The people of Lake and Sumter counties are diverse and interesting. Every day you see your child’s daycare worker, the librarian, the cashier, the schoolteacher, and even the delivery driver. Style is proud to introduce you to some of the people who work at a local bank or sit near you at a local restaurant. If you haven’t met all of them, it might be interesting to get to know a tattoo artist, tour boat captain, or a taxidermist. They’re your family, your friends, and the Faces of Lake and Sumter counties.
Alligator Whisperer / Lake Panasoffkee
Earl, 4, is one of four farm-raised alligators Pam Wiley shows in educational programs at Swamp Fever Airboat Adventures on Lake Panasoffkee, where passengers can see “original Florida” sights and wildlife. Pam’s attraction to alligators began as a child. “I grew up on the St. Johns River and I was all about alligators and manatees,” she says. “All of my gators are very loved. I love everything about them. I love talking about them, I love teaching people about them,” says the “gator whisperer,” so named by her husband, Ron. “I spend a lot of time with them, so they become like pets. We can’t own wild alligators, but if we could, I could make pets out of them, too. My thing about nature is trying to preserve it and take care of all of it.” Pam wants people to beaware that alligators are territorial, and she notes the reptiles think there’s food if people are in the water splashing around. “So it is common to come after something making noise,” she says. The couple’s farm-raised alligators are fed Mazuri crocodilian food, which gives them the nutrients they need.
School bus driver / Eustis
If you’re going to drive a school bus, you better like kids, and James Baker does. The Eustis resident is in his 18th year with Lake County Schools after working three decades as a crane operator in Washington, D.C. James drives nine special education students. His first 15 years with a full busload of elementary through high school students were tougher. “That was a challenge,” he says. “But my love of people helped me. Eventually, the children would realize that I really cared.” Between shifts, James goes door to door for Jehovah’s Witnesses. “I love people. I meet so many people between the ministry and driving a school bus, it seems like I know everybody in the area,” he says. James, 70, doesn’t plan to retire anytime soon. “I enjoy the work. The schedule is perfect for me,” he says. “I’ll keep driving as long as my health stays as good as it is.”
Neighbor / Eustis
Like a good neighbor, Lynn Haynes is there. She has certainly been there for residents who live in the Eustis neighborhood of Westgate. Lynn is currently a board member of the homeowners association and spent five years as president. Under her leadership, many projects were completed, including adding a fence around the neighborhood community dock built on Lake Eustis. “Being part of the homeowners association allows me to make a difference in keeping the neighborhood a vibrant and enjoyable place to live,” says Lynn, a Realtor at Morris Realty and Investments. “I also enjoy interacting with my neighbors.” For Lynn, a favorite pastime is walking around the neighborhood and greeting neighbors with a warm smile and friendly “hello.”
Dr. Alexander Moya
Podiatrist at Langley Health Services / Sumterville
Dr. Alexander Moya was near the end of his undergraduate degree when he became interested in podiatry medicine—a field devoted to highly neglected parts of the body: the foot and ankle. After graduating from Barry University School of Podiatric Medicine in Miami Shores, he completed a three-year residency program at James A. Haley Veterans Hospital in Tampa. He also worked in private practice for a few years before finding his niche at Langley Health Services, a multi-specialty clinic in Sumterville. “I am proud to help patients, especially those without medical insurance,” he says. “Langley Health Services offers a sliding-fee scale, which allows me to treat individuals without medical insurance.” He also finds podiatry to be a rewarding field. “Physicians of podiatric medicine are many times able to relieve a patient’s pain by the time they leave the office,” Alexander says. “Very few specialties can relieve pain in that manner. I also enjoy the variety of lower-extremity ailments that present to the office each day. Each day presents new, fulfilling challenges.” Patients often ask him what inspired him to become a podiatrist and look at feet all day. “I usually respond with a simple statement: ‘You can’t get far without them.’”
County Manager / Tavares
Lake County commissioners knew Jeff Cole “gets it.”
