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APD SFHS Car IMG 0293RAINA BARNETT/Alachua County Today
Santa Fe High School resource officer Robert Howell traded in his standard design Alachua Police Departmenet squad car for this fire engine red model. The car, which sports Santa Fe High School colors, is one of a kind in the City of Alachua's law enforcement fleet, and is popular with the local school's student body.

ALACHUA – The Santa Fe High School Raiders have a new 2014 Dodge Charger to showcase their school spirit as of Friday, April 29.

The Alachua Police Department (APD) suffered a loss to their squad car fleet in a car crash several months ago but was able to purchase the Charger at a price that matched the budget after insurance was collected.

“We set out to look for a replacement car,” said APD Public Information Officer Jesse Sandusky. “We didn’t have money left in the budget to purchase a brand new car, so we had to use what money we were able to get from the insurance. The car was previously going to be for a fire chief in south Florida, but it matched the price we were looking for.”

The car is red, and at first, the department did not know where a red car would fit in with the others.

“We just kept thinking, 'What are we going to do with a red car?'” Sandusky said.

They came up with the idea to assign the car to the school resource officer at Santa Fe High School, Robert Howell. The original car at Santa Fe was then taken and put on the road to join the other APD vehicles.

For a final touch, the car was detailed in a Santa Fe Raiders theme.

“The city manager agreed, and we thought it was a great way to show pride for school spirit and build a positive relationship with the school and community,” Sandusky said.

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Johnny E. Lewis’s picture is not a very good one.

A Google Image search for the young soldier produces just a small and gritty black-and-white photograph.

A wide-brimmed cap shadows his eyes, but his youthful smile transcends the picture’s graininess, representing the hope of someone who had a whole life to live.

Lewis, a graduate of Zephyrhills High School’s Class of 1965, was only 19 when he was killed in the Vietnam War on April 6, 1967.

He left behind a wife, Janice Williams, the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Barry V. Thomas.

They spent 15 months living as newlyweds in St. Augustine before he reported for military duty.

Lewis, whose name is positioned on panel 17E, row 112 of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C., will be included on the Wall of Faces, an ongoing effort to match each fallen soldier’s name with his or her individual picture.

The display will be part of an Education Center that will be situated between the Memorial Wall and the Lincoln Memorial.

Tim Tetz, the Director of Outreach for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, said the pictures will be displayed on a giant, two-story screen that will show the pictures of each soldier on their respective birthdays.

Although the physical display is not up yet, an online version of all pictures acquired is constantly being updated. Visitors to the website (vvmf.org) can also see which pictures are missing through the Advanced Search tool.

The fundraising for the center will be finalized in 2018, and the final building will hopefully be completed by 2020, Tetz said.

Locally, the Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) Chapter 1036 in the Villages, Florida, is spearheading an effort to find and acquire all 777 of the photographs of fallen Vietnam soldiers from Florida who are listed on the wall.

There are approximately 30 other VVA chapters in Florida who are joining forces to find the rest of the pictures, according to an email from John Thomstatter, the secretary of Chapter 1036.

The search began in February of this year after Thomstatter spoke to someone at the Fund’s office and realized that no one in Florida was doing anything to locate the missing photographs.

Thomstatter said only 46 of the 777 pictures have been collected for the project so far.

Duval County in the Jacksonville area has 101 missing photographs, the largest number of any county so far, he said.

Ten states have completed their search for all the pictures, and Oregon is the most recent state to reach that goal, according to an article on the Fund’s website.

One obstacle that has made the process difficult is that sometimes the listed hometown of a soldier is not actually where he or she is from, Thomstatter said.

He noticed this discrepancy while researching the names of fallen soldiers from Monroe County prior to a trip to the Florida Keys.

“One person I did find out was from another state – Savannah, Georgia,” he said. “So, the search doesn’t always end up where you think it’s gonna be.”

He said he’s also had difficulty finding pictures of certain soldiers because some of the schools in poorer neighborhoods might not have released a yearbook, or he can’t find their obituaries.  

