this was bigger than us.” Although they had families and careers to manage, they collectively decided, ‘We can do this.’ They mapped out a plan for well over an hour and set a deadline to graduate and walk across the stage together. “It was so fast,” Dewese recalls. “We agreed. ‘We are going to do it. Everybody has to be on board. We are going to start together. We are going


to finish together.’” She says it was “like a gentleman’s agreement.” Despite having no allegiances to each other, besides each of them knowing Baker, they verbally committed to stay together until the end. “We pledged to be each other’s support system,” recalls Lyde. “By any means necessary,” adds StreaterMcAllister. In January 2006, the work began. They met at the same local restaurant again. This time they brought along their husbands, who would watch them leave for Tampa for their first day of classes. In the beginning the foursome had a lot of face-to-face time, along with collective and individual calls every week. They could always vent to one another and when one was struggling the others would rally around her. Baker says they became “truth and accountability partners.” Shortly into the program, Dewese’s career started to skyrocket. Her son was in the eighth grade by now and if anyone knew how to excel professionally during the day and take classes in the evenings while raising a family, Dewese did. In 2008, she became the principal of Fessenden Elementary School. She was 33-years old and had helped turn the school from a “D” grade to an “A.” Four years later, she was promoted to the district office.

questioned the journey though. “The thing that popped up was, Can I pull this off?” she reveals. She admits she had to learn to get out of her own way and trust God. Baker agrees. “Nothing stops,” she says. Although she never wanted to quit, she questioned, “Am I present enough?” She admits her strong faith may sound corny to some, but a quiet voice verified she was where she needed to be “despite the packaged foods, drive-thru dinners, messy house days and outside help.”

Foundations In Faith According to “The Docs,” God opened the door for them to Dr. Anna Dewese journey together but did not keep them from experiencing trials. Life did not stop for them, especially not for a mother with two tiny babies under age 3. Lyde recalls staying up Family Ties at night, doing papers until 1 and 2 in the mornings, Streater-McAllister has her own set of memories. while nursing a baby on her chest. Then she’d get up For her, the Tampa trips on Thursday nights to get at 7am to be at work by 8am. Much like Baker, Lyde to class by 5:30pm and returning home late in the locked herself away with every single book from evening resonate with her. every class during comp time. She says playfully, “It “George, bless his heart, would have the kids in was me, God and them books.” For a week, she says bed,” she says. “He would wake up when I got home.” she was talking to God, bouncing her ideas off Him, and listening to whatever He was telling her. Then her husband would stay up with her as she ironed the kid’s clothes and then they would both go Lyde was also an adjunct at CF. At times, she to sleep. shares, she thought she was crazy. She never January ‘22

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“You have to have support systems,” Baker asserts. She and Lyde welcomed baby girls during the journey and needed additional family support. Baker praises her husband for being the “it factor” who made it all come together and says she cannot forget the countless times his mother was there for them. Baker’s mom, Debra, was in Tallahassee by then and also would make regular trips to help them out.

Dr. KEYANA LYDE

Lyde credits her husband, Betram, as well. “Without him, I would not have been able to do this,” she says. And when he was away for work, Lyde’s mother would fly in from California. Lyde recalls her mother preparing food and leaving it outside her door during her comps. All the ladies commend their mothers, the shoulders of whom they stand upon. Lyde says her

mother never let circumstances or excuses stop her from achieving, so she could not either. Dewese says her mother was a spiritual and physical help even before the doctoral journey. As a single mom, she relied on her mom’s promise to “take care of the kid” while she went to school and worked. And like Dewese’s father, Streater-McAllister’s maternal grandfather was her driving force. She describes him as an accomplished man, “a Black man with a master’s degree in the ‘50s.” He frequently shared his experiences and challenged her to exceed his accomplishments. He told her, “The first degree [bachelor’s], that’s your momma’s. Give it to her. The next one is yours.” But once she got her master’s, he challenged her to go further than he had gone. When StreaterMcAllister began “the work” at Argosy, she says her grandfather said, “Good, that’s what you need to do. You have to be better than me.” Her grandfather passed away in 2011, the same year she defended her dissertation. Along the way, the ladies experienced the joys of births and suffered significant losses together. Streater-McAllister says, “Those were the times when the bond in the cohort was most impactful.” She remembers calling her mom, Peg, who had been diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma the year prior, when she started the doctoral program. “She listened to me tell her how hard it [school] was and said that she’d come down to help,” she recalls. By November of 2006, Streater-McAllister’s mother earned her wings and she says these women who she counts as sisters “were right there praying.” When “the fuzz and grief ” set in, the dean told her to take some time off and encouraged her to continue when the time was right. “That was the roughest point” in the journey, she says, but, by mid-January, Streater-McAllister was back. She knew her mom would not have been okay with her quitting. She says she could hear “Peg saying, ‘Okay, Bird. I know you’re hurt, but you’ve got to finish. You don’t start anything you don’t finish.’” Stronger Together Each Doc speaks fondly of Argosy administrator Dr. William Corbett, their prestigious committee chair and currently the Deputy Superintendent of Pinellas County Schools. They agree he was a principal motivator for the women he called “The Ocala Girls,” often inviting them to his home. Baker recalls him saying, “We are going to put feet on each one of your dissertations and make it walk.” By 2012, they had successfully defended their dissertations only months apart. For each defense,


