Ocala Style May '21

Page 1

MAY ‘21





Nestled far away from the clamor of daily life, rests a private retreat separated from the outside world by a canopy of lush oaks and beautiful landscaping designed by renowned landscape architect, Al Dominguez, known for creating gardens filled with unexpected textures, colors, and sounds appealing to all senses, inviting you to genuinely enjoy your surroundings. The various gardens around the estate are designed to showcase flowers in full bloom, no matter the season, and attract rare and exotic birds, as well as hummingbirds, dragonflies, and butterflies. This residence will allow you to make finding your inner peace a daily routine. This is an amazing family gathering place, the enormity and magnitude of which is significant. Perfect to enjoy life, this home will carry you through young families, teenagers, college students wanting their own spaces, and grandchildren coming to be with you for vacations and holidays. Enjoy your own sports court with volleyball, pickleball, and full court basketball, a putting green, a gym with infrared sauna, an infinity edge pool, plus all of the amenities the Country Club of Ocala has to offer just a stroll or golf cart ride away.

This magnificent estate is sitting on 2.26 acres and boasts 10,075+/- square feet of air conditioned living areas: As you enter the private driveway you immediately feel the peace and serenity of this gracious estate home with 7,779+/-square feet of living area featuring antique wood floors and offering 4 wings with 5 bedrooms, 5 baths and 2 powder rooms. The formal Living room with coffered ceiling, fireplace and windows looking to the outside is beautiful and has ample room for the grand piano of your choice. The Dining room is perfect for casual or formal dining and you can also entertain on the South verandah overlooking lush landscaping and the par 3 16th hole. A True Chef ’s kitchen has stunningly beautiful Brazilian Bahia granite countertops and custom cabinetry by Dixie Millworks, freezer drawers in the island, an expansive pantry, and a breakfast area. Another dining or relaxation area is the private interior courtyard featuring a Koi pond and stone flooring with access from double door entrances off the kitchen hall. Adjoining the kitchen is the casual family room featuring a wall of built-ins for the Kaleidoscope home theater system. Additionally, all rooms and outdoor spaces have high quality ceiling speakers. A wide hall with abundant storage leads to the master wing with office, master bedroom featuring impressive closets, dual vanity area, tub, shower, exercise room and courtyard with hot tub. The front Northeast wing has two ensuite bedrooms, one is currently being used as an office or study room. The Northwest wing is an ensuite bedroom with walk-in closet. The North wing features an ensuite bedroom with an entrance from both the outside and the mud room off the air conditioned 3 bay garage. The upstairs level sports a large game room or artist’s studio and powder room. The whole house is backed up by a generator and protected by a high end alarm system. All air conditioning units utilize ultraviolet light disinfection, and the drinking water in the house is filtered by 3 reverse osmosis water filters.

The 3,096 +/- square foot guest-pool home, perfect for entertaining, boasts Travertine flooring, high ceilings, 2 bedrooms, 2 baths, powder room, large exercise room with infrared sauna, kitchen with Brazilian Bahia granite counters, seating for bar stools and dining area, family game room opening onto loggia, magnificent infinity pool and spa totally private from land viewers. Step out your back gate and you are on the 15th hole of the Country Club of Ocala golf course. This pristine estate is ready for you and your family’s enjoyment for years to come. The Country Club is a warm blend of lifestyles, landscapes, and friends within minutes from the city’s amenities, Santos Bike Trails plus the Florida Greenways and Trails system, Florida Horse Park, and the World Equestrian Center.

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

For this 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.

Hunt Murty Publisher | Jennifer jennifer@magnoliamediaco.com

Magnolia Media Company, LLC (352) 732-0073

1515 NE 22nd Avenue, Ocala, FL 34470

Art Editorial

GRAPHIC DESIGNER Brooke Pace brooke@magnoliamediaco.com PHOTOGRAPHERS Bruce Ackerman Brittany Bishop Becky Collazo Eighteenth Hour Photography Mark Emery Meagan Gumpert John Jernigan Lyn Larson Dave Miller Crisandra Richardson Alan Youngblood ILLUSTRATOR David Vallejo


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

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 JoAnn Guidry Scott Mitchell David Moore Jill Paglia Marian Rizzo Dave Schlenker Leah Taylor Beth Whitehead


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

Distribution Dave Adams Rick Shaw

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Publisher’s Note ur May Women’s Issue is always my favorite. Why? Because it is always full of stories that inspire me. Take, for example, the story of Mrs. Reed, who became an activist to save her neighborhood’s health by trying to garner support from the city council for her cause to confront a large charcoal plant a block from her house. The fight would take at least a decade, and eventually, she was to have the honor of operating the bulldozer that tore down the plant. When I wondered how her husband responded to her taking the lead in such a public controversy, she laughed heartily and said he “loved taking credit.” In actuality, he told her, “Ruth, you will get rocks thrown at our house. Or get killed. And, besides, it’s impossible.” In my short conversation with Mrs. Reed, I surmised that telling her anything was impossible was tantamount to challenging her to a double dare. Mrs. Reed’s husband, Leroy, passed in 2011. But she’s staying busy doing good things for our community and still believes that nothing is impossible for our town. Talking with Mrs. Reed makes me think so, too. I don’t know about you, but I find comfort in reading stories of other women, who, like me, are trying to balance strength with a degree of, well, the softness expected from our gender. So far, I’ve come to understand through studying women like Mrs. Reed that it first takes getting past what people think your station in life entitles you to attempt—and secondly, being persistent until they have no choice but to see your side and join the cause. It’s a good lesson no matter your gender. The story of midwives in this issue also struck a particular chord in my heart because of a special aunt I lost a few years ago. She had a long, successful career bringing many babies into the world. Unfortunately, when you deliver that many babies, there are a few sad stories mixed in with the triumphant ones, and she described the grief in those circumstances to be just as strong as the overwhelming joy of a healthy birth. Although I don’t have children, I can only imagine the special bond between a woman being there for another during her most vulnerable time. This leads me to our cover story about female firefighters, which reinforces the truth that women have been on the front line taking care of people in times of crisis since the beginning of creation. The only difference is now we have the gear and the confidence that comes from training for it.

Jennifer Hunt Murty Publisher

Annette Powell, Ocala

The heart. It’s a symbol of caring and strength. It represents compassion and understanding. At UF Health, we put our hearts and expertise into everything we do. From developing new lifesaving procedures to providing routine health services, there is no heart condition too simple or complex for our dedicated doctors and staff. At UF Health, our teams of caring professionals work together to provide personalized treatment plans in one world-class medical center. We care for your heart with all of ours.

Visit Heart.UFHealth.org to watch Annette’s story and sign up for a free Heart Healthy Kit.





insid e r



Dave was keeping some “baaaaaad” company during a joy inducing yoga session.

vow s




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







featu re s



Meet some pioneering women who helped shape our community.

36 42 50

ta b l e






Coca-Cola’s first Black female model, who has had a life filled with notable firsts, calls Ocala home.


This Ocala native savors time in the kitchen as a respite from her busy schedule as a grad student and mother.

Though their numbers are few, female firefighters are making a big impact in our community.


Exploring the enduring legacies of Ruth Reed and Mary Sue Rich.

Making pizzas and flatbreads at home can be a delicious way to share time with family and friends.



Sarah Belyeu offers expert tips on wines for gift giving, special occasions and your own enjoyment.

Academic support and counseling through the Pace Center for Girls Marion has helped transform the lives of thousands of young girls and women. The equine industry is replete with unique occupations and Ocalan Margo Hudson has one of the most unusual in Marion County. An Ocala high schooler’s passion for polo is propelling her to new heights in the game.

o n th e c o ve r Marion County Fire Rescue firefighter/ paramedic Lt. Victoria Barreras, on location at the Florida State Fire College north of Ocala. Photo by Dave Miller

Clockwise from top: Photo by Dave Miller; Photo by Lyn Larson of Mahal Imagery; Photo by Bruce Ackerman; Artwork courtesy of Coca-Cola



Ocala’� Equestrian Women Conversations with

In honor of our annual Women’s Issue, our publisher Jennifer Hunt Murty invited a select group of leading businesswomen from various disciplines within the equestrian world to talk with us about the industry and our very special community. In these pages, they share their stories and valuable insights on building a successful business in the Horse Capital of the World™.


Cobbs Owner Grandview Clydesdales President Grandview Invitational Inc. Clydesdales, the gentle giants of the equine world, are renowned for their strength, courage and beauty. Karen Cobbs is a powerhouse personality who shares these defining qualities and is living her legacy. “It is in my blood. I’m third generation showing draft horses at the highest level within the industry,” she explains of her choice to continue the family business. “It is a way of life. The bond you develop with these animals through raising and showing them is unforgettable.” Beyond that connection, Karen stresses that passion and perseverance are key to being successful in the equine industry, which she and her husband Shannon have proven through their celebrated annual AdventHealth Grandview Invitational (the largest draft horse show in the state of Florida) and why they were recently inducted into the Clydesdale Breeders of the USA Hall of Fame. “My husband and I own one of the largest Clydesdale breeding farms in the world and have for decades,” she offers and adds, “Onehundred and twenty years ago we all had horses (livestock) that we used for transportation. With the modernization of our world, today 45 percent of all people under the age of 18 in the U.S. have never seen a live horse, let alone a Clydesdale. This was one of the reasons we opened our private farm up for tours—to share them with all ages.” It is also part of their commitment to connecting the community to their equine industry. “This is truly an unbelievable place, whether you’re a part of the

horse industry or not,” Karen asserts. “I am honored that I can live in the Horse Capital of the World™. My most favorite part is how the local businesses rally together to keep and honor the title of their community. My husband and I are blessed to have 36 world championships. I can say my community is world champion as well.” Karen says the words she lives by are, “Failure is not an option. If you get knocked down, get back up again. Stand up for what you believe. Treat people fairly. Do as you say and mean what you say. Trust in God. If there is an idea that won’t leave you, go for it! Fight to stay on track.” Karen invites you to come to the farm for a tour, to meet her and the horses. If you haven’t experienced the AdventHealth Grandview Invitational, don’t miss the 2022 season from February 4th-6th at the Florida Horse Park and the new Grandview World Nights from February 11th-12th at the World Equestrian Center. www.grandviewclydesdales.tours www.grandviewinvitational.com

Photo by Dave Miller



for competing with saddlebred horses and her maternal grandparents were thoroughbred trainers. Sara’s father is a business executive in the thoroughbred racing industry and his dad was a jockey who became the west coast regional manager of the Jockeys’ Guild. “I always felt I had big shoes to fill and wanted to continue my family’s legacy in the horse world,” Sara offers. “My work with Horse Farms Forever has fulfilled this desire and I am incredibly thankful to be a part of something so special.” The not-for-profit Horse Farms Forever (HFF) was founded in 2018 to preserve the unique character and culture of Marion County, the Horse Capital of the World™. “HFF is dedicated to ensuring this title will remain for future generations,” Sara affirms. “When I learned of HFF and its role, I knew this was what I was meant to do.” Sara, a former hunter/ jumper competitor who now has a passion for trail and pleasure riding, says she learned many valuable lessons on a farm and on the back of a horse. “I hope future generations of my family will be lucky enough to experience these things,” she notes. “I am a firm believer that horses instill a sense of competitiveness, responsibility, patience and a work


Photo by Kate Wilson Photography

Fennessy Executive Director Horse Farms Forever Before she could walk, Sara Fennessy was going with her mother to equine competitions, which was not at all surprising for the self-described “fifthgeneration horse person.” Sara’s mother has had a lifelong passion

ethic that cannot be replicated.” She also credits “many excellent mentors in the equestrian world, including my mom and dad, as well as HFF President Bernie Little.” Sara says there is one horse for every four people in Marion County and Ocala is the third fastest growing city in the U.S., which means it is important to maintain balance. “This sense of place and rural character our horses and horse farms create is the reason so many people call Ocala home,” she shares. “To lose the thing that makes Marion County so unique and special would be devastating. Once our farms are gone, they cannot be replaced.” “Horse Farms Forever continues to work with elected officials and community leaders to establish new policies in Marion County’s Comprehensive Plan to further protect our horse farms, agricultural lands and Farmland Preservation Area,” Sara says proudly. “Additionally, Horse Farms Forever will host a Conservation Summit event in the fall.” To learn more, visit www.horsefarmsforever.com


Catherine J.


Catherine brings a wealth of legal and business experience to her role as attorney and adviser. She began her career in Chicago, specializing in personal injury, and soon realized that the most rewarding part of her work was being able to use her passion to advocate for her clients. As a competitive equestrian, horse lover and farm owner, Catherine recognizes the challenges facing today’s horsemen and women and knew she could apply the same passion she had for personal injury victims to her fellow equestrians who need legal advice or representation, not just with equine matters but everyday legal advice as well. “I saw the need for attorneys who understand the industry and also had a passion for the sport. For instance, if I get a call from a potential client who discovers their newly purchased horse has an old suspensory injury, what does that mean? As a horsewoman, I understand the significance. Back in the day, horse sales were accomplished with a handshake and a wire transfer. Things have evolved so that now many states have consumer protection laws which apply to the sale of horses. My goal, with my clients, is to not only represent them, but to educate them on their rights and how to conduct equine transactions in a safe, legal way.” Catherine stresses the importance of expert help where legal matters are concerned and explains that her biggest challenge is conveying the importance of not taking such matters into your own hands. “Horse people like to do things for themselves,” she offers. “But, often times, it ends up costing them more when they do.”

She makes her home on a horse farm in northwestern Marion County, where she lives with her husband, two cattle dogs, two horses and four chickens, as well as a miniature horse and a miniature donkey. She is an avid equestrian and competes in the adult hunter division locally and across the Southeast. She is pictured with her Holsteiner mare, Amara, who has had great success in the hunter ring. What she loves best about the Ocala area is the friendliness of everyone and the social nature of the community. Her motto is a quote from Olympic athlete Donovan Bailey: “Follow your passion, be prepared to work hard and sacrifice, and, above all, don’t let anyone limit your dreams.”

Photo by Meagan Gumpert

Attorney Law Office of Catherine J. Merrill, P.A.



