Ocala Style | May 2024

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Discover tranquility at this stunning contemporary Spanish-style property, nestled on 16+/- acres of private land within riding distance to HITS and 11 miles from WEC. This equine property is situated in Pinnacle Park and boasts a grand entrance that leads to a beautiful 3-bedroom, 2.5-bath home with 2,291 square feet of living space that features an enchanting living room, Spanish tile floors, and wood-beamed ceilings. The spacious kitchen is well-equipped, making it an ideal spot for entertaining guests while they enjoy the impressive double-sided fireplace from the adjacent dining room and living room. The property features numerous windows that provide breathtaking views of the pastures and magnificent oak trees. The charming pool courtyard, conversation areas and firepit are all accessible via glass doors from the living spaces. The grounds include a handsome barn that complements the architecture of the home and features an impressive 2-bedroom, 2-bath

six stalls,
feed room.
is a round pen
bridle trails throughout the community. Our results speak for themselves. List with Joan today! Joan Pletcher, Realtor 352.804.8989 Just Reduced Pinnacle Park Estate $1,800,000
guest apartment with 1,206 square feet of
space and a full
The stables have
and a

State-of-the-art 54-acre equestrian facility – Great Location – 20 Miles from the World Equestrian Center with incredible amenities. This property has it all: Luxurious yet rustic main residence overlooking the beautiful in-ground pool, spa, and tennis court. The enchanting primary residence is an entertainer’s dream with 4,600+ SF of living area, 5 bedrooms, 5 1/2 baths, and has everything you need! Additional improvements include: Two private 1/1 guest quarters, a detached 4-car garage, A show stable featuring 17 oversized stalls, a large overhang entertaining/viewing area, on one side overlooking the outdoor arena, 2 baths, wash stalls, plus an upstairs entertaining lounge and viewing area with a full kitchen. Outdoor round pen. The second barn has 6 stalls, a large tack and feed room, a bath, an apartment upstairs, a storage room, and an employee lounge area. Plus separate office. The third barn offers 5 show stalls with rubber paver aisles, 2 foaling stalls, and a covered round pen. An oversized covered arena with professional footing, irrigation, and light for night riding. The outdoor arena measures 130’ X 230’. Perfect for dressage or jumping. The equipment building is perfect for large RV’s, trailers and equipment. Many large, shaded paddocks with run-in stalls and open pastures for horses, mares or foals. Whether your passion is hunters, jumpers, Thoroughbreds, or any other horse breed, the farm offers room to ride, train, and raise horses. This is a one-of-a-kind equestrian facility. This farm offers unlimited potential in the Horse Capital of the World and great income potential. $3,975,000

Unparalleled Quality, Privacy and Location

Room To Build

This 10+/- acre property is situated in a great location, just five miles to the Florida Horse Park and 5.5 miles to the Marjorie Harris Carr Cross Florida Greenway and Trails. Bring your plans and build your dream home or farm. $325,000

This 10+/- acre property is conveniently located just five miles away from the Florida Horse Park and 5.5 miles away from the Marjorie Harris Carr Cross Florida Greenway and Trails. If you’re planning to build your dream home, this property offers several attractive sites to choose from. The barn on the property has 5 stalls. There are 4 paddocks and a flat area previously used as a polo field, which could also be used as a jump field. The showgrounds include 4 paddocks, offering ample space for horse or cattle riding, training and breeding.

Expect an unparalleled combination of professionalism, integrity and relentless commitment to her client’s unique needs, interests, and desires.


Joan is a residential, equine property and land development REALTOR® since 1985 and a horsewoman herself so her clients have the benefit of experience and specialized expertise.

“The Ocala region is home to the most beautiful equestrian estates and horse farms in the United States and the natural beauty of the area, along with an amazing variety of equine-centered activities and venues, such as the phenomenal World Equestrian Center, makes this a place that more and more people want to call home,” says Joan.

What should you expect working with Joan Pletcher? Call or Text: 352.266.9100 | 352.804.8989 | joan@joanpletcher.com | joanpletcher.com Amazing Potential

Dear Readers,

o you have a favorite quote? Here’s one of mine, from the controversial and resolute “Iron Lady” herself, former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher: “If you want something said, ask a man; if you want something done, ask a woman.”

Thatcher was speaking primarily of politics, but I find her observation isn’t limited to that area alone.

With all due respect to the hard-working, honest men out there, so many strong women in our community are doing the heavy lifting day in and day out without fanfare and, to be honest, with insufficient appreciation.

These ladies are my favorite people to feature in Ocala Style because they inspire me to be brave, bold, and to keep my heart open to those who need it.

These women are the doers.

Featured in this issue are two women I’ve enjoyed getting to know, both of whom are key players in keeping Marion County’s emergency communications system operating. Lisa Cahill manages more than 100 people, many of whom are answering your emergency calls at the Marion County Combined Emergency Communications Center. Michelle Hirst manages staffers who use updated county data to help first responders find you in an emergency; no easy feat considering how rapidly our county is growing.

In this issue, we also introduce you to LaVerne Freeman. Most females grow up with the notion that we may be mothers one day and must sacrifice for our own. Then there are women like LaVerne, who grow up with the capacity to love even greater.

We need more LaVerne Freemans in this world.

Many of you already know this history-making woman, especially those in the horse racing community (I think that’s a thing around here). Meet Jena Antonucci, who last year became the first female to train a Triple Crown winner when Arcangelo won the Belmont Stakes.

And how about our electric cover lady, Elisha Lopez, who embodies a universal challenge for women: the balancing act between being “kind” yet “fierce” when we need to be.

We hoped to communicate that balancing act in this issue’s fun cover collaboration utilizing the skills of photographer John Jernigan and artist Jordan Shapot. We thank Elisha for being game for their artistic outcome.

We drew so much inspiration from meeting and talking to women like the ones we are featuring in this issue. Their courage, their tenacity, and their deep well of love for their work and their families make them women we will continue to watch for years to come.

Publisher | Jennifer Hunt Murty jennifer@magnoliamediaco.com

PO Box 188, Ocala, FL 34478



Amy Crescenzo amy@magnoliamediaco.com


Brooke Pace/Pebble Graphics LLC


Bruce Ackerman

Joe Callahan

Lisa Dorsey Eighteenth Hour


John Jernigan

Barbara Livingston

MAVEN photo + film, Meagan Gumpert

Scott Mitchell

Debra Roma

Maggie Weakley


Jordan Shapot

David Vallejo


Cheryl Specht cheryl@magnoliamediaco.com



Susan Smiley-Height susan@magnoliamediaco.com


Greg Hamilton greg@magnoliamediaco.com


JoAnn Guidry

Carole Savage Hagans

Belea Keeney

Scott Mitchell

Dave Schlenker

Leah Taylor

Beth Whitehead



Jane Lyons jane@magnoliamediaco.com

D istribution

Rick Shaw





Magnolia Media Company, LLC (352)
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in this issue



Michelle Hirst and Lisa Cahill are key 911 Communications Center leaders.



LaVerne Freeman created a forever family for six adopted girls and boys.


AdventHealth Ocala has a new president/CEO. 45 OCALA COOKS

Check out some tasty recipes from local home chefs.


Jennifer Hunt Murty shares some personal info. 51 INDIVIDUALIZING PATIENT CARE

Dr. Mark Lupo will lecture at IHMC in Ocala on May 30th.


From Stranger to Friend (in one conversation)



May is a good month to move plants around and install new ones.



The ‘naval stores’ industry provided jobs, but at a steep cost.



Michelle-O-Gram raises funds and awareness for breast health.


Jena Antonucci’s is the first woman trainer to saddle a Triple Crown race winner.

ON THE COVER: Elisha Lopez, photo by John Jernigan, Jim Jernigan Studio; Illustration by jordan shapot Top, by Bruce Ackerman; bottom, by Debra a. Roma


Social Scene

Photo Chrislyne Florence, Kim Greene and Anna Smith were on hand for the Ignite For Ocala Dinner Theater event, in partnership with the Ocala Civic Theatre, on April 13th, to benefit Shepherd’s Lighthouse.

Ignite Dinner Theater


by Bruce Ackerman

Ignite for Ocala, in partnership with the Ocala Civic Theatre, hosted the April 13th evening of short-form improv and dinner to support the nonprofit Shepherd’s Lighthouse, which helps single mothers and their children gain independence.

10 ocalastyle.com INSIDER
Photos Jimena and Bryce Morrison Yolanda East, Amanda Norris and Theresa Chambers Karen Hatch, Loretta Dourte and Jeanne Henningsen Melissa Nadenik and Greg Thompson Sara Lambert, Robbin Cruikshank and Beth Nelson

Go Red for Women Luncheon

The American Heart Association event on March 22nd drew an audience clad in bright red. Organizers, including event chair Manal Fakhoury, said respected business, healthcare, civic and philanthropic leaders united to raise funds for continued research, education and outreach.

May ‘24 11
Shelby Bobbett, Manal Fakhoury and Kristin Chase Noelle Schnacky, Natasha Sadhoe and Rampersad T. Daniella Michelle Hamilton, Kaitlyn Wilson-Butler and Mandi Slusarski Pravina Cacodcar, Patricia Sutton and Tina Chandra Julie Duncan and Drumeka Rollerson

Ocala Royal Dames for Cancer Research, Inc., Masquerade Ball


Photos by Dave Schlenker

The March 23rd gala featured lots of fun guessing who was behind each mask. Guest speaker Lisa Niemi Swayze, the widow of Patrick Swazye, is an author, dancer and actress, and in 2011 was honored as a Dame and invested in the Royal Order of Francis the 1st for her work on behalf of pancreatic cancer.

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Robin Gump, Larry Johnson and Mimi Cartledge David Sokol, Anna Smith and Kathleen Smith Richard and Cecilia Truesdale Ronald W. Wetherington, Cindy Grow, Matt Grow, Bernadette Castro, Sheriff Billy Woods, Samantha Woods, Diane Carrizzo and Barbara Fitos

Farm to Table



The April 6th event hosted by the Florida Cancer Specialists Foundation, Inc., featured local fare, silent and live auctions, entertainment and more, with 100 percent of donations going directly toward paying the essential nonmedical living expenses of an adult battling cancer.

May ‘24 13
Tara and Don Forgette Amy Ponton, Kelly Barber and Kristen Burner Brian Garnant, Rebecca Davis, Lynn Rasys and Dr. Maen Hussein Phil Braun, Linda Braun and Michelle Currie Laura Eatmon, Lori Muder, Todd Muder and John Accola

Farmland Preservation Festival


Photos by Bruce Ackerman

The April 13th event hosted by the nonprofit Save Our Rural Areas (SORA) included a farmer’s market, cottage crafts, a petting zoo, hayrides, a tractor parade and entertainment. SORA opposes urban sprawl on farmland, especially within the county’s designated Farmland Preservation Area.

14 ocalastyle.com
Kathy Salvato, Lana Haven on Dan Dan, Eddie Leedy, Vicki Williams on Cisco, Jerome Feaster and Anne Hanley on Spirit Sandra Fernandez and Andrew Vechter with Harley Vivian and Matt Pesek with Spirit Tito Comas, Lilly Baron, Bill Gamberino, Betsy Gamberino, Rick Munsell and Nicole Parker with Pearl Madison Hansen and Lauren Thrasher

Kut Di erent

Casino Night


Photos by Bruce Ackerman

The nonprofit organization is dedicated to school and community-based male mentorship/student support, with a focus on G.A.M.E (Guidance, Attention, Motivation, Education). The March 22nd fundraiser had games, entertainment and more.