Excellence is about continuing the excellence. - Dr. Anna Streater-McAllister

the others showed up with their families in tow. Dewese jokes that the husbands, who formed a brotherhood of their own, basically earned honorary degrees. And although the women defended their dissertations at different times, they all graduated the summer of 2012, purposely waiting until they could do so as a group. “It didn’t matter how long it took. I was going to walk whenever it happened,” Dewese explains. And that’s what they did. Ultimately, Corbett’s “Ocala Girls” stuck to their original decision to start together and end together. The Bigger Picture After graduation, the women took a “glorious trip” to Puerto Rico and have been “girl tripping” annually ever since. They have traveled to St. Simons/Jekyll Island and Cocoa Beach, and they gather for a Christmas “Hotel Slumber Party” each year. They are currently working on their 10th-anniversary trip. They have become family. Their children have grown up together. They are the “aunties” and their husbands the “uncles.” And when Dewese’s husband suddenly passed away in 2019, the other husbands served as pallbearers. According to Baker, the journey was the birthing of many unknown things inside of them. Through the obstacles, deaths and children, they birthed a camaraderie and doctoral degrees that they will use for greater influence. That’s why Baker would do it again. Not for the accolades or external gains, but for the daughter who woke her out of that trance and for the young girls who ask about the degrees that hang on her wall. Her Ph.D. has been a “crack in the door to push girls toward college” and to show her daughter the work ethic required to birth a dream. As for Dewese, who lives her passion daily, the work is about grooming educators to lead schools with positivity for the profession. She also encourages young girls to dream big, find their passion and not feel limited by their circumstances. Streater-McAllister extends the same knowledge she imparts to her own children, “You have to do something worthy of someone following.”

Dr. anna streater-mcallister

She tells other young women who want to follow in her footsteps that, “excellence is about continuing the excellence.” Lyde still uses her motherly instincts to foster a legacy of successful students who were previously counted out. She tells them, “Is it going to take some work? Yes. But we are going to take it one step at a time. We are not going to look at the big picture. We are going to make a list and go through one item on the list and check it off.” Lyde promises that if they follow her regimen, they will look back one day and everything will be checked off. She knows from experience. After all, “The Docs” found a formula for slaying the Ph.D. journey: combine commitment; faith; supportive families; transformative teachers, mentors and colleagues; and a group of likeminded and high-achieving individuals to share the journey. Together, their fellowship and resiliency pushed them further and they accomplished more than they could as individuals. In the end, they are bound by friendship and love. Dewese says it best, “The prestige is nice, but the biggest takeaway is the friendship and the sisterhood,” she shares. “I love those girls with my whole heart.” January ‘22

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LIVING

Balancing Act Mixing healthy and decadent dishes can be a recipe for a delicious and satisfying meal. By Jill Paglia | Photography by John Jernigan January ‘22

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s we enter a new year, many people may be thinking of ways to prepare more healthful and nutritious dishes. But since life is all about balance, sometimes we also need the indulgence of something delicious and decadent. Two great options for a breakfast or brunch would be this rich and indulgent Overnight French Toast Casserole with Bourbon-Maple Syrup and a delicious and healthy Kale, Onion, Pepper & Potato Frittata. This delightful dish offers a one-two punch, as eggs are a great source of protein and kale helps activate your body’s natural detoxifying enzymes, which can help ward off lung and stomach cancers. These two options also offer a great mix of flavors and are relatively easy. You can do a lot of the prep work in advance for both, which means you will have more time to spend with your friends and family members. With the casserole, I recommend buying your bread the day you plan to put it together, so it does not become crusty. I like to use Cuban bread in thick slices, which really soaks up the maple syrup, butter and brown sugar. You can put this together right before you’re ready for bed, so it has time to set up overnight. Then, in the morning, take it out of the refrigerator and let it sit for 10 minutes before you pop it in the oven. Once it comes out, top it with your pure maple syrup, vanilla and bourbon mixture and then sprinkle with powdered sugar. You can either garnish with pecans and fresh berries or set up toppings in bowls so that your guests can choose their own. Both adults and kids love this dish. For the adults, I like to serve either espresso or dark roast 48