Pletcher Real Estate Broker Joan Pletcher Real Estate Network With more than $155,000,000 in Ocala real estate listings, including Ocala luxury estates, Ocala land, and Ocala horse farms, Joan Pletcher is known throughout Marion County as a trusted expert in the real estate industry. “Buying or selling real estate is one of the most important decisions a person makes in their life. It is not a job with me. It is what I love to do with my life! ” Joan reveals. “Being a part of helping friends, customers and clients realize their real estate goals, whether it is buying or selling their home, equestrian property or finding the right land, it is a genuine bond that you earn by putting their needs and desires first and seeing their happiness, realizing they have made the right decision.” Joan credits her love of equestrian living to her exposure to horses at an early age. “My first horse was a Shetland pony, then I graduated to quarter horses—breaking, training and showing halter, pleasure, reining, barrels and cutting,” she explains. “I never had a groom, so my horses depended upon me for their feeding and care.” Joan credits her parents for instilling good values and teaching her how to chart her success. “My mother and father were my main mentors and role models,” Joan shares. “I learned that where there is a will, there is a right way to accomplish it and if it is worth doing, it is worth doing it right the first time. I was so lucky to be born into a Christian family where my parents taught me what integrity was, the love for life, family, friends and horses. Integrity is doing the right thing even when no one is watching.” She explains that her family was in real estate development. “I grew up loving land and learning how to take care of it,” she recalls. “I watched my father take his customers’ description of the type of home they wanted. Then he would go to the drawing board, put their wish list on

paper and make it happen.” That passion for one’s life work is something Joan has found to be the key to success. “Anyone who aspires to be a leader must love what they do,” she asserts. “If someone aspires to be a leader in service, the people closest to them need to understand the time, talent and emotion not only comes from you as an individual but your family and co-workers as well. I am extremely fortunate in having a great husband, JJ, and the incredible team of Bonnie Kash and Francis Galvez who support me and understand the sacrifice it takes to be a leader in our community.” She loves this community and has felt that love returned to her over her many years in service to it. “The natural beauty of the area with its rich tradition of equinecentered activities makes Ocala a place you just want to call home— the land, rolling hills, live oak trees, our greenway and trails and seeing horses grazing on green pastures as you drive by,” she offers, enthusiastically adding that her favorite part is “The people! They are warm, friendly, and have a smile when you meet them. But most of all, the wonderful customers and clients that I have worked with over the last 49 years, that I have learned so much from. Helping them find the right home, property or horse has helped make me who I am today.” www.joanpletcher.com



Rohlf Creator Dressage Naturally Dressage Naturally (DN) is a holistic, comprehensive and integrated system for horses and riders of any discipline who want to enjoy the process of creating stronger partnerships and healthy biomechanics. DN is the culmination of internationally recognized clinician Karen Rohlf ’s lifetime of training in dressage and natural horsemanship. She teaches students of all disciplines and levels, from around the world, in her clinics and virtual programs, and is changing the equestrian educational paradigm. Karen believes in getting to the heart of our mental, emotional and physical partnership with our horses. But being a professional horse trainer and author is more than just a job for Karen. “It is a way of life,” she offers. “Being my best with horses requires me to be my best self every day. Working with horses demands constant honing of my physical and emotional fitness, creativity, self-awareness and personal development, which I find endlessly satisfying. I am extremely grateful that I have been able to build a career and life around my passion for horses.” Her passion for teaching extends beyond horse training. Her “For The Love Of The Horse: Transform Your Business Seminar and Mastermind/Mentorship” programs are designed to help heart-centered equine professionals thrive. She also knows firsthand how that passion can potentially create unhealthy habits. “When you love what you do for work, it is possible to overdo it and live in a constant state of exhaustion,” she cautions. “I burned out once, but I found a way to change my career by embracing my unique niche, leveraging my business and creating digital resources early on. This approach improved my life and now I mentor other professionals on how to create more fulfilling, sustainable and profitable lives.” She is also keenly aware of the importance of giving back. “Last year my business gave away over $10,000 of partnership-based horsemanship education through our “Share The Love”

campaign. We targeted winners in the categories of youth, equine rescues, equine assisted therapy programs and upper-level dressage riders. I also donate to the Horse Farms Forever and the Alachua Conservation Trust organizations, which work together to protect the unique beauty of this area.” That beauty is one of her sources of inspiration. “I love wild Florida,” Karen enthuses. “Of course, I love it here for the horses, but I also love going to local rivers, springs and forests to enjoy the amazing scenery and wildlife.” Her advice is to be bold and lead with your heart. “Tap into your passion and express it in action. Trust your instincts and don’t try to be just like everyone else, doing things the way they have always been done,” she advises. “This industry is steeped in tradition and the truth is sometimes those traditions need to be updated. When I first combined natural horsemanship and dressage, people fiercely criticized me. In this industry, sometimes ‘being professional’ is equated with being less heartfelt and emotionally connected to horses, and that is a shame. If you know in your heart something needs to change in your industry, be an example of a better way. And never underestimate the possibility for things to improve in ways you cannot yet imagine!” Learn more about Karen at www.dressagenaturally.net


Social “Grease” was the word during Ignite of Ocala’s retro-cool Shake, Rattle & Roll benefit at the Ocala Drive-In. Pictured: Stephanie Burns, Dave Acosta, Tiana Acosta Photo by Bruce Ackerman


Jim Hilty, Paulette Milhorn Lina Piedrahita, Stephanie Burns, Laurie Zink, Christie Casey

Shake, Rattle & Roll OCALA DRIVE-IN Photography by Bruce Ackerman


n March 25th, Ignite of Ocala hosted a showing of Grease, costume contest, poster raffle and entertainment by Becky Sinn and Left on Broadway, all to benefit Wear Gloves, Boys & Girls Clubs of Marion County and the Marion County Children’s Alliance.

Christie Casey

Lina Piedrahita



Becky Sinn and Left on Broadway

Laurie Zink

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



Festivals of Speed


The Villages Polo


Fun at the Park


First Friday Art Walk


Levitt AMP Ocala Concert Series


Mother’s Day Pop Up

World Equestrian Center 10am-4pm View a display of exotic, classic and muscle cars and enjoy the festivities at this world-class motorsports gathering. Visit festivalsofspeed.com for more information and tickets. The Villages Polo Club May 1-23 3pm Fridays, 1pm Sundays Watch competitive matches from the club’s elevated two-level stadium, with optional tailgating. Visit thevillagespoloclub.com for tickets and more information. Sholom Park 1-4pm This music and art festival will feature live music, more than 15 artisans and food trucks. Visit sholompark.org for tickets and more information.

Webb Field May 7-June 25 | 7pm Fridays The free concert series returns to the MLK Recreation Complex with live music, public art and cultural arts intermissions. Visit ocalafl.org for more information. Paddock Mall 11am-2pm Bring mom by the mall to celebrate her with entertainment, drinks, specialty vendors and kids’ crafts. Visit paddockmall.com for more information.


Polo photo by Jenna Petty of Sublime Photography

Downtown Ocala 6-9pm Watch artists at work, participate in hands-on art activities and enjoy live music at the last art walk of the season. Visit ocalafl.org/artwalk for more information.

9 15

Symphony Under the Stars

Ocala Golf Club Gates open at 3pm, concert at 7pm Bring the family and a picnic and enjoy Left on Broadway at 5pm then the Ocala Symphony Orchestra concert at 7pm, ending with fireworks. Visit fafo.org for tickets and more information.

Marion Saddle Club Show

Florida Horse Park 8am Spectators are welcome at Marion County’s oldest running hunter/jumper horse show. Visit mschorseshows.net for more information.

15 USEA Horse Trials

Majestic Oaks Ocala 8am Watch riders compete in eventing–dressage, stadium jumping and cross country. Visit majesticoaksocala.com for more information.

27 Million Dollar Quartet

Ocala Civic Theatre May 27-June 27 | 2 & 7:30pm Experience the magic of the legendary 1956 jam session with Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins. Visit ocalacivictheatre.com for show times and tickets.



Entertainment Calendar Date Time




10:30 am

Becky Sinn

Ocala Downtown Market


7:00 pm

The Music of Brooks and Dunn

Orange Blossom Opry


7:30 pm

Jeff Jarrett

War Horse Harley-Davidson


3:00 pm

The Big Bad

Gator Joe’s Beach Bar & Grill


The Villages 3:00 & Philharmonic 7:00pm Orchestra Opera Gala

The Sharon L. Morse Performing Arts Center


7:00 pm


Webb Field


7:00 pm

James Otto

Orange Blossom Opry


6:30 pm

Gilly & the Girl

La Cuisine French Restaurant


7:00 pm

Dwayne Dopsie and the Zydeco Hellraisers

Webb Field


7:00 pm

Billy Dean

Orange Blossom Opry


5:00 pm

The Big Bad

Bank Street Patio Bar


7:00 pm

Jeff Jarrett

Pi on Broadway


7:00 pm

The New Respects

Webb Field


7:00 pm

Destiny of Rock Tribute to Boston & Styx

Circle Square Cultural Center


7:00 pm

Linda Davis

Orange Blossom Opry


6:00 pm

A Peace of Woodstock

Whispering Oaks Winery


7:30 pm

Jess Ray Backyard Tour

Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church


6:30 pm

Jack Smith & Shift N’ Gears Band

Ocala Moose Lodge


7:00 pm

The Big Bad

Infinite Ale Works


7:00 pm

The Music of Willie Nelson

Orange Blossom Opry

The art of staycation. Visit the Appleton for free on the first Saturday of each month. Appleton Museum and Store COLLEGE OF CENTRAL FLORIDA

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-

May 27 – June 27 Elvis Presley. Johnny Cash. Jerry Lee Lewis. Carl Perkins. Great balls of fire, it’s a whole lot of fun!

By Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux Sponsored by: K-Country • Hiers-Baxley • Ocala Style Magazine

Tickets $30 for adults / $15 for ages 18 and younger 4337 E. Silver Springs Blvd., Ocala, Florida 34470 (352) 236-2274 • www.ocalacivictheatre.com

celebrating 70 years


5531 SW 30th Ave. Ocala, FL 34471 www.stellarrealestateagency.com stellarrealestateagency@gmail.com (352) 585-1562

Game Changer Photography by John Jernigan


ikki Serrano doesn’t just want to sell you a house. She is devoted to not only finding you the right home, but helping you transition into the community as well. It is her mission to help make your real estate dreams come true. “Knowing that I can do that for my clients brings me joy,” she offers. She explains that her reason for becoming a realtor in the first place was born out of her personal experiences and frustrations over the years. “My husband was military and I was on the opposite side of real estate when we started out,” she recalls. “Having personally moved and purchased many times—and being on the wrong end of the deal—is what truly brought me into this field. Growing up in Central Florida has given me an innate understanding of the economics that drive this area, so it was an organic fit. I have been very creative and know the many different ways in which a transaction can move—how to create a deal or keep it on track. I have always been amazed at how experience and knowledge can make or break a deal,” she continues. “Those things are the heartbeat of real estate.”

Serrano began her career in real estate around 2016 and quickly moved up the ladder, becoming one of the top producers at the firm within her first year there. She then parlayed her successes into creating her own agency. She has been so successful due in part to her ability to navigate the changes in the market and successfully guide her clients. “I understand the ebb and flow of buyers and sellers,” she explains. “People are migrating to Florida on a scale not seen since the ‘70s and, contrary to the last boom, where it was fueled by wild lending practices, we are having a lot of cash buyers come in and stabilize the market. I believe there will be a lot of movement in the next few years but, as of now, just dancing between the traditional buyer/seller pattern and the new influx of Floridians is the new hurdle. That is why I am so lucky to have a close-knit network of industry professionals, which makes for a smooth and seamless transition for my buyers and sellers. This is imperative to not only win contracts in this market, but to be able to know which offers will actually close the deal for my sellers.” Helping to extend and expand our community gives her great satisfaction. “Watching this community go from the brink of blooming into actually blooming in front of me has been my favorite part of living here,” she states. “To see our small town keep that small town feel, and become a place where the whole country is wanting to live has been a joy for me. I love all Ocala has to offer and I am happy to have chosen to raise my family here.” She offers this advice to her four children: “Find what you love and do that as a profession and you will never work a day in your life. Give to the need that pulls on your heart and that is where you are needed.” For Serrano, that “love” is real estate. “My goal is to treat my clients the way I would like to be treated and give them more than they are looking for,” she explains. “I provide them with service, integrity and ethics, and work for their best interests…and make some new friends while doing so.” Serrano is building her outstanding team, including agent Kelli Olgesby, who joined Serrano for this photo shoot.

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Baaaaaad Company By Dave Schlenker | Illustration by David Vallejo


o what’s a nice guy like me doing in a barn like this with a baby goat on his back? Downward Dog. Seriously. I was doing—or, rather, trying to do—a yoga position. I am 53 years old and laughably out of shape, so my Downward Dog looked more the Tipsy Geezer Who is Considering Vomiting After a Fall That May or May Not Have Broken a Hip. Then there’s the baby goat, whose name was Sparkles. Or Boots. Or Abbot. Or maybe it was Cowboy. No matter. There was a baby goat on my back, as I teetered on my fingers and toes on a mat, under a barn in a field near misbehaving baby pigs. Needless to say, it was FREAKIN’ AWESOME. And I do not use all caps lightly. Here’s the thing: Goat yoga is a thing. Before our recent spring break, I had my doubts. I heard chatter about goat yoga on social media, but I dismissed it as more quarantine crazy talk, just like “wine yoga,” “manscaping” and “people who like Phil Collins.” But then our 17-year-old daughter, Caroline, suggested we partake in goat yoga. Surely, I thought, she’s messing with her dim father. Next, she’ll tell me “TikTok” is an actual thing. Puh-leeeze. Soon enough, we were on the road to Wildflower Farm in Orlando. Here’s how it works: There is a yoga class with a yoga instructor who says real yoga things like “Namaste” and

“Breathe” and “It’s OK to fall over.” But just before the session starts, they release a farmload of baby goats, who come rushing toward the yoga students and infiltrate like a spastic sea of cuteness. My friends, nothing smothers your brain with endorphins quite like sitting eye to eye with baby goat socialites. I kid you not (sorry, baaaaaad joke). They jump and mingle as the actual yoga class starts. The farm owners coax them into laps and onto backs during strategic yoga poses. To be sure, there was more goat watching than yoga at times, especially for me and my wife. I only did yoga poses when I thought it would attract the goats. And the few times I did try the yoga stuff, I was rewarded with encouragement from Caroline, “Dad, wrong leg. No, tuck your right leg! Ugh.” Even so, it felt like a refreshing workout after the baby goats were gone (or what people tell me is a refreshing workout, if I worked out). I was a little sore, though I did not know if I was feeling a healthy muscle ache or a phantom twinge from goat feet. In short, I recommend goat yoga. It’s weird, it makes no sense, it’s an odd activity with livestock, but, man oh man, it delivers some joy. That is a good thing these days. And for the record, wine yoga also is a real thing. Not sure it is a good mix with goat yoga, but I am willing to take one for the team. May ‘ 2 1



Breaking Glass Ceilings Aboard a Glass-Bottom Boat By Scott Mitchell


hroughout history, working as a maritime captain was considered men’s work and off limits to women regardless of how qualified they were. For centuries, carved feminine figureheads that graced the prows of seagoing vessels were the only female crew members. Closer to home and modern times, more female captains have taken the helms of massive cruise ships (the first in 2007) and the U.S. Navy made history a few months ago when it recommended that Capt. Amy Bauernschmidt take command of a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier. Although Marion County sits inland, we have had our share of local ship captains. Steamboats plied local rivers since just before the Civil War and up until the 1920s, when they were replaced by glass-bottom boats on the Silver River. The pilots were mostly men, but not all. Several pioneering female captains call Marion County home and have fascinating stories. Two stand out with decades of experience at the helm between them. Ferguson is a trailblazer. She is known for being capable and professional. Her demeanor is both tough and warm-hearted, and she was a fixture at Silver Springs for close to half a century. During the late 1960s, Ferguson was raising kids and working at Club Bali, a well-known African American night club in Ocala. Several of the Silver Springs glass-bottom boat captains encouraged her to apply for a job. She did—and made history. On June 6th, 1973, Ferguson became the first female and the first Black woman to hold a United States Coast Guard captain’s license in Florida. This was no small feat given that the era of open racial and gender discrimination was not yet a thing of the past. Ferguson ran glass-bottom boats, jungle cruise boats and the Fort King river cruise boats. She credits Capt. David Faison, a longtime Silver Springs captain, with helping her train and remembers it took time for some of the male employees and guests to fully accept her. Ferguson recalled the day some of the monkeys who make their home on the river jumped into her jungle cruise boat full of guests. She coolly persuaded them to abandon ship (the monkeys, that is) using a large stick and treats. Her passengers came through safely with a



great story to tell. She was on duty in June 2010 when researcher Peter Butt was attacked and wounded by a large alligator while snorkeling in the Silver River. She helped get him out of the water and into a medevac helicopter and notes that as one of her most stressful days on the job. By the time she retired, Ferguson had safely introduced tens of thousands of visitors to the beauty of the springs and opened the door for younger female captains to follow. When asked what advice she would give her younger self, she offered, “Stay in school and get an education.”