Thomstatter is also working closely with Forest Hope, the president of the local VVA chapter in Alachua County and a Vietnam veteran.

Hope said the project is meaningful to him because he lost friends in combat – people who he graduated high school and played football with.

He said he’s trying to acquire as many photographs as he can before Memorial Day, but there is no deadline. The photos aren’t just limited to Alachua County – he said he’s also searching for surrounding counties like Putnam, Columbia, Baker, Hamilton, Suwannee and Gilchrist.

“Just all the counties around this particular area,” he said. “Anybody knows of someone who died in Vietnam, if they will go to that website and click on that person’s name, if there’s not a photograph, we need one.”

Thomstatter, who is originally from Johnstown, Pennsylvania, said he worked to uncover more photographs of fallen soldiers that were missing when he used the Advanced Search to search for his hometown.

He said he then contacted the local librarian in that area and was able to obtain the pictures to add to the archive.

“It’s really heart-warming,” he said. “And people are really very eager to help you. They’re recognizing the sacrifices that these soldiers made for their country.”

Thomstatter was part of a maintenance company of about 100 others that worked below Saigon, Vietnam during the war. Although he wasn’t in direct combat, he fully realized the impact of the losses when he started his search.

One story he encountered involved an entire helicopter crew that was killed after being hit with an RPG on a mission to save wounded soldiers.

“[Those stories] just bring back more awareness of all the sacrifices that people made when they were over there,” he said.

He said every time he and his team research a soldier's name, they see the magnitude of the personal sacrifices and tragic loss to the comrades, families and communities they left behind.

“Our research team members share a common bond of realizing, ‘There but by the grace of God go I,’” he said. “We knew there were no safe areas in the Vietnam war zone. The tragic results of war seldom justify the purpose.”

Tetz said he appreciates the work that passionate volunteers like Thomstatter are contributing on a local level.

“Having that passion coupled with local knowledge is what we rely on to finish these communities and really to do a great job,” he said.

He said he believes personifying names that are on the Wall brings a whole new appreciation for the fact that these people were living, breathing human beings.

“Of the 4.5 million visitors a year that come to the Wall, over half of them weren’t alive in 1982 when the Wall was built,” he said. “[The soldiers listed on the Wall] had lives; they had children. They had everything that is the magic of America. And they left those things behind.”

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Pioneer DSC 0115

KRISTINA ORREGO/Alachua County Today

Pioneer Days offered a wide variety of activities for children of all ages. True to the pioneering spirit and using nature's ingredients, Cory and Peggie Bryan set up bird feeders for the children at Pioneer Days in High Springs.


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RebuildingTogetherIMG 1982

CAROL WALKER/Alachua County Today

Fun, food and fellowship were part of the dedication of Pastor Marcia Mobley's refurbished home and a joint celebration of National Rebuilding Together Day in Alachua's College Heights area. Center: Former City of Alachua mayor and commissioner Jean Calderwood speaks with Elder Corrisa Durr (left) and homeowner Pastor Marcia J. Mobley (right).  Far left: Alachua County Commissioner Charles “Chuck” Chestnut, IV,  attended the ceremony as well.

ALACHUA – One lucky woman now has the equivalent of a new home thanks to Rebuilding Together North Central Florida (NCF).

Friends, members of Heaven Bound Outreach Ministries in LaCrosse, and Rebuilding Together NCF volunteers helped make the improvements a reality.

Pastor Marcia J. Mobley's 1978 home in the College Heights section of Alachua had fallen into disrepair. The home, which is approximately 1,100 sq. ft., still had the original carpeting; a leaking hot water heater; a roof that needed to be replaced; and other health and safety issues requiring more professional attention and money than she had available.

Mobley applied to Rebuilding Together NCF for help.

“I finally received a $14,000 grant from Phillips Electronics, a national sponsor of Rebuilding Together, in early March,” said R.D. Bonner, Director of Programs for Rebuilding Together NCF. “I added about $2,700 left over from an Alachua County grant and we began working on Pastor Mobley's house."

The job took approximately two months to complete and was finished April 30.

