Forging a Friendly New Home in Westchase
When working out at the gym is the last place you’d rather be, Tracey Muir’s friendly face and cheerful welcome make you feel glad about being there.
As a Welcome Center Representative at the YMCA Express in West Park Village, Muir has traveled far and wide to land in a job she says was meant for her.
Born in Zimbabwe, Muir said her upbringing was similar to the formalities of colonial times. “We dressed for dinner,” she explained.
They had servants and help with household duties. Before each evening meal, pre-dinner drinks would be served. A bell would ring and they would go into the dining room for their meal. After the meal, another bell would ring and they would go for coffee. Muir was an only child Her father worked in human resources for the Rhodesia Railway system and her mother was a bookkeeper.
“South Africans are very adventurous people,” she explained. While many travel to Europe, a friend and she decided to tour the United States when she was in her twenties. They sold off everything they had and got a two-month airline pass to fly anywhere they wanted in the U.S. They visited Nashville, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Las Vegas and Florida. “I told my friend that someday I’d like to move with my family to live here!” she said.
Undecided about what to do with her life, she took the advice of a counselor and studied to be an x-ray technician. This job, she said, led to a pharmaceutical sales representative position in South Africa. Through her experiences there, she eventually became a diabetic educator in Johannesburg and helped people who were newly diagnosed with diabetes. “I helped them learn about the disease and how to take care of themselves. I taught them how to inject their insulin, what foods to eat and I worked with their endocrinologists and pharmacists.”
It was during this time that she met future husband, Glen, who lived in the coastal city of Durban in eastern South Africa. Glen eventually moved to Johannesburg and popped the question of marriage with a ring hidden in a rose-shaped serving of sorbet during a romantic dinner. She returned to her apartment that evening to find fifty roses, which had been placed there by friends while they were away. Glen explained they stood for the fifty years of a happy marriage they had to look forward to. Married for 22 so far, their family has grown to include children Savannah and Michael.
Because of political unrest and high crime in South Africa, the couple made the difficult decision to leave. “I didn’t want to go because we had good jobs and my parents were there,” she said. The couple, however, knew that if they stayed, their children would grow up and move away because the outlook for them was not good. “I never slept through the night because I always feared someone would break into our house,” Muir revealed. She added, “When you live there it’s the norm to have big walls, bars on the windows and electric fences on your property.”
When their children were 5 and 2, the family made a move to Canada. “We arrived in November and there wasn’t a leaf on a tree and everything was brown,” Muir said.
Soon after, the snows came. The transition was a difficult one to make since the seasons are the complete opposite of those in South Africa. Once she landed a job as a health coach and director of Herbal Magic weight loss program, Muir, however, finally felt settled in to her new life. “I loved the interaction with women and seeing them meet their goals!”
After seven years in Canada, Glen was offered a job transfer to the United States. It was May of 2013 and snow was still on the ground when he told her about the opportunity. “I said I’m packed and ready to move,” she said with a chuckle.
She became a member of the Y in January of 2014. By July of that year, she was hired for her current position. “This has been the most amazing job for me,” she said.
Muir enjoys seeing the same faces every day as Westchase residents arrive for their workouts. “This job really helped me feel like a part of the community here,” she explained.
Though she has traveled a great distance from her homeland, Muir’s positive attitude and bright personality makes it easy to call her one of our own.
Stephens, a resident of West Park Village, is always looking for interesting Westchase residents to profile. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Lisa Stephens; Photo by Jean Claude Photography
A Smile, a Wave and a Safe Crossing
The local school bells will soon be silenced as the month of June marks the last few days of the current school year.
Summer break also means a break in employment for the school crossing guards serving Westchase families walking and biking to and from school. The folks fortunate enough to pass the corner of Gretna Green Drive and Kingsbridge Avenue, however, get much more than an escort. Every person, on foot, bike, in car or bus, receives a friendly wave and an infectious smile as they pass by longtime crossing guard Robert Lewis.
Even if they don’t need his assistance, everyone gets a friendly gesture. “It just makes me feel so good to see him every morning,” one motorist shared.
While most don’t even know his name, Lewis is determined to help everyone have a great start to their day.
Originally from Orlando, Lewis is one of seven children in his family. While his father worked two jobs to support the family, his mom was responsible for making sure things were well on the home front. When they were not in school, his siblings and he spent most of their time playing sports outside. “We had a big backyard and a sand pit to play in,” he recalled. The advice his mother often gave will seem familiar: “If you can’t say something nice about somebody, don’t say it at all.”
After graduating from high school, Lewis moved to Cleveland to work for a microwave oven manufacturing company. He later joined the Air Force and served in the Vietnam War. After earning his business administration degree from Franklin University, Lewis became a contract officer procuring anything the military needed. “From janitorial items to construction equipment, I was responsible for finding it,” he said.
After retirement, Lewis found himself searching for something to occupy just a few hours of his day. “I wasn’t doing much of anything so I thought I’d give this a try,” he said of the crossing guard opportunity.
That was 2010. Since then, he’s been on the same corner every school year assisting students and greeting passersby as they make their way to school.
Everyone gets a big smile and wave. Monday through Friday, he parks his car nearby, puts on his bright green safety vest and cap and is ready to assist by 7:10 a.m. His morning shift ends around 8:25 a.m.
He returns to do the same thing each afternoon at 2 p.m. “It’s fun and I like to put my own emphasis on it,” he explained. “I’m the first person they see in the morning besides their families. It’s a way to rejuvenate them and myself, too!”
Parents often stop and talk for a minute or two. Local sports and weather are the most popular subjects.
Those in cars even get in a word or bark sometimes as well. “They roll down their windows as they go by so I can speak to them. I even have a dog that barks when I wave to him as they drive by,” he said with a chuckle.
The friendly impression he makes upon people is lasting. He is sometimes recognized when not on duty. He has been asked several times “Hey, don’t you work in Westchase?”
As Father’s Day approaches, Lewis plans to spend the day with his wife, Antoinette, their son Brian, and grandson, Brian, Jr., also known as Buck. “I try to teach him to be respectful to others and friendly, too. I hope he will always remember me as being a kind person,” he said of his time with Buck. “I learned a lot by being a father and I want to transfer what I learned to Buck. I want to make sure he has a stable life,” he shared.
Besides respectfulness, Lewis stresses the importance of education to Buck. “I tell him it’s the gateway to success.”
At age 71, Lewis appears to be in great physical condition. Perhaps a happy heart helps keep him that way. As when he was a kid, Lewis still enjoys sports. He likes to keep up with the happenings of the regular season games for football and baseball. Yet interestingly, he doesn’t follow his favorite team when they make it to playoff games. “Championships don’t interest me. I like to see how they got there,” he said.
This from a very special person who makes getting there a lot more enjoyable.
By Lisa Stephens
Stephens, a resident of West Park Village, is always looking for interesting Westchase residents to profile. She can be contacted at email@example.com.
Chasing a Dream…and His Family
Born in 1928, Bridges resident Dave Morris has seen a great many changes in our world.
The desire to work hard and do a good job at whatever he was doing, coupled with the willingness to seek out new opportunities when one ended, took Morris to some pretty interesting places along the way. His stories range from atomic bomb testing and a presidential yacht to time spent with the grandchildren.
Morris grew up in Berwyn, Pennsylvania. Despite having four older sisters, he was “all boy” when it came to activities. Even as a kid, he loved being where the action was by playing shortstop and second base for his baseball team.
At the realization that he would be drafted into the army during World War II, Morris decided the navy would be a better fit, so he enlisted. While stationed at Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands in the Pacific, nuclear testing was taking place on nearby Bikini Atoll. Donned in protective gear, Morris saw a distant cloud in the sky from the explosion.
After two years of service in the navy, Morris took a job in the heavy construction industry building large roadways. Projects included pathways millions of people have since traveled. His first project included the Pennsylvania Turnpike. From there, he worked on the New Jersey Turnpike followed by other major roadways for the U.S. Department of Transportation. “In the construction industry, you have to follow the jobs wherever they take you,” he explained.
It was during this time he met a coworker’s niece who caught his eye. “I chased her until I got her,” he said of wife Madeline.
After completion of a construction job in Illinois, Morris moved his family to Cherry Hill, New Jersey. There Madeline and he raised their four children until they went off to college. During those years, his entrepreneurial spirit drove him to start his own heavy construction business with two other partners. Together they successfully completed many projects. His final project, he said, was very similar to the construction currently taking place on Veterans Expressway.
After several other successful employment ventures, Morris landed a position as president of Camden Ship Repair, which had been constructing and repairing ships dating back to 1836. Most of the work consisted of service to tugboats with names like Big Shot, Big Boy, Big Mama and Big Daddy. For repairs, work was done on a dry dock or on the 250-foot marine railway that descended into the water. It could accommodate vessels up to 700 tons. Its headquarters was actually a home built in 1734. Records show the home was used by British General Abercrombie during the Revolutionary War and is currently listed the National Register of Historic Places.
The shipyard is also known to be the company that constructed the presidential yacht known as The Sequoia. Originally built for the owner of the Sequoia Oil Company, the vessel was eventually sold and became the presidential yacht serving United States presidents for 44 years. The yacht was the site of John F. Kennedy’s last birthday celebration and is said to be where Richard Nixon made the decision to resign the presidency.
Located on the Delaware River, the struggling shipyard was a challenge Morris was ready for. “The company had been mismanaged and was in serious financial difficulty,” he said.
Morris was given complete authority to change, revise and implement any plan he felt was necessary to bring it back to life. And he managed to turn the ship around.
Bringing the company back to success, Morris said, is one of the best times of his life. “I have many fond memories of the shipyard. Although it was a new and different type business to me, I was able to do creative things to make it successful.”
Irony revealed itself when Morris explained a question that had been asked of him years prior to entering the shipyard business. “Someone asked me what I really wanted to do and I said I wanted to be a tugboat captain on the Delaware River,” he said.
At the time, he was joking about his plans for the future. “Little did I know that years later I would be running a company so closely related to the tugboat business.”
Today, Madeline and he and enjoy time with family and their seven grandchildren. “I enjoy doing anything I can get to do with them,” he said.
Several moves over the years have been to the various locations to be near their children.
Fortunately, Westchase proved the most recent, when Morris bought his Bridges home in 1998.
“We love our family,” he said, “And that’s why we keep chasing them!”
By Lisa Stephens
Stephens, a resident of West Park Village, is always looking for interesting Westchase residents to profile. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A Heart for Animals in Need
February ushers in the opportunity to shower those dear to us with extra expressions of love on Valentine’s Day.
Cards, chocolates and flowers, however, do not mean much to those at the top of the list for Bridges resident Jese Masser. Besides her boyfriend, Kelly, Masser’s sweethearts include a fine feathered friend and three very hairy members of the canine persuasion. All four are recipients of the love and passion Masser has for animals in need of rescue.
Her childhood Maryland home sat upon six acres of land surrounded by woods and wildlife. “My love for animals started there,” she recalled.
Often successful in aiding many creatures in need, she even attempted to lure deer away from hunting areas by placing salt blocks in areas where hunters were not permitted. Sammy and Ozzie were the dogs her family took in when nobody else wanted them. “Ozzie was a big old mutt but the love of my life,” she said of the dog they adopted from a shelter.
As she attended Elon College in North Carolina, Masser put her outdoor skills to great use as a YMCA camp counselor, teaching kids how to fish, canoe and hike. Ready for a pet, she visited a local animal shelter where she spotted an adorable blue tick coon hound. Just a few weeks old, the puppy was in such bad shape, he was already on the schedule to be euthanized. Refusing to accept the advice of a local vet, Masser took him home and nursed him back to health. The puppy she named Sebastian soon doubled in size and filled her own heart with joy. Armed with a degree in elementary education, she left North Carolina with Sebastian in tow and headed to Orlando to accept a teaching position.
Masser soon noticed a German shepherd following children as they crossed a busy highway on their way to school. “She kept coming to school,” she said. Unable to find an owner or anyone who would take the stray, Masser took in the homeless dog and named her Hannah. “I’m not a good ‘foster.’ I fell in love with her and just kept her,” she said.
A move to Tampa in 2012 brought the gang to Westchase.
Masser left her teaching career to care for her ailing grandmother. “She loved birds, so I got involved with Florida Parrot Rescue. Through that agency, she took in a [vulgarity] named Nutter Butters. Since Nutter Butters, Masser estimates she has fostered six to eight other birds before they were placed into their forever homes. She now has Snickers and has decided this will be the final bird she fosters. Yet, she continues to volunteer for the organization by attending chop parties, where they chop veggies and distribute them to other foster owners. She sometimes does home checks to make sure foster animals are being well cared for.
Deciding that Hannah needed a friend, Masser visited another shelter. One look at Charlotte was all it took.
Masser explained that Charlotte had heartworms and matted hair. She was so skinny that you could feel bones as you touched her body. She had been tied and left alone before being discovered and brought to the shelter. The dog was so weak, only her eyes moved as people walked past her. Masser scooped her up and took her home. Now Charlotte and Hannah frolic in the fenced area behind their home.
Perhaps returning the favor of saving his life, Masser credits Sebastian with saving her. Suffering a delayed reaction to shellfish, to which she is allergic, Masser went to bed one night with a scratchy feeling in her throat. “I was actually having a dream about people who had passed before me,” she shared.
While she slept, Sebastian continued to nudge her until he was able to flip her over. A look in the mirror revealed her eyes, lips, tongue and throat were all severely swollen. The emergency room doctor explained that had she not been awakened by Sebastian, she would likely have suffocated in her sleep. “Some people don’t believe animals have that ability to sense things like that, but they really do,” she said.
Telling others about the joy and benefits of adopting from local shelters or rescue organizations is important to her. “My dogs have been there for me when others weren’t,” she said.
She encourages anyone considering a pet to visit a local shelter or other rescue organization.
“There is a rescue organization for just about anything you can think of,” she said.
Who knows? You just might find your next best friend there.
By Lisa Stephens
Working Hard – With Balance
Helping a teen navigate choices, temptations and decisions that will impact the rest of his or her life can be a daunting task.
While Westchase resident Jake Russell helps his own teenage daughter carve her path to a promising future, another 2,100 teens await him when he gets to work each day.
As principal of Sickles High School, Russell enjoys both the challenges of leadership and the many opportunities to engage in the fun with students as they live out their high school years.
While Russell was born in California, his family moved to the Miami area when he was 4. As a teen, he attended a high school with more than 3,500 kids, where he played basketball year round. While his father was a chemist and his mother a kindergarten teacher, it was the stories of his uncle that he enjoyed hearing. “He was a high school principal in California and he was someone I looked up to. The stories he told and the things he did had an impact on me,” he explained.
After graduating from Miami Sunset High School, Russell headed for University of South Florida (USF) as a social science education major. After graduating from USF, he accepted a teaching position at King High School, where he taught U.S. and world history and psychology. He left King to teach at Sickles in 1999 and in 2000, he became assistant principal.
In 2002 he accepted the challenge of moving over to Middleton High School, a new magnet school for technology. When the position of principal for Sickles opened in 2005, Russell applied. Having lived in Westchase since 1997, he was drawn to the possibility of working so close to home while advancing in his career. “I didn’t think I’d get it because I was only 34 and when I did, I thought ‘Oh boy!’” he said.
The biggest adjustment to becoming an administrator instead of a teacher, he said, was to understand his role in supporting students in their goals and making sure the teachers he hired had that same goal. “It’s ‘kids first’ and that’s what we’re here for. I have to get my teachers to buy into that,” he shared.
Russell’s main goal is to make sure students leaving Sickles High School are prepared for their next venture. Not only does he want the education at Sickles to prepare students for the college they wish to attend, he wants those students not going to college to be prepared as well. “If high school will be their last degree, are we setting them up for that?” he challenged.
He explains to his students that businesses want people who won’t give up, will work hard and persevere. “We want an environment where effort and growth are rewarded, regardless of the path they take after leaving here. They need rigor here and I don’t want them to leave Sickles feeling they haven’t been prepared.”
As WOW interviewed Russell, a student stopped by, seeking advice on his future and college. Putting his ‘kids first’ motto into action, Russell encouraged the student by asking probing question to determine which subjects the student was interested in, what he was good at and where he struggled. He encouraged the young man to think about these things when determining his focus. His final words? Stay ahead in homework but keep things balanced and enjoy life.
The most rewarding aspect of his position as principal, Russell said, is to see the growth of students over the years they attend Sickles. “They come here when they’re 14 and they leave as grown men and women. When you see them reach a goal you weren’t sure they could get to, it’s very rewarding,” he shared.
His involvement in the lives of students does not end when the final bell rings. Russell is often seen at sporting events as well. “We have more than 20 sports here at Sickles,” he said.
As students and parents gather at events, Russell is always interested in what takes place. “I feel like I’m responsible for that,” he explained.
He attends every varsity football game and jumps in on the action when a goal is scored by dropping to the ground and pumping out a pushup for every point scored. Of his own workouts, he said, “I don’t do pushups on Fridays because I have to save myself,” he chuckled.
From his office or on the field, Russell lives out the advice he gives – by keeping things balanced and enjoying life.
By Lisa Stephens
Waiting for Santa’s Arrival
As Santa prepares to return to Westchase for his upcoming Pre-Flight Parade, West Park Village resident Ronda Woble anxiously awaits her old friend’s arrival.
As a board member of the Westchase Charitable Foundation (WCF), Woble plays a big part in making sure things run smoothly for the jolly gentleman. As Santa makes his way through neighborhoods aboard a vintage red fire truck, Woble is among those helping retrieve toys donated by residents throughout the journey. “Seeing kids standing there ready to give a toy to a child not as lucky as they are is my favorite part of the night,” she explained.
Originally from Louisiana, Woble grew up in a home where reaching out to others was the norm. “My parents were always helping people. My dream job as a kid was to be a foster mom or an extravagant cake decorator,” she explained.
As a member of a state championship gymnastics team, Woble spent lots of time in the gym. Outside of that, she enjoyed volunteering in her community as a member of the Interact Club at her school. “I just always gravitated to stuff like that,” she said.
From Rensselear Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York, Woble holds a Bachelor of Science degree in business marketing and an associate degree in merchandising. She earned an MBA with a concentration in marketing as well.
Woble has lived in Tampa for 17 years. Currently vice president of marketing and public relations at Laser Locators, she has over 25 years of experience working for various Fortune 250 corporations as well as private equity firms. Outside of work, Woble stays busy as a mom to 17-year-old twins who are currently seniors at Alonso High School. Like their mom, Peyton and Josée enjoy helping others through their activities with the Anchor Club at school. The two also assist mom with WCF activities. “They help me a lot at home when I’m working on the computer or running errands to pick up donated items,” she explained.
The WCF is a nonprofit public charity – a completely different entity than the Westchase Community Association. The WCF relies on fundraising to help families faced with financial burdens as a result of serious illnesses. Woble has been a board member for 10 years.
The WCF’s major fundraising events include the Westchase Cup golf tournament, a Woman of the Year competition and the Pre-Flight Parade. In 2010 Woble was named the first Woman of the Year by the WCF in their inaugural event. To earn the title, she raised more than $10,000 in cash and donated services. Today, she works alongside women competing for the title each year. “I coach them and help them along the way,” she explained.
The winner of Woman of the Year also gets to ride in the parade. “My experience in marketing helps me when I do the press releases, signage and event promos for all the WCF events,” she said.
Six years ago, Woble co-founded the Young Women’s Leadership Symposium, which brings together women in various leadership positions in business, health care and government – future leaders who want to learn more about how, they too, can succeed. Approximately 100 high school girls have the opportunity to hear encouraging messages and ask probing questions of the leaders there to support them. Now under the National Diversity Council, this event has spread to more than 15 states across the country.
Woble is also a volunteer for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. She manages a mail campaign and collects raffle items for the Bowl for Breath event held each year in her home state of Louisiana. “I have a niece with Cystic Fibrosis, so that event is very important to me,” she shared.
Woble is also a member of the School Advisory Committee at Alonso High School and volunteers for the school baseball team.
Faced with a pending empty nest once both her children head off to college next year, Woble plans to volunteer even more in the areas she might be needed. “I just want to leave my own footprint when it comes to helping others,” she explained.
Well said from a person who has already made a tremendous difference in others’ lives.
By Lisa Stephens
A Life in the Foreign Service
Over the summer, WOW told the story of the heroic military career of Glencliff’s Ed Fugit. His service to the country, however, didn’t stop there.After his decorated career as a helicopter pilot, Fugit set his sights on the U.S. Foreign Service.
Fugit explained the initial idea of being part of the Foreign Service actually came from his mother when he was in high school. “I was extremely good at history and she asked me what I could do with that,” he recalled.
After college, he entered the Army. Before his military career ended, he had already passed the rigorous testing required to part of this elite group.
The purpose of the Foreign Service is to promote peace and protect American citizens while advancing the interests of the United States abroad. There are four areas of operation. Consular officers issue visas, aid in adoptions, help evacuate Americans when necessary and fight human trafficking.
Economic officers work with foreign government on technology, science, trade and environmental issues.
Management officers are responsible for all embassy operations.
And political officers host political events and must be able to communicate and negotiate with all levels of foreign government.
While approximately 15,000 people take the exam annually, only several hundred are actually hired. The written portion of the exam includes a wide range of subjects involving U.S. history, current and world events. Once this is completed, candidates are interviewed and given oral exams. Questions during this phase challenge knowledge of the United States Constitution, current events, culture and language.
Fugit’s first assignment took him to Brasilia, Brazil, where he worked as a consular officer. “We really didn’t understand what we were getting ourselves into,” Fugit said. “It’s not well paying but it’s a lot of fun.”
He described Brasilia as very clean and an easy environment in which to adjust. Yet it was his next assignment, Angola, where the action really began for Fugit. “That assignment made my career in the foreign service,” he explained.
While there, the Portuguese regime was overthrown by a military coup. Fugit explained the Soviets became involved and sent in military equipment to take over. Fugit’s wife, Linda, even got in on the action when she received a call from Fugit one day asking for her assistance. Their home was located high on a ridge, which gave them an excellent view of the suburbs below, where three guerrilla groups were based. “He asked me to get on the roof and tell him which way they were shooting,” she said. “And I didn’t get one cent for that,” she chuckled.
Eventually, the war became so threatening, families had to be evacuated. Linda stayed with family in Chicago while he worked in Washington as a desk officer for Angola. “I was an expert by that point and Henry Kissinger was very interested in the situation,” he explained.
Fugit retrieved information from the field and sent that information to top officials in Washington and worked closely with Kissinger for six months on the subject.
The next phase of Fugit’s service took him and his family to Maryland. This was not an easy phase of service. With a twenty-five mile commute to downtown Washington while often working twelve to fifteen hours a day, life was tough for Linda with one car for the family and small kids at home. “Angola looked a whole lot better at that point,” Fugit said.
Then he got the call to go back to Africa. The family moved to the city of Durban at the height of apartheid. “My job there was to work with tribal leaders and black politicians. Fugit explained, “Psychologically, this was the hardest thing I had to do because it was hard to watch how blacks were treated.”
Whites Only signs had just been taken down in the area but tension between the two races was still high. The couple held dinner parties and invited both white and black guests to encourage them to better understand one another. “The secret police watched us like hawks because they saw us as ‘stirring the pot.’”
Fugit’s final overseas assignment took him to Pakistan from 1990 to 1993. Fugit said this assignment was the most fascinating of all. “There were three million refugees to help. They were trying for democracy after their leader had died and the Gulf War was taking place,” he explained.
While there, Linda and he determined it best to send their two oldest back to the U.S. for school. “We never imagined we’d ever have to do that, but they’ve convinced us that we did not ruin their lives” Linda said.
Fugit ended his Foreign Service career as a senior diplomat as general liaison to commanding generals. Embassies would send reports to Washington and he would relay that information.
Today, Ed Fugit enjoys giving speeches on life in the Foreign Service to those considering the opportunity to serve. He also speaks on raising kids in the Foreign Service at Eckerd College.
Meanwhile Linda Fugit no longer has to climb upon rooftops to report enemy fire. Staying home, she says, is what she enjoys most these days.
By Lisa Stephens
Lisa Stephens is a resident of West Park Village and is always interested in discovering interesting Westchasers to profile. E-mail her at email@example.com.
A Centennial to Celebrate
For West Park resident Lena Pellegrino, Sept. 26 marks a very special birthday many don’t live to see.
Quite possibly the oldest living Westchase resident, Pellegrino will soon celebrate 100 years of a wonderful life.
