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Q - EB SFHS Grad DSC 0288

ELLEN BOUKARI/Alachua County Today

Santa Fe High School graduated 261 seniors Saturday, June 11th at the high school on Raider Field.

ALACHUA – With the school year winding down and summer fast approaching, numerous high school graduations took place over the last week. Local high school ceremonies, complete with pomp and circumstance, were dotted across different locations this year due to renovations at the UF O’Connell Center, a popular venue for schools to hold their graduations.

Newberry High School held their commencement ceremony on June 9 at 7 p.m. at the high school’s Panther field. The 2016 class was made up of 135 graduates.

Hawthorne Middle/High School’s class was made up of 37 graduates and the graduation ceremony took the stage at the Phillips Center for Performing Arts at UF on June 11 at 9 a.m.

In Alachua, the Santa Fe High School (SFHS) Raiders football field was filled with family, friends and other loved ones to watch 261 Santa Fe High School graduates take the stage Saturday, June 11 at the football field at 8:30 am.

Elizabeth LeClear, SFHS principal, welcomed the crowd as well acknowledging the class as the only one to have received a medallion.

“Thank you for allowing me to have the opportunity to work with your most precious gift,” she began. “It has been a blessing. This is the end of my 30th year. I’m not quitting, but it’s the end of my 30th year, and there are not very many people that can say that the last four years were the best four years.”

Holding up a round medallion on a ribbon, “The medallion is for you,” she said. “You’re the only class that will have one because you’re my class.”

Cary Emerson, the student body president, addressed the crowd next. Through tears, she reminisced on the beginning of her years at SFHS and thanked those closest to her.

“I never dreamed that I would be standing here behind this podium, addressing you all this morning,” she said. “I’ve realized that I couldn’t reach my full potential unless I stepped out of my comfort zone. Speaking before you all today is definitely an example of that… Four years ago, I wouldn’t have necessarily considered this a privilege, however. Four years ago, I clung too tightly to my fears in the comfort of isolation.”

Then, she imparted tidbits of wisdom and advice to her fellow graduates.

“From the moment we arrive in this world, anyone and everyone has an opinion on what we should do and what we should become,” she said. “Many times, this vision that others have for us is not what we are truly meant to do. It is physically impossible to live out the vision that others have for our lives. You were created on purpose and with a purpose and you will find that purpose on the unchartered waters of your journey.”

Courtney Jones, the senior class president, spoke next and took a moment to congratulate her class on the hard work that it’s taken to make it to where they were sitting and encouraged them to keep dreaming big.

“The fact that we made it here definitely awards an accomplishment which is a testament of our perseverance and excellence,” she said. “All of us were destined for greatness – every single one of us – has the potential to put the small town of Alachua on the map – or even greater, to change the world.”

Dustin Durden, the salutatorian, gave comforting words and reminded his peers to not fear the future after completing this milestone.

“Parents, family members and friends, it is a great thing to feel to supported, and I know I do not speak for myself when I say that you all have been instrumental in my journey through high school,” he said. “Also let’s not forget about our wonderful teachers, they have taught us, guided us and prepared us for the future struggles of life.

“We face change a lot, in many different ways, and sometimes it can be a little bit frightening,” he told his classmates. “We often grow so accustomed to the way that life is in the present. When it finally changes, we might feel completely lost. The one thing that does not change in life is the fact that our life changes. It is important to remember, however, that we do not need to feel afraid or intimidated when it occurs and we do not have to see it as an end. Instead we can have hope, and look at it as a new beginning.”

Jacob Jenkins, SFHS’s valedictorian, took the podium next with a lighthearted and funny approach to his speech.

“If I would have gotten up to speak in front of thousands of people in ninth grade, I would have spontaneously combusted from sheer embarrassment,” he said. “Luckily for me, that is not the case four years later, but you may wish to keep a fire extinguisher in hand, just to be safe.”

He recalled a time when he had devoted hours to working on an assignment, only to realize that he had completed the wrong chapter by the end.

“On one fateful occasion, I was completing a round of diagonal categorization and the only way I knew how to tackle such a large and difficult assignment [was] by doing it all in one night,” he said. “After two and half hours of hard work, I had 14 out of 16 statements completed. In order to be certain that I had to do 16 in total, I went ahead and checked the assignment description on the class website. The good news was that I was correct in having to do 16 in total, but the bad news was, that I had been doing them all on the wrong chapter.”

“I just sat there in shock and then I came to my senses and had a nervous breakdown.” The crowd laughed in appreciation of his self-deprecating humor.

But he ended on a high note.

