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QQ - HSPD Wolfe 001

Photo special to Alachua County Today

Former High Springs Police Chief Thomas Wolfe.

HIGH SPRINGS – Thomas W. Wolfe, one of the longest serving police chiefs in High Springs' history, died Saturday at the age of 89 under Hospice care following a six-year battle with a long-term illness.

Wolfe was hired by the City as a police officer on Aug. 1, 1966 and was appointed Chief of Police in 1973. He served until June 30, 2003, when he retired at the age of 76.

City Clerk Jenny Parham said when Wolfe retired, he still acted like he was 23 instead of 76. “He had a lot of energy,” she said.

During the early part of the City's history, the Police Department and City Hall were housed in the same building. Parham remembers him as an up-beat, optimistic person who was always in a good mood. “He always had a story or two to share, and his presence was the highlight of the day for us,” she said. “The police department was just across the hall at that time and we dispatched for them during the day until the night-time dispatcher came in at 4 p.m.”

Wolfe presented a clean-cut, military-like appearance. A short crew cut and uniform were his standard attire. The city's current police chief, Joel DeCoursey, Jr., said he ran into him recently and he was as sharp as ever.

“Chief DeCoursey always came over to say ‘Hi’ to us whenever we would run into him in town,” said Wolfe's wife of 48 years, Myrna.

Wolfe was responsible for hiring Lt. Antoine Sheppard on April 26, 2001. “I was the first African-American officer hired in at least two or three decades,” said Sheppard, who also is the last remaining full-time officer hired by Wolfe. Sheppard described Wolfe as humble and a great police chief. “The City's flags are at half staff and we are wearing our morning bands in honor of Chief Wolfe,” he said.

“When we came back to High Springs after my husband died, Lt. Sheppard stopped by to express the whole department's condolences,” said Wolfe's wife. “I don't know how he found out, but he was there.”

Former City Manager Leonard E. Withey, Jr. said he saw Wolfe a little over a week prior to his death. “He told me at that time that his life was coming to an end,” said Withey, a long-time friend. “We talked very little about his illness during our two-hour visit, but much more about the old days and laughed about some of the things that had happened on our watch. Tom and I worked together for 20 years. He was chief when I was hired on Jan. 1, 1980. I always told him I will be retired and gone and you will still be here...and he was.”

Wolfe was a pilot in World War II, flying planes in the Pacific as he transported troops and goods throughout the war. “He landed at an airstrip that had been taken by the Japanese, which at the time was unknown to the Americans, and was held as a prisoner of war for two years along with his crew,” Myrna said.

“He somehow got in with the Chinese underground and he and his crew eventually escaped,” she said. “He had been reported as dead after all that time and scared his mother near to death when he walked into the house after being released from service.”

In addition to World War II, his wife said he was also drafted into the service again to fight in the Korean War.

At some point after his service, Wolfe went to work as an air traffic controller at Washington National Airport, retiring in 1965, said Withey.

Wolfe became a member of the High Springs Police Department sort of “through the back door,” according to Withey. “In 1965, one of our three officers, Mr. Nettles, was out sick,” he said. “Wolfe went to the police station and offered to work the night shift so the two remaining officers could work days. He said he would quit the minute Nettles was back at work. We took him up on it, and Mr. Nettles never returned to work, so Wolfe stayed on."

Withey pointed out that Wolfe and his officers cleared 50-70 percent of their cases. “The Florida Department of Law Enforcement came a couple of times a year to make sure everything was properly documented and on track,” said Withey. “They never found anything wrong with his record keeping.”

His wife described Wolfe as strictly a family man. “He cared about his children and grandchildren and enjoyed them tremendously,” she said.

Wolfe requested no funeral when he died. The family and the City of High Springs are honoring his request.

Wolfe is survived by his wife, Myrna, three children, seven grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

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Q - Habitat IMG 2015

BEN PHILLIPS/Photo special to Alachua County Today

L-R: Tommy and Frances Rooks and their children, Katie and Noah, received a blessing and dedication of their Habitat for Humanity home in Newberry. Father John M. Phillips of Holy Faith Catholic Church, Gainesville, performed the dedication ceremony.

NEWBERRY – A brand new Habitat for Humanity home was dedicated Sunday in Newberry. The home, owned by the Rooks family, replaces a rundown trailer formerly located on the property at 29317 Northwest 46th Avenue.

“Community members dedicated countless hours of volunteer labor to build the new home,” said Jocelyn Peskin of Habitat for Humanity.

