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Consider this your invitation to the party. Okeechobee The Magazine is your ticket to life behind the scenes in one of Florida’s fastest-growing, most dynamic, and vibrant communities. Okeechobee The Magazine is a publication for all seasons.

1, NUMBER 1 | SPRING 2007


Okeechobee The Magazine celebrates life in Okeechobee County and the surrounding communities. Each and every quarter, we will follow the economic growth of this attractive, family-friendly community. We will track the businesses that make Okeechobee tick, seek out great shopping, present









Okeechobee The Magazine 43 Lake Drive Okeechobee, FL 34974 Phone: (863) 484-0110 BARRY S. MANNING CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER LEW BLATTE PRESIDENT

fascinating feature stories on Okeechobee residents, their homes and gardens, their food and restaurants, their schools, their places of worship, community service organizations, and the fabulous events happening around town. Why drive an hour when you can get your products and services right here in our own hometown? We will specifically follow the businesses that make Okeechobee self-sufficient with that added hometown, friendly customer service. After coming out to Okeechobee for more 30 years for relaxing fishing get-away weekends, my husband Gary and I decided it was time to move out permanently. Although I have always loved it here, it wasn’t until I moved in and became active in the community that I realized how truly wonderful a community it is. The beautiful land, the sunsets, the lake, the history, the people… all this makes living here a special paradise. I would like to thank all the wonderful people who have encouraged me in this vision, especially our charter advertisers. This would not have happened without you. The names of supporters and contributors are too numerous to mention, but you know who you are. Hop on board, sit back and enjoy the ride. Okeechobee The Magazine – your magazine. Sincerely,


Publisher Okeechobee The Magazine is published quarterly in Okeechobee, Florida. Copyright 2007, all rights reserved by Okeechobee The Magazine. Contents may not be reproduced in any form without the written consent of the publisher. The publisher reserves the right to refuse advertising. The publisher accepts no responsibility for advertisement errors beyond the cost of the advertisement itself. The publisher accepts no responsibility for submitted materials. All submitted materials subject to editing.







Charles Bartels was looking for a well-located site to build and start his own optometry practice, and he found it... right here in his native Okeechobee.



For our first Okeechobee shopper, Okeechobee County Fair Association President Linda Syfrett takes us on a shopping spree to Syble’s Flowers and Gifts, the Dust Collector, MidFlorida Hardware and Jeanette’s Interiors. BY JOYCE MURPHY


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Okeechobee Main Street Incorporates Mural Program Top of the Lake Art Fest a Huge Success



In a rural area, one doesn’t expect seasoned performers auditioning for musicals. But that is just what has been happening year after year at Okeechobee Community Theatre. BY SUSAN ETCHEY

24 BETTY WILLIAMSON MAKES HISTORY A distinguished native from an Okeechobee pioneer family, Betty Williamson admits that history wasn’t her favorite subject in school. Now it is her all-consuming passion. BY SUSAN ETCHEY


David Jeune knows a lot about traveling. He has lived in New Jersey, Fort Lauderdale, and Port-au-Prince, Haiti. He also knows a lot about working hard. BY CHARLES MURPHY




ON THE COVER The beautiful sunrise – one of the many reasons to live in Okeechobee. PHOTO BY RAFAEL PACHECO.

Our First Okeechobee Shopper

Retired Pharmacist and Active Community Leader Linda Syfrett STORY AND PHOTOS BY JOYCE MURPHY

Each issue, Okeechobee The Magazine will send a local resident out into the community to visit local retailers on a $10,000 shopping spree. To help narrow the choices, each retailer selects three items for our shopper to consider. The shopping spree is imaginary; we don’t really fork over the cash. However, we do get a great look at what’s available at area stores. Our first Okeechobee Shopper was Linda Syfrett. Linda, a retired pharmacist, is very active in the Okeechobee community. Aside from her role as president of the Okeechobee County Fair Association, Linda is also president of the Okeechobee Education Foundation, secretary of the Florida State Fair Authority and sits on the Board of Trustees for Indian River Community College. This busy lady has been involved in 4-H for many years as a leader and in 2000 was the 4-H Leader of Florida. She has also been president and secretary of the Okeechobee Youth Livestock Show committee. Linda took time out of her busy schedule to do some shopping at Syble’s Flowers and Gifts, the Dust Collector, MidFlorida Hardware and Jeanette’s Interiors. Linda’s first stop was Syble’s Flowers and Gifts (763-2225) located at 119 South Parrott Avenue. Owner Maureen Burroughs greeted Linda, who was eager to check out the gifts at Syble’s. The first thing that caught Linda’s eye was a box of Harry London gourmet chocolate ($19.95). She also chose a Xocai drink ($34.95)

and an Omega Bar healthy chocolate product ($3.75). The Omega Bar contains unprocessed cocoa powder and acai berry from Brazil that has been proven to fight free radicals in your system. It is even healthy for diabetics. Next Maureen showed Linda her real soybean pod candles. Linda settled on a lemon citrus Beanpod candle ($18.99) after smelling several of the candles. “I like the citrus,” Linda commented after smelling the long burning candles that leave no soot residue. After Maureen showed Linda how she could mix scents to make a custom fragrance recipe, Linda also chose the Beanpod Candles, a soy candle gift pack ($34.95) that included a melter, soy tea lights and three soy beads to make a recipe for “spring rain.” Moving over to a collection of western items, it did not take Linda long to pick out a ceramic cowboy boot ($19.95) that could be filled with flowers.

(Left) Linda and Maureen with a Beanpod candle.

(Below) Linda loved this silk floral arrangment.


(Above) Some of the gourmet foods Syble’s Flowers and Gifts has to offer.

(Right) Linda and Maureen with a Holstein collectible.


