2017 has been a remarkable year in so many ways. Change can happen in the space of a heartbeat. Take a look back at some of Style’s most intriguing stories in the past year. You may find something new or you may just remember a good story and enjoy revisiting it.
Rays of hope
The Holloways have been working for more than a year on building a solar farm. Every step brings them closer to their goal.
Story: Leigh Neely // Photos: Fred Lopez
Though there may not be much physical evidence on the site of the Holloway Solar Farm, a great deal has been going on behind the scenes since Style reported about the farm in January.
Dr. Rufus “Dick” Holloway and his wife, Leslie Scales-Holloway, continue to work with the city of Leesburg and the Florida Municipal Power Agency. They must have a buyer for the electricity and are required by law that it be a utility.
“We’re at a very good point, a tipping point, you might say,” Dick says. “There’s still no word from Florida Municipal Power Agency, but we’re working on developing a program of learning with the University of Central Florida.”
The Holloways have received the blessing of Pamela Carroll, dean of the college of education, and UCF President John C. Hitt.
Turning the land at 2620 Griffin Road into a solar farm is a family legacy, according to Dick, who grew up in Leesburg and graduated in 1954 from Leesburg High School.
“I have lots of friendships here, and we’ve stayed close all these years,” he says.
The farm will be an alternate energy facility that produces clean energy and creates jobs for the area. While both Holloways are thrilled at producing solar energy, the second tier of their goals is education for everyone from kindergarten to those studying for doctorate programs in research.
“UCF is working with us to create a learning laboratory,” Dick says. “We provide the building, and other grants will come into play to fund the research.”
“I’m an educator at heart, and this idea came to me after many years as a school board member,” Leslie says. “When we got into a discussion with [UCF], we found so much interest. They just jumped right on it. We want a place where students of all ages can learn about solar and alternative energies. Dr. Carroll is ready to assign a person from the faculty to work here.”
Dr. Carroll and her staff are looking forward to taking a significant role in the educational side of the project.
“Those of us working with the development of the Holloway Solar Education and Research Center and the Solar Farm Project in the College of Education and Human Performance are excited by the potential of the innovative project,” Dr. Carroll says. “By providing schoolchildren, adolescents, and the public with access to the beautiful Holloway property and interactive education center, we will have an amazing opportunity to help people of the region better understand the environment, natural resources, and sustainability.”
“So much of the education format today is hands-on learning,” Dick says. “This is definitely hands on.”
Part of the barn on the property will be used for classrooms and possibly some other buildings, but Leslie is especially excited there will be one or two outdoor classrooms.
“[We recently] brought the people from UCF and the city of Leesburg to meet to gain support for the educational center,” Dick says. “This will set Leesburg apart from other small cities, and it will encourage growth. The solar farm is within the city limits of Leesburg.”
In doing research, Leslie found the problem of solar energy storage is the big issue for researchers.
“If we can give them a laboratory, they can put their dreams into action. We need to teach them from an early age about using clean solar energy,” Leslie says. “I believe when these children come to a place so close to them and so cutting edge, it will excite them.”
On a state level, solar energy continues to be popular among residents. In 2016, they defeated Amendment 1, which was backed by utilities and would have limited rooftop solar expansion. They approved Amendment 4, however, which called for property tax relief for businesses and residential property owners installing devices like rooftop solar. The cost of rooftop solar devices also decreased substantially during the past presidential administration.
Approximately 100 acres of the Holloway land will be dedicated to solar farming with the rest of the 250 acres set aside for educational facilities.
“All of this will be done in a natural environment,” Dick says. “That’s our main objective—to keep everything looking as it does now. We’re dedicated to it and want it to happen because we know it’s going to be a tremendous advantage for a town I love very much.”
The handwriting is on the wall
‘Before I Die’ art project stirs thoughts and attracts thousands during exhibition in Eustis.
Story: Chris Gerbasi
The wall may be down, but its spirit lives on.
