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Q - HSPD Dog IMG 04071

L-R:  High Springs Police Chief Joel DeCoursey, Jr. (at the podium), High Springs Police Handler/Officer Ethan Presnell and K-9 Officer Aggie.  K-9 Officer Aggie is retiring after years of service to the city. (Photo special to Alachua County Today)

HIGH SPRINGS – After several years of faithful and dedicated service to the citizens of High Springs and to the High Springs Police Department (HSPD), K-9 Officer Aggie officially retired Monday evening. During the High Springs Commission Meeting, she and her handler, HSPD Officer Ethan Presnell were awarded a plaque honoring her service by HSPD Chief Joel DeCoursey, Jr. Aggie will live out her retirement with Presnell and his family.

The plaque included a photo of Aggie and Presnell in front of their police vehicle, along with a shiny, new HSPD badge. “The one she wears while working is pretty beat up after all these years,” said Presnell.

Aggie is a nine-year-old Golden Retriever who originally was handled by Sgt. Harper for the first four years of work with the department. He literally asked Presnell to take her on a few days before he died. Presnell has worked with her for another three and a half years.

Aggie was trained as a narcotics dog, but is also used in public relations situations...especially around school children. “She is a very calm sociable animal with a great temperament around people and children,” said Presnell. “She is methodical at sniffing and this breed is excellent at duck or quail hunting.”

A new full-blooded male German Shepherd named Caesar will begin formal training with Presnell soon. He currently lives with Aggie, Presnell and his family and is undergoing basic obedience training. “The dog was bred in Czechoslovakia and imported into the U.S. in January of this year,” said Presnell. “He was purchased initially by a kennel in Palm Beach Gardens and will be two years old in December.”

“Caesar was donated to the HSPD by an anonymous donor,” said HSPD Lt. Antoine Sheppard. “A bullet-proof vest was purchased at a cost of about $700 through a donation,” he said. “Leda Carrero started a donation drive to purchase the bullet-proof vest, but Claire Noble donated the full amount needed to purchase the vest,” Sheppard said.

Caesar will be trained to apprehend as well as to be a narcotics dog. Training starts Oct. 3 and will proceed for about six months. When his training in that area is complete, he will be able to track suspects and apprehend them, if needed. After 570 hours of training, he will be tested and must be found to be 100 percent under control when he's working.

Presnell, who has had a history of working with dogs from his youth, will undergo training along with Caesar. “There are new case laws and best practices to learn about, as well as commands to learn,” he said.

Ceasar will then undergo two to three more months of training to be a narcotics sniffing dog. He will be adept at doing both things by the end of his training.

Presnell, who has had a history of working with dogs from his youth, will undergo training along with Caesar. “There are new case laws and best practices to learn about,” he said.

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Q - Catherine Taylor Park IMG 0401

L-R: Catherine Taylor Park ribbon cutting with Linda and Tom Hewlett, High Springs Chamber President Yvonne Andrews, Commissioner Jason Evans, Vice-Mayor Gloria James, Commissioners Sue Weller and Scott Jamison, and Recreation Director Robert Basford. Neighborhood children were happy to have the new playground in their neighborhood and helped James with the huge scissors as she cut the ribbon. (Photo special to Alachua County Today)

HIGH SPRINGS – Grants from the Florida Recreation Development Assistance Program (FRDAP) have borne fruit in the form of renovations for two High Springs parks and playgrounds. Civic Center and Catherine Taylor parks have had their playground equipment, courts, nets, etc. improved over the past few months.

The Civic Center Playground was closed as work was being conducted, much to the dismay of parents with children at home during the summer break.

As all of the work at the Civic Center had been completed, the City held a grand opening/ribbon cutting ceremony at 10 a.m., Saturday, Sept. 10, complete with snow cones from Alachua's Tropical Sno.

Vice-Mayor Gloria James was at the helm at both parks to perform the ribbon cuttings. Also attending were High Springs City Commissioners Jason Evans, Scott Jamison and Sue Weller.

Catherine Taylor Park remained open during the upgrades, but a portion of the renovation had not been completed by Saturday. However, the playground equipment area had been upgraded and a ribbon cutting ceremony was held at 11 a.m. to open the playground area. Snow cones from Tropical Sno were provided at this park as well to keep everyone cool.

Resurfacing the basketball court is currently in progress and should be open in the near future.