They knew he grasped the collective vision of county leaders when they hired him in June as county manager, filling the position of retiring manager David Heath.
He understands the need for county government to provide the best public services while also looking for ways to reduce costs and lessen the impact on taxpayers.
He oversees 760 Lake County employees and appreciates the dedication of the staff and county commissioners.
Jeff says, “It really helps that we have a strong leadership team, strong staff, and so many people who work for Lake County government who are truly invested in the community and who care about the county. And working with an employee group like that is helpful for me in going forward. It has been a good transition into this job.”
He initially began working for Lake in January 2016 as director of public resources of the county.
Jeff previously served as chief of staff for the St. Johns River Water Management District from 2011-2015 and began with the district in 1994. He received his bachelor’s degree from Michigan State University and his master’s from the University of Central Florida.
He moved to Florida 30 years ago. He and his wife, Audrey, married in 1992.
He wrote “Returning Home” in 2004. “It’s a true story about when my father-in-law was dying and the experience we had when he made his transition. I have distributed it to people who needed it, and it has helped people with grief and dealing with loss of loved ones. The things I share in my book are so personal. It has been well-received.”
Jeff says, “In addition to asking to be inspired and inspiring each day, I also ask for the path to be illuminated for me so that I know what that path should be. I try to rely on divine guidance along the way, and so when I leave Lake County, my goal is to have made a difference in Lake County.”
Teacher / Altoona
Second-grade teacher Ashlee Raczkowski has been teaching six years and is in her first year at Altoona Elementary School in Altoona. “I love that it is small and everybody knows one another. This is such a family-oriented school and everyone is here for the students, and that is one of the reasons that drew me here, because I can do what is best for my students,” she says. “People take care of each other, and that is really important in today’s age.” She strives to inspire her students to be good citizens and to develop a love for reading, hoping they become lifelong readers. “I’m most excited to watch them grow and learn all year long,” Ashlee says. “Second grade is so fun and they grow so much; they get better at reading, they get better at writing, and they get better at math. It’s a great age.” The Lake County native graduated from Tavares High School and attended the University of South Florida.
Drug court liaison / Bushnell
Lisa Fehmerling comes from a Sumter County family who has lived here for at least four generations. “I love the small-town feel of Bushnell,” she says. “Being able to walk into the grocery store and run into five people you went to high school with promotes a familial atmosphere. There is communitywide support for football and baseball. I like that children and teens are the main focus of our community, and I think that is why so many families choose to stay in the area to raise their kids. I cherish being able to raise my child in the same town I grew up in and having him experience the same traditions I did.” Lisa works with the Sumter County Drug Court and Veterans’ Court programs for those with drug-related misdemeanor or felony charges. Clients must complete random drug testing and receive treatment for addiction through Langley Health Services in Sumterville or Ocala, and they may go to LifeStream Behavioral Center in Lake County for intensive services.
Retired parks employee / Tavares
Even though Clarence Archie retired in June after 33 years with Lake County parks, he still routinely wakes up at 3:45am. “I get up and do what I gotta do,” says Clarence, 94. “For 33 years, I’ve been doing that. It’s hard for me to break.” Clarence cleaned restrooms and maintained the playground at Lake Idamere Park in his hometown of Tavares. He has a simple explanation for why he continued to work into his 90s. “I liked my job,” he says. “I’d do what I was supposed to do. I just like to work.” He also likes his community, where he’s well-known to regulars at the park. “I just went there (recently) and I talked to people. They missed seeing me there,” he says. Now, Clarence gets up at 3:45am to prepare for a different job: ministry work for Jehovah’s Witnesses. “I devote my time to that now,” he says.
Daycare worker / Leesburg
Working with the children at Brian’s Technology Daycare in Leesburg brings a lot of joy to Cheryl Brown’s life. Though she has worked in daycares for 28 years, she has been at Brian’s for three. “We take care of children from infant through the after-school programs up to age 12,” Cheryl says. “We do a lot of hands-on activities in order to help them learn. We have different centers in each classroom.” A recent lesson included learning how to turn lemons into lemonade. The children do projects like this using all their senses. They smell the fruit, feel its texture, see that it grows on trees and the yellow color, and taste it—both sour and as the sweetened lemonade. “They do everything right up to tasting it, which they really enjoy,” Cheryl says.