May ‘24 15 INSIDER
Vinessa Chevalier, Rodney Baker and Moira Caldwell Kym Parks and Genesis Marte Monique Belin and Jamie Gilmore Dayve Stewart and Derek Singleton Debra Wooden and Jasmine Woodberry

Cheesecakes for Charity

This unique fundraising event pitted bakers vying for bragging rights and helped raise awareness about Alzheimer’s.

Well, that was a tasty way to raise money for a good cause!

The Senior Health Advisors group hosted a Cheesecake Battle fundraiser on April 16th at the Ocala Downtown Market. Proceeds benefitted the Walk to End Alzheimer’s, which will take place September 28th at Citizens’ Circle in downtown Ocala.

Celebrity judges for the event included radio personality Lewis Stokes, 93.7 K-Country; Sheriff Billy Woods; Dr. Tina Chandra, Chandra Smile Designs; Tom James, Ocala Metro Chamber & Economic Partnership; First Finds Farm owner Tami Bobo; and Christine Blum, Right At Home. There were 31 entries in the competition. The winners were: Grand Champion, TimberRidge

Health and Rehabilitation; second place, Aspire at Arbor Springs; third place, Wolfy’s Restaurant; Best Homemade Cheesecake, Avante of Ocala; Most Creative Booth, Superior Residence of Cala Hills; and People’s Choice, Senior Helpers.

To learn more about how the event came about, we talked with Kerry Eck, who is with Gentiva Hospice, was a lead organizer of the battle and is executive chair of the 2024 Walk to End Alzheimer’s in Ocala; and Michelle Decker, Senior Director, Walk to End Alzheimer’s, Alzheimer’s Association-Central and North Florida.

“Senior Health Advisors is a group of likeminded healthcare professionals from the whole spectrum of healthcare in Marion County. The tag line of our logo and our mission is

16 ocalastyle.com
Cherylanne Hall, Chris Bauer and Anna Hollett

Connect, Collaborate and Coordinate Care,” Eck explains. “We work together to see that our senior population gets the right and appropriate care through connecting the right resources, collaborating on what would be the best course of action and helping coordinate that care so the patient gets the help they need.”

As for how they came up with the idea for the fundraiser, Eck notes that a member of the advisors “proudly declared that she makes the best cheesecake in all of the land. We said prove it!”

“And in that competitive spirit the Cheesecake Battle was dreamed up,” he offers. “We had our first Cheesecake Battle in 2020, just weeks before COVID-19 shut down the nation. While it was quite a bit smaller, we set our goals on a much bigger battle: more participants and more monies raised for a cause. In 2020, we raised money for the American Heart Association. This year our FUNdraising goals were higher, and we wanted to make the Cheesecake Battle even bigger.”

He stresses that all proceeds from the event, from ticket sales to entry fees, will go to the Alzheimer’s Association.

“Monies are still coming in,” he reports the day after the event, “and as of now it looks like $10,500.”

Decker says the Walk to End Alzheimer’s is the world’s largest event to raise awareness and funds for Alzheimer’s care, support and research.

“Events are held annually in more than 600 communities across the country,” she outlines. “Participants are encouraged to raise critical funds that allow the Alzheimer’s Association to provide 24/7 care and support and advance research towards methods of prevention, treatment and, ultimately, a cure. The walk has been taking place in Ocala/Marion County for more than 12 years.”

Decker says it was important that the Cheesecake Battle helped create awareness and raise funds for the Alzheimer’s Association Central & North Florida Chapter.

“According to a recent report from the Alzheimer’s Association, Florida ranks #2 in the U.S. for the number or people living with Alzheimer’s. In Marion County alone, more than 12,000 residents age 65+ are estimated to be living with the disease,” she states. “Statewide, more than 840,000 Floridians are serving as unpaid family caregivers to a loved one with Alzheimer’s.”

Eck says the Senior Health Advisors group also does other events, such as a Back-to-School backpack drive, a Toys for Tots collection and food collections.

“While our main goal is the senior population of Marion County, we recognize that the engine that helps drive the support for this population also has needs that we can help with,” he notes. FUNdraising can happen all year round. Find your passion and make that into a fundraiser.”

He shares that after the Cheesecake Battle he plans to have a Trivia for the Cause night at Hiatus

Brewery, also to benefit the Alzheimer’s Association.

“I love trivia and love the mission of the Alzheimer’s Association. It’s a win/win,” he enthuses. “And if fundraising isn’t your thing, then Alzheimer’s awareness and advocacy cost nothing.”

He adds, however, “Gather your friends. Form a walk team. Be there September 28th.”

To register a team for the walk, go to alz.org/ocalawalk or email kerry.eck@gentivahs.com

To learn more about the Alzheimer’s Association, go to alz.org or call the 24/7 Helpline at (800) 272-3900.

Hadley and Brecken Counts Carissa Meadows and Cara Fitzgerald Crissie Trussell

Editor’s Picks

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


Ocala Civic Theatre

May 2-19

Expect changes in latitude and attitude as the Ocala Civic Theatre presents Jimmy Buffett’s Escape to Margaritaville live on stage. Showtimes vary. Tickets are $30 for adults and $15 for ages 18 and younger, and can be purchased online at ocalacivictheatre.com, or by calling the box office at (352) 236-2274.


Webb Field, Martin Luther King Jr.

Recreational Complex

May 3, 10, 17

The series is a joint project of the Marion Cultural Alliance, the city of Ocala, Martin Luther King Jr. Commemorative Commission and the Juneteenth Celebration Committee to provide free family-friendly public concerts. For a full

list of performances, which begin at 7pm, visit levitt.org/amp-ocala-fl


Downtown Ocala

May 3

This is the last First Friday event until September. Visit the downtown square to check out art displays, local creators, arts and crafts and other family activities, live music and more. This event is free and open to the public. Visit ocalamarion.com/events/ first-friday-art-walk for more information.


Appleton Museum of Art

May 4

At 11am, Gabi Sullivan, Water Resource Coordinator for the city of Ocala, will lead a presentation on the importance of water conservation. For more information, visit appletonmuseum.org

18 ocalastyle.com
First Friday Art Walk, photo by Bruce Ackerman Dylan Luke


World Equestrian Center

May 4

Celebrate the 150th Running of the Kentucky Derby with 200+ exotic, classic, muscle cars, motorcycles and luxury brands. WEC has retail space, restaurants, craft cocktail bars and more. Cars will be displayed in front of the hotel on the grand plaza. Wear your best Derby attire. Get tickets at festivalsofspeed.com/events/derby-edition-ocala



Appleton Museum of Art

May 7, 14, 21

Bring your preschoolers and introduce them to the world of art in this special class for toddlers and parents, with a guided tour of the museum and arts-and-crafts activities. To register, visit appletonmuseum.org/ education/museum-me-pre-k-program-6


Ocala Golf Club

May 12

Celebrate Mother’s Day with Fine Arts for Ocala as they present the Ocala Symphony Orchestra’s annual concert. Maestro Matthew Wardell will lead orchestral classics, themes from hit movies and heartwarming melodies. A fireworks show will follow the concert. Bring picnic supplies; concessions will be available. Visit fafo.org/ symphony-1 to learn more and for tickets.


NOMA Black Box, Reilly Arts Center

May 15

Klaz is a pianist, composer and bandleader. He has been a featured jazz soloist for the Hippodrome Jazz Series, The Keys Grill and Piano Bar Jazz Series and University of Florida Jazz Band. His influences range from Chick Corea and Michel Camilo to Monty Alexander and Bill Evans. Trenton has performed with artists including Wycliffe Gordon, Bobby Shew, Maria Schneider, Troy Roberts, Dafnis Prieto, Brian Lynch and the Glenn Miller Orchestra. Guests will be seated at tables of four to six, so bring a group of friends or meet someone new. Learn more at reillyartscenter.com

May ‘24 19
EDITOR’S PICKS Symphony Under The Stars, photo by Bruce Ackerman



Ocala’s 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: Rebecca & Joel Taylor | Photographed by Eighteenth Hour Photography

Photography: Eighteenth Hour


Venue: Protea Weddings and Events

Wedding planner: Blessed Magnolia

Florist: Floral Architecture

Makeup: Angel Rodriguez Hair & Makeup

Hair: Mandi Avila, La Vita Salon Suites

Her favorite memory: “Our private last dance. Everyone was outside lining up for our exit and Joel and I got to just be with one another, to soak in everything—the love we have for each other, the milestone we had achieved, the gratitude we had for the day. I am so grateful we had that time to pause and really be in the moment.”

His favorite memory: “The whole thing! Everything was perfect!”



March 2nd , 2024

Venue: Family home

Photographer: Eighteenth Hour


Wedding planner: Blessed


Florist: Floral Architecture

Hair/Makeup: M3 Beauty

Their favorite memories: “Seeing each other down the aisle and later jumping into the pool with our family and friends. It was so important to us that we celebrated our marriage with our closest family and friends, and that everyone had fun—and our hopes for this certainly came true. The night was full of love and laughter.”



March 15th, 2024

Venue: Private estate in the Ocala historic district

Photographer: Eighteenth Hour Photography

Hair/Makeup: CP Fredrick’s

Florist: The Graceful Gardener

Their favorite memory: “We enjoyed reading our vows in front of everyone as it allowed them to feel the love we have shared over the last five years and will continue to share. The weekend was a big party with our closest friends and family and we all couldn’t get off the dance floor. It will be a time we will never forget and always want to relive.”


This year, Ocala Realty World’s Elisha Lopez will celebrate her 25th anniversary in the real estate industry. As a licensed Florida real estate broker, real estate school owner and instructor, Elisha has made a signifi cant impact in the industry through her innovative coaching methods and unwavering commitment to her agents’ and students’ success.

ORW consistently ranks among the top 10 brokerages in Marion County and within the top 100 nationwide, offering comprehensive services tailored to properties at every market level.

By far, Elisha’s favorite career aspect has been sharing the “valuable wisdom and resilience” she’s earned through experience with her agents.

“There are many brokers and real estate coaches who do not have the experience that my husband and I bring to the table,” she offers. “We are one of the very few brokerages in Marion County and Central Florida that are successful at what we coach on. It’s no different than a boxing coach. Would you rather be trained by someone who has never stepped in the ring or by a coach who has been in the fight firsthand and has a winning track record?”

With Elisha and her husband Luis serving as guides and mentors, hundreds of agents and students have honed their real estate skills at ORW. Now, thanks to a new partnership with Gold Coast School of Real Estate, Florida’s leading real estate school, Elisha says they will continue to build on what they can offer students of real estate who are intent on increasing their earning potential and financial security despite the fluctuating real estate market.

She adds that she and Luis have, “poured our hearts into not just our agents, but their

Sponsored Ocala Realty World 2709 SW 27th Ave., Suite 103, Ocala (352) 789-6746 ocala.realtyworld.com

families, so they could better their lives and experience what we have because of our careers in the real estate business.”

With Elisha’s soft voice and sweet tone, it would be easy to mistake her kindness for weakness.

“I have learned the importance of leading with both heart and head in the real estate industry,” she shares. “I have experienced successes and heartbreaks. I have come to understand that authenticity and staying true to oneself are essential for a fulfilling career. Leading with your heart makes a great leader; leading blindly without experience teaches you many lessons. When you get to that point where you know what you know, and you know who you are and stop caring what everyone thinks or wants you to be, you stay true to your authentic self and life becomes better.”

Through her journey, Elisha has come to understand that being her “authentic self” includes defending and protecting her family, her business and, she adds, her reputation against those who wish to tear her down.

“The thing they don’t tell you when you start is what you should expect as your success grows,” she notes, “such as the list of those who will resent you for it.”