Born to Italian immigrants in 1915, Pellegrino grew up in Providence, Rhode Island. The youngest of eight children, Pellegrino helped her parents run the family-owned Italian grocery store. They sold homemade sausages and pastas and made wine, for which she helped stomp grapes in the cellar with her bare feet.
Her mother was quite wise when it came to business. She bought several apartments surrounding the store and rented them to friends and family. There was no TV to watch once work was done. It hadn’t been invented yet.
Actually, Pellegrino was born before many conveniences we enjoy today were invented. Zippers for clothing, pop up toasters, hairdryers, stainless steel and even helicopters were invented after her birth. You could, however, buy at Model T Ford if you had $360. During her lifetime, the U.S. endured two World Wars, the Great Depression, the assassination of one president, and the impeachment of two others.
Pellegrino left school during the seventh grade to go to work in a local mill. Her pay was $11 a week, much of which went to her family. In 1938, she met Michael on a blind date. “He took me to dinner and then dancing on a boat,” she said.
Two years later, the couple married at St. Theresa Catholic Church. Her traditional ornate gown cost $39 and they paid $15 to rent the reception hall. An orchestra played while guests danced and enjoyed scrumptious Italian dishes prepared by her family. “We rode in the parlor car on the train to New York for our honeymoon,” she recalled. Such cars were for first class, one-day passengers and included amenities and reserved seats on the trains.
After a week of Broadway shows and seeing the sights, the couple settled into an apartment above the family store. “One year and one day after we were married, our first child was born!” she said. Marie was the first of four daughters for the couple. Karen, Gail and Michele soon followed.
By 1947, her family moved to Miami. Initially staying home to raise her daughters, she was eager to get to work once the youngest entered school. “I went to work as a bartender for my brother-in-law,” she explained of her first job back into the workforce.
In her spare time, she enjoyed ceramics classes, learned to speak Spanish at night school and volunteered. She served at the voting polls during elections and often attended jury duty, spending entire days at the courthouse. She taught her daughters to serve others as well, often sending them to the neighbors’ house to make rosaries for the church.
After living in the same house for 50 years in the Miami area, she once again set out to move to be near family in Tampa. As the original owner of her West Park Village townhome, Pellegrino and her husband Michael enjoyed their life together in Westchase until his passing. Today, she enjoys her neighbors and is often asked to attend outings with her daughters and their friends. “She’s known as ‘the queen of meatballs,’” one daughter advised as she is often invited to holiday celebrations with friends.
Pellegrino is an avid Jeopardy! player. She watches the popular game show every night. “Sometimes we think she’s sleeping until she blurts out the answer,” chuckled Gail, who lives with her mother.
The downside of aging is the loss of her independence in some ways. “They made me stop driving and I really don’t think I’m too old!” she said.
Age didn’t stop her on a trip to Costa Rica when she was 87. Hailed as the oldest person to complete that particular course on a zip line, Pellegrino said that was the best vacation ever!
When asked for the secret to making it to 100, Pellegrino pointed to attitude. “Happiness is what you make it,” she advised.
When asked for advice from someone going through difficult times, she encouraged them to push forward. “Well, I’m gonna tell ya, we all gotta go that road,” she said.
She is happiest when surrounded by others. “She holds court at church,” daughter Marie said of Pellegrino’s visits to a ladies group meeting.
As a grandmother to eight and great-grandmother to five, she enjoys having family gathered around her. She even enjoys a good round of poker with anyone daring to take her on.
She is practicing her greeting to the 120 guests invited to her 100th birthday party. It’s going to be hard to beat the song she sang last year for her 99th. “Everybody don’t reach 100, ya know!” she said, contemplating how she wants to greet her guests.
Happy Birthday, Lena! Enjoy your party and thanks for the memories!
By Lisa Stephens
Lisa Stephens is a resident of West Park Village and is always interested in discovering interesting Westchasers to profile. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here Comes the Judge!
Spending time in a courtroom began early in life for Westchase resident and newly appointed judge, John Badalamenti.
As a young boy, he would ride the train from Brooklyn to Manhattan to meet his mother for lunch during a break from work. Arriving early, he would sit in nearby courtrooms and watch trials before meeting his mom. “I knew right then and there that someday I wanted to be a lawyer,” he revealed.
Though he knew this would not be an easy path.
Badalamenti’s father was disabled and unable to work. His mother’s income barely covered the necessities for his parents, two sisters and him. Yet he knew with hard work and dedication, he would fulfill his dream of one day standing at the front of the courtroom instead of watching silently from the back.
To help support his family, Badalamenti took a job at age 11 delivering newspapers at 5 a.m. in the morning. He also sorted recycled cans and bottles. “I grew up with obstacles that helped shape my drive and I got up every morning with one goal. That was to get better and not rest on my laurels. It’s easy to become complacent but complacency breeds mediocrity,” he said. Badalamenti added “Had the founders of this country been mediocre, they would have been satisfied to pay taxes to the king. But they were not.”
Setting goals, he revealed, was key to achieving what he wanted to do in life. “If you aim at nothing, you’ll hit it every time,” he said.
During his middle school years, his family moved to Florida. His involvement in Boy Scouts and Civil Air Patrol helped him develop leadership skills and provided goal setting opportunities. He earned the rank of Eagle Scout. Through the Civil Air Patrol, he also earned the highest award given, The Billy Mitchell Award, which recognizes leadership, core values and communication skills. He also served as squad commander of more than 100 air patrollers. “The Civil Air Patrol taught me to understand the chain of command,” he explained.
Badalamenti entered college at the University of Florida. Just as he had worked his way through middle and high school, he worked through college, as well. He took maintenance jobs at UF and worked as a teaching assistant and graduate assistant. “I had to,” he recalled. “It was very hard as I went down this legal path to do what I did. It was hard to blend in. I was often with kids whose parents were wealthy. But rather than running from my past, I embraced it.”
Badalamenti received a Bachelor of Arts in Criminology and Law and graduated with highest honors. He continued on to earn a Masters of Arts Degree in Sociology and his Juris Doctor with honors from University of Florida College of Law. He was selected for the United States Attorney General Honors Program where he served as legal counsel to the Federal Bureau of Prisons in Atlanta. He eventually entered private practice, later serving as a law clerk to the Honorable Paul H. Rooney of the U.S. Court of Appeals in St. Petersburg.
In 2006, he joined the Federal Public Defender’s Office. Some of the cases there, he said, pulled at his heartstrings. But through those experiences, he learned to understand and separate the legal part of the cases from the emotional side.
On April 29, 2015, Governor Rick Scott appointed Badalamenti as a judge on the Second District Court of Appeals. While most, when appointed, are considerably older, Badalamenti’s record of success and prior experiences served him well when being considered. A notable mention on his resume is the fact that he had argued a case in the United States Supreme Court an appeal called Yates vs. United States. In that case, he represented a fisherman who had been charged with destroying undersized fish. This meant possible years in prison or fines for his client. Badalamenti won the case. “I felt great for my client and I consider that to be the hallmark of my legal career – to have argued before the Supreme Court and won,” he said.
Badalamenti and his family are long-time residents of Westchase and have not been tempted leave despite his career success over the years. “In Brooklyn, you knew all your neighbors on the block and my daughter does here as well,” he said.
Outside the courtroom, he enjoys spending time with his wife and daughter. Being a father is “everything,” he said but he finds time for others as well. Scouting continues to be a big part of his life as he works with an inner city Boy Scout Troop. He shares his own experiences with the boys in hopes that they, too, will overcome personal obstacles to achieve their dreams. “I believe I had a calling for public service and it’s meaningful work to serve people in our community.”
Congratulations on your appointment, Judge Badalamenti!
By Lisa Stephens
Lisa Stephens is a resident of West Park Village and is always interested in discovering interesting Westchasers to profile. E-mail her at email@example.com.
A Life of Military Service
When asked to describe herself, Triva Mack had a simple answer. “I’m just a T-shirt and shorts kind of gal,” she said.
Yet there’s a lot more to this Shires resident than meets the eye.
Growing up in Clearwater, Mack enjoyed playing softball almost year round. “I’d bust my butt to get my chores done so I could go play ball!”
After graduating from Clearwater High School, she headed to St. Petersburg College (SPC). As a computer science major, Mack was offered a full scholarship to Florida State. “But I realized I didn’t want to work with computers for the rest of my life,” she said.
Feeling the weight of the world on her shoulders, she sat upon a bench to ponder her future. “I must have looked pretty bad because a man passing by said, ‘Girl, what is wrong with you?’”
His advice changed her future completely. He told her to consider the military so the GI Bill would pay for college. “I got up and went straight to the recruiting office,” she recalled.
She broke the news to her mom by explaining she would turn down the Florida State scholarship, but she already had a plan.
That plan was the Air Force.
Mack’s uncle was also in the Air Force so she requested to be stationed with him in Indiana. After graduating from SPC, she reported for basic training. She was assigned to Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Mississippi, where she attended personnel school. “The great thing about the military is that they train you to do the job they want you to do,” she explained.
Unfortunately, her request for Indiana was denied and she was told she would remain in Mississippi. “I cried and cried,” she said. She called her uncle and he quickly helped Mack look on the brighter side of things. “He told me all about the cold weather, the snow drifts and how hard it was to keep warm! I got up, blew my nose and said ‘OK, what office am I working in?’”
Mack fell in love with military life, but her time in Mississippi brought new situations she had never experienced. “My parents had sheltered us and I had never experienced discrimination before.”
She explained that even though the Air Force had implemented practices to battle discrimination, one supervisor told her he didn’t want any blacks in his area. While shopping at the local mall, some stores would not serve black shoppers. And for the first time in her life, she saw members of the Ku Klux Klan passing out leaflets for membership. “I couldn’t wait to get home that day to call my parents and tell them I saw the KKK!” she said.
After two years, she asked to be transferred to Ft. Walton Beach to be closer to home. “That’s where I really met people from all walks of life and backgrounds,” she explained.
The military turned into a career for Mack. “I went in for four years and stayed for 26,” she said with a chuckle.
She spent the first part of her career in various human resources positions. She made it through officer training school, even the physical requirements, despite a knee injury she incurred during an Air Force/Army softball game. Mack was among the second group of women moving into non-traditional jobs when she trained as an aircraft maintenance officer. “I didn’t even know what that was and I begged them to put me back in personnel,” she said.
After several calls of pleading, she was told she didn’t need to understand it. She just had to do it and not to call back.
For women in the military, Mack sees progress. ”The recent wars indicate the military understands and sees the value of female warriors,” she said. “The increase in female pilots and Admiral Michelle Howard’s promotion as the first female four-star general are just the most recent indicators.”
Mack retired as a lieutenant colonel. Her final assignment took her to Saudi Arabia, where she served in logistic planning. She now spends her time as a part time instructor at SPC, where she teaches a college success course. “It’s a way of giving back and mentoring,” she said.
When asked about her success, she points to her family. “My mother raised me to be an independent, self-reliant woman. My grandfather was my biggest inspiration because he was the first black uniformed officer in Clearwater and possibly Florida,” she explained.
Mack said he taught them to do every job to the best of their ability and there is no such thing as a bad job as long as you have provided an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay. “He also taught us to be fair in all of our dealings with others.”
Thank you, Triva Mack, for your years of service and for the encouragement you are providing to others as they plan for their futures.
By Lisa Stephens
A Dad’s Reflections for Father’s Day
The first recorded observance of Father’s Day was held in July, 1908, in Fairmont, West Virginia.
After a mining accident took the lives of 361 men, most of them fathers, Grace Clayton asked her pastor to recognize them during a Sunday church sermon. Finally, after several failed attempts to recognize fathers on a special day, President Lyndon B. Johnson issued the first proclamation honoring fathers, designating the third Sunday in June as Father’s Day. President Richard Nixon then signed it into law six years later in 1972.
Glencliff resident Phil Montiegel quickly came to mind when Westchase Elementary Dads Club member, Eric Holt, was asked for his suggestion of a great dad to be profiled for the June WOW. “He’s a single dad so his time with his kids is limited, but he uses that time very well,” said Holt.
As the son of a Stride Rite shoe salesman, Montiegel says he is originally from “all over.” Kansas, St. Louis, Connecticut, Chicago, Boston and Detroit are among the many locations he lived as a child. An older brother to twin sisters and a younger brother, Montiegel enjoyed growing up in a large family. His stay-at-home mom kept things running smoothly on the home front while dad earned a living selling shoes.
Like most kids, Montiegel spent a lot of time playing sports. Father’s Day with his family usually meant a round of golf with his dad and a big dinner. After high school he headed to Northern Illinois University as a finance major. “I like numbers and the stock market,” he explained.
Unfortunately, the crash of the stock market on Black Monday of 1987 meant there weren’t many jobs in the field he wanted to pursue. “I ended up selling mortgage loans at 14 percent,” he said of the beginnings of his career path. Montiegel is currently a software salesman and enjoys his position with the company he has worked for since 1996.
His favorite role, however, is being dad to his daughters, Maggie and Lucy. Both attend Westchase schools and are active students at Davidsen Middle and Westchase Elementary. Montiegel makes a great effort to be active with his girls. He has served as a Junior Achievement instructor for five years in their schools. As their soccer coach, he chuckled, “My job was to keep them out of the pond.”
He is also a member of the Westchase Dads Club, a committee of the Westchase Elementary PTA. Besides planned activities with their children, the Dads Club also sponsors fundraisers such as poker tournaments and food truck rallies.
At home Montiegel tries to stick to a regular routine with his daughters. He shares their time 50/50 with their mom. Being a single dad can be a challenge sometimes, he said, like when he needs to run an errand and doesn’t want to leave them home alone. But Montiegel enjoys having his girls with him as much as possible. He drives them to their bus stops daily during the school year and picks them up at the recreation center after school. “I try to give them a normal home life,” he explained. “We eat at home together and we don’t eat out all the time. Little things like that to keep it normal.”
Lucy, he said, is a big help in the kitchen as she likes to cook. She’s also the reason Montiegel spends lots of time searching the isles in Michael’s craft store for projects to do with his daughter. Maggie, on the other hand, is more sports-oriented, like her dad. They enjoy watching Lightning hockey games. The three enjoy shopping together as well. “I’m very familiar with Justice and Claire’s,” he said with a giggle.
Montiegel doesn’t mind shopping in stores intended for females. For his daughters, he is happy to spend time with them doing whatever interests them. “They’re what I live for,” he shared.
Becoming a father, he said, helped him become more calm, more settled. “They make me want to be a good person and be a role model for them.”
Asked what he learned from his own father that he hopes to pass on to Maggie and Lucy, Montiegel recalls his dad as a very honest person who was always nice to people. “He never got mad and always kept his word. I hope they’ll see that in me and look for that in a husband someday.”
Happy Father’s Day to Phil Montiegel and all our Westchase dads!
By Lisa Stephens
A New Volunteer Meets Success
After serving several years as Keswick Forest’s alternate voting member (VM), Brian Loudermilk took on a new role in January 2015.
Loudermilk stepped up to serve as his neighborhood’s VM. His goals, he says, are to make sure his neighbors know what’s going on in the community and to bring Keswick Forest back to the tight-knit community it was before the economic downturn, which caused many long-term residents to leave for jobs or other economic reasons.
Originally from Indiana, Loudermilk played various sports as a youth but his dream was to play college basketball. “Bobby Knight was my hero,” he said of the well-known Indiana Hoosiers coach. Unfortunately, his dream was not to be. “High school football ended it for me when I took a helmet to the knee,” he explained.
After attending Indiana State University for a year, Loudermilk opted to enter the military. After a successful military career, he is set to retire later this year. “I spent 25 years never doing the same thing,” he said.
Loudermilk spent much of his career in combat control and para-rescue operations. Also trained as an air traffic controller, he provided close air support in both combat and rescue operations. While there are many proud moments for Loudermilk to recall, one favorite was his time serving when the United States invaded Iraq. To aid aircraft in the invasion, Loudermilk and his comrades entered the territory first to determine the best possible entry point based on location, wind data and terrain. “We could set up a runway in the middle of a desert if we needed to,” he explained.
Once they were established in Iraq, Loudermilk directed aircraft safely into the region, always monitoring the skies for other aircraft or possible enemy interference. He proudly stated, “We went for 30 days without one ‘go-around,’” meaning each plane he directed never had to make a second attempt at landing. His undetected entry into different areas around the world required different skills. Various ways he arrived included scuba, motorcycle, parachute and sometimes even horseback.
Another shining moment for Loudermilk during his military career came when he was awarded the Medal of Commendation for his actions during the rescue of Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell. Luttrell’s story of being the only survivor of Operation Redwing in Afghanistan was featured in the movie Lone Survivor. Tasked with documenting the activity of an al Qaeda leader, his squad mates were killed and Luttrell found his way to safety and protection at the hands of an Afghanistan leader. Loudermilk and his fellow officers were called in to coordinate his rescue. “We went in and established a runway, coordinated air traffic control and guided the rescue helicopters in for his rescue,” he explained.
Loudermilk was awarded the honor for the work he did behind the scenes of the operation.
Just over two decades ago, Loudermilk was stationed in Tacoma, Washington, but was assigned to test a mobile microwave landing system in different areas of the United States. To test the system in cold weather, he travelled to North Dakota for a one-week stay. It was during his time there that he met Michelle while out one evening. Love must have been in the air because Loudermilk recalls it was sometime around “February 14ish.” Before leaving the state, he secured her phone number and the two began exchanging calls and letters.
At the end of his mission, he went back to North Dakota instead of going home. The couple recalled the moment of their engagement. “We were sitting in a drive thru at Taco John’s and decided to get married!”
They were married on April 2 and celebrated their 22nd wedding anniversary last month. With the couple having known each other less than two months before they were married, Michelle’s mother said it best. “You both got lucky,” she told Michelle.
These days, they enjoy spending time with daughters, Emily and Ashley.
As VM, Brian’s first project was to get approval from 51 percent of Keswick Forest’s residents for the neighborhood’s new mailboxes. After going door to door, Loudermilk secured an 85 percent approval rating for the project. “That really motivated me,” he said.
When he isn’t busy improving the curb appeal of Keswick Forest, he enjoys gardening and building projects for his own backyard. He works a round or two of golf in occasionally, as well. “I play here, there and everywhere,” he explained.
Many thanks to Brian to stepping up into the role of keeping our community a wonderful place to live!
By Lisa Stephens
A Journey That Begins in County Wexford
Recently appointed Glenfield Voting Member Patrick O’Brien compares the small town feel of Westchase to his native Ireland.
Raised in the small seaside village of Rosslare in County Wexford, O’Brien enjoys knowing who his neighbors are and giving back to his community as a volunteer.
O’Brien grew up in a large family, by today’s standards, of five children. His school teachers were Catholic nuns, who instilled discipline and strong values regarding education and religion. “My parents backed that up,” he explained.
Work life came early for the O’Brien children as they helped their father operate the family movie business. “My father would rent films from national distributors and show them at several locations,” O’Brien recalled.
The set up required for the showings was quite a process since this was a time before the benefits of modern technology. They would rent two movies a night, secure a community meeting hall or church location and set up the old-style projector with the large reels of film. Because the village did not have electricity, a generator was required to provide power to the projector. “He really introduced movies to the community,” he said of his father – and neighbors who had never seen a film before.
Like many of his friends, O’Brien enjoyed the sport of hurling during his school years. O’Brien describes the sport, which is popular in Ireland, to be much like hockey except it is played on a field of grass. More than 3,000 years old, it’s considered one of the world’s fastest field sports. “We won the Super Bowl of hurling,” he said proudly of his team.
After high school, O’Brien went on to graduate from the Institute of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators in the United Kingdom, which offers studies for those working in governance and risk and compliance. O’Brien then landed a job working for a stock market broker. “This was before computers, so it was all pen and paper,” he said of the tedious bookkeeping required for client accounts. Over the years, he worked in various industries, including banking, manufacturing, accounting and hotel management.
O’Brien credits the longevity of his happy marriage to his wife, Olive. Though they attended the same elementary school years prior, O’Brien said he failed to recognize her in a Dublin night club when he requested a dance. She asked how things were back in Rosslare and O’Brien was puzzled as to how she knew he was from the small village. Once she revealed her identity, he was happy to have found a hometown girl. “My wife is just awesome,” he said of Olive. “We’ve been married more than 40 years, lived in three countries, had children together and we’ve never looked back,” he said.
O’Brien has great appreciation for the role of women in society. “”I believe women are completely underrated. If more emphasis and recognition were given to women and what they do, the world would change. The power of women is not properly understood,” he said.
While living in Canada, O’Brien sat his family around the table to discuss a possible move. They wanted to move to the United States and their requirements were sunshine, a beach and a southeastern location. Florida was the obvious choice. After submitting more than two hundred letters requesting visas, their request was finally granted.
Now retired, O’Brien spends much of his time volunteering for various organizations. He uses the skills he gained while employed to help others in need.
He began volunteering for the United Way, where he assisted families with new computers that students had won as a result of an essay contest. “This was a first computer for many of them so I helped them set it up and learn to use it,” he said.
He also works with Computer Mentors Group, which serves inner city youth. With the youth, they take apart used computers, fix them and put them back together. Once the project is completed, the teen gets to take the computer home.
O’Brien also works closely with St. Peter Claver Catholic School, where he works on fund-raising. He has helped raise more than $100,000 for computer and science labs there.
A voting member since January, he feels it is important to give back to the community in which he lives. “As partners, my wife and I love this community and we like to be involved in helping and creating change.”
Together, they also travel back Ireland for several months each year. Yet, they are always glad to get back to the sunshine and beaches they enjoy in Florida!
By Lisa Stephens
A Career of Service to His Country
For Greens resident Tim Creighton the decision to enter the military at a young age set him on a path of great success.
After a 28-year career in the army, including 10 years of Infantry service and 18 years of Special Forces, the lieutenant colonel has lots of memories.
Born in Rhode Island, Creighton grew up cheering for the New England Patriots and participating in several different sports. “Whatever sports season it was, I was playing,” he recalled.
His military heritage included his father, a Korean War veteran, and an uncle who served in World War II, Korea and Vietnam. “He was a full colonel and a photo of him decorated with all his medals and ribbons really struck me,” he said.
It was during a seventh grade science class that the decision to enter the military was finalized for Creighton. While reading a science publication, he noticed an army recruiting advertisement. “There was a soldier in the mud with a rifle and that ad hit me in the head. I knew at that moment I wanted to join,” he shared.
Upon completing his junior year in high school, Creighton headed down to the recruiting offices and signed himself up for the army. Once he graduated, he entered the Infantry division. He explained, “I wanted to do something tough out on the ground with a gun on the front lines.”
His first stop was Ft. Benning, Georgia for 13 weeks of basic training. From there he was stationed in Hawaii with the 25th Infantry Division. From Hawaii, he was sent to the First Calvary Division in Texas. By 1985, Creighton achieved the rank of sergeant but elected to leave the military to attend college. He entered Rhode Island College in Providence full time while working several jobs. He graduated in 1998 with a degree in Business Administration. While he was glad to have completed college, he continued to long for the military. “Every day I was out of the army, I missed it and doubted my decision,” he explained. “Once Iraq invaded Kuwait, that made my decision to go back.”
Going back wasn’t as easy as Creighton thought it would be. “I was told there weren’t any slots available for prior servicemen,” he said.
Not one to give up easily, Creighton wrote his congressman, senator and President George Bush. Finally, a recruiter called him and told him to be ready at 7 a.m. the next day to be picked up and driven to Boston to enlist.
He was ready. Because he had been out of the military more than five years, he had to complete basic training again. This second experience, he said, was far different than his first. Soldiers wore gray sweats instead of fatigues. Physical requirements were not as tough and the drill sergeants were a bit easier the recruits. Once he completed this training, he used his degree to apply to Officer Candidate School. The experience lasted 100 days and included academic requirements as well as field work. “It was a whole lot of harassment,” he chuckled. “They would come into our rooms and empty drawers, move mattresses, mess up the place and blow a whistle and give you 15 minutes to correct it, which of course you couldn’t do,” he said.
When the task was not completed, the penalty was more harassment. When asked if he had doubted his decision at that point to re-enter the military, his response was certain. “I never thought about quitting. They’d have had to kill me first.”
Creighton continued to take on leadership roles and achieve the academic and physical goals he set for himself. As he moved up the ranks, he enjoyed the opportunities he had to serve in Korea, Egypt, Afghanistan, South America and more. After achieving the rank of lieutenant, Creighton began the assessment and selection process to serve with Special Forces. “They made you do stuff physically and mentally you never thought you could do,” he said.