When Linda saw a Gator planter ($49.95), she had to have it. “We’re third generation Gators,” she explained, referring to the University of Florida mascot. “We bleed orange and blue.” Next Maureen showed a line of specialty food products that make nice gifts. Linda chose a jar of tangelo marmalade ($5.49) from Gift of Florida by Braswell. Linda also could not pass up a Brahma bull statue ($22.95) and a second gator from Beastie’s Kingdom by John Raya ($37.95). Linda concluded her shopping spree at Syble’s by adding a silk flower arrangement ($99.95) to her purchases. Around the corner from Syble’s at 118 SE Park Street (in the Daniels building), is a shop called the Dust Collector. Owned by C.J. and Martin Rodriguez, the Dust Collector (467-8159) was Linda’s second stop for shopping. The Dust Collector offers antiques, collectibles as well as jewelry and furniture. C.J. could not wait to show Linda a large chair made using horseshoes. The wrought iron and exotic oak wood chair is a piece that C.J.’s son Jerry McAdams makes. C.J. has the chair in a spot that she reserves for visiting. In fact, she encourages customers to stop and sit down. “I always said that if I ever had a store, I would want it to feel comfortable,” she said. “This would be a good chair for my husband,” Linda commented as she decided to purchase the black and tan chair ($1,800).

Next Linda saw a framed print ($19.95) that she fell in love with. C.J. told Linda that the artist’s signature should be hidden somewhere in the print but that she had not been able to find it. “It is a very beautiful picture,” C.J. said. “I sit in here and look for the signature but I haven’t been able to locate it.” Moving into another area of the store, Linda spotted a cobalt blue vase ($19.95). “I really like this,” she said, holding up the vase. “Blue is my favorite color.” She quickly added it to her stash. Linda’s love of blue led her to a set of dishes from Spain. “They are from the late ‘60s or early ‘70s,” C.J. estimated. Linda decided to add the set of dishes ($125) to her collection. A table with mirror ($499) made Linda stop and take a second look. “This is very beautiful.” Linda remarked about the antique. After looking at some wedding cake holders, Linda came across some antique pharmacy mortars. For the retired pharmacist, the brass mortars brought back some memories. Another thing that brought back memories was a piano book by John Thompson. “I used this book!” Linda exclaimed of the 70-year-old book. However, she chose not to take it home. “This is the type of place where you could come in ten times and see something different every time,” Linda said as she left the Dust Collector. After lunch, Linda was off to MidFlorida Hardware (467-1010),

(Left) Linda with a cobalt blue vase she found at the Dust Collector.

(Above) The framed print that Linda admired.

(Below) Dust Collector owner C.J. Rodriguez and Linda hold up a Seminole jacket that is on display in the store.

(Left) Linda seated in a customized chair designed by C.J.’s son Jerry.




located at 3603 Highway 441 South, to do a little shopping. The first thing that caught Linda’s eye was some colorful Adirondack chairs sitting on the sidewalk in front of the store. Linda Rucks, manager at MidFlorida Hardware, explained that she was in a transition period. “ Our spring catalog will be coming out in March,” Mrs. Rucks told Linda. Looking over a selection of indoor fountains, Linda chose a ($79.99) “Water Island Bird” fountain for her first purchase. After sitting on several pieces of patio furniture, Linda added a ($567.07) wicker set that included a rocker, a settee and a coffee table to her purchases. Mrs. Rucks explained to Linda that MidFlorida Hardware carries a full line of supplies at reasonable prices. Rucks has 13 years experience in the hardware business and emphasizes customer service. “If you don’t see what you like, I can order it,” Mrs. Rucks concluded as she gave Linda a tour of the store. “We are also just starting to develop a line of mobile home supplies.”

When Linda asked about exterior doors, Mrs. Rucks showed her some Jel-Den manufactured doors, which are very competitive in price. Linda added the 36” exterior door ($232.99) to her collection. MidFlorida Hardware also carries a full line of supplies for the do-it-yourselfers. Linda said that she had been in many times to quiz MidFlorida Hardware employee Fred Evans about something she needed for a project. “He’s very knowledgeable,” Linda noted. “He is friendly and gives great customer service.” Fred has been with MidFlorida Hardware for ten years and enjoys helping customers. After tallying her total ($1,027.15), Linda was off to her final stop. Jeanette’s Interiors (763-6554) is located at 818 South Parrott Avenue. Linda walked into the showroom with a plan to retile her kitchen floor in the house she has lived in for 30 years. Showing Linda some samples of tile, Jea-

(Right) Linda and Linda Rucks, manager of MidFlorida Hardware looking through a Jel- Den manufactured door.

(Below) Linda chose this fountain and loved the soothing sound of the water.


(Above) Linda tries out a glider at MidFlorida Hardware.


nette pointed out that there were four samples that varied in color shade. “They give you these four samples,” she explained, “because they want you to know that there are shade differences in the tile. You may get four different shades in a panel of tile.” She found some porcelain tile that she liked in Jeanette’s huge selection. Linda was looking at Daltile, which offers tiles for all budgets, Jeanette said. From a “builder’s basic grade” up to glazed porcelain, Jeanette’s can find a tile to fit your needs. Linda’s flooring was the Pietre Vecchie glazed porcelain. It priced out at $7.50 per square foot after adding an installation cost (plus setting materials and tax) to the tile cost of $4.09. Because Linda needed 820 square feet, the total came to $6,150. Jeanette pointed out that there are many features that can be added to a basic tile to customize a look. From tile backsplashes to decorative insets, Jeanette’s offers customers the opportunity to design a complete room.