The “Before I Die” Wall ended a six-month run in downtown Eustis this fall after thousands of residents and visitors picked up pieces of chalk and completed the sentence, “Before I die, I want to_____” on a 76-foot-long chalkboard.
The messages captured bucket list wishes, dreams, aspirations, and sometimes very personal, funny, and vulnerable statements as people contemplated life and death, organizer Gloria Savannah-Austin says.
The project debuted April 1 at the fourth annual Amazing Race for Charity, where participants and spectators initiated the wall with their sentiments. Like life, the wall was only temporary, and the community art project closed Sept. 30 as scheduled by the city.
There was talk of other communities constructing their own walls, but they could not commit staff to the time-consuming task of maintaining and monitoring the wall, Gloria says.
However, the many stories, photos, “magical” behind-the-scenes moments, and wishes that came true may be collected in a book in the future, she says.
“The wall has been life-changing and amazing and unforgettable in the sense it connected me to the pulse of the community and the humanity in each of us,” says Gloria, a certified life-cycle celebrant who owns Soulful Transitions in Sorrento.
The original concept for the wall came in 2011 from New Orleans artist Candy Chang, who painted the words “Before I die I want to” on an abandoned house and encouraged neighbors to share their experiences and thoughts using chalk. Since then, more than 2,000 walls have been built in more than 70 countries. Through the website beforeidie.city/about, communities and organizations can find out how to create their own walls.
The popularity of the wall may be tied to its simple, but big, question, Gloria says.
“It’s something we all think about,” she says. “What’s my purpose? I want to leave something behind. You only have a finite time here. What are you going to do?”
Umatilla native and Lake-Sumter State College graduate Clarissa Bowers, 19, was crowned Miss World USA 2017 in August at Orlando. The national competition was followed by the global Miss World competition Nov. 18 in Sanya, China.
Clarissa was among contestants from 120 countries vying for the international title, which was won by Manushi Chhillar, 20, of India.
Listed as the oldest and largest international beauty pageant in the world, the Miss World website states the swimsuit portion was eliminated in 2014, and contestants are now judged on fitness, talent, modeling skill, public speaking, social media interaction, and philanthropic endeavors.
In a statement after her national win, Clarissa noted she was “overwhelmed with joy” to represent her country. “The America’s Miss World crown is a symbol of a woman who inspires, empowers, and advocates,” she added.
Clarissa received her associate’s degree from LSSC while playing volleyball for the Lakehawks. She continued her education by transferring to Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, to study neuroscience. She says her ultimate career goal is to become a reconstructive surgeon and help members of the armed forces who are wounded.
In the November 2016 issue of Lake & Sumter Style, Clarissa revealed her inspiring role models:
“My parents both work in the medical field, so I aspire to be like them in that aspect, but beyond that I aspire to attain their inner qualities more and more each day—kindness, compassion, humility, intelligence, and a good sense of humor, among others. If I can be even half the parent to my children that my parents were to me, I’ll do a great job.”
The Best of James Combs’ Hit List
A Umatilla woman was arrested after hitting her fiancé in the head with a lamp because he refused to have sex with her. The lamp broke, meaning there were now two things in the bedroom she could not turn on.
After a bartender asked a 52-year-old woman to turn off her e-cigarette inside a Villages restaurant, the woman became enraged and fought the bartender. Surprisingly, she was arrested on charges of disorderly intoxication rather than aggravated vape.
A 33-year-old Lady Lake woman was jailed after attacking her husband and then trying to run him over in her SUV. During the confrontation, the husband was heard saying, “Please, God, give me a brake!”
A 66-year-old Lady Lake woman wired $20,000 to a Georgia man she met on Facebook. Not surprisingly, the man and his profile disappeared once the money was received. If the woman ever locates him, she should say in an authoritative voice: “Go Facebook yourself!!” Just replace Facebook with another word that starts with an “f” and ends in a “k.”
A Lake County mail carrier is off the job because of allegations she was stealing mail from residents along her Eustis route. In fact, one mom said her daughter had ordered something online more than a month ago and never received the item. When she found out a mail carrier stole it, I bet she went postal.