Executive Director, lady Lake Area Chamber of Commerce
After almost four years on the job as executive director of the Lady Lake Area Chamber of Commerce, Sue Kelly says she loves everything about her job. “I meet the most amazing people, and I love being a mentor and helping businesses grow,” she says. “It’s a people thing, which gives me lots of positive energy.” Gregg Malanezuk was helping on a recent Monday, and he proudly said they have added more than 100 new members thanks to Sue. “She makes it look easy,” he says. However, Sue says, It’s because everybody wants to help everybody else.”
Small farmer / Webster
Chris Benavides is among vendors showcasing fresh produce every Monday at the Webster Flea Market, which has been a popular attraction for more than 50 years. “I like to grow vegetables—tomatoes, cucumbers, and a little bit of everything,” he says. “People like it. They like fresh produce.” Born in Mexico and raised in Florida, he went to school in Clermont as a young boy. Webster has been home for 38 years, and he enjoys meeting people from all over the country at the Webster venue, especially in the fall and spring when snowbirds are in town. “There is a little bit of everything here,” Chris says. In addition to fresh vegetables, vendors also showcase crafts, flowers, bakery items, jewelry, plants, clothing, and more.
Hospital volunteer / Clermont
A hospital stay is a time filled with stress and uncertainty. For patients, a smile and words of encouragement go a long way to ease fear and anxiety. Thankfully, friendly smiles and kind words are precisely what Teresa Lutman delivers to South Lake Hospital patients. Teresa, who has volunteered in the guest services department since 2013, escorts visitors to various hospital locations, provides wheelchair assistance to patients upon discharge, and looks up room numbers for patients’ family members. “I’m the first person visitors see when they come to the hospital, so it is my duty to make them feel welcome,” says Teresa, a resident of Clermont. “I’m retired now, so volunteering at the hospital makes me feel like I’m providing a useful service to the community.”
Server / Mascotte
It’s a treat to visit Rainbow Restaurant in Mascotte and watch Linda Johnson in action. On any given day, she cooks meals, serves tables, mops floors, and cleans dishes—which makes her the owner. Linda and her husband, Steven, bought the popular restaurant in 1980, and she loves doing the various tasks throughout the day. “I don’t mind doing dishes or mopping because I’m not above anyone else,” she says. “At the end of a shift, I go into my office and manage the business.” Her favorite role is waitressing, which allows her to know clients on a personal level. “Some people come in here every day, and I already know what they’re going to order,” she says. “We talk about everything—from family to weather. They tell me about their kids and I tell them about mine.” The restaurant is known for its home-style cooking and survived the economic downturn from the 1980s citrus freezes, as well as the competition from restaurants opening in nearby Clermont. “We’ve had ups and downs over the years, but through it all we’ve maintained loyal customers,” she says.
Tattoo artist / Minneola
Azrael Rodriguez is a talented artist, but he doesn’t use paintbrushes or watercolors. All he needs is a needle, ink, and a blank canvas of human skin. Riding the popularity of body art, he makes his living tattooing and piercing clients at Absolute Tattoo and Body Piercing. The business opened seven years ago and receives lots of repeat customers who expect him to fill their every desire and whim. Sometimes the finished work is plain, sometimes elaborate, but always personal. His does tattoos of dragons, scriptures, military logos, and anything customers can dream up. Operating a successful tattoo parlor requires more than steady hands and a solid portfolio. The key, ironically, is not to get under a customer’s skin. “To be a good tattoo artist you must have good customer service skills,” Azrael says. “Some people think you can be rude to people because you’re artists. Good business owners, no matter what industry they’re in, do not operate that way.”