Only one-third of those who apply are selected and only one-third of those selected actually make it through. The phases of training included language training, patrolling and parachute operations. In 1997 Creighton became a Green Beret and spent the last 18 years of his military career in Special Forces. Much of that time was spent countering drug operations in South American regions. In May of 2009 Creighton achieved the rank of lieutenant colonel.
He describes the time he spent in Afghanistan as a senior advisor to an Afghan Army Brigadier General as the best tour of his career and the most fulfilling, Of the Afghan leader with which he worked, he observed, “We became very good friends.”
In 2012 while stationed at MacDill Air Force Base, he was asked to put together a project that would demonstrate the interoperability between United States Special Forces, conventional forces, interagency elements and partner nations. Creighton had to figure out how to incorporate each entity. This event, the 2012 International Special Operations Demonstration, was conducted in downtown Tampa. The event featured a mock kidnapping and rescue of a local city official. It took almost six months of planning, requiring Creighton to call embassies from around the world, secure a barge to be used as a target and clear the event with the Fire Marshall, FAA and U.S. Customs. He incorporated Seals, Air Force tactics, the Green Berets and more. Nine countries were represented with use of Special Op Forces, airplanes, helicopters, boats, military vehicles, gunfire and explosions.
Creighton stood on a bridge with a radio. Script in hand, he served as narrator during the 30 minute event. The largest international military exercise ever conducted in a U.S. city, it was seen by thousands of people and proved a huge success. “There were a lot of naysayers but it turned out to be one of my proudest moments,” he said.
The demonstration was so successful, he was asked to do it again in 2014. A video of the 2012 event can be seen on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TE8Zw6Lnuro.
Jan. 31, 2015, marked the end of his 28-year, 28-day career in the army. Not quite ready to settle into full retirement just yet, Creighton began a new position as a contractor for special operations with a defense contract company. When asked how he would advise others considering a military career, his response is a positive one. “Absolutely consider it. It’s the best decision I ever made,” he shared.
Creighton looks forward to having more time for family now that he has a regular nine-to-five position. His wife, Carmen Gloria, and he enjoy spending time with daughter, Sarah, at Disney as often as they can. “We hit I-4 a lot,” he chuckled.
He considers his yard work his hobby. “I spend hours out there getting everything just right,” he explained.
Many thanks to Tim Creighton for his years of service to our country!
By Lisa Stephens
A Commitment to Community Service
As the original owner of her Glencliff home since 1994, Kathy Carlsen has witnessed the growth of Westchase since its founding.
“The Welcome Center we had at the time just spoke to how we wanted to live,” she recalled.
Twenty years later, in September of 2014, Carlsen took on the role of Westchase Community Association (WCA) Director in an effort to help Westchase continue to be the community she envisioned so long ago.
Originally from Virginia, Carlsen was the second of seven children. “I really enjoyed being in a large family and we did a lot together. Family was very important to me growing up and it still is,” she shared.
Carlsen retired in 1997 after 27 years with the postal service. “I was ready for it,” she said of retirement.
Her time is now filled with community service and projects near and dear to her heart.
One of her favorite projects has been her involvement with Sew Much Comfort. The organization accepts donated clothing items and modifies them to accommodate wounded soldiers. “I grew up in the Vietnam era and was disappointed in how our soldiers were treated,” she explained.
With the sewing skills she learned from her grandmother, Carlsen volunteered for Sew Much Comfort for five years. Once her initial sample work passed inspection, she was sent ten pieces at a time that had to be completed and returned to them within 30 days. The revised garments are sent to soldiers within the United States as well as military hospitals internationally.
She also spends time serving the Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections office. Initially beginning service as a machine clerk, Carlsen now runs the precinct at the Open Water Church location. She arrives on Election Day at 6 a.m. and is not allowed to leave until cleanup is complete. “It’s a long day but very rewarding. I believe very much in the democratic process and it makes me feel very grateful to be part of that,” she explained.
Carlsen has seen great improvement in expediting the check-in process for voters with the introduction of the ePoll Books in Hillsborough County. This device reads the barcode on voters’ driver’s licenses. This eliminates flipping through pages of voters names to confirm they are at the correct precinct. “This has streamlined things tremendously so now it only takes about 17 seconds to check in a voter,” she explained.
Carlsen began serving Westchase as an alternate voting member (VM). In 2010, she tackled the role of voting member, which she continued until 2014. “As a voting member, I became interested in what was going on throughout our entire community,” she said.
Carlsen attended every community meeting she could to learn more about how things operate behind the scenes. She studied the Westchase Bylaws as well as our Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions (CCR’s). In September of 2014, she became Westchase Community Association (WCA) director. Having done her homework as a VM to learn more about the operational side of Westchase, Carlsen was ready for the challenge. She looks forward to the improvements on the horizon for Westchase. The WCA’s efforts to obtain a nearby dog park and the Community Development District’s (CDD) upgrades to the two existing parks are projects she will be watching closely (While not on the CDD board, Carlsen regularly attends its meetings). She looks forward to the enjoyment those facilities will bring to Westchase residents.
Encouraging friends and neighbors to volunteer is also important to Carlsen. She has recruited several neighbors to help with the election process and she has even taken it upon herself to go door to door to speak to Westchase residents about voting member opportunities in the neighborhoods with VM vacancies. “I am proud that so many in our own community serve as volunteers,” she said.
When she wants to relax, Carlsen steps outside to enjoy the backyard oasis she created in her spare time. When she moved into her Glencliff home, Carlsen received a butterfly kit from her mother. She planted the seedlings from the kit to grow plants that would attract different butterflies. Today her entire yard is filled with multiple species. Her garden has been certified as an Official Butterfly Sanctuary as designed by the Florida Federation of Garden Clubs, Inc.
Retirement also allowed Carlsen time to travel. She recently enjoyed a trip to Alaska. In 2008, her neighbor, Kathy McGlone, and she took a 19-day African safari. “We saw every animal you can imagine, over 1,000 species of birds and the migration of wildebeests. They were as far as you could see in every direction” she said.
Carlsen clearly enjoys the company of friends in both work and play.
Thank you, Kathy, for your service to our community!
By Lisa Stephens
Inspiration for a New Year
If getting healthy is at the top of your resolution list for 2015, Keswick Forest resident Larry Smart might be a healthy source of inspiration.
In October Smart ran his way to victory and nabbed first place in both the 5K and 10K races in the 2014 Great West Chase, which raised $22,000 for math and literacy programs at Bellamy Elementary School. The races hosted nearly 1,000 runners.
Originally from Virginia, Smart graduated from George Mason University, where he received his degree in math. “Math was easier for me than the other courses,” he said.
Smart parlayed those math skills into a career as an actuary, forecasting risk for WellCare Health Plans, Inc. That career, he said, is difficult to get into as the pass rate for the exam is quite low. “All I had time for was work, kids and study,” he said of his life before passing the exams.
Once he passed, his interests broadened. Although he was mentally fit, he found himself to be physically out of shape. “I started lifting weights and then I played flag football with a group of guys until people started getting hurt,” he recalled.
At age 36, he turned to running.
He admits to taking the challenge lightly at first. “I thought, ‘How hard can it be?’”
At his first attempt, he took off running. His sprint lasted about a quarter of a mile before he realized it wasn’t quite as easy as he had imagined. He then adopted a run/walk routine as he built up his running distance. Once he took running seriously, Smart started entering 5K races.
He explained that once he had distance built up, a college friend taught him the things he needed to do to get faster.
Running successfully, he said, is very technical. “What I love about it is that you cannot cheat and you have to work hard to do it well,” he shared.
According to Smart, the key to a successful start in running is to build a base. This, he said, can take up to a year and a half to develop. Once his base was set, Smart began to work with a running coach. “It’s easier to have someone do your schedule for you,” he said of his workout routine. For beginners, his advice is simple and straightforward: build a base, set a goal, be consistent and stick with it.
That routine consists of several different types of workouts he does every week. A “Tempo Run,” includes two easy-paced miles, then six or seven at a 10K pace, then two more easy-paced miles. This, he said, helps build strength.
For speed training, he does an “Interval Run,” which consists of alternating fast-paced running and recovery periods.
For distance training, he does a long run, which totals 12 to 14 miles or 18 to 20 as he nears the date for a longer distance race.
Smart enjoys the friends he has made and the motivation he receives as a member of two local runners’ clubs. That fellowship, along with a running coach, help keep him striving for personal goals.
Running is also therapeutic for Smart. “I couldn’t do my job without it,” he explained.
Smart is quick to reveal how he overcomes the temptation not to work out. “I don’t let my mind go there and it is very rare that I will miss it,” he said.
Temptation also comes in the form of food occasionally. “If I come home to Publix fried chicken, I just go straight to my room,” he said with a chuckle.
He explained his diet consists of lots of oatmeal with fruit in the mornings, kale salads for lunch and tuna and broccoli for dinner. He will treat himself to pizza or a burger after a marathon.
The results of hard work and dedication have paid off for Smart. He has competed in more than 150 races, finishing more than 1,400 race miles, including 5Ks, half marathons and marathons. His goal for 2015 is to improve on his Boston Marathon time of 2:36:26. “I’m truly lazy at heart,” he revealed. “I don’t do this naturally. It’s punishing but there is a reward to it.”
When he isn’t training, Smart enjoys time with wife Lori and daughters Kailey and Jordan. They enjoy Tampa Bay’s pro football, baseball and hockey games. He also occasionally likes to take his chances on a different type of race when he watches the horses at the track.
While his dedication to running brings Smart the healthy benefits we all strive for in a New Year, the return on his investment makes it all worthwhile.
By Lisa Stephens
Westchase’s Popular Helper Elf
As the holiday season rolls into December, Brentford resident Steve Darr anxiously awaits two events Westchase residents have come to love.
The events are the Westchase Charitable Foundation’s Santa’s PreFlight Parade and WOW’s Holiday Lighting contest. At the ripe old age of 10, Darr took on the honor of being responsible for his family’s holiday lights. And while Darr isn’t always easily recognized among the crowd of volunteers upon the fire truck, the Westchase Santa parade wouldn’t be the same without him.
Originally from St. Louis, Darr enjoyed an active childhood. As a wrestler, he maneuvered his way to state level competition twice. His involvement with BMX racing was the result of building and jumping his own bike ramps with his brothers. Between wrestling matches and bike races, Darr met future wife, Michelle, while they were in junior high school. “We dated for eleven years with a few sabbaticals. So I guess it would equal to about eight,” he chuckled.
Accepting a job with a communications company in Oldsmar brought him to Florida. It was during one of their “sabbaticals” that Darr received a call from Michelle. “She told me, ‘Break up with your girlfriend, I’m moving to Florida,’” he explained.
He did so, and of course, the rest is history. Darr turned his experience with sports into opportunities to spend time with kids Brittany, Jacob and Adria. Over the years, he coached their soccer, baseball, softball, football and wrestling teams. “I do it to be closer to my kids,” he explained.
Son Jacob inherited his dad’s love of wrestling. Dad proudly explained Jacob has earned first through sixth place positions at state level championship competitions. Darr works with the wrestling team at Sickles and especially enjoys working with beginners. “I like introducing the sport,” he shared.
Daughter Adria dared to venture into one sport Darr isn’t much help with – competitive cheer. “I’m not much help with that, but when I’m able to attend her events, I’m blown away at what they can do,” he said.
When he isn’t on a playing field or wrestling mat, Darr enjoys a few rounds of poker. He developed his poker face while working the night shift at a gas station as a teenager. “We would lower the lift in the garage and put a piece of plywood on top of it and play,” he explained.
Those late night poker games turned into a profitable hobby. He now enjoys playing locally at the Seminole Hard Rock Casino and the Tampa Bay Downs. When asked how much he might have won or lost over the years, Darr remains ever the optimist. “Let’s focus on what I’ve won,” he slyly grinned.
He recalls 2008 as his best year ever with winnings around $40,000! The most he ever won in one sitting was $5,800. His card playing skills have also won him trips to Aruba and Las Vegas with paid flights, hotels and buy-in fees.
For the holiday, the Darr family will stick to tradition as they open gifts on Christmas morning. Once the wrapping paper stops flying, they hop into the car for a quick trip to Marco Island to visit family. We have a great meal that evening with filet mignon and a good glass of wine,” he explained.
His favorite childhood memory is the responsibility he had for the family’s lights. “I started doing it myself when I was about 10, and I just couldn’t stop. I did it until I moved out,” he recalled.
Hosted by the Westchase Community Foundation, Santa’s PreFlight Parade is a favorite among many Westchase residents. Darr accepted the request to become a major player in carrying off this event. During the parade hundreds of gifts each year are collected from residents and donated to a local charity. He explained special stops are also made to children with special needs and the elderly. Over the years, the route has been revised from the original 80 street-trek down to 40 because of the challenges of navigating the large truck through tight spots along the streets.
The last stop Santa makes is in West Park Village, where the streets are lined with folks awaiting their arrival to the Christmas tree at the center of the village. Once the last gift is collected and the final photo snapped, Darr revealed Santa sometimes makes his way to a local eatery for a cheeseburger and cold beverage.
It’s a long day for Santa and the other volunteers on the truck but it’s one Darr couldn’t miss. The PreFlight Parade this year will be held on Dec. 13. He encourages everyone – both naughty and nice – to be watching for Santa.
By Lisa Stephens
The World’s Friendliest Cookie Lady
"Will that be chocolate chip or sprinkles, honey?"
Whether it’s a quick stop for game snacks or a longer visit for your weekly shopping, visiting Publix without running into someone you know is quite near impossible.
No one you meet, however, offers a more enthusiastic greeting than the world’s friendliest cookie lady.
JoAlice Snyder, known to most patrons of the bakery department as “Miss Jo,” has served Westchase residents baked goods with a broad smile and cheerful demeanor for almost 15 years. Adults enjoy the time she spends with them at the bakery counter while making decisions on birthday cakes or pastries. Children hide behind the bananas until Miss Jo approaches the counter to dole out a complimentary cookie. Then they dash up to receive a joyful greeting as they ponder chocolate chip or sprinkle delight.
Young or old, Miss Jo makes everyone feel special.
Snyder was born in Tampa at McDill Air Force Base. She bears the name of both her parents, Joe and Alice. As her father served in the Air Force, her family moved around the world to be near him. The longest distance they traveled was to Norway during her elementary school years. She explained military life in the 1950’s was far different than it is for those serving today. There was no base with a commissary. One building was used as both church, where they held Sunday school classes, and medical station, where children would get their immunization shots. Children in kindergarten through eighth grade attended one school while children in ninth through twelfth grades would be boarded out to other countries to attend school abroad.
No matter where they were in the world, Snyder remembers the Thanksgiving holidays fondly. “It didn’t matter where we were, my mom always had it all together with the traditional meal,” she said.
If ingredients were hard to find, her aunts would ship whatever they needed to make the meal complete.
In 1969, Snyder made her way back to Tampa to be near family again. She is now mom to daughter Cindy, grandmother to Cory, Ashley and Kayla and great-grandmother to Beyonce and Sean. Family fun is spent on the local beaches or shopping with her grandchildren. In December of 1999, Snyder entered the Publix at Westchase and noticed a “Help Wanted” sign. “I asked for an application and I spoke with a representative. Then I was hired the next day,” she recalled.
She started in the bakery baking bread. As a great-grandmother, one might imagine she started in the bakery because of her love of baking. Not so, said Snyder. “I don’t bake at home unless it’s with my granddaughter,” she said with a bashful giggle.
Her day typically begins on the early shift as she arrives by 7 a.m. She works the front line of the bakery waiting on customers, packaging breads and donuts or working the icing stating for pecan rings and donuts. She has never considered changing store locations. “I love this community. Everyone makes you feel like part of the family,” she said.
The best part, she added, is watching whom she calls her “cookie kids” grow up. Many still come by for a visit occasionally when they’re in the Westchase community visiting family.
Though her job requires standing and constant movement all day, Miss Jo manages to keep smiling and greeting customers with heartfelt joy. She seems truly happy to each customer. This consistency, she explained, is the result of always starting over as a child as her family moved many times. “We were always the new kids and we were always looking to make new friends.”
With the holidays fast approaching, Snyder is gearing up for the anticipated crowds and busy shoppers. Special items like pumpkin, sweet potato and pecan pies will be added to the choices in the bakery. The turkey dinner donation drive will begin near the end of October and will run through the end of the year. Last year, more than 200 dinners were donated to Feeding America and the Children’s Home. She is ready for the challenge of the increased workload, she said, and is looking forward to the holiday season.
Store manager Dan Damron speaks highly of Snyder and her interaction with customers and co-workers alike. “She’s phenomenal. She’s our standard and we try to get new employees to work with her when they begin,” he said.
Miss Jo has a Thanksgiving wish for Westchase residents. “I wish them a great holiday with happiness and love.”
Well said from a person who shares both with everyone she greets.
By Lisa Stephens
Teaching Life’s Lessons Through Sports
Fall weather brings youth sports with weekday practices, Saturday games and peanut or popcorn fund-raising drives.
Woodbay resident Rich Caulley is familiar with many of Westchase’s numerous youth leagues. He has been a volunteer coach for his own kids’ teams for many years.
Having coached approximately 500 kids over the years, Caulley is ready to take to the field for another winning season. For Caulley, winning is more than just the numbers on the scoreboard at the end of the game. It’s about the lessons learned on the field that will benefit his athletes through life.
Caulley spent most of his childhood in Thomasville, Georgia. Sports were always a big part of his life as a kid. He began playing soccer at age 4 and continued to play through high school. Caulley picked up tennis at age 10 and went on to play Division 1 in college. He managed to work in baseball and basketball through the years as well. His athletic heroes were among the greats: Herschel Walker, Pele and Ivan Lendl.
After graduating from Stetson University with a BBA in accounting, Caulley went to work crunching numbers at a public accounting firm in Georgia. It was during a training class in 1994 that he met future wife, Laura. Eventually a career move brought the couple to Tampa, where he took on the position of chief financial officer/chief operating officer of an insurance company. Just before the move, their son Nick, now 13, was born. Son Andrew was born two years later. Today Caulley and two partners own and operate GCD Insurance Consultants.
Even before his children were born, Caulley enjoyed coaching youth. “I coached recreational soccer in college,” he said.
Prior to moving to Tampa, Caulley coached for five different soccer associations, which included recreational, competitive and travel leagues. Since moving to Westchase, he has served as a coach for Westchase Soccer Association, Tampa Bay United, Lutz Rangers Soccer, Keystone Little League, Tampa Thunder, Flag4Kids and 3v3 Challenge Sports.
The challenge in coaching recreational teams, he said, is finding the right balance of intensity for the kids. Each child has a different reason for participating – to be part of a team, to play for fun, to play to win or to play because their parents have insisted upon it. Competitive teams are different, according to Caulley. He feels the most challenging part of coaching for competitive leagues is balancing the desire to win with teaching the kids properly, getting plenty of playing time for all players, dealing with parents and keeping it fun – all at the same time!
Despite the unique challenges of both leagues, Caulley enjoys the many rewards of working with the youth entrusted to him. He especially enjoys working with kids who have a desire to compete. In his many years of experience, he has learned that the reach of lessons learned on the field extends far beyond the game. They learn about persevering and working through failure. They learn how to compete without cheating and how to win with humility.
Great memories are plentiful but the very best ones fall into the same theme for the dedicated coach: “Watching my boys compete to the best of their ability,” he explained.
His wife, Laura, helps with the chaos of both boys’ busy schedules. She makes sure she is at one son’s game while Rich is coaching the other’s team.
League titles and tournament wins are fun as well. Which was Coach Caulley’s favorite?
“The best one was taking my Roswell team back to my hometown of Thomasville and winning a tournament there that I had already won with another team from Thomasville five years earlier. It was also at the fields that my mom and dad were responsible for building when they started soccer in Thomasville and Albany, Georgia.”
For anyone contemplating which sport might best suit their child, Caulley recommends beginning with soccer. “Because you can play soccer as young as 3,” he explained.
Later, he suggests you try different sports to see which one best suits your child. Starting young these days is important. He adds, “Unfortunately in today’s sports climate, you have to choose to narrow your sports earlier than I had to as a kid.”
His goal for his own two boys as well as the others he coaches is simple. “That they learn lessons that will help them in life and to be able to play sports in high school. Anything beyond that is a bonus,” he shared.
Off the field, Caulley enjoys chess, board games, poker and college football. “Virtually any activity with my family,” he says is his favorite way to spend his free time.
Fortunately, they’re with him both on and off the field.
By Lisa Stephens
Westchase’s Ninja Warrior
Now working for accounting firm KPMG, Thompson recently proved his athletic ability is still strong. During a weekend in Miami, he traded crunching numbers for an opportunity to compete on the hit show American Ninja Warrior.
His love of baseball began as a child. “Like most little leaguers, I always dreamed I would be a major league baseball player. My dream just lasted longer than most,” he explained.
Thompson attended James Madison University, where he received a finance degree. He selected finance because he thought that would be the hardest major. Baseball took priority in 2000, after his junior year of college, when he was drafted in the sixth round to play for the Toronto Blue Jays’ affiliate team, The Queens Kings. Not one to let a goal go unaccomplished, he completed his degree while playing.
During his career as an outfielder, he spent time on the field as a major league player with the Kansas City Royals and Tampa Bay Rays. His minor league time was spent with Triple A teams including the Pittsburgh Pirates, Arizona Diamondbacks and Philadelphia Phillies organizations among others. Time on the road during the lengthy baseball seasons can be tough when raising a family. Married to Teresa since 2002, Thompson credits his college sweetheart for making it all possible. “Teresa made my career possible and she made our family work by keeping us together,” he shared.
During the baseball season, Teresa and their children, Clay, Charlotte and William, would live temporarily in the town in which his team was based and return to Westchase during the off-season. “When the kids started school, it made it hard because the family couldn’t join me until May. They would come for spring break and I would try and fly home for days off,” said Rich.
Knowing his career would someday end, Thompson managed to return to college again in 2009 while still playing baseball. “I went back to school for accounting because I realized it was the hardest business major and would prepare me best for a career after baseball,” he recalled.
He earned a master’s degree in accounting and passed the CPA exam in 2012.
While playing for the Rays’ Triple A team, the Durham Bulls, in 2013, Thompson suffered a broken foot while fielding a ball. “I made a catch against the wall to make a play. I broke four bones and tore my Lisfranc ligament and needed two bone fusions and four screws,” he explained.
Thompson felt 2013 would probably have been his last season in the game but said the foot injury made that decision to stop an easier one to make.
Fast forward to 2014, Thompson has fully recovered from the injury and enjoys his job as an auditor with KPMG. Still competitive though, he decided to take a chance and submit a video to compete on American Ninja Warrior. He used to watch the show prior to games during his final days in baseball.
His video was selected, which meant he would have to go to Miami to compete. Son Clay was quite excited at the news. “You’ll be famous now!” he exclaimed at learning his dad would be a ninja warrior. “All the kids love the show and they are really happy and proud that I was able to compete in it. I love the excitement it brings them and other kids I know.”
The trials featured 125 people and ran through the night. Those completing the course would go on to compete in the finals the next day. “I made it through the first night and finished 16th overall. The final round in which he competed was televised in July. Competitors going through the course get no second chances. Unlike baseball, you don’t get three strikes. His demise came as he attempted the “Minefield” section of the course. “I didn’t keep my momentum going and my technique wasn’t what it needed to be,” he said.
Before competing, Thompson thought he would be happy to make it into the second round. However, that changed once he hit the course. “I wanted to be better prepared. I don’t like to fall short in goals,” he said.
Though he didn’t earn the title of American Ninja Warrior, he is still a hero in the eyes of family and his Westchase neighbors. His drive and motivation, he says, has always been to be the best in whatever he sets out to do. “As I’ve gotten older, I have learned to be gracious when that doesn’t happen and also to realize that being my best is all I can really hope to be. I’m not capable of everything, but I want to do everything I’m capable of,” he explained.
Words of a true champion, both on and off the playing field.
By Lisa Stephens
A Well-Traveled Westchaser
As the summer break for students and teachers nears an end, Castleford Voting Member Mary Banks will soon be heading back into the classroom as well.
In her second year as a peer evaluator for the Hillsborough County School district, Banks brings more than 30 years of teaching experience to the temporary position of evaluating teachers in the workplace.
As a student Banks had a love of languages, which prompted her to major in modern languages at St. Bonaventure University. That major aided her in both her love of travel and in her career focus.
