Ocala Style March '21

Page 1

MAR ‘21

Oaudvtednotuorre JOURNEY TO FREEDOM




Cedars at Bellechase

Cedar Creek

Custom designed floor plan is perfect for luxury living and entertaining at its finest. 4 Bedroom/4 bath home. French doors lead out to lanai with custom in-ground pool with Badu jet swim system, fireplace and summer kitchen. $736,855

Pristine and stately estate on 10+ beautiful acres. Extra-large chef ’s kitchen with center island, extensive cabinetry and breakfast nook area. Oversized great room, 5 bedrooms, 4 baths designed with $1,297,500 serenity in mind. 4-car garage plus generator.

Equine Estates

Tuxedo Farm - Turn Key Facility

Extraordinary 10-acre equestrian estate in gated community with access to the Florida Greenways and Trails plus close to the Florida Horse Park. 4-stall barn with room for 10 stalls, office, RV hook up, lush green pastures with Granddaddy Oaks. $1,249,000

Located close to HITS this 42+/- acre property is an ideal fit for the avid horse lover or full-time horse trainer. 5 barns with a total of 44 stalls, 28 paddocks with waterer, 150’ x 250’ arena, round pen, 9 RV hook up sites. Income producing property. $1,293,450

Let Joan Pletcher, Realtor list and/or sell your property Sold in 2020 - $44,118,498 Sold in 2021 - $9,103,400 Pending Sales - $20,638,400

For these and other properties, visit JoanPletcher.com for information, videos and more choices. 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.

Turning Hawk Ranch - 16.82 Acres

Greenway Crossings - 4.38 +/- Acres

16+ Beautiful acres ready for the equestrian enthusiast. 11-Stall concrete center aisle barn with feed/tack rooms plus day quarters including kitchen and bath. 2 Large paddocks, round pen, 180’ x 100’ oval riding arena and 4-horse hot walker. $749,000

Looking for a great building site with easy access to the Florida Greenways and Trails? This 4.38 +/- acre lot is located in Greenway Crossings- you can ride to the Greenways and Trails. Bring your plans $169,000 for your dream home or farm.

Laurels at Bellechase

Country Club of Ocala

Looking to build your dream home in Laurels at Bellechase? Look no further, this .77 acres is the perfect setting for your new home. Bellechase is a gated community located close to shopping, restaurants, and hospitals. $185,000

Beautiful lot in the Country Club of Ocala overlooking the 12th hole. 1.04 +/- acres. Bring your plans! Enjoy the amenties of the Country Club which includes golf, tennis, club house, Jr. Olympic pool, and restaurant. $220,000

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

For these and other properties, visit JoanPletcher.com for information, videos and more choices. 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.

BUILDING TRUSTWORTHY RELATIONSHIPS Let us help you take the stress out of accounting and taxes.

Hunt Murty Publisher | Jennifer jennifer@magnoliamediaco.com

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1515 NE 22nd Avenue, Ocala, FL 34470

Art Editorial

GRAPHIC DESIGNER Brooke Pace brooke@magnoliamediaco.com PHOTOGRAPHERS Bruce Ackerman Brittany Bishop Meagan Gumpert John Jernigan Lyn Larson Maudie Lucas Dave Miller Rigoberto Perdomo Carlos Ramos Crisandra Richardson Alan Youngblood ILLUSTRATOR David Vallejo


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


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EDITOR IN CHIEF Nick Steele nick@magnoliamediaco.com SENIOR EDITOR Susan Smiley-Height susan@magnoliamediaco.com CONTRIBUTING EDITOR Lisa McGinnes lisa@magnoliamediaco.com CONTRIBUTING WRITERS Richard Anguiano Ben Baugh JoAnn Guidry Scott Mitchell David Moore Jill Paglia Marian Rizzo Dave Schlenker Leah Taylor


MARKETING MANAGER Kylie Swope kylie@magnoliamediaco.com MARKETING COORDINATOR Sabrina Fissell sabrina@magnoliamediaco.com CLIENT SERVICES GURU Cheryl Specht

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Publisher’s Note

fter being warned to avoid small, crowded spaces over the past year, I think many of us have a newfound appreciation for the outdoors. It’s a healthy shift made in light of COVID-19 warnings and is probably valuable to maintaining our mental health during this difficult year, don’t you think? Our team is a mixed bag of what I would call either indoor or outdoor people, so some of us especially enjoyed producing this issue. Although it’s not noted in her article, our senior editor and resident mermaid Susan Smiley-Height did not miss the opportunity to snorkel in Devil’s Den while interviewing the venue’s owner during the photo shoot with her longtime friend and colleague Alan Youngblood, who even went underwater in his scuba gear to get the incredible images for this story. It was Editor in Chief Nick Steele’s idea to feature an old Florida-style fish camp and Susan, being a Sunshine State native, jumped at the chance to visit the historic Stegbone’s, which adventurous photographer Dave Miller called “a very quiet step back in time…along the vast St. Johns River.” JoAnn Guidry, who has written for this magazine for more than a decade, is our guru on the area’s many hiking trails. Don’t miss her article on the beautiful Indian Lake State Forest and consider packing a picnic as our food guru Jill Paglia suggests in this issue. I’m new to enjoying the trails myself—at JoAnn’s prodding—and I don’t know why it took me so long! But this issue is not all about recreational fun. Two of the stories are portraits of how one man had to overcome seemingly impossible circumstances to be able to walk at all and another who had to brave nature’s harshest conditions in order to live in freedom. After reading the story of Mark Daniel, I expect you will come away with a reminder of the dire consequences that can result when we work too hard and don’t listen to our bodies telling us to rest. But the story of Mark’s courage and the ingenuity of IHMC scientists also could inspire all of us to not be bound by our physical limitations—whatever they may be. And the story of Rudy Perez is also inspirational. As I hail from South Florida, I have listened with fascination to many Cubans recount the challenges of their immigration to the United States. But those who make rafts to leave the island, hoping the currents will ultimately land them safely in Florida waters, are a special breed of brave souls. For me, the stories of Mark and Rudy show the strength of not giving up hope. The question is, will we use their examples to identify positive changes we can implement in our own lives—and will we have the sheer guts to make it happen?

Jennifer Hunt Murty Publisher

contents insid e r



Dave examines the adventure of aging, such as loudly creaking joints and excessive ear hair.


vow s



Get a glimpse into the most special days of our local brides and grooms.

feature s






Stegbone’s Fish Camp on the St. Johns River, now 75 years old, shines in its charming simplicity.

ta b l e






More and more people are investing in ways to kick things up a notch with their exterior living spaces.


Rudy Perez’s American dream began with a harrowing ocean journey from Cuba to Florida.





Learn how a tragic accident led one man to a new purpose in life. St. Augustine, rich in history and natural beauty, has a thoroughly enchanting allure.


From chic to romantic to rustic, a little planning can ensure you create a memorable moveable feast. Shirley Rudnianyn shares her recipe for her “family favorite” banana bread.






Explore the wilds of Marion County on the hiking and horseback riding trails of the Indian Lake State Forest. The Marjorie Harris Carr Cross Florida Greenway is home to a Florida scrub-jay conservation success story.


o n th e c o ve r Model Azin Hamidi on location at Devil’s Den. Photo by Alan Youngblood.

Clockwise from top: Photo by Meagan Gumpert; photo courtesy of IHMC; photo by Lyn Larson of Mahal Imagery


The Devil’s Den underground spring and cave system has been attracting beasts and humans for many thousands of years.


The Market is Moving & Our Local Experts Are Here For You! Whether you’re questioning if now is the time to sell (and it may be!), or you’ve been browsing through the area’s diverse property listings, our talented REALTORS® can help you get answers to any questions you may have about the local real estate market. As advocates to our beloved Ocala, our agents are invested in helping our customers meet their real estate goals, no matter the property type or price point. We love where we live, and our goal is to inspire each of our customers to find the perfect property that they can call ‘home.’ If you’ve been thinking about buying or selling, contact us today– we’ll help you Buy & Sell with Confidence!

9 1 9 1 e c Sin



Social The Spring Art Park Series kickoff at the Tuscawilla Art Park highlighted area artists and arts organizations. Pictured: Micha Faber Photo by Bruce Ackerman


Aimee Pritchard

The band Pasture Prime

Spring Art Park Series TUSCAWILLA ART PARK Photography by Bruce Ackerman

T Samantha Martin, Jenny Magnuson

he City of Ocala event on January 22nd featured artisan craft vendors, art activities, food and beverages by Big Lee’s Serious About BBQ and Marion Mobile Bar and Bubbles, and music by the Trinity River Band and Pasture Prime.

Tina Wood, Julie Hunter



Ava Miller


The band Audio Exchange

Shannon, Stone and Karen Cobbs

AdventHealth Grandview Invitational FLORIDA HORSE PARK Photography by Bruce Ackerman

T Rhylie Hayes, Wanda Yoder

wenty-three draft horse teams from across the U.S. presented majestic and massive Belgians, Clydesdales and Percherons in arena shows daily from Feb. 5th-7th, with a casino night on Friday and dinner gala on Saturday.

Shannon Cobbs

Jackson Fork Ranch Percherons six horse hitch

March ‘21



Ellie Hancock, Maylynn Hancock, Home Sweet Home

Horse Fever 20/20 TRANSFORMCO Photography by Bruce Ackerman

T Celestial Magic and Michele Farrar

Clockwork Fury, Crystal Fernung, Laurie Zink



he 15 new painted equine statues in the public art project to benefit the Marion Cultural Alliance include three for which the public can purchase a raffle ticket (mcaocala.org/hf2020/), with the winners to be announced June 4th.


The HeART of Florida

Check Out Rescheduled

Music is Life




MAR. 2-27



MAR. 11






APR. 23





MAY 22






ORLEANS OrleansOnline.com

MAR. 26






APR. 3





The Ultimate Eagles Experience 7BridgesBand.com

JUN. 26




FLEETWOOD MAX The Definitive Fleetwood Mac Tribute


APR. 9




TITANS OF ROCK Journey & Bon Jovi Tribute

SEPT. 25





The Astonishing Tribute to Rush

OCT. 30


LET IT BE The Beatles Tribute



NOV. 19





JUL. 24




The Ultimate Kiss Tribute


AUG. 14





COMPLETELY UNCHAINED The Ultimate Van Halen Tribute

DEC. 11

A Carpenters Tribute









to co s w o h s e or


APR. 10 $24 TURN THE PAGE Tribute to Bob Seger TurnThePageOnline.com



AUG. 28




Face masks required at all times

Order tickets at CSCulturalCenter.com | 8395 SW 80th Street, Ocala, FL 34481 | (352) 854-3670 ALL SHOWS BEGIN AT 7 PM & DOORS OPEN AT 6 PM (EXCEPT AS NOTED) | GIFT CERTIFICATES AVAILABLE Schedule and prices subject to change without notice. Reduced ticket prices for residents of On Top of the World Communities and Stone Creek apply to Circle Square Cultural Center produced shows only. (Resident ID required when purchasing at box office.) Ticket prices do not include sales tax. Refreshments available for purchase at events. To arrange for handicap seats, call or visit the ticket office. **Online tickets subject to a convenience fee. ALL TICKET SALES FINAL.

#13808 - 3/21

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


Horse Fever 20/20


CF Preview Night


Talley’s Folley


First Friday Art Walk

Circle Square Cultural Center March 1 | 11am-2pm Meet the new herd of handpainted statues at a free opening reception on the front lawn. They will be on exhibit in the lobby from 11am-2pm Monday-Saturday through March 27th. Call (352) 854-3670 for more information. Virtual 4-7pm Learn about the College of Central Florida’s academic programs and financial aid; application fees waived at this event. For more information visit cf.edu/previewnight Ocala Civic Theatre March 4-21 | 2 & 7:30pm The tender and touching story of two kindred spirits connected by love letters. Visit ocalacivictheatre.com for show times and tickets. Downtown Ocala 6-9pm Watch artists at work, participate in hands-on art activities and enjoy live music and a classic car display. Visit ocalafl.org/artwalk for more information.

13 Spring Plant Sale

Crones’ Cradle Conserve Foundation 9am-3pm Shop a diverse selection of culinary herbs and learn about cover crops, cooking with herbs and pest management. Visit cronescradleconserve.org for more information.

13 Strawberry Festival

Timberline Farm, Belleview March 13, 10am-6pm | March 14, Noon-6pm Family fun includes train, pony and hay rides, games, farm animals, crafts and vendors, a country store and a giant haystack slide. Visit timberlinefarm.net for more information.



Larry Maxwell

Through March 28

MEMORIES & INSPIRATION The Kerry and C. Betty Davis Collection of African American Art

Appleton Museum and Store

Enjoy free admission every weekend in February. Tuesday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. and Sunday, noon-5 p.m. 4333 E. Silver Springs Blvd. | 352-291-4455 | AppletonMuseum.org

-an equal opportunity college-

“Memories & Inspiration: The Kerry and C. Betty Davis Collection of African American Art” was organized and toured by International Arts & Artists, Washington, DC. Beverly Buchanan, “Shack with Chair,” 1989, foam board. Photographed by Gregory Staley. © 2018 Jane Bridges.


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By Lanford Wilson

February 25 – March 21 Moonlight magic and love letters bring together an odd pair in 1944 Missouri. Tickets $30 for adults / $15 for ages 18 and younger

Sponsored By Ocala’s Good Life Magazine

celebrating 70 years

(352) 236-2274 • www.ocalacivictheatre.com 4337 E. Silver Springs Blvd., Ocala, Florida 34470

Entertainment Calendar




Southeastern Pro Rodeo

Southeastern Livestock Pavilion March 19-20 | 7:30pm Nonstop excitement including roping, steer wrestling, barrel racing and the most dangerous eight seconds in sports—bull riding. Visit ocalarodeo.com for tickets and more information.

Artist’s Outlook: Christopher Still

Virtual 7-8:15pm The Appleton Museum of Art hosts Christopher Still, known for his paintings of Florida’s wildlife, people and landscapes, for a free Zoom talk. Visit appletonmuseum.org for more information.

Guns & Hoses

Downtown and Marion County Sheriff ’s Office Training Complex 7am Run a 5K in downtown Ocala alongside first responders, then watch them compete in combat and tactical challenges at the training complex. Kids’ activities include emergency vehicles on display. Visit ocalamainstreet.com for details.

28 Bourbon in the Barn

World Equestrian Center 6pm The annual event to benefit Boys & Girls Club of Marion County features live music by The Quartermoon Band, dinner, bourbon sampling and a live auction. Visit fb.com/bgcofmarion for more information.