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coffee to balance out the sweetness. For those who prefer something more savory, the frittata offers a great option and you can modify it in so many ways. This recipe actually has more vegetables in it than eggs, but you can customize your fillings. If, for instance, you’d rather skip the potatoes and you love mushrooms, adding some wild ones would be a great way to add some more protein. If you’re not a kale fan, you could substitute chopped spinach. Personally, I’m a big fan of sausage in frittatas, so you could add some to your veggie mixture. If your kids enjoy certain vegetables over others, poll them on which ones they would like. They might also vote for a meat lover’s version. There are so many variations, such as using sweet potatoes instead of white or gold ones. Go ahead and make it your own! A lot of the prep work can be done in advance, like slicing your peppers and onions the night before, and having your potatoes already boiled and sliced. That way, you’re literally only spending maybe 10 minutes with it in your cast iron pan on the stove before you put it in the oven to brown. If you are serving the frittata for brunch, I love to roast fresh tomatoes, topped with parmesan cheese as a side, but you could also serve a healthy salad. For those who want to add another layer of flavor, serve it with sides of salsa, guacamole and sour cream. And don’t forget the wine, such as a nice Chardonnay, or mix up some mimosas.


Overnight French Toast Casserole with Bourbon-Maple Syrup 12 (1-inch-thick) slices of fresh Cuban bread, or a baguette; discard the ends 5 large eggs, lightly beaten 1 cup packed light brown sugar 1 cup pure maple syrup, divided 1 cup chopped toasted pecans, divided 1 1/4 cups whole milk 6 tablespoons butter, melted 2 tablespoons (1 oz.) bourbon 2 tablespoons granulated sugar 1 1/4 teaspoons vanilla extract, divided 1 teaspoon orange zest plus 1 tablespoon fresh juice 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon Powdered sugar Fresh blueberries and/or raspberries (optional) Lightly coat a 13-inch x 9-inch baking dish with cooking spray. > Stir together brown sugar, melted butter and 1⁄4 cup of maple syrup. > Spread the mixture in the bottom of the baking dish and sprinkle with 3⁄4 cup of the pecans. > Arrange bread slices evenly on top. > Whisk together eggs, milk, sugar, orange zest, cinnamon and one teaspoon of vanilla and pour over bread slices. > Cover and chill for at least 8 hours. > Preheat oven to 350°F. > Remove baking dish from refrigerator and let stand at room temperature for 10 minutes. > Bake uncovered until top is golden brown; about 35 minutes. > During final minutes of baking, combine bourbon, 3⁄4 cup maple syrup and 1⁄4 teaspoon vanilla in a saucepan and stir and cook over low setting until warm. > When ready to serve, sprinkle the entire casserole or individually plated portions with powdered sugar and pecans, and berries if desired. > Serve the bourbon-maple-vanilla syrup on the side.

Kale, Onion, Pepper & Potato Frittata 6 ounces goat cheese 4 whole eggs 3 egg whites 2 cups potatoes, boiled and then sliced 1 pound kale, trimmed, blanched 3 minutes in boiling water, drained, squeezed and coarsely chopped 1 sweet onion, sliced 1 large red pepper, sliced 2 tablespoons water 1/2 teaspoon paprika Cooking spray Salsa or other side dishes (optional) Heat oven to 400°. > Coat a cast iron skillet with cooking spray. > Cook onions and peppers in skillet over medium heat for about 5 minutes. > Add kale and stir, for about 5 more minutes. > Add goat cheese then the sliced potatoes and stir. > Whisk eggs, egg whites, water and paprika in a bowl, then stir into the veggie mixture. > Cook over medium-low heat for about 1 minute. > Transfer the skillet to the oven and bake until the eggs are set and the center is slightly runny, about 6 to 8 minutes, then broil until the top is golden, about 1 minute. January ‘22

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Teacher’s Pez Simple gifts from two students have grown into a colossal collection for teacher David Steffey. By David Moore | Photography by Bruce Ackerman