“Both grants were sought to help bring the city's playground and playground equipment up to a higher, safer standard in High Springs,” said City Manager Ed Booth earlier in the renovation process.

High Springs recreation director Robert Basford managed both grants and renovations simultaneously.

“It was a long process to do them both at the same time,” he said. “A lot of work went on behind the scenes before we even began the actual renovations.

“These two parks turned into two of the nicer parks in the county,” said Basford.

Upgrades at the Civic Park included state of the art playground equipment purchased from Gametime Playground and installed by by Kenico, Inc. “Additionally, renovation of the swing frame, replacement of swing chains and seats, installation of a whole new play structure and mulch borders were part of the upgrades,” according to Basford. Tennis nets and basketball rims were replaced and tennis and basketball courts were resurfaced by local contractor, Stephen Toth of Tennis Unlimited, Inc.

“The same contractor, installer, etc. were used for Catherine Taylor Park,” Basford said, “but the play structure itself is in a different shape and color from the Civic Center Playground.”

“We hope to be able to be able to revamp every city park to bring them all up to code and make them state of the art playgrounds/parks,” he said.

The City plans to renovate Walter Howard Park with another $50,000 FRDAP grant recently awarded to High Springs. “The state is still negotiating the contract and we are just waiting for that process to be completed,” said Basford. With any luck at all, the actual park renovation is expected to begin sometime around the first of the year.

Both the Civic Center and Catherine Taylor Parks are open sunrise to sunset.

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q -Splash Park  DSC 0531The City of Alachua's splash park is a popuar cooling off spot for area children.  During hot summer months, the park is oftentimes at capacity during the weekends. (Today file photo)


ALACHUA – The City of Alachua’s splash park, located at the Hal Brady Recreation Complex, is a popular place for children to burn off energy and cool down in the hot Florida weather.


City staff announced at the Aug. 22 regular commission meeting that a grant application has been submitted to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) to help fund a Phase II addition to the park that would accommodate individuals with physical challenges.


According to a commission agenda report, the total project cost is $150,000, and if funding is awarded, FDEP would provide $112,500 (75 percent) and the City would provide $37,500 (25 percent).


The City of Alachua’s Parks & Recreation Advisory Board voted 4-0 during its meeting on Aug. 15, 2016 to support the City’s application to FDEP under the Florida Recreation Development Assistance Program.


“We will await award notification from FDEP, which may be several months,” Alachua Assistant City Manager Adam Boukari said. “Once the City is notified if it receives funding, then we will prepare for construction activities. The City is pleased to pursue the grant opportunity in hopes of enhancing recreational opportunities for the community at large.”


The Splash Park is open daily from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and is available for reservations, which can be found and requested under Recreation and Culture at cityofalachua.com. The splash park will close for the season on Oct. 1 and reopen in March 2017.


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Q - Folks in Springs 2 Guys

Cracker the Box, made up of Glenn Moody and Don Blitch will be performing Sunday at The Diner from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.. (Photo special to Alachua County Today)

HIGH SPRINGS – High Springs’ Music in the Park series has teamed up with the North Florida Folk Network and the North Florida Blues Society for the third annual Folk in the Springs event being held on Sunday, Sept. 18 from 1 to 8 p.m. in High Springs.

The event will bring together 10 different artists to eight different locations throughout downtown High Springs, according to a press release about the event.

Michael Loveday, the Music in the Park coordinator, said picking the artists was a collaborative effort between himself, Cassie Keenum, the president of the North Central Florida Blues Society, and Cindy Bear, who is member of the North Florida Folk Network.

Loveday chose Remedy Tree, an up-and-coming indie folk Americana trio out of St. Augustine, Brian Smalley, Cracker the Box and Keenum, who will be performing with Rick Randlett, Loveday said.

Cassie Keenum chose Barbara Paul Armbrecht and the Delta Dutchman.

Cindy Bear chose the band La Grange and Terry Whitehead, the former president of the Florida Folk Network and Patchwork Trio.

The artists will be spread out in locations such as James Paul Park, the High Springs Museum, the High Springs Fire Department, the GFWC High Springs Women’s Club, Priest Theatre, the Great Outdoors Restaurant, El Patio & Cantina and The Diner.

Remedy Tree

Remedy Tree, a group based in St. Augustine, is made up of Gabriel Acevedo, his wife Abigail, and Xander Lynn, a principle cellist who also plays for the St. Augustine orchestra. They will be opening up for Brian Smalley for Folk in the Springs from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. at the Great Outdoors Restaurant.