“But, you just have to keep on and not let that list get in your head and accept you were meant to be—equal parts badass to all the sweet,” she offers with a chuckle.

Elisha, who was born in Brooklyn, New York, was raised in Miami. She earned a bachelor’s degree in interior design and says, “My passion lies in design. I am naturally drawn to aesthetics and creativity, and I see the world through the lens of design.”

She and Luis came to Ocala in 2005. They have three children; Roy, 18, Lish, 16; and Rachel, 14.

“They have all grown up in the world of real estate,”

she says, “and we have instilled in them a desire to be their own boss and that there are no limits to what they can

accomplish in life.”

Elisha’s outstanding contributions have garnered her numerous accolades, including the esteemed title of 2021 worldwide ambassador for Realty World International and she has been honored as an Influential Woman in Business in Marion County during the annual local International Women’s Day event.

Elisha’s expertise and leadership earned her recognition as the cover feature in Exeleon Magazine’s “Transformational Leaders In Real Estate” issue. The editors praised her authenticity and commitment to making meaningful changes within the industry, citing her as a transformational leader.

Her expertise also extends globally through her educational videos and regionally in activities such as being a guest speaker for the November 2023 ninth installment of the TEDx Ocala series. The theme was Acceleration.

Elisha’s speech was titled How To Activate Your Happy Bubble, which may be viewed at youtube.com/ watch?v=hU0PUVLdibI

Earlier that year, in June, the nationally syndicated CBS show Best of Central Florida, with Justin Clark and Makalia Nichols, voted Ocala Realty World the Best Real Estate Business in

... accept you were meant to be—equal parts badass to all the sweet.
— Elisha Lopez

Central Florida.

“That recognition led to being a weekly guest on the nationally syndicated CBS show You Have Real Estate, with attorney Justin Clark, talking about all things Ocala/Marion County and why our area is growing exponentially,” Elisha enthuses. “Justin Clark stated that I’ve changed the trajectory of the show (youtube.com/@SofilaMedia) and showed

viewers that by expanding their search area out of the city of Orlando, they can attain affordable housing.”

Elisha’s dedication extends beyond business success; she’s also deeply committed to giving back to the community through ORW Cares, the brokerage’s outreach program. With a focus on making a positive impact, Elisha and her team organize multiple events each year to support the local community and aid those in need.

For Elisha, leading by example is paramount. With her unwavering dedication and determination, she continues to guide her team at Ocala Realty World, propelling them to become one of the fastest-growing real estate companies in the region.

“I love our Marion County community,” she says with passion. “There’s such a great joy knowing how many families my husband and I have personally helped, and that our team of realtors have helped achieve their real estate goals in our beautiful county. I’ve always said and still wholeheartedly feel that I am the lucky one, the privileged one, who gets to continue to ride alongside my agents on their journeys.”

Elisha on set filming WKMG CBS Orlando News 6 nationally syndicated show ‘Best of Central Florida with Justin Clark and Makaila Nichols’ airs Saturday’s at Noon Elisha and her husband, Luis, with their children



Meet two women in leadership roles with Marion County’s 911 Communications Center.


Hair/makeup by Nicole “Nicci” Orio, Pretty ‘n Pinned

Photography by MAVEN photo + Meagan Gumpert

Pops of color from computer monitors illuminate the darkness inside the cavernous main room in the Marion County Communications Center. Soothing voices politely but firmly make inquiries and murmur directions to callers who often are distraught and sometimes can’t remember their own address. The wail of a siren, coming through a computer terminal, occasionally pierces the low hum of voices.

This is the heartbeat of Marion County’s Public Safety Communications department. It is staffed by telecommunicators (call takers), dispatchers and administrators, and is where what are sometimes life or death calls are routed to field response units. While what happens in this room supports the organization’s success, what happens behind the scenes is equally important.

Two of the key leaders for this county department are Public Safety Communications Manager Lisa Cahill, and Michelle Hirst, Director, 911 Management. They manage budgets, people and equipment on behalf of the Marion County Board of County Commissioners. Hirst has offices on Silver Springs Boulevard. Cahill is based at the communications center on the campus of the Marion County Sheriff ’s Office.

“I’m the 911 coordinator for the county, meaning I oversee the county’s 911 system,” Hirst says. “I work across town. I have a staff of eight. We handle the equipment side of the house and the addressing and road naming for the entire county, to include all the municipalities, because a physical address is the foundation of the 911 system.”

“I manage the operations center portion of our communications center,” explains Cahill. “We take all of the incoming 911 and nonemergency calls for the unincorporated areas of the county, the city of Belleview and the city of Dunnellon. We don’t handle the city of Ocala, but we handle their backup calls; they handle ours. We dispatch for fire and medical and Marion County Fire Rescue handles all of the medical calls in the county.”

Among the duties for Hirst’s team is creating geographic information

systems (GIS) layers, which are critical to pinpointing locations.

“I have a GIS analyst on staff and that is her job, basically, creating all of the layers, the address point theme and the street centerline file, because the maps inside the communications centers and in the mobile display terminals on the first responder vehicles can route them directly to the caller,” Hirst says while motioning at some of the people inside the center. “Everything my staff does is map-centric and supports everything happening here and at the Ocala Police Department’s primary communication center. Even though people don’t think about an address—they think about their mail, or the pizza delivery guy—they don’t take into account what first responders need.”

Hirst says the board of county commissioners “is the responsible fiscal agent for the fund that helps to fund the 911 Communications Center.”

“I am solely funded off of 911 fees, so every telephone or device you have that can access the 911 system gets charged a 40 cents per month fee that comes to me to help provide 911 service in Marion County,” she outlines. “Lisa has the bigger job of managing all the people who answer the calls and dispatch the units for Public Safety Communications. We are in constant communication, and we come together every other month for an operations committee meeting that includes the Ocala Police Department, the Marion County Sheriff ’s Office, dispatch and Public Safety Communications.”

Both women have several years of experience in their roles.

“I started with the Marion County Sheriff ’s Office in November of 1995 and remained until we consolidated with Marion County Public Safety on October 1st, 2011,” Cahill states. “I started as a dispatcher and call taker and worked my way to sergeant, then became a supervisor. I’ve been in my role as communications manager since July of 2020.”

Hirst has been with the county for 26 years.

“I worked my way from a 911 Specialist I to the director of the department,” she shares, with “five years in my current role.”

May ‘24 29

Meet Michelle

Hirst, 52, was born in Omaha, Nebraska, and raised in DeLand. Her father worked for Florida Power and when he was promoted, the family transferred from DeLand to Ocala.

She enjoys baking, shopping and crafting, and is currently planning her wedding to her childhood sweetheart. She has two grown daughters, both graduates of the University of Florida. The youngest just completed her master’s degree from Florida State University. Hirst has some college education.

“The most important things in my life are family, my fiancé, having a purpose and feeling like I make a difference in the community in which I live,” she shares.

Hirst says a friend encouraged her to apply for

her line of work 26 years ago. Among the most interesting aspects of her job is “educating the public about the 911 system and the quadrant system.”

One of the most challenging things is “funding shortages.”

“Each device that can access the 911 system pays 40 cents per month, which only covers about 45 percent of the allowable 911 fee expenditures, leaving the Board of County Commissioners and the city of Ocala to make up the difference,” she explains.

She describes her style of leadership with her team of eight as “consultative,” noting that, “My staff and I often come together to resolve issues we’re faced with.”

Of balancing work and life, Hirst says she is “on call 24/7, so I try to prioritize family outside of work and take time off when needed. But I always have my phone and computer with me should something happen after hours.”

She says those in this line of work have to pay attention to detail, “because one transposed number can delay emergency response a great deal. So, you have to have that attention to detail and, I think, a desire just to help people.”

Hirst says 911 service is crucial to every community and that she is an advocate for her profession. She also is a mentor, especially to other women.

“Supporting and uplifting other women is so important,” she stresses. “Navigating through life’s challenges can be tough, and it’s essential to empower each other along the way. As someone in a leadership position, I’m committed to helping all the women who work with me to achieve their fullest potential. I’ll provide support and assistance in any way I can to ensure their success.”

30 ocalastyle.com

Learn About Lisa

Cahill, 59, was born in Hollywood, Florida, and raised in Miramar. She came to Ocala after Hurricane Andrew.

“My family and I decided we needed a change and had family relocating to Ocala,” she recalls. “We found Dunnellon and bought a home in Rainbow Acres. I have since moved to Rainbow Springs. The Rainbow River is my absolute favorite place in Marion County.”

Cahill says she was an adventurous and “outdoorsy” child and still enjoys traveling, reading and shopping. She is single with two sons and two grandsons.

“At 16, I found out I was pregnant and dropped out of high school. I immediately signed up for GED classes at our local library and on the day my son was born I learned I had passed my test,” she shares. “Over the years, I have taken some college courses and after being promoted to sergeant in March 2005, I was provided the opportunity to attend the administrative officers course at the University of Louisville. It was a terrific experience that prepared me for my role in management.”

She says she initially “had no idea what I was getting myself into. The job description did not prepare me for all that this job entails. I quickly realized the impact this profession has in making a difference, often during the worst experience of someone’s life.”

In managing the day-to-day operations of the communication center, she says that “any element that impacts the operation, from policies to training to staffing to scheduling to relationships with all emergency and non-emergency agencies that Public Safety Communications interacts with, is overseen by the manager.”

“As a call taker/dispatcher under the Sheriff ’s Office, I was a member of our Communications

Strike Team and deployed during field force and SWAT callouts and hurricanes,” she states. “Public Safety Communications has a Telecommunicator Emergency Response Taskforce Team and I had the opportunity to assist communications centers around Florida, Alabama and Louisiana. My longest deployment was in 2022 to Lee County after Hurricane Ian.”

Cahill says some of the challenges of her job include “constant exposure to traumatic incidents.”

“I must be able to work well under pressure and make quick decisions,” she adds, and “as the manager be able to adapt to any situation on short notice. We are open 24/7/365 and must ensure operational readiness at all times.”

She notes that the team “is a diverse workforce and you have to be mindful and fi nd

May ‘24 31

unique ways to address challenges that the staff experiences—childcare is a huge challenge as daycares do not generally operate 24/7. Our families also make sacrifi ces or have to understand a missed event or holiday. For years, my Mom and Dad made sure my family were well taken care of while I was at work.”

Her department has a staff of 63 and 10 supervisors, which does not include the administrative staff. She describes her management style as “flexible.”

“The 911 profession is not a one style fits all,” she says. “It depends on the situation and the individuals involved. My priority is to ensure the center is running efficiently. I have been referred to as a problem solver and I think that is true for anyone who works in a communications center. The calls we get are typically from people experiencing an emergency. Each call for service can present unique challenges. It is also my responsibility to ensure the well-being of our staff.”

As for how she balances work and life, Cahill says, “as emergency essential personnel our first priority is often work. I work with a great team of individuals that make it possible to find an acceptable balance so that I can have time to myself or with family and friends. I am thankful for the support system I have outside of work. My family and friends keep me humble and grounded. They often understand when there is a last-minute cancelled appointment and are always willing to accommodate my schedule.”

Cahill takes care to serve as a mentor to others, “both personally and professionally. I had the best mentor, Sharon Falcone, and I have tried to share my knowledge and experiences as she did with me. I think as woman we definitely need to encourage one another. I am extremely passionate about the profession, and I feel my passion drives my dedication to support the heroes I work with and be a voice for the individuals who dedicate and sacrifice so much.”

Things that are most important in Cahill’s life are, “the Grace of God and family.”