In honor of the project's completion and the anniversary of National Rebuilding Together Day, Mobley, members of her church and volunteers held a ceremony on that date.

Charles “Chuck” Chestnut IV of the Alachua County Board of County Commissioners and former mayor and commissioner of the City of Alachua Jean Calderwood addressed the audience.

Photos on a poster showed the home's previously dangerous condition. A guided tour conducted by Mobley showed all the repairs and new upgrades that had been made.

“A lot of work was completed in such a short time,” said Mobley with a chuckle. “A lot of the time I was living only in the living room and bathroom as everything else was under construction.”

“The National Center for Healthy Housing is a partner,” explained Bonner. “They stress the seven elements of a healthy home and they heavily influence the things we tend to work on.”

Those seven elements include a home that is dry, clean, pest free, safe, contaminant free, well ventilated and well maintained.

“Each weekend we would come out to work on the house, we were amazed at all the work that had been done during the week by Mobley and her friends,” said Bonner.

Mobley said she now knows she is a painter as well as a minister.

Volunteers mowed the lawn and neatened everything around the house as well, according to Mobley. “It was a super effort,” she said.

According to Bonner, Rebuilding Together has a lot of national partners who help when they have a large project. Of the larger partners who work in Alachua County, Bonner noted Lowes, Sears and Phillips.

“In addition, we have lots of businesses and skilled professionals who donate or discount their labor to help us out,” said Bonner. Some he mentioned were Chris Tenney of Godwin Green Roofing in Gainesville; Jim Brown, Roofing, who did the soffit and fascia work on this project; and R. Murphy Construction of Gainesville, who donated a lot of skilled labor to do the “tricky stuff like doors.”

National Rebuilding Together is in 40 of 50 states, said Bonner. Locally, the organization incorporated in 2005, although Bonner said people were doing this type of work prior to that date.

Bonner, who graduated from the University of Florida and had worked twice for Americorp, a partner with Rebuilding Together, joined the Alachua County organization in 2011.

Anyone in need of assistance can submit an application between Jan. 2-13, 2017. “We recommend people call before stopping by for an application so we can tell them what to bring with them,” said Bonner.

The telephone number is 352-373-2573. Their address is 4550 SW 41st Boulevard, Suite #2, Gainesville 32608, which is located off of Fred Bear Boulevard.

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HIGH SPRINGS – The Alachua County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) and High Springs City Commissioners held a joint meeting on April 14. It took no more than 43 minutes from Call to Order by BOCC Chair Robert “Hutch” Hutchinson and High Springs Mayor Byran Williams to adjournment to conclude the business of the day.

The meeting, which took place at High Springs City Hall, focused primarily on how to address the contaminated water well at the Alachua County Transfer Station and Alachua County Fire/Rescue Station #20.

As reported in late March, the water well serving the two county structures is contaminated. “County personnel are currently using bottled water for drinking and whatever cooking they might do on the premises,” said Bill Northcutt, Alachua County Fire Chief.

Following initial discussion of the issue in which the City offered to extend existing water line across U.S. Highway 441 to serve the two facilities, both Northcutt and High Springs City Manager Ed Booth researched further options.

“We've looked at the Comprehensive Plan and an adjustment would have to be made to it,” said Northcutt following the first meeting. “We are also researching options on filtration systems to determine costs and viability. We are doing our due diligence before we bring any option before the Board of County Commissioners for their determination.”

“The City is nice enough to pursue the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) for permission to do the project,” Northcutt said at that time.

During the joint meeting, Northcutt suggested the county drill another well on the property away from the existing well. Although the decision to drill another well on Transfer Station property might sound problematic, Northcutt said, “Not so. The new well would have a core around it, which is necessary for commercial use. The old well does not have that."

According to the County, a more up-to-date filtration system and updated equipment are expected to make a difference with the new well, which was also the least expensive option, said High Springs City Commissioner Scott Jamison.

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farm to family 004

LARRY BEHNKE/Alachua County Today

Laser light show during Quartermoon's set at the Farm to Family Festival in Ellisville.