According to a Habitat press release, the new home, sponsored by an anonymous Catholic donor with matching funds from the local Catholic community, was built in honor of Pope Francis for his commitment to social justice and reinvigorating the Catholic Church.

Rooks’ new home was constructed at Santa Fe College’s Charles R. Perry Construction Institute and transported by truck to the family’s land, where volunteers and community partners worked together to complete the home by adding a front porch, back porch, driveway, landscaping, and other final touches.

The mobile home the Rooks family lived in had mold problems, along with rodent and insect infestations. Tommy Rooks, a disabled veteran, needed a safe home for his own health as well as that of his family. “I have tried all of my life to provide for my family and to give them what they need to survive in life,” Mr. Rooks said. “I can’t say how wonderful it is to have people helping my family out. I’m at a loss for words with how thankful I am for these people giving their time to help my family.”

Alachua Habitat for Humanity supports its home-ownership program through donations, grants, and principal payments from family partners. All homeowners assume an affordable mortgage for their homes at the end of their 400 committed sweat equity hours. The principal paid by Habitat Family Partners is then used to build more homes, allowing families the opportunity to pay forward the gift of home-ownership.

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Photo Special to Alachua County Today

Eating watermelon and spitting seeds are popular with kids and adults alike at the Newberry Watermelon Festival. Games, contests, music and crowning of the Newberry Watermlon Queen are all on tap.

NEWBERRY – The Newberry Watermelon Festival Committee has packed a whole lot into their upcoming festival. Businesses, clubs, organizations and churches have pooled their resources to help celebrate a multi-faceted 24 hours of entertainment, contests, auctions and music on May 20-21.

This year's festival will begin with the Watermelon Festival Queen Pageant, 7 p.m., Friday, May 20. The pageant will be held on the Destiny Church Property, 20820 West Newberry Road. That location will also be the headquarters for most of the May 21 fun, games, contests and music.

Other festival-related activities begin at 8:30 a.m., Saturday, May 21, with the Watermelon Fun Run and Walk, which will take place at the Lois Forte Park (previously known as Triangle Park) located at 255 NW 260th Street.

The Newberry Watermelon Festival Parade will begin at 9 a.m., Saturday. Parade line up will begin at 8:15 a.m. at the Fire Station and will exit onto Newberry Road. The Grand Marshall this year is Alachua County Sheriff Sadie Darnell and the Honorary Grand Marshall is Riley Maddison. TheWatermelon Festival Queen and her court will be among those featured in this year's parade, along with several other local and regional dignitaries.

“The unofficial opening of the festival is 9 a.m. That's when people begin to show up at the festival booths,” said Watermelon Festival Committee member Kathryn Thomas. “However, the official opening begins at 11 a.m., when Mayor Bill Conrad spits the first Watermelon Seed,” she said.

A fund-raising auction begins at noon on the main stage with regionally well-known auctioneer, J.R. Trimm. “People can expect to see some watermelon-related items, beautiful handmade bowls, vinyl beach bags, earrings, a bottle of Joy donated by Cason's Barbecue, a handmade chenille scarf donated by Debbie and Daryl Dewitt and many more items,” said Linda Woodcock, Watermelon Festival Committee member.

Games begin at 1 p.m. on the Main Stage and are free. They include a Watermelon Seed Spitting Contest, Hog Calling Contest, Watermelon Eating Contest, Watermelon Roll (for children five and under), a Celebrity Watermelon Roll featuring K-Country's Lewis Stokes and featured performer Mark Copeland and a Dog Fashion Show (time TBA Saturday).

“Lewis and Mark have been practicing all year for this fabulous event,” said Thomas, tongue in cheek.

“One of the businesses contributing to the Newberry community this year is Santa Fe Ford,” said Woodcock. “They are sponsoring a 'Sign and Drive' event on May 21.” They will donate money to Newberry High School for each car that is driven the day of the festival.

“Here's your chance to try out a new Ford and help Newberry's students, too,” said Woodcock.

“T-shirt sales have been outstanding this year,” said Thomas. “We have had to reorder already and we haven't even gotten to the Festival itself,” she said. The shirts are for sale at Capital City Bank, 24202 West Newberry Road, Suite F and will be for sale at the festival. Cost is $10, $12 for size XX and above.

The day's event would not be complete without free watermelon slices, which are being provided by Bass Farm and Hodge Farm, both of which are located in Newberry.

The Newberry Watermelon Festival Committee says, “Ya'll come and join us for a fun-filled Newberry event.”