6:00 pm

Retro Sounds

Ocala Downtown Square


6:00 pm

Jeff Jarrett

Shuckin’ Shack Oyster Bar


2:30 & Rhonda Vincent 7:00pm

Orange Blossom Opry


6:00 pm

Dallas Tyler

Locos Grill & Pub


6:30 pm

Gilly and the Girl

La Cuisine French Restaurant


7:00 pm

The Big Bad

The Crazy Cucumber


6:00 pm

Becky Sinn

Locos Grill & Pub


2:30 & Jason D. Williams 7:00pm


3:00 pm


The Villages Phil3:00 & harmonic Orchestra 7:00pm Classic Concert

The Sharon L. Morse Performing Arts Center


8:00 pm

Jam Night with Adam Rountree

The Keep Downtown


6:00 pm

Chris McNeil

Shuckin’ Shack Oyster Bar


2:30 & T. Graham Brown 7:00pm

Orange Blossom Opry


7:00 pm

Completely Unchained Van Halen Tribute

Circle Square Cultural Center


7:00 pm

Motown in Motion

Circle Square Cultural Center


12:00 pm

Cap Smith & the Hogtown Slayers

War Horse Harley-Davidson


2:30 & Ronnie McDowell 7:00pm

Orange Blossom Opry


5:00 pm

The Mudds

La Cuisine French Restaurant


9:00 pm

Side Piece

Pi on Broadway


8:00 pm

Kenny G

Reilly Arts Center

Kingdom of the Sun Concert Band: A Disney Celebration

Orange Blossom Opry Ocala/Marion County Veterans Memorial Park

Photo by Bruce Ackerman

Date Time


TOWER HILL NURSERY and MIMS LANDSCAPING Photography by John Jernigan


fter working in landscaping for many years, Ryan Mims fulfilled a lifetime dream when he started Tower Hill Nursery during the COVID-19 pandemic as a partnership with Mims Landscaping, LLC, which has been in business since 2007 and has a focus on climate-friendly landscaping. “It’s always been a passion of mine to work in landscaping,” Mims affirms. The 15 acres of the nursery, garden and landscaping center offer a colorful array of seasonal options, giving clients a full selection of vegetables, flowering plants, shrubbery and trees, such as magnolias, live oaks, red maples and palms. The business carries an assortment of pots and planters from which to choose and clients also are welcome to bring their favorite containers from home and have them filled with seasonal flowers and greenery grown right there on the property.

“Walk through the nursery and find what you like,” offers Mims. “We can guide you to what’s best for your situation,” he adds, “whether you want to start a niche or find plants to go around a swimming pool or a pond. If I don’t know something, I’ll tell you I don’t know, but I’ll find out for you.” Mims has certifications in landscape management and has worked on golf courses and with numerous landscaping projects. He has many years of experience in landscape design and installation, including with a variety of architectural enhancements. “Mims landscaping will create the perfect outdoor environment that will fit the customer’s personality, lifestyle and budget,” he declares. “We offer hardscaping designs, including pavers, ponds and waterfalls. Our full landscaping services also include irrigation and lawn maintenance.” Tower Hill Nursery and Mims Landscaping is a family-owned business

352-438-4878 1712 NE 36th Ave. Ocala, FL 34470 that promises a personal touch in all of the services it provides. About eight years ago, David Fredrick, the former owner of B&B Nursery for 40 years, joined Ryan as nursery manager, bringing along his depth of expertise as well as a variety of fresh ideas. “I’m very comfortable with the advice Dave gives people,” praises Mims. “With his knowledge in the nursery industry combined with my landscaping and design techniques, we not only provide good show-quality plants for a reasonable price, but we can install everything ourselves.” “To meet your specific expectations, I’m very particular about how I do things,” Mims assures. “I don’t cut corners.” Interested in making your property a showplace? Check out the Mims Landscaping LLC page on Facebook, then tour the grounds at 1712 NE 36th Avenue in Ocala. To make an appointment, call (352) 438-4878. Licensed and insured.

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Adventure in Aging By Dave Schlenker | Illustration by David Vallejo


he ear hair came at age 30. I would say that is earlier than expected, but frankly I did not expect it at all. At that age, I was more worried about losing hair—any hair—than growing hair. This column is about growing older. More specifically, it is about the now-daily surprises age brings. When I get up from any sitting or resting position these days, I make noises from multiple places, the loudest one being “Owwwww! What the hell was that?” To be clear, I have been practicing health and wellness in 2021. I am proud to report I am already on page 73 of Lazy Keto: 100+ Ways to Get Healthy. I have diligently followed the “lazy” part but have yet to start the “keto” part. On Facebook recently, I asked friends to share anecdotes about the sights and sounds of growing older. Their replies made me laugh hard until I realized their comments were serious—and familiar. “Noises that made me think my mother was in the room started around age 45,” reported Rosey. “My knee sounds like a haunted house’s front door on All Hallow’s Eve. This happened around 40,” noted Jim. “Hair will sprout in places you’ve never seen hair before,” said Storm. “Your body will sound like a beat box when you get out of a chair.” Your body also crackles and pops like “breakfast cereal,” added Rick. Several others cited cereal references, as well. “Getting out of bed in the morning and walking to the kitchen sounds like I am walking on bubble wrap,”

Audrey wrote. “The hair on my legs moved to my chin,” Fran said. “My body has turned into an old car,” John noted. “Every time I sneeze my radiator leaks and my tail pipe backfires.” “OMG! The phlegmy throat-clearing thing,” Darrel said. “EVERY MORNING.” “There are smells, dreaded smells. Reminds me of my dad,” Scott wrote, adding the humorous hashtag #elephant_in_the_room. Another thing I notice: The older I get, the more I hate change. No revelations here, of course, but that one hit home as I sat down to write this column. You see, at one point, the theme of this issue was going to be health and wellness so, for days, I pondered my health and wellness and lack thereof. When I sat down to write, I checked my growing email bucket— ignoring those fiddle-faddle emails is another byproduct of geezerhood—and noticed a new email: New theme for March. Outdoor Adventure. The editor had notified me of the change in plenty of time. Dagnabbit! Thus, in keeping with the new theme, I hereby proclaim I love outdoor adventure. My favorite local adventure is kayaking on the Silver River. My least favorite outdoor adventure is getting out of the kayak. So, in summary: Check your emails. The older your eyes get, the less you notice ear hair. And smells can always be blamed on the dog (always keep a dog nearby). And most relevant: Outdoor adventure is good. Change, however, is bad. March ‘21



Messy History on the Ocklawaha River By Scott Mitchell Scott Mitchell has served as the director of the Silver River Museum since 2004. He has worked as a field archaeologist, scientific illustrator and museum professional for the last 25 years.


istory is fascinating and messy. Our past often reveals uncomfortable truths. As a young student of archaeology, I remember being both impressed and appalled by the early expeditions of Clarence B. Moore. Moore can be viewed as either an early archaeologist or as a ruthless tomb raider. The messy truth is he was both. Born into a wealthy Philadelphia family in 1852, Moore spent most of his adult life digging into prehistoric burial mounds across the Southeast. As a young man he ran the family business of paper manufacturing for a few short years, made millions, then began exploring. He traveled the world and, by 1876, he had even crossed the Andes and descended the Amazon River by dugout canoe. Mild winters and ancient burial mounds with grave offerings eventually lured him south. Archaeological sites along our local rivers were not spared. Working for the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia, Moore traveled southeastern rivers each winter aboard his specially designed steamboat Gopher. While the Gopher was his primary winter home, the shallow-running steamboats Alligator and Osceola were used for his adventures on the Ocklawaha River. His pattern was to return north each spring to write his reports and prepare for the next year. He completely destroyed hundreds of Native American sites during his excavations, yet he was meticulous in his reports of the treasures he found.



Unsurprisingly, Moore made multiple trips to Florida. He explored the St. Johns, Ocklawaha and Silver rivers. Locally, he dug mounds from Palatka down to the Chain of Lakes near present day Leesburg. He also made trips to Indian shell mounds at Crystal River on the Gulf Coast and Hontoon Island on the St. Johns River. He found incredible things. Today we are both amazed by his discoveries, detailed illustrations and manuscripts, and appalled at his destructive methods (he dug most mounds so thoroughly they no longer exist). To Native Americans, Moore is just another grave robber who has desecrated sacred sites. While it is true he was a product of his time and should not be judged by modern standards, Moore concentrated on burial places for an obvious reason; that is where the best relics could be found. If he were truly interested in understanding the past, he could have dug trash pits and village sites, which yield much more detail about ancient lifeways. Moore died in 1936. His collections were to end up in museums like the Peabody in Boston, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C. and the British Museum in London. While his methods are seen as crude today, his work is still referenced by students of history, which we all know can be messy. For more information, visit silverrivermuseum.com or call (352) 236-5401.




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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: Danielle & Donnelly Yaney Photographed by Maudie Lucas


DANIELLE & DONNELLY YANEY November 21st, 2020 Photography by Maudie Lucas Venue: Andalusia Acres Her favorite wedding memory: During all the speeches was the first chance Don and I could sit down together and just take everything in. Listening to the reflections from our family and friends made this moment so meaningful. We both felt so loved, and enjoyed seeing everyone come together.


JESSICA & JEFFREY HELLER December 5th, 2020 Photography by Brittany Bishop Venue: Protea Barn at Protea Weddings and Events Their favorite memory: Under the oak tree…right at the golden hour, we exchanged our original vows and the moment was simply perfect. We were both quite nervous having to read our own vows, but it made the ceremony that much more special. And those who couldn’t attend the wedding were able to watch it live. The ceremony had 119 people viewing it online—family out of state actually had watch parties!

Amy Atkins, Stacy Larrson, Cameron Scott, Stacey Rollins, Matt Varney, Niki Tripodi, Dijana Foley

The Epitome of Excellence


he rolling hills of the Horse Capital of the World are dotted with exquisite luxury farms and top-notch equine training centers, along with stately residential manors, hobby farms and other real estate gems. And no one knows these properties better than the team behind Ocala Horse Properties and Hudson Phillips Ocala Properties. Twin brothers Rob and Chris Desino, and Matt Varney, form the leadership team that has guided their agents to the highest levels of success in farm and luxury market real estate sales and client satisfaction.

“Chris, Rob and myself have been successful with Ocala Horse Properties for a number of years. And we kept seeing clients who were interested in nice residential homes rather than horse farms,” Matt offers. “We all love living in the Horse Capital of the World, but you don’t have to have horses to enjoy Ocala. With an ever-increasing stream of inquiries, we felt that creating Hudson Phillips for the residential market would be an important element in our overall success. We offer top-level training and our mix of agents includes those who are just beginning and those who

are very experienced, but all of them are outstanding at what they do both professionally and as members of our community.” Like many of the Hudson Phillips team members, who have extensive backgrounds in equestrian pursuits, it is no wonder the men were drawn to this area. Chris and Rob were active equestrians and sportsmen and it was their love of horses that brought them to this area for winter competitions. Matt, a recreational horseman, is married to Dr. Courtney Varney, a veterinarian and accomplished International Federation for Equestrian Sports dressage rider

Photo by John Jernigan

Three of Ocala’s leading realtors have expanded their team of real estate professionals with equine experts and community leaders.

Sponsored and United States Dressage Federation gold medalist. The Desino brothers formed Ocala Horse Properties in 2007; Matt joined the team in 2010, at which time they also founded Wellington Equestrian Realty. The trio formed Hudson Phillips in 2018. Meet the Hudson Phillips team: Cameron Scott has traveled the world in pursuit of excellence in equine endeavors including riding, hunting and barn management. He started his career in 2016 in Wellington and began to market real estate to equestrian clientele. Under Matt, Rob and Chris’s guidance, he earned his real estate license in 2017 and relocated to Ocala in 2018. Stacy Larrson is an internationally renowned dressage rider and trainer and operates Hidden Acres Dressage with her husband, Olof, a champion in four-in-hand driving. The Larrsons settled in the area in 2000 and Stacy has since gained a reputation for looking out for her customers’ best interests, such as helping clients find the perfect property. Stacey Rollins has a strong background in sales, marketing, event planning and hospitality, as well as deep knowledge of the community. Those were the perfect skills to pair with her real estate license and commitment to fostering relationships with clients, developers and home builders. She is deeply involved in the Ocala/Marion county area as a mom, neighbor and community leader. Amy Atkins has been a competitive equine rider at the highest levels around the world. She and her husband, Peter, an equally accomplished rider, have a horse training farm locally and say this is a great place to raise a family. Having known Matt, Chris and Rob for many years, she knew she wanted to join the Hudson Phillips team as soon as they started the business. Dijana Foley is a licensed real estate broker who formerly worked as a licensed stockbroker, meaning her skills include a depth of knowledge

for financial transactions, which translates into ensuring 352-615-7001 that clients find 6998 N. US Hwy 27, Unit 114 the investment Ocala, FL 34482 properties and hudsonphillipsproperties.com homes of their dreams. Niki Tripodi recently joined the team, bringing more than 20 years of experience in sales, marketing and customer 352-615-8891 relations. She is 6998 N. US Hwy 27, Unit 114 well known in Ocala, FL 34482 the community ocalahorseproperties.com for her work as development director at the ability to decipher and cultivate a nonprofit Kimberly’s client’s needs, while persistently Center for Child Protection, during educating them about smart which she formed an extensive investments, is what sets him apart. network of relationships. She is Chris and Rob Desino have long expert at helping people overcome been avid sportsmen, including in apprehension and make significant equestrian eventing and competitive financial decisions to align their lives rowing. While attending Hobart with their deepest values and highest College, they were two-time national commitments. collegiate rowing champions and Matt Varney started his career competed for the U.S. National and in residential site construction and World Championship Team. Prior to estimating before he began working the 2000 Olympics, Rob suffered a for a private real estate developer. career-ending injury. The young men He became that company’s leading then created a chain of successful salesman at age 26 and continued restaurants throughout upstate New his success later as the leading York, where they learned the art of realtor (in sales volume) in Wellington superior customer service, which Florida. In 2020 Matt was Marion has become a hallmark for their real County’s leading realtor. Matt’s estate businesses. enthusiasm is contagious and his

Chris Desino, Matt Varney, Rob Desino

Ancient and Enchanting This shimmering underground spring and cave system near Ocala has been attracting beasts and humans for thousands of years.