“Although this was, unquestionably, one of the worst experiences of my academic life, it did teach me an important lesson, and that was perseverance,” he said. “After that ordeal, I realized that I could work through any hardship, and so can all of you … Congratulations and best of luck to the class of 2016.”

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Q - Tony Al - Raina

RAINA BARNETT/Alachua County Today

Albiero Zuluaga, owner of Tony and Al's on Main Street in Alachua, prepares the oven for a fresh pizza, which only takes 7 to 8 minutes of baking in the wood-fired oven until it is a perfect golden brown.

ALACHUA – With 99 reviews by people on Facebook rating Al and Tony’s Italian Deli at 5 stars, it is no wonder the restaurant has three successful years of serving up Italian fare under its belt.

While the restaurant celebrated its three-year anniversary on May 8, 2016, it may be surprising to learn there are two Al and Tony’s Italian Deli locations in Alachua County, with one in Starke at 200 East Call Street, and one at 4960 Main Street in Alachua.

General Manager of the Starke location, Tony Veliz, and Genereal Manager of the Alachua location, Al Zuluaga, have known each other for nearly 15 years. Meeting in Ocala in another Italian restaurant, Bella Luna, the two joined forces in their love of cooking.

Zuluaga, a native of New York, and Velez, a native of Miami, believe they are bringing the authentic taste of Italy to Alachua County.

“I just like to cook,” Velez said. “We make our food fresh every day, the bread, it’s the right thing to do.”

And with Zuluaga’s 38 years of experience in the kitchen, from working in French and Italian restaurants in New York to cooking at home for family, the restaurant’s menu is tantalizing.

Food served at Tony and Al’s is made from scratch. No packets of dried chicken, no pre-packaged meals, no canned vegetables.

The most popular dish at Tony and Al’s is the gourmet pizza.

It is fresh, never frozen, and the dough is tossed and topped with fresh ingredients like cheddar cheese, green spinach, and more.

At the Alachua restaurant, entertainment is provided.

“The karaoke and music is at the Alachua location,” Velez said. “Latin American music by a live band also plays there.”

The Facebook page for the Alachua location boasts “the most delicious food in town,” with a list of the treats coming to guests in the month of June.

Mondays from 6:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. is karaoke night.

Wednesday is Trivia Night from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.

On Thursday, June 16, the restaurant will host live music and an art night.

Local artists from the surrounding areas of High Springs and Alachua will display their art. Dinner guests will have the opportunity to not only enjoy viewing the art, but will also have an opportunity to purchase as well.

“The music and art will be set up on different sides of the restaurant,” Zuluaga said. “The live music will be near the bar, with art around for everyone.”

This restaurant is locally owned and operated. And it’s that local touch that lends a special ambience to its unique feel and atmosphere that sets it apart from many chain restaurants. The servers tend to be more invested in their work, and local customers benefit from the authentic Italian deli and restaurant experience that is unique in Alachua’s dining arena.

The Starke location is open Monday through Saturday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., while the Alachua location hours are Monday to Thursday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Friday to Saturday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., and Sunday 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.

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QQ - Crone Herring IMG 2018

Photo special to Alachua County Today

Crone's retirement celebration was attended by friends, family members and current and former colleagues and students.

ALACHUA – Ray Crone, a physical education instructor at W.W. Irby Elementary School in Alachua, who has been teaching and volunteering with youth sports for over 30 years, is retiring at the close of the current academic year.

“The relationships I’ve made with families here in Alachua, and teaching second generation students has been one of the coolest things in my experience,” Crone said.

Crone has held positions as varried as a middle school math teacher, coach, and referee throughout Alachua County. He has been heavily involved in local youth recreation leagues for decades.

Irby Elementary principal Valdenora Fortner said that Crone will be missed.

“I tell you, one of the biggest things about ‘Coach’ is that he’s truly genuine,” she said. “He cares about the students and has a real passion for what he does.”

The Crone family has a long history of enriching the lives of others in the county. Crone’s father, Buddy, was the physical education teacher at the University of Florida from 1957 to 1988 and was awarded Teacher of the Year before his retirement. Crone’s mother was an elementary administrator in North Carolina and Florida.

“The demands of teaching are great,” Crone said. “I got the teaching gene, but it’s been kind of tough keeping up with all the different championships in different cities. Rarely a week goes by where I don’t get a call from people who need a referee in Lake Butler or Archer, or somewhere else.”

Crone said he looks forward to his golden years because he will be traveling to meet friends all around the country.

“I got a big trip to Montana planned; I leave on June 26, and then Yellowstone, just hitting the road and enjoying it,” he said.