Photo by Mark Emery

Capt. Virginia Ferguson


Capt. Connie Neumann

Neumann is one of those women who followed in Ferguson’s wake; in fact, Ferguson helped train her. Capt. Connie, as she is known, ran glass-bottom boats from 2006 to 2012. She also has operated the Timucuan, the official tour boat of the Silver River Museum, since 2008. She has resumed running boats at Silver Springs and now works for both the springs and museum. Prior to taking the helm, she worked as a magazine editor and in marketing. She is a published author (as Connie Mann) with seven novels and one non-fiction book. Her Florida Wildlife Warriors series is set in Marion County. Neumann is a small woman with a core of steel. She remembers having to work extra hard to prove herself as a captain due to her gender and petite size. Once skeptical coworkers realized she could handle a boat as well as anyone, she was quickly accepted. It is worth noting that glass-bottom boats are not easy craft to control. With no keel to help them track and a motor that rotates 360 degrees, they are not well suited for amateur mariners. In the beginning, Neumann describes early challenges such as her first attempt at docking a glass-

bottom boat. She recalls the other captains and the general manager standing on the docks watching her. It was a nerve-racking situation, but Ferguson, who was training her, helped to defuse the moment by repeating, “Just do it like I taught you,” over and over. A perfect docking was achieved. Neumann remembers Ferguson teaching her how to handle guests (polite or otherwise) and stressful situations gracefully. Neumann recalled the day she had a group of special needs teenagers onboard as she navigated the narrow Fort King waterway. She heard a large tree on the riverbank snap and had only seconds to reverse course. The tree fell across the bow but missed the kids, avoiding a disaster by inches. Neumann’s best advice to her younger self is “Don’t be afraid to go after things you are interested in.” It is no coincidence both women remember the day they started as captains at Silver Springs. After all, you don’t get to shatter a glass ceiling using a glass-bottom boat very often. 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. May ‘ 2 1



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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: Charlotte & Erik Magnuson Photographed by Eighteenth Hour Photography


CHARLOTTE & ERIK MAGNUSON February 8th, 2021 Photography by Eighteenth Hour Photography Venue: Toccoa Falls, Georgia Her favorite memory: The most special moment from our elopement was having our favorite local musician, Caly Bryan, there to sing for our first dance. I had secretly hired Caly to learn love songs that were special to our relationship over the years as a surprise for Erik. It was so beautiful and made our intimate ceremony even more “us.”


KAITLYN & CODY FENTON December 19th, 2020 Photography by Brittany Bishop Venue: Country Club of Ocala Their favorite memory: One of our favorite moments during our wedding day was exchanging the vows we wrote to each other. Sharing these moments with our closest friends and family will be something we are forever grateful for and always remember. We had been planning this special day for so long that when it finally came it felt so surreal!


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lisha Lopez is a real estate broker and owner of Ocala Realty World, serving homebuyers and sellers across Central Florida. Ocala Realty World (ORW), which Lopez co-owns with her husband, Luis, was recently named a Top 10 Brokerage in Marion County—an honor the brokerage has held for the past six years. ORW is a full-service brokerage, selling all types of properties, from entry-level to pure luxury. Elisha has 21 years of experience in real estate and is the founder of the ORW School of Real Estate, which serves real estate students seeking licensure in Florida. In 2021, Elisha was named the worldwide ambassador and online instructor for Realty World, the Newport, California-based real

Photography by John Jernigan estate franchise company with over 2,000 locations around the world, including Elisha’s own in Ocala. Today, real estate students worldwide are learning from Elisha’s expertise, thanks to her many videos, produced and translated for Realty World members around the globe. Elisha says her secret is incorporating real-world stories from her decades in the business, which she founded with her husband, Luis Lopez, who first encouraged her to take up a career in real estate alongside him. “When we first started out, we worked hard to build our brand. We now have a tremendous footprint and the community knows our agents will do a great job of taking care of our customers in the long-term,” she said. Indeed, ORW has expanded to more than 90 agents, Elisha said,

adding that the local real estate market continues to be on fire with quick sales, rising home prices and a need for more homes on the market. With the World Equestrian Center now drawing visitors, homebuyers and even investors from around the world, Ocala is the place to be when it comes to real estate, Elisha said. Elisha’s No. 1 goal in business and in life is to help others, and that includes her brokerage’s outreach program, ORW Cares, which puts on events multiple times a year to give back to the community and help those in need. “We’ve always given back to Marion County—because Marion County has been so good to us,” she said. Learn more about Ocala Realty World’s many services at www.ocalarealtyworld.com

Women Who Made History By Lisa McGinnes, Susan Smiley-Height & Nick Steele

Photos courtesy of Florida Memory

Marion County’s Historic Midwives Far longer than women have been having babies in sterile hospital rooms, women throughout history delivered their children at home. And long before the first hands to cradle their bundle of joy belonged to someone with the title Doctor, those skilled hands belonged to a caring midwife called “Aunt Mariah,” “Aunt Clarissa, “Mrs. Pie” or known simply as “Peggy.” Although pregnant women and new mothers are under threat of myriad complications and risks to their physical and emotional well-being, historically male doctors and healers were forbidden to participate in or even to be present at the birth of a child. According to the historic text The History of Medicine in the United States by Francis Randolph Packard, “The midwife occupied a most important post in the community in the early settlements of this country. It was deemed beneath the dignity of male physicians to act as obstetricians.” The word midwife was formed from two old English words. The prefix “mid” had the meaning “together with.” And although it would seem natural to assume that “wife” refers to a “female spouse” in old English, it simply meant “woman” and therefore the word quite literally meant “with-woman” and grew to describe “a woman who is with another woman to assist her in giving birth.” As midwives have been practicing as long as women have been having

Meet some of the fascinating women who have helped shape our community through their passion, service and dedication.

babies, it did not historically refer to an individual with any specific training or certification. In Florida, indigenous peoples had their own midwives, herbalists, healers and observed such birthing customs for more than 10,000 years before the first Europeans arrived on our shores. At the time Florida became a state in 1845, midwifery laws in America were local and varied widely. Midwives in most states practiced without government control and the support they provided women extended well beyond labor and delivery. “The midwife’s work was more than ‘catching babies,’ they were psychologists, dietitians, loan officers, sex therapists, prayer partners, marriage counselors and friends and sometimes relatives to the women that they served,” wrote Dennis Brown M.D. and Pamela A. Toussaint in their book Mama’s Little Baby. According to an estimate from the Florida Department of Health, some 4,000 midwives were serving Florida families by 1930. Most were Black women, following the home birthing traditions handed down by their foremothers who were required to serve as midwives for both other Black woman and white women as well, during the period of slavery in the United States. The term “granny-midwife” was widely used to describe these traditional Black midwives, who were wellrespected by their community but were sadly also subject May ‘ 2 1


Recreation of a historic sketch of Peggy from The Struggle for Survival

to ridicule and suspicion when things went wrong with a home birth. Florida passed the first state midwifery licensing law in 1931 in an attempt to control and regulate the practice of midwifery for the protection of both mothers and infants. The law authorized the State Board of Health to make regulations, including that practicing midwives be at least 21 years old, be able to read the newly created Manual for Midwives and be able to fill out birth certificates. It also required midwives to possess a diploma from a school for midwives and become licensed by the State Board of Health. In 1931, approximately 1,400 midwives (35 percent of the midwives practicing at that time) received their licenses. Florida began offering classes at the Midwife Institute established at Florida A&M University in Tallahassee, but also held training sessions in cities including Tampa and St. Augustine. Classes focused on such topics as care of the mother and the newborn, basic principles of hygiene, how to sterilize equipment and what supplies and equipment to pack in their “birth bag.” Attached to that bag was a tag that listed the items that should always be inside, including sharpened razors, sanitary solution, linens and bandages. The tag included the advice that “The Safe Midwife keeps her bag clean and ready at all times.” Although many offered their services for free or for a nominal fee, often bartering or trading depending on what the family could afford, and were routinely paid with canned goods, produce and livestock, the midwives were expected to attend births whenever summoned—often at all hours of the night and for as many hours or days as the 32


mother’s labor lasted. Beyond births, they served their community in a variety of ways that included providing medical supplies, clothing and other forms of assistance to families in need. During the course of her lifetime, the typical midwife delivered, on average, upwards of 1,000 babies, both white and Black. Yet, despite the midwives’ contributions to the growth of all those family trees, their names are largely lost to history. A rare portrait of a group of Marion County midwives at the Midwife Institute in St. Augustine from 1934 is included in the State Library and Archives of Florida collection. In the photo, 23 women pose with their instructors, beaming with pride and holding their “birth bags.” While the names of those particular women are not included, their inspiring legacy is preserved for all time. According to The Struggle for Survival: A Partial History of the Negroes of Marion County, 1865 to 1976, published by the Black Historical Organization of Marion County, one Black Marion County midwife who attended to local women was a slave known only as Peggy. Born in 1745, the midwife, house servant and field hand was last recorded on the 1870 census at 125 years old. “She’d lived through the French and Indian War, the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812 and the Civil War. Sixteen presidents had come and gone, and lands she lived in had changed hands between three countries,” Rob Brannan wrote of this inspiring woman in an article for the Free Press, after reading Peggy’s entry in The Struggle for Survival. “But while Peggy probably worked until the day of her death, it’s hard to imagine the pride she must of felt in her final days.” Also thanks to the organization’s book, we know that Mrs. Ellen Sparks White worked as a midwife in West Ocala for many years alongside Dr. Nathaniel Hawthorne Jones—a highly-respected physician and the first Black doctor to become a staff physician at Munroe Memorial Hospital. Ernest Wess, White’s great-grandson, has talked to many people over the years who remember births taking place at his family’s home.

“They’d say, ‘Yes, I know Miss Ellen. My mother had her baby over there.’ She delivered a lot of babies for a lot of people back then.” Like so many other midwives, White’s compassion extended far beyond the back bedroom where she delivered babies. “She was the one person that, if you came to her house and you were hungry, she would feed you,” Wess said of his great-grandmother. “That’s just the way she was. We were proud of her.” Angelia Vernon Menchan says White brought her into the world. She commented recently when local author Cynthia Graham asked residents to share memories of local midwives on Facebook. “She delivered me,” Menchan declared. Another beloved midwife mentioned in the Black historical organization’s book was known as “Aunt Clarissa” Hill. Bea Mims Shepherd of Anthony recalled Hill, who had 12 children of her own, as “born in 1854, the daughter of a slave woman.” ““Her eyes were blue, her skin was light and her heart was of gold,” Shepherd wrote. She stayed with my mother when I was born in 1905.” This was a common occurrence among midwives. In fact, one local we spoke with explained that, after assisting with a birth on an uncharacteristically bitter evening, the midwife who was attending to mother and child climbed into bed with them and spent the night, to shield them from the cold and ensure they were protected from the harsh weather. Locals also recall Mariah Floyd, known as “Aunt” Mariah, who provided midwife services in the Flemington/Shiloh/Brushlot area in northwest Marion County from the late 1800s through the early 1920s. Sisters Nancy and Anabelle Leitner, who live on a pioneer farm in Shiloh, explained that Floyd was called to their family home when their father and his twin sister were born and also for subsequent births in the family. Kathryn Crowell-Grate of Ocala shared her memories of other midwives on Graham’s post as well, stating that she herself had been delivered by Marcey Riley-Brown, known to many simply as “Mrs. Pie,” who also worked with Dr. Jones. “She was the midwife who took care of Orange Lake, Reddick, Citra, Martin, etc.” she recalled. “There was also another midwife named Mrs. Bennie Bee. She delivered many babies back in the day.” Another interesting entry in The Struggle for Survival came from Samuel J. Aldrich and details the close relationships that developed between white and Black neighbors in the Black community of Butlersville in northwest Marion County that was created following the Civil War. He specifically mentioned a white midwife by the name of Mrs. Hutcheons, who “served as a midwife to Blacks and whites in the community.” In more modern times, certified nurse midwife

Barbara Bigby helped deliver more babies than she kept count of through her work with the Midwives of Ocala, from 1998 until she retired in 2016. Bigby was trained as a registered nurse (RN) and then certified nurse midwife (CNM) in Jamaica. She came to the U.S. in 1980 and was working as an RN in a labor and delivery unit and was “able to go to midwifery school for recertification for foreign-born nurses to practice in the U.S.” The Midwives of Ocala were based at Munroe Regional Medical Center and she was the only Black midwife on the staff of eight. She says they were contracted through the health department “to help low-income women. A lot of our patients were Black, but not the majority. They were lower-income white, Hispanic…

Ellen Sparks White

“It was rewarding to help with their care and not just delivery,” she offers, “to guide them through their pregnancy, which could include diet, exercise, other healthcare needed through their reproductive years.” She says benefits of having a midwife include “more intimate care, more time with the patient, teaching them and listening to their concerns.” The evolving role of the midwife has long been one of nurturing care, of hope and health and answering a powerful call. Their dedication and commitment have helped define our community, uplifted and empowered women, positively impacted the social health of the family structure and helped advance maternity care. The midwife’s work was always more than catching babies. The Marion County Public Library and the College of Central Florida Library have reference copies of The Struggle for Survival. The CF Library also has a digital copy that may be viewed under controlled digital lending guidelines. For more information, contact them by emailing library@cf.edu or call (352) 873-5805 for more information. May ‘ 2 1


Ashley in Russian Doll

Star Turn Elizabeth Ashley attained the status of one of the most acclaimed actresses of her generation, appearing in films, on TV and on Broadway opposite such leading men as Robert Redford and Burt Reynolds, working as a muse to the legendary writer Tennessee Williams and even appearing on the cover of LIFE Magazine. She has been nominated for many awards during the course of her career and won a Tony for Best Featured Actress in a Play for Take Her, She’s Mine. Ashley was born Elizabeth Ann Cole in Ocala, to mother Lucille and music teacher father Arthur Kingman Cole. But, following her parents’ split, she and her mother relocated to Baton Rouge, Louisiana. “As she liked to say, with a baby under one arm and a sewing machine under the other, she put three states between herself and that son of a bitch!” she recalls. Beyond being regarded for her talent, Ashley was known for her husky voice, once described as the embodiment of “Southern Comfort and mint juleps infused with magnolias.” Indeed, she possessed the oldworld aura of a true deep-south belle. These qualities, plus oft-admired legs, made her a standout in New York and Hollywood. She quickly found success on the stage, making her Broadway debut opposite a young Robert Redford in his first role. The pair would later reunite on stage in 1963 in the world premiere of Neil Simon’s hit play Barefoot in the Park. Her status as “Broadway’s brightest” was heralded when she landed on the cover of LIFE Magazine that same year. 34


She made her film debut in the “big-budget, pot boiler” The Carpetbaggers, which became one of 1964’s biggest hits, co-starring her future ex-husband George Peppard. A close friendship with playwright Tennessee Williams led to perhaps the most satisfying role of her career as Maggie “the Cat” in the Broadway revival of Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof in 1974. In the original staging, Williams was convinced to edit out dialogue and themes that were not considered appropriate for the original 1950s audiences. The 1974 version was what Williams had originally intended and he worked closely with Ashley to reignite the classic tale. Critics heaped on the praise, as she electrified audiences, calling it a part “she was born to play.” Ashley has taken breaks from acting over the years to do other things that fed her soul, explaining that while other actresses were plotting out their careers, “sitting in Sardi’s or the Polo Lounge in Beverly Hills, waiting for calls from their agents, I was on a plane with The Who, having a blast with Roger [Daltrey] and Pete [Townsend]. I lived in Italy for a year and half and circumnavigated the globe in my sailboat…twice. It was the best life ever.” And she’s still going strong. At 81, she continues to act, appearing in such blockbuster films as Ocean’s Eight with Sandra Bullock and Just Getting Started opposite Morgan Freeman and Tommy Lee Jones, on such popular TV shows as Russian Doll, Better Things and The Bold Type and in various stage productions. The secrets of her staying power? “I’ve never entered a gym in my life, nor would I!” she boasts. “I’m not a great fan of what they call ‘positive thinking.’ I think it makes you stupid. But curiosity, creative imagination and independence are the things that have saved my life.”