By Susan Smiley-Height Photography by Alan Youngblood Model Azin Hamidi

t’s apparent that you will need to duck your head to enter the rocky, moss laden, cavern shaft leading down into the prehistoric Devil’s Den underground freshwater spring. There is no warning, however, of the necessity to guard your heart, as it most likely will be captivated by the sheer beauty of this unique work of nature. Devil’s Den, just west of Williston, in nearby Levy County, is a karst formation (a type of landscape where the dissolving of the bedrock has created sinkholes, sinking streams, caves, springs and other elements) that features an open hole at the top, through which viewers can watch the scuba divers and snorkelers in the crystal-clear spring water below. The rocky shaft through which one descends to the spring is narrow and, a few steps down, segues to a metal staircase that leads to a central platform and then down again by way of two descending stairways. From the top of the entryway, new visitors often catch their breath as they survey the light-filled cavern and deep blue pool, which is rimmed by dark and mysterious shadows. The name Devil’s Den is said to derive from the misty haze steaming from the top of the opening, or chimney, on chilly mornings, lending an eerie aura. The water temperature is a constant 72 degrees. The surface diameter of the spring is 120 feet and the maximum depth is 54 feet. According to Dr. Kenneth Schwiebert, a retired dentist who is one of seven owners of the property, “The hole itself is somewhere between 10,000 and 75,000 years old.” “People exploring the caves found a bear skeleton that is at the Florida Museum of Natural History at the University of Florida and we were told the bear [species] went extinct at least 10,000 years ago, so that’s how they date the cave,” Schwiebert offers. “It was a unique situation; because it was up high, the skeleton was undisturbed and was fully articulated, meaning all the hard tissue was there, so they have a fully intact skeleton of this bear.” Schwiebert adds that there are a great many artifacts, such as Native American items, and the remains of “now extinct animals, things that probably fell down in there,” also archived at the UF museum. The doctor, who came to Williston in 1980, says he

first heard stories about the spring being a swimming hole that was popular with area youth, who fastened a rope ladder at the top so they could jump in and swim and then pull themselves back out. “The farmer got kind of aggravated with the nuisance of the kids jumping his fence and all that stuff,” Schwiebert explains, “and he dumped a bunch of fence wire and trash in the spring just trying to clutter it up so the kids couldn’t swim in there.” Schwiebert notes that “the guy who was involved in the original startup was from Switzerland and he called his place Euro Palm and wanted to bring European people to get diving certified. It’s so expensive to do in Europe, they could fly over here and do the training and get the benefits of coming to America. In the middle 1980s, a German lady, Anna Lovas, bought this place and she also had the vision of creating a diving destination. The story I heard, when Anna bought it, was that they hauled out over nine dump truck loads of trash.” Schwiebert says his friend Dr. Raymond Webber, who had been a scuba diving instructor, called him one day and said he wanted to find a “little place to have a fish pond, so I brought him out here and he was blown away.” “He put together the arrangement where a group of us bought it in 1993,” Schwiebert recalls. “It was a couple of old trailers and a bathhouse. We put in the RV park and pool, expanded the amenities a little bit and have been operating it ever since.” Webber also discovered an adjacent property, which included an abandoned limestone quarry, and purchased that separately. Over time, he developed it into the Cedar Lakes Woods and Gardens botanical garden. And, in 2001, Schwiebert purchased another adjacent property on the other side of Devil’s Den, which he, with his wife Heidi, has developed into the Two Hawk Hammock guest house, live music venue and event facility.

In the Water

Devil’s Den has become an international destination for scuba divers and snorkelers. Only those who are certified divers, or snorkelers age 6 or older (with a parent or guardian accompanying them up to age 18), March ‘21


The name Devil’s Den is said to derive from the misty haze steaming from the top of the opening, or chimney.

are allowed to descend into the cavern and spring. Safety is paramount and all divers must be accompanied by a dive buddy and all snorkelers must be good swimmers. With the onset of the coronavirus, there is now a reservation system in place for those who wish to snorkel, with a time limit of 90 minutes. Certified scuba divers do not have to make a reservation for day access, but must do so for occasional night dives. Devil’s Den is often used as a training site for scuba divers. There are two platforms 20 feet under the water on either side of the main landing, which can be used by trainers and students. “It’s a unique situation because it has daylight access, with light coming from the surface, meaning we can operate as an open water dive,” Schwiebert notes. “It gives an opportunity for someone to experience an overhead environment without being cave certified.” Guests are welcome to bring their own scuba diving and snorkeling equipment, but those items also are available for rent at the check-in center, which features a small gift shop with snacks and beverages. Before any diver goes down the entry shaft, they receive a briefing from a staffer on all the rules and regulations, complete with the showing of colored maps indicating the terrain below. There are numerous underwater signs that indicate areas that are off limits. From the platform by which one enters the water, rays of sunlight beam down from the opening above, which is ringed by bright green trailing vines. Drips of water from the ceiling splatter the heads of visitors and the faint sounds of bats can be heard above. In the water below, massive limestone rock formations dot the bottom. The curvatures of the walls are deeply shadowed. Fish, turtles and what Schwiebert calls a “pretty big” albino catfish make their home in the clear pool. Cristen Bouchard and David Mercier, from Prather, California, were snorkeling on a recent day. The couple said they had bought a recreational vehicle the weekend the Creek Fire broke out in September 2020 and they had to evacuate. “We moved everything we could and sold our house and took off,” Bouchard offers. “We’re staying in Clermont here in Florida, and my parents live in Hampton.” “She found this on Instagram,” Mercier says of Bouchard. “It was astonishing. Stunning.” “You don’t think of how things like this exist, then

you see it and you’re like, ‘Wow!’” Bouchard expounds. “Such beauty and geology of life! I was fascinated by the fish; there were so many of them. I’m like, where did they come from? And the turtle!” Schwiebert, standing nearby, explains that there are numerous interconnected waterways under the ground, through which the fish and other animals can move through the aquifer. “This whole area is in the Rainbow River Basin, so the aquifer here basically goes down to Blue Run (part of the Rainbow River near Dunnellon),” he explains. “This whole part of Florida, our water comes from north Florida and south Georgia. And when they have hurricanes further north or a lot of rain, the aquifer can only move the water so fast so it bogs up in these sinkhole areas. I’ve seen water within a few steps of the top of our ladder. We’ve had to shut it down a couple of times, such as after Hurricane Irma came through. It stayed up high for a couple of years.”

On the Land

The sprawling Devil’s Den property includes areas for tent camping, full hook-up RV accommodations and cabins for rent. The amenities include numerous pavilions and picnic tables, including a number of the latter found on walking paths, such as those that encircle Ray’s Fish Pond, where corpulent and colorful koi eagerly await a handout of fish food from a vending machine nearby. There is a heated swimming pool and two large changing areas with showers. For those with energy to spare, lawn games include volleyball and cornhole. Charcoal grills are ready for outdoor chefs to cook up some burgers, hot dogs or steaks. The attraction is open every day except Christmas. While guests are free to roam and explore in the water and on land, Schwiebert says he hopes they will refrain from leaving their mark, such as trying to carve on the ancient limestone rocks. “It’s kind of a sacred place in a lot of ways,” he offers. “We are just trying to make it available to people and to also show the respect that something this old and special deserves.” For more information, visit devilsden.com March ‘21


scape E to

Old Florida

In a state that boasts hundreds of diverse fish camps, this storied 75-year-old gem still shines in its charming simplicity. By Susan Smiley-Height | Photography by Dave Miller


n a recent cold morning, as the dense fog lifted from the tannin-darkened dusky waters of the St. Johns River, Bill “Woody” Woodcock set his line, dropped his rod and reel into a holder on the dock at Stegbone’s Fish Camp and stood back to take in the wide expanse of the massive waterway. Woodcock, from Pennsylvania, settled in at the camp in January for a three-month stay. His cabin is nestled between a handful of others on the spacious grounds. The authentic old Florida fish camp, between Satsuma and Welaka in Putnam County, just south of Palatka, was established 75 years ago. Remnants, including the first cabin built by Bob Allender in 1946, still hint at Bob’s Camp, built on land carved out of orange groves. Allen Norton bought the property in 1972 and renamed it Norton’s Place. It was purchased by current owner Jim Stege in 1998. Thus, the name Stegbone’s, from his nickname as a student at the University of Florida. In a nod to his affinity for all things “old Florida,” the camp is awash in historical signage. At the top of the hill overlooking the sprawling dock is a “Christmas” pine tree planted by Norton the first year or two he was there, which still towers over the fire pit and multiple seating areas. Fishermen, such as the “Kentucky Boys,” who arrive in March, come to pull in loads of bream (bluegill, warmouth, stumpknocker, red belly, shellcracker), crappie, perch, shad, catfish and several species of bass, along with anglers such as John Nicholson, who has been coming there from southwest Georgia for 40 years. Whatever the haul of the day is, the cleaning station at the dock is outfitted for quick scaling and is equipped for plugging in a deep fryer and chowing down right on the spot. The five cabins, which can sleep from two to eight people, all have kitchens and are stocked with dinnerware and cooking utensils. For those who don’t bring their own boats, the camp offers one for rent. And if you aren’t intent on catching fish, you can always just take in the quiet, pierced occasionally by a bird’s call or the splash of a frog, and enjoy the serenity of watching the river roll north towards Jacksonville and the Atlantic Ocean. The St. Johns River is one of the few that flows from south to north. It begins as a marsh in Indian River County and ambles 310 miles northward, becoming broader and deeper as it goes. At Stegbone’s, the river is bordered on the west side by the upper reaches of the Ocala National Forest; just to the south, it is bordered in part by the Welaka State Forest on the eastern shore.

Stegbone’s Story

Jim Stege was born in Madison, Wisconsin. He says he has traveled the world but has a true affinity for the Sunshine State. “I went back to school at age 29 to study architectural preservation,” he shares. “Back in 198434


85, I got a 1927 road map and went all over Florida on back roads looking for old gas stations. It really gave me a love for old Florida—and what we’re losing so quickly. I just got this feeling that I understood Florida.” When he was ready to get out of Gainesville after 20 years and moved to St. Augustine, where he opened a sandal shop, he also found “this place.” “It was a mess, but I have put everything I could into it and for 22 years have been working hard to not change that old Florida feel,” he offers. “We are low key. We’ve still got guys who are 70 years old and have been coming here since the early ‘50s.” He notes that about 70 percent of the income comes between March and June, “when the bream fishermen are looking for the beds.” “The Kentucky Boys come in early March. They have their prizes and awards for most fish or biggest fish, and they bring their Hudepohl and Schaefer beer and play horseshoes or cornhole and sit around the fire in the rocking chairs and tell lies,” he states, bursting into laughter. “And then there’s families, like John Nicholson’s. There’s a chair in cabin number three with all their names on it on brass plaques.” Nicholson, reached by phone at his home in southwest Georgia, says the numbers in his group have dwindled over the years but he still relishes any chance to make it down. He recalls glory days of fishing for “anything that’d bite… bream, shellcracker, red bellies. They are good size, in fact excellent size, and in good numbers. And they think they are monster bass,” he notes with a chuckle. Nicholson authored the Fishing on the St. Johns page on Stegbone’s website, which describes the fish and how to catch them (crickets, he offers, are the secret to panfish). Stege has been reading a book given to him by Nicholson, Rose Cottage Chronicles, which details letters between two lovers from 1856-65. “They were writing about this property, which was part of a plantation,” he states. “After the Civil War, the south is poor, land is cheap, people need jobs. Yankees were tired of winter and came down here and did a lot of citrus farming.” Stege says part of his dock has pilings that date back to the 1870s, when citrus was plentiful. “The paddle wheelers would load up citrus and head back up river and exchange in Palatka to deep sea vessels, and later railroads,” he states. Stege recalls learning about the times when “northern financiers” would sail south and then attach their skiffs to wooden boats in Palatka that would take them on local rivers past the “big hotel in Welaka, the spas, huge cypress and all the plumage birds. Palatka was where you turned to see the wonders of Silver Springs and Ocala.” “In 1946, the dock was still here and Bob saw the

Owner Jim Stege

potential after the war (World War II),” he offers. “And that was when people could finally relax a little bit and take a vacation.”

Lasting Intrinsic Value

As time marches on, Stege says, “youth aren’t picking up fishing like in the past” and that has meant that some change has come to his fish camp. He explains that, in order to make the camp more accessible, they have updated the cabins without sacrificing the old Florida feeling, so women and kids can also enjoy the experience. “We get more weekend getaway type folks to mix with the fishermen,” he remarks. “We love this as a place for people to come together and respect each other and have a good time and enjoy nature. The families that come are ecstatic.” He motions in the direction of his 1966 International 900A pickup truck, which he stills drives, noting that “nothing is for show around here; everything has got to work for its living.” “And we still have a 1993 workhorse golf cart we’ve repaired so many times I could have bought three of them,” he shares. “I just like having the old things around and keeping them going. That’s sort

of the nature of this camp. I think it’s important that everyone grab on to something meaningful—especially in Florida—that has some kind of lasting intrinsic value and nurture it…keep it going.” Woodcock says that allure is what brings him to the camp. “I love old Florida,” he affirms. “My friends were worried about me coming this year. I said ‘I’m going on a three-month quarantine. I’m going to live, not be sheltered in my house.’” He says the people are friendly in the south and that Amazon delivers anything he needs. Plus, there are local eateries nearby, such as Mema’s Family Restaurant, which serves “pancakes as big as wheel covers.” Nicholson says he can’t wait for clearance after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine to make it back to the fish camp this year. “So much was missed last year by everyone,” he says softly. “I’ve only missed coming to the fish camp twice in 40 years, including last year. But that’s all right. It’ll be there when we get back.” To learn more, visit stegbones.com. For information about fish camps around the state, go to florida-backroads-travel.com/florida-fish-camps

Outdoor Oasis

By Lisa McGinnes & Nick Steele

After spending so much time cooped up in the house recently, more and more people are investing in ways to kick things up a notch with their outdoor living environments so they can kick back in style.


he past year has certainly had us rethinking our options at home and finding new ways to evolve our backyards into cozier, more welcoming and more versatile environments. From adding creature comforts for the family to designing gracious surroundings for entertaining in style, we’re all seeking our own little sanctuary spaces. And more than just giving

our oft-neglected yards the improvements they deserve, this also is a great way to increase the value of your home for when its time to sell. If you’ve decided it’s time to invest in your indoor-outdoor living space, the next step is to map out your expectations. For many, the goal is simply to create a well-designed lounging area that complements their interior living space. Others might want

an exterior dining area or even a custom outdoor kitchen. Whatever your plans, we’ve got some ontrend advice from a few of our local experts in exterior design. These professionals say their clients are looking for more than quick fixes and out-of-thebox solutions and are instead expressing a desire to create a seamless extension of their home’s interior and promote harmony inside and out.

Undercounter Refrigerator Drawers by True



View to a Grill If you’re creating a beautiful outdoor oasis for eating al fresco, why toil away in your indoor kitchen? Yes, a barbecue grill, some lighter fluid, a bag of charcoal and some deck chairs will certainly get the job done, but if you’re ready to up your game, an outdoor kitchen is an increasingly popular option and can be highly customizable. “Cooking and entertaining outdoors frees you up to socialize while prepping and serving delicious eats among your guests,” offers Valerie Dailey, owner of Showcase Properties of Central Florida. “Plus, you’ll be able to avoid frequent trips to and from the indoors for seconds, refills, snacks and cups.”

What’s Cooking?