Acevedo said he was delighted when he was approached by Loveday to play for the event, especially after their experience playing at High Springs’ last Pioneer Days.

“Michael Loveday is just a loveable guy pretty much,” he said. “I just really liked the opportunity to be able to open for Brian Smalley … We’ve been kind of watching him for over 10 years now.”

The band officially came together about a year ago after Acevedo, who had been playing bluegrass and folk music with his brother since he was 12, broke away and began penning his own songs and developing his individual sound, he said.

Abigail joined him on the guitar and Lynn would play with both of them after his orchestra practices, he said.

He said it’s often difficult to pinpoint what genre their music falls under.

“I like to call it indie folk Americana and then we have a lot of influences from old time and blue rock and even classical,” he said.

The band is currently working on an album that is set to be released later this year. Acevedo said he has done close to all the songwriting that will be featured on the album.

For more information on Remedy Tree, please visit their official website at www.remedytreemusic.com.

Cracker the Box

Cracker the Box, an Americana duo made up of Don Blitch and Glenn Moody and based in Gainesville, will be featured at the Folk in the Springs and will be playing at The Diner from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Blitch said Loveday approached them to participate after seeing them perform a couple years ago at a Florida Folk Festival that had an unexpectedly generous turnout.

“We did both shows with Rick Randlett,” he said. “They anticipated maybe 40 people and we ended up with nearly 100 of them, so they had to get chairs and stuff. So it was very well accepted.”

Blitch said he and Moody are regulars at local music festivals and play at Satchel’s Pizza at least once a month.

He said their Americana sound is a conglomeration of a 60s psychedelic sound infused with folk and blues – one that is reminiscent of the Grateful Dead, as some listeners have told him, he said.

“But then again, we do some pretty strong blues stuff and it has a different sound,” he said. “It sounds like, for one thing, even though we have two guitars mostly going, it sounds like there’s more going on. There’s a lot of overtones and things happening.”

For more information on Cracker the Box, visit their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/crackerthebox.

Rick Randlett

On Feb. 9, 1964, an unknown band made up of four shaggy-haired British young men appeared on The Ed Sullivan show.

The lyrics of their song, “I Want to Hold Your Hand” were almost drowned out by the shrieks of girls in the background. But they were just loud enough to start a phenomenon.

Hundreds of miles away, a little boy named Rick Randlett sat in front of his TV and tuned in.

“And really from that point on, there was really nothing else I wanted to do with my life besides play music,” Randlett said. “I’ve played ever since.”

Randlett will be performing with Cassie Keenum from 6 to 8 p.m. at the El Patio restaurant in High Springs.

“We’ll do a few select covers,” he said. “We always just like to make sure that the audience gets involved with us and has a good time and makes a real participatory thing.”

When asked to describe his music, Randlett said while it is blues-based, he likes to deviate from a conventional sound that people might be used to.

“Even though I’m doing blues, there’s always more of a melody line than some blues has,” he said. “And I tend to write my songs about different subjects than standards blues… Every style of music has traditions that people stick to, and I try to stay away from some of that as much as I possibly can.”

Terry Whitehead

One of Terry Whitehead’s nieces fell asleep in his arms once, and the song “Sleeping Child” was born.

The lyrics, inspired by that tranquil feeling, convey the profound importance of stopping every once in a while no matter how chaotic life gets.

“It’s a song that kind of describes things that comfort you and just the feeling of relaxation,” he said.

The singer-songwriter based in Atlantic Beach said that’s how he writes a lot of his songs. Whitehead will be performing at 3p.m. at the High Springs Fire Department.

Whitehead is part of the North Florida Folk Organization and said he was approached by Mike and Cindy Bear to play at the event. Cindy Bear will also be participating in the event and representing NFFN.

Whitehead eventually became part of a few classic rock bands and then an Americana band.

He has since splintered off to form a duo with longtime friend Dave Knopsnyder, who will be joining Whitehead on the electric guitar for Folk in the Springs.

For more on Whitehead’s music, visit terrywhiteheadmusic.com.

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Q - Newberry Fire 20160903 155806

The garage and several vehicles were a total loss in Saturday's fire. (Photo special to Alachua County Today/Kevin Mangan)


NEWBERRY – A Newberry homeowner lost their garage and several modes of transportation in a fire on Saturday, Sept. 3.