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Q - Krishna Sunrise

KRISTINA ORREGO/Alachua County Today

Ramanya Das rises with the sun to reflect in the temple's courtyard.

ALACHUA – It’s 4:30 a.m., and while the rest of the world is asleep, the Hare Krishna temple in Alachua is softly lit and gently buzzing.

Women wearing ornate saris and men in white, flowing dhoti and kurta remove their shoes before stepping onto sacred ground.

They enter, bowing their heads and prostrating their bodies in the direction of the statue of Srila Prabhupada, the pioneer of their movement that began 50 years ago.

Beads in hand and eyes closed, they’re chanting the names of God and uttering the Hare Krishna mantra. This is all part of their ritual to seek Krishna and ask him to bless them before going on with the rest of their day.

Then the sun comes up, and the singing in the temple becomes louder as they raise their voices in joyful and unabashed worship.

The Krishna temple in Alachua was built in 1995, but the movement has been a prevalent part of the community since the early 70s, according to Krishna Keshava Das, a temple manager.

He said over 400 families within a 20-mile radius are affiliated with the temple and congregate throughout the week or to observe special holidays, such as the birthdays of Lord Krishna and Lord Chaitanya.

Krishna followers also take part in a Sunday Feast Festival once a week, a tradition that started at the beginning of Prahbupada’s movement.

“Srila Prahbupada wanted everyone to come and sing the glories of the lord in ecstasy,” Das said. “And once a week they do that,”

Das said the temple also gives allowances to the two schools that are nearby on temple property -- the Bhaktivedanta Academy and the Alachua Learning Academy.

The teachers at Bhaktivedanta teach standard academics while also incorporating lessons about Krishna, and the students at Alachua Learning Academy learn about Krishna during their afterschool program, he said.

Origins of the Hare Krishna/ISKCON Movement

A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada founded the Hare Krishna movement, or the International Society for Krishna Consciousness [ISKCON], in New York in 1966, according to Das.

It all started when Prabhupada was a young man living in India and he and a friend were invited to a talk given by a revered spiritual leader.Prahbupada was initially skeptical and didn’t want to go because would often witnessed similar figures doing abominable things at night, many of whom were people his father would invite to eat at their home on some occasions.

Nonetheless, his friend persuaded him and they went.

“The lecture had already begun [when they got there],” Das said. “And the saint stopped the lecture and he looked at the two boys and said ‘You two young men, you’re very intelligent. Why don’t you spread this message of the Lord in the western countries in English?”

Prabhupada responded by asking how it would be possible to spread Krishna’s message in the western world while India was still under British rule.

“And the answer he got was that this message is so important for the world and people are dying every day in want of it,” Das said.

So, Prahbupada made his way to New York, where gradually people heard him chanting and preaching in the parks, Das said. As more people began to hear the message, they began branching off to meet in separate places.

Since then, the Hare Krishna/ISKCON movement has proliferated to 500 major centers, temples and rural communities, nearly 100 affiliated vegetarian restaurants and millions of congregational members worldwide, according to the official ISKON website.

What They Believe

Krishna means the “all attractive person” in Sanskrit, a Hindu language, according to the Bhaktivedanta Trust International website.

In the Bhagavad-Gita, the Hindu Holy Scriptures, Krishna is God in the form of a 16-year-old boy with dark skin and bluish-black hair.

The book tells the story of this young man who attracts followers with his wisdom and charm.

Das explained that while the followers of Krishna believe in and worship the same God of Christianity or Islam, the movement differs from these because of the rich details about Krishna in the Gita that personify him, he said.

These details include where he lives – a beautiful Kingdom full of beautiful palaces made of valuable gems and wish-fulfilling trees, as described in the Gita – and what he does during the day.

“Every word is a song,” he said. “Every step is a dance.”

Conversely, Earth is considered a prison, where the aspects of the human experience, such as birth, disease, old age and ultimately, death are undesirable.

Followers of Krishna, therefore, strive to live a life of purity by chanting, meditating and doing bhakti-yoga every day in order to reach Krishna Consciousness, or an awareness and affection for Krishna.

Followers of Krishna adhere to four principles from the Gita: no meat eating, gambling, illicit sex or intoxication, Das said.

The consumption of animal meat erodes the compassion in people’s hearts that they are inherently born with, while gambling destroys truthfulness.

“When we eat [meat], it contaminates our hearts more and more,” Das said. “It destroys our compassion and destroys our mercy. We become now like an animal.”