The perfect outdoor kitchen depends entirely on what you envision cooking there. Whether you’re thinking of preparing full gourmet meals while family members and friends lounge nearby, hosting a Florida-style low country boil, have always dreamed of an outdoor pizza oven or smoker, or you just want a spot to show off your grilling skills—you’re sure to make some great new memories and create a space you can enjoy for years to come. Dailey is quick to point out that outdoor kitchens are both energy efficient and keep all those lingering smells from cooking foods like fish—and just about anything fried— outside, which is a definite bonus. “Baking, frying and roasting all contribute to raising the temperature of your home, especially in the summer months, when your A/C has already been working hard to balance the temperature inside. Adding pockets of heat in your home can activate the A/C for hours as it tries to balance out the temperature,” she explains. “Using an outdoor cooking source can save you a substantial amount of energy from the air

Top: photo by Lyn Larson of Mahal Imagery. Bottom: photo courtesy of True.

Ocala Style food and entertaining contributor Jill Paglia knew their covered outdoor living space would become a favorite hangout. “I designed our pool pavilion as another way to host gatherings for our large family. It definitely is an extension of our indoor space; sort of an overflow of the inside,” explains Paglia. “There is an ice maker, refrigerator and sink, and I use a Big Green Egg for grilling. We relax out there for cocktails. There is piped-in music and sometimes I just like to go there to read. I’ve hosted bridal showers in the pavilion. We always spent a lot of time out there, but even more so since the onset of COVID-19. We even had a family church service there on Christmas Eve.”

conditioning alone.” But the most compelling reason for investing in an outdoor kitchen is that they add value to your home. “Homes with outdoor kitchens are well known to have a high rate of return on investment. Not only do they give your home’s total living space more mileage and offer you years of rewarding entertaining experiences, they also make a home more enticing to potential buyers. Stainless steel appliances are especially desirable due to how easy they are to clean, as well as their ability to handle changing temperatures from season to season,” Dailey reveals, explaining that, according to experts in home valuations, “Homes with outdoor kitchens can potentially see a return on their investment ranging between 55 to 200 percent.”

Start With a Plan

Speaking of financial considerations, the staffers at custom home builders Secure Built, LLC, who routinely work with clients to create their dream outdoor kitchens, recommend establishing a budget for your project and a plan for the type of kitchen you want. “Do you want something simple that includes a grill and a bar? Or do you want something more elaborate with a full refrigerator, grill and plenty of seating space? You can always opt for something in the middle, but be sure you survey all of your options and think about

what you’ll really use your kitchen for,” contractor and owner Ryan Gummer suggests. “This will help you stay within budget.” Budget is the number one consideration, according to Gummer. “We put this first on the list because we feel it’s the most critical step in creating your dream outdoor kitchen,” he offers. “Remembering to stay within budget will help keep payments low and you won’t feel guilty about spending too much on a grill that’s simply out of your budget. There will almost always be additional costs you probably haven’t thought about and it can be easy for things to get out of hand.” He also cautions that maintenance should be considered as well. “Your outdoor kitchen will be exposed to the elements and it’s important to properly care for your larger appliances accordingly. Most of them will need to be covered. Think about the time and effort this will take and be sure you’re willing to put that effort into maintaining your kitchen,” he points out. “Sometimes simpler is better.” There are lots of options to consider, from storage and outdoor cabinetry (there’s no point

putting in an elaborate kitchen if you need to haul everything out from your indoor kitchen) to decorative elements. Experts advise that one of the most common mistakes homeowners make in designing outdoor kitchens is not planning enough outdoor counter space. Also give some thought to the placement of the cooking area in relation to where your guests will be seated, so you can visit as you cook. These days, most outdoor kitchens are protected by much more than canopies or soft-top gazebos. Homeowners often opt for open-air patio structures to create some more substantial protection from the sun and rain. You will definitely need to consider appropriate shading if outdoor refrigeration is part of your plan. For more information, log on to hgtv.com and search for outdoor kitchen design.

Step On It The living space beyond our back doors is much more than a backyard—it’s a continuation of our home’s interior, says architect and interior designer Rolando Sosa, owner of Architecture Studio. And, he advises, spending quality time outdoors demands comfortable and safe surfaces under our feet. “I’m seeing a lot of diversity in the materials being utilized for the exterior,” he says. “It used to be basically just concrete or a wood deck. But in Florida, especially, with the climate that we have, that is something that’s gone by the wayside. The old paver is still being utilized, but it’s usually a little rougher. LiLi Cement Tiles What we’re seeing is a lot more ceramic tile or quarry tile or porcelain tile that’s rated for the outdoors and nonslip. Technology every day brings us better products with regards to that.” For outdoor living spaces that include kitchens, dining areas and living areas, modern tile floor Humans have been gathering around fires for comfort surfaces provide comfort and continue a cohesive and camaraderie for thousands of years. However, interior design. basic stone circles, clay chimineas and portable fire “People want more of a finished exterior look,” rings are giving way to permanently constructed fire Sosa remarks. “They want a continuation of what’s pits which are integrated into outdoor living spaces going on in their home.” designed for family fun. He stresses the importance of consulting an expert Communing around a campfire is a way to reconnect when choosing tile for outdoor environments to ensure with loved ones and disconnect from electronics, says the selected material is weather-safe and nonslip. Jason Richards, owner of Landscaping Under the Son. In achieving the desired look for the client Sosa “People are trying to create spaces where they can go explains, “We look for those things the homeowner outside, have a fire…places that can help bring us peace might not be aware of.” and joy,” he notes. “We’re talking about having 8 to 10 people or a whole family around a fire and being able to enjoy something that actually gives off a decent amount of warmth.” Recent installations Richards’ team have completed include custom-built fire pits as wide as 5 feet, integrated with outdoor kitchens, bars and seating. Many clients are requesting options for open-fire cooking, he says, including removable grates and swiveled stanchions to hang large cast iron pots. Creating spaces for families to enjoy the open air is a favorite part of his job, Richards says. One especially lovely outdoor living space he enjoyed designing is for a couple who wanted greenery embedded into the hardscape. “They want a lemon and a lime tree close to the bar and also raised planter beds where they can grow mint and things to put into their mixed drinks,” he explains. “The fire pit is going to be right there by the bar, which will have an octagon arbor with hanging swings and an attached bocce ball court, where they can play outdoor games.”



Left: photo courtesy LiLi Tile

Feel the Burn

In and Out Soft textiles and comfortable seating arrangements that could pass for interior decor are making their way into outdoor living spaces, according to interior designer Jennie Holland, owner of J Holland Interiors. “We do a lot more blankets and other soft textiles. We’re putting down-filled pillows on the patio all the time,” she reveals. “There are textures that really and truly could be used indoors or out.” And, Holland adds, today’s outdoor seating areas more closely reflect the homeowners’ interior decor, both in style and color palette, rather than the “matchy-matchy” furniture sets of the past. “Clients are taking the style that they have indoors and really using that same aesthetic outdoors,” she observes. “There are designs that are literally a sofa you would use inside that can now be outside when upholstered in an extremely durable fabric. We are doing coffee tables, end tables and accents that really look like they could be in your formal living room. The big sectional is comfy cozy, but then let’s put a concrete coffee table out there.” While Holland is noticing a preference for toned-down color palettes that are more neutral than bold, she says texture, from rugs to accent pillows, is key to creating a cozy vibe. “We’re doing a lot of outdoor-indoor rugs,” she notes. “Tweeds give that layering effect and texture.”

When it comes to your home, renovating your outdoor living space truly affords you the best of both worlds. With a little planning and investment, you can enjoy all your favorite activities, including cooking, dining and spending quality time with your friends and family members, all while enjoying the beauty of your yard. We think that once you create your own sanctuary space, you’ll find yourself wondering how you ever lived without it. March ‘21


Ray Owens, Marty Wilson, Rebecca Forsyth, Chris Isaac, Chad Cordwin, Bryan Copenhaver, Wilson Jean-Baptiste and Brandon Blunt

Rooted in Success A commitment to safety, professionalism and exceptional service is the basis upon which this locally owned business has built a stellar reputation. Photography by Meagan Gumpert


arion and Alachua counties and the surrounding areas are stunning natural settings in which trees plays a starring role. From sprawling ancient live oaks to towering sabal palms to hammocks of sweet gum, hickory and cedar, trees enhance the environment and our quality of life. When expert care is needed for the diagnosis, treatment, pruning or removal of trees, there is no company more qualified to deliver professional and courteous assistance than Cordwin Tree Service.

Chad Cordwin is proud to have his name on his family-owned and operated business and stands behind the full-service tree care offered by his team of professionals, which includes family members Gloria Forsyth, Rebecca Forsyth and Marty Wilson. Chad and his team have continued to adopt the most modern practices in detailed tree care. That includes Chad himself becoming a nationally certified crane operator. The entire staff is fully trained in each person’s area of responsibility,

with many cross-trained for optimum efficiency. Chad says he is committed to continued staff training and education, and takes pride in the team, the equipment they use and the properties they help maintain. “I am also committed to excellence and doing the job right the first time,” he states. Cordwin Tree Service offers residential, commercial and farm services ranging from a single tree to a small grove to a forest. Those services also include such options as moss spraying, yard waste/debris

Sponsored removal and stump grinding, which utilizes a remotecontrol device that allows for access to much smaller or tighter spaces than traditional mechanisms. One recent client who lives on a small farm described the removal of a dozen trees that were dead or diseased, with several of them endangering the home and an outbuilding, as watching “an intricately organized performance take place, with the massive crane and aerial lifts working from the tops of the trees to the scurrying workers on the ground cutting up huge tree trunks with chain saws to the skid-steer operator moving the smaller logs to where the grapple truck operator could grasp them to the clean-up crew. It was truly amazing.” Team and client safety is of utmost importance and customers can be assured that a full assessment will be conducted prior to work commencing, in order to evaluate such things as the presence of utility lines, roof lines, carports, animal enclosures, fences and neighboring properties. All work estimates are offered free of charge. Among the team members are Phil Howell, International Association of Arboriculture Certified Arborist FL-5230A, who also is a Tree Care Industry Association (TCIA) certified tree care safety professional and horticulture professional Heather West. Several staff members are certified through the TCIA Electrical Hazards Awareness Program and as Florida Department of Transportation Traffic

Managers. The entire staff is CPR certified. Chad and many members of his team are longtime residents of the area and believe in giving back to their community by volunteering to support area nonprofit organizations, such as Veterans of Foreign Wars posts, in part to honor the service of Chad’s father, Michael Cordwin, a retired US Marine Corps staff sergeant, as well as the Endangered Animal Sanctuary (EARS), Stirrups ‘N Strides Therapeutic Riding Center and Horse Protection Association of Florida. They also help maintain Marion County fire station properties. In caring for the trees and properties of clients for nearly 30 years, Cordwin Tree Service has earned a reputation for outstanding customer satisfaction. One customer noted on the firm’s website the “TOTAL professionalism with TOTAL respect for your property AND your neighbors! Modern and maintained equipment with the experienced employees to do it right and BY FAR the best price!” The team at Cordwin Tree Service welcomes the chance to prove that their work ethic and commitment to excellence are second to none. “That is what we strive for, to do such a good job that customers won’t hesitate to call us anytime they need tree care,” says Chad. “We are looking forward to continuing to grow with our community, based on the strong roots we have established over nearly three decades.”

352-591-3642 7900 W Hwy 316, Reddick, FL 32686 cordwin.com

Journey to Freedom Rudy Perez’s American dream began 30 years ago when he was a teenager in Cuba. His path to a better life—built with his own two hands—started with a harrowing journey across the ocean. By Lisa McGinnes | Photography by Meagan Gumpert


s many struggled to find hope during a global pandemic last year, Ocalan Rudy Perez reached the pinnacle of his American dream: in February, he and his fiancée purchased and renovated their own home. In September, they celebrated his birthday with a fun-filled weekend getaway to Clearwater Beach. In November, Perez proudly voted for the first time in his life. Later that month, he married the woman of his dreams in a beautiful outdoor ceremony attended by family and friends. The year ended on a high note: a relaxing vacation with his new wife and his 13-year-old son in the Great Smoky Mountains. Perez doesn’t take those milestones for granted; the happiness he’s found in life at age 49 is immeasurably more than he dared imagine growing up as the son of a single mother in impoverished communist Cuba.

Building a Dream

When his best friend asked Perez to help him build a raft to emigrate to the United States, his answer was “no way.” “That’s crazy,” the 20-year-old Perez told his lifelong buddy, Alejandro Torres. Sure, he shared the desire for a future that included the basic necessities they lacked, such as more than one set of clothes and shoes and enough food to eat. And, like most young men, he longed for a career path that would lead to owning his own car and eventually his own home, with the means to raise a family of his own. But Cuba, in those early days of its Special Period, was no place for a young person’s hope. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the northern Caribbean island nation no longer received exported Soviet food and oil. Groceries were scarce and power outages became the rule rather than the exception. Their close-knit families and communities were the only thing sustaining the spirits of the resilient Cuban people. And Perez had no intentions of leaving his mother and his family. But when his friend began the illegal process of constructing a raft in his parents’ home just a few doors down from the house where Perez lived with his mother, he knew that even though he wouldn’t be going along, he couldn’t say no to his best friend’s request for help. “He said, ‘I can’t do this without you,’” Perez remembers. It was risky; just building a raft was illegal, and there was no way they could complete it without stolen parts. “If they catch you, you’re going behind bars for a long time,” Perez explains. But, he admits, “we did a lot of crazy stuff just to survive. We stole stuff to eat…because we had no choice.” Over the next year, as he spent less time reporting for his mandatory

Army duty and more time helping his friend secretly build an illegal raft in his family home, Perez began to realize Torres was right. There was no future for him in his homeland. He pushed the heartbreaking thought of leaving his mom to the back of his mind, focusing his inventive brain on engineering and constructing a seaworthy raft made of salvaged and stolen water pipes, refrigerator insulation and tractor trailer inner tubes, which would carry seven men safely across the Straits of Florida to freedom.