It was during college that she met husband, Neal, after she and a few friends scored spots on the men’s soccer team. Neal was the captain of the team. He obviously admired her tenacity when it came to setting her mind to something and getting it done. “I don’t know what they thought of us,” she replied when asked if the men on the team took her seriously. It’s evident that she really didn’t care.
Once she graduated from college, Banks wasn’t ready to settle down or beat a path to employment. Explaining to their families that they intended to work as nannies in Europe for a year, Banks and a few friends spent a summer waitressing tables to save enough money to go. “We saved every penny we made and, once we got there, we only ate one meal a day and we traveled around third class,” she revealed.
During one voyage, she found herself locked in the hold area in the belly of a cargo ship on her way to Greece. “That wasn’t one of the smartest things we did,” she said.
They spent the year traveling throughout Europe. They never got around to finding those nanny jobs.
After her return to the states, Neal proposed and she landed her first teaching job after they married. Armed with a master’s degree in English, she was hired to teach French, Latin, Spanish and German. “And I didn’t even speak German,” she said.
This little tidbit made her a bit nervous once she learned one of her students was from Germany. Fortunately, it was a class to introduce students to various languages so she was able to learn enough to get herself through without being detected by her student! She eventually took another position teaching foreign languages at the high school level. When asked about teaching teenagers, she put it all into perspective. “When you’re not their parents, they’re really fun to be with,” she chuckled. Her sense of humor reveals her ability to laugh at challenges and find joy in most circumstances.
Her love of travel and the year spent in Europe prompted Banks to expose her students to some of the adventures she had experienced. She organized yearly trips with many students in tow. “Over 30 years I took over 450 students to Europe,” she said. “I wanted them to see that Buffalo was not the center of the world.”
She aimed to promote multicultural thinking and to encourage students to consider possibilities they might not have had without seeing what was available to them outside their hometown. That experience paid off for many of her students. “Some actually went on to get jobs in Europe and two even got married there!” she said.
A job transfer for Neal brought their family to Tampa. Adult sons Gregory and Michael also made the move. Banks enjoys having them nearby, especially since it keeps her in close proximity to her granddaughters, Julia and Jenna.
In Tampa Banks taught at King High School and Walker Middle School before being selected as peer evaluator for the Hillsborough County School District. It’s a four-year position partially funded by a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. This opportunity requires her to visit classrooms to observe teachers in action and provide feedback and ratings on their effectiveness. After four years in this position, Banks will return to Walker Middle School to continue teaching.
Banks was asked to join the previous Castleford voting member (VM) to serve in the position together. Once he moved away, she took on the role herself. She has years of experience with homeowners associations as she served on several boards in Buffalo. Neal stepped in as alternate and attends meetings when Banks is traveling for her job.
Banks says she’s discovered many people from Buffalo living in the Tampa area. She even unexpectedly realized that a neighbor just a few doors down lived near her Buffalo neighborhood while she lived there.
For Banks, such wonderful discoveries make Westchase feel even more like home!
By Lisa Stephens
A Westchaser Honored for Her Service
Tucked away in the quiet village of The Vineyards, Westchase resident Brigitte Gorrand is far from her childhood home of Burgundy, France.
Grapes surrounded her there as Burgundy has been known for its vineyards since Roman times. Burgundy’s wines are among the most renowned in the world. “It’s where the good wine and the good food are,” Gorrand said as she reflected upon her experiences there.
One of eight children, Gorrand explained that her families’ activities surrounded their church. “I attended Catholic schools while my mother taught Catechism classes and my father taught premarital classes for the church,” she said. They hosted the priest for dinner every Friday evening. Outside their church activities, Gorrand enjoyed the artistic opportunities in her community. She enjoyed attending ballet performances and musical concerts. Her father loved classical music. Gorrand says a day doesn’t go by now that she doesn’t spend some time listening herself to the music that often filled their home.
At age 20 Gorrand came to the United States to be an au pair for a French family living in New York. After three years, the family moved back to France, leaving Gorrand with a decision to make about her own future. She decided to move to Paris long enough to save enough money to return to New York. Just five months later, she did just that. “My luck started there,” she said when referring to the position she accepted at a children’s clothing boutique seeking a French-speaking sales clerk. This position was the first stepping stone in a retail career that would allow her to travel the world as a buyer in the high end fashion industry. After leaving the boutique, she rose through the ranks, working for labels including Ferragamo and Chanel. As a manager and buyer for these companies, she travelled to France four times a year to see the new collections and place orders for U.S. locations.
Once her children were on their own, Gorrand decided she’d worked long and hard enough. Tired of the cold weather and fast pace of city life, she desired change. “I wanted sun, the ocean and peace.”
Friends told her about the Tampa area and through a real estate agent she discovered Westchase. “I’m in Tampa because of Westchase,” she said. “The beauty, the lake,” she added, citing the positives of her Vineyards home, “and it’s quiet here.”
With time on her hands, Gorrand sought out a volunteer opportunity to occupy her time. “I like to be active and I wanted to use my time in a positive way,” she explained. She applied for a volunteer position at Town & Country Hospital and was quickly accepted for the position. She serves as a volunteer in the surgical waiting room for families of patients. “I let them know where the patient is and when they will be in the pre-op, recovery or outpatient areas, “she explained.
She sometimes sits with the families if they express a desire for her to do so or she just leaves those alone who wish to wait silently. She originally began volunteering for two days a week and was asked to add a third and fourth day. Preferring not to drive, Gorrand catches an early bus and arrives at the hospital by 7:30 a.m. She works until noon and catches an afternoon bus back home. Her ability to speak Spanish serves her well at the hospital as she often speaks with Spanish-speaking families. “It is very rewarding and challenging also,” she said of her work there.
In April Gorrand was invited to attend a Volunteer Recognition Luncheon hosted by the hospital. It wasn’t until she read the program handed to her that she realized of the sixty volunteers at the hospital, she had been named Volunteer of the Year! “I was very surprised,” she said of the award. She was presented with a music box and had her picture taken with the hospital’s CEO.
At home Gorrand enjoys cooking French food, of course, and soups are her favorite. “The smells remind me of home,” she said.
She also enjoys traveling to New York, Miami and North Carolina to see old friends and family. Once a year she travels back home to France – where the good food and good wine still are – to visit her family there.
Congratulations to Gorrand on her Volunteer of the Year award! She’s yet another Westchase resident committed to serving others!
By Lisa Stephens
Proud to Call Westchase Home
While a job transfer brought Jeanne Klimschot to Tampa Bay, thanks to her neighbors, friends and the community’s amenities, she now can’t imagine ever leaving Westchase.
Klimschot is proud to call Westchase home and as the Bennington Voting Member (VM), she works hard to maintain the standards that drew her here.
Originally from Rochester, New York, Klimschot appreciates now what she didn’t then about her hometown. “I didn’t realize it at the time but it was like a Norman Rockwell-type place,” she said.
In the spirit of Father’s Day this month, Klimschot recalled fond memories spent with her dad. He was the superintendent of the school system, so this meant she couldn’t get away with much in school. “It was weird because everyone knows you before you walk into the room,” she said with a chuckle.
During the fall, her father also worked as a Division 1 college football official. “My mother and I would travel with him to many of the games, such as Penn State and Notre Dame,” she recalled. “He officiated the first game at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse when it opened in 1980 and I still have my T-shirt that says, ‘I opened the Dome.’”
A perk for her family was to score great seats for the games although they were reluctant to reveal that they were related to the referee. “But fans were usually very supportive and would have a good sense of humor about it,” she explained. Another favorite was the Army-Navy game, which she was able to attend twice as her father officiated. “That’s an amazing experience being able to watch the pageantry associated with that game.”
After high school, she went to University of Rochester as a political science major. After graduation her first job was at a real estate firm as a paralegal and she has been in real estate ever since. “I’m very busy right now in these economic times,” she shared. Fortunately, she says she is seeing a turn for the better.
In 2002 Klimschot took a job transfer from New York to Tampa. Originally living in Cheval, she eventually decided to make a move to Westchase. “It reminded me of the environment I grew up in,” she said.
In 2006 she purchased her Bennington home. Having never been married and having never had children, Klimschot says her neighbors have become like family to her. Spending holidays together, sharing celebrations and the willingness to help neighbors in need are the things she enjoys most about her community. What neighbors might enjoy most about Klimschot is her baking abilities. To many, she has become known as the “cookie lady” in Bennington. “I usually bake for the kids in the neighborhood and for special occasions such as Christmas,” she revealed.
She accepted the roll of Bennington’s alternate VM in 2013 and in 2014 she moved into the VM position. Her main responsibility, she said, as VM is to let neighbors know what is going on in the community. To accomplish this, Klimschot uses the help of the Web to help her neighbors stay connected. On http://www.nextdoor.com she s,et up a site for Bennington. Similar to Facebook, registered members can post information important to those living nearby. “After the voting member meetings, I can go there and post an update for my neighbors,” she explained.
Bringing the neighborhood together via communication and events is her goal. Another project on her agenda is to get Bennington’s Neighborhood Watch reignited. Perhaps the greatest challenge Klimschot faces, however, is her desire to improve the roads in Bennington. She is very disappointed in their condition and explains that the county has no current plans for repaving because the county can’t afford it. Though she feels her complaints have fallen on deaf ears thus far, she has no plans to stop her repaving campaign. Klimschot also has her sights set on a neighborhood picnic in the near future.
Her dog, Darby, has become a familiar furry face around the neighborhood. She explained taking Darby out for evening walks is a great way for her to meet new neighbors. Darby has become known as ‘The Little Ambassador” among Bennington residents.
When Klimschot feels the need to get away, she sometimes enjoys scuba diving. She has taken dive trips throughout the Caribbean and Canada where she has even explored boat wrecks in glacial lakes.
Thanks, Jean, for diving in to help make Westchase better for all its residents!
By Lisa Stephens
One of Westchase’s Longest Serving Voting Members
From a small farming town in Virginia, Chelmsford voting member Bill Dennis eventually made his way to Washington.
His input and accomplishments with the U.S. Postal Service decades ago up north are still in place here today.
Dennis was the middle child of seven in his family. Their working farm consisted of twelve acres of land where they raised chickens and pigs for food, milked cows and grew their own vegetables. An elementary teacher introduced Dennis to sports. During his spare time, he enjoyed hitting rocks with a broomstick while he pretended to be playing in the major leagues. “This was before we had a television so I’d spend hours outside hitting rocks and talking to myself like I was playing in a real game,” he said.
In high school he played football, baseball and basketball. At one time he served as captain of all three teams in one year.
After high school, he hit the road, taking a job with his brother on a highway construction crew in Maryland. Someone, however, told him the post office was hiring. That tip sent Bill on a career path he had never imagined. The first stop was Washington, D.C., where he took the postal exam and was hired. “I started as a clerk sorting mail in 1958,” he recalled.
At that time, everything was done manually but within a year of his start date, automation had belts sorting the mail. Dennis worked 3:30 p.m. to midnight and kept track of mail volume. Eventually, he was promoted to an office job, where he worked 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. as an administrative clerk. “That was a really big deal for me,” he said.
When a special project to determine how long it took mail to travel across the country was needed, Dennis was recommended for the task. “I tracked mail traveling by trucks and trains. I routed it and I knew how long it should take and then I mailed it to see how long it actually took,” he explained. He conducted this study for several years and the findings helped the postal service become more accurate and efficient in its delivery.
At one time the postal system had an Air Mail service that moved mail for overnight delivery. When this service was eliminated, Dennis was asked to help set up service to replace it. He set up what was called Custom Designed Express Mail and analyzed the system for several years. This was the beginning of what we now know as Express Mail. Dennis also served as program manager when the Priority Mail service was put into place. He helped develop both of these services, still in place today.
Over the years Dennis continued to climb to success through the ranks of the postal service. His final position was special assistant to the senior assistant postmaster general. While in this position, he was sent on special assignment to work with the Department of Defense to help reduce their mailing costs. He convinced them to completely change the way they paid to have their mail delivered. Originally paying by random sample taken periodically, they switched to paying per piece just like the rest of the country paid for postage. “That job was like a vacation! I got to go to Hawaii, San Diego and Los Angeles,” he said.
Dennis retired from the postal service after 34 years of service. Equipped with a relocation benefit as part of his retirement, he decided to make Florida his home. In September of 1996,
Dennis and wife Dianne moved into Chelmsford, where they raised daughters Maegan, Ansley and Creed. By 1997 Dennis was an alternate voting member (VM) for The Fords. Because of the size of The Fords, VM Harold Hackney and Dennis set out to split up the neighborhood so that each section would have its own VM. With this change, Dennis became the Chelmsford VM, a position he’s held since. “It’s something you can do to contribute to your community. It helps you as much as it helps other people,” he said.
Though retired, Dennis stays busy. He also volunteers with the Supervisor of Elections and can be seen manning early voting at the Upper Tampa Bay Library. On Election Day, he spends time directing lines and helping out wherever needed. Dennis occasionally returns to his postal service roots when he helps out with the annual rural mail count process.
Many thanks to Bill Dennis for his years of service to our community!
By Lisa Stephens
Trash Talking All in a Day’s Work
Westchase resident Patrick Rzeszut takes trash talking seriously.
After all, it’s his job.
And that greatly works in Westchase’s favor.
Under Hillsborough County’s new contracts for automated garbage collection, Republic Services took over management of waste and recycle collections in Westchase in October 2013. As general manager for divisions ranging from Sarasota to Citrus County, Rzeszut is one of the company’s most important local faces.
The second largest waste management company in the nation, Republic Services employs approximately 3,600. They operate over 200 landfills, including the largest in the United States at 2,200 acres. The company also operates nearly 100 recycling plants.
Originally from Michigan, Rzeszut spent most of his life in Orlando and enjoyed the outdoor life Florida had to offer. “I played as many sports as I possibly could. I think it was my parents’ way of keeping me distracted,” he said.
Before college, Rzeszut considered sales as a possible career path. He did so because he enjoyed meeting new people and had a desire for travel. Initially struggling to zero in on a college major, he made the best of it. He joked, “I really loved being in college. I think I probably had seven different majors throughout my college life, but I eventually settled on communications as my degree.”
A member of Lambda Chi Alpha, he said all of his best friends came from the time he spent at University of Central Florida. “All of those memories are pretty treasured.”
Perhaps his favorite might be an Easter egg hunt that helped produce his engagement to his wife Kelly. He planned it all himself by strategically placing eggs for her to discover. “In the last egg that she found I had written, ‘Turn around and say yes,’” he recalled.
Kelly did just that. In just a few years, the happy couple will enjoy more egg hunts. They recently welcomed home son Connor James in February.
While in college Rzeszut went to work for the Cheesecake Factory as a corporate trainer. He later moved into operations in the hospitality industry. After working sales and recruiting for several different companies, he joined Republic Services. “It was the best decision I ever made. It truly is a great company to work for,” he said.
Six years ago, Rzeszut began in sales at the company. He has since worked his way through the ranks of Division Sales Manager and Assistant General Manager. He is currently General Manager, supporting divisions from Sarasota to Citrus County.
Overall, the addition of Westchase to their service area, along with other parts of Hillsborough County, went very well for the company. Having been a partner with the county for more than 15 years, Rzeszut explained they worked together to make it happen. “It was one of the largest single cart rollouts ever in the United States – with over 500K carts delivered in a pretty short amount of time,” he shared.
Early hurdles included drivers learning their new routes, which was easily rectified through repetition. Narrow alleyways in places like West Park Village also meant using smaller trucks in those areas. As some residents complained about the larger cans and the space they required in their garages, the county provided an option to swap them out for smaller sizes.
Each garbage collection day 10 fully automated trucks move through Westchase to pick up the community’s trash. “The trucks are very efficient and are much safer as our drivers do not have to get out and manually dump the containers,” Rzeszut explained.
From here the collections are taken to a waste transfer facility and then to a waste-to-energy incinerator. The recyclable materials go to a material recovery facility where everything is separated, baled and then sold on the commodity market. Rzeszut added, “All yard waste goes to an organic facility so that it can be repurposed.”
Life outside of work for Rzeszut is pretty similar to that of his Westchase neighbors. Kelly and he enjoy visiting his parents in St. Petersburg, where they enjoy boating. His love of sports as a youth has continued. “I’m a huge sports fan and love to watch all of the Tampa Bay teams,” he shared.
When he isn’t working towards removing Westchase’s trash, he helps keep Tampa Bay clean as well by serving on the board of Keep Tampa Bay Beautiful.
As the rumble of automated trucks travels through his neighborhood’s streets, Patrick Rzeszut doesn’t have look far from home to see a job well done!
By Lisa Stephens
Spring is in the air and for baseball fans that means one thing.
It’s time to break out the peanuts and Cracker Jack!
Vineyards resident and former major league baseball player, Marc Valdes, is certainly ready for the games to begin. Now a pitching coach for the Mets organization, Valdes continues a career in baseball even after stepping off the pitcher’s mound.
Born in Dayton, Ohio, Valdes grew up in Tampa. As the older brother to twin boys, he was often watchful of what his brothers might attempt. “They always tried to gang up on me,” he recalled with a laugh.
Valdes attended Incarnation Catholic School and then went on to graduate from Jesuit High School. Baseball began for Valdes with T-ball in a Town N Country league. He loved the game from the start and played as often as he could. “I played every session during spring, fall and winter,” he explained.
It’s clear to him now the dedication his parents had to his development as well. “I see now how much time they put into it, too,” he said.
That dedication paid off as Valdes set out for University of Florida on a baseball scholarship. One college highlight for Valdes was the experience he had trying out for the 25-man Olympic team headed to Barcelona. “To play before the Olympic Committee was a great experience and I was glad for it,” he said.
Though he was among the last five players to be released, he lists this opportunity as one of his favorite baseball memories. His best game ever, he said, was during the College World Series when he pitched a complete shut out against Florida State in Omaha, Nebraska. “My parents and brothers were in the stands and that was really good for me,” he recalled.
Valdes left college to sign a professional contract with the Florida Marlins during his junior year. He was the 27th pick of the first round 1993 amateur draft. The transition from college baseball to pro was not what he thought it would be. “It was a shock to see guys just like me but better. When you finally get to the big leagues, it’s always an audition,” he explained.
After three years with the Marlins, the general manager of the team suggested he consider winter ball in Puerto Rico and he did. During his subsequent professional career, Valdes pitched for other major league teams, including the Montreal Expos, Houston Astros and Atlanta Braves. His last round of play was for three seasons from 2002 to 2004 with Nippon Professional Baseball in Japan for the Hanshin Tigers and Chunichi Dragons. “That was great. I loved the people there. I loved the food. If I could go back, I would.”
His successful baseball career was not without injury. Pitching at speeds in the low nineties caused a tremendous amount of wear on his arm. During one particular game, he felt a pop in his elbow. Later, while pitching against the Blue Jays, he felt a tear. He ultimately needed surgery to repair his ulnar collateral ligament. This procedure is commonly known in the baseball world as Tommy John surgery. During the process, a tendon was taken from his wrist to be woven through holes drilled in his elbow to make the repair.
With this diagnosis, he knew he would lose one year of play. Fortunately, he was picked up by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. “They knew I wouldn’t pitch for another year but they were willing to rehab me,” he said of our hometown team. “I was excited to be able to get back home to Tampa.”
He spent time playing at the minor league level until his pitching performance was great once again. Before he could play in the major league for the Rays, however, he was traded to the Houston Astros, where he played in the majors right away.
After his time in Japan, Valdes took some time off from professional baseball. He went back to his roots and enjoyed coaching for Jesuit High School. When an opportunity to interview for the Mets organization as a pitching coach presented itself, he explained to his players his desire to pursue the chance. In January of 2007 he interviewed for the position. “Within a couple weeks I was told I’d be coaching for the minor league,” he said. “It’s incredible and I really enjoy teaching these young adults.”
Valdes coaches players in Mets organizations in Florida, Georgia, New York and Tennessee. His experience in the major league serves him and his players well. “I know if they believe in me, I’ll get success out of them,” he explained.
Off the field, Valdes enjoys spending time with his fiancée Erika and her children Nolan, 10, and Keaton, 7. If playing baseball is an interest to either of them, they certainly have a home field advantage!
By Lisa Stephens
A Truly Good Sport
It’s a whole new ball game for one Westchaser since he discovered his newest athletic endeavor.
Glencliff resident Tony McGlone has been a sports enthusiast his entire life. High school sports included baseball and basketball. Golf came later.
Now retired, Tony has a new love: pickleball.
Yes, you read it right.
Originally from Pennsylvania, McGlone attended Villanova University after graduating from high school. He initially went to work for a collection agency and later switched over to the insurance industry. It was at work that he met Kathy, his wife. Once he determined she was “the one,” McGlone decided to pop the question in a way that would celebrate their love of movies.
The Music Man was one of their favorites. One scene takes place at a foot bridge and it’s there that the female lead declares her love for her male counterpart. McGlone found a foot bridge to make his proposal. The only difference was that his was inside a mall. “I didn’t have a romantic advisor, obviously,” he admitted.
It must have been romantic enough, however, because Kathy said, “Yes.”
This year they celebrate their 47th wedding anniversary.
The decision to move to Florida was an easy one for the couple. He explained the rows of tall buildings up north create wind tunnels during the winter months in the city. One day, as he stepped off the subway, the wind hit him so hard the decision was made for him. “I realized at that moment I didn’t want to wait until I was 65 to move to Florida,” he said.
Through the company he worked for, he was offered positions in Orlando, Tampa or Jacksonville. “I told Kathy she could pick,” he recalled. While visiting the Tampa Bay area, Kathy spotted a school of dolphins along the causeway and took this as her sign to make Tampa their home.
They decided upon Glencliff in Westchase after an afternoon of golf. “I was on the fifteenth tee and we saw they were building houses.”
Kathy asked him to go visit the model in Glencliff and they bought a home the very next day. “We were half empty nesters,” he explained.
Their daughter was already married and out of the home but they still had a son living with them. “He married shortly after we moved in so we got rid of him pretty quickly,” he explained with a laugh.
With both their children still living in the Tampa area, the McGlones now enjoy spending time with their five grandchildren.
When his children were younger, McGlone enjoyed coaching baseball and softball for their teams. (His son, Brian, went on to play minor league baseball for the Houston Astros organization.) “I coached 8- to 15-year-olds,” he said. “It’s nice when I run into some of them now occasionally and they still call me ‘Coach.’”
Time spent with kids is something he enjoyed very much. “It’s nice to think that I might have made a positive impression on them,” he explained. There is difference, however, when it comes to his grandchildren. “When it’s your own kids, you just want them to do the best they can. When it’s your grandchildren, all you care about is if they’re having fun.”
Fun is certainly something McGlone has pursued since retiring several years ago. He recently found a whole lot of it in the sport of pickleball. The game combines the elements of table tennis, tennis and badminton. Its name is derived from the pet of one of the co-inventors of the game. Pickles, a [vulgarity] spaniel, would chase stray balls and hide in the woods until his owner would retrieve him.
With the expansion of the nearby Westchase Recreation Center, McGlone can play right here in Westchase. “I like it because you can just walk right in and learn to play. It only takes about 15 to 20 minutes to learn.”
He enjoys the clinics held on Mondays and Wednesdays and the open play afterwards. “The people playing and the staff there are really friendly.”
Though he likes to win, he explained it’s more recreational than competitive. “It’s just a lot of fun and great exercise.”
When McGlone isn’t on the court, he might be found in the kitchen. He loves to cook and Italian dishes are his specialty. Chicken saltimbocca was on the menu the day of his interview for this article. When told how lucky his wife is to have husband who loves to cook, he grinned. “She’s patient enough to let me cook and she lets me do the shopping, too,” he chuckled.
Whether he’s cooking in the kitchen or smokin’ on the court, Tony McGlone is enjoying what each day brings.
By Lisa Stephens
Chief Wizard Learns Ropes at Westchase Elementary
Erik Holley has settled quite well into his position as recently appointed principal of Westchase Elementary School.
A visit with Holley makes it very apparent that his transition’s success in is due largely to his passion for students and his desire to make their elementary years memorable.
Holley remembers his own elementary years fondly. “I loved to read,” he said. “I read everything but I really enjoyed the Frog and Toad books and The Little Prince!”
School fundraisers, he said, were aimed at putting air conditioners in the classrooms. As opposed to our northern counterparts who might have walked to and from school uphill both ways in two feet of snow, Holley has his own stories of sweating for hours in a hot Florida classroom. Somehow, he too, survived.
Holley attended University of South Florida, where he earned his undergraduate degree in elementary education. He also holds a master’s degree in education leadership from NOVA Southeastern College. He is certified in Elementary Education, Primary Education, ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages), Gifted Education and School Principal (K-12).