Treadwell Nursery in Eustis has been given the green light to start growing medical marijuana. It would be funny if the owners put up a big sign outside their nursery that reads: “Please keep off the grass.”
For every person killed with a gun, two people are injured, says the Centers for Disease Control.
Story: Leigh Neely
On any given day in the United States, 93 people are killed with guns. A Style article in January told about the killing of 49 people in June 2016 at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, the largest mass shooting on record until Oct. 1 this year. That’s when a gunman in Las Vegas killed 59 people and wounded hundreds more.
While these numbers left Americans in shock, the Vegas shooting was not a “threshold defining” incident, according to Lt. Ralph McDuffie, emergency manager/SWAT commander of the Lake County Sheriff’s Office.
“That is like what happened on 9/11, which changed how we travel,” McDuffie says. “We now have TSA, screenings, and fortification of cockpits.”
When planning for events such as an outdoor concert, McDuffie says law enforcement agencies always study situations like what occurred in Las Vegas.
“That doesn’t mean we won’t do outdoor concerts,” he says. “I don’t think we’re at that point in society where such drastic measures are necessary. The scope and scale of what this guy did has validity, but our biggest threat to special events is vehicles.”
McDuffie says he is confident the Las Vegas shooter followed the same pattern most shooters do in these situations. Experts have found there are four distinctive steps in every situation: the idea, the plan, the preparation, and action. All of this occurs after something significant puts the shooter in the frame of mind to do something that makes a big impact. McDuffie estimates these predictors occur in more than 90 percent of incidents.
“[Las Vegas] was a well-rehearsed event. Planning did not occur overnight, and it is a prime example of the extended planning cycle,” McDuffie says. “It took a long time to transport all that gear up to his room, but who is going to notice someone carrying suitcases in a hotel?”
He adds that in 93 percent of the cases, someone knew the person was going to do something.
“For the Pulse, it was the wife,” he says. “Research has shown these people have life crises, and people knew they were at the point of despair but said nothing.”
When giving presentations, McDuffie stresses it is important to be aware of what goes on in your day-to-day work world.
“If you hear a coworker say, ‘I hate my boss. I’d love to kill him,’ don’t let that pass without doing something,” McDuffie says. “It’s not normal for people to say that. Go to human resources or if it’s a small business, go to your boss. This is definitely a situation that should be dealt with immediately.”
Hail (or hell) to the chief
Change or chaos. How’s Trump doing?
Story: James Combs
It has been 11 months since Donald J. Trump was inaugurated as 45th president of the United States.
To this day, the commander-in-chief elicits a wide range of emotions from the public. People feel amused, infuriated, hopeful, disgusted, impressed, and disappointed.
Many questions loom. Is he more of a showman than a statesman? Does his successes trump (pardon the pun) his setbacks, or vice versa? Is his presidency destined for failure or will he go down as one of the greatest commanders-in-chief?
We recently asked random locals to share how they feel about Trump’s time in the Oval Office.
“I don’t think he has done worth a darn. It seems like he’s helping Russia and other countries more than he’s helping the United States. If he gets another term, the world is going to fall apart.”
“He is a workaholic who tries very hard, so people need to leave him alone and let him do the job that the people elected him to do. There’s really no need to badmouth him and his family. What good does that really accomplish?”
“It’s chaos with him in the White House. He’s trying to run the White House like he’s trying to run a business, and I just don’t understand his decisions. I’ve never seen a president before who degrades people the way he does, and that includes his own staff. He truly scares me. I’m afraid he might start a war for no reason.”
“I have no idea how he’s doing. The only thing I know is that I’m going to be the next president. It’s about time we have an average guy who knows what he’s doing and truly represents the average American’s values and sense of community.”
“I think he has used his good business sense to implement policies that is helping small businesses across the country do very well. However, as the leader of free and diverse people, he is challenged. He struggles to show empathy and doesn’t seem to embrace that one aspect of being president is to be a good role model.”