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now White and all seven dwarfs are there, as are Scooby Doo and Captain Kirk. Down to the left are the KISS band members, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles alongside Black Panther and, in the back, Princess Leia, Handy Manny and the Grinch. George Washington is up front, of course, with Gandalf, Shrek and the three Elvis Presleys. These are just part of the Pez candy dispenser collection David Steffey has amassed over the past 27 years as a teacher. There now are more than 500 pieces but, unlike most collectors, Steffey did not set out to create this pop culture Pez-a-palooza—this “We Are the World” style celebrity gathering… albeit in the form of shiny plastic personas. This collection was started by two of his third-grade students during his first year as a teacher in innercity Orlando. “There’s a story behind everything,” he says, in telling how he now describes his huge collection to

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new students at Forest High School in Ocala each year. “And this story is about two girls who brought me two Pez, and then two little kids brought me two more and after 27 years this is what happens.” Pez is the brand name of the candy and associated manual candy dispenser originally created in Austria in 1927. New character heads are created each year, reflecting the latest movies, television shows and trends in pop culture. But Steffey’s collection of Pez almost didn’t happen. Had those two girls not visited him the next year asking about the Pez, current students would not be enjoying the plastic likenesses of Speedy Gonzales, Hello Kitty and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Steffey says he thinks he gave away those first two candy dispensers to students who were having a bad day. When the original gift-givers showed up asking questions, Steffey played it off by pretending to search desk drawers, even asking them to remind


him which ones they gave him. “I felt horrible,” he said. “This was my first year teaching. How was I to know it was special to them? But it was. I knew I needed to buy those again.” He put those two on his desk and used putty to stand them up. Two became three became four and his collection grew. Soon he built a little shelf to get them off his desk and the display continued to grow, mostly from gifts from students, but also a few from friends, his wife, Tricia, and daughters Jordan and Ryan. “It hit me at one point: Kids who don’t have anything can pick up a $1 Pez for a teacher to show they care,” he says. And while he enjoys the dispensers, he’s not a fan of the candy so he gives it away. He believes students like to contribute for two reasons: They want to give him something he doesn’t have and their contribution makes them part of the collection. “We don’t talk about a club, but I think they see themselves as now being a part of this,” he shares. In fact, he still gets messages on Facebook about the Pez from former students who are now adults. About eight years ago, he started having kids write their names on the Pez dispensers so he could remember who game him what, something he wished he’d done earlier. With such a long teaching career, he can’t remember each student who contributed to his collection, but many of them have stories behind them.

“I don’t look up there and see one necessarily that reminds me of a child, but I look up there and think that’s 27 years of kids who came through,” he says. “And if you think about how many kids you taught, it’s thousands. They still remember this. It might mean as much to them in some ways as it does to me. It’s just fun.” Steffey was back in his hometown of Ocala, teaching at Osceola Middle School, when his Pez collection grew so large that he decided to make display stands for it. Each lightweight wooden stand is 3-feet wide and has four levels, with lips to hold the dispensers in place. He now has four stands atop the storage cabinets in his new classroom at Forest High School—those are for all the collections and groups like Star Wars, The Wizard of Oz, The

• A red-haired student named Jade gave him the Merida Pez from the Pixar movie Brave, which looks just like her. • Recently retired County Judge Sarah Ritterhoff Williams added the Pezidents —a collection of 15 American presidential Pez dispensers—that she bought for him during a trip to New Orleans for the Sugar Bowl. • Jonah is the student who gave him the set of three Elvis dispensers, which Steffey calls “fat Elvis, regular Elvis and military Elvis.” • There’s even an old Charlie Brown and a blue Batman that Steffey’s mom found among his childhood things. January ‘22

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Lord of the Rings, Disney princesses and both the old and new Star Trek characters. He has another above his desk area for the solo acts. The Star Wars grouping is the largest in his collection and the two Yodas are there for a reason. “With Darth Vader, Darth Maul and Darth Sidious, there’s a lot of darkness, so I just thought it would be better to have two Yodas,” he says with a laugh. “I feel like there needs to be a good positive force.” Star Wars fans can appreciate that reference, but his colleagues, administrators and students are sure to tell you much of the positive force in his classroom comes from Steffey himself, the 2014 Marion County Teacher of the Year. In 2021, he returned to his alma mater to teach human geography to freshmen. While the Pez collection is not part of everyday discussions, Steffey says, he does use them as part of his teaching when the occasion rises. “I never put them in a lesson plan,” he offers, “but somehow it always seems to pop in at some point during the year.” Being in his last decade of teaching, Steffey is not sure what will happen to the collection once he retires. Taking the large collection home, he says, is not an option he and his wife want to think about. “They’re not meant to be put away in a shed. They’re meant to be seen,” he says. “In the future I’ll have my eyes and ears open for a place where they can land when I’m done. They really are cool.”