The Higher the Hurdle Barbara Simmers Caywood was the first female sportswriter in Florida, the first in Kansas and the third in the nation. Her family moved to Ocala just before her freshman year at Ocala High School, from which she graduated in 1955. “I knew I wanted to be a sportswriter when I was 15,” she offers. “During the summers before my junior and senior years at Southern Methodist University, I interned at the Ocala Star-Banner, doing a little bit of everything but mostly sports.” In May 1959, just before she was to graduate, she got a call from Star-Banner Managing Editor Bernard Watts, who said the sports editor had quit and they would hold the job for her until she graduated, if she wanted it. “Of course, I said yes,” she states. “I couldn’t believe my luck. I didn’t have to apply for a job in a field where there were few, if any, women.” She later became assistant sports editor at The Hutchinson News in Kansas, then sports editor, for 24 years. She recalls one issue involving her gender early in her career. “In 1960, I was denied entry to the University of Kansas press box to cover a football game because I was female,” she says. “The News and I fought this prejudice and won. I was admitted the following year. Our fight became a national story.” Tired of Kansas winters and missing her parents, Irene and Floyd Simmers, who were still living in Ocala, she returned to Florida in 1984 and accepted a position as a sportswriter for Florida Today in Melbourne, from which she retired in 2005. That same year, she was inducted into the Florida High School Athletic Association Hall of Fame and, in 2013, to the Space Coast Hall of Fame. She says the best advice she ever got was from her father. “He knew I would face challenges and told me, ‘Don’t ever back down from the first hurdle. If you do, the next one will be higher,’” she recalls.

A young Marilyn Grant

Country Living In 2016, Anthony farmer Marilyn Grant was given the Distinguished Service to Agriculture Award by the Florida Farm Bureau, in recognition of her outstanding contributions to the organization and her leadership in agriculture in the state. She also has been inducted into the Marion County Agricultural Hall of Fame. “I was a farmer’s wife, but I was actually a farmer with him,” she sometimes had to remind people when she first joined the Marion County Farm Bureau Board of Directors in 1976. Many of her fellow board members, however, already knew her long history as a cattle farmer and peanut producer. Grant was elected the first female president of the board in 1996. After growing up on a farm and joining 4-H as a student member, Grant went on to be a 4-H leader for more than a decade. She helped organize the North Marion FFA Alumni Chapter and is still active with the group. Although she loves working with young people already interested in agriculture, Grant also feels it’s important to teach all kids about the vital role farmers play in our society. “That’s where their food comes from; they should understand it’s a part of their life,” she says. “They need to find out what’s involved. It’s not just going out there and throwing a seed in the ground. You’ve got to take [care of] it from the time it comes up till the time you harvest it—sometimes it’s months. You don’t get a check every week.” May ‘ 2 1


Coca-Cola’s first Black female model, who has had a life filled with other notable firsts, now calls Ocala home. By Leah A. Taylor | Photography by Meagan Gumpert and Courtesy of Coca-Cola ome girls want to be models. Some girls dream about seeing their image in magazines. Many actively seek out fame and fortune. And then there are those who distinguish themselves in other ways and find themselves in the path of an opportunity that creates a legacy beyond their expectations. Mary Cowser Alexander, who was born May 25th, 1934, in Ballplay, Alabama, was never one of those girls who dreamed of modeling, popularity or profiles in magazines, but, in 1955, the CocaCola Company selected her to be the first Black woman to star in one of their iconic advertising campaigns. Something About Mary A soft-spoken, quick-witted, self-described “country girl,”

Alexander began making history when she stepped onto Clark College’s campus in Atlanta. She and her sister were the first from her small town to attend college. Mrs. Cowser, Mary’s mother, instilled the importance of higher education in all of her children and sustained the strongest influence on Alexander’s life. “She was a role model in the community as well as for the family,” Alexander explains. “She had a sixth grade education, but was a wonderful homemaker for 10 children and one wonderful husband.” Mary undoubtedly made her mother proud. At Clark, she earned recognition when she was named to the Who’s Who Among Students in American Universities and Colleges, worked in the dormitory throughout the week and babysat

for her college advisor and typing teacher, Dr. Hale, whom she “loved to death.” Whenever Dr. Hale ran late for classes, she would ask young Mary to open the classroom doors and get the students started on “thus and so.” Alexander truly enjoyed helping. She liked teaching but once considered majoring in something else until Dr. Hale said she could not. Alexander explains, “She was almost like my mama.” And while Alexander focused on her future career, admiring eyes were on her. Alexander admits her popularity. “Before I started modeling for Coca-Cola, I was an attendant to the college queen.” That same year her dormitory matron told her that Coca-Cola was “looking for people to advertise and model for us,” adding, “I want you to go downstairs and apply.”

Alexander dismissed the notion because she was already swamped. But her matron insisted. She says she never expected to be chosen from among the 75 girls representing cities such as Atlanta and New York. Fear gripped her. “I wasn’t afraid to do it [modeling].” She says her butterf lies stemmed from gaining her parents’ approval. “Back then, you couldn’t pick up a phone and have a talk with your parents.” Alexander had to write a letter and wait a week to 10 days for permission. Ballplay lay 15 minutes away from the nearest town and Mrs. Cowser had to walk 3 miles to the mailbox. When Alexander did get a response, the answer was, “You can do it. But be careful.” Her father worried about the kind of posing she would do and he did not want any swimsuit modeling—a requirement for one of the ads. “My father was especially old-fashioned.” But after Mr. Cowser saw the first check, he said, “OK.” The $600 payment was more than he made for months of farming. Mr. Cowser also became a fan of the product, which he had never tasted prior to Alexander’s modeling. The then-college junior produced 14 ads for the soft drink giant, which meant she had to be present for photo shoots on three different settings, scheduled on weekends and holidays. Alexander recalls having to ride the bus to Atlanta from Alabama while on spring vacation and holidays; she couldn’t go straight home with her family members. She had to take a bus to Alabama alone. In one ad, she sits at a piano. But it was only a prop. Her mother wanted her to take lessons from her 38


just normal for you to do that. I guess that is what youth will do for you.” The ads were just a glimmer of the achievements that lay ahead for her.

sister, but Alexander confesses, with a laugh, that her sister was “not a good teacher.” Eventually, she would hear of her image featured on billboards in New York and down in Mississippi. She unfortunately never saw any of those, but she did see herself in Ebony magazine. “I was just thrilled,” she recalls with lingering excitement in her velvety voice. Her favorite ad is the one of her seated behind a microphone. In those days, she became somewhat of an archetype. After being selected to represent CocaCola, she became the college queen—a title bestowed by Clark’s football team. Alexander says coyly, “I was just blown away. I knew very little about football then.” She was also unaware of her future influence. “Being 21, it never crossed my mind. I thought I was just doing something,” she admits. “If you were in a position to do this, that’s

A Can-Do Woman Alexander maintained her determination and confidence as she advanced in her career. And while she didn’t let her CocaCola fame go to her head, she applied the fruits of her success wisely, using the proceeds from her modeling sessions to pay off her college education, something her mother felt was a requirement before marriage. And although she had the looks, she never thirsted for the spotlight. She remained focused on becoming an educator. “I wanted to use my degree.” Unfortunately, teaching was not her first professional job. As a result of a discriminatory Detroit school system, Alexander worked as a real estate secretary for two years. She admits voicing her disdain publicly when a white woman with an associate’s degree received the teaching position instead. Alexander told the principal, “I know why you’re not hiring me. Because I’m Black, and she’s white.” It took two years before that principal called her in for another interview and, in 1959, Alexander accepted the position and became the first Black teacher in Mount Clemens, Michigan. She became the head of the Business Education department, she is proud to share—a department that was composed “of all white teachers.” Later, she shattered the ceiling as the first female and first Black principal in the School District of the City of Highland Park. When her peers believed that women

could not lead because they did not know enough about industrial education, Alexander replied, “Do the men know anything about home economics?” Her proficiency and confidence opened doors to serve in several leadership capacities: the State of Michigan’s first African American Vocational Education Director, the first African American on the Vocational Advisory Committee and the chairperson of that committee. “They just used my little Black face everywhere,” she teases about the promotion of her many achievements. Finally, in 1989, after 32 years of teaching and trailblazing for other Blacks and her fellow women, she retired and took on the role of directing a foundation for Buffalo Bills standout Reggie McKenzie. But she never strayed far from instruction, instituting tutoring services in Detroit and Highland Park and partnering with organizations like the United Way and the Chamber of Commerce. Welcome to Ocala For years, Alexander and Henry, her husband of 39 years, would vacation in Florida’s southernmost cities. On one occasion in 1990, the couple was heading back to Michigan when Alexander spotted a billboard boasting designer handbags. “I love to shop,” she explains, so she told her husband, “Let’s go see what those handbags are like.” The two avid shoppers took a detour into Ocala, and while Alexander did not find any handbags to her liking, Henry suggested they look around. Alexander stops to reflect on the pretty horse farms she saw at the time, “I just loved the horse farms, ‘cause I’m a country girl.” They were so impressed they spent the night at a hotel on the then two-lane State Road 200. The following morning they woke up and ate breakfast at Bill Knapp’s Restaurant. Before leaving, they

purchased flower pots to take back to their garden and vowed to return. In September of 1993, they returned and officially made Ocala home. Interestingly, it was while packing that Henry discovered a mysterious photograph. He asked his wife, “Mary, this is your picture?” She conceded, “Yeah,” and he said, “Oh, I didn’t know you modeled for Coca-Cola,” to which she replied, “Oh, you didn’t?” Then Alexander told Henry, “Just throw that away. We’re not going to move that to Florida.” And Henry said, “Oh yes, we are!” Alexander insisted, “We don’t need that old thing.” She laughs about dodging a costly mistake—the picture, valued at $3,000 in 2007—reopened a world she left behind. Family and Rediscovery Alexander relays those memories with humor and modesty. She says “being with family and friends, teaching and sharing the joys of life” are her favorite pastimes. Perhaps that is why her niece came Mary and her husband, Henry

from Atlanta for a visit in 2007 and brought along a friend named Sylvia Wright. While the two girls rummaged through Alexander’s photo albums, they happened across the same memorabilia Henry had discovered 14 years prior. Wright asked “Aunt Mary” if she could take a picture. Alexander agreed, thinking little of it until she received a follow-up call from Coca-Cola. She chuckles when she shares, “Coke didn’t know what happened to me. They thought we were all dead.” So Alexander had to prove she was indeed alive and that she was Coca-Cola’s first Black model. A letter dated January 24th, 1956, from Jessie J. Lewis, a Black man, and the public relations representative from Birmingham Coca-Cola Bottling Company, Inc., sufficed. In the letter, Lewis writes, “Dear Miss Cowser, it was indeed a pleasure to have met you during my recent visit to Atlanta…Now I am assured that the Coca-Cola company made a wise choice in selecting you to advertise Coke.” With that, Alexander was center stage again.

During the grand opening festivities at the World of Coca-Cola at Pemberton Place in 2007, Alexander, joined by 20 family members from all over the country, was celebrated for opening the door for others. She reminisces on Steve Harvey’s words to the audience, “Steve said many of us might not have made it to do advertising with Coca-Cola if it had not been for this lady right here.” Alexander welcomes renewed interest from the media about her story as another opportunity to shed light on the value of diversity and inclusion. Jamal Booker of the CocaCola Company says those considerations “are at the heart of our values and play an important part in our company’s success. In 1955, The Coca-Cola Company selected Mrs. Mary Alexander to be the first African American woman in Coca-Cola advertising. She has been an inspiring trailblazer throughout her life and we are honored that she plays an important and iconic role in the history of Coca-Cola.” Local Interests and Loves Alexander continued breaking down barriers after relocating to Ocala. The Alexanders played a 40


part in integrating Our Redeemer Lutheran Church in 1993, where Mary started a tutoring program on Saturdays for children. Her tutelage lasted two years—up until a hip surgery prohibited her involvement. Still, she participated on various church committees and taught adult education for GED candidates at the nonprofit MAD DADS. Besides her passion for education, Alexander lights up when she talks about flowers. As a child, she enjoyed digging up the front yard and planting rose bushes with her sister. “At one time when I lived in Detroit, I had over 65 different rose bushes in my rose bed, as well as vegetables,” she recalls. Henry still gives her flowers on Valentine’s Day, and she will likely have more to enjoy as Mrs. Alexander turns 87 this month. Diagnosed with scleroderma, an illness that affects her breathing and physical endurance, Alexander leaves her love of cooking to Henry, with no complaints. She says, “He’s a good cook.” Education, gardening, cooking and entertaining family and friends are all mainstays. And what does she drink with all that she adores? Alexander has a favorite Coca-

Cola product. She says, “I like that Cherry Coke.” Legacy Much like the women who spoke into her life, Alexander passes down wisdom like a smooth, refreshing swallow of a favorite beverage. She tells young people, “If the opportunity presents itself, that is the time for you to step forward and say, ‘Yes, I can do this. Just give me this opportunity.’” At family reunions, she imparts life lessons to the younger generation, teaching them where they have come from and where they are going. Since Alexander’s graduation from Clark, nearly every high school graduate in Ballplay has gone to college. Doctors, lawyers, judges and heads of colleges now follow in her progressive footsteps. So what’s next for Alexander? In her words: “If my legacy started on a farm in Ballplay, Alabama and allowed me to be a groundbreaker for other women and women of color, then I have done my job. If my legacy has been connecting young people with not only continued education but careers that will sustain their lives through retirement, then I have done my job. I will enjoy my flowers while I live through the grace of God.”

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nly a small number of women have chosen a career as a firefighter in Marion County. The physicality and long hours make it a demanding profession for anyone. But, as three accomplished female firefighters explain, the sisterhood and brotherhood of the fire service offers a rewarding career for those willing to go above and beyond. In a community where the fire rescue teams respond to medical emergencies far more often than fires, caring women with a desire to help their neighbors have a lot to offer.

Though their numbers are few, female firefighters are making a big impact in our community. By Lisa McGinnes Photography by Dave Miller

Serving her Community

Lieutenant firefighter and paramedic Victoria Barreras is one of only six female firefighters employed by Marion County Fire Rescue (MCFR). At just 18 years old, Victoria Barreras began volunteering at her community fire station, Marion County Station 1 in Anthony, which was run solely by volunteers in the early 1990s. Her boyfriend at the time was a volunteer firefighter. That relationship wouldn’t last but fighting fires would ignite a lingering passion.