“I think he has done a good job. He has the same viewpoints I have; we both believe in a smaller government and less regulations. He’s fighting a difficult battle with Congress, but he keeps charging full steam ahead.”
“I think he has done a good job, especially considering all the backlash he has endured. I feel like his political opponents and the media have never given him a fair opportunity. One thing I really like about Trump is that he is a straight shooter. I’d rather have a guy like that in the White House as opposed to someone who tells me one thing and means something else.”
Josh Takes On
Style’s resident cartoonist Joshua Clark tackled many issues throughout the year. These cartoons are among the favorites with the added bonus of the tribute to Tom Petty by the University of Florida.
On a roll
Roaring motorcycles, rocking music, and ragged denim mean Leesburg is celebrating Bikefest.
Story: James Combs
Leesburg Bikefest is dubbed “the largest three-day motorcycle and music event in the country.” Leather-clad, vest-wearing bikers from all over the world flock to the city to enjoy motorcycle shows, live entertainment, and bikini contests.
The Leesburg Partnership’s signature event also revs up money for Lake County-based charitable organizations. In 2017, the event raised $150,474, which is ultimately reinvested in local projects such as scholarships for high school students and services for people in need.
“For us, it’s a great feeling to know we can help local charities because they do so much good for the community and make an impact on the lives of many people,” says Joe Shipes, chief executive officer of the Leesburg Partnership. “We also appreciate how they step up to help us put on this massive event.”
Money raised at Bikefest also enables the Leesburg Partnership to organize other events throughout the year, including the Leesburg Saturday Morning Market and an annual Christmas parade.
Next year’s event, scheduled for April 27-29, is expected to include more than 200 vendors, 60 concerts, and five “hot body” contests, according to the Leesburg Bikefest website.
Turks and Caicos: Surviving the hurricanes
Island residents and resorts are picking up the pieces and preparing for tourists.
Story: Mary Ann DeSantis
Some places you just can’t get out of your mind…or your heart. The Turks and Caicos Islands are like that for me. Although it’s been more than a year since I visited the gateway island of Providenciales and the surrounding Caicos Islands in the Bahamas archipelago, my trip is on instant replay in my daydreams because it was the perfect paradise destination.
The Turks and Caicos got a one-two punch from hurricanes Irma and Maria in September. I immediately started checking to find out what happened to the beautiful places I saw and to the full-time residents I met.
“I’m happy to say that we made it through Irma and Maria all right! Overall, the resorts suffered cosmetic and landscaping damage, but we can handle that. We’ve handled it before with previous hurricanes,” Tanya Duelfer, operations manager for Ocean Club Resorts in Providenciales, writes in an email.
In fact, Ocean Club West, where I stayed, reopened in early October, just weeks after Maria pummeled the Atlantic and the Caribbean. Many resorts were closed in September for annual maintenance, and Tanya says the biggest challenge was getting materials needed for those maintenance projects.
Tourism is the No. 1 industry for the Turks and Caicos, and getting back to normal was of the utmost priority for the resorts as well as for residents.
“The locals have worked first to get resorts and restaurants back up quickly and will focus on the damage to their own homes and property later,” William Kiburz, vice president of Coronet Travel LTD, says in a recent afar.com story about visiting the islands for the holidays.
By early November, Ocean Club Resorts had raised more than $70,000 for employees who live in areas that were hardest hit by the hurricanes, and had already started distributing funds to those most in need.
Former Lake County resident Dave Fenimore, who works with the Turks and Caicos Tourism Board, reports he did not have major damage but he was without power for several weeks. The lights came back on in October, and he’s been busy coordinating the weekly Thursday Night Fish Fry, a popular event that brings locals, expats, and tourists together to experience the camaraderie of an authentic island celebration.
The Turks and Caicos Tourism Board is communicating that all is in good order for anyone planning a trip. After all, visiting now gives locals the needed tourism revenue to rebuild their own homes and lives. It is indeed the most impactful way to help any destination rebound after a disaster.