“I was told when I got pregnant that I would never make anything of myself and that basically my life was over before I even had an opportunity to get started,” she shares. “Some of the wisest words came from Dad. He said if you do the right thing and can look yourself in the mirror at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what you do, just do your best. If you are going to dig ditches, just be the best ditch digger they have ever seen. I would like to say that we are not defined by our circumstances or our challenges. We can rise above them and accomplish great things.”

Time and Changes

Cahill says the communications center team averages about 462 calls in a 24-hour period and handled 435,909 calls in 2023.

They work 12-hour shifts, 6am to 6pm, and there are some swing shifts. In the course of a 14-day period, they work a total of seven days, like patrol deputies.

“We are the first line of communication. When somebody has an emergency, I think the difference between what we do and the actual field responders is we can take up to 100 calls per shift,” Cahill explains. “What we usually get is people in crisis. This is their lifeline to getting law enforcement, fire, medical, whatever type of resource they may need to protect their life or their property.”

Over the past few years, there have been significant changes in how 911 calls come in, as well as how technology has adapted in response.

“When I first started in 1995, the majority of


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Troy Gann takes a call in the Marion County Communications Center. Note: this image has been digitally altered to blur sensitive and protected text displayed on monitors, both in text and displayed on maps in the center. Photo Bruce Ackerman

phone calls were from land lines,” Cahill states. “I would say between 80 and 85 percent of our calls now are wireless.”

Hirst says the location technology has improved immensely.

“When cell phones came out, we had phase zero, which would display the telephone number and address of the tower. Phase two would use the tower’s technology to triangulate the signal to give an approximation of where that cellular phone was coming from,” she explains. “Now, with smart phone technology and the Rapid SOS resource, it will pinpoint your location and give dynamic updates. And we are getting ready to implement next-gen core services that will greatly increase the location technology.”

started, as have the types of calls,” Cahill stresses. “We’ve seen an increase, unfortunately, in suicides with drug overdoses. And you know social media— we didn’t have that concern back in 1995. Those things have evolved over the years.”

There also is new awareness about the mental health of telecommunicators.

“They do suffer vicariously through the person they are interacting with, so there is more awareness on their mental health and their well-being. It’s not your traditional clerical work in an office and you take a phone call and type on your typewriter,” Cahill states. “They are dealing with life-or-death emergencies throughout the entire shift.”

Cahill is a passionate advocate for her profession, especially when it comes to the job classification.

“Our Public Safety Telecommunicators (PSTs) are required to complete a state mandated 232hour training program and receive certification under the Department of Health. PSTs are currently classified in the Bureau of Labor Statistics Standard Occupation Classification System as a clerical occupation. Our duties and responsibilities may include use of a phone and computer but the magnitude of what we do is much more,” she notes. “A PSTs job is behind the scenes and the first line of communication for someone in crisis, and to obtain and relay pertinent information to the field units to help ensure the adequacy and safety of the response.”

She says that over the years there have been bills introduced on a local level that would recognize PSTs as first responders. On a national level there is the 911 Saves Act that would reclassify PSTs and recognize them as first responders and that progress has been made to include PSTs in PTSD benefits. Cahill is involved with committees to identify and develop standards that address the operational needs of organizations and individuals providing and/ or supporting public safety communication services.

I say all the time that I work with heroes. Our ‘business,’ so to speak, is saving lives. In 28 years, it has never gotten old or boring.
– Lisa Cahill

“This takes a special type of person, and you need a good support system,” Cahill states. “There is never a day that is the same as the one before. I say all the time that I work with heroes. Our ‘business,’ so to speak, is saving lives. In 28 years, it has never gotten old or boring.”

“The technology has definitely changed since I

To learn more, go to marionfl.org/agenciesdepartments/departments-facilities-offices/firerescue/public-safety-communications

May ‘24 33



This single mom with one biological child has created a forever family for six adopted girls and boys.

Laverne Freeman, 58, epitomizes the essence of fostering love for children. She has always loved children. Even in high school, she was the

person carrying someone’s kids around on her hip.

Freeman also spent countless hours helping her biological aunt, who over 30 years fostered

more than 100 children. Their tragic stories tore Freeman’s heart to pieces.

“Even in utero, they have experienced more baggage

34 ocalastyle.com
Dominique, Faith, DaShawn, Laverne, Parker, and Jayda Freeman

than I would have in my whole lifetime,” laments Freeman.

To compound her sadness, Freeman was informed she could not conceive children. That’s when she turned to her aunt for advice about fostering.

“Do you think I’d be any good?” Freeman asked her aunt, who aptly replied, “You’re doing it now.”

Freeman took her mandate of parenting seriously. For over 20 years, she opened her home and heart to more than 50 kids, ultimately becoming a foster, biological and adoptive parent while single.

“I wanted to make a difference,” says Freeman.

At times, Freeman has housed eight children at once. She’s cared for children from diverse countries on diff erent continents. Whenever her family ventures into public, she admits to getting a kick out of bystanders speculating about the dynamics of her multiracial family.

“I don’t see color,” notes Freeman. “I see a kid who needs somebody. Who needs love.”

Freeman committed herself to giving children a family, a bed to sleep in, clothes to wear and a parent concerned about their education and extracurricular activities. With her, they would be loved, cherished and lifted.

Early in her fostering, Freeman had only one condition: gender. She only wanted girls, and she clothed them with love, barrettes and frilly dresses.

Corey, her first foster boy, would also become her first adopted child. At 15 months old, Corey needed a loving

home. Freeman initially rejected the request on gender alone. But the caseworker pressed, “Ms. Freeman, he needs you,” recalls Freeman.

Like all of Freeman’s foster children, Corey required special care. In his case, Corey was born with epidermolysis bullosa, a rare skin condition, making his skin as “brittle as a butterfly.”

“Corey cried constantly, and bath times were the worst times because the water would burn him,” explains Freeman.

He was often in pain. His skin would detach easily from his body, which required daily bandaging and frequent trips to UF Health Shand’s Hospital.

“I don’t know if I felt sorry for him or if I fell in love with him first,” states Freeman. Regardless, she and her family, especially her aunt, bonded with the boy and, finally, at age 6, Corey was adopted into Freeman’s family.

“He is my heart,” exclaims Freeman of Corey, who is now 27, has his own home and works as a warehouse team lead at McLane Company, a national distribution business that has a center in Ocala.

Shortly after adopting Corey, Freeman had another surprise. She gave birth to her only biological child, a daughter, Imani Gibson. Gibson, 22, recently graduated from Liberty University, based in Lynchburg, Virginia, and teaches first grade at a Title I school in Virginia.

The love between Corey and Freeman is mutual. Corey highly regards his mother, praising her for her selfless nature and wishing that his aunt, who has since passed away, would still see it.

“My one wish for my mom would be for my aunt to see what an amazing person she turned out to be,” Corey offers. “She was such a key figure in

everyone’s lives, and I know that if she was still here and was seeing my mom be the woman that she is today, that would make my mom very happy.”

Twelve-year-old Faith was the second child adopted into the Freeman household. Faith arrived when she was 3 months old and was never supposed to walk or talk. She trembled due to the withdrawals associated with neonatal abstinence syndrome.

“With lots of love and God, my baby walks, talks and does whatever she wants,” Freeman shares with exuberance. Faith is in the seventh grade today, playing volleyball and, according to her mother, “she is as good as gold.”

Next to be adopted were biological brothers DaShawn, 9, and Parker, 8. Both were born with addictions, resulting in behavioral problems. DaShawn, who was placed in Freeman’s care at 1 year old, initially had some issues in public school but Freeman now boasts about how much better he is doing.

“He reads, loves math and science,” she shares, and plays two sports.

Parker, who joined the Freeman family at 2 weeks old, also shows improved behavior. He pays attention to details and participates in football and basketball with his brother.

Jayda, 4, and Dominique, 3, are Freeman’s youngest children. Jayda arrived one night at 11pm in need of emergency shelter. Freeman thought she was receiving a “2-year-old” girl, but Jayda was only 1 year old and needed diapers and bottles. Freeman agreed to keep the baby for only that evening, but there was no giving her away.

“Jayda stole my heart,” says Freeman.

Consequently, when Jayda’s

May ‘24 35

birth mother had another baby, Dominique, Freeman agreed to welcome her into her home as well. Dominique was only 2 days old when she arrived in Freeman’s care, ensuring that the sisters remained together.

“It is hard to give up somebody you love. I had to give these girls memories, life lessons and their basic needs,” Freeman shares. “If they were to leave me, it could be detrimental to them.”

Still, she did not take the decision to adopt again lightly. She considered her age and mortality as reasons not to. Nevertheless, giving her children siblings was the least selfless decision to make. Plus, she had the support of her other children.

“For me, personally growing up with foster siblings was amazing,” Corey offers. “I grew a bond with each one of them and loved each one of them as if they were my family. Eventually, five of them became my family, and I’m beyond thankful for them and my mom, making the decision to adopt them and bring them into her home.”

Managing the costs and time associated with raising a family requires robust support systems. As an adoptive parent, Freeman receives a stipend for each child, but she works full time to make ends meet. With five school-aged children, there are always needs. Freeman is constantly in motion, shifting from the older ones playing sports to her little girls cheering.

“It’s never a dull moment,” she says.

Sometimes, the routine exhausts her, but says God gives her “strength.” She also leans on the support of family and church members.

“The love I receive from my Meadowbrook Church family is unbelievable,” says Freeman.

She praises the executive pastor, Sean Forte, and friends like Todd and Lisa Panzer.

“They are people who love us for us,” Freeman says, then tears up when she adds, “My kids go without nothing.”

The Panzers met Freeman when their children, Dillon and Imani, respectively, were classmates at Meadowbrook Academy. Like Freeman, they were also fostering children and so the three became “fast friends,” celebrating their children’s milestones together and, at times, watching each other’s kids.

“She has always shown such love for the children who have gone through her home as a foster parent and then as an adoptive parent,” explains Todd Panzer. “But it takes community, and community is family, and family is whoever loves and supports you, and we are a part of that family for her.”

Freeman instills in her children the value of generosity, reminding them to give back to others as they have been fortunate to receive much. They are taught to love God

36 ocalastyle.com
Clockwise from top left: Faith and Laverne Freeman; Imani Gibson, photo courtesy of LaVerne Freeman; Laverne, Dominique, DaShawn, Faith, Parker and Jayda Freeman; Corey Freeman, photo courtesy of LaVerne Freeman

and people and to help anyone who needs assistance. Whether it is a homeless person outside of Sam’s Club or a street musician strumming a tune for donations, her children are observant and eager to offer help.

“It is just outstanding how she gets it done,” states Panzer of Freeman’s ability to be present for all her children. “Her heart is bigger than Marion County.”

In May 2023, Freeman officially retired from fostering and adopting. Yet, she has not stopped opening her arms and home to those she has fostered. She loves hearing from them on her birthday, Mother’s Day, Christmas or any time they send a text asking, “What are you cooking?” which sends her running to the store to buy more food.

She encourages those feeling the call to become future adoptive or foster parents to contact the Florida Department of Children and Families.

“You are changing lives one child at a time,” Freeman remarks, highlighting that when anyone, regardless of marital status, extends love to a child, “children who have never smiled will smile.”

The Marion County office of the Department of Children and Families is located at 1100 SW 38th Avenue, Ocala. To learn more, call (352) 330-5803 or go to dcfoffices.org/office/fl_34474_marion-county-dcf

May ‘24 37



New AdventHealth Ocala leader Erika Skula brings strong and aligned values to her job and community.

When a leader is able to align personal core values with work values, it can be powerful. AdventHealth Ocala President/CEO Erika Skula is an example of that dynamic, with a good dose of unique life experiences thrown in.