Surviving the Storm

When their departure day finally arrived, Perez was so nervous he could hardly eat when he sat down for dinner. He and Torres had successfully constructed their raft in secret and recruited five other men to join them—not an easy thing to keep quiet in their tightknit neighborhood. Perez hated lying to his mother but he didn’t want her to worry. He was famished after working nonstop since dawn, but could hardly gulp down a bite. “I’ve got to go; I’ll be right back,” he told his mom, jumping up and grabbing his book bag, which held the few items he would take on his journey to a new life. He waited to say “I love you” until he turned toward the door so she wouldn’t see his tears. He knew his devoutly traditional mother would never condone his illegal activity and it would break her heart if she knew he was leaving. 48


It was Wednesday, June 24, 1992. Perez, Torres and five other men had decided to depart at 6pm. They were counting on the northward summer wind to carry their small raft, with its homemade sail and rudder, to Florida. They knew a straight line from Havana to Key West was 90 miles but they had no idea how long it might take to get there. Their only navigational tool was a compass they had stolen from a container ship. They would concentrate on heading north and hope for the best. What they hadn’t counted on was the severity of the rainstorm that had begun the night before. They were running on adrenaline that first night. The farther they paddled away from the harbor, the lower their chances of being spotted by Cuban officials and arrested. By the wee hours of the morning they were so tired they had to close their eyes and rest. They woke up in daylight with a view of the coast—the Cuban coast. The wind had shifted while they were asleep and they had drifted back nearly to their starting point. Once again they pointed the bow north and paddled as hard as they could, resolving to make sure someone stayed awake at all times to navigate. It was still raining that first morning at sea. The wind picked up and was now carrying them in the right direction. Perez had designed their lightweight raft to float atop the waves, like a long, narrow kayak. The novice sailors were seasick riding 10- to 20foot swells. They were soaked to the bone and shivering in the whipping wind. The stormy sky remained dark all day. At dinnertime on Thursday they had their first meal since leaving dry land 24 hours before. Not knowing how long their journey would take, they rationed their scant supply: eight ounces of water a day per person and four ounces of expired, canned hot dogs, tamales or sardines. Buoyed by a little food in their bellies, they hunkered down for a second night at sea. The men took down the sail and wrapped it around themselves for warmth and protection against the driving rain. “We couldn’t even sleep because the waves were really, really bad and the lightning was like daytime,” Perez remembers. “We’d hold the frame from the raft. Like that movie The Perfect Storm—I won’t watch it,” he adds. The thunderstorm raged on through the second night and as dawn broke Friday morning, Perez remembers relaxing just a little. “I started to feel safe because I knew my raft was not going to break into pieces,” he recalls. “We passed through the hard part. We’re still here.” They put the sail up and rode the strong wind northward all day, cold and uncomfortable.

On Friday evening, a pointy fin in the water, way too close for comfort, scared the guys into quickly pulling their arms and legs into the raft. The large shark passed by and, relieved, they ate their meager, cold dinner with the driving rain pelting their faces. “That was the worst night,” Perez remembers. “The waves were really high, the wind so strong. I thought, ‘If we pass through this one, we’re going to be OK.’ We couldn’t sleep that night…it was rough.” But as the storm raged on, they noticed a new phenomenon that lifted their spirits: the sky wasn’t quite as dark ahead of them as it was behind them. They were seeing the faint glow of lights from the Sunshine State on the horizon.

Sunshine and Safety

At dawn on Saturday morning, the rain finally stopped. The waves were calmer. “Wow, look at that sunshine—it’s beautiful,” Perez remembers someone saying. When they began to see butterflies and ducks they knew they were nearing land. They would reach Florida on their fourth day at sea. “Everybody that morning was happy because we knew we were safe,” Perez recalls. “Nobody wanted to get breakfast; everybody was excited because we expected somebody to rescue us. So now we were emotional inside.”



Around midday, they spotted a few fishing boats in the distance and one headed towards them. It was piloted by a Spanish-speaking doctor from Miami who gave them food and cold drinks while he radioed the United States Coast Guard. “We were so happy, so excited,” Perez shares. “I think it was the most emotional I was in all my life. That day you’re brought to life, you feel that way.” I made it; I’m alive, he remembers thinking. We crossed the sea. They would later learn that many other Cubans who attempted ocean crossings around the same time never reached their destination and were believed to have perished at sea. Just two months after they arrived, a group of 15 young people from their hometown—including friends and family members of Perez’s group—inspired by their success, built a raft that broke apart just off the Cuban coast. Seven of them were never found. Perez’s mother and the families of the men he made the journey with found out they were safe from a radio broadcast on Radio Martí, a Miami Spanish-language station which, at that time, could be heard in Cuba and would announce the names of emigrants who successfully reached the United States. As political refugees, Perez and his countrymen were granted U.S. residency after the Coast Guard delivered

Perez with his mother, Maribel Carballosa

them to Miami. He and Torres, as well as one other young man from their raft, attended school to learn English. His first job in the U.S. was as a night custodian, and he soon picked up a second job during the day. After about a year, Perez earned his CDL license and began a career as a tractor trailer driver. He lived in multiple cities across Florida before settling in Ocala in 2008. Every minute detail of the raft he designed and built is ingrained in Perez’s memory. He constructed a small but intricate model raft so he could explain to his children how he came to this country. He wants them to understand it’s not an easy decision for immigrants who choose to leave their homes to come to the United States. “There’s only two reasons you can do what I did and what other people do to get to this amazing country,” he declares. “It’s a great country but it’s got a price. There’s only two reasons: a better life and to be free. Leaving everything behind, leaving all those people you know behind, it’s not easy.” Currently, Perez is a cement truck driver for Argos. He comes home every night to the three-bedroom midcentury house he completely remodeled himself. His two older children, Anyuri and Christian, live in the Tampa area, where they are both finishing graduate school. His youngest, Rudy Jr., spends weekends with he and his wife Olivia. Their updated home on nearly an acre in a quiet Ocala neighborhood also has a comfortable guest room for Perez’s mother, Maribel Carballosa, who now travels from Cuba to visit every year or so. After the Cuban government opened travel restrictions in 2012, Perez was finally able to apply for her visa. Over the past few years he’s learned the value of working a little less and making a little more time for family fun, thanks to Olivia. “She’s the best,” he says, smiling at his new bride. “I believed there was something good for me in this country and it took time to find out. This is my dream and what I was waiting for.”

Perez with wife Olivia

March ‘21


Mechanical Marvel

Technology developed by IHMC is helping one man move forward—in the most meaningful of ways. By Ben Baugh | All photos courtesy of IHMC

Vishnu Aishwaryan, Mark Daniel

Carlos Gonzalez, Mark Daniel, Vishnu Aishwaryan

Brandon Peterson, Mark Daniel


traumatic accident would unknowingly transform Mark Daniel’s life—and make him an agent of change for future generations. Born and raised in Pensacola, Daniel’s selfconfidence and awareness were developed early in life as he spent much of his youth on dirt bikes and fourwheelers, alone in the woods, where the margin for making mistakes could prove costly and instilled in him a sense of discipline and toughness. He also developed a strong work ethic from his hardworking blue-collar family members, which later would help him overcome the major adversities he would face. “My dad’s a plumber, my uncles are tradesmen, my grandfather’s a machinist and my mom worked in a warehouse,” Daniel offers proudly, adding that he’s always loved mechanics and working with engines. By the time he was 18 years old, Daniel had

graduated from high school and trade school. He possessed all the qualifications he needed for his vocation as a welder and fabricator, and was embracing his future with enthusiasm. “I started with industrial work…you have a lot to prove when you come onto a job site; a lot of it is the hardest work that’s out there and the longest hours,” explains Daniel, who was in peak physical condition at the time, running up to 10 miles a day. Initially, Daniel was just driving a truck and delivering materials to job sites, but just two months later he realized his dream, welding for fabrication work for a shop in town. The days were long, with 10 hours on the job plus driving an hour to the site from his home and another hour back. He was working six days a week, but the workload increased to where he was plying his trade every day. The demanding schedule

included overtime. For about five months after his 18th birthday, Daniel averaged working about 80 hours a week. The demands eventually came with a steep price. The week of his accident, Daniel had worked 93 hours over eight straight days. “I got off from work on a Friday night, I think it was about 7 o’clock, and I stopped by a friend’s house on the way home,” Daniel recalls. “I fell asleep on his couch for a couple of hours and I woke up in a way that I call ‘waking up on my feet.’ You fall asleep in a sitting position and by the time you open your eyes, you’re already on your feet because you’re kind of scared as to where you are. I woke up wide awake like that.” Daniel felt the need to go home. He got in his truck and began what he thought would be a routine drive—but, tragically, it turned into a crash that left him paralyzed. “I was about two miles from the house when I fell asleep and I drifted off the road,” he says. “The accident report reads that I hit a few mailboxes (which startled him awake). I overcorrected, turning left, which made my SUV flip seven times and it eventually landed on its roof. Somewhere in the middle, I was ejected out the passenger door.” Daniel sustained a T-10 thoracic injury, also known as a burst fracture. He had six broken ribs on his right side, a collapsed right lung, a bruised right kidney and bruised liver, and the internal organs on the right side of his body were all compromised. “I ended up dying on the helicopter ride from the

accident scene to the hospital, and then again three days later,” Daniel states. “Monday morning, when they brought me into surgery, sometime during the 12- to 14hour surgery, my right lung collapsed and I coded.” The road forward for Daniel called for him to draw on the resiliency and toughness he had developed early in life. For the first three years after the crash, he was in a wheelchair and the focus was on rehabilitation and the basics. His drive to move forward and upper body strength put him in good stead and he kept in close contact with his physical therapist during the process. But he found himself asking of the equipment and processes, “Why, after 3,000 years, are they still using the same technology?” Enter the Institute of Human and Machine Cognition (IHMC), which is headquartered in Pensacola and has a campus in Ocala. IHMC researchers were looking for people in wheelchairs who would be capable of participating in their exoskeleton project. A connection was made between Research Scientist Peter Neuhaus, the original team leader of the project at IHMC, and Daniel through the hospital’s physical therapy department. “When Peter and the others came to me asking me about this project, I saw the next step,” Daniel remembers, “I had already been wondering for three years as to why no one had thought about doing this, and so I took the opportunity.”

Vishnu Aishwaryan, Mark Daniel

The Journey Begins

There was no question Daniel was the right candidate to be the pilot for the exoskeleton project, but there was still much to consider as the team worked diligently to see if they could indeed make a paralyzed person walk. The first device Daniel worked with was the Mina v1 exoskeleton. That first version was followed by the NASA-IHMC X1 exoskeleton, which IHMC designed jointly with NASA’s Johnson Space Center to be a robotic device for a range of applications including mobility assistance for abled and disabled users, rehabilitation, and exercise. Then came Mina v2, which was specifically developed for the 2016 Cybathlon, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology’s international, multi-sport competition in which people with physical disabilities compete against each other to complete everyday tasks using state-of-the-art technical assistance systems. The Mina v2 was designed to allow users to stand up and walk through a variety of environments, up and down stairs and ramps, as well as across flat and bumpy terrain and was powered by an electric bicycle battery. “Safety was a concern. They were making sure my joints were in the right position, so the basics of safety and proper alignment were in place,” Daniel notes. “But initially the big concern was, ‘Could we make Mark walk?’ And, clumsily, with a lot of upper body effort, we were able to.”

Leading The Way

The team at IHMC felt confident that if they could fit the device well to Daniel’s body, he would be able to move and be able to use his upper body strength to manipulate the device and its mechanical motion. Aside from the competition element, the Cybathlon also offered a platform to advance research on assistance systems for everyday use and promote a dialogue with the public. The championship gives people with disabilities the opportunity to use advanced assistive devices to complete six common tasks: sitting down on a sofa and standing up; walking a slalom course; walking up a steep ramp, opening a door and walking through it, and walking down a steep ramp; walking over stepping stones; walking on tilted surfaces; and walking up and down stairs. The lessons learned from that experience served as a powerful resource for the team at IHMC as they approached last year’s 2020 Cybathlon Exoskeleton Race. Because of the pandemic, this competition differed greatly from the inaugural 2016, in which the IHMC team competed in person in Zurich and placed second overall. The 2020 edition of the race was done virtually but was no less competitive, as IHMC found themselves up against 51 teams from 20 countries, with the course and obstacles set up at the organization’s Pensacola campus. But that was not all that changed. The Quix device replaced Mina v2 as the next evolution of the March ‘21


exoskeleton. From there, Daniel says that there wasn’t as much testing, but further refinement of the actual fit to his body. “It was how do we get the fit better?” he recalls. “How do we make the cuffs better, the alignment better and all of those systems? How can we make the device do as much of the work as possible, even if that slows us down a little bit and makes us more stable and safer? And then [we worked on] enclosing all of the wiring and motors for safety purposes.” The Quix device was used in both the 2020 Cybathlon Powered Exoskeleton Race, in which IHMC ranked fourth, and also in December’s Toyota Mobility Foundation’s Mobility Unlimited Challenge, in which IHMC placed in the top five. This newest model is powered by two 6S lithium polymer batteries contained in a backpack, which provide operating time upwards of one hour of heavy usage, according to IHMC Research Scientist Robert Griffin, who wrote a lot of the control code that runs the exoskeleton. The team’s commitment was extraordinary given that an undertaking like this has its fair share of challenges, Griffin offered. “There were a lot of long late nights and weekends, and it wasn’t a question of people putting in the time, it was if they were working too hard.” The opportunity to see the progress unfold and to succeed was a source of pride for the team, Griffin adds. Before the Cybathlon started, Griffin emphasized to the team members that it was a victory that they had made it to the competition and showing up with a device that worked was an achievement in itself. Having someone who had the physical wherewithal, the self-confidence and the trust in the team’s effort made the project and process easier, notes Research Associate Brandon Peterson, the software and controls lead for IHMC’s exoskeleton team. Peterson had arrived at the end of the project involving the Mina v2. The team then became focused on how they could improve some of the safety and sensing capabilities of the new exoskeleton, the Quix device. Peterson’s role on both the Mina v2 and Quix was to provide Daniel with a better sense of what 56


the device was doing, so he would be able to increase capabilities such as walking speed. Peterson would get into the exoskeleton, walk around and make sure it felt comfortable enough for Daniel to use. Daniel’s feedback on the projects has been critical because his experiences with using the device are far different from those of an able-bodied person. “Mark was the ideal pilot to have for a project like this,” says Peterson. “We’re extremely lucky to have him as our pilot, not only because of his upper body strength to help with balancing and tasks like that, but his willingness to strap himself to this device that this small group of engineers has developed. It’s huge. You can’t expect anybody in his position to be so willing to come in every day and walk around in this robot that a few of us built, so that was extremely key.” Over time the makeup of the research team has changed markedly. However, the current team came together to advance the project, with Vishnu Aishwaryan Subra Mani, who began 2020 as an intern, graduating to the role of lead mechanical engineer. Mani tested and redesigned essential elements from sensors to the ventilation system and designed the crutch interface for Daniel to use the exoskeleton based on his needs. Rounding out the team is Research Associate Carlos Gonzalez, who joined the project last September. While the device was developed by that time, he played a role in helping with the testing, ensuring that Daniel was in a safe position and communicating to the team if something felt out of place.

The Next Step Forward

Innovative projects like Quix can make a big impact, not just for people with spinal cord injuries, but for workers who carry or manipulate heavy loads, Griffin reveals. “The stress on the human body can limit the working lifespan of the person doing that labor,” he explains. “With an aging workforce, what we’re hoping for is that after five years, workers don’t have that same wear and tear. This is technology that only protects the outside of the body, but wearable technology can also protect the inside.”