When asked why he chose the elementary level, he jokingly replied, “Because high schoolers are bigger than me!”
His first teaching position began at Dickenson Elementary in 1994. It was there that he met future wife Cheryl, who was also a teacher. “We fought over the air conditioner then and we still fight over it at home!” he revealed.
They worked together for a year before he transferred to Citrus Park Elementary School. After six years there he was named assistant principal for Lutz Elementary. In 2009, he became principal at Anderson Elementary in South Tampa. With so many years’ experience in the classroom, Holley said being principal was like being the ‘new kid.’ “I had to learn about how people did things and had to just find my own way,” he recalled.
After seeing an opening for Westchase Elementary principal, he quickly applied. He liked the appeal of the community and the reputation the school has for parental involvement. The support of the teachers and staff since his arrival, he said, has been tremendous. “It’s lived up to its reputation,” he said.
When it comes to his management style as principal, Holley likes to keep things simple. “I trust that people will do the right thing but then I follow up. I’m not a micro-manager but I do have expectations,” he explained.
As for students being sent to visit him for behavior issues, he has no concrete procedure for handling every situation. “I get a better understanding once I’ve heard the story behind the behavior. That makes you think differently about how you’re going to handle things.”
Holley enjoys the role of principal. “Every day brings something new and it’s so unpredictable. Both the strength and challenge is that anything can happen,” he explained.
He is cautious, however, not to lose touch with students. Watching them learn, grow and change from the time they enter school to the time they leave for middle school is one of his favorite parts of the job. He recalled one such student who was quite a challenge in first grade but transformed into an amazing student by fifth. “He became the kid you’d want your daughter to date,” he said.
With approximately 950 students at Westchase Elementary, this is his largest school yet. “Nothing is broken here so I just need to find the resources for anything that could be enriched,” he revealed.
One project he will tackle is enhancing the cafeteria’s environment. “I’d like to warm it up a little,” he explained. “I want children to come to school and feel like it’s for kids and a little less institutional.”
Holley likes to challenge himself outside the school walls as well. As a runner, he set a 2013 goal to complete thirteen races. “I ended up with seventeen shirts!” he said with an astonished grin. For 2014, he plans to step up the pace to a half marathon!
Another way he likes to challenge himself would surprise many: LEGOs! Holley enjoys putting together huge kits creating amazing buildings and structures. He adds them to the full village he has sitting atop an office bookshelf. “It’s one of those things you didn’t do as a kid but you overdo as an adult,” he said of the display. The largest building is a full theater, which included over 2,000 pieces. He estimated each section took between eight to ten hours to complete.
Once word of his creation spreads into the classrooms, he just might be seeing an influx of excited visitors to the principal’s office!
Building Up the Community
Kingsford resident Brian Bobrovetski enjoys working for himself – and seeing the result of a job well done.
As his neighborhood’s voting member, he uses his business skills to get things done for his neighbors. Assessing the situation, listening to desires or opinions and gathering tools and materials to see a project through are all necessary components to his job. Bobrovetski is owner of Westchase Repair & Home Improvement.
Originally from Detroit, Michigan, Bobrovetski recalled his first winter in Florida with a questioning giggle. “People kept telling me ‘It’s going to get cold!’ but that really never comes about,” he observed.
While adults up North might tire of the bitter cold and work that comes with clearing snow, as a kid, he never did. “Typically at the first accumulation, my parents would get the sleds from the attic and we would head on down the hill not too far from our house. We would ride the sled over and over and my mom would make hot chocolate,” he recalled.
As a high school student, he enjoyed playing football and wrestling. It was then that he took a vocational course and was introduced to carpentry. “I liked working with my hands and seeing progress at the end of the day,” he explained. He enjoyed it so much, he went to work as a carpenter’s apprentice.
Taking a break from the hammer and nails, Bobrovetski decided to go take a vacation to Cancun. It was there that he met future wife, Jennifer. Fortunately, this was more than a May-December romance. Their love connection survived their long distance dating with him living in Detroit while she lived in Seattle.
It was during a visit with his brother, an Oldsmar resident, that the happy couple decided they wanted to make Florida their home. After seeing Westchase, the community became their obvious choice. Becoming a voting member wasn’t in his original plan as a way to learn about the community, however. Yet as he recalled how that happened, he realized how smoothly he was talked into the position. “I went in to pay my dues and I asked about the meetings. Charlotte and Debbie really reeled me in!”
Evidently, our community association managers knew good voting member material when they saw it. “I didn’t know what to expect and I figured it would be easy to fill the shoes of nobody that was there,” he said with a laugh.
Having held the position since 2011, he said the experience has been great and has given him the opportunity to learn about our community and the way things get done. He realizes the importance of maintaining high community standards and the benefits Westchase homeowners receive as a result of them. “I want to help out where I can to keep this a desirable community,” he said.
With the holidays approaching, Bobrovetski and his wife, Jennifer, are trying to establish traditions for their children, Mason and Brianna. “We head to Disney every year near Christmas and my son and daughter each pick out a really nice ornament for the tree. We have it personalized with the year and when they grow up and have their own Christmas tree, they can take all their ornaments,” he shared.
He recalled his own favorite childhood holiday tradition: a Christmas Eve pierogi-eating contest. He credits his Polish heritage for this event. Pierogi are dumplings stuffed with a potato filling or meat, cheese or fruit. He recalled, “My siblings and I would help my mom make all different types of pierogi and then on Christmas Eve, my aunts, uncles and cousins would all come over for dinner and we would have a pierogi-eating contest!”
The winner would actually be crowned. “Unfortunately, I was never crowned but it was a ton of fun,” he said. Bobrovetski, however, didn’t share the home remedy used for the alleviation of an overstuffed belly.
This year, he plans to visit family in New Jersey and Michigan just before the holiday. The family will also head into New York City to see the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center, the Empire State Building and other holiday favorites in the city. Christmas Eve and Christmas itself will be spent at home in Westchase.
Bobrovetski, however, didn’t mention what time the pierogi will be served.
By Lisa Stephens
The Smile Behind the Rec Center’s Success
The recent expansion of the Westchase Recreation Center is a dream come true for Recreation Program Supervisor Dona Smith.
“It’s surreal,” she said with a smile. “I still get excited when I pull up to work in the mornings!”
For Smith, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree when it comes to recreation. “My mom was in recreation,” she explained. “I spent many a day in a rec center after school growing up.”
Accordingly, Smith’s first job after graduating from Tampa Catholic High School was as a summer camp counselor. With an interest in special education, Smith attended University of South Florida, but instead headed in a different direction. “I fell in love with recreation. But my mom was very well known and I wanted to do something on my own merit,” she recalled.
Instead of following her mother’s path with City of Tampa Recreation, Smith went to work for Hillsborough County. Starting part-time, she worked her way up the ranks, holding several positions throughout the county. She landed at the Westchase Recreation Center for its original opening.
“We only had one room and some equipment and many parents were skeptical of our programs and they watched us closely,” she said.
Smith described the first six months as building blocks. Referring to her mother’s successful recreation career, she said, “I asked myself how she would have done it.”
Smith arrived early and stayed late during those initial weeks. “We kept the kids out on the playground from 2 until 6 p.m.”
Her staff also met monthly with parents to determine what they wanted for their children at the center. Its programs have grown over the years to include all ages, from tots to active senior adults. Smith was quick to point to others when pondering the reason for success of the programs, however. “It’s because of our wonderful staff. I just facilitate their talents.”
Teamwork is important to Smith and she looks for certain qualities in a person when considering a new hire. “I look for someone who is positive, outgoing and optimistic. I’d rather have someone who doesn’t know how to play kickball but can be nurturing to our kids,” she said. “Dave opened with us, Vince has been with us since he was 19 and Stephanie is a joy and just loves the kids,” she shared of her current staff.
As for the future of the facility, Smith said they would like to eventually see a name change to Westchase Future Leadership Center. “We’re teaching life skills here so that these kids can be good community leaders,” she explained.
Smith’s interest in the children is evident in her interaction with them. Endearing names for them and a sincere interest in their lives connect her with each one. “I get invited to everything from family birthday parties to bar mitzvahs!”
Watching the children grow up through the center’s programs has been a perk of her position. “I ask myself, ‘How did I get so lucky to be a part of their lives?’ One day they’re coloring here and the next they are back for service hours for high school!”
Smith’s family life includes husband Greg and their three children, Lexi, Jett and Brock. “If I’m not coaching something, my husband is. We just go from one sport to the next and all we have to do is change our shirt,” she said with a chuckle.
Like Smith, Greg also followed his desire to work with children. He coaches at Alonso High School and volunteers as a Westchase Colts football coach. Dona Smith also serves the Colts as Cheer Coordinator. “My whole family is out there so I’m out there, too,” she explained. Smith and her team of cheer moms supported the Westchase Midgets squad as they were named Grand Champions at a recent competition. “Our angels had the highest score,” she said, beaming.
Smith will spend the Thanksgiving holiday at home with family instead of traveling. “I have all the family at my place because it’s nice not to have all the hustle and bustle.”
While she reflected on the tradition of stringing and preparing fresh green beans with her mom for the holiday meal, she said her own children enjoy making a corn casserole together now. “We’re building our own traditions,” she said.
When asked about her plans for the future, Smith seemed a bit perplexed. “I’m just enjoying the moment,” she said with a content smile. “I’m remembering that I need to get eggs on the way home and the ping-pong balls out of storage.”
Perhaps living in the present is the secret to Smith’s ever present smile.
Be sure to drop by the Westchase’s new and improved rec center, check out the new gymnasium and meet the smile behind its success.
By Lisa Stephens; Photo By James Broome Photography
Sleepless Yet Satisfied
While Woodbay’s Ira Hoffman has spent the last several years operating a family business his father worked hard to expand, Hoffman recently experienced an expansion of another kind.
The Woodbay voting member and his wife Cindy recently welcomed a baby daughter, Sophia.
Originally from Delaware, Hoffman has been in Florida long enough to consider himself a native. “We moved from Delaware to Florida then Texas and back to Florida,” he explained.
As a floating manager for a pool business – no pun intended – Hoffman’s father had a job that moved the family to various locations. After graduating from nearby Countryside High School, Ira went on to the University of South Florida (USF), where he majored in theater arts and business. “Business took over,” he said when asked about where that major eventually led him in life. His current career, however, didn’t take hold before he had the opportunity to dabble in a couple of others.
After graduating from USF, Hoffman stayed on with the night club he had worked for while in college. “That was a little ridiculous,” he recalled.
For several years he would go into Ybor City, begin work around seven o’clock in the evening and return home around 5 a.m. “I didn’t want to get stuck in that,” he said of the night club career.
A move to Home Shopping Network (HSN) was next for Hoffman, but eventually the family business beckoned. “The pool business was growing and this is what I know,” he explained.
His father’s business, Progressive Pool Products & Services, Inc., had expanded by buying out other area pool service businesses and they needed Hoffman’s help. “Dad asked me to go full time and I did,” he said.
While his father has since passed, Hoffman continues to run the 25-year-old business alongside his mom. The company offers maintenance, service, remodeling and sales. “We do everything except put the pool in the ground,” he said with a chuckle.
Hoffman made sure life wasn’t all work and no play while running the family business. He recalled striking up a conversation with Cindy in the bakery department one day while grocery shopping. “We haven’t spent a day apart since then,” he said of the encounter five years ago.
With a desire to live closer to his Oldsmar office and start a family, Westchase was the obvious choice for the couple. Proximity to his job and Westchase’s family environment drew them to their Woodbay home.
One day, however, a letter landed in his mailbox advising him he needed to pressure wash his driveway. “I was really upset. But only for about thirty seconds,” he said with a smile. “I always liked homeowner associations and I liked people to be held accountable.”
His involvement with the community came by way of his volunteering to help get new mailboxes approved for Woodbay. “I met a lot of people during that time and I was approached and asked to run for voting member,” he recalled.
Jumping in seemed like old times for Hoffman. His father was always involved in community efforts and volunteer groups when Hoffman was a child. “If he saw me sitting around, he’d drag me to his meetings and I found these meetings to be the way I remembered them then.”
His personal goals as a voting member include seeing that some of the older neighborhoods in Westchase are not overlooked when the community considers aesthetic improvements. “I just don’t think they’re looked out for,” he said of some of the first Westchase neighborhoods along Countryway Boulevard.
The arrival of daughter Sophia has certainly put a stop to the boating and lazy weekends he and Cindy previously enjoyed. Sleep is now top priority for all three. “We get three-hour streaks now with a six-hour night thrown in sometimes,” he said with a fatigued nod.
For the Woodbay resident, life seems a lot more hectic during the week while navigating Sophia’s schedule. With a baby on board now, Hoffman explained their goal is to get up and get out on Saturdays for lunch to spend some fun time together.
Yet this new dad wouldn’t have it any other way. “Being with Cindy and Sophia at the end of the day makes it all OK.”
By Lisa Stephens
Doing What He Loves
The most common advice given to people who are contemplating a career is to do what you love.
When asked about his career, Radcliff resident Wayne Krawczyk explains he retired with 36 years of government service. However, he still suits up into various uniforms to work four part-time jobs he has taken on since leaving the full-time job market. It isn’t about the money, he says. It’s about doing what he enjoys and the adventures he has along the way.
When considering a career after high school, Krawczyk knew it had to be something that would require a uniform. “Back then, my brother in law was a Baltimore City police officer and it was impressive when he walked in to pick up my sister for a date,” he recalls.
His first uniform came by way of the army as he served in Germany as a K9 dog handler for the military police. With a desire to work at the federal level of government, Krawczyk then headed for college to earn a degree in criminal justice from the University of Baltimore.
After working with the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force as a research paralegal, he accepted a position as a special agent with the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). “We did all kinds of fun stuff,” he explains.
Many days were spent working with state police and other federal agents canvassing folks suspected to be undocumented immigrants coming into Baltimore via the trains from New York or Miami. The goal was to eventually determine who these individuals paid to get them into the United States. He also worked on cases ranging from organized crime to the well-known story of Elian Gonzalez, a young Cuban boy thrust into a custody battle after a treacherous raft journey that killed his mother.
Retirement from the agency didn’t slow Krawczyk down. Having paid his dues in high stress situations, he now spreads out his time among various positions he finds fun to do – all requiring uniforms, of course! As a security officer at Busch Gardens one day a week, he monitors the crowds and often gets requests for directions to various attractions. “I just say, ‘This way to Sheikra or turkey legs are that way down on the right,’” he says with a giggle.
In another uniform, he works for the U.S. Marshals Service in two different positions. For the Justice Prisoner & Alien Transportation System, he conducts prisoner exchanges on the tarmac at a local airport. When he isn’t preparing a prisoner for an airlift, he can be found at the courthouse escorting them to trial.
On a lighter note, Krawczyk has also taken on positions as a result of the activities he enjoys doing. His wife Marilyn and he have been on more than 40 cruises! He explains, “When I worked major cases, I’d jump on a cruise just to clear my head sometimes.”
This stress reliever, he says, helped him hit the ground running upon his return from vacation. After retiring from the INS, he approached a check-in agent as they were headed out for another cruise. “I told him I wanted his job,” he declares.
After obtaining an e-mail address, his career as a pier check-in agent for Intercruises Shoreside & Port Services was set into motion. He does this from November until May each year, making sure passports, tickets and other travel documents are in place as vacationers board the ships.
He stumbled into yet another part-time position while sitting at a red light in Clearwater. “I saw people riding Segways and I thought that was so neat,” he says.
When he got home that afternoon, he called Segway Tours of Clearwater Beach. Before he knew it, he was a tour guide! During these tours, Krawczyk tells stories about Winter, the dolphin at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, leads tourists across the bridge and points out multi-million dollar homes on what the locals call “Millionaire Mile.” He has lots to say about the aquarium and its famous resident. He’s also volunteered on the aquarium’s animal stranding team, helping to retrieve distressed animals from the ocean and bringing them to the aquarium for rehabilitation.
When Krawczyk isn’t busy working at what he loves to do, he enjoys working out to stay fit. He is a member of two local bike clubs and meets regularly with a group of friends at a local gym Monday through Friday. “I try to omit leg day,” he whispers about time with his friends.
Certainly, Krawczyk deserves a day of rest!
By Lisa Stephens
Making an Active Retirement Fun
Before setting out to hike a portion of the Appalachian Trail, Glencliff resident Ken Blair checks off his list of the supplies he will need along the way.
His backpack will include everything from dehydrated pasta dishes to bear spray. While he has seen plenty of bears in the seven years he has been hiking along the mountainous terrain, he fortunately has never had to use it to defend himself.
Blair grew up in Brandon. In 1968 he graduated from Brandon High School, where he enjoyed his involvement with the student government and service clubs. “I was there before Brandon ever had a stop light,” he recalls. “I remember the first one going in at Highway 60!”
After graduation, Blair enlisted and served in the army for four years. His final year and a half was spent in the Vietnam War.
Blair states he was discharged on March 3. Determined to attend college, he enrolled at University of South Florida right away and began classes before the end of that same month. “I went from the jungles of Vietnam to classes at USF,” he says with a grin.
Even though he was attending college, Blair found himself with more free time on his hands than he liked. College life didn’t keep him nearly as busy as his days in the military. So he took a position with the US Department of Veterans Affairs as a claims representative. Working this job during the day while attending classes at night, he still managed to finish his four-year economics degree in just two and a half years.
With a degree under his belt, Blair began interviewing for various jobs. One day, he struck up a conversation with a recruiter from the navy. He mentioned an interest in their aviation programs and then found himself enlisted with yet another branch of our military. He spent the next 16 years with the navy and retired in 1991 as a Lieutenant Commander. Still not one to just sit around, he became an accountant and tax preparer after retiring from the navy.
During his career with the navy, Blair earned his master’s degree in public administration. He looked up from the books long enough to notice fellow student JoAnn Gratt. “The rest is history,” she says. In November, the couple will celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary.
In 1993, JoAnn saw an article in the newspaper about a new Tampa development that appealed to the couple. After a ride through the community, they decided to make Westchase their home. Desiring a home along the golf course, the couple considered several available lots on which to build their home. “We picked this one based on the golf balls and the direction they’d be going,” JoAnn explains. They obviously made a great choice. Besides an occasional “thunk” against their roof, they haven’t suffered any broken windows in the 20 years they have lived there.
Six years ago Blair took on the role of financial manager for the Glencliff neighborhood association. This required him to go back to the classroom yet again to earn his community association manager license. When asked about other community service roles he enjoys, Blair mentions his time as a board member for an inner city charter school and a poll worker for local elections.
Since 2011 he has served on the Westchase Community Association (WCA) Board of Directors. He appreciates the close relationship between the board and the voting members from Westchase’s neighborhoods. He also admires the way the two entities work together to help Westchase maintain its reputation. Blair also serves as chair of the Government Affairs Committee (GAC). He describes this committee as a liaison among the WCA, the Westchase Community Development District (CDD) and local government. “We look at how nearby development will impact Westchase,” he explains.
When he has an opportunity to get away, Blair likes to enjoy the outdoors. While he hikes the trails with friends, JoAnn spends time at their RV in a nearby campground. She drops him off and meets him after several days at an agreed upon destination. She enjoys the day hikes they take together. Meanwhile Blair likes to tackle the whole adventure of tent camping and hiking for a three or four day trek in the wilderness. She jokes, “He carries bear spray while I carry hair spray!”
When they aren’t hiking or camping, the couple also enjoys touring factories. Blair says they have enjoyed seeing the manufacturing processes of Harley Davidson, Corvette, Hershey, Louisville Slugger and Jelly Belly jelly beans.
This is one couple that makes retirement look like a whole lot of fun!
By Lisa Stephens
Westchase Dogs’ Best Friend
If Stockbridge resident and voting member (VM) Joe Odda gets his way, a small portion of Westchase might be going to the dogs.
Odda, along with a task force consisting of eight other VMs, alternates and Westchase Community Association (WCA) board members, have set out to bring a dog park to Westchase or its surrounding area.
Odda and wife Linda relocated from Ohio when her job in software sales required a move to Florida. “I came to Tampa as the trailing spouse,” Odda says with a chuckle. With an extensive background working for various non-profits, including the American Heart Association, he went to work for Junior Achievement after the move. Though retired five years now, Odda enjoys keeping busy with his involvement with his church, political party and his neighborhood, which he serves as voting member.
With their children, Julie, Marian and James, no longer living at home, the empty nesters decided it was time to consider a pet. Odda himself had never even owned a dog before and didn’t have dog as a child. Yet, two and a half years ago, they became the proud owners of Libby. She’s a cute, little Boston Terrier that, as Odda puts it, likes to run and run and run. With all that energy to burn, Odda takes Libby on three walks a day around the neighborhood. Over time, he realized there aren’t any dog parks close to Westchase. “I was also approached by neighbors asking me why we don’t have a dog park when we have everything else like the pools, parks and commercial areas.”
The wheels were set in motion during the March 2013 meeting when Odda approached his fellow VMs about his thoughts regarding establishing a dog park. By May the task force and Odda were equipped with enough information to present the idea at a Community Development District (CDD) meeting.
Their presentation cited the dog park as being recently voted one of the top five items residents would like to have in our community. Their research found the number of licensed dogs in the 33626 area code is 2,555. Almost a third of those dogs, 832, belong to Westchase residents. Based on rabies tags, Animal Control was able to provide a breakdown of the number of dogs on each street within Westchase’s boundaries. Interestingly, the street within Westchase with the greatest number of dogs is Gretna Green, which has 47 licensed dogs.
Odda says the basic requirements of the facility would include water for drinking and cooling, electrical outlets, restrooms, benches, sun shelter, a double gated entry for two fenced-in areas so smaller dogs and larger dogs would be separated and duplicate dog facilities in each space. Five foot fencing would surround the park.
According to Odda, the property size would need to be approximately one acre to allow enough room for parking as well. “We don’t want it too big.” He explains why. “Research shows if it is too big, dogs will tend to form into packs and can get too far away from their owners, which makes it difficult to retrieve them.”
Still early in the process, the group is researching possible locations for the park. While Odda would like to see it located within Westchase, he acknowledges available property within our boundaries is limited. Therefore, surrounding areas are also being considered. “We would like to work with surrounding developments like Waterchase or other communities along Race Track Road to see if they want to possibly support a regional park with us. He has also spoken with County Commissioner Ken Hagen to identify county property that might be available.
Once the property is determined, the park’s cost and funding would need to be determined. Other costs would include landscape architecture, civil engineering and design. “Task force members have also visited several existing dog parks and are now reaching key persons associated with some of them to learn about best practices and lessons learned in the construction and ongoing management of such facilities,” Odda says.
Odda has certainly done his homework in researching the requirements to bring a park to the pooches of Westchase. He has even set a completion target of 2015. Until then, look for Odda during his walks with Libby. If you see him, let him know if he’s barking up the wrong tree – or if the idea gets your family pet’s tail wagging.
By Lisa Stephens
Beloved Westchase Crossing Guard, Rosa Davila, Retires
With the ringing of the last school bells this year, a familiar, much beloved face will bid farewell to Westchase Elementary kids and families.
As the school year winds down, students and teachers are filled with great anticipation of a much needed summer break. For crossing guard Rosa Davila, the ending of this school year represents a bittersweet moment. Davila has been responsible for crossing Westchase Elementary students and their parents at the intersection of Montague Street and Westchase Drive for the past eight years. June 5 marks her last day at the crosswalk. Davila has decided it’s time to stop and spend more time with her husband and the family she has here.
Originally from Cleveland, Ohio, Davila lived there until her youngest son was married. With all of her five children finally settled, she decided it was time for a change. Her husband, Pete, and she decided to move to Tampa to be near his mother. Much of the rest of her family eventually followed, making their homes in Tampa. “They’re all here now except for two sons, so we go back to Cleveland to visit them once a year,” she says.
Davila became interested in becoming a crossing guard after hearing about the experiences of her sister, brother-in-law and daughter. Being a crossing guard was a family affair for them. “I’d never worked before because I was at home raising my children, but I thought this was something I might enjoy doing,” she explains.
Her day on the job began at 7:10 a.m. and she crossed students until 8:25 a.m. She was back at 2 p.m. each day and finished at 2:45 p.m. According to Davila, things were a little hectic in the beginning. “They weren’t able to keep a guard there at first because of the traffic,” she explains. “But after a while, once people realized I was out there, it got a lot better and eventually people just stopped automatically.”