What did you do this summer?
Summer is a time for fun and games, but a group of kids in Lady Lake created their own games—on computers.
Story: Leigh Neely // Photos: Fred Lopez
For many children, there’s no place more fun than the local library. Last summer, a group of students had the chance to work with computer experts on creating their own games.
The idea was the brainchild of John Pearl, Lady Lake’s information technology director, and Marsha Brinson, director of Lady Lake Public Library. John and Marsha took computers no longer used in the school system and repurposed them for the library. Next, they brought in a computer gaming expert, Kate Austin, who was teaching a code program in Mount Dora.
“Kate ran with the idea,” John says. “She was teaching middle schoolers to do game development. We need to encourage more people to do what Kate is doing. Take the skills and knowledge they used throughout their careers and volunteer to help others learn it.”
Kids who attended the camp didn’t just create games, they developed future job skills, and camp leaders plan to encourage them to use those skills in Lake County. With programs like this one, the library hopes to fill gaps in what is taught in local schools.
Nicole LaFrancois is the youth program coordinator and appreciates what the library can offer residents through these computer classes.
“This program started in the youth department two years ago, and we are building a love for technology in the children,” she says. “The students took on the challenging task of learning how to create an android video game app. With the exception of a few, most children were complete beginners. We are thrilled with the way the camp went and hope to make it a yearly event.”
Kate also sees a future for these summer camps. Lake County libraries are always looking for skilled volunteers like Kate who are the perfect resource for their local library. Originally a high school math teacher, she moved to teaching computer science and eventually became director of simulation and digital entertainment at the University of Baltimore.
“What I’m hoping to do is get these summer camps going at all the libraries,” she says. “Schoolteachers could do it. I would love to lead the workshops to teach them how.”
Kate says kids creating their own games not only builds skills, it builds self-esteem. The participants in this summer’s camp used Scratch.MIT.edu, a program created by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
“The camp was two weeks and met five days a week, a few hours a day, so the kids had plenty of time to learn how to code from the bottom up,” Nicole says. “We received a lot of good feedback from parents as well as from the kids.”
The beginners had their imaginations sparked, which Nicole hopes will create a lifetime love and passion for technology and all that can be accomplished with it.
A home-school parent, Christine Leonard, and daughters Alexis and Alayla use the Lady Lake Library frequently. “They love computers, and we’re here every Thursday,” Christine says.
Lana and Lucas Vincent also are home-schooled by their mother, Cindy. “I think this is just great. It gives the kids in the community an opportunity they may not have in school,” Cindy says. “My oldest craves computer education, and we really need this. We have a great relationship with the library.”
Anyone interested in library activities can keep an eye on the Lady Lake Public Library’s web pages and calendars. Events are planned for every age group, something is happening at the library almost every day, and special events like the summer game camp usually are in the works.
Other programs at the library include the Tween Scene for kids ages 8-12. No sign-up is required; just call the library for information. Check out the library at 225 W. Guava St. To sign up for a student program or to volunteer, call 352.753.2957.
Tavares Pavilion on the Lake offers simple 5-minute weddings.
You don’t have to pull out all the stops to say, “I do.” At Tavares Pavilion on the Lake, a simple wedding can be just as meaningful and memorable.
“We recently had a couple use the ceremony after meeting in 1976, getting engaged in 1977, breaking up, and meeting again last year.” says Carrie Petroski, pavilion manager. “He proposed, with the same ring he gave her in 1977, on New Year’s Eve and they had a 5-minute wedding. It was great.”
These simple ceremonies are available from 10am-4pm Tuesday or Thursday, and appointments are required. Couples must have a valid marriage license obtained in advance and issued by a Florida clerk of the circuit court. Dress up or come as you are!
Chip off the old block
New homes continue to rise on old lots in the historic neighborhoods of The Villages.
Story: Chris Gerbasi // Photos: Fred Lopez
The historic side of The Villages, long thought to be on the decline, has been revitalized as a home-buying destination.