In addition to porcelain, Jeanette’s also offers slate tiles, standard ceramic, real granite and marble, as well as Travertine tiles. They even have glass tiles or natural stone tiles. The natural stone can be cut into squares or lengths to make a counter top. Jeanette’s carries a large selection of wood flooring in names like Anderson and Armstrong. They also carry laminate wood flooring in such names as Tarken, Shaw, Wilson and a Florida company named Columbia. Jeanette’s has carpet that is ready to install for the do-it-yourselfer all the way up to custom carpeting. The pre-pasted carpet is ready to install over any smooth surface. Jeanette’s carries a line of carpeting from Milliken in Callaway, Georgia. This company makes broadloom and area rugs and offers customized colors. Vinyl tile flooring has become a popular item since the hurricanes last hit the area, Jeanette said. The biggest seller has been a wood vinyl plank, starting as low as $1.99 not installed. Aside from flooring, Jeanette’s carries shutters, a full variety of window treatments

and wallpaper. “We install everything we sell,” Jeanette said. “We come out and take your measurements.” The staff at Jeanette’s is very knowledgeable about the business and takes pride in their work. Jeanette’s father Adrian started the business in 1980. Jeanette went to college and became an interior designer. She worked in Fort Lauderdale and came into her father’s business in 1986. At her father’s insistence, Jeanette opened Adrian’s Carpet Care in 1986 to give his customers a company that offered quality care to the carpets they were selling. When her father decided to move to Orlando, Jeanette bought the business and changed the name to Jeanette’s Interiors. “I personally answer that phone at 2 a.m.,” Jeanette said. “We will come out 24 hours a day, seven days a week if you have a flood.” Jeanette’s is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. On Saturday, store hours are from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. Jeanette’s also offers a shop at home service if needed. She invites everyone to stop by and see her wide selection.

(Left) Weston, Jeanette’s son, writes down information about Linda’s floor while Jeanette shows Linda a floor plan.

(Above) Linda checks out the beautiful shutters.


(Left) Katherine was very helpful as she showed a large selection of tiles and carpeting to Linda. OKEECHOBEE THE THE MAGAZINE MAGAZINE OKEECHOBEE

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Okeechobee’s Own Comes Home

Love LoveInspires. Inspires.And AndThis ThisIsIsAn AnOkeechobee OkeechobeeLove LoveStory Story BYBY SUSAN ETCHEY BYBY RAFAEL PACHECO SUSAN ETCHEY PHOTOS PHOTOS RAFAEL PACHECO


n a normal day in October 2002, Okeechobee native Charles Bartels did something quite unique when he entered the aged Miller’s Machinery & Supply store on U.S. 441 and asked to speak to the owner. Bartels was in his second year of optometry school, on his way to becoming a board-certified optometric physician. He was looking for a well-located site to build an office and start a practice in his hometown after he graduated and received his license. Bartels was 29 years old, and he was already on his way to opening Big Lake Eye Care. There were no for sale signs on the door of the dilapidated machine shop, but the forward-looking optometry student had vowed he would knock on doors up and down 441, hunting for the deal of a lifetime. By fate or fortune, or his characteristic persistence, Bartels found just the right door. With little money in the bank, he discovered the owner was considering shutting down the old Okeechobee machine shop that had outlived its heyday. They settled on terms that made Bartels’ dream come true.


There were many who knew Bartels who would have been surprised that a young man born in Okeechobee (when the population was less than 20,000) was shopping for commercial property and graduating from college as a board-certified physician. Bartels was never a star student. He never made the honor roll. That is, he said, “until I met my inspiration and motivation,” referring to his wife Rachel.


Charles might never have made it through school but his guiding angel – his tall, graceful and intelligent high school sweetheart – never gave up on him. Rachel said, “she knew that Charles was an exception.” He worked all through high school supporting himself by the age of 15 and may just be remembered by many here living in Okeechobee 20 years ago as a lifeguard at the old pool on S.R. 70, now the location of the Okeechobee City Park. He also worked at U-Save on U.S. 441 after school and

weekends. Studying wasn’t tops on his list of priorities back then…. not until later when he discovered medicine at the University of Florida. It was Bartels’ journey through microbiology and cell science classes at the University of Florida (after Okeechobee High School graduation in 1992) that led him to his career in medicine. After marrying Rachel in 1995, his new wife, a fourth generation Okeechobean, joined her husband in Gainesville and began working toward her degree as a dental hygienist, taking classes at Santa Fe Community College. After receiving her license, Rachel worked in the dental field while her husband pursued his studies at the University of Florida and Nova Southeastern College of Optometry. When Dr. Bartels purchased the property in 2002 – borrowing money to build his practice – it was an uncertain journey. Even with Rachel by his side, no one could predict their story would have a happy ending. “You set your goals, take your chances, believe in yourself and your family,” Dr. Bartels said. “That’s the reality of life.” Even his professors and colleagues at Nova Southeastern College of Optometry were astonished by such a gutsy move. Their advice to Bartels was to find work in a well-established private practice and wait until there was enough money for him to get out on his own. But Dr. Bartels’ vision was different. He was from Okeechobee, and that’s where he and Rachel wanted to return and make their dreams come true. Big Lake Eye Care opened its doors in August 2004, providing quality care with an Okeechobee-style warmth and friendliness. The Bartels offer an upscale and state-of-the-art practice with innovative technologies and fashionable eye wear apparel, an optometry practice they personally designed and had built after tearing down the old machine shop and starting over from ground level. As office manager, Rachel performs a variety of duties at the practice. Though, it won’t be long before she has a new role: mother. The Bartels are currently expecting their first child.

In appreciation for the support of the local community, the Bartels sponsor youth sports teams and other community events, giving back to the community. Many young people from rural towns go off to get their degrees and diplomas and move away to find jobs in the bigger cities. For Rachel and Dr. Bartels, that was never a consideration. “I have always seen a need for genuine care and quality services here in Okeechobee,” said Dr. Bartels. Both Rachel and Charles were born in the old Okeechobee General Hospital (now the Okeechobee annex building) with the one and only Okeechobee doctor in town at that time delivering babies. Today Okeechobee is a growing community and its future looks promising. For the Bartels, the many years in school, struggling with finances and building a business has called for discipline and sacrifice to achieve their goals. “Determination, skill, and luck can overcome talent any day,” Dr. Bartels said. Their philosophy is that making sacrifices now will lead to success later. “Live today like no one else will, so you will live tomorrow like no one else can.” That is the message they want to give the youth of this town they love almost as much as they love each other. “People tell us, ‘Thank you for coming back and building your practice here. It is a beautiful addition to our community,’” Rachel said. “This is something we are proud of and thankful to have the opportunity to do.” Big Lake Eye Care is located at 606 North Parrott Avenue. For more information, call (863) 763-EYES (3937) or visit

Charles and Rachel Bartels inside their eye care center.