As each year began, Davila would gather up small groups of parents and their children to go over the rules of crossing. These included no crossing until Davila had control of the traffic and signaled them to cross. Kids had to walk bikes across and wear bike helmets in compliance with state law. “They listened very well and were always very respectful of me,” she recalls.
As Davila got to know the families, she began to look for the students daily and would know when someone didn’t show up that day. Likewise, they would ask about her if she was ever absent or out sick. “That’s what kept me coming back each year to continue doing it,” she explains.
Parents also became protective of Davila. She recalls one incident when a car crossed over while she was attempting to stop traffic. This angered a mom in another car and so the mom followed the car and blew the horn at the offending driver.
Her favorite part of her job, she says, is getting to know kids and their families over the years. “I watched some children begin in kindergarten and go all the way through to middle school.” She added, “A boy named Eric was one of my kids that first year and I crossed him all the way through sixth grade.” Many of her favorite families moved throughout the years but were replaced by families she grew to love as well.
At 62, Davila says it’s time to retire and do other things for a while. She plans to do some volunteer work, spend lots of time on the beach and visit their favorite restaurant, Caddy’s, on St. Pete Beach. With seven grandchildren between the ages of 1 and 20, Davila will have plenty of adventures to fill her time. Pete isn’t convinced she will spend much time relaxing. “She’s constantly moving,” he reveals. Perhaps he knows her best since they have been married for 43 years.
Davila will leave her post a few days before school ends so that she can attend her granddaughter’s graduation ceremony. Her last day as a crossing guard will be June 5. “As the school year starts in August, I’ll really be thinking about all of them,” she says with a slight frown.
It’s certain the students will be thinking of Davila as well.
Rosa, thank you so much! You will be greatly missed!
By Lisa Stephens
Enjoying and Improving Life in Westchase
After 37 years of hard work alongside his wife, Richard Johnson of West Park Village took his clients’ advice.
Take some time out to enjoy life, the patrons of their salon told them. Taking that wisdom to heart, Johnson says he’s been particularly enjoying life in Westchase for the past five years.
Originally from Columbus, Ohio, Johnson is the youngest of seven children. “I appreciate that more and more as I get older and I realize mom and dad released their standards with each of us. I got away with more than everyone put together,” he laughs.
While still in high school, he met his wife, Sharon, when he was just 16. “We married at 18 and we’ve done everything together since then!” he says.
When they were considering college and careers, they realized hair styling school would allow them to study and eventually work together, so that is the path they chose. After they finished training, the couple moved to Florida and traveled all over the United States working hair shows. “It was great,” he says of the travel experience.
In 1970, they settled down a bit to open a hair salon, The Unisex Room, in St. Petersburg. While there, they served three generations of clients during the 37 years they owned the salon. Never having children of their own, the couple found their clients soon became their extended family. Through their experiences in the salon, they watched clients celebrate the good times in life and struggle through some tough situations. “When you get to know people this way, you get to live through them also. Several told us to live and enjoy life now and we’ve come to realize that we are two of the most fortunate people in the world,” he shares.
This year marks the couple’s 47th wedding anniversary.
Five years ago, Richard and Sharon decided they were ready to take the time out their clients had suggested and they sold the salon. “That last month there, saying goodbye to everyone, was the hardest month of my life!” he says.
Many tears and just as much laughter were shared with the folks they considered family as they said farewell.
Facing retirement meant a big change in life for the couple who had worked so hard for so many years. “We couldn’t buy each other a gold watch so we just took off,” he explains. They set out for Canada and then rented a place in New York City for a month. A favorite getaway is Italy. “We met friends there on our first visit and now we actually stay with them when we go every year,” he says.
In 2001, prior to retirement, the couple moved to Westchase after driving around and looking at neighborhoods throughout Tampa Bay. Richard explains that after eight years of living here, they only knew six people on their street. All that changed, he says when neighbors John and Roberta Fallon moved in. “They started a social group and, thanks to them, it’s grown over the years,” he says. “When you know all the people on your street by name, you know you’re in a great neighborhood!”
Johnson has served on the board of directors of the Villas of West Park Village for more than 10 years. “I’m just the gopher. Anything they need, I’ll go out and do,” he says with a shrug of his shoulders.
With a love of his community, Johnson, in recent years, joined forces with a group of neighbors who wanted to see the pond between Cavendish and Linebaugh cleaned and weeded. He, along with approximately 25 neighbors, went before the Community Development District (CDD) to request the pond be cleaned. “I can’t say enough good things about the CDD. They were phenomenal and got it cleaned up for us,” he says.
Several months ago, the group decided to pitch the idea of a fountain for the pond. “It’s hard to look around Westchase and find something that needs improvement, but we thought this would be one thing that would be nice as people drive into our community,” he explains.
Quick to shoot down any credit in spearheading this effort, Johnson explains this project is the total effort of his neighbors. “I’m just the front man,” he explains.
As bids are now being accepted for the installation of a fountain, the project is still under review. “We’ve got our fingers crossed that it will be approved and put into the budget,” he says.
If all goes well for Johnson and his neighbors, all Westchase residents will soon be enjoying the view of a fountain from Linebaugh Avenue as they travel through our community.
With the help of Richard Johnson, it just got a little harder to find something to improve upon in Westchase!
By Lisa Stephens
DJ Turned Director
Greens resident Edward Santiago knows what it means to set goals and doggedly pursue them.
As one of the newest members of the Westchase Community Association’s (WCA) Board of Directors, Santiago plans to put his strong work ethic to use for Westchase residents.
Growing up in Brooklyn, New York, Santiago spent a lot of time playing on the streets with his four brothers and sisters. Together they gathered with neighborhood friends to play kickball, stoopball and other games. Television was saved for the weekends. “On Saturdays we watched TV in the mornings and were outside by noon,” he recalls.
Santiago describes himself as “both a nerd and a jock in school.” His favorite subjects were math and computer science while baseball and football were his favorite sports. Before leaving middle school, he was recruited to play at the high school level for both. As he continued to play both sports during his high school years, he also attended junior college. He managed somehow to hold down a job at a pharmacy and tutor others who were struggling in math.
Being the first of his siblings to leave home to attend college was a struggle for Santiago. At Connecticut University, he was the smallest guy on the football team and he missed New York. Afflicted with a strong bout of homesickness, he decided to transfer to Long Island University, where he received a full academic scholarship as he majored in Integrated Information Systems and Marketing. As in middle and high school, Santiago juggled school with a job. While working full time, he still managed to carry a class load of 15 to 20 credits per semester.
After college graduation, he stayed with the same ratings agency as a financial analyst that he had worked for in college. Eventually, he accepted a position with Chase Home Finance, which would move him to New Jersey. That move proved to be beneficial to him in more ways than one. It was there that he met his future wife, Leydi.
After they began dating, a career offer he couldn’t refuse required a move to Tampa. The long-distance courtship was tough on the couple, so during one of her visits to Tampa, Santiago made an offer she couldn’t refuse − by proposing to her on Clearwater Beach in front of Frenchy’s restaurant.
Today the couple enjoys their family life here in Westchase with three daughters, Clara, Geraldine and Olivia. “Three girls bring lots of competition but a lot of fun also,” he says with a proud, fatherly laugh. When mom has a ladies’ night out with friends, Santiago heads to Maloney’s in West Park Village, where they sit outside with their sunglasses and enjoy the music.
Music has played a big part of Santiago’s life since middle school. “In the 80’s the city was rough, and instead of participating in those activities, I turned to music instead,” he explains.
With the help of his older sister, he purchased his first set of DJ equipment and started his own business as a music DJ. The interest he developed to keep him off the street as a young boy turned into quite a lucrative endeavor. At 13, his first party was his sister’s Sweet Sixteen event. From there he continued to play DJ at parties and events in Brooklyn and surrounding areas. He recalls a particularly busy weekend when he had three corporate events in one day in the Wall Street area. A $10,000 ad in a bridal magazine brought him two years’ worth of non-stop bookings. He continued to do this as well during high school and college. He still does events periodically today.
WCA President Joaquin Arrillaga is a close friend, which helps explain how Santiago became involved in the association. “We had plans to go play golf one day and he needed to attend a meeting to discuss technology options before we went,” Santiago recalls.
Deciding to tag along, Santiago found himself answering some of the questions the group had regarding technology. “Suddenly I had a project,” he chuckles. From there he attended WCA meetings and was quickly brought on board.
When asked what he brings to the WCA table in regards to serving our community, Santiago nods to fellow WCA Director Darrick Sams. “With Darrick in mind, I think the two of us bring fresh, new ideas to the group.”
Santiago explains experienced directors and veterans still offer feedback and guidance, which also helps the newest members. Together, he says, they look forward to keeping Westchase one of Tampa Bay’s premiere communities.
By Lisa Stephens
Finding Fulfillment in Letters
With nearly 4,000 homes in Westchase, residents often watch neighbors come and go as life’s demands shuttle people in and out of our community.
Her search for a long-term care facility for her ailing husband and a desire to reside closer to her daughter and grandchildren led West Park Village resident Rebbie Macintyre to Westchase. Here just six months now, the retired teacher finds happiness and fulfillment in a new career that resulted from a letter written back in the 1800’s. Now a published author, Macintyre’s retirement will have to wait.
Macintyre grew up in Kansas City, Missouri. “I grew up with lots of books. They were always around us,” she says of her early childhood.
Though never published, Macintyre’s one grandmother was always writing in journals and diaries while the other enjoyed writing poetry. Her own love of the English language led her to the University of Missouri, where she majored in education. After moving to Florida, she taught high school English at Gibbs and Pinellas Park High Schools. She eventually found herself working as corporate training adjunct instructor at St. Petersburg College.
The idea of writing originally crossed her mind about 12 years ago. “I took courses and studied online about how to write an instructional book,” she explains.
Macintyre also wrote several children’s stories and was successful at getting published in a magazine for young girls. “But to actually write a book was something I really wanted to accomplish,” she shares.
Finally, that inspiration to begin the process began as she read through a book her mother had once given to her. Pioneer Woman is a book of letters written by women about life in the 1800’s. One letter struck her. It was about a family finding water through the use of a dowser − someone who locates underground water or minerals with the use of a twig or rod. “I found this fascinating and started researching,” she explains.
Her research led her to many fascinating Web sites, societies and interesting folks. After learning about this non-scientific approach to finding water, a book idea came to Macintyre. And after putting pen to paper (or its modern equivalent: fingers to keyboard), her dream of actually writing a book was underway. “It took me about ten years to write the first one,” she recalls.
After approximately 25 rejections, she finally found an agent who led her to a small publisher. Finally in 2009, Cast the First Stone was published. Set in 1932, it is the story of a female dowser whose brother is accused of murder. When asked about the call she received with the news that her first book would be published, she is unable to fully describe it other than to say the feeling is “right up there.” Her few words are accompanied by a broad smile that lights up the room.
A second book quickly followed. In 2010, A Corner of Universe, about a mom trying to integrate a grown stepson into her family, was published. “The second one went much faster,” she explains. By having an agent and an editor for guidance the second time around, the writing process also proved much easier.
To help other writers develop their craft, Macintyre serves as president of the Tampa Writers Alliance. Writers gather monthly to discuss their works in progress and listen to speakers who have found success in various writing fields.
When Macintyre isn’t pondering a storyline for her current project, she enjoys spending time with her grandchildren, Miles and Ruby. Daughter Shannon Burns-Tran, also of West Park Village, inherited the writing gene as well. Proving that apples don’t fall far from the tree, Burns-Tran herself has written a textbook for fashion instruction. “It’s fun,” says Macintyre of having two published authors in the family.
When asked about her future and the retirement she thought she’d be enjoying now, Macintyre is open to whatever adventure appears before her. I’m just very drawn to writing right now and I find it very enriching. “You have to keep yourself defined. I’m not your typical grandmother and I’m certainly not ready for the rocking chair!”
With more ideas itching to be put to paper, Mcintyre’s rocking chair and retirement will just have to wait.
By Lisa Stephens
A Simple Goal
As he sets out to perform the duties entrusted to him as a newly elected director to the Westchase Community Association (WCA) Board, Radcliffe’s Darrick Sams has a simple goal in mind.
“I want to see Westchase continue to be a cut above the rest of the communities in the Tampa area,” he explains. “Nothing is broken,” he adds, “but we need to keep that going.”
Having lived in Tampa Palms and South Tampa as well, Sams has no plans to look any further than Westchase for a home.
Growing up in New Kensington, Pennsylvania, Sams appreciates the small-town feel of Westchase. “There were generations of families there and a good ethnic mix of people. Great food and good ‘salt of the earth’ type people,” he recalls.
He describes himself as a “typical guy” in high school. His days were spent like many high school students here in Westchase. “I played basketball and baseball and was in the journalism club.”
Living in Pennsylvania, he was predestined to be a Steelers and Pirates fan.
After high school Sams headed to Indiana University of Pennsylvania, where he studied criminology. Realizing his field of study might not bring him what he had hoped for in his future, Sams took a different career path after graduating from college. He accepted a position with an insurance company and spent several years in that industry. Later, he went into medical sales and then started his own business in 2006. “I sold my shares of the company and now I’m an employee, but at the end of the day I’m still helping people and I enjoy that,” he shares.
Life at home is all about family time for Sams. He and wife, Violeta, enjoy watching their 13-year-old daughter, Mia, play tennis. A lot of their time is spent on the court as Mia practices five to six days a week. Many weekends are also spent traveling to tournaments. “We’re a unit and we do things as a family,” he says.
Eating out is something the family likes to do. Sams says their favorite Westchase establishments are Marina’s Pizza and Zen Bistro. Eating in is no problem for the Sams family either, however. Sams enjoys cooking when he gets the chance. Baked wings and spaghetti sauce, he says, are among his specialties. When asked for the secret ingredients, he replies with the standard, “I can’t tell you.”
As men are known to be notoriously messy in the kitchen, Sams says it works in their household. “I love to cook and my wife likes to clean,” he says with a guilty smile.
When the family wants to get away, they head for the hills of North Carolina for adventurous fun. In Banner Elk, they enjoy hiking through the woods, taking an exhilarating dash across a zip line and white water rafting in frigid 55-degree waters. The vacation spot has become a Sams family favorite.
As the month of February brings the Super Bowl and Valentine’s Day, Sams is considering his options for both. “I’ll take both girls out somewhere for a nice dinner for Valentine’s Day,” he says.
His Super Bowl menu hasn’t yet been set but he’s considering the baked wings. If you’re a neighbor, you might get lucky and score an invitation to their home for the event.
Although new to WCA board, Sams is looking forward to serving the Westchase community. “I’m only sacrificing a little bit of my time to do this, but I live here and my family loves it here. So I want to see Westchase stay a superior product,” he says.
Sams offers complimentary nods to the property management company and their staff in Westchase. “Debbie and Charlotte do a fantastic job over there,” he says, adding praise the pride Westchase homeowners take in the community.
As he begins the sixth month of his two-year term, Sams looks forward to seeing the success of our community continue…one simple goal met at a time.
By Lisa Stephens
An Inventive Personality
When West Park Village resident Bernard Curry spends an extended amount of time in the garage, wife Kathy can be certain of one thing.
He will soon emerge from his workshop to declare yet again, “Honey, this is the big one!”
“I’ve been hearing that for 30 years!” she giggles.
Not to worry, Curry does not have a serious heart condition. He’s just come up with yet another idea he feels will be the next best thing on the market. Neighbors have benefitted from his many ideas and have become “testers” of the numerous products he creates at his home.
“It’s in the genes,” he says of his never ending desire to create or improve things. “My grandfather was a tinkerer in his own right. He would remake things,” Curry recalls.
As a child on Long Island, New York, Curry would often accompany his grandfather to a local dump to sift through the discarded appliances and household items. These findings would be retrieved and used for his grandfather’s projects.
After attending college, Curry went to work for a tree business, of which he eventually became co-owner. A Florida vacation prompted Kathy and him to leave New York and make Florida their home. Curry eventually started his own pest control company in 1989. “Working for someone else, I always felt like I could improve something or do something better, but the owner wasn’t interested,” he recalls. “I realized I’d need to start my own business and be my own boss or be in turmoil for the rest of my life.”
Along the way, Curry had always been tinkering with products he felt could be improved. Yet he still won’t refer to himself as an inventor. “I see things that I think could be improved upon and I say, ‘I could do better than that,’” he explains.
While he has sometimes encountered roadblocks or non-interest, he has nevertheless continued his hobby over the years. Curry’s duties in the tree business prompted him to come up with a device that would make a raking job much quicker and less painful. “I created a device that would slide over the handle of the rake,” he shares. With springs on the inside and a rubber exterior, the device would grip the rake handle, providing a barrier between the hand and rake to prevent blisters. When Curry went to market the product, he quickly learned the handle part of the rake and the actual spoked rake end of the product were manufactured by different companies. Neither were interested in combining their product with his for mass production. “That’s OK,” he thought, as he had many other ideas in the hopper!
Another item he created found mediocre success in several local stores. “I created a banner people could keep in the trunk of cars in case a driver found themselves stranded on the side of the road,” he says. The banner read “Need Help” and was equipped with suction cups at each end. However, the emergence of the cell phone quickly put the help banner sales in the tank.
Other improvements he’s created over the years include a device golfers use to gauge wind speed, a fish hook that will not get caught on the bottom of the lake, and an attachment for a vacuum that allows you to dust your home with your vacuum cleaner, thus capturing the dust instead of just stirring it up into the air. The list goes on and on.
He recently completed the final stages of development of what he is certain will be “the big one.” Having used several items on the market that claimed to age wine rapidly, Curry thought once again that he could make it better. He set out to create a device that could be put inside the wine bottle instead of attempting the aging process externally with magnetized coasters or racks. The end result is what he calls the Magnetic Wine Wand. This device creates a magnetic flux inside the bottle and ages the wine in approximately 20 minutes to a point that naturally takes 20-30 years. Curry claims it works on liqueurs as well. With design and packaging complete, he has marketed his product at local wine festivals and street fairs. His Magnetic Wine Wand recently won first place on the local radio show, My Cool Invention. To see what just might be the big one, visit his Web site at http://www.magneticwinewand.com.
Curry has high hopes for 2013. He is in the planning stages of a body dryer for the bathroom. From the sounds of it, Curry might be spending a lot more time in the garage in the days to come.
By Lisa Stephens
From Chelmsford to Central America
For Maggie Mularz, the adage “it’s better to give than to receive” was put to the test when she left the comforts of home to live in a Honduran orphanage for a half year.
After graduating from Davidson College in 2011, Maggie, the daughter of Betty and Ken Mularz of Chelmsford, initially sought a career in acting. While she was able to obtain several professional jobs, Mularz explained the Peace Corps had always sat been in the back of her mind. “I wanted to go abroad and do something with children,” she said. One night she did an Internet search of orphanages in Central and South America. “I e-mailed sixty and only three replied. One was the best fit for me,” she explained.
Why? To start there was a language issue. “They replied in English,” she said with a laugh. In their response, they explained she could live on site and eat with the kids. Further, she wouldn’t have to pay to go serve. “They seemed to be very organized, to really need my help,” she said.
Mularz observed she was very cautious about what to expect. “I wanted to be open to accept whatever would be there for me.”
Upon arrival, however, she was pleasantly surprised. “I found happy, loving and excited, little children.”
When she read about the children’s situations before arriving at the orphanage, she realized how much they had healed there.
Until ages 3 or 4, boys and girls at the orphanage are housed together. As they get older, they are separated by gender and age. Mularz was assigned to what is referred to as the small girls’ house, where she cared for girls aged 4-12. “Because I could speak decent Spanish, I could communicate with the women running that house,” she explained.
A typical day meant waking the girls at 5 a.m. each morning and helping the little ones brush their hair and teeth. Every girl attended morning prayer before the first meal of the day. Breakfast usually consisted of eggs, since chickens were raised on the farm there. If a food container had recently arrived, they would also be served granola and milk. While some foods were sometimes scarce, one thing was always consistent. “Every morning, everyone gets a MoonPie!” Mularz said with a chuckle.
The orphanage receives large shipments of MoonPies from a plant in Tennessee on a regular basis.
After breakfast, the girls went to school while Mularz went about tackling the least favored task on property – cleaning the dishes. Each day, twice a day, she washed 60 bowls, 60 spoons and a soup pot used to prepare the meals.
Once the dishes were put away, Mularz headed over to the office to translate sponsorship letters. “I liked doing this because I quickly learned every name, who had siblings there and their birthdays!”
By midday, it was time to prepare for lunch. This meal usually included cabbage soup, pork from the pigs raised and slaughtered on the farm, and eggs again. Post-lunch chores included another round of washing 60 bowls, 60 spoons and the soup pot again. Three days a week after school, the children attended a bible study. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, they received gifts from their sponsors abroad.
Evenings were a favorite time of day. After a rice and beans dinner, Mularz was assigned to helping the girls with baths. “This gave me a brief one-on-one interaction with the girls,” she explained. Run much like an assembly line, she enjoyed this time to be able to speak to the girls individually. Bathing was an important deterrent to ever present problems associated with lice and chicken pox at the institution. After the baths were complete, Mularz headed back to the volunteer house where she slept every night. “I’d go home and make my own dinner, which usually meant pasta and ketchup.”
Though Mularz enjoyed working with all the girls, she silently had her favorites. One 9-year-old who was malnourished when she arrived and had a mouth full of silver teeth provided great entertainment to others there. “She told the greatest stories! They would start out with reality and ended up with fantasy,” she recalled with a laugh. “I really miss her.”
When asked about how the volunteer experience might have changed her, Mularz shared, “If these kids who have been through so much don’t even complain, how could I ever? It was profoundly humbling and I carry this around with me now.”
Was it better to give than to receive? Maggie’s stay in Honduras provided an interesting lesson. When you give generously you receive priceless gifts in return.
What does the future hold? Maggie hopes to one day return to the orphanage to help those in need.
By Lisa Stephens
From the WCA Boardroom to the Voting Precinct
Just elected to a second term as a Westchase Community Association (WCA) director, Radcliffe’s Keith Heinemann is now focused on another important election.
On Nov. 6 Americans across the country will cast their votes in the general election. As Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections’ clerk for Westchase’s Precinct 508 (one of the two precincts that serve Westchase voters), Heinemann is responsible for making sure the voter experience is as pleasant as possible and that every vote is counted.
Originally from Milwaukee, Heinemann graduated from St. Olaf College with a B.A. in Economics. He then took the military route and served 28 years in the Air Force. He also earned an M.B.A. specializing in Transportation from the University of Tennessee. Selecting from his myriad memories of military career, Heinemann recalls his experience as transportation commander when he was given a three-day notice to prepare for the Gulf War. He faced the challenge of ensuring the vehicles needed for the war were ready and available. He was also responsible for the task of wartime vehicle support. Once that assignment was complete, he headed to the Pentagon, where he put his experience to work, planning what type of vehicles and people would be needed for combat support. The last posting he held was Chief, Mobility Operations, Directorate of Logistics and Security Assistance while stationed at MacDill AFB. He retired in 2000.
Prior to retiring from the Air Force, Heinemann and his wife Judy moved to Westchase. “It just seemed like it had such a sense of community here and things were being taken care of,” he says.
After what he describes as “decompressing for a while” following his retirement from the Air Force, Heinemann was eager to stay busy. So he took a job with the post office as a city carrier. It proved much different from his military duties. “I enjoyed the ease of that,” he adds.
He also took on the nonpartisan, paid position of precinct clerk to help out with the operational side of the election processes. “I run the mechanics of operating the polls and so I’m the person to blame if anything goes wrong,” he says with a laugh. He adds, “Part of my job is to make sure there isn’t any partisan stuff going on and just making sure everyone has a positive experience when they go to vote.”
For the upcoming general election Heinemann explains tables, signage and voting machines are set up at Precinct 508’s location, the Upper Tampa Bay Library, the day prior to the election (the other Westchase precinct is located at the Westchase Swim and Tennis Center). On Election Day, he will arrive by 6 a.m. and stay until voting ends later that evening at 7 p.m. Heinemann says there are approximately 2,500 registered voters in Precinct 508 and approximately 60 percent of those will come out to vote for this election. He suggests voters study the candidates for each race prior to arriving at the polls; voters with physical challenges are also accommodated by staff.
A strong advocate for volunteering for elections, Heinemann says there is always a need for inspectors to greet people and give out ballots. Workers are also needed to help set up and take down the equipment at each location. He invites anyone interested in these positions for future elections to visit http://www.votehillsborough.org and follow the link for poll workers.