“I fell in love with it through volunteering,” she explains. “I saw how much you gave back to the community and it was very local so I liked that aspect of it.” Responding to fire calls in the Sparr/Anthony area where she lived, Barreras worked alongside husband and wife volunteer team Gene and Birdie McCarthy at a time when there were only a few female first responders in the entire county. “Birdie was another female so I thought if Birdie could do it, I could do it,” she remembers. Although fighting fires requires Victoria Barreras

a lot of physical strength, Barreras never doubted she could do it if she was willing to put in the hard work. “My dad was military; he was a Marine and I was his girl,” she notes. “He was an outdoor guy and a really hard worker. My mom also always had really good work ethic.” It was simply a matter of “putting time and effort into accomplishing something,” she says. Her mother, Renate Barreras, who traveled the world as a flight purser (a cabin manager who oversees the flight attendants), remembers there was no deterring her daughter away from

her chosen—if dangerous—career. “I knew that was what she was going to do,” she recalls. Before long, the volunteer firefighter enrolled at Central Florida Community College (now the College of Central Florida) for more training. “If you had your EMT you could provide more care and help more,” she explains. So although she had originally planned to major in veterinary medicine at the University of Florida, Barreras switched gears and found she enjoyed providing emergency

medical care to people even more than pets. She went on to complete three semesters of paramedic school and earn her paramedic license. “In our hearts we love the calls where we really make a difference,” she says. “If you have someone who’s having a heart attack and you catch it, correct the issue and you give them more time with their family, those are the ones you really are eager for.” Barreras began working as a paramedic for the ambulance service, which, at that time, was separate from the fire department. After a few years, she found out the county was hiring firefighter paramedics and decided to take on the challenge of fire college—where she was the only woman in the class. “It was hard,” she admits, adding, “I never minded it.” She had already experienced that level of physical exertion as a volunteer, she explains, but points out that succeeding in fire training as a petite person requires extra effort and a few specialized techniques. “Being a little taller and wider would obviously help a lot,” she notes with a laugh. Her strategy was simply to work twice as hard. “Whatever we did in the morning I would usually do in the evening,” she recalls. “When we were done, I would go back out and pull the hose again, climb the stairs again.” Barreras and her mother fondly remember her dad’s contribution to her fire training. “My dad used to fall down in the living room,” Barreras remembers. “He’d be like, ‘OK honey, I’m your victim. You’ve got to get me up.’” In the fire service, men and women are held to the same physical agility standards. Learning techniques that allowed Barreras to use her lower body strength to her advantage made all the difference. “The guys can pretty much lean over and pick up a ladder. I lean over and bump it up with my leg,” she explains. When 44


picking up a patient on a medical call, instead of relying on brute strength, she employs maneuvers such as placing a sheet under their shoulders or using a gait belt. And for the last 15 years, as a part-time instructor for EMS students at the College of Central Florida (CF), she shares these techniques with future first responders. “I enjoy teaching, and their enthusiasm. If you can teach somebody a trick of the trade in the back of a rescue or how to pick up a ladder or just little things that can benefit them later, and that hopefully they’re going to pass on, that’s the nice part. I’ll have students call me years later and tell me about a call and be like, ‘We did this scenario in class and I remembered it.’” Barreras offers the following advice to her students, “Trust your intuition. Be ethical; do what’s right. And stay learning—don’t stop educating yourself.” As a lieutenant at Station 21 near On Top of the World, she acts as the shift leader for a lot of young firefighters she says are “impressionable about everything.” She directs them with advice she knows to be true from firsthand experience; five years ago, on her day off, Marion County fire crews extricated her own mother from her vehicle and took her to the hospital after a bad car accident. “I always tell them to treat every call you go on as if it’s your home or it’s your family,” she notes. “That’s your grandmother or your mother. You never know who you’re taking care of.” Barreras became a firefighter to help her community, but working 24-hour shifts requires some understanding from families, she notes. Her husband John Riolo is also a Marion County firefighter/paramedic and they’ve had to miss some birthdays and holidays at home. Their 11-year-old son Wyatt recently told Barreras their life

feels “normal” since she’s been a firefighter his whole life. Her 10-year-old daughter Scarlett, who’s been spotted giving her dolls CPR and bandaging their “broken arms,” told her mom she’s “cool” because she “saves lives.” They see her fulfilled in her career, and that means a lot to Barreras, who wants them to get an education and work hard but to ultimately do what makes them happy. “I love being out in the community. I love teaching,” she says. “I like making a difference.”

Reaching New Heights

Firefighter/Paramedic Nicole “Kopo” Kopolovits is one of seven women employed as Ocala Fire Rescue (OFR) firefighters and is OFR’s only female to ever earn her smoke diver certification. There was definitely a bit of hero worship when Nicole Kopolovits had her earliest encounters with first responders. As the child of a diabetic mother in South Florida, with a father who worked long hours, she and her older sister learned at a young age to call 911 if their mom needed help. “The paramedic firefighters would come to the house and they would save her,” Kopolovits remembers. “I would be scared and crying; I was very young. And they would talk to us and make me feel better. I was like, This is super cool. These people are heroes.” Always active and athletic, Kopolovits started taekwondo when she was 6 years old, and says that laid a foundation of “discipline, work ethic and being in shape.” In high school, she played percussion in the marching band and planned to go to college and major in music. However, when her plans changed and she enrolled at Broward Community College, she knew right away she wanted to take EMT classes—which she credits as the “greatest decision” she ever made. She earned her EMT certification

Nicole Kopolovits

Pam Driggers

and went right on to complete paramedic school. Then, realizing there are far more job opportunities for paramedics who also are firefighters, she came to Ocala to attend Florida State Fire College, as one of two females in her class, where “everything really just fell into place.” “As soon as I went I loved it,” she remembers. “I liked doing all the activities we learned. I liked the challenge of it. I loved that everything was like a team—you communicated and you solved the issue together.” When she graduated from fire school five years ago, Kopolovits accepted a job with OFR, where, she says, “Being a female in a maledominated career doesn’t cross my mind, because we have such a respect for each other.” Kopolovits laughs now about “showing up at fire school with long, blond hair.” She figured some of the guys were probably underestimating what “this little girl” could do until they had their first day of physical training and she “demolished those dudes.” Her strategy, she says, has always been to “keep her mouth shut and show what she can do.” After her first year of probationary employment, she got a job in a catheterization laboratory on her days off from the fire station because she “can’t stand sitting still.” However, she decided she was working way too much after meeting her girlfriend, Jessica Mayes, and cut back on some hours so they could spend time together. Because Mayes is a paramedic for Marion County and they work the same shift, the two share an understanding of the demands of the job and they’re able to relax and recharge on their days off and spend quality time with their dog, Lexi. Like Barreras, Kopolovits says learning techniques to accomplish some physically demanding tasks as a smaller person helped her to be successful, noting that some of her

male teammates who have shorter or slimmer body types helped her with tips for different ways to hold a pike pole or ways to bend or use the strength in her legs to her advantage. Since joining CF’s EMS program as a part-time instructor nearly three years ago, she tries to pass along tips she’s learned. She also takes every opportunity to continue her own education. Kopolovits is currently earning her bachelor’s degree online. She recently completed the fire department’s confined spaces training, which she says is a step towards qualifying to one day join the special operations team made up of firefighters with advanced knowledge in extrication tools and techniques—“anything that would require ropes and pullies… rappelling…or getting someone off a building or out of a ditch.” The 26-year-old never shies away from a new challenge, and recently accomplished something few women have even attempted. On January 9th, Kopolovits became Ocala Fire Rescue’s firstever female certified Florida smoke diver. The elite designation is awarded after an intense 30-hour, six-day course designed to push experienced firefighters to their limits with smoky burn and search scenarios that require hours in hot bunker gear breathing with the aid of a heavy air pack as well as grueling physical workouts. For Kopolovits, who’s always looking for a new opportunity to challenge herself, it was the culmination of a year of training. “I can’t even explain the feeling; I don’t know how I would get it again,” she says of completing the course. As a paramedic, Kopolovits has additional medical training that allows her to provide more advanced care than the EMT certification required for all Ocala and Marion County firefighters. Unlike an EMT, who can perform CPR, provide oxygen and do basic life support and first aid, she is

trained to start an IV, insert an oral airway, interpret an EKG and administer medications, for instance. When her crew responds to a call for assistance, she says they’re always there on “the worst day of somebody’s life.” She’s saved a grandmother in cardiac arrest who “at some point was dead” and she’s delivered a baby in the middle of the night. The one thing every call has in common, Kopolovits notes, is that she “needs to be the best I can be.” “When I’m at work, this is all I care about. This is where my head’s at. I’m here to do this job. I trained in my fire gear so I’m ready for a fire. I can save you and your family. If I go on a medical call, I know what I’m supposed to do.” And yes, she’s helped many diabetic patients who, like her mom, sometimes experience unstable blood sugar levels. And when the patient is a parent, she makes a special connection with their children. “It’s close to me,” she notes. “I always help the person in need, but if there’s kids on scene I always try and get them to the side before we leave and tell them, ‘Hey, you did a good job.’” Educating patients and their families is part of her job, she explains, so she might give them tips about glucose tablets or gel or make sure the children know what to do if it happens again. “It’s the greatest job in the world,” Kopolovits enthuses. “I get to go the fire station, hang out with my best friends and, on top of that, you get to help people. Or you get to save somebody’s life. This is where I was meant to be.”

Leading by Example

Captain Pam Driggers is MCFR’s only female captain. She has worked her way up through the ranks over her nearly 27-year career. She still laughs when she remembers rolling fire hoses in a business skirt. Pam Driggers had been asked to be the treasurer May ‘ 2 1




for the volunteer firefighters at MCFR Station 18 in Belleview. The young single mother worked as an office manager, so the bookkeeping was no problem. But she soon wanted to understand more about emergency response. “I thought, if I’m going to be signing my name to these checks, I want to see what I’m actually signing,” she recalls. So, she signed up for a volunteer firefighter class. She remembers wearing tennis shoes inside her bunker boots to keep them on because back then gear didn’t come sized for a petite woman who stands just 5 feet tall in her shoes. “I used to get off work and run to class, learning to fight fire,” she recalls. “I thought, I really like this.” It was 1990 and there were very few women employed as firefighters anywhere, but it just so happened there were two at Station 18. Riding along with them on the back of the fire engine, Driggers thought, You know, I could do this. “I think it’s the adrenaline and the excitement,” she explains. “For me the big thing is the community—being part of the community, getting out there and helping and making a difference in people’s lives.” In 1993, Driggers completed fire standards training at the Florida State Fire College and then enrolled in EMT school at CF. Upon graduation in 1994 she was hired by Marion County. At the time, her two sons, Daniel and Chris, were in elementary and middle school. They worried about her, she says, but they knew she was “tough.” “They’re proud of me,” she notes. She had taught them to be self-sufficient and “knew they were strong kids.” Back then, “it was well known that women didn’t belong in the fire service,” Driggers admits. But she wasn’t going to let anyone else’s doubts keep her from the career she wanted.

“It just made me mad, and more determined,” she says. It helped to have support from the other two women at Station 18. “I knew if I had questions, I could call. They’d be like, ‘Come on, Pam, let’s work on this ladder.’” Being the mom of two boys turned out to be an asset when the department wanted to start a Boy Scout Explorer post in the late 1990s. Driggers had helped start Boy Scout Troop 982 at Harbour View Elementary School. “My son was part of them too, so that gave us that family activity,” she remembers. Although her children are now grown, she still enjoys working with young people in the Explorer program. Participating in MCFR’s honor guard also means a lot to Driggers, who helped organize the honor guard team more than 20 years ago, after a volunteer firefighter died in the line of duty. “It’s important for the families,” she explains. “It’s important to let them know that their son, daughter, wife, husband or child was making a difference in other people’s lives. That if they gave their life in the line of duty it meant something. And it helps to give them closure. It pays respect to our brothers and sisters.” Driggers is the deputy commander for the Florida Fallen Firefighter Memorial and the colead instructor for the honor guard academy. She was an instructor at the fire college for several years and enjoys opportunities to talk with high school students in the Career Academy or present at career days. She tells young people that although the fire service is not like they see on TV, “real life fire” is “a very rewarding job.” “You do have to be physically fit, and you have to be mentally tough,” she cautions. “You have to be strong enough to see and face what we face on a daily basis. But it’s an awesome brotherhood and sisterhood job.” Since she was first promoted

to shift leader in 2001, later to lieutenant and then to captain in 2003, Driggers has served as a team leader. “I work hard, but my team makes me look good,” she says. She sees one of her most important functions as an officer as setting the tone for her crew at MCFR Liberty Station 32. “I walk in every morning and call them all ‘Sunshine,’ she says with a laugh. “‘Good morning, Sunshine’ to the outgoing crew and to my crew coming in. ‘This is going to be a great day.’” In her free time, Driggers enjoys spending time with her two granddaughters. She wants young women to understand that they have a lot to offer their community, even in a maledominated profession. “Females bring a lot to the fire service,” she says. “We may not be that big, burly person, but we bring to the table a whole different aspect and outlook than what the traditional gender-specific roles do. Ninety percent of our calls are medical calls.” And, often, that means a car wreck or a cardiac arrest, she explains, but just as often, it means “helping and holding that elderly person’s hand at 2 o’clock in the morning because their back hurts or their wrist hurts and they’re afraid because they’re by themselves; they’re lonely and they need somebody to talk to.” “That’s what we provide— service to our community,” she declares. “You have to have that caring aspect about you and want to make a difference in people’s lives and to take care of your community. We’re going to get dirty and tired, but we’re going to take care of each other doing it.” For information on becoming a firefighter, visit ocalafire.org/mentor or the Florida State Fire College website at myfloridacfo.com/ division/SFM/bfst May ‘ 2 1


Character, Courage, Commitment. The service and legacy of two pioneering women is embodied in a project that will impact the future growth of West Ocala. By Susan Smiley-Height | Photography by Meagan Gumpert


uth Ford Reed has never been one to back down from a challenge, whether it be racial discrimination, being stranded while pregnant and traveling with a small child, or fighting for the citizens of West Ocala to be able to breathe clean air. From her sizable property on 18th Court, all Reed has to do is look north to 1921 NW 17th Place

where the Royal Oak charcoal plant was once located. Seen as an asset in 1975, when it opened and provided much-needed jobs, the plant was later considered to have a detrimental effect on the community. Residents said soot and ash from the plant would cover their vehicles overnight and coat the outsides of their homes. Though not proven medically, many residents

who developed chronic respiratory conditions or cancer blamed their health issues on the emissions and pollution the plant produced. “I couldn’t breathe at night without putting a washcloth on my face,” Reed recalled during a speech in 2019. In 1996, while beginning to investigate the plant’s permitting and alleged infractions, Reed

formed the Neighborhood Citizens of Northwest Ocala and served as president, which she still does today. “I decided, with my neighbors, to do something about it. Many thought we were a joke, because there was a place called Royal Oak. It made the charcoal that you barbecue with. But we were more like being cooked like barbecue all day long. We inhaled that smoke, billowing out at night, flames leaping 300 or 400 feet in the air,” she shared in that same speech. “I lived not a block from it.” “My grassroots group started doing research, looking up the records,” Reed says of the plant. Reed explained that they made their case “at City Council, zoning, board of adjustment, every other kind of meeting we could to represent our ideas. And we didn’t care how many times we were defeated, we were determined that we were going to do something about it. What, we didn’t know, but we were tired of living like that for over 30 years. We had a right to

clean air, a right to breathe.” “And, finally, we began to catch them not doing what they were supposed to do. We called town hall meetings. Pretty soon I got a grant of $25,000. We did ground samples and found out the soot and ash had pH carbon traces that would do harm to the body and we dealt with scientists