The Bartels are an inspiring example of high school sweethearts going off to college together and returning to make a vital contribution to their community, enriching the lives of their friends and family in Okeechobee.

“In all honesty, you meet the best people here,” said Dr. Bartels. “Here we have a sense of family, a sense of home. We counted on our family, friends and the community to support us in our endeavors. To them, we say thank you for your current and continued support.”


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Okeechobee Main Street Incorporates Old Values With New Visions BY JOYCE MURPHY

“Okeechobee Main Street’s first concern,” said President Maureen Burroughs, “is to get the building weatherized and stabilized.” OKMS recently completed a mural of the Williams Family Cattle Drive and has plans for two more murals in the immediate future, in the downtown area.

(Above) The old Okeechobee jail, which OKMS plans to restore.

The National Trust established the Main Street Program in 1980 for historic preservation. Since its beginning four years ago, Okeechobee Main Street Inc. (OKMS) has been working to enrich and improve all aspects of the downtown business district and the community in general. Using a four-point approach, OKMS is very much involved in several projects in the community, such as a plan for site landscaping in front of the old courthouse, creating entryway signs into the city and restoring the old jail.

OKMS’s biggest fundraiser is its Top of the Lake BBQ Affair, held in early March. The OKMS Promotions Committee is planning a fundraiser to help further fund the restoration of the old jail. OKMS also sponsored its first Top of the Lake Art Fest. As a result of the event, OKMS will award a $1,000 scholarship to a graduating senior who is interested in continuing education in the fine arts area. A project that has seen success is the Okeechobee Farmer’s Market. Held in Flagler Park 3, the farm fresh vegetables offer consumers a taste of locally grown produce. The OKMS offices are located a 111 NE Second Street. For more information, contact program manager Karen Hanawalt at (863) 357-MAIN or visit



Ferris wheels, cotton candy and animals – that’s what most people think of when they hear about a county fair. But while those things are all a part of the fair, there’s still much more: exhibits of field crops, horticultural displays, household arts, fruit or vegetable crops, arts and crafts, home economics, and educational, religious or civic groups. And from March 9-18, the fun and excitement will be ours at the 2007 Okeechobee County Fair at the Okeechobee Agri-Civic Center on Highway 70 East. Since forming in 2005, the Okeechobee County Fair Association, Inc., has worked diligently to promote a 2007 County Fair for our residents and those of neighboring communities. The 2007 Okeechobee County Fair will be a 10-day event starting Friday, March 9 and ending Sunday, March 18 at the Okeechobee Agri-Civic Center on Highway 70


East. Volunteers are needed to assist with exhibition booths, ticketing, security and marketing. For more information, call OCFA President Linda Syfrett at 763-6232 or visit www.okeechob

Okeechobee Main Street Incorporates Mural Program Mural & Visual Arts Committee Transforms Okeechobee BY JOYCE MURPHY

Okeechobee Main Street Inc.’s (OKMS) first mural project was dedicated on July 10, 2006. It was painted on an 80- by 18-foot wall at 206 North Parrott Avenue. Sponsored by Haynes and Susan Williams, the mural depicts the Williams’ Family Cattle Drive of 1937. More murals are in the works for the OKMS committee. The Mural and Visual Arts Committee sponsored an art contest to involve area school children in the painting of the first mural. Ten young artists were chosen to work with the five adult artists who volunteered their time to the project. The artists and students used acrylic paint with a ultraviolet glaze to paint the mural. Local artist Bridgette Waldau designed the mural and directed the other artists. The committee created guidelines for any future murals in Okeechobee. These guidelines ensure the quality of the work by a professional muralist and that the mural depicts historic facts associated with Okeechobee. These guidelines were presented to the Okeechobee City Council, which adopted them as an ordinance. Currently, there are two more murals in planning. The Okeechobee Historical Society is sponsoring a mural to be located on a building at the corner of Parrott Avenue and South Park Street. It will depict the early days of catfishing and the relationship of the old icehouse and the railroad. The other mural will be on the Embarq building on Parrott Avenue. This mural will have a theme based on the early days of telephone service in Okeechobee and the local people involved in its beginning.


The idea for the murals came after the OKMS board members Waldau and Maureen Burroughs attended a state Main Street conference. The group agreed that murals would offer the ability to showcase Okeechobee’s heritage, and from that the Visual Arts and Murals committee was formed. The Williams Family Cattle Drive mural depicts Haynes Williams on a three-week-long cattle drive with his father Zibe and grandfather Fitz. The cattle drive began in Highlands County, passed through Okeechobee and


(Left) A close detail of the side panel of the mural. (Above) Bridgette Waldau patiently helps a young artist add his “flair” to the mural.

ended at Allapattah Flats (now Plant City). More information about the scenes represented in the mural can be found at “I enjoy art because it makes me feel happy and I get to express my feelings. Beauty and nature inspire me,” said 14-year-old Lindsey Crum, in a quote from a brochure about the mural. Interviews from the other young artists (Rocky Huddleston, Taneisha Mitchell, Rachel Muros, Brianna Skye Nunez, Jack Radebaugh, Hannah Sadler, Donny Sheldon, Nick Valcaniant and Gabrielle Veli) can also be found on the Main Street web site. For more information, call (863) 357-MAIN.

(Above) Another detail of the Williams’ family Cattle Drive mural. (Below) Young artists who helped the project become successful.