Skula is still relatively new to Ocala, having moved to the area about a year ago. As a graduate of Andrews University in Michigan, she earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in business administration. Her career background includes leadership positions in education and healthcare, and she served as chairman of the business and communications department at Kingsway College in Oshawa, located in Ontario, Canada. Skula then held several positions at AdventHealth Manchester in Frankfort, Kentucky., including COO, CFO and controller before being named president and CEO. She found her way to Florida when she was promoted to take the same position at AdventHealth Carrollwood in Tampa. In May of 2023, Skula was selected to relocate again, this time to take the helm of AdventHealth Ocala.

“I wasn’t clinical, I was never interested in the clinical,” she explains of her roles in healthcare, “but there was always the edge for relationships and the people you could always touch, no matter what you did in healthcare.”

And building relationships is a big part of what Skula attributes to success. She finds that in Ocala, she’s been able to get to know others quickly, and not just at a surface level.

“It’s refreshing,” she says, “and this community is such a friendly place.”

Most of Skula’s career has been as part of the AdventHealth team, so she well understands the organization’s service standards of “love me, own it, keep me safe and make it easy.” And while they all resonate with her, she notes that “love me” is the one that sums up the others.

“Our service standards are so simple,” she says, “and when you really think about it, they are so inclusive, and all four concepts just really embody everything we should do. I think the one that jumps out at me the most is

May ‘24 39
Photo by MAVEN Photo + Film

‘love me,’ because if you really show love and compassion to those you take care of, then you’re going to make it easy for them, you’re going to own it for them, and you want to make sure they’re safe. If you really truly love a person like you care for family, and certainly you love family, you will want to make sure all of these things are taken care of.”

Skula also explains that all team members’ badges come with the printed message, “I Care for You Like” followed by a blank, leaving space to fill in with the name of someone who is loved by that team member. She notes that most of the time the names team members add are of family members, and that in turn shows the level of care being provided to the patient.

As Skula discusses the pivotal role AdventHealth Ocala plays in the community, she particularly focuses on the relationships in helping people who are potentially in a health crisis. This is part of what drew her to healthcare.

“I think that when people are at their lowest point, often in life,” she explains, “having health issues, scared, they don’t understand ... that’s when we have the greatest opportunity, really, to offer that compassion and care that people need in such stressful times.”

Skula and her immediate team of five meet each day to check in with each other and she regularly touches base with another 10 team members. But she also sees the entire 2,000 local members of AdventHealth Ocala as her team.

“No one can do anything on their own, you have to have the shared values and vision,” she says, “and when you do that, you can impact a team and work together to extend the mission of healing.”

As the world of healthcare in general is ever changing and new rules and regulations come into play every day, Skula says she and her team are used to rapid changes and staying on top of them while decisions are made and before moving forward. Although that can be a little challenging, her team stays prepared, and they work closely together. For Skula, that closeness and the relationships that are built from it are where she finds great fulfillment in her work.

If you really truly love a person like you care for family, and certainly you love family, you will want to make sure all of these things are taken care of.

– Erika Skula

“No doubt, I love really getting to know the team, and the leaders,” she offers, “and not just what they do at work but getting to know them personally, their family, what they like to do. That just brings me a lot of joy, in having a connected, strong team that works together for good.”

As one example of building relationships, Skula likes to make her own hospital rounds to visit nurses’ stations, spending some time to find out how team members are doing.

“I just love to stop by to ask if they have everything they need,” she notes, “and to really listen to them. It’s a good way to show love.”

Diverse Experiences

Perhaps the first example Skula experienced with seeing the power of love and setting the standard in values was through her parents, who, when Erika was 5, fled their tumultuous homeland of Yugoslavia (now Serbia and Montenegro) with their family. In that journey, siblings were separated, and months were spent in Germany before there was a final relocation to Canada where Skula grew up.

“They were a team for sure,” she recounts of her parents, “as they sacrificed and had courage, were brave and stood up for values.”

Skula also had several teachers who were inspirational in her formative years, as well as her first boss at AdventHealth, who she describes as, “warm, kind and clear.” Skula has mentored several people in her career and, depending on her mentee’s

40 ocalastyle.com

challenges, has been able to help support them with specific things they faced. She has mentored women and men, and believes the same caring, core values and principles come through, although she notes some women may have also related to her on an additional level as a female in a leadership role.

Those values of AdventHealth include quality and service excellence, community well-being, high ethical standards, stewardship and inclusiveness.

“When I think about my personal values, I always feel like I truly align with AdventHealth values,” Skula thoughtfully says. “And they’re beautiful. When your values align with where you work, you truly have joy, you can truly say you have joy in what you do every day.”

As an avid Brené Brown fan, Skula listens to the well-known researcher and storyteller’s podcasts and reads her books. She loves many of Brown’s quotes, but one does stand out for her as she thinks of her own philosophy in life.

“My favorite quote is from Brené Brown, and it’s about integrity,” she shares, quoting: “Integrity is choosing courage over comfort, it’s choosing what’s right over what’s fun or fast or easy, and it’s practicing your values and not just professing them.”

Skula adds that practicing values is far more important than just talking about them, and role modeling for people is showing how to serve.

Skula’s background seems to be a perfect foundation for her courage and adaptability in taking on new challenges and opportunities. From moving across continents in stressful circumstances as a child to learning several new languages (she speaks Hungarian, Serbian and French) to working in an ever-changing industry with healthcare, her life has been woven in diverse experiences.

She is an accomplished musician, playing several instruments, including the piano and the accordion, which her mother wanted her to learn.

But her heart is in the percussions. She even played in

An Evening of Mission and Music, presented last September by the AdventHealth Ocala Foundation, and performed at the Reilly Arts Center. The event featured musical performances by the members of the AdventHealth Ocala Orchestra.

AdventHealth West Florida Senior Manager of Communications Lauren RozylaWong confirmed that not only can Skula play, she excels on the drums.

“She won’t say it, but she’s really, really good,” Rozyla-Wong adds.

Forward Vision

Munroe Memorial Hospital, named for banker T.T. Munroe, later became Munroe Regional Medical Center. In 2014 Community Health Services assumed operations under a 40-year lease with the Marion County Hospital District, which still owns the hospital and the land. AdventHealth came in when CHS sold the organization the lease for operations in 2018. Last year, AdventHealth Ocala received an “A”

May ‘24 41
Erika Skula is in the arms of her mother, Veronika Igracski, with her sisters Ibojka and Veronika, in Novi Sadi along the Danube River at Petrovaradin, formerly Yugoslavia. [Photo courtesy Erika Skula]

Hospital Safety Grade from the Leapfrog Group, which is a national organization upholding the standards of patient safety in hospitals and surgery centers.

Skula’s vision for the next five years includes continuing the strong trajectory and path she believes AdventHealth Ocala is already on, including physician recruitment, which grew by six in 2023 alone.

“The community relies on us as a community hospital,” she emphasizes, “to provide excellent, comprehensive care.”

Skula adds that the footprint will continue to grow with an offsite emergency room and a medical building for specialties, with ease of care and access, in one building. She wants community members to know they can find specialists in Marion County and not have to leave the area for care.

“We are the community hospital,” she says, “and we don’t want people to feel they have to leave to find the care they need. We can provide it here.”

Additionally, Skula projects local economic development will be positively impacted.

“As we grow,” she notes, “we grow jobs. Not just for us at AdventHealth, but also in things like local vendors, such as those we will need for our medical building.”

While AdventHealth Ocala is still relatively young in the area, many employees have worked in the hospital through its changes. As a leader, Skula is strong on local partnerships, including the Ocala Metro Chamber & Economic Partnership, or CEP, the Florida Department of Health in Marion County and other nonprofits in the community. She praises these groups and looks forward to working more closely with them.

“The CEP is really impressive,” she offers. “It’s amazing to collaborate with them and the other nonprofits. We want to sit together and see how we can support better, because we don’t want to be a standalone. There are many issues such as nonsmoking, diabetes and access to care, that can be a focus for all of us.”

At Home in Ocala

While Skula is up for new opportunities through

42 ocalastyle.com
Erika in a jet fighter plane; courtesy of Erika Skula

AdventHealth Ocala, she’s also up for other fun challenges, as evident of the time she and her best friend flew jet fighter planes about 10 years ago. Her friend won the opportunity as a prize, to be experienced by two people, and asked Skula to join her.

“So, I said, ‘Okay,’” she says, laughing. They trained in Las Vegas with a Navy pilot and an Air Force pilot for an hour. “And then we went up and did a ‘dog fight,’ and it was a simulation,” she says, adding, “but we were at almost 4G.”

More recently and closer to the ground, Skula and Joe, her husband of nearly 40 years, have spent the last year becoming more acquainted with Ocala and Marion County. They have enjoyed the local natural amenities, especially water sports.

“It’s been busy,” she says, “and family has visited.”

Several nieces and nephews have made it to Florida to spend time with the Skulas and to enjoy the local scene.

“We love the outdoors, like hiking and walking,

and we’ve taken them out in the area,” Skula says of her guests. “And I love the water, that’s my thing.”

The couple, and sometimes their family, have been paddleboarding, kayaking and waterskiing, as well as visiting local equestrian venues such as Live Oak Stud, Grandview Clydesdales and the World Equestrian Center. They’ve also enjoyed spending time at Silver Springs and diving in Crystal River with the manatees.

Having lived in rural as well as urban areas, Skula finds Ocala a wonderful balance.

“We are really enjoying it,” she says.

Skula visits her mom in Canada when she can, and she and her husband vacationed in North Ontario last summer with some of the family. They also spent Christmas in Western Canada in Victoria. But the leader who once left a homeland behind, flew a fighter jet and successfully leads teams to seek excellence and love in their work, is happy to be at AdventHeath Ocala.

“When we say home, we mean Ocala is home,” she says, “and we truly feel blessed to be in this community.”

May ‘24 43
Clockwise from bottom left: Erika during An Evening of Mission and Music, Erika and husband, Joe, courtesy of Erika Skula; Erika headshot by MAVEN Photo + Film.

Head to El Toreo for the best Mexican food this side of the border! Enjoy all of your favorite traditional Mexican dishes in a friendly and festive atmosphere.


Mondays and Wednesdays, Margaritas are $2 Saturdays, 2 for 1 Margaritas All Day

El Toreo

3790 E Silver Springs Boulevard, Ocala (352) 694-1401 › 7 days 11a-10p

SR 200, Ocala (352) 291-2121 › 7 days 11a-11p

French Baked Scallops

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 and Louisiana Gumbo. 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.

Harry’s Seafood

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Mon-Thu 11a-9p › Fri & Sat 11a-10p › Sun 11a-8p

Happy Hour Specials: 2-7p every

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Ocala Cooks

Food is one of the world’s greatest connectors of people. Four locals, including artist Maggie Weakley, with her 15-Minute Peanut Noodle recipe, are sharing favorite dishes in hopes you will try them and share them with others.

Photo courtesy of Maggie Weakley

Maggie Weakley and her husband, Kent, both noted local artists, have embraced a vegan lifestyle for over a decade, though they occasionally enjoy seafood and cheese. “At home, we prioritize plant-based eating. While transitioning to veganism posed challenges, the abundance of cookbooks, recipes and videos now make it a joy,” she shares. “One of our favorites is Fuss-FreeVegan by Sam Turnbull, offering easy, delicious meals. Inspired by Sam, this recipe, with my personal touch, is a tasty delight for the whole family. Plus, it’s just as good cold as it is hot, making leftovers a treat.”