PEZ FACTS • Pez comes from the German word for peppermint, “PfeffErminZ.” • The first Pez mechanical dispenser was invented in 1949. • The Halloween Witch was the first Pez dispenser head in 1957. • Popeye was the first licensed head in 1958. • Pez opened its first U.S. manufacturing facility in 1972 in Orange, Connecticut. • The first Pez collector convention was held in 1991 in Mentor, Ohio. • The most expensive Pez dispenser ever sold was a 1982 World's Fair Astronaut B, believed to be one of only two in existence. It sold in 2006 for $32,000.

Source us.pez.com

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succeed

From top-ranked equines to their unique wedding venue, this young couple is creating a legacy built on quality.

By Susan Smiley-Height Photography by Meagan Gumpert January ‘22

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ork hard. Dream big. That mantra has been the basis for many successful entrepreneurs throughout history. Add a willingness to never stop learning and a firm belief in relying on your own proven methods and you will find the made-for-the-movies story of Joe Pickerrell and Courtney Roberts Pickerrell. This dynamic young couple, both of whom have been involved with equines since they were children, are at the top of their game in training and showing thoroughbred and barrel racing horses at the highest levels and running their successful Protea Wedding & Events venue, which has a unique history all its own. The story of how it all started begins with a horse named JSYK (Just So You Know) I’m Famous, who they nicknamed “JR.” Courtney grew up in South Florida. Joe was born and raised in Ohio. They met while enrolled in the College of Central Florida’s (CF) Equine Business Management program. They had been seeing each other for about two weeks when she asked him to accompany her to a futurity barrel horse sale in Oklahoma. “I had just moved up here and was in school full-time,” Courtney recalls. “I had saved $5,000, which was a lot of money, in hopes of buying myself a prospect. Joe tagged along and we made it a fun 56

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road trip. They had sale catalogs and, out of about 100 horses, there were four or five that we both agreed looked nice and there was one we both put a star on. Sale day comes and we are sitting in the stands and I have $5,000 hoping to buy that horse. He’s in the ring and the bidding starts and it’s $2,000 and somebody bids $2,500 and we’re to $3,000 and I’m nervous cause we’re getting close to my limit. I think I have the $5,000 bid, and now, I’m upset because somebody hits $6,000 and I’m like, ‘We came all the way out here; we lost this horse…’ The bid stops at $6,900 and I am crying over this horse!” With fresh tears in her eyes, Courtney continues, “I have my head turned the opposite direction because I don’t want Joe to see me crying. The bidding stops and the guy points at me and goes ‘Sold! $6,900.’ And I’m like ‘No, no, no, this is not our bid.’ So, I look over at Joe and he’s smiling.” “I took over after she ran out of money,” Joe adds with a mischievous grin. “So, we bought him together and traveled the country and set numerous arena records all over,” Courtney states. “We won everything there was to win on this horse. A rodeo girl in Texas had been trying to buy him for a long time, but I would not sell him.” Fast forward a bit. Courtney and Joe traveled to South Africa, where her family on her mother’s side


lives. They attended the wedding of her cousin, which took place in an old dairy barn. “In South Africa, these old barns are very, very popular; they’re everywhere. Joe and I fell in love with the venue,” she recalls. “We came home and got engaged, so, of course, we started looking for a wedding venue like the one we had seen. We looked at several, could not find what we wanted. Then, my other cousin got married in South Africa, so we flew back over for her wedding…once again in an old dairy barn. That’s when the talk started about what could we do to build something like this in Florida.” “We started looking and there were three-, four-year waits on some very average venues,” Joe remembers. “And we’re like, ‘This might really be an actual business and not just a dream we had on an airplane coming home from South Africa.’” Courtney said Joe had started to establish a thriving business with his racing horses and, around the same time, she was not able to be on the road as much as she needed to with JR. “It was stopping me from trying to make the National Finals Rodeo, which is where the horse belonged,” she says, her voice wavering. “So, I sold him to the girl out West who promised me she would make the Finals on him and make us proud. I sold him in 2016 and that is the year we bought our historic barn frame and started the building process and then, in 2017, JR ranked No. 1 in the world. I got to fly out there when he made the finals and be with him. He is pretty much the heart behind Protea because, without him, we would have never been able to start it. Still, to this day, when Joe and I go to the yearling sales to buy the thoroughbred racing prospects, we use the same exact method as we did when we bought JR.” “And it works,” Joe asserts, “because we’ve had horses run the Kentucky Derby three years in a row. We have had horses win the Breeders’ Cup and have a bunch of exciting ones that are coming up now.” Valerie Dailey, president of the Florida Thoroughbred Breeders’ and Owners’ Association, met Joe when she was teaching a pinhooking class in the equine program at CF. “He was a great hand, extremely helpful, with a very calm demeanor and