The developer continues to transform the neighborhoods east of U.S. Highway 27/441 by buying dozens of manufactured homes—standing since the 1980s and ’90s—and quickly replacing them with brand-new site-built houses.
The process began around 2014 and shows no signs of slowing down. In fact, a drive down Tarrson Boulevard in the Village of Silver Lake reveals numerous lots in various stages of construction, from recently cleared to homes getting final touches.
“It’s a win-win for everybody,” says Art Czarnecki, who along with his wife, LaVerne, moved this year into a new home on Tarrson. “It increases property value, and you’re meeting new people. It brings younger people in as older people are moving out or getting into different living situations because of aging.”
Silver Lake, Orange Blossom Gardens, and Country Club Hills represent the origins of The Villages, which mushroomed out of a mobile home park started by business partners Harold Schwartz and Al Tarrson. The area has rooftops numbering in the thousands, so rebuilding could last many more years. Art heard that a total of 400 new homes are slated in his area.
Now in their third house in The Villages, Art and LaVerne were looking to downsize from a 2,000-square-foot house. They were drawn to Silver Lake because of the new house, a warranty period, and no bond to pay on the property, Art says.
“It was kind of a no-brainer,” he says.
Eliza and Jim Bolton bought a home on Parker Place in Silver Lake on one of the first lots that was cleared in 2014 for rebuilding. The couple moved from Tennessee for the warmer climate, and the new site-built home was appealing.
“We heard about [The Villages] from a neighbor,” Eliza says. “We came down to check it out, liked what we saw, and bought it.”
The Boltons have enjoyed their three years in the neighborhood, and don’t mind the ongoing construction around them.
“We’re glad to have it done,” Eliza says.
Of course, the developer is not making improvements out of altruism. For example, The Villages of Lake-Sumter Inc. bought a Roseapple Avenue lot and its 1980 manufactured home for $70,000, and the new house built there sold for about $235,500, Lake County property records show.
But residents like Norman Narum, who has lived for nearly 25 years on East Schwartz Boulevard, are happy to see the upgrade.
“It’s the best thing that’s ever happened around here,” he says.
Giving sports tourism a kick
One way of strengthening Central Florida’s economy is by drawing fans, athletes, and dollars.
Story: James Combs
When it comes to bolstering sports tourism in Central Florida, Lake County Commissioner Sean Parks is getting the ball rolling—literally.
Sean is working alongside officials from the city of Orlando and the Central Florida Sports Commission to help Camping World Stadium secure a bid as one of the early-round sites for the 2026 FIFA World Cup.
He says Orlando is a strong candidate, especially with the emergence of the Orlando City Soccer Club, a professional team that joined Major League Soccer in 2015. During a 2016 game against Real Salt Lake, the team drew 60,147 fans to Camping World Stadium. The city also is home to the Orlando Pride, a professional women’s soccer team.
In 2016, Orlando was ranked as the best city in the nation for soccer fans by wallethub.com, a personal finance website.
“The soccer culture in Orlando and Central Florida grows stronger and stronger each year,” Sean says. “Fan interest has definitely been booming.”
If Orlando secures the bid, then Lake County’s economy could find itself booming, as well.
“Having the World Cup would be very big for our county. Teams could travel here before the World Cup and practice at the National Training Center in Clermont, and we could even host spinoff tournaments at the NTC,” Sean says. “In addition, the event would draw thousands of international tourists, and there’s no doubt they will spend money in Lake County.”
Last year, officials from Lake County and Orlando formed a partnership in hopes of strengthening the region’s economy through sports tourism. Their collaborative efforts could help Central Florida become a sports superpower by promoting the region as a year-round destination for sporting events.
In September 2016, Sean invited Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer for a six-hour tour of Lake’s sports facilities and pristine countryside.
“Lake County is a beautiful area and offers so much in the way of sports—from triathlons and sand volleyball to fishing and the state-of-the-art National Training Center,” Buddy says. “I enjoyed meeting with Lake County’s leaders and creating more synergy in the area of sports tourism.”