Heinemann takes time out every now and then to relax, but doesn’t take his hobbies too seriously. “I’m a lousy bowler and I have some friends who let me play baseball with them every now and then,” he explains with a chuckle.
As a WCA Director, Heinemann says he has enjoyed working with the group of folks with the aim of maintaining Westchase property values. “We work well together in meeting the common goals of this community,” he says. He also served as Radcliffe’s voting member (VM) for several years and is currently his neighborhood’s alternate VM. As VM, Heinemann was instrumental in working with his neighbors towards replacing their mailboxes and worn and tattered street signs.
Of his community service for Radcliffe and Westchase, Heinemann concludes, “It’s just a little civic duty that I can do to pay back my community.”
By Lisa Stephens
1,300 Finish Lines and Counting
Road race season is now upon us.
In just a few weeks, runners and walkers will converge on our neighborhood to participate in The Great West Chase. If you’re considering dusting off the old Nikes to enter but need a little inspiration, look no further than Vineyards residents Frank and Diane Spicer.
Collectively, this Westchase couple has crossed more than 1,300 finish lines!
Diane’s interest in running actually began when she participated in a March of Dimes walk. “A friend suggested I run in the Gasparilla. I did it and I fell in love,” she recalls.
Frank’s story is one to which many of us can relate. It all started on New Year’s Eve in 1993. “Well, I told everyone I was going to run the Boston Marathon,” he chuckles.
He might have received some muffled giggles that night from doubting friends, but Frank is the one laughing now. “The next day I ran 2½ miles and then the next morning after that, I woke up paralyzed,” he jokes.
Despite a rough start at keeping his resolution, running has become a major part of his life. Once he got the feeling back in his legs after that inaugural run, he started training properly. Eight months later he ran his first marathon in New York City. “After that,” he says, “it was game, set, match. I loved the challenge.”
He did indeed run the Boston Marathon two years and three months after declaring that goal. He has since completed seven more.
It comes as no surprise to learn this couple met at a race. Fittingly, their engagement took place at a race as well. After asking her family for Diane’s hand in marriage, Frank had it all planned out. They had already registered for The Bridge Run in Savannah, Georgia. The 10K course included, of course, a large bridge. Frank raced ahead to be there first. As Diane came across, he dropped to one knee to make his request of her. “I thought he was injured,” chuckles Diane. “He had to ask me twice before I realized what he was doing!”
Cheers of congratulations followed them to the finish line. Their engagement was announced in the local paper the next day as coverage of the event ran with an article entitled “Love on the Run.”
While their engagement story includes a race, their honeymoon included one as well. “It was the Trails and Tails 5K,” Frank recalls. “I really was afraid I’d fall with all those dogs running around,” he adds.
Diane laughs as she describes the event as “hairy trying to navigate the pets.”
Frank explains their honeymoon started their travel/running way of life. “We make plans to see family and take vacations based upon the races going on at the time,” he says.
Today the couple has quite a bit of experience to offer others who are considering getting into running. Diane has completed 750 races including 5Ks, 10Ks, half and full marathons. In addition to that outstanding number, she’s also completed 120 triathlons. “I had a bad knee so my doctor suggested I break up my workout,” she explains.
Her solution was to include swimming and biking into her training so she could add triathlons to her list of races. Frank follows up by explaining, “I’ve only run 500 races, she’s the real athlete,” he says.
His “only 500” includes 88 full marathons. He set a goal to run a marathon in every state and achieved that goal in 2008 with a marathon in Hartford, CT. His future goal is to run his 100th in Greece along the course from which the term marathon is derived. The Greek race course runs from Marathon to Athens, the same course taken by the soldier Pheidippides, the fabled messenger who delivered news of the Athenian victory in the Battle of Marathon in 490 BC.
To anyone just getting started in the sport, Frank and Diane have simple suggestions. They suggest you first go to a running store to be fitted properly for shoes. “Don’t just go to the mall and pick out the cool looking blue ones like I did,” he warns. That, he says, might have contributed to his initial paralysis.
They also suggest you start slow with small goals and gain confidence as you go. Frank says it’s important to realize you’ll have some days when you might just have a bad run. He says to move past that and get back out again. A running partner will help keep you motivated and accountable as well. “Knowing someone else is waiting on you will help get you out there,” he says.
Like their love for one another, their love for running shows no signs of stopping anytime soon.
By Lisa Stephens
A Nostalgic Longing for the Games
Last month many Westchase residents were glued to their TVs and computer monitors, transfixed by the 2012 Olympic Games.
Watching was a different experience for Bridges resident Rhadi Ferguson. As a 2004 Olympian, Ferguson understands the sacrifices one must make to arrive upon the world’s premier stage for athletics.
The journey started at age 6.
Ferguson grew up in Miami as an only child. He uses his quick wit to explain why he didn’t have siblings. “My parents got it right the first time!” he chuckles.
At age 6 Ferguson began taking Judo lessons at an after-school program. He also enjoyed playing football in the streets with his cousins. One cousin, Greg, often confronted the fighting techniques Ferguson was developing in his judo classes. “When we weren’t getting along, my parents told us to work things out in the yard,” he explains. “We battled until we were almost finished with college. And he’ll tell you that he won, but I really did,” he says with a laugh.
Impressed by the engineering program at Howard University, he turned down a scholarship to University of Wisconsin to attend Howard, where he earned a degree in mechanical engineering and later a Master’s in teaching. He also earned his doctoral degree in education from Capella University.
His road to the Olympics began at age 22. A senior in college, he sat with his mom watching Jimmy Pedro win a bronze medal for judo in the 1996 Olympics. “I said, ‘Mom, I’m going to the Olympics!’” he recalls.
Her “Yeah, right” response was likely rooted in the fact that Ferguson had stopped his judo lessons at age 13. Her response, however, didn’t dissuade him.
After graduation, he accepted a sales position with Texas Instruments and returned to the sport.
His Olympic training schedule included a morning run before work. After work, he travelled by train to the Tohoku Judo Club, where his idol, Pedro, had once trained. He was soon ranked second in the country. “I knew if I was going to make the Olympic team, I’d have to get rid of the peripheral stuff around me,” he says.
He ultimately quit his job and headed to the Olympic Training Center. “I practiced non-stop every day,” he says. Though he did not make the team that time, he did qualify as an alternate for the 2000 games in Australia.
In 2002, he returned to the Olympic Training Center to work towards his dream. Sacrifices were necessary. Before leaving, he managed to squeeze in a wedding to longtime girlfriend Traci. When asked about a honeymoon, his reply is simple. “Winning isn’t easy.”
This time, Ferguson turned what had once been just hard training into a 60-hour a week job. The goal? Making it the Olympic team.
“I worked with the staff and strength coaches and we viewed film daily. That effort paid off as he realized his dream of making the team for the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Greece. He managed to save enough money to purchase his parents tickets to come and watch him compete – eight years after he revealed his Olympic dream to his mom.
Ferguson recalls the 2004 opening ceremonies. “It was a fantastic time. Athletes were in a holding area until our country was called to take the walk before the crowds. Everyone was taking pictures and having a great time.”
When asked about being nervous with the world watching, Ferguson shrugs. “That time is like the calm in the eye of the storm. The first part of the storm, the training to get you there, is over. Now you’re just calm and waiting. Then the second half of the storm, the bout, will begin.”
Ferguson explains that Olympians are unique athletes. “You get nervous when your ego gets involved and you worry about what people are going to think if you lose. Champions are immune to criticism and to be a champion, you have to get to that point.”
Due to an injury, Ferguson returned home before closing ceremonies. Having won one round and lost two, he also returned home without a medal. He did, however, bring home an enormous sense of accomplishment.
Watching this summer’s events wasn’t easy for him. “I was happy for the U.S. but sad that I wasn’t there to try it one more time. Age has a way of putting you into the general population. It’s very humbling,” he admits.
Today Ferguson puts his knowledge and experience to use as a coach to benefit other athletes pursuing their dreams of becoming champions. He is a recognized High Performance Enhancement Specialist centered in education, business and sport. His Web sites are http://www.drrhadiferguson.com www.t,hejudotutor.com and http://www.getfinintampa.com.
By Lisa Stephens
Ensuring Others’ Smooth Sailing
With summer in full swing, many Westchase residents are enjoying the luxury of travel for their summer vacation.
Whether by car, train or plane, the logistics of getting your family to and from their destination can be daunting. If getting your family off to paradise causes you to cringe, imagine the work behind processing 2,600 vacationers through a cruise line port.
As a shore operations manager for Holland America Line, Fords resident Wendela Jackson does exactly that every week. It’s her job to make sure guests board and exit the ship in a timely and orderly manner – complete with correct documentation, luggage and smiles upon their faces.
Originally from Vancouver, British Columbia, Jackson and her family moved to the Seattle area when she was a small child. She recalls the outdoor fun she enjoyed in the Northwest. “My mom was a cub scout leader in Canada so for us there was lots of camping and hiking.”
Her love of travel was realized early in life her family would visit Holland to visit relatives. “I aspired to work for Club Med one day or become a flight attendant,” she explains.
After high school, she attended Western Washington University, where she studied French. The next few years of her life are reminiscent of the popular book Eat, Pray, Love – excluding the divorce drama of the main character. Jackson went to live in Holland, where she perfected her Dutch speaking skills. She studied French in the south of France and worked as an au pair for an older woman. “She lived in a house that was built about a thousand years ago,” she recalls of her living arrangements.
Realizing one of her earlier dreams, Jackson was hired by Club Med in the Turks and Caicos Islands as a swim instructor. “Once I got into the groove, it was a blast. I was young and single and it was a perfect time to do that!”
After 2½ years, she returned to the states and earned a degree in Office Administration at Griffin College. While working for The Boeing Company, she met future husband Brian. Their first date took place on Halloween. Evidently, the ghouls and goblins out that evening weren’t enough to deter the couple. In September, they will celebrate 22 years of marriage.
In 1990, Jackson was hired by Holland America. An opening with the cruise line in Tampa was presented to her when Brian’s job promised to relocate the couple to Tampa Bay in 1998.
As shore operations manager, Jackson is responsible for guests from the time they arrive at the port until they board the ship’s gangway. She sometimes has to coordinate employees to meet incoming guests at the airport and have them shuttled to the port.
A lot can happen from the time guests leave the airport until they depart on the ship. Jackson makes sure the process goes as smoothly as possible. Challenges include days when she’s working with multiple ships, delayed airlines or lost luggage. If a passenger should be delayed for reasons beyond their control during travel to the port, Jackson makes sure that passenger is transported to the next port of call so they can join the ship.
Luggage isn’t the only thing lost in the shuffle of travel. “People actually show up at the wrong port sometimes!” she explains.
Boarding and disembarking also include customs agents processing non U.S. citizens and measures taken to check for contagious conditions among the passengers. At the end of a voyage, extreme cleansing measures are taken to sanitize the entire ship if a certain number of passengers are deemed ill. Fortunately for all, that isn’t very often.
Bad weather also plays a huge part in the scheduling of her day. On a day with heavy fog or high winds, ships sometimes have to sit at Egmont Key for three or four hours until the weather is clear enough for them travel under the Sunshine Skyway Bridge.
Jackson shares some exciting news from the Tampa Bay cruise industry. Serious talks between several cruise lines are now taking place to develop a pier in Pinellas County that will allow mega ships into our area, thus boosting the appeal of the Tampa area for larger ships.
Jackson suspects she’s taken approximately 30 cruises herself over the years. Her daughter Brianna has taken roughly 20. “She knows her way around a ship and they all know her,” she laughs.
After moving thousands of people through Tampa’s port on a daily basis, getting her family of three through the process must certainly be smooth sailing!
By Lisa Stephens
Making the World a Happier Place
Greens resident Gail Frank jokingly reminds her water-soaked son, Ryan, of what a great mom he has and she get a giggle from him in return
She then gets up to retrieve the pool toys he has misplaced in the far corner of the pool. Though she never set out to be a hero in anyone’s eye, Frank has certainly come to the rescue of many others. Young and old alike have benefitted from the eagerness Frank has to help those surfing life’s unchartered waters.
Originally from Massachusetts, Frank spent her high school years studying hard. She also made time to push open doors that were often closed for girls. With the passage of Title IX in 1972, the opportunity for girls to participate in school sports was just beginning. Frank led the way in her school to help pull together and organize girls teams. Leading her teammates to victory, she served as captain on both the swim and track teams. She set school records for the 50- and 100-yard freestyle events and was named Merrimack Valley Conference All-Star. She was also an accomplished hurdler and high jumper on the track team. Recently inducted into the Lowell High School Hall of Fame along with her track coach, Frank proudly accepted the honor, joining her father among its members.
Frank also followed family tradition when she entered Harvard University. Her father, two uncles and brother are also graduates. “Harvard is a place for big dreams and huge ideas,” she says. “I wish I could go back and experience it as a self-confident adult.”
Frank and her family recently enjoyed a week-long 25th reunion, which included Camp Harvard for her children, and parties and discussion panels for her husband, Gary, and her to enjoy. After graduating with a degree in economics, Frank enjoyed a successful career in brand management, marketing and operations with companies including Procter & Gamble and BIC Corporation.
After moving into their cul-de-sac home in The Greens in 2000, Frank saw a need for a way to communicate neighborhood news to her fellow Greens residents. Putting her computer skills to work, she created a Web site and has served as Greens Webmaster since. As the Greens developed into multiple villages, she realized the folks in one village didn’t necessarily need or want to know the details only pertaining to another village. After going door to door gathering e-mail addresses, she created group distribution lists via Yahoo! for each village. Frank credits the e-mail lists as a great way for surrounding neighbors to communicate with one another rather than depending on folks to visit the general Greens Web site. The information exchanged is not limited to Westchase governmental issues either. “We’ve even found lost cats!” she chuckles.
After daughter Sarah entered kindergarten at Westchase Elementary School, Frank saw yet another opportunity to make life just a bit easier for students and parents. Prior to the beginning of a new school year, parents receive letters announcing their child’s teacher assignment for the upcoming year. “Parents start calling each other and asking ‘Who’s class are you in?’” Frank explains. “They’re trying to find out if their child will know someone.”
Always quick to resolve the dilemma, Frank sat down once again at her computer and created a hugely popular resource for many Westchase Elementary parents. For them, it helps ease their child’s nervousness and the tension of the first day of class. Her Web site, https://sites.google.com/site/AreYouinMyClass is si,mple to navigate. After entering limited information, parents can learn who will be in their child’s classroom and the e-mail addresses of the other parents. “The first year I did this, we had a pool party with others before school even started,” Frank says.
Last year more than 500 entries were submitted prior to school.
Frank turned her talents for helping those in need into a successful career. As a career services professional, she conducts outplacement workshops and offers resume writing and interview training. Technology plays a vital role in her occupational success. “I am intrigued by distance and virtual learning. I’ve been doing it for over ten years and see nothing but future opportunities to be able to impact many people.”
So whether it’s a friend, lost pet or job, Frank has repeatedly come to the rescue. “I have been very blessed and lucky in my life and am always trying to figure out how to make the world, even my small world, into a better place.”
Success On and Off the Field
When Greens Trey Corish approached the Westchase Charitable Foundation (WCF) seeking help for a friend, he had no idea it would change his life.
The path he took that day would lead ultimately him to a leadership role with the charitable organization.
Familiar to many Westchasers as the group that organizes the Westchase Cup Golf Tournament and Santa’s Pre-Flight Parade each year, the WCF has helped raise and distribute more than $160,000 to children and families facing financial hardships due to medical bills or other crises. “I went to the foundation on behalf of a family I knew at the time that needed help,” Corish recalls. “I saw firsthand what it did for that family and I knew I had to become involved.”
That was five years ago. Today Corish serves as acting secretary and is gearing up now for the WCF’s third annual Woman of the Year event, which he has led since its inauguration in 2010.
Originally from Savannah, Georgia, Corish landed in Westchase by way of college graduation and Tampa employment opportunities. A graduate of University of Georgia with a business major, he accepted a position with an insurance company just after graduation. Risk management insurance ran in his blood. The Corish family has operated an insurance business in Georgia since 1917. After working for various insurance companies for more than 20 years, he convinced his Georgia family to open a Tampa branch, which he now operates. Wife Mandy and sons Maddux, Cullen and Tyler enjoy the lifestyle Westchase has to offer. “It has the small town feel I’m used to,” he explains, referring to his Savannah roots.
Corish says all his boys are involved in sports – just as he was as a child. “If it had the word sport in it, then I was involved.”
He laughs, recalling his own childhood experiences with football, baseball, basketball and track. “It kept me busy after school.”
Corish stays “in the game” these days by being active with his boys while they play. He has coached travel baseball and tackle football teams for his sons. “We’re always at a field somewhere,” he says.
When asked what he likes best about being a dad, Corish has a quick answer. “Having the ability to coach all my kids and teaching them how to do what they want to learn to do the right way when it comes to playing sports.”
The time he spent on the playing field as a kid is certainly paying dividends for Corish now as dad.
When he isn’t on the playing field with his boys, Corish is busy going to bat for needy families through his involvement with WCF. “Everyone on our board is 100 percent volunteer and 100 percent of our net proceeds go towards families in need,” he proudly states.
He explains the funds raised by the organization go to families with children suffering a severe illness or families in a financially catastrophic situation. Of his involvement he says, “There is no better way to give back to your community than by giving to someone who really needs it.”
Corish will soon be gearing up for the Woman of the Year event, which will be held in the fall. Last year’s winner, Kristie Johnston of Catch 23, raised $32,000 by going to local businesses to request sponsorships, giving up several nights’ tips and running a corn hole tournament to raise funds.
Women from around Tampa Bay are either nominated or volunteer to be part of the event. The woman raising the most funds in a nine-week period is crowned the winner. The prize package alone is worth a small fortune. Part of the winner’s package last year included a Neiman Marcus deluxe gift basket, an entire year of hair care, dinner for eight at a local restaurant, estate planning and more. Corish says the prize package for this year will be even better.
The Woman of the Year event concludes with an evening fashion show, hors d’oeuvres, [vulgarity] and wine. The winner is then announced, crowned and sashed. Corish encourages any woman interested in participating in the event this year to contact him through the foundation Web site, http://www.westchasefoundation.org.
Corish credits the event’s past success to the support of Catch 23, Zen Bistro, Bill Wickett of Tampa Bay Lightening and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Thanks to community volunteers like Trey Corish, success can certainly be enjoyed both on and off the field.
By Lisa Stephens
Superior Suggestions for a Super Summer
While students anxiously await their fast approaching summer break, many parents need ideas to fill the long, hot days.
Greens resident Darlene Splaine invites parents to look no further than the upcoming Westchase Super Summer Sign Ups event at Westchase Elementary on May 2. As a mom to two students herself, Splaine knows the struggles of finding just the right activity to pique and hold the interest of today’s busy students. A busy mom, Splaine hopes the event will make it easy for fellow parents to come and see the many opportunities that await students of all ages and interests.
Splaine is originally from Massachusetts and decided upon St. Anselm College in New Hampshire to pursue her nursing degree. “I always loved being around and helping people,” she says.
Those who know her can attest to the healing properties of her broad smile and infectious laughter. Splaine’s upbeat and positive attitude has a way of leaving a person feel uplifted after spending just a moment with her.
Splaine was determined to get away from the cold, northern winters. Even though she had never even been to Tampa, she moved here after graduation. “Now that I think about that, it was kind of crazy, wasn’t it?” she chuckles.
She had accepted a nursing position at St. Joseph’s Hospital and was glad to take a position in a warmer climate. After one year, she became a traveling nurse. “It was during the nursing shortage and it was a great opportunity to get to travel while I was single,” she explains.
With her housing and other expenses paid, Splaine fulfilled three-month contracts to various assignments around the country. “They arranged everything for me and all I had to do was just show up and work. I lived all over the place. I might be in Chicago, then California, and then back to Florida.”
Her favorite was San Diego. “I kept extending my contract there,” she says with a laugh.
While still a traveling nurse, she accepted an assignment at Tampa General Hospital. During that experience, she met an interesting IT guy who was also in Tampa on a temporary assignment. After a five-year courtship, they were married in 1996. Today Steven and she are parents to sons Jack and Sam.
Like many other parents, Jack’s enrollment as a kindergartener at Westchase Elementary was also the beginning of Splaine’s volunteer efforts at the school. “I volunteered to help out in his classroom,” she explains.
The experience led to other involvement at the school. One of her favorite volunteer activities has been her work with Westchase Elementary’s Mentoring Program. Splaine met once a week with a struggling child to help with school work, talk or sometimes just play a game. “I had one child I met with one year who wanted to play checkers every week and he really beat me every week,” she recalls.
Her reward was seeing the confidence children would develop when given just a bit of one-on-one attention. While the best part of the program for Splaine was seeing the excitement of her student when she arrived to take him from the classroom, the hardest part was always saying goodbye at the end of the year.
This summer marks the third year Splaine has served as coordinator of Super Summer Sign Ups. The event will take place in the multipurpose room at Westchase Elementary at 6 p.m. Any parent is welcome to attend; those attending do not have to have a student enrolled at Westchase Elementary. Admission is free.
Splaine says approximately 30 vendors offering summer camps and activities will be on hand to provide information about their services. Camp programs and events vary from half-day to full-week opportunities and range in age level and price. “I look for something different to add each time,” Splaine says. A Lego camp will be new this year. Other favorites, such as MOSI, the Westchase Swim and Tennis Center Summer Camp, horse camps and art camps, will return.
Summer plans for Splaine and her family include a trip back home to Massachusetts to escape Florida’s summer heat. “I’ll stay as long as I possibly can,” she reveals.
While there, Splaine likes to reconnect with old high school friends and spend time on the beaches with her family. Perhaps if she’s lucky, she’ll be able to fit in a camp or two for her own boys while they’re away.
By Lisa Stephens
A Familiar Face Joins the Swim and Tennis Center
If the new face at the Westchase Swim and Tennis Center seems awfully familiar, there’s a reason.
He’s likely the same guy who assisted you during your last round of golf at the Westchase Golf Club.Dan Mielke recently earned his certification from the United States Professional Tennis Association (USPTA) and is putting those skills to great use as the newest tennis instructor at the Westchase Swim and Tennis Center. Mielke also works at the Westchase Golf Club to complete requirements of the Professional Golf Association (PGA) to become a certified professional with that organization as well.
The summer of 2012 will be the first full summer in Florida for this Baltimore native. “I’m looking forward to seeing how my body will react to it,” he chuckles as he gears up for the dog days of summer on both the court and the course.
As a child, Mielke jumped into sports quickly. He remembers playing tennis, golf and baseball at a very early ages. Between time on the playing fields, he picked up the trombone and also enjoyed music as he grew older. “It was a jazzy instrument to me and that’s what I liked at the time,” he recalls.
Though he was offered a music scholarship, Mielke strongly considered joining the military after graduating from high school. After taking the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) exam, he was certain of one thing. “I knew I didn’t want to join,” he says.
Instead, he stayed closer to home and attended Essex Community College on a golf scholarship. Planning to study psychology, Mielke took a position at Johns Hopkins Medical Center as a counselor in crisis intervention. While he changed his major to business administration, he continued to work for Johns Hopkins for ten years in a variety of programs including substance abuse and programs for both teens and adults. To relieve the stress of counseling those in trouble, Mielke enjoyed playing the trombone in several dinner theaters, which included performances of The Wizard of Oz and Fiddler on the Roof.
His business administration knowledge came in handy when he opened his own business serving court summons. “A friend of mine did that and it was a very lucrative opportunity,” he explains. His most harrowing moment came when he was greeted by a man with a shotgun pointed at his chest as the homeowner opened the door. When asked how he managed to escape the ordeal, he simply states, “I left.”
Staying true to his passions, Mielke continued to play golf and tennis. Those two worlds came together one day while playing a round of golf. He met USPTA member John White, who encouraged him to consider teaching tennis. “He hired me as an assistant and mentored me for a few years.”
Mielke then went on to work at Hunt Valley Golf Club as an assistant tennis instructor under director Ben Barron. “It’s important to me that those guys be mentioned,” he says of the two key people who encouraged and helped him earn his USPTA certification.
Spending last winter with his dad in Key West brought Mielke to Florida. With a sister living in Hudson, he decided to make Tampa his home. Along with his feathered companion, Jerry, a yellow fronted Amazon parrot, Mielke has enjoyed his new surroundings. He gets plenty of talk time with his bird since Jerry speaks over 100 different words and phrases. Spending so much time outdoors allows Mielke to appreciate the wilder side of Westchase. “The wildlife here is incredible,” he says of the birds he sees each day while working at both locations.