15-Minute Peanut Noodles

1/2 cup of your favorite peanut butter; creamy or chunky

1/2 cup of water

3 tablespoons soy sauce or tamari (gluten-free)

2 tablespoons rice vinegar

1 lime, juiced

1 tablespoon maple syrup or agave syrup

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 teaspoon grated ginger or 1/2 teaspoon of ground ginger, more to taste

2 teaspoon of Sriracha or your favorite hot sauce, more to taste

1 teaspoon sesame oil

14 ounces of noodles (such spaghetti or rice noodles; I like Thai Kitchen Stir-Fry Rice Noodles)

1 red or white onion, thinly chopped

2 of each, yellow, red and orange peppers, thinly sliced

2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into matchsticks

1 teaspoon olive oil

1/4 cup of dry roasted peanuts (or other nuts) roughly chopped

2 green onions, thinly sliced

In a small bowl, whisk together the peanut butter, water, soy sauce, rice vinegar, lime, maple syrup, garlic, ginger, hot sauce and

sesame oil until smooth. If the sauce is too thick, add a little water to thin it out. Set aside.

Cook the noodles according to package instructions, then drain and rinse well with cold water so they don’t stick together. Set aside.

Prep all of the veggies to be similar in size.

Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the vegetables and sauté until they are tender-crisp, about 5-7 minutes.

Pour the sauce over the cooked noodles and add the vegetables, then toss to coat evenly.

To serve, garnish with the green onions and chopped peanuts.

This recipe is very customizable, so feel free to add more of your favorite veggies or proteins for extra flavor and nutrition.

To be featured in Ocala Cooks, send us an email at editorial@magnoliamediaco.com

46 ocalastyle.com

Scott Mitchell is the director of the Silver River Museum & Environmental Education Center in Ocala. He learned about cast iron cooking from reenactors portraying Florida pioneers at the Ocali Country Days festival each November at the center. Traditional biscuit recipes call for a campfire, hot coals and a Dutch oven. This contemporary recipe is delicious and can be made in any modern kitchen with a cast iron skillet and conventional oven.

3 cups all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon sugar

Modern Cast Iron “Pioneer” Biscuits

1 tablespoon baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

1 ½ sticks salted butter (frozen)

1 ¼ cups whole milk

10-inch cast iron skillet

Preheat oven to 450°. In a large mixing bowl, combine the dry ingredients and mix well by hand.

Grate the frozen butter into the bowl of dry ingredients with a cheese grater, which will yield small bits that mix easily. This process makes extra savory biscuits for your family or guests— including visiting old timey pioneers.

Combine the grated butter and dry ingredients using a spoon until you have a crumbly dough with butter bits mixed evenly throughout. Mix gently, and not too much.

Move the dough to a cutting board or smooth surface dusted with flour. Press the dough out into a big circle by hand until it is about ¾-inch thick. Sprinkle a very light dusting of sugar across the top and gently pat the granules in by hand.

Put a light film of butter on the bottom of the skillet. Cut out about seven biscuits with a 3-inch

cookie or biscuit cutter and arrange them in the skillet so they are touching.

Bake for 18-20 minutes until golden brown on top. Use a potholder to remove the skillet from the oven. Brush the biscuits very lightly with melted butter as soon as you remove them from the oven.

Check the underside of one of the biscuits and if it is getting too brown, gently flip them all up a bit to avoid burnt bottoms. Cast iron retains heat and will continue to cook the biscuits after you remove them from the oven.

Serve while warm with rich old-fashioned butter and cane syrup or jam.

These biscuits also go great with a variety of entrees, such as biscuits and gravy, or any dinner that includes a bread. If you have a large family or a lot of guests, double the recipe and use two skillets.

Ocala Cooks is a place to share recipes and discuss all things food. Join the conversation at fb.com/groups/ocalacooks

May ‘24 47

Leslie Callahan is a patient advocate at The VA Villages Outpatient Clinic, where she has been working “with our nation’s veterans for 35 years and there is nothing more rewarding to me.” This recipe is from PuertoRicanCookery, by Carmen Aboy Valldejuli, which embraces Leslie’s heritage. “The book was gifted to me by a dear friend’s mother, ‘Mama Nilda,’” she shares. The late Mama Nilda wrote a sweet note in the book encouraging Leslie to make this recipe, which she has done many times. “My husband, Joe, calls it Plantain Lasagna. Though this takes effort to put together, it is delicious and well worth it. Buen provecho (Enjoy)!”

Piñón (Plantain and Meat Surprise)

1 ounce salt pork

2 ounces lean cured ham, washed and diced

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 green pepper, seeded and chopped

3 sweet chili peppers, seeded and chopped

1 onion, peeled and chopped

2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped

1 pound lean ground beef

6 green olives with pimientos, chopped

2 tablespoons raisins

1 teaspoon capers

1 teaspoon salt

I teaspoon whole dried orégano

1/4 teaspoon vinegar

3/4 cup tomato sauce

1 can string beans, drained

8 large, ripe plantains (yellow)

2 tablespoons of oil for frying

6 eggs

3/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350°.

In a caldero or heavy kettle, brown the salt pork and reduce heat to low, add vegetable oil, ham, green peppers, chili peppers, onion and garlic and sauté for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add ground beef and stir over high heat until barely browned.

Reduce heat to low and add olives, raisins,

capers, salt, oregano, vinegar and tomato sauce and cover and cook 15 minutes. Add string beans to the pot and mix.

Peel the plantains and cut each into four lengthwise slices. Heat oil in a separate pan. Brown plantain slices on both sides. Remove and drain on absorbent paper.

Beat eggs until stiff. Add salt and beat again. (You can replace the beaten eggs with shredded mozzarella.)

In a 13 x 9 x 2-inch casserole dish, assemble the Pinón by arranging alternating layers of half of the beaten eggs, 1/3 of plantain slices, half of meat mixture, 1/3 of plantain slices, rest of meat mixture, last plantain slices and remainder of beaten eggs.

Cook uncovered in oven for 30 minutes or until egg mixture is set and golden brown. Allow to cool for 15 minutes before cutting and serving.

To be featured in Ocala Cooks, send us an email at editorial@magnoliamediaco.com

48 ocalastyle.com

Lisa Dorsey is a longtime resident of Ocala who loves spending time with friends and family. She is known to always have a delicious dessert on hand when everyone gathers at the home she shares with her husband, Tom. But the full-time teacher at Dr. N.H. Jones Elementary School and mom to two college-aged children doesn’t always have time to spend cooking. In fact, she says, she is better known for her science skills in the classroom than her chemistry skills in the kitchen. Lisa has the solution for her lifestyle—she perfected several recipes that she can pull together for a quick but always tasty dish. One of the most popular is this one, “which never has any leftovers. This year-round favorite is perfect for birthday parties, cookouts and holiday gatherings.”

Chocolate Chip Cream Cheese Dip

8 ounces cream cheese, softened

1/2 cup butter, softened

3/4 cup confectioners’ sugar

2 tablespoons dark brown sugar

1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

3/4 cup mini semi-sweet chocolate chips

3/4 cup pecans, finely chopped

In a large bowl, beat the cream cheese and butter together until smooth.

Mix the sugar, brown sugar, and vanilla

together in a separate bowl, then mix those ingredients into the cream cheese and butter. Stir in the chocolate chips.

Cover and refrigerate for a few hours.

Roll the hardened mixture into a ball and roll it in the pecans to coat the outside.

Serve with chocolate graham crackers or chocolate Teddy Grahams.

Ocala Cooks is a place to share recipes and discuss all things food. Join the conversation at fb.com/groups/ocalacooks

May ‘24 49 LIVING



A Little Bit About ...

Jennifer Hunt Murty is the publisher of Ocala Style magazine and the Ocala Gazette newspaper.

Where were you born? In Washington, D.C.

What travel destination(s) are at the top of your bucket list? Sicily and India.



What’s the last book(s) you read? Meditations, by Marcus Aurelius, so I could understand a friend who kept referencing it.

If you got to pick your last meal, what would it be? Something comforting—peanut butter and jelly sandwich with a glass of cold milk.


pet peeves:




When did you move to Marion County? In 2017.

What place do you plan to return to over and over again? New York City.

What are you currently reading? Women Who Run With the Wolves, a gift I received from another friend.

Your favorite local celebratory restaurant? Whatever restaurants chefs Randal White or Albert Barrett are cooking in. Not only because everything they make is delicious, but because I consider them friends.

Hardest thing you’ve ever done? Start a newspaper.

Favorite aspect of your job? Asking questions.

What is your biggest pet peeve? When people are apathetic about their impact on the community and don’t participate—we need everyone to get engaged so Marion County is the best place it can be.

Who has influenced your life the most? Other than my parents, Larry Felder, the attorney I worked for most of my 20’s and who challenged me in a good way.

Favorite color? Navy blue. Classic or trendy? Classic.

What hobbies do you enjoy? Travel is very important to me. Snorkeling and scuba. Visiting art museums. Chasing really good food.

Who do you hope to influence? I’m a bit ambitious here— everyone in the community to stay connected to each other and show up and participate.

Introvert or extrovert? Introvert. Are you a dog or cat person? Dog.

What hobbies do you plan on taking up? I would like to learn how to pilot boats better. I love being on the water.

50 ocalastyle.com

Individualizing Patient Care

Dr. Mark Lupo will lecture on thyroid nodules and cancer at IHMC in Ocala on May 30th.

Dr. Mark Lupo was born and raised in Tampa. He admits that medicine was not his first choice in pursuing higher education and a career.

While taking part in a small group seminar at Duke University, with the then president, who at the time was a psychiatrist, Lupo thought he might, to his own surprise, follow in his own father’s footsteps and become a psychiatrist.

During medical school at the University of Florida, however, he shares that, “My interests led me to a more objective field requiring good patient interview skills combined with lab/imaging, etc. Detective work. During internal medicine training, I learned through mentors and direct patient care.”

My interests led me to a more objective field requiring good patient interview skills combined with lab/imaging, etc. Detective work.
— Dr. Mark Lupo

And, he adds, “My dad was happy I did not go into psychiatry!”

Over time, Lupo completed his endocrine fellowship through a combined program at the University of California San Diego and Scripps Clinic. He later became the founder and medical director of the Thyroid & Endocrine Center of Florida, in Sarasota. He is board certifi ed in endocrinology and internal medicine and is on the faculty of the Florida State University College of Medicine as a clinical assistant professor.

Lupo’s endocrine practice is limited to thyroidology, with an emphasis on structural thyroid disease—nodules and cancer, as well as autoimmune thyroid disease. The center has

been involved in several clinical trials on thyroid nodule evaluation, autoimmune thyroid disease and lab testing.

Lupo has been very involved in teaching other physicians neck sonography, ultrasoundguided biopsy techniques and thyroid nodule/cancer management. He will lecture at the Institute for Human & Machine Cognition in Ocala on May 30 on thyroid nodules and cancer, and individualizing patient care for best outcomes.

“Thyroid nodules are very common—nearly half of us will have one by age 60,” Lupo explains.

“Most (90-95 percent) are benign. I will review current approaches to thyroid nodule evaluation, including molecular testing, thyroid nodule management and the importance of tailoring treatment decisions in patients with thyroid cancer.”

The doctor enjoys traveling and activities such as hiking and cooking. He is married and has one “canine kid,” a golden retriever. He has published book chapters and several articles in the field of thyroidology and is an active member of the American Thyroid Association, Endocrine Society, American Institute of Ultrasound in Medicine and Mensa.

The lecture will begin with a reception at 5:30pm, at IHMC, 15 SE Osceola Ave., Ocala. To learn more and RSVP, go to ihmc.us/life/evening_lectures/ocala-lecture-series

May ‘24 51
Photo courtesy of IHMC

Half-day camps for ages 5–17. Register now as spaces fill quickly! Need-based scholarships are available. Visit AppletonMuseum.org.