There’s No Business Like Show Business BY SUSAN ETCHEY

(Above) Judine Cole and Rahl Wilkinson in a scene from Dearly Departed. (Below L-R) Drew Taylor, Darlene Mayers, Peggy Murray and Rahl Wilkinson from Guys and Dolls.

n a rural area like Okeechobee, one doesn’t expect seasoned actors and singers to show up for auditions for a role in musicals like Oklahoma or The King and I. But that’s what has been happening year after year at Okeechobee Community Theatre.


If you ask theatre director Ron Hayes, he’ll tell you that Okeechobee has lots of hidden talent. Even when Hayes worries whether he will be able to get a cast together for the next production, someone always seems to show up who is just perfect for the leading role. It’s something he prays a lot about… and his prayers are answered. “God must really be a theatre fan,” Hayes said. Hayes has been OCT’s volunteer director for 26 years, directing 42 of the theatre’s 52 productions since its founding in 1979. Hayes, who has appeared in six plays, took over the reins from Marcia Wooley, a drama teacher who taught classes in the adult education program of the Okeechobee School Board.


“I got a part in the play Love is Contagious and I just had a ball with that,” Hayes said. “We did three productions the first year but then Marcia left for Phoenix, and when I was asked to take over I didn’t feel qualified. I was told the theatre would fold and I couldn’t stand the thought of that.” Hayes was working at Flagship Bank when the theatre produced its first shows; he now teaches journalism, English and television production at Okeechobee High School. Theatre is his passion, his hobby, the outlet that maintains his sanity, Hayes said. Local travel agent Ruby Kinchen, who had been involved in a Tampa community theatre, encouraged Hayes to join OCT when it was being formed. In the group’s second year, Kinchen directed the first play after Wooley’s departure. “That year a fellow came to town, also a teacher,” Hayes said, “who was a union actor and he had been in the Burt Reynolds’ movie Cannonball Run and the TV soap opera The Doctors. Since union rules prevented him from performing, he volunteered to direct Luxury Cruise. Then I said I want to try my turn at directing and we performed Come Blow Your Horn in 1981. I haven’t looked back since.” OCT presents two shows a year to a respectable house, one in March and the other in November; the two performances are on two successive weekends. The productions are presented in the Okeechobee Auditorium, a historic building on SW Second Avenue on what is now called the Okeechobee Freshman Campus. The theatre is financially self-supporting and has covered all expenses from ticket sales alone. All its operating funds are administered by the Okeechobee Educational Foundation, a non-profit organization of the Okeechobee County school system. OCT normally produces one stage play and one musical a year. This March, the stage play is Dearly Beloved. The musical scheduled in the fall has not yet been announced.

To his surprise, and relief, there are many talented people eager for the chance. He recalled once having more than 50 women audition for roles in Steel Magnolias and how disappointed some were when they didn’t get a part. After one show, Hayes said a patron asked him how he could afford to hire such exceptional performers. The patron had assumed they were all professionals. The performers, however, are all unpaid volunteers, and many have been involved in OCT productions year after year. On stage are local bankers, teachers, trades people, business owners and homemakers, experiencing the adrenaline surge of show business. The rehearsal schedule requires (Above) Jim Clark and Renee Burks in a lover’s embrace from the show, them to practice three nights a Oklahoma. week for ten weeks prior to show time. “These are some of the busiest people in town,” said Hayes. Ron credits his wife, Jacque, with providing the expertise and the help he needs to do musicals. Jacque had produced musicals in the Poconos at a girls’ summer camp and later was the stage manager for Music Man in St. Augustine. She moved to Okeechobee in 1984 and joined OCT. Jacque and Ron married in 1989. Her stage management skills encompass coordinating everything from handling ticket sales to stage props and costuming. She does the choreography. Jacque has


“I always thought it would be really hard to find just the right actors to act in a normal play but I wouldn’t ever find enough people to do the musicals,” said Hayes.

: The cast members of Dearly Beloved (Top row L-R): Paul Buxton, Paulette Wise, Louise Chandler, Pam Chesley, Cassie Chesley. (Center row L-R): Josh VanWormer, James Garner, Laurie Garner, Joyce Taylor (Standing): Jacque Hayes, Ron Hayes.


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“After one show, Hayes said a patron asked him how he could afford to hire such exceptional performers.” appeared in four productions, directed or co-directed 29 productions and has been involved in 39 of the group’s 52 shows. The theatre’s largest cast was in the musical Carousel of the 2000-2001 season, with 32 performers and additional stage and house crew. (Above) Peggy Murray plays Lola in a scene from Damn Yankees, a show about love, baseball and family values. (Below) Amy Lewis portrays Marilyn Monroe in The Seven Year Itch.

“We were the first amateur group to receive rights to perform Neil Simon’s female version of The Odd Couple,” said Hayes. OCT performed two original musical productions: 1930s Radio Hour by Mary Beth Cooper and A Song in Their Hearts by Ian Nairnsey. The OCT production of Come Blow Your Horn is included in the Collection of Theatre on Film and Tape in the New York Public Library at Lincoln Center; OCT’s production of The Assassin’s New Friend was done with direct input from the playwright, John Kaasik. Four musicals were performed at the same time they were running on Broadway. It takes tremendous effort and commitment to produce a play or musical and Hayes has depended on many faithful volunteers over the years. Since 1991 Sara-Kay Knoche has been accompanist for 14 musical productions, Shirley Bush created original costumes for 23 productions, Mike Zierden has appeared in 16 productions and Rahl Wilkinson has appeared in 17 productions since 1990. Hayes is not one to brag. In fact, it takes his wife to blow her husband’s horn. “Ron has a gift, an innate feel for directing,” said Jacque. “He is very focused when he reads a play to decide if it is the one he wants produced.” Hayes elaborated. “As I read a play I see it as though watching a movie,” he said. To keep their theatre productions in step with the pros, the couple travels to New York from time to time to see Broadway shows. Still, despite OCT’s decades of success, many of the newer Okeechobee residents do not know how well it has done.