very knowledgeable,” she shares, “He’s got a good eye for horses and has customers willing to help purchase those horses. Then, he brings them along and resells them and they go on to perform on the tracks and that’s a true testament to his horsemanship abilities.” She says the young couple both are “great, genuine people who work really hard for their customers.” Dailey helped them buy their first farm together, then later purchase the final 40 acres of the 85-acre property, formerly the Cashel Stud Farm, where they now base their equine business and Protea Weddings & Events.

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The Pickerrells and Courtney’s mom, Bev Roberts, operate Protea, pronounced “Pro-tea-uh” in the US, says Courtney, but “Pro-tay-uh” in South Africa. The king protea is the national flower of South Africa. Courtney says they chose the name as a nod to her family’s heritage. Those who visit Protea Weddings & Events follow a winding road past ancient oak trees, rolling pastures and horse paddocks. At the crest of a hill is the magnificent “swing beam” barn venue envisioned by the couple in the early days of their romance. The “bones” of the barn are massive, hand-hewn

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hemlock beams with smaller beams anchored with wooden pegs. “Heritage Restorations, based in Texas, finds old, historic barns around the world and takes them down and rebuilds them into wedding venues, homes, whatever you like,” Courtney offers. “This barn was built in 1850 in Canada. They shipped it here on the back of a semi. This barn was built to farm wheat. The swing beam allowed for a clear span in the center, so farmers could walk their animals in circles and thresh out the wheat on the ground. Then, they would toss it up to the loft to dry. When we started talking about building a wedding venue out of an old, historic barn, people thought we were crazy and said it was never going to work.” “Mega Construction in Ocala was the only company with the confidence to tackle it,” Joe shares, “And they mastered it.” Building onto the barn frame involved adding a catering prep kitchen, bridal salon and groomsmen’s area. A spacious patio allows parties to spill outside. The venue can accommodate up to 200 guests for events such as weddings, birthday parties, baby showers and holiday festivities. The initial plan was for Courtney and Joe to be the first couple married there but, as the pandemic spread, her family members in South Africa could not travel to America. It was serendipitous that the global plague actually provided them with a boom in business. “When we opened in June 2020, we were swamped. I was getting frantic emails and phone calls from brides in states that had harsher regulations than we did and their venue had closed or would only allow a few people,” Courtney notes. “It didn’t matter if it had to be a Tuesday or Wednesday or Thursday, there were moving everything to Florida.” “We planned to ease into this, as most weddings are planned over a couple of years on average, and we were throwing together all these weddings on short notice,” Joe shares, adding, “We went right into the deep end.” Making It Matthews, a wedding and event business operated by Camilla Matthews and her daughter-in-law, Kayla Matthews, often provides services at Protea. Camilla says Courtney and Joe are professional and dedicated. “They are on-hand, taking care of their stunning venue and so much more; they truly care about the brides that choose their venue for their big day. They also care about each vendor being successful. They treat each couple, vendor and guest as though you are walking into not just their venue, but their home.”

Photo by Ashley Nicole Johnson.

The Venue


Business and Pleasure

Courtney and Joe were finally married in their beloved historic barn in January 2021. In their scarce free time, they love to go saltwater fishing, travel and dote on their four canines. She is returning to the barrel racing arena and he has built his thoroughbred racing herd up from seven to 70 horses. They both say that training championship horses is somewhat akin to running a bustling event venue. “It takes a lot of time and patience,” she shares. “We both love good-pedigreed horses and I think the key to being a successful trainer, whether it’s racehorses or barrel horses, is to never stop learning. I am continuously trying to watch professional barrel races and have open ears. You can’t get stuck going one particular way because it might work for one horse but not another. No matter how much you think you know, there is always something else you need to learn.” Joe says buying and selling horses, especially when they win at the highest levels, “solidifies our program and

the horses we pick out. That’s the great thing about buying yearlings at auction; anybody can buy them, but the ones we select is our portfolio and we take pride in the quality of our group. With the venue and the horses, it all takes hard work and discipline, and scheduling is very important.” “There have been many times when I’ve wanted to throw my sucker in the dirt,” Courtney says with emphasis, reflecting on how a child might react to a challenge. “But we are always trying to grow in different ways. We’re both always looking forward: What can we do to make this horse faster and make the venue more sought after? We’re very blessed and we’ll never take any of what we have for granted, ever, but we’re never going to wake up and say that’s enough. We’re never going to settle.” “Work hard; dream big,” Joe chimes in, with pure contentment illuminating his smile. January ‘22