Growth management director / Lady Lake
During the past 10 years, Thad Carroll has seen Lady Lake transformed from a small town with few places for shopping and dining into a regional commercial center. As growth management director, he’s one of the faces of town hall, meeting with developers about projects, sharing ideas with other administrators in Lake County, or hearing stories from residents about their lives. “I love the variation of tasks that my job affords me on any given day—it is never boring,” Thad says. He foresees more commercial growth, which residents monitor closely, and sometimes warily. “They are certainly not apathetic to what is occurring around them,” Thad says. “Even when those contentious meetings adjourn, I can often garner a handshake, pass a smile, or have a nice conversation with those same individuals who may have viewed me as an adversary moments before. It is great to work in a town where so many residents care about our future.”
Citrus employee / Umatilla
Umatilla native Lauren Sutton works at Sunsational Citrus Inc., where the iconic Big Orange placed outside the shop is a popular attraction. “There are people who are driving by, they see it, turn around, and come back,” Lauren says. Once a popular citrus stand in the 1970s, the Big Orange was left decaying in a field off U.S. Highway 441 before it was purchased and restored in 2012 by Lauren’s parents, Nick and Sharon Faryna. Lauren loves living in Umatilla. “I love that it is small and quaint,” she says. “People are friendly, helpful, and everyone knows each other.” She also cherishes late fall to spring when it’s orange season. “We try to keep unique things,” she says of the store’s Florida-theme merchandise. “During the holidays, people like to pack their boxes with fruit and knickknacks to send up north and that’s fun.”
Lawn maintenance / Groveland
When Jayson Tootle pulls up in his three-quarter-ton GMC Sierra, residents of South Lake County can kiss their grass goodbye. He owns Vista Companies, a Groveland-based lawn maintenance company. He’s a one-man show: mowing, weeding, edging, and trimming. “I don’t mind working by myself,” says Jayson, who started the company in 2008. “I am very picky about the way I do things, and I don’t want to spend time training someone to do it my way.” Jayson, a lifelong Lake County resident, does lawn maintenance for residential and commercial properties. He may mow as many as 14 yards in one day, which is certainly a daunting task during summer. “People ask me all the time how I can stand doing this line of work when it’s hot,” he says. “It’s just something I’ve learned to live with. I bring four Gatorades and two bottles of water with me every day to stay hydrated.”
Marianne Beck Memorial Library / Howey-In-The-Hills
This library in Howey-in-the-Hills may be small, but that doesn’t mean it’s not one of the busiest in the Lake County Library System. Tara Hall has been director since 2013 and loves every minute of it. “I love working with the community and connecting the community with one another.” She grew up around books as her mom ran a used book store in the back of their home. “I was always reading.” Tara says she’s very proud of their home-school program and how she helped home-school mothers connect with one another. She also has the youngest chess club members in the system. “We’ve got some great programs coming up, like the Howey police are going to teach CPR and first aid. I’m also talking to the Swamp Girls about bringing in some reptiles.” Tara is the only paid staff member, but she has some great volunteers such as her husband Dennis and others who make sure the library is open when it’s needed.
Tour boat captain / Mount Dora
Alligators silently maneuver through the water without leaving a ripple. A blue heron stands motionless on a bank scanning for prey. Five turtles sit side by side on a sunken log. Seeing these magnificent sights daily never grows old for Scott Alderman, who has provided Dora Canal cruises since the early ‘90s. His company, Rusty Anchor, allows locals and tourists to experience the jungle-like waterway that famous sportswriter Grantland Rice referred to as “the most beautiful mile of water in the world.” During the narrated tour on his 18-passenger pontoon boat, Scott delivers facts about the canal’s abundance of flora and fauna. “For tourists, the cruises are a refreshing break from the crowded man-made theme parks,” says Scott, who earned his captain’s license in 1988. “And when locals see the Dora Canal for the first time, they are amazed we have something so spectacular so close to home.” His company also offers summer sunset, lunch, and dinner cruises, a shoreline cruise, and a Christmas light cruise.