Mielke conducts the children’s tennis clinics Monday through Thursday from 3:30-7 p.m. He then takes on the adult clinic at 7 p.m. He also offers private lessons to both children and adults. “I like to see the improvement of skills with both our children and adult students,” he says of his teaching efforts. “I just want everyone to have a great time and enjoy what tennis has to offer while getting an incredible workout.”
Whether you’re swinging a club or racket, be sure to welcome Mielke to Westchase. He’ll pass along your greetings to Jerry.
By Lisa Stephens
Stephens, a resident of West Park Village, is always looking for interesting Westchase residents to profile. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A Familiar Smile and Friendly Greeting
The friendly atmosphere at one neighborhood pizzeria can be credited to a resident’s warm smile and greetings.
Westchase residents enjoy a wide variety of cuisine options when choosing restaurants. Marina’s Pizza has endured the test of time to become a favorite of Westchase families searching for something close, fast and friendly. The “friendly” part of that equation is largely due to the smiles served up by Berkley Square resident Becky Gladding, who greets many of the regulars by name.Originally from North Kingstown, Rhode Island, Gladding paints an idyllic picture when describing weekends on her dads’ farm, located on an island off the coast. “We had chickens, cows, and sheep. And we’d spend hours picking raspberries and blueberries,” she recalls of life on the farm. Vegetable gardens provided the food they stored for the winter seasons. “The animals became my friends but dad always said, ‘We have to eat.’”
Those gardens and berries became the main resources Gladding and her cousins would pull from when creating skin-care concoctions in her kitchen. “We made all kinds of things for our face and hair,” she explains. Lanolin from the sheep wool would be mixed with coconut oil and beeswax to make lotions. They also made homemade soaps, cuticle creams and lip balms. “We had so much fun doing that and coming up with different combinations.”
To earn money as a teenager, Gladding took on waitressing jobs. “It was really good money for me without having to work long hours,” she says.
One job had her serving the breakfast crowd on a 4:30 a.m. shift. Her waitress positions also helped out with the expenses while she attended nursing school. Becoming a nurse seemed the right thing to do for Gladding since she had helped care for her grandfather, who was paralyzed when she was just 6-years-old. “I loved taking care of people and I realized that a simple, kind gesture will lift someone’s spirit, no matter what they’re going through in life,” she says.
But the tough side of nursing changed Gladding’s desire to continue in that profession. “I didn’t like the politics involved and I saw that, over time, some people would become hardened to separate themselves from the emotional side of caring for people.”
Fearing the stress of the job would not be good for her in the long run, Gladding decided to end her nursing career. As a single mom, Gladding wanted to replace the stress surrounding her and replace it with a job she could leave at work when she left at the end of the day. “I’d rather waitress and have instability than be a nurse with stability and stress in my life,” she explains.
In 2003 Gladding made the decision to join her mom and grandmother in Tampa. She packed up daughters Kaylei and Alexandra and headed south. She took a year off from working to get acquainted with her new surroundings. “Westchase reminded me of home with its small-town, community feel.”
After a year, she went into Marina’s to apply for a job and has been there ever since. Gladding explains her current goal is to get Alexandra, now a student at Farnell Middle School, through school. She also enjoys watching her grandchildren, Avah and A.J., for older daughter Kaylei. Once Alexandra has graduated, Gladding says her goal will switch back to her own aspirations, which stem back to good times she had on the farm.
“I still have all my recipes and make all my own skin-care products!” she exclaims.
Gladding plans to go back to school to become aesthetician with her own product line. “That’s where I see myself ten years from now, “she says.
In the meantime, she enjoys her time with the Westchase residents who frequent Marina’s. She explains most know her by name and she’s enjoyed sharing in the lives of her customers. “I’ve been though first pregnancies, watching kids grow up, families moving away and some moving back. It’s been a pleasant experience for me.”
While the restaurant is closed on Sundays, Gladding takes that day to spend with her family. She also makes time to cook up some of her own favorites like creamy potato soup with gorgonzola or carrot with rosemary.
Whether it’s pizza or pasta on a Saturday night or soup on a Sunday afternoon, food always tastes better when served with that familiar Gladding smile Westchase resident have come to love!
By Lisa Stephens
Wisdom, Wit and a Warm Welcome
When WOW asked Bette Vance if she’d serve as a willing subject of our February Profile, Vance had a unique response.
“Well, do I have to tell the truth?”
Yet this witty and engaging 79-year-old Vineyards resident needs no embellishment. Her positive attitude and ability to laugh at herself have enabled Vance to enjoy her senior years to their fullest.
And Vance isn’t ready to slow down.
A graduate of Indiana University, Vance majored in speech pathology. “I had three deaf uncles and a deaf cousin. I thought that I might one day have a deaf child myself,” she explains.
Though she never had to use her therapist skills with her own children, she enjoyed her career working with her students. Her first teaching job was in 1954 and earned her an annual salary of $3,600.
When her husband Charles and she decided they’d had enough snow and ice, they decided to make Florida home. After moving to Tampa, Vance continued her career as a speech pathologist another 13 years in Hillsborough County School District. In January of 1993 Vance retired. Yet she never stopped learning about her profession. Though now retired for 19 years, she declares, “I still read my professional journals to keep up with changes and new ideas!”
When contemplating a move to simplify their living arrangements in retirement, Westchase captured the Vances’ attention, despite the community still being in the development stages at the time. Staying true to their past, the couple selected a lot by the large pond in The Vineyards. “All my homes have been by the water,” she explains.
Plans were drawn and with a few changes and additions, their dream home was completed. “We were the seventh family to move into The Vineyards and moved on March 7, 2000, onto lot seven,” she recalls. Vance advises there are still 26 original families in The Vineyards, which now includes 120 homes.
She stays on top of these statistics as a member of the Westchase Welcome Committee. “I waited a few months after moving in before volunteering to see if anyone else wanted to do it.”
When no one else signed up for the job, Vance was glad to fill the spot she has now held for more than ten years. “I wait until they settle in and then I deliver the welcome bags and a plant and just tell them about the neighborhood.”
The Welcome Committee certainly wasn’t the first of her volunteer endeavors. While her children were young, she served as a Bible school teacher, Brownie and Cub Scout leader, city historian and library trustee. “Service is the rent you pay on earth,” she says of the motto she tries to live by. “I can’t take credit for that quote, but it’s something I follow.”
Vance recalls one project she worked for in the Westchase community that didn’t draw the praise she had originally hoped for. “I worked on a committee to bring McDonald’s to Westchase and not everyone was happy about that at the time,” she recalls.
Sadly, her husband Charles passed away just two years after moving to Westchase. Photos and memorabilia fill her home as reminders of their 44-year marriage. Her advice for a long and happy marriage is simple. “Just respect one another and touch often,” she says. “What I miss the most is the touch of his hand or the hugs we shared. I see people together today and I just want to push them closer together,” she chuckles. “I think couples just get out of the habit of that after a while,” she observes.
When asked about her favorite Valentine’s Day with Charles, Vance instead cites the most memorable. “Charles didn’t bring flowers one year,” she recalls. Tapping into the drama courses she took in college, she describes the situation. “I went into my acting mode and made my best scene with tears and crying, the works!” she says with a giggle. “There was never a problem after that because he never forgot again!”
Vance now fills her days with travel and sharing great times with friends. An active member of the Westchase Senior Group, she enjoys the monthly outings and gatherings of the club. Her travels have taken her to destinations around the world. She recently celebrated her 79th birthday in Portugal.
The truth is, Vance’s wit and wisdom make this Westchaser quite unique. Her neighbors are fortunate to have her setting out the welcome mat.
And Vance wouldn’t have it any other way. She has loved spending her retirement in Westchase.
“I’ve never been bored,” she declares, “not for a minute.”
By Lisa Stephens
A Good Neighbor – and Still in His Teens
In November the WCA Board announced the winner of the Nathan Lafer Good Neighbor Award and he was the youngest recipient in the award’s history.
WOW’s Westchase Profile often introduces a community volunteer who works to enhance the lives of others. This month’s subject doesn’t fit the profile of our typical Westchase volunteer. He isn’t over the age of 30, employed full time, retired or busy raising children. Yet the project he started from his home has grown over the years and his parents’ garage isn’t large enough to hold it all now.
Ben Stein was a high school student when he organized the first Westchase Thanksgiving Food Drive. Now one of the largest contributors to Metropolitan Ministries during the holiday season, the annual drive involves our entire community, giving every Westchase resident an opportunity to be a part of something great.
Never underestimate Westchase youth.
Born in Chicago, Stein explains, “We moved to Florida when I was 8 and I barely remember snow, so Tampa is home!”
While he is currently a student at the University of Florida, Stein’s parents, Jonathan and Martha Stein, and his siblings Alex and Casey reside in The Estates of Harbor Links. During his middle and high school years, Stein was quite active in community service projects.
Through his involvement with the National Federation of Temple Youth, he served on the executive board of the Southern Tropical Region. One project that remains dear to him is Camp Jenny. The camp provides an opportunity for Atlanta’s inner city youth to attend a four-day camp run by Jewish youth from across the southeastern U.S. “Those were children who never had a chance to go to summer camp and I plan to stay active in that project,” he says.
Stein also served in the City of Tampa Mayor Youth Corps, a service-oriented program involving community projects and leadership development activities for youth. As a Boy Scout, Stein also served as senior patrol leader and achieved the level of Eagle Scout.
When preparing for his Bar Mitzvah ceremony, Stein decided to hold what he now calls a “mini” food drive his Estates neighborhood. When later considering ideas for his Eagle Scout project, Stein decided to expand the drive to include more of the Westchase community. To help advertise his idea, Stein says he met with WOW Publisher Chris Barrett. He also met with several community leaders and made a presentation at a Westchase Community Association meeting to explain his project. “I also reached out to Publix and Sweetbay and we put up banners and went door to door with flyers to create community hype.”
That was in 2008 and his goal for that first year was to collect 20 turkeys and 2,000 pounds of food. Each neighborhood had assigned community captains to cover their own areas to collect the donations. He covered his own neighborhood. Stein recalls, “My mom drove a van and we just ran down the street running back and forth from the van to homes loading the food.”
The central location for gathering all the donations together was a U-haul truck parked at the Westchase Swim and Tennis Center. Stein was overwhelmed at the level of interest and eagerness of residents to help. “People would come to me straight from Publix with turkeys and food to donate. Several even promised to match our goal!”
As a result, Stein far exceeded his initial hopes for the project. The first drive involving the entire community raised 120 turkeys and 6,300 pounds of food! Donations the second year doubled. By the third year, an additional truck was added for collection. The 2011 drive gathered 11,000 pounds of food and 146 turkeys as well as monetary donations and gift cards.
The donations are taken to Metropolitan Ministries. Stein describes the organization as “more than appreciative.”
“The main guy there that first year just came out and hugged me. He showed me the impact our efforts made.”
For his work providing food for the needy, Stein was awarded the Golden Barrel Award by Metropolitan Ministries. “They gave it to me but I really feel like it belongs to our community,” he adds.
Stein is reluctant to take much credit for coming up with the project that has grown into such a success. “I just thank my parents for their support of me in these endeavors. They always gave me personal liberty and freedom to try things and learn from them on my own instead of holding my hand and guiding me through.”
Congratulations and many thanks to Stein for adding to the reasons why Westchase is such a great place to live!
By Lisa Stephens
Encouraging Dads to Get Involved
According to Radcliffe resident Eric Holt, girls aren’t the only ones who just wanna have fun.
Dads do too. As president of the Westchase Dads’ Club, Holt is on a mission to make the group the top independent fundraiser for Westchase Elementary School.
Having fun while making money isn’t new for Holt. As a student at Tulane University in New Orleans, he accepted a position with Anheuser-Busch. Competition was stiff for the coveted position in the promotions and merchandising department, but Holt secured the spot. He must have been just the right size to wear the caped blue, red and yellow costume.
The costume was required to play the part of “Bud Man” while promoting Anheuser-Busch products in college bars. “It was awesome,” he chuckles.
Holt originally chose Tulane because of its academic reputation. But life in New Orleans proved to be fun outside of class as well. “When I put down the books, there was a lot to do. I worked hard and played hard,” he recalls.
After graduation, Holt stayed in New Orleans another year and continued to work for Anheuser-Busch. He passed the “Bud Man” costume to another anxiously awaiting applicant while he moved into a position as a sales representative for distributing. His career and experience with the company grew as he moved into various positions, including business analyst, revenue and pricing management and category manager.
When an offer to move to Tampa presented itself, Holt and wife Tamara considered their options. After hearing from his best friend, a Westchase resident at the time, about everything the community had to offer families, they decided to make the move from Kansas City to Florida.
For his family, which now includes their children Graham and Reid, life here has proven to be everything he thought it would be.
Holt’s involvement with the Dads’ Club began when Graham brought home a flyer one day from school. “I made an inquiry about it and then I received an e-mail stating they were looking for possible board members,” he says. Holt spoke with the then president of the club and decided to become active. “I saw a great mission and wanted to be a part of developing the club and adding to what they had started.”
Holt gathered a few neighboring dads together and asked them a simple question. “What would you like to do with your kids?” From the meeting, Holt came away some great ideas and an understanding of what dads wanted in a club. They wanted opportunities to spend time with their kids without having to attend dry monthly meetings or commit to countless volunteer hours.
Staying true to that lesson is just what the club is all about today. No membership is required and families are able to just “opt in” to the events as they are planned. Some events are free and just for fun. Others are opportunities to work together with fellow parents to raise money for the school and benefit the community. “We wanted to create something that provides value and supports the community,” he says of the club.
The Dads’ Club is now a 501c3 organization and news about the club is distributed via flyers to students and e-mail blasts to parents. “Not every event is a fundraiser but our main mission is to raise funds for the school,” he explains.
Last year the club raised over $3,000 and donated a $750 drum set to the music department with funds raised at a dance held by the club. The club also partners with local businesses to raise money. For their Bowling for Burgers event, they partnered with Five Guys to support the fun. “We’d like to see more local business sponsorship to support our mission and their own business goals,” Holt shares.
Holt invites any dad interested in becoming involved to get on the e-blast list to receive club information. The contact address is email@example.com.
Upcoming events will include the Westchase Movie Night, when the movie Polar Express will be shown. “We’ll be there with glow sticks, snacks and drinks!” he promises.
In January the club will host a Texas Hold ’Em poker event to raise money for the club itself. This will be the first event the club has held to raise money for the club instead of the school. So, dads, get on the e-blast list and sign up for some fun with the kids!
Thanks to Eric Holt, it’s never been easier.
By Lisa Stephens
Giving Newcomers a Proper Westchase Welcome
While Westchasers will welcome many into their homes this month, Shires resident Trish McKay takes welcoming to a whole new level.
McKay’s welcoming responsibilities aren’t limited to the holiday season. As chair of the Westchase Welcome Committee, McKay and her cohorts welcome new residents year round. Often before the moving boxes are cleared, a village representative from the Welcome Committee arrives bearing a bag of delights for the new faces of Westchase. McKay ensures this process runs smoothly and she works diligently to collect new items for the black canvas totes containing gifts and coupons from local merchants.
Originally from Chicago, McKay recalls growing up in a big city. “My mom and dad were proponents of public transportation, so I got to know the system very well at a young age,” she recalls.
While McKay sometimes misses the culture and opportunities Chicago had to offer her as a young adult, there is one thing she doesn’t miss. “I don’t miss those winters!” she says. She often passed the coldest months scoring strikes and spares in white-soled shoes. “Bowling leagues were huge,” she chuckles of her home town. Visits back home are now limited to summer and fall.
McKay graduated from Mundelein College, which is now Loyola University, as a communications major with a minor in business. After graduation she began employment with an insurance agency, which eventually brought her to Tampa in a sales position. As if from a movie scene, she met future husband, John, in the laundry room of her apartment complex. “After a month we finally went out,” she explains.
Two years later, the couple was married at St. John’s Episcopal Church in south Tampa. They are now parents to daughter, Jamie, a sophomore at Alonso High School.
“It’s the best time of my life,” McKay cheerfully reveals when asked about the perils of parenting a teenage daughter. “She has her driving permit now and we really are enjoying high school!”
Her advice to parents expecting treacherous waters during these years is simple. “Always allow them to voice their opinions so you can keep communication open. Let them know they can come to you and tell you anything.”
Yet she has a couple of warnings as well. “Teach them good judgment and be the parent first and friend second.”
One activity the McKay family enjoys doing together is training their family pet. Shelby is a 5-year-old Golden Retriever and was just certified to be a therapy dog. They plan to take Shelby into nursing homes and hospitals to visit patients who are unable to enjoy pets of their own.
As for her Welcome Committee responsibilities, McKay says it isn’t something that takes up a lot of her time, but she enjoys it greatly. Fortunately, she has seen an increase in home buyers over the past year as the number of bags distributed monthly has been increasing. She estimates approximately 15 bags are delivered each month to addresses she receives from the Westchase Community Association.
Once she receives the list, she forwards it to approximately 30 representatives who make up the Welcome Committee. Those village representatives deliver the bags to new residents in their own neighborhoods. Of course, summer months are busier than the winter months as people tend to move while school-aged children are on summer breaks.
McKay advises anyone who might own a local business to contact her if they’d like to include a free gift or coupon in the bags. It’s a great way to let new residents know you’re here.
She also encourages anyone interested in becoming a village volunteer to contact her (854-2684 or firstname.lastname@example.org). There are currently a few neighborhoods in need of a volunteer and the time requirement is minimal. Bags are kept by each representative at his or her own home so inventory is always readily available.
The only other thing you’ll need is a friendly welcoming smile for your new neighbor!
By Lisa Stephens
A Survivor Broadcasts Hope and Balance to Caregivers
Many Westchase parents not only have to find appropriate childcare, they also have to find ways to care for aging parents. Westchase radio show hose Kim Linder offers them a helping hand.
Juggling responsibilities associated with caring for a parent can sometimes wreak havoc with the quality of life and even the health of a caregiver. To help guide those who are caring for ailing loved ones, the West Park Village resident and local radio personality strives to make the path a little smoother.
As a child, Linder never imagined that one day she would host her own radio show or that people would ever look to her for advice on anything. “I never had that kind of confidence in myself,” she shares.
Originally born in New York, Linder moved often before finally settling in Chicago, where she spent most of her teen years. Linder’s father passed away when she was very young. When she and her mother went to live with her grandmother, Linder had her first experience with caring for an ailing family member. By high school graduation, she had also lost her mother and grandmother.
Feeling pretty much alone, Linder was somehow able to avoid the bad decisions teenagers can sometimes make, particularly when faced with peer pressure about drugs or alcohol. “I was always a hopeful kid and knew things would get better for me one day,” she recalls. “I didn’t know exactly what I wanted, but I certainly knew what I didn’t want for myself and I listened to that inner voice.”
After graduating from Rider University, she went to work for a local newspaper. This decision turned out to be a great one for Linder in more ways than one. While working as an administrative assistant, she fell in love with her boss. Her husband Jack and she will celebrate 33 years of marriage this month. “We created the family I never had,” she says.
Once their older children decided to reside in Florida after graduating from Florida colleges, Linder and her husband also made the move with their youngest son. “I wanted him to feel close to his siblings because I never had that,” she explains.
Together Jack and she created several publications over the years. “I did the editorial and it was my first experience of seeing how different parts of things come together to work as a whole.”
A project with an event planner eventually led Linder to become a professional caregiver consultant. When someone suggested she apply for a marketing job for an assisted living facility, Linder did just that. “I loved it!” she recalls. “I worked with families and seniors helping them make decisions and I felt like I had a real purpose.”
After taking a cruise with 45 caregivers, Linder realized just how much help folks in this situation really needed. She started Senior Holistic Living in an effort to provide caregiver coaching. She explains the holistic part of her venture as looking at each person’s situation as a whole. By breaking down and evaluating the different aspects of the caregiver’s life, Linder helps determine the best course of action. “I don’t try to sell people,” she explains. “I’m just a resource to help direct and support them while they try to help a family member.”
Common questions she is often asked include when someone should bring the patient into their own home to live, how to pay for certain services and where to get help for transportation to and from doctor’s appointments. Linder says creating a sense of balance is often the biggest struggle for caregivers trying to hold down jobs while caring for children and an elderly parent. She addresses their issues with guests on her weekly radio program, The Caregiver Hour, each Monday at 10 a.m. on 1250 AM WHNZ. Linder says this experience of helping others has changed her life immensely. “This has made me feel connected to a passion and a purpose,” she explains.
To share her experiences of triumph over tragedy with the younger set of society, Linder has participated in the Great American Teach In, where she shared the importance with students of never giving up on themselves. “I told them about my own challenges growing up and then I explained where I am today!”
No wiser words could be broadcast from someone who never gave up on herself.
By Lisa Stephens
The Westchase Dogfather
Since he retired two years ago, life for Pasquali Luiaconi has certainly gone to the dogs. This Radcliff resident wouldn’t have it any other way.
Luiaconi grew up in Tampa but spent the summer months in New York with his father as a golf caddy. “With the money I earned, I bought my car, clothes and anything else I needed,” he explains.
After graduating from Jefferson High School in Tampa, Luiaconi served the next four years in the U.S. Navy. Stationed in Jacksonville, Luiaconi traveled the world. “I went to Cuba and Holland, all over the place,” he says.
After returning to Tampa, Luiaconi took a position at Stainless Steel Service and Supply Company and enrolled in a welding and fabrication program at Hillsborough Community College. That was the beginning of his 30-year career in the sheet metal business. Starting out in the shop as a press brake operator, Luiaconi worked his way up in the industry. Before retiring two years ago, Luiaconi worked from home as an outside sales representative, calling on the numerous contacts he’d built up over the years.
Like most working folks, a full-time job meant a lot of lunches out. Many of those lunches were from hot dog carts he spotted along the streets while calling upon customers. “I’d have a hot dog for lunch most of the time,” he recalls. “I joked about retirement saying that when I did, I’d wear a bikini and sell hot dogs!” he laughs.
Today, part of that story has come to fruition.
These days Luiaconi can often be found standing behind the cart and serving up the Sabre dogs he’s long had a taste for. Instead of the bikini he’d promised, he sports a T-shirt he designed himself emblazoned with the name of the business he now operates on his own schedule. His “DogFather’s” hot dog business takes Luiaconi to various events around Tampa Bay. “I looked at everybody’s cart and I knew exactly what I wanted in my own,” he explains.
After designing a cart that was bigger and lighter and included more burners and a wash basin, he took his requests to a local cart manufacturer who built it for him.
The DogFather serves both hot dogs and Italian sausages. A favorite, he says is the Tampa Dog, which includes cheese and special sauce made by a local chef. “I also add a secret ingredient to the sauce,” he winks.
He’s enjoyed the venues to which his cart has taken him – the Clearwater Jazz Festival, WWF wrestling events, birthday parties and, most recently, the season opening of the West Park Village pool in Westchase.
When not serving up dogs, Luiaconi spends time saving them. Through Greyhound Pets of America, his wife Cindy and he help place retired greyhounds. After losing their beloved Yorkie, Mitzi, the couple started looking into greyhounds. After learning how they’re rescued and what happens to them once they’re off the race track, the couple took in four of the dogs themselves. Kramer, Diva, Rock and Gabby have all been worth the effort, he says, citing the love these retired dogs give back.
Like kids, the dogs can be a bit costly. “I’ve had to re-sod my backyard three times now,” he explains. But Luiaconi wouldn’t give them up. “These dogs are our babies,” he shares.
When he isn’t serving up or rescuing dogs, Luiaconi turns his attention to serving his Radcliff neighbors as the community watchdog. “We’re really tight,” he says of his neighbors, who work together keeping a watchful eye on the comings and goings of strange cars. “I take down tag numbers of suspicious cars and sometimes knock on the door if I know my neighbor is out of town and a car is parked in their driveway,” he says.
Patrolling the neighborhood is much easier for Luiaconi since purchasing his blue electric scooter.
He enjoys touring the neighborhood, sometimes even late at night “It’s just fun to do and you’ll see me when least expected,” he warns. “We have a task force and with one phone call, we’re like a SWAT team at your door. You don’t want to sneeze hard in Radcliffe,” he chuckles.
Thoroughly enjoying his retirement, Luiaconi says he has a simple philosophy. Live your life every day. Work hard and know your goals. He adds, “Have a good doctor and talk to your wife.”
Sounds like a great retirement plan!
By Lisa Stephens