“Over the years we have been on the front pages of our local newspapers,” Hayes said. “We were also praised once in the Palm Beach Post’s TGIF section as the ‘best pick for weekend entertainment.’ But yet we still constantly hear people say they didn’t even know there was a theatre in Okeechobee. At ten dollars a ticket, we will match our product any day over many offered on the coast.”


Okeechobee Community Theatre is located at Freshman Campus 610 SW Second Avenue. Show dates are March 2, 3, 9 and 10. For more information, call (863) 763-1307.

Exciting ExcitingEvents EventsHappening HappeningIn InOkeechobee Okeechobee BY KATHY SCOTT, TOURISM COORDINATOR Okeechobee County Tourist Development Council

As tourism coordinator I am very pleased that Okeechobee The Magazine has asked the Tourist Development Council to be part of this great new addition to Okeechobee to keep residents and visitors informed of upcoming and exciting events and activities in the area.

The Okeechobee County Tourist Development Council is proud to supply advertising assistance to many of these events to promote Okeechobee County and help these events grow to benefit the community. For more information regarding any of these events please feel free to give me a

call at (863) 763-3959 or check out our calendar of events on the Okeechobee County Tourist Development web site.. If any organization or group has an upcoming event, please let me know so that we can help you promote it to residents and bring visitors to Okeechobee County.

The year 2007 started out with numerous major fishing tournaments, such as the FLW Outdoors Stren Series Tournament, BASS Weekend Series, Extreme Bass Series, and the Florida BASS Federation Southern Qualifier. Additionally, at Quail Creek Plantation more than 700 shooters participated in the Seminole Cup clay-shooting event at Quail Creek. From fishing, hunting, hiking, biking and clay shooting, to enjoying outdoor festivals and events, Okeechobee County is a sportsman’s paradise.


Through Okeechobee The Magazine the Tourist Development Council will try to keep you updated on events that are happening in Okeechobee. The following is a list of events from March through May: Okeechobee Main Street Top of the Lake BBQ on March 2-3, BASS Weekend Series on March 4, the FIRST EVER Okeechobee County Fair March 9-18, the Okeechobee Chamber of Commerce Speckled Perch Festival and Okeechobee Cattlemen’s PRCA Rodeo March 10-11, Extreme Bass Tournament at Okee-Tantie on March 11, BFL Tournament at C. Scott Driver Park on March 21, Ride to Retire Bicycle Ride by the Air Force Enlisted Village on March 27-28, and Okeechobee Teen Anglers at Okee-Tantie on March 31. Just about every weekend in April and May is filled with bass fishing tournaments at Okee-Tantie and C. Scott Driver Park and on May 25-27 the Okeechobee Memorial Day Bike Rally will take place at the Okeechobee County Agri-Civic Center. For a complete list of all the fishing tournaments, call my office or visit

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Betty Williamson Makes History… History Makes Her BY SUSAN ETCHEY


A distinguished Florida native from an Okeechobee pioneer family, Betty Chandler Williamson admits that history wasn’t her favorite subject in school. Now it is her all consuming passion. Under her guidance as president for the past ten years, the Okeechobee Historical Society has added much to the area’s ambience. Tracing her genealogy some 20 years ago, Williamson was unwittingly walking the walk of an Okeechobee historian. Williamson is a fifth generation Floridian. Her great grandfather Shadrach Chandler came from Hillsborough County with his wife Adeline in 1877 to live in Basinger, a settlement 15 miles northwest of Okeechobee City. Shadrach owned a general store in Basinger and later became a county commissioner. Betty’s father William Franklin Chandler married Sadie King. The couple, along with their eight children, lived in Okeechobee City where the “ole west” frontier life was legendary. In 1952, she married rancher Frank “Sonny” Williamson and together they raised a family. Betty put her superior homemaking skills to practice, and as a civic-minded couple they devoted themselves to community service over the many years they have lived in Okeechobee County.

“This is home and will always be home,” Williams said. “But there have been so many changes. I remember as a child when we could go out and not lock the doors. But now we all have to have home alarm systems. There are a lot of really nice people moving here but with the growth comes many problems, a need for more services, and we can’t keep up with the growth in the schools.” In 1993, Betty co-authored an intriguing history of Okeechobee with veteran journalist Twill Valentine entitled Strolling Down Country Roads: Okeechobee County. It is a pictorial history containing photos and fascinating facts about the founding families and early Okeechobee newsmakers. Since then, Williamson has helped the Historical Society produce a booklet called a Pictorial History of Okeechobee County, as well as the video Okeechobee: Heart of Florida.


Betty’s life is intertwined with the growth of Okeechobee County. A rural outpost of 3,500

people in her teen years, the county has grown to its present size of approximately 40,000 today.

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One of Betty’s more exciting moments in her civic life was the 1996 unveiling of Okeechobee’s first historic mural on the outside wall of the old school gymnasium. Its unveiling was on the 100th anniversary of Peter Raulerson and his family’s moving to the area. Betty first saw glorious murals in her travels in the mid 1980s with her husband in Europe. She never forgot that experience and dreamed that some day Okeechobee could lay claim to its own murals. The 130-foot-long by 16-foot-high mural was painted on the old high school’s 1940s gymnasium on Second Street to celebrate the centennial of the Raulersons, the first white settlers, arriving in what is now Okeechobee. Peter Raulerson’s wife, Louisiana Chandler of Basinger, is Williamson’s great aunt. Williamson, modest and unassuming, will never take the credit for the many achievements of the Historical Society over the past ten to 15 years, but she has been its steady and devoted leader for most of them. As a fundraising organization, the society has sponsored numerous class reunions. “This is very enjoyable to have the former students of Okeechobee High School reminisce about the good old day,” Williamson said.