For Daniel, who’s deeply committed to the idea of equality, believing any bodied person should be capable of doing what another is able to do, the exoskeleton has provided him with a sense of freedom. It’s his hope that people will embrace the ideology that they too can strive for similar milestones and objectives. “It’s not a matter of can we do things as much as how can we accomplish them,” offers Daniel, who found not only hope at IHMC, but a career as an IHMC research associate and exoskeleton pilot. “For me, all these programs and what we’re doing is hopefully giving somebody the perspective on what they can accomplish. They see what we’re doing, and maybe they can. Maybe they don’t see themselves doing the exoskeleton, but by seeing me do something they’ll be able to find a way...or be encouraged or figure out a way to do it themselves.” The opportunity to take part in this life-

transforming IHMC project provided Daniel with a way forward, one that’s consistent with his optimistic nature. Now, he says, the project, fueled in part by his pioneering spirit and trailblazing participation, is playing a role in creating a better quality of life for future generations. “The exoskeleton and being able to walk again is pretty much every spinal cord patient’s dream,” explains Daniel. “Being able to get back to normal is a want for most people in my position. And to be able to do it, to be a part of the project, and have people encouraging me...I am proud of that. But not necessarily in the sense of [being proud of ] myself and what I’ve accomplished. I’m really proud to be a part of such an ever-evolving team. This project, and others like it across the world, is really the foundation of how we’re going to solve this problem.” For more information, visit robots.ihmc.us/quix March ‘21


Within a short span of time, it’s easy to reach some of Florida’s most historic and vibrant communities. In this ongoing series, we highlight some great destinations that will make you want to hit the road. As travelers embark on new adventures, we encourage taking appropriate health precautions. By Nick Steele

Photo courtesy of Casa Monica Hotel

Driveable Destinations: St. Augustine

Photo courtesy of FloridasHistoricCoast.com


ike many storied Florida towns, St. Augustine is rich in history and natural beauty. It is the oldest continuously populated city in North America, founded as a Spanish colonial outpost in 1565, some 55 years before the Pilgrims stepped onto Plymouth Rock and 42 years before the historic Jamestown settlement was established. This ancient city therefore feels vaguely European, with an air of mystery and the lure of things waiting to be discovered. Some of that is due to the layers of its 456-year history and its beautifully ornate architectural masterpieces. But there is also the draw of the new and notable culinary and cultural influences. It’s also a mecca for water lovers, with 43 pristine miles of white, sandy beaches stretching from Vilano Beach north of the city to Crescent Beach in the south, with dozens of public access points along the coastline. The area’s many marinas make boating convenient by sea, river or Intracoastal Waterway. Fishing, diving, surfing, stand-up paddleboarding, parasailing and volleyball offer a little something for everyone. But there’s quality beyond all that which is hard to explain about St. Augustine—the spell it casts over visitors that is purely about a way of life and the pursuit of pleasure. It invites you to let the world fall away as you stroll the ancient cobblestone avenues at a languid pace, drinking in the sights both spectacular and mundane, indulging in handcrafted cuisine and indulgent sweets in ivy-framed courtyards that shade you with their dappled light, dipping in and out of quirky shops in search of nothing in particular and allowing the warm breeze to push past you like spirits from another time. It’s a place that makes you want to linger a little longer, perhaps prematurely regretting your impending

departure, but certain that you will soon return.

Old World

With so much history, no matter where you venture in St. Augustine you’re sure to encounter an abundance of landmarks. Among the top-notch museums and attractions are the inevitable tourist traps, so it’s good to do a little research before you go. If you want to get a head start on determining just what historical sites you want to visit and which to skip, there’s plenty of great info online and some helpful books, with, perhaps, the most popular being Walking St. Augustine: An Illustrated Guide and Pocket History to America’s Oldest City

is an interesting and informative read, illustrated with presentday photos by local photographer Glenn Hastings. And while the city’s Spanish roots are easy to see, St. Augustine is also significant in terms of Black American heritage, not only because it is the place where slavery started in America but also as it was the site of the nation’s first settlement of free slaves. Over its long history, the city has played host to a rich and thriving Black community and a major role in the development of Black culture. When Spanish conquistador Pedro Menendez landed and founded the city’s first settlement in 1565, his crew included three Black members. He recorded that

Castillo de San Marcos

by St. Augustine resident and architectural historian Elsbeth “Buff ” Gordon. One reviewer had this to say about the guide: “Gaze at the buildings and read the accounts of the people who walked the same streets more than 450 years ago; you will be transformed into a time traveler.” A coffee table book was created to commemorate the city’s 450th anniversary, St. Augustine: America’s First City, A Story of Unbroken History & Enduring Spirit, by Dr. J. Michael Francis. It

his arrival had been preceded by several free Africans who were part of a nearby French settlement. Fort Mose, the first free Black settlement in the U.S., was established in 1738 and was comprised of a community of exslaves. It was the headquarters of the first Black armed soldiers. The Lincolnville Museum & Cultural Center showcases exhibits that trace the history of the runaway slaves, the difficult times when restrictive laws suppressed basic rights, the formation of a March ‘21




The Lap of Luxury

If St. Augustine has a centerpiece, it would have to be the trio of palacelike structures at the heart of the Historic District. They are situated just steps apart at the intersection of Cordova and King Streets, with a manicured plaza at their center. These architectural grande dames—the Casa Monica Hotel, The Lightner Museum and Flagler College—are vestiges of an age of elegance and the period that first established St. Augustine as a world-class destination for travelers from around the world. At one time, all three were opulent hotels that served as a playground for the rich and famous, earning the city the nickname “Newport of the South.” Wealthy oil entrepreneur Henry Flagler first visited during the winter of 1882-1883. While he found St. Augustine charming, he felt it lacked top-notch accommodations. Foreseeing the city’s potential to attract the wealthy elite, he returned in 1885 and began construction of the Spanish Renaissance style, 540room, luxury Ponce de Leon Hotel. It was the first hotel of its kind Flagler College, formerly the Ponce de Leon Hotel

Photos courtesy of FloridasHistoricCoast.com

business owners feel for this place. Hutson fell under the city’s spell during many family vacations to the area during his childhood. He later chose to attend Flagler College and put himself through school by working in local restaurants. That was where his passion for the industry began. After receiving his The Lightner Museum, formerly the Hotel Alcazar degree in business, he knew he wanted thriving Black business district to make a life in St. Augustine. and the period when Black and “What makes St. Augustine so white activists joined together to special is how passionate the people fight the Ku Klux Klan, as well as who live here and do business here Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s visit are about the community,” he off ers. to lead peaceful protests with the “I love being a part of that.” leaders of the Black community as Another star among the new part of the Civil Rights movement guard is Maryrose LaCavera, who that contributed to the passage of opened a location of her family’s the Civil Rights Act of 1964. business, Peace Pie, there. In 2011, the city placed a “St. Augustine has a similarity monument in the city’s central to Charleston and Cape May, New plaza to honor those civil rights Jersey, where our fl agship is,” heroes, known as the St. Augustine explains LaCavera. Foot Soldiers. “It’s eclectic. It’s very For more information historic, but then and itineraries related to St. there’s all this new Augustine’s Black heritage, visit food, new art and new historiccoastculture.com/travelideas coming in. I feel itineraries/itinerary-africanthat St. Augustine is american-heritage an up-and-coming place that has really New Horizons shown its worth by Over the past decade, St. Augustine how we entertain and has experienced tremendous feed [people] and all growth in the areas of art, culture the exciting things to and cuisine and locals continue to do here. I’m an artist, evolve it as a compelling modern so I love being located destination. on Aviles Street in the Stephen Hutson, the owner of art district, which is the popular Catch 27 restaurant, being renovated and is the name of which is a nod to the becoming an attraction fact that the eatery features only with all the museums fresh, locally sourced seafood and and the art galleries. that Florida was the 27th state It’s a really cool spot to join the union, believes what and it’s great to be part makes St. Augustine so special is of that growth.” the genuine love the residents and

architecture enthusiast and social reformer Franklin W. Smith, and later purchased by Flagler, who renamed it The Cordova, is Foot Soldiers Monument presently a hotel. The elegant Moorish Revival-style Casa Monica, one of the Kessler Collection of luxury properties, which is part of the Marriott’s Autograph Collection of unique boutique hotels, is one of the oldest hotels in the United States. After housing various other entities, it was lovingly restored and reopened by CEO and founder Richard Kessler in December 1999, once again bearing the name Casa Monica Hotel. It was later renamed the Casa Monica Resort & Spa. The reopening of the Casa Monica played an essential role in stimulating the revitalization of the Historic District and bringing upscale tourism back to the area nearly 30 years ago, when the district was facing significant challenges. The hotel is the only one in St. Augustine to be given

AAA’s FourDiamond award. It is a wonderfully unique property with all the hallmarks Kessler Collection properties are known for, including exceptional hospitality, stylish accommodations, gourmet cuisine, great wine and spirits, engaging entertainment and a curated collection of fine art. The lobby has been artfully adorned to conjure the feel of the original Moroccan influenced interiors, featuring intricate handpainted beams with ornate gold leaf elements, exotic chandeliers, vintage furnishings and an Italiantiled fountain. The guest rooms have the same opulent old-world charm, with plenty of thoughtful modern amenities. The hotel also has a stylish inner courtyard pool deck, in-house spa, gym and valet parking. The Casa Monica is in the perfect location from which to explore all of downtown, including many of the most popular restaurants and attractions.

Casa Monica Hotel

Top: Photo courtesy of FloridasHistoricCoast.com, Bottom: photos courtesy of Casa Monica Hotel

and one of the first buildings in the country wired for electricity by Flagler’s friend Thomas Edison. The building and grounds are now part of Flagler College, a small liberal arts school. The college normally offers daily architectural tours (on hold until May), including the magnificent dining room that features 79 exquisite Tiffany stained glass windows. In 1887, Flagler constructed the striking Spanish Renaissance Revival style Hotel Alcazar, which featured a three-story ballroom, gymnasium, steam room, sulfur baths, massage parlor and the world’s largest indoor swimming pool. In 1947, the then vacant building was purchased by wealthy publisher Otto C. Lightner to house his quirky collection of mostly gilded-age antiquities gathered from the estates of America’s wealthy ruling class during the Victorian era. While the exhibits at The Lightner are a menagerie of odd gems, touring the building is well worth the price of admission. The museum also houses Cafe Alcazar, an elegant eatery in what was once the indoor swimming pool and which consistently draws raves for the food and service. Only the Casa Monica, built in 1888 by notable Victorian

Costa Brava Restaurant

March ‘21


Catch 27

Ice Plant

Forgotten Tonic

How do I get around?

St Augustine is a very walkable city, but you’ll need a car to access the beaches and some attractions. You can also hop on the Old Town Trolley tour, a convenient way to see the city, with 23 stops and more than 100 attractions. Drivers provide continuous commentary to acquaint visitors with the city’s history.

Where to eat & drink? Preserved Housed in a charming old Victorian home, James Beard-nominated chef Brian Whittington serves up seasonal, ingredient-driven, locally sourced, modern Southern cuisine with French influences. From the much talked about short ribs to the smoked chicken hash, the food is pleasingly complex and bursting with flavor. Whittington says the menu pays homage to the history of the historic Black Lincolnville Neighborhood in which it is located. Reservations are highly suggested. striverestaurant.com Catch 27 This casual fine dining seafood restaurant draws rave reviews for its dedication to serving only locally caught Florida seafood (delivered fresh every day), cooked from scratch with locally farmed produce and seasonal ingredients. The menu features classic dishes in fun and inventive ways. The Minorcan Seafood Chowder is a consistent favorite among guests. catchtwentyseven.com 62


Forgotten Tonic (formerly Cellar 6) This intimate neighborhood cafe on Aviles Street offers a small but interesting menu, craft cocktails, an extensive wine list and friendly service in a causal atmosphere. It opens at noon, with a limited menu. The full menu is available after 3pm. Reservations are strongly suggested on Friday and Saturday nights. forgottentonic.com Ice Plant This vintage-themed bar and restaurant occupies half of the historic building that houses the St. Augustine Distillery. Built in 1905 as part of St. Augustine’s first power plant and expanded around 1927 to house a commercial block ice complex, the historic building fell into disrepair after it was closed in the 1950s and was gutted in the 1990s. With a lot of buzz, the building was remodeled and the Ice Plant opened in 2013, serving up an industrial chic-meets-Prohibition style bar with exceptional craft cocktails featuring local ingredients and a farm-to-table restaurant serving grass-fed beef and burgers, local seafood and vegetarian options. With a nod to St. Augustine’s history, the bar serves up such popular concoctions as the Flagler Billionaire. They are open for lunch and dinner. iceplantbar.com Columbia Restaurant The roots of this much-loved, family-owned restaurant run deep. Founded in 1905 by Cuban immigrant Casimiro Hernandez Sr., the original Columbia Restaurant, in Tampa’s Ybor City, is Florida’s

oldest restaurant. It began as a small 60-seat corner cafe known for its Cuban coffee and authentic Cuban sandwiches, frequented by the local cigar workers. Over time the family opened locations throughout Central Florida, creating a dedicated following. In 1983 they opened their St. Augustine restaurant in the Historic District, serving lunch and dinner in dining rooms adorned with hundreds of hand-painted tiles and Spanish-style fountains. Centuriesold family recipes like Paella a la Valenciana, Red Snapper Alicante, Roast Pork a la Cubana and Filet Mignon Chacho are still among the dishes most loved by visitors. columbiarestaurant.com Peace Pie This specialty ice cream sandwich shop offers a unique spin on the ice cream sandwich, packing a heaping helping of your favorite pie filling or decadent dessert between two of their delicious homemade, crunchy shortbread cookies. The salted caramel brownie is their best seller. Located downtown on Aviles Street, it’s the perfect spot to cool off with a sweet treat and stroll through the historic district. They open in the afternoon and serve into the evening. Due to the pandemic, they only offer walk-up service at the moment, with limited outdoor seating. peacepieworld.com Kookaburra Coffee This Aussie-American coffee bar and pie shop was such a hit with locals when it opened on Cathedral Place in 2012 that it has grown to

From left: Photo courtesy of Catch 27; photo courtesy of FloridasHistoricCoast.com; photo courtesy of Forgotten Tonic

To Do’s for St. Augustine

have several locations around St. Augustine, serving specialty coffee, espresso and Australian-inspired savory breakfast and lunch mini pies. thekookaburracoffee.com

Where do I stay?

While we recommend the Casa Monica for the location and overall experience, you’ll find an array of wonderful B&Bs, stylish hotels and various types of accommodations. Other properties we’ve heard great things about include the more contemporary Marker 8 Hotel & Marina and the historic Bayfront Marin House.

What else should I do while I’m there?