We deserve better on the west side. We have a right to clean air, not polluted. - Ruth Ford Reed to verify what we were finding. We got in touch with a national environmental organization out of Tallahassee. A student from Forest High School and her mother set out white plates and the ash and soot would stick to them. We kept dating them and stacking them. When the state Department of Environmental

Protection (DEP) came down, they wanted to know what evidence we had. I had the pH samples from the scientists and samples of the fallout here on this side of town as compared to the east side because the parent and student lived on the east side of town. We said, ‘We deserve better on the west side. We have a right to clean air, not polluted.’” Reed recalls “going down to the plant at 5am, in my pajamas and housecoat, checking on what was going on. We lost seven people from this neighborhood to respiratory disease, including my husband,” she alleges. The Neighborhood Citizens of Northwest Ocala and Wild Law, a nonprofit organization focused on environmental protection, lobbied the Ocala City Council to try to clean up the plant’s operations. The City Council wrote letters to the DEP and to state and federal elected officials. The DEP soon found nine potential violations, including that the plant was emitting a hazardous amount of

Photo courtesy of Thomas Fletcher

Reed with Mary Sue Rich at the demolition of Royal Oak Charcoal Plant

the pollutant methanol and not reporting it in permit applications. Reed shared the story of a pivotal moment during that speech: “One day, we had a meeting at Lillian Bryant and one of the senators came to our meeting. He said not in my backyard, and not in your backyard any longer. And the City Council issued us a proclamation, saying we will help clean up that facility. We found 17 violations. They didn’t want to repair their business and didn’t want to put a screen over it to keep the smoke from coming out, but we were determined.” She explains that her group and the city stood fast in their determination that Royal Oak do something. “The Mayor issued us a proclamation saying we will help you. I’m so proud of the city,” she explains. “If you have a problem, keep going to your city council, keep staying in their face, keep telling them what you like and what you don’t like. I didn’t care about the color of my skin. It wasn’t about me. It was about my community. It was about our children. It was about realizing all of Ocala should share clean air, clean water, clean soil and

be able to breathe.” In December 2005, the Roswell, Georgia-based Royal Oak Enterprises announced it would close the Ocala plant by the end of February 2006 due to higher operating costs and environmental issues caused by the poor quality of the raw materials used in the production of charcoal, the reports state. The plant had 43 employees. Reed says locals were sorry for the employees losing their jobs and that they had tried to reach a resolution with Royal Oak, but to no avail. In August of 2018, Reed was at the controls of a piece of heavy equipment that began to rip panels off the façade of the main building at the abandoned plant. A cloud of black soot roiled the air. “When I was bashing it down, all my energy, all my everything went into it and the people had to run back out of the way when they saw that black soot. I mean it went everywhere,” she recalls. “I bashed that thing in with all my might. Good riddance! is what I was thinking.” Now, the site, named Reed Place in honor of her perseverance, is where the new Mary Sue Rich Community Center at Reed Place

is being built. Rich, an Ocala native and longtime resident of West Ocala, was an Ocala City Councilwoman for 24 years. She retired in 2019. Reed Place spans 24.5 acres in the West Ocala Community Redevelopment Area. The land was acquired from Royal Oak. The community center will be sited on approximately 10 of those acres. The city hopes to redevelop the remaining 14.5 acres as a mixed-use concept as defined in the West Ocala Community Plan. That overall plan calls for 386 single-family homes, 832 multifamily residential units and 150 townhomes on more than 200 acres at 2201 NW 21st Street, which was part of the former Pine Oaks of Ocala Golf Course. The plan requires 20 percent of units to be affordable housing. Nearby is the city’s new 60-acre Ocala Wetland Recharge Park, also on property that was part of the city-owned course. Reed was involved in discussions about the park, community center and housing. “The community center is exactly what we need to pick this area up. It is going to help make us esthetically beautiful,” she shares.

Rendering of the Mary Sue Rich Community Center at Reed Place



“And we have a lot of citizens that need homes. We don’t have enough decent homes for people to live in.” Reed says the Neighborhood Citizens of Northwest Ocala will continue to “keep our eyes open, monitor the zoning, any changes that come in this area. We gather our people and try to research and try to find out if it is good for the community or a negative.” “Ruth Reed has always believed that everybody is equal,” offers District 2 Councilman Ire Bethea, a lifelong resident of Ocala, who was formerly with the Ocala Recreation and Parks department. “She is strong, courageous and consistent. I have great respect for her. When you are coming from your heart, there is nothing better.” “I guess I’ve just been a pioneer all my life. Many times, it’s a lonely road,” Reed says softly. “But you just have to maintain.”

Early Influences

Reed was born in Kansas and says early encouragement from her father helped shape her tenacity. “My father was a real outgoing person; my mother was totally opposite. I loved his outgoing personality and I think I got mine from him,” she offers. “Anytime my father said I could do something, I could do it! I didn’t care what anybody else said.” That served her well when her family, at her mother’s urging, moved from Topeka, Kansas to a rural community 150 miles away when Reed was in 10th grade, in 1956. “Even though integration took place in 1954, there was still an all-Black school in Nicodemus,” she recalls, adding that some members of Black families told her father that officials would not let his children attend the integrated school in nearby Council Grove. “So, my father says, ‘I’m not going to send my children to an all-Black school. They’ve been going with white and they are going to continue to go with whites.’ He enrolled us and they

acted like they were delighted to have us. I only had a few incidents. Most of the people greeted us.” She recalls there were still signs in the area indicating that “whites only” could enter certain locations. By 1960, Ruth was married to Leroy Reed. He served in the U.S. Army for four years and then obtained a bachelor’s degree. He took a job at Hampton Junior College in Ocala because he “was dark skinned and couldn’t get a job in Kansas,” she explains, adding that she had given birth to their first child and was pregnant Above, on historic photo, courtesy of City of Ocala, Royal Oak plant with a second, outlined in yellow and Ruth Reed’s house in blue. and was to follow him to Florida a and say, ‘You must be crazy, they’re little bit later. not going to put you on that bus.’ “He was supposed to work a And I said they are going to put me month and then send for me. But on that bus because they messed my father kept telling me about my ticket up. I went in and checked these ladies down south and I got a couple of times and a man said, a little jealous. Then my baby got ‘I know you’ve got to have more sick and my mother was taking in money,’ and I said, ‘Sir, I have other kids and I grabbed the last $2.50 for my baby’s milk and I’m bit of money I could and boarded pregnant with another child.’ I said, a Greyhound bus,” Reed recalls. ‘I am going to Ocala, so put me back “I thought the bus would bring on the bus. Do what you have to do.’ me to Ocala, but it dropped me in After five hours, they put me on a Tallahassee. I changed my ticket bus and I came to Ocala.” and when I got to Perry, they put She caught a ride from the me off the bus and told me, ‘That’s station to the college with a friend the end of the line.’ I said, ‘Sir, I she made on the bus, whose paid to go to Ocala and I’m going grandfather tied all her belongings to Ocala.’ onto the back of a Model T Ford. “I sat there for five hours in the “Off we went, humpety, sun. Black people would tease me humpety, out to Hampton Junior May ‘ 2 1


College. They didn’t have any roads paved,” she shares. “It was down in a hole, then up on the hill, down in the rut, and I said, ‘Where in the world are we going?’” When she asked to see her husband, he didn’t believe it was her and questioned the woman who had greeted her. “He said, ‘She’s in Wichita, Kansas. And the lady said, ‘No, she isn’t,’” Reed remembers. “He said is she bright-skinned and she said yes. He said is she pregnant and she said yes. He came out and he didn’t say I love you, the first words he said were, ‘Why are you here?’ “He said we have no place to live. And I said oh yes, we do, wherever you’re living, I’m living!” she says with a laugh. “The lady said you can’t live there. I said, we’ll

live in the car then. We found a place before the day was out.” Leroy obtained a doctorate degree and Ruth decided she wanted to also be an educator and attend the University of Florida in 1966. “They told me I couldn’t go.

I just want people to enjoy living in this beautiful part of the country. - Mary Sue Rich That’s all they should say, because I went,” she says of her stalwart determination. Mary Sue Rich

After earning a bachelor’s degree in education, she began teaching in local schools and first taught fourth grade, then fifth grade for the last dozen years of her career. “They were doing double sessions and you could teach in the morning or the afternoon. I had four kids, so I chose the afternoon,” she says. “I didn’t go to work until 5 o’clock. You’d work from 5 until 7 or 8 o’clock. I didn’t care if it was 9 o’clock because I had mornings to do what I wanted to do. I had a garden, I took care of the kids, I did my errands, I did my school work. I was well prepared. And then one teacher said I wouldn’t get a job at Shady Hill Elementary because it was upper class and there were no Blacks there. And I said I’m going to integrate it.” “I was the only Black they hired,” she notes. “I worked there about five years and we had educators come from the state educational system and they pulled me aside and asked what is one thing that needs to be done. And I said send some more Black teachers out here, because there are 750 students and only one Black teacher.” Reed, who obtained a master’s degree in administration and supervision from Nova University in 1979, retired from teaching at age 55, in 1996.

Devoted to District 2

Ocala City Council District 2 includes the area where the Royal Oak charcoal plant was located. Mary Sue Rich served in the District 2 seat for 24 years. “I remember the emissions from that charcoal plant,” she recalls. “You would wake up in the morning and your car and house would be covered with ash and soot.” Rich also recalls years of involvement with Reed’s nonprofit group and city and state agencies in investigating the allegations about the plant. “I think it caused some people to 54


have cancer. We can’t prove that,” she states, “but we think it did.” “A number of people were involved with that plant for years, but it was Ruth Reed who never gave up,” Rich recalls. After the plant closure, the city bought the property. “We bought it to secure it for the future,” she says. “And then somebody brought up the idea of putting a community center there.” The new center, which is estimated will cost $10.3 million to create, is named in honor of Rich’s long civic and community service, including her work in establishing the Racial Harmony and Cultural Awareness Task Force. The 41,750-square-foot, two-story center will include a gymnasium, fitness center, library, meeting rooms, child play area, auditorium and kitchen. The groundbreaking took place earlier this year. Construction should take about a year. The city is paying $8 million from reserves in the general, electric and water resources funds, through a 20year loan with a 2 percent interest rate. The other $2.3 million will come from the Marion County Hospital District, which will oversee nutrition and health initiatives at the center through its Active Marion Project and Fitness and Nutrition in Schools. Rich, who remains involved with the city and her church, even while on dialysis three times a week and recovering from knee surgery, says the community center will be her physical legacy, but she hopes her personal legacy will be that she’s “been involved with so many things to enhance the lives of people in Ocala, to make things better for them.” She explains that her dedication and motivation to advance the quality of life here stems from her love of our community. “Ocala was a great place to raise my children. It’s not a big city and it’s not a small country town,” she

Ruth Reed

declares. “I just want people to enjoy living in this beautiful part of the country.”

“Still Advocating”

As a city employee and a resident of West Ocala, Bethea was part of committees that looked at the quality of life in West Ocala and advocated for a venue to host indoor and outdoor sports and a play area for children, as well as a space to host events such as banquets. Initially, studies were done on the feasibility of establishing such a center at the E.D. Croskey complex or Lillian F. Bryant Park venue. “We looked at the history of the E.D. Croskey Center, access to both centers and bringing people into the west side, like on the east side,” he

says of the path that led to situating the new community center where the charcoal plant had been. He has experienced firsthand the continued passion and determination of the women for whom this historic site and center are named and recognizes their ongoing willingness to be champions for the community. “Mrs. Rich and Mrs. Reed are still advocating, always asking, ‘How can I help you?’” Bethea notes. “They are for one Ocala, not just West Ocala.” He says some of the defining qualities that Reed and Rich share is that they “actively listen to others, express ideas clearly and share their knowledge,” enthusiastically adding, “I applaud them.” May ‘ 2 1


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Mangia Bene! Making pizzas and flatbreads at home can be a delicious way to share time with family members and friends. By Jill Paglia Photography by Lyn Larson of Mahal Imagery May ‘ 2 1




hen I was growing up, my small family did not have pizza as a meal very often, but that certainly changed when I married an Italian man! For many years, my husband John and I invested our money back into our business, which meant that eating out was a luxury. Our big night out in the 1980s would be a once a month visit to Ciccio’s Pizza in Silver Springs Shores. Two brothers, Sal and Eppy, owned the pizzeria and treated us like family. As our own family grew to include children, one of our bestloved traditions became movie night every Friday at home—and it always included homemade pizza. After I would pick the kids up from school, we would go to the local video store and they would choose two or three movies for the weekend and their favorite candy to enjoy, once they had devoured the pizza. Many times, their friends would join the fun. Now, with all of the online streaming services, it is even easier to host a movie night at home. To help you prepare restaurant quality pizza crusts—nice and crispy—I recommend investing in a good pizza baking stone, or more than one if you are planning on serving several people. I have two that have served us well for more than 20 years. If you don’t want to make your own, you can purchase premade pizza dough at most grocery stores. I now prefer to make pizza crust from cauliflower, which I think is a bit more friendly on the waistline. Whether you create traditional pies or change it up a bit, just have a fun and creative time with it and let your family members and guests be involved in the process. That might mean altering your recipe to suit a variety of palates, for example by adding figs to the flatbread recipe shared here or sliced black olives to the veggie pizza. I like to say that pizza is perfect no matter which way you slice it, and, as Italian mothers will tell their guests, “Mangia!” or eat up!




Cauliflower Crust Pizza with Roasted Veggies For the crust: 1 small head of cauliflower 1 egg 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese 1/4 cup shredded mozzarella cheese (I prefer part-skim) 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano 1/2 teaspoon dried basil 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper 1/4 teaspoon salt For the topping: 1/3 cup fresh broccoli florets 1/3 cup fresh baby portobello mushrooms, sliced 1/2 small red bell pepper, sliced 1/4 small red onion, sliced 1 ounce goat cheese, crumbled 3 teaspoons olive oil, divided 1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese (also part-skim) 1/4 cup pesto Sprinkle of salt Place a pizza stone in oven and preheat to 450 degrees. › Remove the cauliflower florets from the stem and put them in a food processor or blender and pulse to achieve a sand-like texture, which should yield about 2 1/2 to 3 cups of cauliflower. › Transfer to a microwave-safe bowl and cover and microwave for 4 minutes. › Let cauliflower cool completely, then place the granules in

a towel and wring tightly to remove as much moisture as possible. (I recommend doing this in two batches to get the cauliflower really dry.) › Place the cauliflower in a mixing bowl and add the egg, spices and cheeses. › Mix well (I use my hands) and form the dough into a ball. › Place one piece of parchment paper on a cutting board or other hard surface and spray the paper with nonstick cooking oil. › Put the dough ball on the parchment paper. › Spray a second piece of parchment paper and place on top of the ball. › Roll the dough into a circle about 1/6 inch thick. › Remove the top sheet of parchment and set the pizza dough aside while you prepare the vegetables. › Place the broccoli, bell peppers and onions on a foil-lined baking sheet and drizzle with 2 teaspoons olive oil and sprinkle with salt. › Take the pizza stone from the oven and carefully transfer the pizza dough to the stone. › Place the stone back in the oven, along with the sheet of vegetables, and bake for 8-10 minutes. › While those are baking, sauté the mushrooms in 1 teaspoon of olive oil for 3-4 minutes, or until tender. › When the pizza dough is golden brown, carefully remove it from the oven, along with the vegetables. › Spread the pesto (or other sauce) over the pizza dough and sprinkle with an even layer of mozzarella. › Top with the roasted vegetables, sautéed mushrooms and crumbled goat cheese. › Return the pizza to the oven for 5-7 minutes until the cheese is bubbling a bit. › Let the pizza cool for 2-3 minutes so the crust will hold together when you slice it.