Last year the city celebrated its 90th anniversary, and the Historical Society commissioned artist Kathy Scott to paint a copy of the original seal on the doorway that faces Highway 70. The society commissioned Scott for a second mural. Williamson is the third president of the Okeechobee Historical Society since its founding in 1979. The first president was Annie Raulerson, the second, Henry Kelley. Williamson credits all those faithful members who make her role as president easier because of their dedication and steadfast support. Williamson is a natural born educator and communicates the history of

Okeechobee like no one else. The society renovated the old school house that was originally constructed in 1909. Visitors take tours of the one-room school at its new location at the grounds of the Historical Society Museum on U.S. 98, across the street from the Okeechobee Civic Center. Williamson tells colorful and fascinating stories about Okeechobee’s history to guests and visiting groups. Her memory is a compendium of several books yet to be written. “I have enjoyed my work in schools,” said Williamson, who regularly visits fourth grade classes in local schools to teach youngsters about the history of their hometown. “What I have always enjoyed most is teaching.” In 1997 Williamson was awarded the Daughter of the American Revolution district medal for her volunteer work as a member of the Parent Teacher Advisory and for her service as a homeroom parent. As a mother and wife, Williamson began teaching Sunday school at the First Baptist Church and did so for 39 years. Williamson believes in volunteer work. “Hopefully, younger parents will see how they and their family have benefited from the schools, from their church, from the Historical Society and other organizations in Okeechobee and will do the same,” she said. “I especially hope they will help to keep our history alive.” Williamson’s current project is gathering information for a book to be titled First Ladies of Okeechobee. There have been many local women who have dedicated a part of their lives to public service, and she wants their work to be recorded so they will be remembered. For instance, Williamson noted that Okeechobee was the first county to have a woman sheriff, Eugenia Simmons, in 1938. SPRING 2007 2007 SPRING

But Williamson herself deserves a page or two in that book. She is truly a First Lady of Okeechobee.

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Top of The Lake Art Fest A Huge Success BY MAUREEN BUDJINSKI

The Top of the Lake Art Fest, Okeechobee Main Street’s first annual juried art show, was held at Flagler Park on Feb. 24 and 25. The members of OMS’s Arts and Cultural Committee were pleased to be able to offer this wonderful cultural event to the community. With over 100 participating artists, the crowd was able to enjoy two days of art, music, dance and children’s entertainment, including a “monster mural” featuring the “masters,” painted by the children. Entertainment included David Padgitt, Mixes for You, Leslie Dance Studio and Ryan Larson Trio along with face painting by the OHS Art Club and art demonstrations by Fawn McNeil-Barr.

Proud sponsor, Okeechobee The Magazine. (Above) Okeechobee residents (born and raised) Larry and Kathy Godwin with their beautiful granddaughter Katie Rowley. (Below) “Best of Show” winner, adult division, Diane Richmond Hall with her painting “Michelle.”

(Above, L-R) OMS President Maureen Burroughs, OMS Promotions Director Toni Doyle, featured artist Donald Sheldon (age 11, winner of this year’s official Top of the Lake Art Fest poster contest) and Committee Chair Bridgette Waldau.


(Below) Monster Mural just prior to completion.


Local Businesses Are Here For You

Okeechobee Business


Treasure Island Discount Liquors

Okeechobee Office Supply

Taylor Rental

Stafford’s Salon

Located at 2305 Hwy. 441 SE, Treasure Island Discount Liquors offers a full line of liquor, beer and wine.

Pop in to Okeechobee Office Supply Inc. and be greeted by their friendly knowledgeable staff. Aside from owners Tammy Potter and Nelson Byars, since buying the business in 1995, they have continued to provide Okeechobee and surrounding areas with their office supply needs.

With four locations, Taylor Rental has all of your rental needs. “We cover everything from commercial contractors to homeowners and we carry a full line of rental products.” Okeechobee store manager John Sircy said.

Stafford’s Salon is a Paul Mitchell signature salon. Owner Angie Griffin has worked parttime for Paul Mitchell and is a national trainer.

The store runs weekly specials and offers a case discount on its already low prices. Treasure Island will match any local ad from area liquor stores. Orders can be called in ahead and will be ready for pick-up. They also have a drive-thru service that additionally offers soda, fresh iced tea, water, ice and other items. Treasure Island Discount Liquors is open 7:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and 7:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. Owner Dilip Patel encourages everyone to stop by and check out their prices as well as meet the friendly staff. For more information, call (863) 763-2955.

They are the number one source for all your business needs and if they don’t have an item in stock, they can usually have it by the next day. Okeechobee Office Supply offers free delivery on orders of $50 or more and offer a color copy service, laminating, business cards, as well as a fax service. Okeechobee Office Supply is located at 114 SW Fifth Avenue. For more information, call (863) 763-0297.

Hospital Takes a Look at Radiology - State-of-the-art equipment available

Backhoes, cement mixers and much more are all carried at Taylor Rental. They are the largest party supplier of inflatables in Okeechobee and Highlands counties. Inside the store, customers can find a complete line of party and wedding supplies. For the professional or athome handyman, Taylor Rental carries a full line of steel products as well as paint, hardhats and safety equipment. Taylor Rental, owned by Dusty Davis, is located at 523 N. Highway 98. For more information, visit ww m or call (863) 467-2239.

Aside from hair color and perms, Stafford’s Salon offers nail services, tanning and massage therapy in a quiet, relaxing and completely private atmosphere. The licensed massage therapists at Stafford’s are trained in a wide array of massage techniques. Stafford’s also offers a wig service along with applying makeup for weddings and special occasions. They even offer personalized makeup lessons. Stafford’s Salon is located at 3258 U.S. 441 South near the Winn-Dixie supermarket. Appointments are required for late evening, but walk-ins are welcome. The hours of operation are Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. and on Saturday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Call (863) 763-3933 to schedule an appointment.

Article Submitted by Raulerson Hospital


their radiology department, the Four Dimensional Ultrasound machine (4-D) and the Dual Energy X-Ray Absorptiometry (DEXA) scanner, a new Bright Speed Computed Tomography (CT) scanner has been installed and operational.