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Q - SnakeBoyunnamed 1

Photo special to Alachua County Today

Fifteen-year-old Santa Fe High School student Thaddeus Beavers holding a baby Burmese Python durin ga local Repticon event.

ALACHUA – One local teen is single-handedly running his own online reptile business.

Thaddeus Beavers, a 15-year-old freshman at Santa Fe High School (SFHS), launched his reptile business, Mini Monster Reptiles, around 2013 – a total of three breeding seasons.

Currently, he owns more than 70 reptiles, including ball pythons, kingsnakes, hognose snakes and bearded dragons from parts of the world like California, Africa and Mexico. All the snakes are non-venomous, his mother, Sarah Beavers, said.

Mrs. Beavers said her son’s love for reptiles began when he was about 9 or 10.

He got his first leopard gecko when he was in the third grade. Then, he got straight A’s in fifth grade and his parents rewarded him with his first ball python.

In addition to running his business, Beavers continues to make straight A’s in advanced classes at SFHS, actively participates in the school’s FFA program and works part-time at a local landscape company.

Despite the fact that this venture is a business, Beavers said he does it out of pure love for the animals.

“It’s a good bonus, but it’s more of – it’s just fun to work with them and be that weird person that people think of when they hear the word ‘snake’ or ‘lizard,’” he said.

Beavers said he’s learned that running his own business takes lots of patience.

“You’re going to have to put in money in order to make money,” he said. “And this is a hard business to make money in. If it’s something you love, don’t do it for the money, just do it because you love it.”

Admittedly a big spender himself, he said he’s learned that, in order for a business to be successful, the money that is made needs to go right back into it.

“You can’t get the money and use it for yourself,” he said. “It’s going to fail if you don’t put your money back into it, which also ties into the ‘you may not make a lot of money’ [idea].”

He said they buy most of the reptiles from display shows like Repticon or private breeders.

Repticon Reptile and Exotic Animal Conventions is the national leader in producing reptile and exotic pet shows throughout the country, according to the convention’s official website.

“A Repticon show would be like going to a car show,” he said. “You’ve got the various vendors showcasing what they sell and breed.”

He cares for them as if they were his pets – taking measures to make sure they’re healthy before being sold to their new owners.

This process, which includes feeding the reptiles properly, takes about three weeks for the snakes, while lizards take six weeks, but there is no standard – the amount of time is just his personal preference, he said.

All of the snakes are carnivores, while bearded dragons and crested geckos eat both insects and plants.

Mrs. Beavers, who holds a Class III license from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, is interested in helping take care of the lizards, while her son focuses on the snakes.

Surprisingly, Alachua County has a high concentration of reptile breeders, Mrs. Beavers said. They’ve worked with local businesses like The Hogtown Reptile Shop and the Rowdy Reptile Shop, as well as private breeders in the area.

She said they also rely on a veterinarian at Hilltop Animal Hospital in Alachua, who has some experience with exotic animals, while referencing books and online resources when they have a question about an animal’s condition.

Specialists at the teaching hospital at the UF Veterinary School have also been great, she said.

While he understands not everyone will view reptiles with the same level of ease that he does, Beavers said it would be advantageous for community members to be more educated.

He said that his parents have given him a lot of support throughout this endeavor, and it also helps that they are not scared of the animals.

“I think it’s amazing that they’re not scared of them,” he said. “And they will support me with the ability to do these things that I like.”

For more information about Thaddeus Beavers’ business, visit minimonsterreptiles.com.

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Biotech Orrego image 84

KRISTINA ORREGO/Alachua County Today

The Annual Celebration of Biotechnology brings together the medical and scientific community in one location.

ALACHUA – The city of Alachua continued to demonstrate its status as an emerging leader in biotechnology last Thursday, when RTI Surgical hosted the 13th Annual BioFlorida Celebration of Biotechnology in Progress Park.  

From 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., the showcase brought more than 80 exhibitors and 500 professionals from the state and country to network as well as present their new products.

Some of the key spokespeople included Nancy Bryan, the president and CEO of BioFlorida, David Day, the assistant vice principal and director of UF’s Office of Licensing Technology and Mark Long, the director of the UF Sid Martin Biotechnology Incubator.

In an interview, Day praised RTI Surgical for its growth, calling it the largest and most successful university spinoff in the state.

“The fact that this business has been created, that has grown to 5 [500], 600 employees here and has acquired companies from around the United States and from other continents,” he said. “It has over 1,200 employees now. It’s a huge success story for us.”