On the other hand, illicit sex, or sex outside of marriage, destroys people’s cleanliness, as well as causing inevitable suffering in the long run, despite the temporary satisfaction.

Finally, he said intoxication destroys a person’s austerity, which could further contribute to society as a whole becoming a mess.

“If it’s very hot, we can handle it,” he said. “If it’s very cold, we can tolerate it, to a certain degree. As we lose our ability to become austere, then everything becomes a problem.”

He said the whole idea behind their philosophy is to become happy, which comes from the soul and is not derived from the outside world.

“Happiness doesn’t come from material things,” he said. “There’s temporary pleasure from material things… and they bring misery afterwards. So, real pleasure comes from the heart [and] when we are engaged in the service of the Lord.”

Ragat Mika

In the summer of 1971, Ragat Mika, who was formerly “Carol,” came home for the first time – except it was one she didn’t know she needed until she got there.

Mika grew up in Detroit, Michigan, one of 12 siblings in a Catholic household. Her father attended mass every morning before going to work.

Her sister became a nun, and as someone who was always seeking spiritual fulfillment, she decided to become one too, and joined the convent in Kalamazoo after graduating high school.

“[She thought] If God is one, and the message of God is absolute… Why should I put all my energy in to a teaching career that will bring people to become this religion as opposed to another religion?” she said.

“So, I thought, God is bigger than this, bigger than just one religion.”

She took some college courses, but decided to take an impromptu trip to New York to find herself and be exposed to the greatest number of religions and philosophies in one, she said.

She eventually landed a job as a typist at the United Nations and then worked for UNICEF. All the while, she continued on her spiritual quest – visiting different churches and bookstores to scour literature on various philosophies.

“I kind of turned my back on the Catholic Church,” she said. “But I still had this affinity for wanting God and connecting with God.”

She said she eventually stumbled upon a Krishna magazine called “Back to Godhead” and read an article that taught her about Krishna’s four basic tenets.

“I thought, ‘Wow, that really appealed to me,’” she said. “This is something substantial.”

She also remembers that on one particular Saturday, she was meditating in Prospect Park in Brooklyn with the hope of merging with the totality of spirit, she said.

Then, she became overwhelmed by an urgency she couldn’t assign a meaning to at the time.

“I thought, before I leave this world, I need to bring a message to summon my acquaintances,” she remembered. “I didn’t know what I was going to say [and] I didn’t have a concrete message for them. But I thought, I can’t just leave them behind.”

Shortly after, she met a Krishna devotee on the way to the subway and asked him if he knew where a Buddhist nunnery was located in New York.

He replied that he didn’t know where a Buddhist nunnery was, but he could say where Buddhism was.

“The Buddhists want to be liberated alone, whereas devotees of Krishna want to liberate others with them,” she said. “That was what really drew me.”

He then invited her to a Sunday feast at a temple on Henry Street.

She said when she got there, she arrived to find a lecture that spoke directly to her desire to spread a message to the people around her, and it brought her to tears.

“It just all started buzzing and waking me up,” she said. “Like this was really the truth.”

Then, she ate the Sunday feast for the first time; the appetite that overcame her was one that surpassed the physical. She said she couldn’t stop eating and had serving after serving.

A strict vegetarian at the time, mostly consuming a bland, microbiotic diet, she was ravenous for foods she had deprived herself of.

“Sweets and fried things and spicy things, it was all there,” she said. “Dairy, milk and cream – I don’t know, it was like I was just arriving home for home cooking after so many births and lifetimes.”

She said she stayed at the temple overnight, and the next day, she was out on Jones Beach, dressed in a sari and distributing “Back to Godhead” magazines with the devotees.

She now resides in Alachua with her family, and said she has dedicated herself serving her spiritual master, Prahbupada, by helping him in the publishing and distributing of his books.

And as the sun rises over the Krishna temple in Alachua, a melodious harmony resonates within its walls as devotees begin their day with worship.

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Q - jake kaminski 1

Photo special to Alachua County Today

Jake Kaminski, 27, first became interested in archery at age 5. He was on the U.S. team that took the silver at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.

NEWBERRY – Khatuna Lorig raises her bow to her cheek, and she is a woman on a mission.

Her gaze fixed on the yellow bullseye dozens of feet away, a silence that is tense with anticipation falls on her and her spectators as she pulls the arrow back.

While the other archers around her are doing the same, she is only focused on the target – her unspoken competitor.

After its airborne journey, the razor-sharp edge wedges its way dead into the center of the circle – a small victory the five-time Olympian is used to.