Arugula, Caramelized Onion and Goat Cheese Flatbread

2 premade naan-style flatbreads 3 cups arugula, washed, dried and coarsely chopped 1 red onion, sliced 4 ounces goat cheese 1 tablespoon olive oil Salt and fresh ground pepper Optional: Four slices of prosciutto, cut or torn into small pieces, and balsamic glaze Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. › Put the oil and onions in a medium skillet and cook over very low heat, stirring occasionally, until onions are caramelized, about 15 minutes. › Adjust heat to medium and add the arugula and cook until wilted, about 1 minute. › Season with salt and pepper. › Place the flatbreads on a baking sheet and top each with a light coat of olive oil and some of the arugula/onion mixture. › Crumble goat cheese on top. › Add prosciutto if desired. › Bake for 10 minutes. › Allow to cool for a few minutes and cut each flatbread into pieces, either squares or diagonals. › Add glaze if desired

Buffalo Chicken Pizza

2 premade pizza crusts 8 ounces fresh mozzarella, chopped or torn into pieces 2 cup cooked chicken, shredded (I use rotisserie chicken from a store) 4 tablespoons butter 1/3 cup blue cheese, crumbled 1/4 cup hot sauce brand of your choice 1/4 red onion, thinly sliced 2 stems green onion, thinly sliced 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder Preheat oven to 450 degrees. › Place butter in a medium microwavesafe bowl and melt, about 20 to 30 seconds. › Whisk hot sauce and garlic powder into the butter to create the Buffalo sauce. › Pour half of the Buffalo sauce over chicken and toss until coated. › Place the pizza crusts on two baking stones. › Add half of the Buffalo sauce to each crust and spread it out (leave the outer rim bare to avoid burning). › Divide the chicken mixture, mozzarella, blue cheese and red onion evenly between the pizzas. › Bake the pizzas until the crust is golden and the cheese is bubbly, about 15 to 17 minutes. › Garnish with green onions and an extra drizzle of hot sauce (if desired) and serve immediately. 60



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(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, Louisiana Gumbo and Marinated Salmon Salad. 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.

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The recently returned Ocala native savors time spent in the kitchen as a respite from her busy schedule as a grad student and mother. By Lisa McGinnes Photography by Lyn Larson of Mahal Imagery

Vietri Incanto Lace Cake Stand and stripe salad plates, available at Agapanthus Ocala

In the Kitchen With Caroline O’Connell



aroline O’Connell’s culinary journey began when she took the initiative to prepare her mom a Mother’s Day meal at age 11 and eventually led her to a short stint as a professional restaurant pastry cook. While she still enjoys preparing special occasion cakes for friends and family members, these days her kitchen is her special sanctuary as she juggles graduate school and raising her 2-year-old daughter, Cammie. Her idea of “me time” is spending hours preparing an elaborate dish. “It’s therapeutic for me,” she explains. “It’s when I can just let my mind rest and just focus on cooking. Mack (her husband) will tell me to just take the day, pick something I want to cook, and be in the kitchen all day. I don’t mind spending four hours cooking dinner for everybody,” she says with a smile. “I definitely cooked a lot more before Cammie,” she admits, noting that, these days, she and Mack find themselves eating more kid-friendly favorites such as tacos and pizza. “I’m doing pretty quick stuff. It used to be big… elaborate. Now it’s quicker things.” As a teenager, O’Connell remembers watching Emeril Live after school. Some of the first recipes she tried came from Girls’ Life magazine and the well-worn 1999 Southern Living Cookbook she still uses today. It’s hard to choose her favorite dish to prepare, because she’s continually experimenting with new recipes, O’Connell explains. “I jump all over the place,” she says with a laugh. “Usually when I make something, I’ve done it and want to make something different.” The one dish that has stood the test of time to become a family favorite and holiday menu staple is Key lime pie. O’Connell started with the Southern Living Cookbook’s traditional recipe and made adjustments until she perfected the cool, creamy, refreshingly tart dessert her family regularly requests, even for Thanksgiving. She enjoyed preparing the quintessential Florida dish throughout the 14 years she lived in the Northeast, first attending college in Ithaca, New York, then living in Philadelphia, Boston and Vermont. When she relocated back to her hometown of Ocala last summer, her sister-inlaw Anne King welcomed her with her very own Key lime tree, which she hopes will yield fruit for future pies. But the research that helped O’Connell hone her recipe was undoubtedly the most enjoyable part. “In high school, I tore through the Keys and ate as many kinds of Key lime pie as I could,” she May ‘ 2 1



Vietri Incanto Lace cake stand, Lafayette dinner forks and Mariposa plate from Agapanthus


Mariposa plate and Mud Pie napkin from Agapanthus

recalls, with a laugh. She discovered two distinct toppings—meringue and whipped cream—and found herself pondering just the right finishing touch. “I think the whipped cream is the perfect complement to the tart pie,” she declares. “The meringue just doesn’t quite have enough contrast for me. I like the whipped cream. I feel like it’s the more classic way.” Currently, O’Connell finds culinary inspiration on Instagram and enjoys posting stories that show her whipping up new creations. And Cammie is usually stationed nearby, at her own play kitchen, offering to “make something.” “I think it would be so much fun to teach her cooking because it’s my favorite hobby,” O’Connell says hopefully. “She’s pretty creative. To do it with her would be super fun.”

Key Lime Pie Makes 8 servings Pie filling 6 egg yolks 2 14-ounce cans sweetened condensed milk 1 cup Key lime juice 2/3 cup sifted powdered sugar 3 teaspoons grated lime rind Graham cracker crust 10 ounces (about 3 cups) graham cracker crumbs 1/2 cup sugar 3/4 cup butter, melted Whipped topping 2 cups whipping cream 6 tablespoons powdered sugar, not sifted 1 teaspoon vanilla extract First, prepare graham cracker crust. › Combine all ingredients, mixing well. › Firmly press mixture

evenly in the bottom and up the sides of a 9-inch pie plate or tart pan. › Bake at 350 degrees for 7-9 minutes. While crust is baking, prepare filling. › Beat ingredients in a bowl at medium speed with an electric mixer for one minute or until well blended. › Pour filling into prebaked crust. › Bake uncovered at 325 degrees for 3540 minutes or until filling is set. › Cover with plastic wrap and chill in refrigerator at least two hours before topping with whipped cream and serving. › To prepare whipped cream topping, beat cream and vanilla in a bowl with an electric mixer on medium-high speed until foamy. › Gradually add powdered sugar and beat until stiff peaks form. › Top pie with whipped cream and garnish with 1 teaspoon lime zest and/or lime wedges. May ‘ 2 1



Divine Wines With such a great selection to choose from, how does one choose the right wine for the right occasion? By Susan Smiley-Height | Photography by Becky Collazo Shot on location at Stella’s Modern Pantry and Agapanthus Ocala


ifth-generation Floridian Sarah Belyeu has honed her knowledge of great wines through her specialized experience in wine sales and as a wine director for some top Central Florida restaurants. The roles have included working as regional sales director for an importer of single estate and organic wines, wine advisor for the Ocala Culinary Festival and wine director for five-time semifinalist for the James



Beard Best Chef Award Jeannie Pierola’s Tampabased Chef Driven Restaurant Group. Belyeu’s curated wine lists for the group have received Wine Spectator magazine’s Award of Excellence for the past three years. She enjoys highlighting small batch organic and natural wines and loves discussing all things wine with her friends here in Ocala. We relied on Belyeu’s expertise to help us craft this


guide to choosing wines as gifts, for special occasions or simply for your own enjoyment. For Mother’s Day, Belyeu recommends a pinot noir rosé from the Loire Valley. The Sancerre Cherrier Pere et Fils Vignerons is available at Agapanthus in downtown Ocala for $24. The dry and fruity wine has notes of strawberry, raspberry and kiwi. It is perfect as an aperitif, with grilled dishes or dessert. “Brunch and rosé are a match made in heaven,” Belyeu offers. “The beauty of rosé wine is that it comes in a variety of styles ranging from sweet to dry, so there’s something perfect for every palate.” When attending a dinner party, Belyeu says you can’t go wrong in bringing along a bottle of Jean Philippe Blanquette de Limoux Brut, which is available at ABC Fine Wine & Spirits stores for about $15. The dry wine is described as having lemon bar aromas with bright citrus flavors and being lively and crisp. “No matter what your host is serving, this will be a fantastic pairing. It’s every bit as good as champagne without the champagne price tag and has the distinction of being the oldest sparkling wine in the world,” Belyeu notes. “Unlike every other wine in existence, champagne is the one wine that truly pairs with everything from appetizers to dessert. You simply can’t go wrong with bubbles.” If you want a wine for a special occasion, Belyeu says the Louis Bernard Chateauneuf du Pape, available for $48 at Stella’s Modern Pantry, also in downtown

Ocala, is “an impressive full-bodied red.” The wine, from the Rhone Valley in France, has notes of oak, tobacco, vanilla and blackberry. It pairs well with lamb, pork and poultry. As for her advice in using the right glassware, Belyeu says the different shapes of wine glasses are all about aroma. “The wider the mouth of the glass, the more of the wine’s aroma can mingle with each sip you take,” she explains. “This is why many wine experts prefer to drink a fine champagne out of a white wine glass rather than the classic champagne flute—the bubbles may look pretty in that tall glass, but the aromas of the champagne simply can’t escape such a small opening.” She also feels that any red wine greater than five years old will benefit from decanting. “The older the wine, the longer it may need in the decanter. Wine is alive and the longer it has been cooped up in that bottle, the longer it needs to stretch and breathe,” she states. And, she adds, “We often drink our reds too warm and whites too cold. Cold increases acidity, so a red wine that is a little flat and ‘flabby’ would benefit from 10 minutes in your freezer before opening. Similarly, with whites, take them out of the fridge and leave them at room temperature for 15 minutes before opening. The acid will settle down and floral and mineral flavors will pop.”

Belyeu with Sissy Brown of Agapanthus

May ‘ 2 1



Finding Their Way Academic support and counseling through the Pace Center for Girls has helped transform the lives of thousands of young girls and women.

By Susan Smiley-Height Photo by Becky Collazo



Pace’s core academic classes include science, math, ocal girls ages 11 to 17 who are struggling with English, social studies and an elective called Spirited Girls! challenges such as family conflict, poor academic “Our girls receive regular counseling sessions and performance or low self-esteem can find a wealth we are available by emergency phone 24 hours a day,” of support and encouragement through the Pace Center Savage points out. “We provide career exploration for Girls–Marion. and guidance, and, through CenterState Bank and The center, located near the heart of downtown Junior Achievement, have provided financial literacy Ocala, is part of a network that includes 21 centers in curriculums. Our Growth and Change System provides Florida and one in Georgia. Pace Center for Girls was girls the opportunity to learn about themselves, their founded in 1985 with 10 girls and now serves more than relationships with family, friends and others, and 3,000 annually through development of life, health and making good choices. Our Girls Leadership Council academic skills. provides opportunities for girls to help make decisions Pace offers girls counseling, case management and within the center and to represent it in the community.” mental health services in partnership with schools, She says the girls are given opportunities to community organizations and court systems. Pace participate in community service projects, such as partners include the Department of Juvenile Justice making bookmarks thanking veterans for their service and Department of Education. Through the support of and handing them out at the annual Veterans Day those agencies and fundraising initiatives, all services ceremony, visiting assisted living facilities to sing are free to the girls and their families. holiday songs and give manicures, and making plastic Carole C. Savage, APR, CPRC, is executive director mats from grocery bags for of Pace programs in Marion the homeless. They currently and Citrus counties. are working on a COVID-19 “Pace provides girls and supply kit for the elderly young women an opportunity through a State Farm grant for a better future through and the Angie Lewis State education, counseling, training Farm office in Ocala. and advocacy,” she offers. “Our “We have a strong foundational pillars include philosophy that once a Pace being a gender-responsive, girl, always a Pace girl. We strengths-based and traumakeep in close contact for informed program with a the year following a girl’s strong culture of caring, transition from our center and purpose, results and learning. - Carole C. Savage continue to communicate,” And we are evidence based, Savage shares. “Anytime a which is important in staying Pace girl returns to our center, we will make time for in the forefront of our work.” her, even if she needs a counseling session and she’s in The program serves girls who have faced trauma, her 20s. We’ve had girls bring their children in and girls have several risk factors and exhibit a need for help to who just wanted to say hello.” overcome challenges. She says many girls have said they were lost until “Girls can be referred by school counselors or others they found Pace and some didn’t think they would have in the school district, by churches, other organizations, survived had it not been for the organization. families or themselves,” Savage explains. “No girl is ever “I’ve seen girls who were determined to beat their mandated to attend Pace, it is a choice program.” odds and whose backgrounds were really rough turn “We empower girls to find their strengths, properly into amazing business owners and managers and advocate for themselves and focus on their future,” teachers. I’m constantly seeing girls in the community she adds. “It’s not easy and it takes a lot of work, but who tell me how much they appreciate what Pace our girls are amazing and full of potential. Many have did for them,” she declares. “Some will even say they had to learn to be resilient at young ages, so with the recognize now that they were tough cases back in their support we provide they are able to move forward. We teen years and how grateful they are that we didn’t give also work closely with the families because we know the up on them. I get a lot of hugs.” most successful efforts are those surrounding the girl We had the opportunity to meet three inspiring from our center and at her home.” Pace-Marion alumnae. The Pace Reach program provides social, emotional and mental health counseling in middle and high schools. In Ocala, therapists at Liberty Middle School Jocelyn “Casey” James and West Port High School work with counseling teams James was born and raised in Ocala and says her to provide girls with services on campus. family’s roots run deep in the Sunshine State.

Pace provides girls and young women an opportunity for a better future through education, counseling, training and advocacy.