ELLISVILLE – Nearly a year after its last music weekend, the Farm to Family Full Moon Festival was back and better than ever.

Its new location was Ellisville, just off I-75 exit 414. The concert grounds sit behind All Tech Raceway, a half-mile dirt track for car races. Of course, no races are scheduled during concert weekends.

Many weeks of hard work by volunteers turned a once-thick forest into a shady field for the relocated stage, vendor tents and plenty of lounging space for folks to listen to a variety of bands. From Thursday through Sunday evenings, 21 musical acts played folk, reggae, country, bluegrass, rock, Latin and more.

Early bird tickets were $35 and $65 at the gate. Day tickets were also available, and camping was free.

The High Springs Lions Club helped sponsor and had one of the food tents. Other food and drinks were available.

A large Kids’ Tent held games, face painting and art. It became especially popular during Friday night’s downpour. During the rain, Hannah Harbor & the Lionhearts continued their set, while people sought shelter near the stage or under umbrellas.

However, a group of children didn’t mind the rain and had fun playing in the dance floor area, which is white beach sand. They splashed and made sand castles as the music played on.

The next morning volunteers spread out several huge rolls of straw to make roads and paths passable again. The rest of the weekend was perfect: warm, sunny and breezy.

Don Applebaum began the concert series more than a decade ago as a way to pay the mortgage on his organic farm. He delivered produce from his farm to families. Concerts were held Saturday evenings during each month’s full moon, but it grew too big for the farm. It eventually expanded into a three-day event, held three or four times each year.

The next music weekend will happen in the fall, when the weather is cooler.

Finding a permanent location for the festival has been a challenge the past few years, but folks enjoyed the new venue. Applebaum and friends have never given up on continuing this crowd-pleasing event.

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HIGH SPRINGS – On April 16, students in Jessica Butts’s classes, who are also in the High Springs Community School’s FFA chapter, took part in a cleanup project to remove some of the garbage that had accumulated over the years near High Springs' namesake spring, Butt said.

The area they cleaned up was on the school’s land lab property, which is adjacent to the spring, Butts said.

The project was supported by a $1,500 grant from the Tractor Supply Company of Gainesville, according to Judith Weaver, a teacher at the school.

Butts said the trash included an old broken lawnmower with weeds growing through it, a mattress and box spring, broken pots and pans, and cans.

The activity provided an opportunity for the students to learn the impact that litter and trash have on the water and, subsequently, the aquifer, she said.

“I wanted them to understand that everything that you do on the land also impacts the water,” she said.

Butts said the students were happy to clean up the area and enjoyed working outside.

“I think they were surprised and almost excited when they would find something strange,” she said. “Like, ‘Look what I found!’”

Butts said her students researched agriculture and soils in preparation for the project.

Some of the other research also included how to measure best management practice (BMP) setbacks from water resources and use the data to relocate livestock out of storm water retention areas to a more suitable location, according to Weaver.

Butts said the livestock included goats that were placed there last year by the FFA and the Ag department. They have since been relocated to an area where their waste will not compromise the water or the aquifer.

“We’ve built kind of a containment area for our animal waste,” Butts said. “So that it’s kept in one space and it’s not running off down anywhere where it’s not supposed to be.”

The students’ research will be showcased as part of the Smithsonian Institute’s Waterways Exhibit at the High Springs Historical Museum from July 16 to Aug. 27.

It will be on display on the sixth week of the exhibit, according to Kristina Young, the program director at the museum.

“We were one of six sites selected in the state of Florida to host this traveling exhibit,” Young said.

Young said the museum’s goal has been to invite community partners to get involved in talking about our waterways and our responsibility to protect them.

“The High Springs Community School was one of our first partners that we reached out to to involve our children,” she said.

She said the exhibit is part of a bigger initiative that the Smithsonian Institute is trying to promote across the United States.

“Their goal is to invite rural areas to get involved,” she said. “And our site – our community of High Springs – was selected to host this because we have such a valuable resource right here in our area.”

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