South Sumter Major All-Star team / Bushnell
They say losing is part of life. But it’s a rare occurrence for players on the 2017 South Sumter Major All-Star team.
The team, comprising 11- and 12-year-old players, went undefeated in district and state tournaments before winning the 2017 Dixie Youth Majors World Series in August at Oxford, Alabama.
“These players played T-ball together and have moved up the ranks with each other,” says Elizabeth Sellers, the mother of left fielder Dalton Sellers. “To see them accomplish what they did was one of the most amazing and emotional things I’ve ever seen.”
During its impressive run through three tournaments, the team compiled the following stats:
14-1 overall record
27 home runs
Pitched 3 no-hit games
154 strikeouts of opponents
Outscored their opponents 153-32
Bank teller / Astor
A Lake County native and a bank teller at United Southern Bank—the only bank in Astor—Susan Saul enjoys interacting with people, which she considers the best part of her job. “You meet people from everywhere, those from overseas, out west, up north,” she says, adding most are visitors spending winters in her town on the St. Johns River. She has lived in Astor since the 1970s, back when her parents owned Hall’s Lodge, a fish camp, hotel, and restaurant on the river—where she was raised and also worked. She has been a bank teller for the past five years. “I don’t think most people are aware of all the paperwork,” she says of her job. “There are constant changes, even with our little bank.” Susan raves over the “really good food” at the restaurants in Astor, and she’s proud of the kindness of residents. “The community pulls together to help people,” she says. “They’ll have a fishing tournament to benefit somebody.”
FedEx delivery driver / Rural Lake County
Scott DeLong has been a professional tractor-trailer driver for 25 years for FedEx, and he loves his job, where he can be found behind the wheel of 48- to 53-foot rigs. No two days are the same. “I enjoy seeing different people at every stop,” Scott says. “I love not being cooped up in one place all day long. I get to see different areas every day.” He logs from 100 to 200 miles a day. “It takes patience,” he says of making deliveries in challenging situations like narrow roads, tight receiving areas, and occasional heavy traffic. Driving in peaceful rural areas of Lake County also appeals to Scott. “Today was a smooth day,” he says on a recent Friday afternoon while making a delivery off a quiet road in Paisley. “This is a beautiful country town.”
Cosmetologist / The Villages
Cosmetologist Evelyn Jaca, a stylist at Salon Jaylee at Southern Trace Plaza in The Villages, has worked with nearly 1,000 cancer patients in the past four years as a volunteer in the Look Good Feel Better program offered through the American Cancer Society. The free public service program allows Evelyn to help women learn how to deal with changes in their appearance from cancer side effects. She teaches skin and nail care, provides makeup tips, and fits them with wigs. “This is the best program for the ladies,” she says. “If you look good, you’re going to feel good. I really, really love it. I wish more cosmetologists had the heart to do this.”
Gertrude and Roland Foster
Retirees / Wildwood
As they chat in the pool at Wildwood Country Resort, it’s clear Gertrude and Roland Foster have retirement down pat. Transplants from New Hampshire, they’ve lived in Wildwood 10 years and are usually playing cards, dining out, and going to movies. “There’s a lot to do, really. We get out and we have a good time,” Gertrude says. Roland, 73, is a retired Army master sergeant who served for more than 20 years and saw action in Vietnam. He also is a former board member of Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 1036 in The Villages and received national recognition for his contributions. Gertrude, 71, worked for Osram Sylvania, assembling stadium lights. When they’re not at home, they might be found anywhere—they love to travel when timeshare opportunities come up. “We travel just about anywhere,” Roland says. “If we see something we want, we go.” Spoken like a true retiree.
Cashier / Paisley
A newcomer to Paisley, Cheyanna Grenton, 20, was traveling to Florida from New York when she made a life change and relocated to the Sunshine State. “My car broke down on the way here,” she recalls. “I had to have someone come and get me and bring me the rest of the way.” That was last November. Being without a vehicle, Cheyanna recalls she ended up being a customer at Paisley’s only discount store, where residents stock up on groceries, supplies, and everyday goods. She now works at the store and enjoys making small talk with customers. Paisley has become her home. “I like that it is in the middle of nowhere,” she says. “And it’s nice and quiet.” Florida’s warmer temperatures appeals to Cheyanna, too. “In New York, the weather gets really cold,” she says. “Of course, it gets really hot down here. I’m working on getting used to it.”