Appleton Museum, Artspace and Store

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

at the Appleton Museum of Art

-an equal opportunity college-

From Stranger to Friend (in one conversation)

Turns out, the family’s dog walker was stealing the expensive whiskey.

“Seriously?” I asked.

“Yep,” answered the bass player called Hammer. “She was going through a bad breakup. I kept noticing the (whiskey) level going down.”

I laughed. Few people can make me laugh out loud; now that includes a dude I had just met and could barely see in the pre-show darkness of a stage wing.

Context: Every year, I am a volunteer photographer for the band Sister Hazel’s Lyrics For Life concert. L4L raises money for cancer research and pediatric patients.

This year, Sister Hazel enlisted Pat Monahan from Train to perform alongside them and then summoned Hammer to join them.

“I got in around 10 this morning. Flying out at 6am tomorrow,” he told me; he was disappointed he could not stay longer because he wanted to try this barbecue place he had seen near the airport called Sonny’s.

We were standing in the darkness near rows of guitars. I am not sure how the conversation started, frankly, as I am not one to strike up conversations. I’ll talk your ears off in a group, but I am an awkward flub one on one.

Something compelled me to introduce myself to the affable chap watching the pre-show hustle. Before I knew it, we were talking barbecue, whiskey, touring, dogs, sushi and fried alligator. While Hammer is not from Florida, his alligator story is a doozy.

A friend, he said, was fishing for crabs one day

when a gator swam close to monitor—and likely steal—the crab catches. Bad news, not just because there was a maneater nearby but also because the man was banking on selling the crabs.

So, per Hammer per the crab guy, he jumped on the alligator, stabbed him and took him to market with the crabs.

Two notes here: 1. Jumping on and stabbing alligators is a bad idea. Also illegal. 2. I did not believe it, nor did Hammer, I think.

It did not matter. It was a great story.

We chatted for 20 minutes before showtime.

The musicians knocked it out of the park. Hundreds of thousands of dollars were raised.

“Cancer, we’re coming for you,” Sister Hazel posted on social media after the show.

These are good people doing powerful work. As I drove home that night, I considered another takeaway: Take a chance on strangers.

I mean, don’t go fishing for candy in trench coats or anything, but do not be afraid to make a friend. My inclination that night was to fiddle with my cameras until showtime, to stay comfortably on Planet Dave. But something nudged me, and now I know more about fine whiskey and misdemeanors in the dog-walking community.

In these polarizing times, the act of turning strangers into friends seems almost rebellious. Turns out, strangers can talk to each other without bluster and when they do, they can add another alligator story to your arsenal.

Plus, who would have suspected the dog walker? Well done, Hammer. Case closed.

May ‘24 53 LIVING

Transplanting for Summer

May is a good month to move plants around your yard and install new plants before the stress of our summer weather starts.

The balmy days of May sweep in this month, and it’s the last chance to get your garden and landscapes into shape for the soggy days of summer. The days are (often) cool enough in the mornings to do some hard work and we (sometimes) get afternoon showers as the winds and moisture from the Gulf and the Atlantic convene over the Florida peninsula.

May is a great time of year to move plants around and install new flowers, shrubs and trees to brighten your yard. And it sounds kind of easy, right? Dig a hole, stick the plants in, water and go. Well, not really. Not if you want your plants to live long and prosper in their new home.

Here are some tips to help you install new plants and move plants around in your yard to enjoy their beauty.

To start, consider the new location and its

suitability for a new plant. Don’t put a camellia japonica in full sun; don’t put a palm tree in shade. “Right plant, right place,” is the watchword of the Florida-Friendly Landscaping program (ffl.ifas.ufl. edu/resources/apps/plant-guide) and it applies to both installing new plants and moving them, too. Consider their needs first.

Step one: Dig the new hole in the new location. Plan for sufficient room for the plant and its root ball. Have it ready before you move the plant because having roots exposed to the air is actually stressful. Dig down to enough depth to handle the new plant.

Local landscape expert Ryan Mims, owner and operator of Tower Hill Nursery, says adding fresh garden soil, manure mixes and/or compost is a good idea. Mix it with the current soil as you don’t want the roots to stay circled only around the


conditioned soil; they need to spread out.

Step two: Dig out the plant. Depending on its size, you may be digging out several feet around. If it’s an older, established plant and you’re able to plan for this on your calendar, do what is called a root pruning a couple weeks before moving day. Use your shovel to cut out the roots where you’re going to dig down and move the plant out.

The basic concept in transplanting, whether from a container or from the ground, is to keep as much of the major root ball intact as possible. With smaller shrubs, of course, this is more feasible, and you can often plop them into a large container or tie them up in a sheet and move them. But with large plants, it can be a challenge to get to and move a big root ball; they’re heavy and often a bit unwieldly and off balance. You might want another pair of hands to help you.

Once you’ve got the root ball shoveled out, drag, pull or lift the plant onto a tarp, burlap or sheet to move it. Any lift ing, if possible, should be done from under the root ball not from the stem or base of the plant. Having two people with shovels can help you be as gentle as possible with the roots.

Step three: Move it. Gently. If it’s small enough to lift into a cart or wheelbarrow, do that. If you have to drag it over ground, again, do so gently, so as to not disturb the roots more than needed.

Step four: Place it in its new hole/home and move it to an upright position. The plant should be at the same level in the soil or even a bit higher than it was. Fill in around the root ball with the soil from its old location, and then use the soil from the newly dug hole. Use both water and gentle tamping down to settle the plant into the ground. With bigger plants you may have to do this step several times as the water moves down through the soil and fills in the air pockets. Finally, make a little soil dam around the plant, which allows water to be caught and move down to its roots.

Step five: Set up for its healthy new start. Once the roots are watered in and the soil has settled, spread your mulch of choice around it. For shrubs, you’ll want to check on the soil moisture level daily for at least a couple of weeks and water as needed to keep it moist but not soggy enough to cause root rot. The mulch will help preserve the water saturation. And be prepared for some transplant shock and leaf loss. It’s what I call a “Big Scary Step” for an established plant to be moved, so understand that the stress will probably affect its reaction. You’ll know within 60 days or so if your plant friend made the trip safely. You’ll see new growth, which means the roots are reaching out and getting the nutrients they need from the soil.

This is a good time to move things in your yard before summer and with proper care now, they’ll reward you with beauty the rest of the year and years to come.

A native Floridian and lifelong gardener, Belea spends her time off fostering cats and collecting caladiums. You can send gardening questions or column suggestions to her at belea@magnoliamediaco.com

May ‘24 55

Turpentine Camps of Old Florida

The ‘naval stores’ industry provided much-needed jobs but at a steep cost for laborers.

In the days before modern solvents, turpentine, which is derived from pine sap, was an important ingredient for everyday life. It was used in a variety of products, from paints to medicines and soaps.

Rosin, pitch and gum were also derived from the piney concoction and were critical to seal wooden ships and waterproof rigging. Since most ships were made from wood, and modern petroleum-based spirits like paint thinner and acetone were not yet available, turpentine was the go-to solvent. Because of this connection to early shipping, the business as a whole is referred to as

the “naval stores” industry.

Turpentine as a commodity is labor intensive to produce. The process requires vast stands of old long leaf pine trees and legions of workers who can toil away at physically draining labor in the southern heat. The trees are cut or scored in a chevron pattern on one side to get the pine sap running. These cuts are called “cat faces” and include sheet metal drip gutters at the base that direct the sap into a cup attached to the tree. Early cups were often tin but terra cotta “Herty” cups (invented by Charles Herty in 1902) quickly became the norm once introduced.


56 ocalastyle.com
Photos Scott Mitchell

The period between the late 1800s and early 1900s saw the heyday of the naval stores industry. From about 1909 until the 1920s, Florida was one of the leading producers of these products in the nation. Larger operations were vast and included company towns known as camps. Hundreds of turpentine camps existed across north Florida and involved tens of thousands of acres. Raw pine sap would be collected and transported to a centralized distillation operation for processing. These stills cooked the sap down to produce mainly turpentine and rosin, which were then sent to market in 50-gallon wooden barrels.

Turpentine camps involved laborers and supervisors, coopers to craft barrels, cooks, wood cutters, wagons, trucks and people to run the still itself. Many camps were somewhat isolated and provided housing, schools and a company store in which workers could purchase supplies.

While the industry provided much-needed jobs, there was a steep cost for many who worked in the camps. This was hard, dirty and hot labor, done primarily by African American men in the deep south during the era of racial segregation and Jim Crow laws. Since there was money to be made, larger companies put profit before the welfare of employees and exploitation was not uncommon.

It is true that many of the workers at the camps were paid. However, supplies were only available at the camp store using company-issued scrip or coin. Prices were kept inflated to trap laborers in a cycle of debt, essentially holding them in the job. Others were even less fortunate. Prisoners were leased to naval stores operations through a convict leasing system that was akin to modern slavery. Men were arrested for trivial charges and even those deemed innocent by the courts, but who could not pay court costs, were jailed and leased for pennies to private businesses like the turpentine camps. Fees generated substantial income for state and local governments and provided what fundamentally amounted to free labor for unscrupulous bosses.

Naval stores profits began to decline due to the advent of more modern solvents, fewer wooden ships and legal scrutiny into the convict leasing system. In 1919, convict leasing was abolished by the Florida Legislature but counties were exempt, and the practice continued. In 1923, it was banned in Florida altogether after a highprofile state investigation into the death of a man named Martin Tabert in a turpentine camp uncovered corruption and the horrible treatment of prisoners.

By the late 1930s many of the camps had closed and transitioned into timber operations. Stands of pines that had once yielded the profitable sap fell to sawyers and made lumber for new construction. The naval stores industry held on in small

operations for a few decades but by the early 1950s the turpentine stills of old Florida were mostly a thing of the past.

The Silver River Museum has some “Herty” cups and tools used by laborers in the turpentine camps on display.

Scott Mitchell is a field archaeologist, scientific illustrator and director of the Silver River Museum & Environmental Education Center at 1445 NE 58th Avenue, inside the Silver River State Park. Museum hours are 10am to 4pm Saturday and Sunday. To learn more, go to silverrivermuseum.com.

May ‘24 57 Photos from Florida State Archives

Mammograms and More

The Michelle-O-Gram nonprofit helps secure screenings, genetic testing and other resources for those at risk of breast cancer.

Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in women in the U.S., second only to lung cancer. For men, the average lifetime risk of getting breast cancer is about 1 in 726. One of every 40 women diagnosed with breast cancer dies, according to the American Cancer Society.

Michelle Blauser Standridge was one of those women. The young wife and mother of two sons was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 33 in 2006. During three years of treatment, she continuously cared for others and raised awareness about the need for breast cancer screenings. She passed away in 2009.

In 2010, Joey Wiesbaum, an RN from Standridge’s hometown of Dunnellon, founded the Michelle-O-Gram nonprofit, which is devoted to aiding those at risk of breast cancer, especially those without resources and who are frightened.

The 501(c)(3)’s purpose is to “identify problems

early on and not have to live the life Michelle had experienced dealing with breast cancer,” MichelleO-Gram organizer Sherry Roberts says.

“Michelle’s message, while being treated for breast cancer, was to ‘get your mammogram,’” Roberts continues. “As the word spread, MichelleO-Gram had a long list of those seeking help. As money became available, one by one they were assisted with screening mammograms.”

The organization partners with local radiology and imaging centers. Individuals seeking help can call the Michelle-O-Gram phone line at (352) 469-6006 and leave a message with their name, phone number and what their need is. One of the organization’s volunteers will reach out within a day or two. A scheduler will follow up to gather more information and to let the caller know there is a $25 co-pay, then will point the person to an imaging facility in their area.