Fountain of Youth In what we believe is a case of more fable than actual fact, Ponce de Léon’s Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park may not possess any magical water but there’s plenty of nature and history at this lush 15-acre park, with majestic peacocks and open-air exhibits featuring Timucua civilization and the Spanish conquests. And as long as you’re there...it couldn’t hurt to take a drink! St. Augustine Lighthouse

Photos courtesy of FloridasHistoricCoast.com

Castillo de San Marcos This Spanish-built fort on Mantanzas Bay was built in 1672 and is one of the most architecturally significant structures in the city. It also happens to be the oldest masonry fort in the country and was constructed using native coquina stones—which absorbed and deflected projectiles and gave the Spanish an advantage over enemy invaders. You’ll enjoy incredible views of the city and waterfront from the top of the fort.

St. Augustine Distillery This popular familyowned and operated

artisanal spirits distillery, committed to making world-class spirits using local and regional agricultural products, offers free, self-guided tours and tastings during which you can watch them craft and bottle their awardwinning rum, bourbon whiskey, gin and vodka by hand in the same turn of the century industrial building that houses the Ice Plant bar and restaurant. If you time your tour right, you can shop their store and then head upstairs for a cocktail. San Sebastian Winery San Sebastian is ranked as one of Florida’s premium wineries and remains a pioneer in the development of table, sparkling and dessert wines from hybrid and muscadine grapes. Visitors rave about the fun and free tours and multiple tasting stations, and many buy several bottles to take home. It’s also worth visiting the open-air Cellar Upstairs Wine Bar & Restaurant, where you can enjoy the views, yummy tapas, live music...Oh, and more wine. St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum This iconic lighthouse, completed in 1874, offers amazing panoramic views—once you climb all 219 steps of the 165-foot tower, that is. The museum has some fascinating displays that include maritime artifacts and some recent archaeological discoveries. St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park Opened in 1893, this is among the country’s first zoos and is focused on teaching and

wildlife conservation. There’s fun to be had viewing exhibits of exotic birds and monkeys, and visitors marvel at how up close and personal they get to the humongous alligators and crocodiles in a safe environment. The shaded park features raised wooden boardwalks, but you can also zip line through the trees or book a behind-the-scenes tour.

St. Augustine Distillery

When to visit February: The St. Augustine Spanish Wine Festival celebrates Pedro Menendez’s birthday through a series of events that feature Spanish wine, cuisine and culture. Proceeds from the events benefit local charities. September: The Sing Out Loud Festival is the largest free music festival in Florida and features big name headliners, as well as local songwriters and talent in free concerts at multiple venues throughout the month. From the weekend before Thanksgiving to the end of January: The annual Nights of Lights celebration is a dazzling display in which almost the entire city of St. Augustine takes on a mantle of more than 3 million twinkling white lights. To learn more, log on to floridashistoriccoast.com March ‘21



Planning the Perfect Picnic A picnic is always a good idea! Whether you are packing a basket to take to the beach, a hamper for your next fishing adventure, a romantic gourmet lunch to enjoy on a road trip, nibbles to accompany that outdoor movie or sustenance to take along to a sporting event—a little planning can ensure you create a memorable moveable feast. By Jill Paglia Photography by Lyn Larson of Mahal Imagery



t doesn’t matter if you are planning an outdoor meal for two or 20, these easy recipes are sure to satisfy without a lot of fuss. There are, however, a few things to keep in mind to ensure yours is a successful outing. The first thing to consider is a menu of simple foods that travel well. Also, consider finger foods and items that can be enjoyed with minimal utensils. Determining how to transport everything is a great first step. If you want that charming, rustic vibe, you can scour local thrift shops and antique stores for a not-soperfect wicker basket. But there are some great modern options to give your picnic the desired aesthetic, from practical and chic coolers to stylish natural wood serving trays. Agapanthus Ocala has a great selection of items for your next culinary excursion. And no picnic would be complete without a cozy blanket or classic quilt. Here are a few simple suggestions to ensure your outing is a success: 1. Rather than using paper or plastic, consider a lightweight and colorful reusable option instead. I love the idea of using pretty melamine or enamelware dishes and cups. 2. Similarly, paper napkins tend to blow away when even a soft breeze passes through. Consider cloth napkins instead, which will give your spread a stylish look. Here’s a plan-ahead tip: When you start to notice that your “special occasion” cloth napkins, usually reserved for special gatherings,

Berry and Thread melamine plates, Juliska Indigo Stripe napkins, Swig insulated steel wine chiller, Real-Touch tulips, Isabella acrylic wine glasses, pillows, cable throw and Turkish beach throw, all available at Agapanthus Ocala.

are starting to look a little worn from washing, tuck them in your picnic hamper for future outings. That slightly weathered look that makes them unsuitable for formal dinners is perfect for dining al fresco. Go ahead and mix and match patterns and colors for a perfectly imperfect look. Local thrift stores are often a treasure trove of these sorts of items. 3. If you are planning to serve chilled salads or other cold food items, keep those items in a cooler when you transport them. Bring long pans and some extra ice so you can place the serving dishes containing those items into the larger pans lined with enough ice to keep them cold. 4. Be sure to pack the things you’ll need to ensure the day is a perfect one: lots of water, trash bags for cleanup, sunscreen and bug spray.

Caprese Sandwich

4 focaccia squares (3 1/2 inch), sliced in half 1 8-ounce fresh mozzarella ball, sliced 2 tomatoes, sliced Handful of arugula Basil leaves Extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling Flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper Optional: 1/3 cup roasted cherry tomatoes, pickled onions Layer the arugula, mozzarella and tomato slices on the focaccia. › Add the roasted tomatoes and a few pickled onions, if desired. › Top with basil leaves and a drizzle of olive oil. › Season with salt and pepper.


Pickled Red Onions 2 small red onions 2 cups water 2 cups white vinegar 1/3 cup cane sugar 2 tablespoons sea salt Optional: minced garlic or peppercorns

Thinly slice the onions and divide between two 8-ounce glass jars. › Heat the vinegar, water, cane sugar and salt over medium heat, stirring until the solids dissolve. › Let the mixture cool, then pour over the onions. › After the jars cool to room temperature, put on the lids and put them in the refrigerator. › They are ready to use when tender and pink (from an hour to overnight).

Best Egg Salad

6 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and diced 1⁄4 cup mayonnaise 2 tablespoons fresh dill, chopped 2 tablespoons fresh chives, chopped 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil 1 teaspoon capers 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice 1 small garlic clove, minced 1⁄4 teaspoon turmeric 1⁄4 teaspoon sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper Pinches of celery seed In a small bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, olive oil, mustard, capers, lemon juice, garlic, turmeric, salt and black pepper. › Mix in the eggs, then stir in the celery seed, dill and chives. › Chill until ready to serve.

Quinoa Veggie Wrap

4 large whole-grain tortilla wraps 2 cups cooked quinoa 2 small cucumbers, chopped 2 cups kale, chopped 1/2 cup roasted red peppers, 1/3 cup feta cheese, crumbled 1/4 cup chives, chopped 1/4 cup pine nuts Juice of 1/2 lemon, more to taste Flora Pesto Genovese Handful of fresh mint leaves Extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste Lightly mix the quinoa, cucumbers, kale, peppers, feta, chives, pine nuts, lemon juice and salt and pepper in a bowl. › Spread the wraps with Flora Pesto Genovese (right out of the jar or mix with a touch of mayo to make aioli). › Spoon some

of the mixture onto each wrap. › Sprinkle on some mint leaves. › Drizzle with olive oil. › Roll the wrap, being careful to tuck in the ends. › Cut in half, on a slight diagonal angle, before serving. Note: You can use a lemon/white bean spread or hummus as the spread and then mix up the veggies, such as adding spinach or avocado.

Spring Pasta Veggie Salad

1 pound farfalle pasta 1/2 bag fresh green beans, cut in half and blanched in hot water 8 quartered artichoke hearts, cut in half 1 large can Lindsay black olives, drained 1/4 cup pickled onions 1 red pepper, julienned Garlic salt and pepper, to taste Dressing: 1/2 cup olive oil 1/4 cup red wine vinegar 1 tablespoon Italian seasoning Optional: 1 teaspoon minced garlic or package of sweetener Boil pasta according to package directions, or a little bit less for more firmness. › Prep veggies

while pasta is boiling. › Drain the pasta and run under cold water. › Place the pasta, vegetables, garlic salt and pepper in a large bowl. › Add dressing and blend. › Chill for at least one hour. › This salad will hold up well for up to four days.

Lemonade Iced Tea

4 cups cold water (to add later) 3 cups water for boiling 1 6-ounce can frozen lemonade concentrate, thawed 2 family-size tea bags 1 cup loosely packed fresh mint leaves 1/2 cup sugar Optional: Fresh citrus slices; 1 cup bourbon or spiced dark rum Bring 3 cups water to a boil in a 2-quart saucepan. › Remove from heat, add tea bags and stir in mint. › Cover and steep 10 minutes. › Discard tea bags and mint. › Stir in sugar until dissolved. › Pour tea into a 3-quart container and stir in 4 cups cold water and lemonade concentrate. › Serve over ice. › Garnish with citrus slices if desired. › To serve as a cocktail, add bourbon or rum.


Harry’s Seafood Bar & Grille 24 SE 1st Avenue, Ocala

(352) 840-0900 › hookedonharrys.com Mon-Thu 11a-10p › Fri & Sat 11a-11p › Sun 11a-9p Open for dine in, carryout and delivery through Doordash and Bite Squad Located in the heart of downtown Ocala, Harry’s offers traditional Louisiana favorites like Shrimp and Scallop Orleans, Crawfish Etouffée, Jambalaya, Shrimp Creole, Blackened Red Fish,

Happy Hour Specials: 2-7p every day $3 Draft Beer $4 House Wine & Premium Cocktails $5 Super Premium & $6 Harry’s Signature Cocktails $7 off bottles of wine Mardi Gras Parade of Flavors available through March 31st.

Louisiana Gumbo and Louisiana Shrimp & Crawfish Pot Pie. Other favorites, like French Baked Scallops and Bourbon Street Salmon, are complemented with grilled steaks, chicken, burgers, po’ boy sandwiches and salads. Their full bar features Harry’s Signature Cocktails, such as the Harry’s Hurricane, Bayou Bloody Mary or the Cool Goose Martini. They also feature wines by the glass and a wide selection of imported, domestic and craft beer.

El Toreo

3790 E Silver Springs Boulevard, Ocala

(352) 694-1401 › 7 days 11a-10p SR 200, Ocala › (352) 291-2121 › 7 days 11a-11p New lunch specials include Taco Salad on Mondays, $5.45; Speedy Gonzalez on Tuesdays, $5.45; Quesadillas on Wednesdays, $7.95; Chimichangas on Thursdays, $6.95; and Burrito Supreme on Fridays, $5.95. New dinner options include Fajita Mondays, $10.95; Chimichanga Tuesdays, $8.95; Alambre Wednesdays, $9.95; and Tacos de Bistec Thursdays, $9.95. Plus $1.95 margaritas on Mondays. On Sunday, kids 12 and under can enjoy $1.95 children’s meals (take-out not included). Wednesday is Special Margarita Day, 99¢ all day. Saturday is 2-for-1 margaritas all day. Happy Hour daily, 3-7pm. Everything is 2-4-1 (exceptions may apply).

Wednesday: 99¢ House Margaritas All Day Thursday: Trivia Night, 7-9pm (Blvd. location) Thursday: Mariachi band at the 200 location, 6-9pm Dine-in now available

Braised Onion

754 NE 25th Ave., Ocala

(352) 620-9255 › braisedonion.com Tue-Thu 11:30a-9p › Fri-Sat 11:30a-10p › Sun 11:30a-8p Braised Onion Restaurant, where you’ll experience “Comfort Food with Attitude” in a fun, warm and colorful but casual atmosphere. Open for lunch and dinner. Our team of experts will be dishing out perfectly seasoned prime rib with creamy horseradish sauce on Friday and Saturday evenings. Don’t forget the decadant dessert menu, which includes the prizewinning bread pudding, coconut cream pie, cheesecake and crème brûlée. Private meeting and banquet rooms available. Limited menu.



Comfort Food With Attitude

Sunday Brunch: 11am-6pm Wednesday-Saturday: 12-8:30pm

Salted Brick

The Club at Ocala Preserve 4021 NW 53rd Avenue Road Ocala (352) 509-5183

The award winning restaurant located in The Club at Ocala Preserve enjoys beautiful lake front dining, perfect for watching the sun set over the 18th hole on our championship golf course. The Salted Brick brings to life regional favorites alongside American classics, using locally-sourced, fresh ingredients. Featuring a centerpiece exhibition kitchen and wood-fired oven, watch as items are grilled to perfection above a natural flame. American grill, sophisticated atmosphere, and seasonal menu with fresh and healthy options are just a few of what our brand has to offer. ** Open Table’s 2018, 2019 and 2020 Diner’s Choice award for Gainesville, Ocala and Central Florida**

Support Local Journalism! Sign up for a free e-edition or paid print subscription at ocalagazette.com

March ‘21



In The Kitchen With Shirley Rudnianyn This active grandmother enjoys growing and preserving her own organic food as well as whipping up sweet treats for her grandchildren. By Lisa McGinnes Photography by Lyn Larson of Mahal Imagery


ome of Shirley Rudnianyn’s favorite childhood memories are of spending time with her grandmother on the family’s property near Belleview. “There were a lot of wild blackberries and we would go blackberry picking,” she remembers. “My grandmother and I would pick a bunch and then she would make a cobbler. I loved doing that with her.” Now Rudnianyn relishes opportunities to make memories with her five grandchildren. Her oldest granddaughter, Alex, who just turned 16, enjoys baking banana bread with her. Raising three boys meant Rudnianyn spent plenty of time in the kitchen. “I cooked a lot,” she remembers, although she admits to occasionally ordering pizza in. “Kids like starches and no vegetables,” she laments. “I find that bothersome. I love greens. I grew up on that kind of food. I think mustard greens are my favorite.” These days, “mostly retired”—as she calls it—from Neighborhood Storage, the company her husband John started with Walter Berman in the 1970s, she can enjoy taking requests from her grandkids and preparing her family’s favorite— and widely varied—dishes. “My husband loves jambalaya,” she says. “Todd (her youngest son) likes Alice Springs chicken. Matt probably likes steak the most; Steve likes cubed steak,” she says of her middle and oldest sons. For her recent birthday, her granddaughter requested Rudnianyn’s Earthquake Cake, a decadent concoction of German chocolate cake enhanced with pecans, coconut, cream cheese and March ‘21



plenty of butter and powdered sugar. However, one of the baked goodies her family enjoys the most is the simple recipe Rudnianyn has made over and over throughout the past few decades. “I bet I’ve made a thousand loaves of banana bread,” she says with a laugh. “I’ve made it for teachers. I’ve made it for my grandkids. I’ve made it for just everybody.” The rich, nutty and dense quick bread, served with cream cheese, has proved so popular that a friend’s daughter-in-law has even made it into an elaborate, multilayer wedding cake. “She does weddings and she’s used it several times for that,” Rudnianyn shares. “She said people loved it.” And Rudnianyn remembers the first time she tasted that time-honored recipe. “Forty years ago my husband had an office party and a lady by the name of Nancy Armstrong brought



this banana bread,” she recalls. “She had it on a platter, sliced, with the cream cheese in the middle. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven, it was so good. Of course I got the recipe. Everybody that’s ever eaten it has wanted the recipe.” Since she retired about a year ago, Rudnianyn has more time to work on her hundreds of f lowering camellia bushes as well as her berry patch, citrus grove, vegetable garden and the egg-laying and meat-producing chickens she raises at their Blitchton Plantation in northwest Marion County. A master gardener, she enjoys composting, organic gardening and preserving what she produces. This year’s crop of blackberry jelly is long gone, she says, because it’s “the best thing,” but her cupboards are still stocked with jars of okra and squash pickles. And, she reveals, she always tries to have some sweets on hand—just in case her grandkids stop by.