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FORM &

FUNCTION

Over four decades, Gene Hotaling created a multimedia art career and served as an art educator. While retired from teaching, he has most certainly not retired from creating, currently focusing mainly on functional ceramics. By JoAnn Guidry | Photography by John Jernigan 60

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itting at his treadle pottery wheel in his Dark Corners Studio, sunlight spilling in from the small open window and Bob Dylan music playing in the background, Gene Hotaling is in his zone. He’s doing what he loves to do and does well—creating. What only moments ago was a lump of clay is spun, cajoled and shaped by Hotaling’s hands into the beginnings of a high-fire stoneware bowl. Once he is satisfied with his creation, he carefully places it on a nearby table with other pieces to dry. “Ceramics is always a battle between too wet or too dry,” explains Hotaling, 65, a softspoken man with a white beard. “But it is a challenge I enjoy facing every day. I love being in my studio.” And Santa’s workshop has nothing on Hotaling’s whimsical 1,800-square-foot studio, which was originally a garage that housed antique cars. When he and his wife, Helene, who teaches at Madison Street Academy, bought their current residence in 1991, that garage was a big selling point. “The minute I walked into the garage, I envisioned my studio,” says Hotaling with a wave of his hand. “Over the years, I built walls to create different spaces and it developed into what it is today.” The largest open space has tables and freestanding and wall shelves filled with tools, bins of materials and paint brushes. Works-in-progress, such as clay bowls, mugs, pitchers, cookie jars and vases, sit in various stages of drying, waiting to be fired and then glazed. On a table is one of Hotaling’s in-progress sculptures, which are assembled by bringing together various multi-media elements to tell a story or deliver a message. One features a small Statue of Liberty trapped in wire caging,

depicting endangered freedom for all. Hotaling opens a door, flipping on the light switch to reveal an interior room that houses an art gallery of wall-to-wall shelves and a center table displaying beautiful high-fire stoneware. Trees and bamboo are the dominant subject of the artwork adorning the stoneware rendered in mostly earth tones. But there are other patterns and lighter colors that bring to mind ancient Grecian stoneware, the latter perhaps a nod to his being born in Greece. “All of my stoneware is one of a kind and I make things that are utilitarian. What I make is driven by what sells, but that changes on a regular basis, so then I go off on a different direction,” notes Hotaling, picking up a cookie jar then a double toothbrush holder. “People are buying a piece of art they can use. My most consistent biggest sellers are my mugs and bowls.” Some of his topselling mugs are a departure from the nature theme and feature carved 3-D faces of Einstein and Frankenstein. “I love to sketch and used to paint portraits,” he explains, “so I had a little fun coming up with the idea of the Einstein and Frankenstein mugs.” Interspersed among the functional stoneware in the gallery are Hotaling’s unique potsai stoneware sculptures. An avid bonsai gardener, his potsai sculptures feature what makes one think of mutant bonsai that have exploded from the ground and through their pots. “The potsai sculptures are just another fun thing to make,” says Hotaling, who is in his studio every day by 9:30am and works for several hours. “I like to make things that are different. Although, because January ‘22

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of the regular irregularities of the clay and glazes, it’s impossible to make anything the same. And that’s what makes what I do so interesting every day.” A CREATIVE JOURNEY Hotaling’s father was an engineer for General Electric (GE). His mother, Kathryn, described as a crafter by Hotaling, died when he was 7. That was the extent of any artistic influence in his early life. “I remember drawing primitive sketches of trees with a ballpoint pen when I was very young. But I don’t know why I started drawing,” he says with a shrug. “After my mother died, my father and I moved to Daytona Beach, where he continued working for GE. As far as my art, it was not encouraged and I didn’t take any art classes in middle or high school.” Instead, at 16, Hotaling attended Stetson University as an advanced student. It was then that he took 3-D design classes and his first ceramics class. “I became instantly fascinated with the potter’s wheel and the art of creating on it. I knew right away that this was my creative path,” admits Hotaling, who graduated with a bachelor’s in English, history and art in 1979. “I then went to the University of Georgia (Athens) and began doing graduate work in ceramic sculpture. But after Helene and I had our first child, we were quickly expecting another. So, I had to leave the university and go to work.” What followed was a seven-year stint as an 62