Raulerson Hospital is raising the bar for radiology services. Along with two of the most advanced pieces of equipment in

“Patients often believe they have to travel to a hospital on the coast to receive the highest level of care, but it’s not true,” said Di-

rector of Radiology Dr. Ed Nuzzello. They can receive the same level of care and the latest technology right here at home. The new CT Scanner is comfortable and fast and is the only 16 slice CT scanner in Okeechobee. When it comes to CT, the clinical path is clear. To schedule an exam with the radiology department, call (863) 824-2839.


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How’s your New Year’s resolution coming along? Was yours one of the classics such as eating less and exercising more, or something more novel like showing up to work on time? Whatever your resolution is (or was), happiness is the goal. Did you know that less stress in your financial life translates into more happiness in other areas? Here are a few tips to help lower your financial “blood pressure.” Start saving, continue saving and increase your rate of saving. Savings can help meet emergencies and long-term goals. Think saving is not possible? Start with a few dollars per week and consider using a payroll deduction or automatic draft to keep the money from burning a hole in your pocket. Getting a raise, bonus, or overtime? Learn to live off of your base salary and save the rest.


Proper maintenance of you and your stuff. We all know that proper care and maintenance of your property saves money in the long run. The same holds true for your health. Health care is expensive and sometimes includes cold stethoscopes, needles and gowns with no backs — so do your part.


Insure your risks. Death, disability and health issues can all lead to financial disaster. That’s why there is insurance. If funds are limited, then prioritize your insurance needs. Ask your employer to offer insurance as a benefit; this could allow both of you to save a few tax dollars. Think first, discuss second, think again and then buy. If your purchase will have a major impact on your budget, get a second opinion from someone who knows your finances, like your spouse. If they have concerns, you probably should, too. If your big purchase is a new bass boat, you might want to take along flowers and chocolates when discussing it with your spouse. How is your financial blood pressure? Mike Costopoulos, CPA*/PFS and Donna Helton, CPA*/PFS (*regulated by the State of Florida) are investment adviser representatives of Costopoulos & Helton, P.A., an investment adviser registered with the Florida Department of Financial Services.

OHS Basketball Sophomore Shoots For The Top BY CHARLES MURPHY

David Jeune knows a lot about traveling. He has lived in New Jersey, Fort Lauderdale, and Port-au-Prince, Haiti. He also knows a lot about working hard.

wants to work hard and be successful like the other players. He knows the harder he works, the better he’ll get. He just knows his job and does it well.” David Jeune heads upcourt.

The Okeechobee High School sophomore is among the best players in his age group. He hads lead the state in rebounds per game. He also was within reach of the school record for rebounds in a season, 357. Jeune is one of the top 70 among college recruits in Florida already, and that’s with just two and a half years of basketball experience. “My father has always worked hard, and he moved to the U.S. for us so we could have a better life,” Derilus said. “He worked hard for us and has always told me to do better.” Derilus owns DMS Nursery, a landscaping business in Okeechobee, based in Viking. Derilus comes to watch David play, though he isn’t much of a sports fan. In fact Derilus doesn’t know much about basketball. David notes his father is sometimes too tired from his hard work to watch the games. David can also thank his father for his height. He stands about 6’6” on a good day. His father is 6’2” and he has an uncle who is 6’5”. Jeune said he doesn’t think too much about Haiti and its problems, though he lived there for four years with his large family. He knows well the poverty and the crime that Haiti has. “I’d like to see it during the summer, and see my family,” David said. “About half of them live in Haiti.”

“I love David’s attitude,” Enrico said. “He


Brahman basketball coach Jon Enrico knew he had something special the day Jeune walked into his gym. He said that Jeune is easy to coach and is eager to learn the game.

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Around Okeechobee

STREN Tournament Kicks Off 2007 In Okeechobee Style

200 Boats lined the Kissimmee River at dawn for a boat check just prior to the start of the 2007 FLW Outdoors Stren Tournament.

The kick-off of the Okeechobee County Fishing Tournament began with the FLW Outdoors Stren Tournament Series Jan. 3-6, hosted by the Okeechobee County Tourist Development Council at the new C. Scott Driver facility. This event brought 200 boats with two anglers per boat to Okeechobee. The 400 anglers, 200 pro and 200 co-anglers, competed three days and then down to the top ten in each division on the final day. Anglers from across the country (as well as several local anglers) enjoyed a week filled with great fishing on Lake Okeechobee.

First Annual Chili Cookoff Benefits Rylee’s Hope Eleven Teams Enter Their Best Chili To Help A Worthy Cause

The first annual chili cook-off to benefit Rylee’s Hope was held Saturday, Jan. 13 at Grace Christian School. In total, 11 teams entered. But in the end, the three judges declared the Treasure Coast Hospice team’s chili the winner. Teams were also competing to raise the most donations for Rylee’s Hope at the cook-off. The Coldwell Banker/Berger Insurance/Berger Real Estate team had the most donations for the day to win the Taster’s Choice Award.

Lee and Shana Jolicoeur, founders of Rylee’s Hope Inc. pose for photo.

Rylee’s Hope Inc. is a non-profit organization established to help families with children in the neo-natal intensive care unit. Lee and Shana Jolicoeur founded the organization after their baby Rylee was born 16 weeks early and lived only two days. The Jolicoeurs hope to offer financial, emotional and spiritual help to families as long as it is needed.

All leftover chili from the cook-off was donated to Big Lake Missions to feed the homeless in Okeechobee, according to Lee Jolicoeur. For more information about Rylee’s Hope Inc., visit

Okeechobee High Tennis Fundraiser


The 5th annual OHS Tennis Team Adult Tennis Fundraiser, sponsored by Costopoulos & Helton, P.A., was held on Jan. 27 and 28 at the beautiful Okeechobee County Sports Complex to benefit the Okeechobee High School tennis team. (Right L-R) The tennis tournament committee: Donna Helton, OHS coach Dave Ellis, Kathy Harris, Joyce and Mike Costopoulos.


Okeechobee The Magazine Spring 2007  
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