Day also took the opportunity to recognize AGTC, a local biotech company that is producing cures for degenerative ocular diseases, and AxoGen, which has created products to treat nerve-related ailments.

“Those are some things that are furthest into the market place,” he said. “But we’re having a part of creating dozens of new companies this year with all sorts of interesting stuff.”

Long, who was named the new director of Sid Martin in January, said current research is also focusing on developing a vaccine for salmonella, a bacteria encountered in foodborne illnesses, and hepatitis B, a liver infection which affects a large segment of the population.

He also said Captozyme is making advancements in the treatment of kidney stones.

“Tucker-Davis Technologies makes electronic equipment for the diagnosis and early treatment of epilepsy,” Long said. “All these things are remarkable to be here in central Florida [and] north central Florida, where we have a critical mass of biotechnology companies.”

Long said the scope of the cooperation from different companies has extended internationally, to nations such as Chile, Russia and universities in China and Malaysia.

“We just had a delegation from Chile,” he said. “And we have put into practice memorandum of cooperation of the Chilean university down there to exchange companies that they have of interest to us and want to enter the U.S. market.

“Having those cooperative agreements between incubators and the power of the University of Florida behind us makes it very appealing for them to sign joint agreements with us.”

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Q - 3 kids watermelon

Photo special to Alachua County Today

L-R: Logan and Emma Marlow, along with Misty Robertson, enjoy fresh slices of sweet and juicy watermelon.

NEWBERRY – Folks who attended this year's Newberry Watermelon Festival enjoyed fun, music, games and watermelon in the sun. The weather was wonderful and the predicted storms never came as the Newberry Watermelon Festival got underway.

The parade began at 9 a.m., headed up by the Color Guard and the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office (ACSO) Motorcycle Brigade. Next came the Honorary Grand Marshall Riley Maddison. Queens of all kinds, floats, Shriners, tractors, trucks and Grand Marshall ACSO Sheriff Sadie Darnell were on hand as well. School Board representative April Griffin rode the antique fire engine and candidates for upcoming elections were there to meet the public and participate in the excitement.

At the festival itself, K-Country's Lewis Stokes and singer/entertainer Mark Copeland emceed the afternoon program. Newberry Mayor Bill Conrad formally opened the festival as he spit the first watermelon seed of the day. Free slices of watermelon, an auction, dunking booth, seed spitting and watermelon rolling contests were all part of the fun. Food and craft vendors had a myriad of items for sale to quench appetites for food and shopping. Music and fun were the highlight of the day.

The Florida Watermelon Queen, Katie Mae Harrison, was on hand, and the National Watermelon Queen attended the festivities as well. Felicity Majeris, last year's festival queen, crowned Shelby Blackwell as the new 71st Annual Watermelon Festival queen. Raychel Thomas was named first runner up.

The Festival Committee works hard all year in order to keep this tradition alive. Since the beginning it has been organized and run by local individuals who donate many hours to keep this community event active.

The City of Newberry, city commissioners, churches, businesses and the Alachua County Sheriff's Office and others are an integral part of the event.

The original festival began decades ago as a welcome home for returning soldiers after WW II. At first it was just a barbecue, free melons, cake walks, and bingo with the queen contest. At night a band played and friends square danced inside the old skating rink. It is a tradition that has been ongoing ever since.

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KRISTINA ORREGO/Alachua County Today

Bill and Joyce Whitelock clown around for participants at the Relay for Life event held at the High Springs Civic Center.

HIGH SPRINGS –- Firefighters, high school students and community members came out to the field at the High Springs Civic Center Friday for this year’s Relay for Life event from 6 p.m. to 12 a.m.

The track, outlined by white paper bags marked with the names of cancer victims or those currently struggling with cancer, was the path that participants continuously walked around, while lemonade and sno cones were served at tables.

Those who beat cancer proudly donned purple shirts with “Survivor” written on the back.

The event began with the survivor lap, specifically for those in purple to walk together to celebrate their victory over cancer, according to the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life website.

Next was the Caregiver Lap, set aside to recognize those who had taken care of cancer patients.

The opening lap, the third, invited all teams to walk together.

The last part of the evening was the Luminaria Ceremony, where the candles inside each of the bags around the track were lit up.

“The ceremony is actually a time of honoring the people who have fought the battle and lost or are still fighting the battle and actually won,” said Vicki Cox, one of the co-event coordinators for High Springs Relay for Life and also a co-chair for the ceremony. “It’s done in honor and memory.”