Potter / Sorrento
Steve Gordon believes everyone has art in them. It just takes that one special person to bring it out. An ad executive and publisher for many years, Steve wanted to do something rewarding with his life instead of retiring and waiting for death. He remembered a seventh-grade teacher who produced a piece of art with clay and decided he might be able to do that, too. Now his pottery has been sold around the world and is available at Pottery Barn. But he’s making special pottery for the October celebration of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. He will be selling special mugs and soap dishes at various markets in the area beginning Oct. 1. Mug are $20 and soap dishes are $15, and all proceeds will go to the Susan G. Komen organization. Each cup and soap dish is handmade by Steve. “Everyone has inherent talents,” Steve says. “It just takes that one person—a parent, teacher, or friend—to inspire bringing it out.”
Historian / Tavares
After so many years in Tavares, Betty Burleigh is not only a historian of the city, she is also part of its history. She began wintering in Tavares from New York in 1946, and she and her late husband, Reginald, moved down in 1973. She lives in a house built in 1920 by well-known local builder L.G. Coven, and the Burleigh name has a genealogical connection to the English family for whom Burleigh Boulevard is named. Betty, 88, is a charter member of the Historical Society of Tavares and serves on the Lake County Historical Society board. “I just love the city of Tavares and the history,” she says of the county seat and its pioneers. She pores over old newspapers to find items, and regularly presents “this day in history” tidbits at city council meetings. “It’s just amazing,” she says. “Every day, I find something new.”
Stay-at-home mom / Fruitland Park
As the mother of three daughters, Kerra Yarish never had to search for something to do. After her first husband’s death, she worked while Kyleigh, 22, was a baby. After her marriage to Benjamin Yarish, she became a full-time homemaker. Now Kyleigh is married and has her own home. Kerra and Benjamin took Bralyn, 18, to move into a dorm at the University of Florida this year, and Leah, 13, is heavily involved in dancing. “I’ve really enjoyed spending time with my kids. I like that I was there to take them to school and pick them up and volunteer in their classrooms. I can’t imagine not being a stay-at-home mom.” Having more time on her hands, however, gave Kerra the opportunity to give to other children, and she became a Guardian ad Litem volunteer a year ago. “I wanted to do something that involved taking care of kids, and I’m enjoying volunteering.”
Retail worker / Oxford
Tired of working inside a bank all day, Elizabeth Defalco decided about two years ago to make a “total life change.” She ditched the bank job for her real passion, working outdoors at Fairfield Farms Nurseries in Oxford, where her husband, Jay, has worked for 14 years. “It’s made me much happier,” Elizabeth says. “I like being outside. I like the interaction with people. Every day, I’m working with plants, and I like plants a lot. I get to help people pick out pretty things for their home.” Elizabeth and Jay live on a 5-acre farm with chickens and goats in Summerfield, but formerly lived in Oxford, a community she enjoys. “There are friendly people here,” she says. “In Oxford, you have families who have lived here for generations. Not founding fathers, but that’s the way I think of it. The Villages nearby brought a lot of business to our area.”
Taxidermist / Yalaha
For more than 40 years, Jimmy McFarland has helped sportsmen treasure the trophies of their hunting and fishing activities. “My two main works are largemouth bass and white-tailed deer.” However, there are also wild turkeys, a bobcat, and even a full-size deer. “I went to school in North Carolina in 1976, the Piedmont Tech Institute,” Jimmy says. “It’s not even there anymore.” What’s his favorite part of the job? “I enjoy meeting the people and I hear a lot of stories.” Jimmy is semi-retired now, but he still takes great pleasure in preserving these treasures for hunters.