Sour Cream Banana Bread

1 1/2 cups sugar 1 1/2 cups flour 1 cup pecans, chopped (or nuts of your choice) 1/2 cup butter, at room temperature 4 heaping tablespoons sour cream 2 teaspoons baking soda 1 teaspoon vanilla 2 bananas, ripe 2 eggs

Cream sugar, butter, eggs and vanilla. › Mash bananas and add sour cream and baking soda. › Add flour and nuts. › Grease loaf pan with butter, line with parchment paper and grease parchment paper or spray with cooking spray. › Bake at 350 degrees for about 1 hour. › Serve with cream cheese. › Wrap leftover bread in plastic wrap then foil. › Store in refrigerator for up to four days. Tip: To ripen bananas, bake at 300 degrees for 20-30 minutes or until they turn dark. Ripened bananas add more flavor and are easier to mix into the batter.


True Nature Indian Lake State Forest is a testament to humans and nature working together for a positive outcome for all. Free of charge to the public, open dawn to dusk 365 days of the year, the forest offers hiking, horseback riding, fishing and primitive camping in a naturally preserved setting. By JoAnn Guidry | Photography by Stefis Demetropoulos



new growth of nutrient-rich plants, which serve as food for wildlife.” The other aspect of the FFS’s management of Indian Lake State Forest is creating recreational opportunities for the public. But, according to FFS District Wildlife Biologist Charlie Pedersen, there is a provision to that recreation. “The recreation in Indian Lake State Forest has to be compatible with the restoration mission and nature. We have hiking, shore fishing, primitive camping and horseback riding. It’s a great place to bird watch and keep an eye out for wildlife like deer, wild turkey, fox squirrels and even black bears,” notes Pedersen. “But we do not allow boating or swimming in Indian Lake. Hunting is not allowed either. I like to say that we promote space, solitude and self-reliance while enjoying nature and doing no harm.”

A Lakeside Hike

While the 1.6-mile Bear-N-Oak Trail that loops around Indian Lake can be accessed from a small trailhead directly off County Road 35, the parking is limited there. A much better choice is to drive past that trailhead to the main Indian Lake State Forest Recreation Area Trailhead just up the road. Officially, that trailhead is 2.6 miles north of the intersection of State Road 326 and County Road 35, on the east side. A lime rock road winds its way to an inviting parklike setting overlooking the 3-acre Indian Lake, a reported 85 feet deep in the center and home to, yes, alligators. Grand live oaks provide abundant shade, with numerous picnic tables scattered about, including one down on the lake beach. There are barbecue grills

All photos courtesy of Indian Lake/Florida Forest Service


iven a chance and a little assistance, Mother Nature will reclaim what is hers. Such is the case with Indian Lake State Forest. Located in the Silver Springs/Anthony area in northeast Marion County and bisected by County Road 35 (Baseline Road), these 4,466 acres were once farmlands and were even platted for future housing development. But, thankfully, the Florida Forever program acquired the property through purchases in 2007 and 2008. Marion County, The Nature Conservancy, the Silver Springs Working Group and the Department of Environmental Protection also provided additional financial assistance. Indian Lake State Forest, which is managed by the Florida Forest Service (FFS), was created from those purchased lands. The FFS operates under the auspices of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS). “The main goal of the Forever Florida land purchase was to utilize these areas to restore the Silver Springs water system flow and quality. The dry, sandhill topography, where rainwater drains through easily, is key to recharging groundwater,” says Ludie Bond, an FFS district public information officer. “The FFS has also planted hundreds of longleaf pine trees to maintain the integrity of the sandy soil to aid the process. And Indian Lake is actually a sinkhole lake, which drains adjacent Indian Lake Prairie into the Florida aquifer. So, there’s this amazing connection to all the ecosystem pieces that make up Indian Lake State Forest.” Bond also explains that “year-round prescribed burning helps maintain the native plants and keep out the invasive species. Prescribed burning also leads to


and a first-come, first-served covered pavilion for gatherings. Leashed pets are allowed in the recreation area and on the hiking trail. There are five primitive campsites available by reservation. An enclosed vault toilet is the basic amenity. “This is such a great spot to just relax and enjoy nature. All but 1,000 acres of Indian Lake State Forest is on this side of County Road 35,” says Bond, smiling as she looks out to Indian Lake, where on this day two fishermen are casting their lines from the shore. “It’s accessible for all ages and a great spot for families to spend a day.” Facing the lake, the hiking trail can be accessed to the right past the pavilion or to the left past the parking area. Blue blazes mark the trail, which is flat and carpeted with leaves and pine needles. This is a quintessential Florida walk in the woods, featuring live oaks, sand and longleaf pines, scrub oaks and palm trees. And, thanks to Indian Lake, an added treat is seeing cypress trees and their knees, which are distinctive knobby root outgrowths. “The cypress trees and knees are a great visual to show just how high the lake’s water level can be during a good rainy season or after a hurricane,” Pedersen points out. “This is as Florida as it gets.” Another feature of the lake loop trail is the little foot bridge that crosses Indian Prairie Run, which spills into Indian Lake. “Walking across the Indian Prairie Run bridge is another teachable moment of how nature is always connected and how we have to foster that connectivity,” Bond says.

area side, we encourage visitors to check the website for when prescribed burning is going on. If burning is going on, it would be best to plan for another day.” “There are no horseback riding trails at the recreation area trailhead,” Bond adds. “We have had reports of people coming into that side with their horses and going into Indian Lake. This is not allowed and, because it is a sinkhole lake with alligators, it is also very dangerous.” For Bond, Indian Lake State Forest provides ample recreational opportunities that should be respected. “We want people to come out and enjoy Indian Lake State Forest. It’s a wonderful natural setting we are fortunate to have preserved,” says Bond. “And we want people to recreate responsibly, respecting each other and nature.

Indian Lake State Forest Trailheads Equestrian Trailhead: 7200-7726 NE 58th Avenue, Silver Springs Recreation Area Trailhead: 7728-8126 NE 58th Avenue, Silver Springs

For more information, visit FDACS.gov or contact Ludie Bond, Florida Forest Service District Public Information Officer, at (352) 395-4943 or email Ludie.Bond@FDACS.gov To reserve primitive campsites, visit FloridaStateForests.ReserveAmerica.com

Saddle Up & Ride

The Indian Lake Equestrian Trailhead is located on 1,000 acres, 1.5 miles north of the intersection of State Road 326 and County Road 35, on the west side. There is ample horse trailer parking, a covered pavilion, picnic tables and a vault toilet. While there is a future plan to install a water pump, there is no water available for humans or horses at this time. Some 11 miles of trails wind through wooded areas and on wide grassy lanes, allowing for side-by-side riding and not just nose-to-tail riding. The grassy lanes between the newly planted forests of longleaf pines just beg for trotting and cantering. To experience both, take the Blue Diamond trail going west from the trailhead. It begins in the woods then spills out onto the grassy lanes. At the first Double Red Diamond marker, take a right to head back to the trailhead, making for a nice introductory 5-mile trail ride. “Riding is allowed all year long. But because of the open trails bordered by young longleaf pines that don’t provide much shade yet, the cool days of fall and winter are best for riding here,” advises Bond. “And, just like when planning to hike and come out to the recreation March ‘21


Safe Haven The Marjorie Harris Carr Cross Florida Greenway is home to a Florida scrub-jay conservation success story, 16 years in the making. By JoAnn Guidry


he scrub oak underbrush is all aflutter. Literally. A family of Florida scrub-jays are chitter-chattering among themselves as they busily gather acorns. Some of the birds hop back and forth from the ground to low-hanging scrub oak branches, checking for intruders. Others cache their harvested acorns in hidey-holes in the ground for the upcoming winter months. Such is a day, a good day, in the life of Florida scrub-jays in their thriving Marjorie Harris Carr Cross Florida Greenway habitat. The Florida scrub-jay, a distinctively marked blue and gray crestless jay, is the only bird species that is endemic to the state. Surprisingly, despite that seemingly qualifying fact, the Florida scrub-jay is not Florida’s official state bird. That honor belongs to the mockingbird, which is also the state bird of Arkansas, Texas, Tennessee and Mississippi. Unfortunately, due to the continuing loss of its scrub oak specific habitat to development, the title that Florida’s unique jay does carry is of a federally designated threatened species. But there is some local good news on that front, thanks to the Florida scrub-jay habitat in the Ocala/Marion County section of the Marjorie Harris Carr Cross Florida Greenway (CFG). Commonly known as the Greenway, the CFG became a Florida state park in 2012. It is operated by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Division of Recreation and Parks. “In 2001, the state, through the Florida Forever program, purchased 446 acres that was adjacent to the Greenway. At the time of the purchase, we were not even aware there were Florida scrub-jays living on that land,” explains CFG Manager Mickey Thomason. “In 2004, we contracted the Florida Natural Areas Inventory to conduct a Greenway-wide natural community study. Based on that report, we began the process of scrub-areas restoration by removing sand pines. Then two years later, a CFG employee spotted Florida scrub-jays on the site.” According to Thomason, a follow-up preliminary survey by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission found eight birds, which were banded for identification purposes. And from there, the Greenway’s Florida scrub-jay habitat project was officially underway. As more overgrown scrub oak areas were restored over the years, the Greenway’s Florida scrub-jay habitat has expanded to nearly 900 acres. From those initial eight birds, this past August’s annual banding count has the scrub-jay population now at 144. Laurie Dolan, a Florida DEP Environmental Specialist II, has been involved with the Greenway’s Florida scrub-jay habitat project from the beginning. “The more I learned about these birds and the more time

Photo courtesy of Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Division of Recreation and Parks.

that I spent around them, I became passionate about our conservation efforts,” explains Dolan, who has a master’s degree in forestry from the University of Florida. “Florida scrub-jays are such a unique bird with a distinctive personality. They are not an easy bird to manage, but they are so worth the effort.” The biggest issue with the Florida scrub-jay is that they are such a habitat-specific bird, requiring sandy, scrubby areas with 3- to 10-foot tall acorn-producing scrub oaks to thrive. They do eat such creatures as insects, mice, lizards and frogs, but the scrub oaks provide their main food source of acorns in the fall and winter. Florida scrub-jay families consist of a breeding pair and up to six non-breeding relatives. Homebodies, scrub-jay families establish permanent lifetime territories of 22 to 24 acres. They breed from March to June, building nests from twigs and palmetto fibers 3 to10 feet off the ground in the scrub oaks. The average clutch size is two to five eggs per nesting. The youngsters typically remain with their family as helpers for a year or more. Young females eventually leave to search for unattached males to establish new territories. “Unlike most other birds, the adult male and female Florida scrub-jays look exactly alike in color and are of comparable size. The baby birds have brown-feathered heads that turn blue as they mature,” reveals Dolan. “Full grown, they are about the size of a robin and their scratchy screech sounds like a cross between a blue jay and a crow. The only way to identify a female is by her unique ‘hiccing’ call, which you have to be very lucky to actually hear.” Dolan also notes that “scrub-jays are low-flying birds that spend a lot of time on the ground, hopping around looking for insects and acorns.” Natural predators of the Florida scrub-jay include Cooper’s hawks, snakes, bobcats and coyotes. But the biggest threat to the birds is the loss of their scrub oak habitat to development. The 2001 Florida Natural Areas Inventory reported that the Florida scrub-jay population had declined 90 percent in the past century with a then estimated population of 4,000. Today, it is estimated that the state’s scrub-jay population is 7,700 to 9,300. A key to maintaining a thriving Florida scrub-

jay habitat is careful management. “Prescribed burning is the go-to for habitat management, but our Greenway habitat doesn’t lend itself well to that because of its location. We primarily use targeted mowing and patch removal of sand pines to not give predator birds a perch. I call it the sweet spot of scrub-jay habitat management—always having usable habitat that’s neither too tall nor too short,” says Dolan. “And we are also very fortunate to have a great team of collaborators to help us with the habitat management.” Dolan gratefully credits Monica Folk, an independent banding contractor, and the Florida Audubon Society’s Jay Watch volunteers for their invaluable service. Other partners involved in the Greenway’s Florida scrub-jay habitat include experts from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Florida Forest Service. “Looking back, I could not have imagined how much time and effort it would take to reach this success level. Nor could I have imagined how much pure joy has come from this project,” offers Dolan with a smile. “The ultimate goal is to keep attracting more Florida scrub-jays to our habitat until we reach capacity. Then, hopefully, we can be considered a donor site to help other habitat locations increase their population.” For more information, visit floridastateparks.org/learn/ florida-scrub-jay

Learn More

This month, the University Press of Florida will release Florida Scrub-Jay: Field Notes on a Vanishing Bird by Mark Jerome Walters, a journalist, veterinarian and professor in the Department of Journalism and Digital Communication at the University of South Florida, St. Petersburg. The book is available through Amazon or can be ordered through your local bookseller. For more information, visit upf.com March ‘21


Day in the Life By Dave Miller

In observing the beauty that exists in the here and now, we can find the extraordinary revealed within the ordinary. We invite you to see our community with fresh eyes through the lens of our talented photographers.

“On a recent cold morning, I woke up before dawn and drove out to the Ocala National Forest at 5am to take some aerial photos of Lake George. It was 34 degrees. I put up my drone and noticed this dense fog running off into the lake, coming up over Silver Glen Springs. I’m using the drone more often as an expansion of my photography to have a different perspective. I’m always searching for beautiful sunrise photos.”

Seek out the adventure in every day

RAV4 Get ready to make the most out of every day in the Toyota RAV4 PRIME. Whether your adventures take you downtown, uptown, around town or out of town, there’s a RAV4 that’s ready to redefine what you can do.



That’s why our ER experts stand ready 24/7 to care for you. Unexpected moments happen. When they do, you can trust our ER experts are nearby to safely care for you. And, we’ve made it easy to schedule an emergency room visit online so you can wait in the comfort of home and arrive at a time convenient for you. Schedule online at GetInQuickER.com. In case of a life-threatening emergency, call 911


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