“My parents were born in Ocala and my grandparents were raised in Florida from a young age,” she offers. “My children are the fourth generation raised here.” James was involved with the Pace Center for Girls in Ocala for one year during high school. “Being at Pace helped me reconnect with my interests and creativity,” she says. “I loved that Pace encouraged us to think hard about decisions and talk about them, to dig deep into what was special in our lives and find gratitude in the day-to-day. These are skills I still use to this day.” Now, James is the owner of CenterState Bookkeeping, a cloud-based, fullservice firm. “We manage our Jocelyn “Casey” James. Photo by Becky Collazo clients’ bookkeeping needs through software such as items to charity,” James explains. “This year we donated QuickBooks. We are based out of Ocala but can work all the items to Kids Central, which serves the foster virtually with anyone,” she explains. “Some of the care system in six Central Florida counties. We were services we provide include bookkeeping, invoicing, bill able to donate hundreds of items after our spring sale paying and payroll.” and hope to do that again in the fall.” She says Pace was instrumental in her learning to encourage other girls and women. Destiny Mitchell “I learned by watching and listening to how the staff Mitchell also was born and raised in Ocala. She now at Pace encouraged the girls on bad days or how they is living in Okinawa, Japan, with her husband Frankie listened with full attention to what I was saying,” she Mitchell, a fellow Ocalan who is stationed there with recalls. “I never got that in traditional school.” the U.S. Marine Corps, and their young son. In her spare time, James volunteers with Just Mitchell came to Pace while in middle school and Between Friends Ocala, a children’s consignment sale was involved in their programming for two years. that happens twice a year, including the recent event “Pace is a really great place filled with a team of held at the Southeastern Livestock Pavilion. On the day people who are prepared to help guide young girls,” she of her photo shoot for Ocala Style, she had a vehicle offers. “At Pace you take your normal core classes like filled with unsold items that were going to help children any other school. The class sizes are smaller than public in the region. school, but that helps with focusing and the educators “I love that consigners can choose to donate unsold being able to individually assist each girl.” May ‘ 2 1



she earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology in 2017. “I was unsure about pursuing psychology as my undergraduate degree, but it was my former Pace counselor who helped me with that decision—years later, I was in college and Pace was still assisting me,” she enthuses. After graduating from college, Mitchell moved to California and worked at an all-girl’s group home as a residential counselor assisting at-risk youth. “The group home allowed me to work directly with the girls and mentor them,” she shares. “I am unable to do that type of work currently, so I decided to pursue my master’s in psychology. When my family and I return stateside, I hope to continue assisting youth, specifically at-risk youth.”

Dr. Sriya Bhattacharyya

Destiny Mitchell with her husband, Frankie, and their son

She recalls it “was pleasant to be in a place that not only wanted me to do my best academically, but they cared about my mental health and decisions, and offered therapeutic support. I participated in group counseling as well as one-on-one counseling.” “I learned I am not what people say I am, and I am not a product of my environment,” she offers. “I am as good as I perceive myself to be. I knew I could not get absorbed in things that were taking place around me but, instead, overcome them.” Mitchell graduated from North Marion High School, attended the College of Central Florida and then transferred to Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University in Tallahassee, from which 72


Bhattacharyya was born in Kansas City, Missouri, and raised in Littleton, Colorado. She came to Ocala at age 11, when her parents were separated and her father accepted a job in the area. She shuttled between Florida and Colorado for two years, then settled in Ocala. “That’s when I found Pace,” she explains. “My parents got divorced and there was a lot of turmoil in my family. It was very hard for me to focus in school and I ended up falling behind. I had a very hard time adjusting and I was very depressed. There was a lot of ongoing chaos in my family and I had very little support.” She says the Pace model of counseling and academics was very helpful. “They provided a lot of emotional support, as well as ongoing belief in me in a way that I wasn’t getting. That allowed me to focus on making academic progress,” she affirms. “After Pace, a high school teacher suggested I dual enroll in college. I dual enrolled at what was then Central Florida Community College (now the College of Central Florida) and connected to a couple of professors, Doug Oswald and Connie Tice, who were incredibly supportive and encouraging. I got straight A’s and joined the debate team.” She later transferred to the University of Florida and became involved with research and volunteer work with


arts and medicine, a local crisis center and the national suicide hotline. “I was building a new path for myself,” she says. “Then I took a couple of years off and worked in Rwanda, Congo, India, Nepal and Turkey, learning about new cultures and engaging in different international projects. A mentor at UF suggested I apply to graduate school. I received a diversity fellowship to Boston College, which gave me a full ride to complete my Ph.D. in psychology. I also got certificates in human rights and international justice and traumatic stress studies. I focused on how I might be a part of changing the world and the environment that initially brought me so much harm when I was younger.”

Bhattacharyya now lives in New York City and is a psychologist at Montefiore Medical Center, which is part of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. She also is an adjunct teacher at Columbia University and is involved in advocacy work with the United Nations. “I think it’s our responsibility as adults with power and privilege to use that to help others who are struggling,” she states. “Believe in the people around you, the young women, trans[gender] youth, men, people of color, and support them and offer whatever help you can. Give up the little piece of the pie that you have so someone else can have some. Amazing things can happen after that.” To learn more, visit pacecenter.org

Here are some of the most common traumatic situations Pace helps girls overcome: • School suspension or expulsion • Academic underachievement • Attendance concerns or truancy • Involvement with law enforcement or Department of Juvenile Justice • Parent or sibling in prison or on probation • Personal or family mental health struggles • Suicidal thoughts • Self-harm or mutilation • Alcohol or drug use • Aggression or antisocial behavior • Family instability or conflict • Domestic violence • Physical or sexual abuse • Homelessness • Runaway behavior • Pregnancy or early initiation of sexual activity

Dr. Sriya Bhattacharyya

If you or a girl you know is experiencing any of the above traumatic situations, reach out for a free consultation.

May ‘ 2 1


Have Hooves? Will Fly. The Ocala/Marion County equine industry is replete with unique occupations. Ocala native Margo Hudson happens to have one of the most unusual. By JoAnn Guidry Photography by Bruce Ackerman


hen Margo Hudson makes airline reservations for her special clients, they all need extra leg room. And, actually, extra head room too. The reason for these non-negotiable necessities is because Hudson is a travel agent for horses. In fact, the lifelong horsewoman is the third generation of her family to be involved in the horse transport business. “My grandfather Hayes Hudson founded HH Hudson & Sons in Ocala in 1975,” she explains. “My parents Henry ‘Chip’ and Martha ‘Mimi’ Hudson managed HH Hudson for years, then bought the business from my grandfather in 1997. My parents sold HH Hudson to Creech Vans in 2004. My father



is now a sales agent for Creech.” As for Hudson, she has gone from land to air transport. She is the Ocala-based Southeast sales agent for Tex Sutton Equine Air Transportation, headquartered in Lexington, Kentucky. Equine air transportation is big business in the equine industry. KLM Royal Dutch Airlines was the first to begin flying horses post World War II and horses have been flown around the world ever since. Within the U.S., there are many companies that provide air transport for horses. Halford Ewel “Tex” Sutton had transported horses by railcar throughout America beginning in the 1930s and shipped his first horse via airplane in 1969. He is widely

credited with revolutionizing the horse transportation industry. Tex Sutton is the only U.S.-based horse transportation company with a Boeing 727 cargo plane dedicated to flying horses, aka Air Horse One. The plane can often be seen at the Ocala International Airport, particularly when there is an Ocala Breeders’ Sales Company auction. “Growing up, I remember waking up early to go with my dad to work. I was helping load and riding in the back of vans by the time I was a teenager,” recalls Hudson, a definite extrovert and the only one of four children to carry on the family horse transport business. “Everyone has always called my dad Chip. And because I was always tagging along with

him at work, people called me Little Chip.” She then adds with a laugh, “They’d say, ‘Well here comes Chip and Little Chip.’” Hudson’s parents also operated a hunter/jumper barn for many years. “I was either at the van company or at the barn. And I showed hunters for awhile,” she offers. “My Uncle John trains roping horses, so then I got into team roping as hobby for a few years. But the busier I got with work, I just didn’t have the time to devote to team roping.” While she did work with her father, Hudson also decided to strike out on her own to have some different experiences. She went to Texas and worked at an equine rehab facility. Then she came back to Ocala, working for Niall Brennan Stables and the Ocala Breeders’ Sales Company. All of those experiences added to a resume that would make her uniquely qualified to nab the Tex Sutton position. “Horse and horse transport people are a tight-knit group, really like a big family,” she notes. “I was delighted that I had the opportunity to interview with Tex Sutton for the Southeast sales agent position and then thrilled when I was hired in 2018.” For Greg Otteson, the sales manager for Tex Sutton, Hudson was one of his all-time easiest interviews. “First of all, Margo is a great horsewoman. Understanding horses and their owners is a requirement for this job. And, as an added bonus, Margo grew up in the horse transport business,” says Otteson. “It is very unusual to find someone who has that kind of resume to fit right in with Tex Sutton. Margo is definitely an asset for our company.” Hudson’s clientele are those who own show horses such as hunters, show jumpers, dressage and 3-day eventing horses, and those involved in thoroughbred racing. “My show horse clients are mainly based in California and they fly their horses every year to Florida for the winter shows, like the Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington,” explains Hudson. “My thoroughbred clients are primarily those who come to Ocala and Miami for the 2-year-old in training sales. The horses they buy are then flown from the sale to farms or racetrack trainers.” Working from her phone, Hudson lines up van transportation to and from airports, as well as the boarding and unloading of the horses from the plane. She also has to arrange for the horses’ grooms and all the necessary equipment to fly on the plane. She describes the scope of her job as being a lifeline for her clients. “My phone rings 24/7 and it is my job to know what’s going on with my clients’ horses at any given time.” Air Horse One can accommodate 21 horses, who fly first class in customized padded modular stalls. Instead of wine and caviar, these passengers have access to hay and water during the flight. Some are accompanied by a goat or pony, aka their emotional support animal. “Everyone involved with Tex Sutton is dedicated to flying horses safely and comfortably,” says Hudson, who often rides along on flights to meet up with clients. “Horses who are flying for the first time usually adjust very quickly with no problem. And because horses are herd animals, they’ll whinny to each other during a flight.” As for her lifelong involvement with horse transportation, Hudson sees it as fate. “Horse transportation is the family business and I consider myself very fortunate,” she says. “I love everything about it. Every day is different and it’s fun to make all the puzzle pieces come together, to get horses safely from one place to another and back again. And, of course, I love all of my clients, both the horses and the people.” May ‘ 2 1


Playing with the Pros An Ocala high schooler’s passion for polo propels her to new heights in the game. By Beth Whitehead



one of the best female polo players in the world before her untimely passing due to cancer in 2017. “It was very emotional,” Hinkson says, “especially because I knew Sunny personally and a lot of people there didn’t. Not everyone knows her but the people that do know her,” she pauses, then continues, “I mean, she was an incredible person.” The event was televised and hosted players from all over the United States and the world, including from Argentina and England. To Hinkson, who captained a juniors’ team of girls, the opportunity to meet players from all levels and from all places is one of the things she loves about the sport. “In polo, there’s a lot of camaraderie,” she explains. “You can really connect with people who play. It’s great to connect with someone [who lives] three miles from you or halfway across the world.” One of the people from halfway across the world whom Hinkson connected with was Nina Clarkin, an English polo professional with a rating of 10 goals (polo’s highest level) and ranked by World Polo Tour as the fourth highest female polo player in the world. Clarkin was the sidelines coach for Hinkson’s team. It was in Zambia in the summer of 2019, upon the invitation of the Zambian Polo Association to bring over a team of junior players, that Hinkson experienced some of the best polo of her life. “I mean, it’s Africa, right?” she offers. “The horses were awesome and the other players were incredible.” At first, Hinkson thought the Zambians would give the American team she captained a slightly competitive,

Photographs by Keith Franklin


t’s not every sport in which you get to play with the pros. In polo, amateurs can play alongside professionals, and some of 17-year-old Ava Rose Hinkson’s mentors are the big names in the game. The late Sunny Hale, the first woman to compete in and win the U.S. Open Polo Championship, was one of them. A shining white stadium and a green expanse the size of nine football fields greeted Hinkson as she drove through the subdivision of two-acre homes with their pretty barns and into the entrance of the Grand Champions Polo Club in Wellington, Florida. It was the 2021 Sunny Hale Memorial Tournament, and Hinkson was there for two things: to play polo and honor her friend. Hinkson is an Ocala native and avid polo player. Usually, she plays at The Villages Polo Club, but she also travels back and forth from The Villages to Wellington to play at Grand Champions during the winter. Hinkson has played at various clubs and tournaments in Palm City, Sarasota, Vero Beach, University of Virginia, Jamaica and Zambia. Growing up riding horses since she could walk, Hinkson first tasted polo at age 12 when her father, Greg Hinkson, set her on a polo pony and brought her out to watch a game he was refereeing. “It sparked something,” she recalls. “I just fell in love with the sport.” Around six months afterwards, Hale invited Hinkson down to Wellington to learn the sport. Studying under Hale’s wing is the reason she has such a great love of polo. Palm City Polo Club owner Joey Casey helped Hinkson master her swing while Hale and Hinkson’s father coached her on game strategy. “It was my dad and Sunny who taught me when they’re bringing the ball in this is where you need to be,” she says. “That’s really what built my foundation to how I play.” Four years later, in February 2021, Hinkson joined competitors from around the world to honor Hale’s memory at Grand Champions. Hale founded the Women’s Championship Tournament, helped revive the U.S. Women’s Open and was considered

relaxed game, but she found otherwise. “They were running and gunning. It was so fast and so clean,” she says. “In the states, sometimes, unfortunately, you play some of the higher-level polo and it can get a little dirty and rough, but this was just good, clean, fast polo.”

It was in Zambia that she and her team made the play she still talks about. It was a tie game and, when a teammate missed a crucial shot, Hinkson swept in and swept the ball 80 yards down the field. Her teammate was then able to make a 100-yard shot. “It went perfectly between the uprights and in the goal,” she recalls. “It was a perfect field goal and we worked really hard for it.” The shot won them the game. The pinnacle of Hinkson’s polo career, however, was not Zambia; it was the 16-goal game held on March 28th at The Villages Polo Club, where she joined Paige Boone on the field. A little more than two weeks prior to this game, Boone had won the U.S. Open Women’s Championship on March 10th. “It was definitely the highest level of women’s polo that I had played,” Hinkson explains. “I’ve played with Paige a lot and she is an incredible coach on the field and an incredible role model.” Even off the field, Boone offers helpful critique and advice to her young friend. “Once you’ve played at that level with those people, you just learn so much,” Hinkson enthuses. “It was just after she’d won the women’s open, so it was great to have her coaching and it was so fast and I really just had a good time.” While Hinkson loves playing in the Ocala area, she is excited about the possibilities in front of her. She currently attends virtual high school and is dual enrolled at the College of Central Florida. She plans to take a gap year after high school and travel, perhaps to England, Russia and maybe Colombia. She’s also dreaming about new places to take a polo team. There is no doubt that grand adventures await this talented young woman. To see Hinkson at her last game of the season at The Villages Polo Club on May 23rd, visit thevillagespoloclub.com for schedule and ticket information. May ‘ 2 1


Day in the Life By Isabelle Ramirez

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 one of our talented photographers.

Isabelle recalls that she was in Lecanto photographing a business for the family of her dear friend Stephanie Giera, who was there with her children Hazel and Wren, when she captured this spontaneous image. “We were just walking around and she said there’s this really cool old house at the end of the property that’s abandoned. I asked her to sit down with her kids. They were a little bit restless and were climbing all over her. I just started taking some pictures. I always try, with all of my photography, to get those in between moments—the part you don’t really see too much or try and hide. Sometimes it is pretty unkempt. Kids need a little reprieve from some structure, so any time you can give them a little break it’s helpful.”

I wouldn’t be here without AdventHealth’s ER.

— Greg


Stroke survivor

Surviving an emergency is no accident. To Greg, road trips mean freedom. But after suffering a stroke at age 43, his whole life changed. He realized how every second counts, especially when it comes to an emergency. AdventHealth’s ER experts responded fast – and today, Greg is back on the road again. When the unexpected occurs, know where to go for expert emergency care near you. Because in an emergency, there’s no time to waste… and no room for doubt.


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