Patti Lamneck, a co-chair of the ceremony, took the stage to explain more about the ceremony. As she mentioned different groups of people who might have been impacted by cancer, those in the crowd snapped glow sticks.

“It makes you realize how widespread cancer is,” Cox said. “Usually at the end of that little section, everybody has snapped their glow sticks.”

The event is understandably very emotional for many who participate.

Kathy’s Story

Kathy Lowder doesn’t want anyone to feel bad for her.

Even at the slightest frown in response to the 54-year-old’s struggle with breast cancer, she says, “Don’t be sad.”

Lowder, who was present at Friday’s event, shared her story at last year’s Relay for Life in Newberry.

She wasn’t worried the first time she felt a hard lump in her left breast in early spring of 2014. Like all other things in her life, she just knew she needed to do something about it without feeling sorry for herself.

Her primary doctor suggested she get a mammogram and subsequent ultrasound. They determined it to be a hardened mammary gland and that her chances of being cancer free were 99 to 1.

She was fine, they concluded.

Nevertheless, her doctor told her she should get a lumpectomy on the off chance it might be malignant, and she had it removed on June 27 at North Florida Regional Medical Center.

On July 8, at 3:38 p.m., Lowder was home watching the FIFA World Cup when her doctor called.

The resulting pathology report from the surgery showed that the lump was an infiltrating adenocarcinoma – a cancerous tumor that was estrogen and progesterone positive.

He told her she would need to have her entire left breast removed.

She said she didn’t hear much of what he said after that – just a slew of medical terms that didn’t make sense at the time. But she refused to worry.

She decided the best approach was to get as informed as she could about her cancer so she could be prepared for whatever was next, she said.

“This is what I was dealt – let’s go ahead and deal with it, let’s get the answers that I need,” she said. “I always raised my kids – you cannot make a decision unless you make an informed decision.”

“It wasn’t what I expected, but I have two choices,” she said. “I either let cancer kick my butt, or I kick butt. And so butt kicking started to do.”

She said she told each of her family members individually, and each one was supportive of her.

“I would say that’s probably the toughest thing to do, is look your loved one in the eye and tell them,” she said.

While she was under heavy anesthesia, Dr. Bruce Brient of the Surgical Group of Gainesville, performed the bilateral mastectomy on August 11. Next, Dr. Jason Rosenberg, a reconstructive surgeon, replaced the tissue that was removed with fat from her abdominal area, she said.

Lowder said she arrived at the hospital that morning at 5:30 a.m. The work wasn’t totally finished until about 10 p.m.

A scar running from hipbone to hipbone is one of the many reminders of the surgery that saved her life.

The next six weeks were spent in complete recovery mode. As someone who is active and doesn’t like to ask for help, she said she struggled with not doing much.

“That’s very difficult for me,” she said. “So I’ve had to learn to listen to my body better as to what I can handle and what I can’t.”

She said she walked with a shuffle and stayed home in her pajamas.

She couldn’t take a shower without either her daughter or her husband’s help.

She couldn’t reach up to grab anything because of how delicate the upper half of her body was.

She couldn’t lie in bed to sleep, so she slept in a recliner for months.

“At first, we couldn’t get me to prop up and stay up, so we had to put a box under the recliner to keep me in place,” she said.

“The ones where you push your feet – well that all affects your abdomen, and somebody would have to help do that.”

Despite of all of this, her determination never faltered.

“You can’t sit around and wonder ‘Why me?’” she said. “’Poor me. Why does this have to happen?’ It doesn’t matter why it happened.”

Her cancer diagnosis spurred an entire lifestyle change – trading her regular Coca-Colas for water and adding power walking for exercise. She has lost over 60 pounds since the beginning of her journey.

“On August 1, I snuck one [Coca-Cola] because there was one in the fridge, and that was it,” she said. “I haven’t picked up one since. I even joined a gym.”

Lowder said she is continuing to participate in events for Making Strides Against Breast Cancer and supporting Relay for Life.

As someone who also enjoys hosting foreign exchange students, she said she was eager to become well enough to open up her home again.

Treating them as her own kids, she’s opened her home to two Brazilian students, one from Germany and one from Norway.

One of them, 19-year-old Matheus Soares, was tragically murdered on February 2015 in Brazil. She said he is her guardian angel.

“I had made him a promise that I would kick cancer’s butt, and so I’m trying to fulfill that promise.”

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