Members of the Newberry Fire Department responded first to the fire, which was located at 27608 N.W. 46th Avenue, Newberry. Fire fighters and a tanker responded to the call for help, followed closely by multiple units from Alachua County Fire/Rescue and a second tanker from the High Springs Fire Department.


The cement block garage structure was detached from the house. “It was nearly 2,000 sq. ft.,” said District Chief Mick McAlhany, who is from District 5, but was working District 6 that day.


“Thanks to the Newberry Fire Department's quick response to the scene, the garage fire did not spread to the home,” he said.


Although the garage was detached, McAlhany said it was close to the house. “If Newberry hadn't arrived when they did, it could have caught the house on fire,” he said.


The garage had a bathroom and a workshop/garage area in half of the structure and vehicles in the other half of the building. The homeowners lost a Polaris ATV, motorcycle and a car in the blaze. The roof was entirely burned off, McAlhany said.


As to how the blaze started, “The homeowner said he parked his motorcycle in the garage after riding it. It backfired once,” said McAlhany.


The owner went into the house. When he returned he found the garage on fire and called for assistance.


It took approximately 20-30 minutes to extinguish the fire and check for hot spots to make sure the fire wouldn't flare up again.


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Q - Memorial GardenL-R: High Sjprings Police Leiutenant Antoine Sheppard, Police Chief Joel DeCoursey, Jr., and Fire Chief Bruce Gillingham salute the new memorial for 9/11 victims at t he High Sprinsg Fire House on Sept. 11, 2016. (Today Photo/RAY CARSON)

HIGH SPRINGS – The 15th year anniversary of 9-11 was marked in High Springs by the re-dedication of the 9-11 memorial and creation of a memorial garden. The memorial is located on the grounds of the High Springs Fire Department (HSFD), 18586 N.W. 238th Street.

The re-dedication ceremony began at 8:40 a.m. on Sunday, September 11, with a short address by Leda Carraro, followed by the blowing of a fire truck horn at 8:45 a.m. The blowing horn signified the time American Airlines Flight 11 crashed into floors 93-99 of the North Tower of the World Trade Center (WTC). The crash killed all 92 people on board and many more inside the tower.

Eighteen minutes later, United Airlines Flight 175 crashed into floors 75-85 of the WTC's South Tower killing 65 people on board and hundreds more inside the tower.

In addition to the deaths associated with the WTC, Flight 77 crashed into the western facade of the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., killing 59 aboard the plane and 125 military and civilian personnel inside the building.

After passengers and crew members aboard the hijacked Flight 93 learned about the attacks in New York and Washington, they mounted an attempt to retake the plane. In response, hijackers deliberately crashed the plane into a field in Somerset County, Pennsylvania, killing all 40 passengers and crew aboard.

At the ceremony, a moment of silence, coordinated via radio with the Alachua County Sheriff's Office, followed. High Springs Police Department (HSPD) Lt. Antoine Sheppard read aloud the inscription on the monument, which was followed by the placement of a wreath donated by Thompson's Flower Shop at the monument by HSFD Chief Bruce Gillingham.

HSPD Chief Joel DeCoursey, Jr., Sheppard and Gillingham did a slow salute, holding it while “Taps” were being played by Santa Fe High School student Emilee Jones. At the end of “Taps,” the salute was slowly lowered.

Mayor Byran Williams spoke followed by a prayer by Gene Levine. High Springs Community School student Kiyana Williams then sang the “National Anthem.” Gillingham and DeCoursey addressed the visitors and the ceremony ended with Kiyana Williams singing "God Bless America.”

Several people brought cut flowers to place at the memorial.

About Memorial Gardens

Noting that an enhancement of the area surrounding the memorials on the grounds would be a welcome addition to the front of the HSFD, Carrero sought and received permission from city commissioners to conduct the re-dedication ceremony and also install a garden with donations of plants and labor.

“With the generous donations from the citizens of High Springs and the donation of flowers and mulch we have created a beautiful garden surrounding the monuments,” said Carraro.

The area will be referred to as Memorial Gardens. Most of the work preparing the area was done by Harry Patterson, who also purchased at least half of the plants in the garden area. He, Carol Pratt, Sue Weller, members of the HSFD and Carrero volunteered their time to create the garden. “We are all very proud of how it turned out,” said Carraro.