“Michelle-O-Gram serves clients in six Central

58 ocalastyle.com
Cheri Futch, front left, Angela Vanryn, front right; behind, from left: Candy Homan, Stacy Carroll, Billy Carroll, Piper Newman, Lori Zirkle, Sherry Roberts, Emma Reynolds, Susie Blauser, Brenda K. Dees, Teresa Parker and Tricia Taylor

Florida counties and allows them to schedule their appointment as they know their schedule, transportation, or childcare situation,” Roberts notes. “Once scheduled, they are asked to reply [to us] with the date and time so they are on our schedule at the facility.”

The nonprofit helps provide screening mammograms, diagnostic mammograms with ultrasound, breast MRIs, breast cyst aspiration, breast biopsies, device placement after biopsy, pathology testing of specimens and genetic testing.

“Michelle-O-Gram is now involved with genetic testing at HCA Florida Ocala Imaging Center,” Roberts explains. “Michelle and many in her family have been diagnosed as BRCA gene carriers, which predisposes them to breast and uterine cancer at an early age.”

The gene affects men and women and many of Standridge’s family members died early in life due to the BRCA gene without understanding why they were predisposed to cancer.

“Those clients calling for assistance and speaking of strong family histories of breast and uterine cancer are referred for genetic testing,” Roberts states.

Many of the individuals served by the nonprofit are unable to afford testing on their own, oftentimes not having insurance.

“Women tend to take care of everyone else and often neglect themselves,” says scheduler Kari Dollar. “They call when they have nowhere to turn. They are often emotional, financially stressed and very concerned about what breast cancer could mean in their lives. A diagnosis of breast cancer affects the whole family, not just the woman.”

“We have a nurse practitioner, Shannon Kratzberg, who is willing to write orders for those without a doctor’s order for a screening mammogram,” Roberts notes. “Women can get

a screening mammogram without a doctor’s order; however, we learned when they need additional testing, we need to have someone who can respond and convey that message.”

Michelle-O-Gram has a team of dedicated volunteers. The nonprofit pays no staff and has no office. Donations help with securing supplies, such as paper and stamps.

The nonprofit does not do fundraising, but organizations often host events, with the proceeds to benefit Michelle-O-Gram. Once such group is the Bunco Babes. Their next event will be in September at the Southeastern Livestock Pavilion.

“Typically, family and friends come together to work fundraising events that support Michelle-OGram,” Roberts shares.

“The most rewarding part of working with Michelle-O-Gram,” says volunteer Cheri Futch, “is that we are given the opportunity to help someone get a screening or diagnostic mammogram that they would not have been able to because they had no insurance or a huge deductible. We are very fortunate, too, to have a community that feels the same way we do, and they want to donate, so we are able to keep the Michelle-O-Gram going.”

“Nearly 14 years later, Michelle would have never imagined her message to others as the Michelle-O-Gram has served well over 3,000 clients in our six-county area,” Roberts says.

To learn more, go to michelleogram.com

May ‘24 59 DOING GOOD
Piper Newman, Sherry Roberts and Emma Reynolds

• Improve your horse’s mobility, posture, and nerve function with this new service.

• From pasture pets to performance horses, EMM is tailored to optimize comfort and performance.

Dr. Yorke specializes in sports medicine and is board certified by the American College of Veterinary Surgeons. She trained in equine medical manipulation and acupuncture through Chi University and is now offering EMM/chiropractic clinical services at Chi Animal Hospital to complement the current acupuncture and herbal therapy services.

9600 W Hwy 318 Reddick, FL 32686 Tel: 352-388-3388 Email: hello@chi.hospital Web: www.chi.hospital

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History Maker

Ocala-based racehorse trainer Jena Antonucci’s coming-out party took place on national television in the most dramatic fashion.

In a little more than 2 minutes and 29 seconds, Jena Antonucci made thoroughbred racing history. When Blue Rose Farm’s Arcangelo captured the 155th Belmont Stakes (G1) in 2:29.23 for the mile-and-a-half test on June 10, 2023, Antonucci became the first woman trainer to saddle the winner of a Triple Crown race.

Leading up to that milestone, 43 women trainers had saddled horses in the Triple Crown races: Kentucky Derby (G1), Preakness Stakes (G1) and Belmont Stakes (G1). None recorded a win.

The subsequent TV camera video footage of Antonucci, owner Jon Ebbert of Blue Rose Farm and Arcangelo’s entourage watching the race

unfold on a tabletop monitor in their grandstand box is now part of racing lore. In between cheering on her charge, Antonucci would look back and forth from the monitor down to the actual racetrack. When Arcangelo crossed the finish line first, Antonucci and the group jumped up and down, hugging each other in sheer joy. At one moment, Antonucci almost went to her knees, grabbing ahold to the back of a chair. Then the whole group erupted again and continued the celebration down to the winner’s circle. Moments later, a jubilant Antonucci raised the Belmont Stakes (G1) trophy above her head in triumph.

“I actually went to my knees to catch my

May ‘24 61
Jena Antonucci and Arcangelo

breath,” says Antonucci, 48. “It was all so special.”

Following Antonucci’s historic victory, the media blitz began immediately with post-Belmont Stakes (G1) interviews.

“I had arranged to fly back home on Sunday,” says Antonucci. “I drove from the airport to Ocala, unpacked my bag, repacked my bag, drove back to the airport and flew right back to New York for a Monday morning television interview.”

In the days following her Belmont Stakes (G1) win, Antonucci logged dozens of interviews with print, television and online media. She graciously gave of her time and in the process became an ambassador for the Ocala-based thoroughbred industry. Among Antonucci’s interviews were those with such media outlets as FOX, CBS, NBC, News Nation, Newsmax, USA Today, Thoroughbred Daily News, Blood-Horse, Paulick Report, Ocala Gazette, Horse Capital TV and The Florida Horse magazine.

“It was surreal, and I just went with the flow,” says Antonucci, who with Katie Miranda owns and operates horseOlogy, which is based at Paul Bulmahn’s GoldMark Farm.


Born and raised in Hollywood, Florida, Antonucci was such a horse-crazy kid that she was riding by the time she was 3.

“Where I grew up was rural at the time and there were a lot of

horses around,” recalls Antonucci. “There was a riding stable nearby and when I was 3, my mother finally stopped and signed me up for lessons.”

Antonucci was a quick study and showed on leadline before she was 4. When she was 9, her parents bought her an appendix quarter horse mare named A Hidden Star.

“Star was green-broke, not the best horse for a kid. But I learned a lot from Star, and we grew together,” shares Antonucci. “We became a great team and competed in equitation and hunter/ jumper classes for years.”

Competing at shows in the south Florida area and along the East Coast, Antonucci began riding off-track thoroughbreds that she had retrained.

“When I was about 10, my grandfather got into racing thoroughbreds at Belmont Park and Saratoga,” notes Antonucci. “I began to show on retrained thoroughbreds through high school and beyond. And as time went on, I became increasingly curious about the thoroughbred racing industry and that led me to Ocala.”

In 2001, Antonucci moved to Ocala to work at Satish and Anne Sanan’s Padua Stables.

“With this opportunity working with young horses, I was learning how to develop racehorses and that gave me a whole new perspective,” says Antonucci. “It was all valuable experiences to add to my continuing education about racehorses.”

After leaving Padua Stables, Antonucci spent four and a half years as an equine veterinary assistant with Ocala Equine Hospital.

“Those years were key to learning more about horses and their health. I was accumulating more valuable experience,” she

Left to right: Jon Ebbert and Jena Antonucci at the 2023 Belmont Stakes. Jena Antonucci and Arcangelo.

notes. “Finally, I felt like I was ready for another chapter and established my Bella Inizio Farm. Bella inizio means ‘beautiful beginning’ in Italian, and that’s what it was for me.”

Antonucci’s initial focus at Bella Inizio Farm was broodmares, foals, weanlings and yearlings. She also began her own breeding program and currently has two broodmares.

“After a while, I did miss that racetrack connection. And after some time, I decided to get my trainer’s license in 2010,” says Antonucci. “My first career win as a trainer was with Floridabred Irish Wildcat, who won on March 7, 2010, at Tampa Bay Downs.”


In November 2022, Antonucci partnered with Katie Miranda to establish horseOlogy.

“Katie and I were looking to merge and expand what we each were doing. We needed more space to do that, and we were fortunate that Paul Bulmahn worked with us to make that happen at GoldMark,” explains Antonucci. “We call it a conception-toretirement operation. We handle everything related to raising, training and racing thoroughbreds. We offer bloodstock advising, pinhooking and small-share investing in racehorses. We also have established horseOlogy Encore, a 501 (c) (3) to rehome retired racehorses.”

In addition to the horses at horseOlogy, there is a racing string stabled at Gulfstream Park. Fiona Goodwin, who has been with Antonucci for 10 years, is the assistant trainer who handles that division.

“We’re very fluid in our approach and dividing up our work duties,” says Antonucci. “We do what’s needed to take care of business, whether it’s at the farm, at the racetrack or at the sales.”

Antonucci and Miranda were at the 2021 Keeneland September Yearling Sale when they met Jon Ebbert, a Pennsylvania-based real estate investor who races as Blue Rose Farm.

“We were in the back ring checking out yearlings. Katie whistled as one went by to get my attention and that got Jon’s attention,” recalls Antonucci. “Katie and Jon began talking and hit it off. And that’s how we got together.”

At the sale, Ebbert paid $35,000 for a 2020 gray yearling by Arrogate out of Modeling, by Tapit. In February 2022, Ebbert sent the then 2-year-old colt, soon to be known as Arcangelo, to horseOlogy to begin his early training.

“We take a horse-first approach. I don’t like to place the burden or expectation on a horse. And I don’t like to disappoint people along the way into thinking we might have the next big horse,” explains Antonucci. “With Arcangelo, Jon wanted

to give him all the time we could to develop and planned out his training accordingly.”

And as fate would have it, Arcangelo did indeed develop into the next big horse. He came into the Belmont Stakes (G1) with a win in the Peter Pan Stakes (G3) in only his fourth career start. Then, of course, came the Belmont Stakes (G1) victory and the rest is history. Literally.


But Antonucci and Arcangelo weren’t done with making history. On August 26th, 2023, Arcangelo won the 154th Travers Stakes (G1) at Saratoga Race Course and Antonucci became only the second woman trainer to win that storied race. The first woman trainer to do so was Mary Hirsch, with Thanksgiving in 1938.

At the end of 2023, Arcangelo was retired to with career earnings of $1,754,900. He currently stands at stud at Lane’s End in Versailles, Kentucky. Arcangelo garnered the Eclipse Award, the highest honor in thoroughbred racing, as the 2023 champion 3-year-old male. Antonucci and Ebbert accepted the Eclipse Award on behalf of Arcangelo.

Additional accolades include Antonucci winning the 2023 Big Sport of Turfdom award, which recognizes a person or group who enhances media coverage of thoroughbred racing and is presented by the Turf Publicists of America. The Florida Horse magazine presented Antonucci with the 2023 Bruce Campbell Award, which is given to an individual or organization who has brought honor and prestige to the Florida thoroughbred industry.

“It’s a lot to look back on to get some perspective. And we are so grateful to everybody who gave us the opportunities that we had. It has been wonderful to be able to share our story,” notes Antonucci. “Arcangelo took us all on a great journey. In the thoroughbred racing business, it’s all about the horses.”

May ‘24 63 Photo by Coglianese Photos –Track Photographer NYRA
Javier Castellano and Arcangelo at the 2023 Belmont Stakes
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