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assistant advertising manager for the Georgiabased Stone Mountain Memorial Association. During this time, Hotaling also founded The Artrepreneur, a freelance art and design agency. “In 1990, Helene and I decided to move to Ocala to take care of our aging parents. And, in 1991, we bought our house with the garage that became my Dark Corners Studio,” he says. “I couldn’t have asked for a better studio space.” In 1991, Hotaling also went back to college to obtain that elusive master’s degree, this time at the University of Florida (UF). He graduated with a master’s in fine art ceramics in 1994. It was while working on his master’s at UF that he began teaching as a graduate assistant. “I found that I really enjoyed teaching and found it to be every bit as creative as any other form of art,” he explains. “A good art educator must impart technical skill and technique, but more importantly, create an environment in which students feel free to create and experiment. And I would always remind my students that we are both teachers and students simultaneously.” Hotaling taught as a graphics arts instructor at Belleview Middle School from 1995 to 2004, where he was named the 2002 Marion County Teacher of the Year; as an adjunct professor of art education at Central Florida Community College from 2004 to 2009; as a TV productions instructor at Forest High School from 2004 to 2010; and as an art instructor at West Port High School from 2010 to 2018.


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In addition to teaching, Hotaling designed and customized six equine statues for the Horse Fever public art project and illustrated a series of UF Gator children’s books written by Mark Damohn. “I did truly love teaching while always continuing to do my artwork,” admits Hotaling, who was named a 2002 Fulbright Memorial Scholar and participated in a five-week educator exchange program in Japan. “But by 2018, I felt it was time to retire from teaching to spend more time on my artwork and with my family, especially with our grandchildren. And it is a joy to be able to get up in the morning and head to my studio.” FOCUS ON THE ARTWORK Remember that bowl Hotaling molded on the potter’s wheel and then set aside to dry? Once the bowl is dry to his satisfaction, next will come the first firing (known as the bisque) at 1800 degrees Fahrenheit in a kiln. A kiln is an oven for firing pottery and the most common types are electric, gas and wood. Hotaling has four electric kilns, four small propane gas kilns and a large brick gas kiln. Worth noting is that he built all of his kilns. “The bisque firing helps create a solid wall for the glazing process,” he says. “My small electric kiln takes about 10 to 12 hours to fire and 12 hours to cool pieces.” Once cooled, the bowl will be glazed by a method of spraying, pouring or brushing. And it should come as no surprise that Hotaling mixes his own glazes. On studio shelves are bags of glaze ingredients such as silica, bone ash, borax, felt spar, dolomite and Epsom salt. He pulls out a small, wooden recipe box, revealing dozens of cards with handwritten recipes for specific glazes. After being glazed, the bowl will go through high firing at 2300 degrees Fahrenheit in Hotaling’s large brick gas kiln. This “high firing” can last 12 to14 hours, followed by a cool-down period of 36 hours to prevent cracks and glaze defects. “Of course, I fire a lot of pieces together to speed the process along. I always make extra of certain pieces in case of breakage, natural attrition and flaws,” he explains. “People just don’t realize how many hours go into a piece of high-fire stoneware.” Hotaling’s stoneware can be purchased by calling him at (352) 425-6386 to make an appointment or at the Juniper General Store in Ocala. The latter is co-owned by two husband and wife teams: Meredith Richard and Travis Arenburg, and Polly Benson and Dick Olsen. “Gene came highly recommended to us by a friend who was using his stoneware in her 64

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restaurant. So, we contacted Gene and went to his studio to see his stoneware. We bought his stoneware right away,” Richard recalls. “We’re primarily a coffee shop, so we sell a lot of coffee mugs. In fact, many of our regular customers are now collecting Gene’s coffee mugs. The Einstein and Frankenstein mugs have become best sellers.” She adds, “We also sell Gene’s lovely little tea pots with matching cups and saki set too. His work is just excellent and, as a bonus, Gene is a wonderful man.” Hotaling says he has no plans to retire from creating his functional art. “I have to do my art. Call it an inner necessity or a devotion. It is the avocation that propels me,” he shares. “I believe that the joyful pleasure of creating requires all of me. When engaged in creating, I find all of my human capacities present and usefully relevant to the task. Man creates art, art creates man.”



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