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Q - SM IMG 2576

Father Sebastian K. George delivering a sermon and Communion at St. Madeleine Catholic Church, High Springs. (Today Photo/C.M. Walker)

HIGH SPRINGS – Drivers flowing past St. Madeleine Catholic Church off of U.S. Highway 441 in High Springs may see a new sign by the roadside announcing that the Santa Fe Shrine of Our Lady of La Leche has been created.

While the shrine itself is new, the building housing it is anything but.

The lovely white chapel with a cross on top was originally built in 1925 at what was previously known as 140 Northeast Second Avenue and Second Street in High Springs. It was moved to its present location on Dec. 26, 1979, and is set back from the front of the property.

A much larger church was built for the crowds of people who attend church on Saturdays and Sundays. The little white building is used throughout the week for smaller groups of people.

As with all old buildings, it was in need of refurbishing after it was moved. After considerable effort, it is now a sparkling white stained-glass structure surrounded by lush green grass, flowers, gardens, cemeteries, benches and other ancillary structures.

A sign on one of the doors to the shrine, both of which are adorned with flower wreaths, reads “Holy Door of Mercy.”

The Diocese of St. Augustine has named the Shrine as one of the sites designated to welcome visitors during the Jubilee Holy Year of Mercy, Dec. 8, 2015 - Nov. 20, 2016. Visitors during this time will receive the special graces available during the Jubilee Year.

The shrine is open daily and Minerva Couret and others have a wealth of information to share with visitors, referred to as pilgrims, who stop by to pray, walk the paths laid out on the property or just sit in contemplation.

On December 5, 2015, the most Reverend Filipe Estevez, Bishop of St. Augustine, bestowed a special privilege on the parish of St. Madeleine Catholic Church by designating the renovated chapel as The Santa Fe Shrine of Our Lady of La Leche. This allowed for the faithful in the western-most reaches of the diocese who have a devotion to Our Lady to have a place of pilgrimage and spiritual refuge without the need to travel to St. Augustine.

History of a Shrine to Our Lady of La Leche

According to tradition, the Milk Grotto, not far from Bethlehem, is the site where the Holy Family took refuge during the Slaughter of the Innocents before their flight to Egypt. While there, the Virgin Mary nursed the child Jesus. Some drops of milk sprinkled the walls, changing the color of the stone to white.

The image of the Blessed Virgin Mary breastfeeding the infant Jesus dates back to the 16th Century in the Spanish city of Madrid where she is called Nuestra Senora de la Leche y Buen Parto (Our Lady of the Milk and Happy Delivery).

In 1598, the image was rescued from irreverent hands and placed in the home of a married couple. The woman and her unborn child were thought to die during childbirth, and her husband prayed intently to our Lady of La Leche to grant his wife a safe delivery. Our Lady heard his prayer and thereupon, his dying pregnant wife and child were saved.

Together, the couple spread the news to other families about Our Lady's power with God. Soon after, the devotion became famous throughout Spain.

Becoming aware of Our Lady's intercession, King Philip III, who was the ruler during that time, personally undertook the erection of a shrine in honor of Our Lady of La Leche.

Present day benefits of the Shrine

From December 2015 – September 2016, more than 29 group pilgrimages (836 people) have made the journey to the Santa Fe Shrine of Our Lady of La Leche. Visitors from 34 Florida cities have signed into the Shrine's register. Visitors from a similar number of out-of-state locations have come from as far away as Sitka, Alaska. International visitors have traveled from the Philippines, Puerto Rico, China, Australia and England to pray at the Shrine.

“We have had people stop in because they saw our billboard on I-75 and decided to come in and pray,” said Teresa Glaser, a helper at the shrine and the person who is in charge of public relations. “Our signs have garnered interesting comments,” said Glaser. “’I love your shrine to Our Lady. Thank you for putting up the highway billboard so that I and all travelers can find this Holy Gem!’ said one person. Another wrote, ‘Saw the sign from the freeway. Just came for a visit from Michigan...what a wonderful shrine for Our Lady!’”

Needless to say, members of the St. Madeleine's Catholic Church are proud of what has been accomplished in such a short time and the numbers of people who visit the Santa Fe Shrine of Our Lady of La Leche. They welcome all who want to stop in for whatever reason, no matter what their religious preference, and enjoy getting to know new people and helping wherever they can.

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