Lorig was one of the 16 archers who participated in the final nomination shoot for the U.S. Olympic team trials at the Easton Sports Complex in Newberry from May 26 to 30.

The event served as one of the final qualifiers for the U.S. team in preparation for the games in Rio de Janeiro, which will take place in August.

The archers began accumulating points last September, when over 400 archers competed in the first stage of trials said Sarah Bernstein, the media and public relations specialist for the USA Archery team.

After that, the number came down to just 16 – eight men and eight women – who competed last month at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, California.

“And now those archers are here competing today for the official Olympic team,” she said.

Brady Ellison and Jake Kaminski, who were on the U.S. team that took the silver at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, as well as Olympic newcomer Zach Garrett, secured the places on the team for the men’s side.

McKenzie Brown, 21, filled one spot for the women’s team. The hopefuls will have another chance to make the team when they compete again at the Archery World Cup in Antalya, Turkey.

“We should know by June 19 whether we’ll be sending one or three women [to the Olympics],” Bernstein said.

To get to this advanced stage in competition is a journey and adventure in itself.

Khatuna Lorig

Lorig, 42, was born in Tbilisi, Georgia.

She said she remembers becoming introduced to archery when she was in sixth grade.

When she was pregnant with her son, Lorig competed in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics representing Georgia and won the gold, Bernstein said.

She took home the gold again in 2010 in Edenburgh at the World Cup Finals, the silver in Guadalajara at the Pan American Games, a silver medal in Belek in 2013, then a gold in 2015 at the Pan American Games in Toronto as an individual and a bronze with the team, according to the Team USA website.

Lorig is also known for being the coach who trained actress Jennifer Lawrence in archery for her role in the “Hunger Games” movies, according to the Rio 2016 website.

She said she considers her mindset while she is competing to be crucial in a sport that is mostly about concentration and focus.

“[It’s] unacceptable to think negative,” she said. “And your mind keeps going that way. Trying to block it, concentrate on your shot. Archery is very difficult, so it’s all how you process the shot.”

Being older than many of her competitors, she said she’s learned how to train smart by preventing injury and being mindful of what she can and can’t do.

“I can’t do certain things the young kids can,” she said. “I have to be careful because I can get injured very easily, and I take care of my body really well to not get injured.”

Jake Kaminski

Kaminski, 27, said he became interested in archery when his dad won a hunting bow at a raffle when he was five. Then, he got one of his own from K-Mart for his birthday.

He said he got better at the sport growing up with help from his dad to cultivate an athletic, competitive mindset, as well as from good coaches. Then, in 2006, he moved to the training center in Chula Vista, California.

It was there he said his more traditional, old-school USA style was torn down and replaced by a new technique, pioneered by one of the team coaches, Kisik Lee.

“Now, it’s a lot more biochemically engineered so you’re using bigger, stronger muscle that are less affected by the tournament,” he said.

“We use what you call angular motion, so it’s a more efficient technique…as opposed to making the linear motion of just pulling the bow straight back, which is– you’re using smaller muscles,” he said.

He feels the key to his success has been practice – one arrow isn’t going to make a big difference after shooting a thousand at the end of trials, he said.

Kaminski, who lives in Bronson, said he individually coaches a few people right from his backyard.

He’s also helped develop an iPhone and Android app called APPtitune, which is similar to an ebook that helps users set up and tune a bow from top to bottom, he said.

“The only other resource of it is an old tuning manual from Easton that’s from the 70s,” he said. “So, we revamped it and basically put our own spin on it – critical fine touches that really help separate a good setup from a better setup.”

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HIGH SPRINGS – The High Springs City Commission has approved a negotiated settlement with former High Springs Police Chief James Steven Holley. This agreement would settle a case filed in the United States District Court, Northern District of Florida, Gainesville Division. The complaint was filed Aug. 19, 2015 against the City of High Springs and City Manager Edwin Booth, “in his individual and official capacity as City Manager.”

In his complaint, Holley stated that he had been hired on April 1, 2004, as a police officer. He was promoted to sergeant on Jan. 27, 2012 and to chief three days later on Jan. 30. Holley was terminated as Chief of Police on Feb. 27, 2014. Records indicate Holley did not return to work after a 30-day administrative leave, thereby vacating his employment with the City.

Holley based his lawsuit on three basic areas of law, one of which was his belief that he was being retaliated against after he provided unfavorable testimony against the City of High Springs on Oct. 14, 2013. In that case, the lawsuit was filed by a private citizen against the City and former High Springs Police Chief Jim Troiano.

In his complaint, Holley alleged immediate retaliation as on Dec. 11, 2013, he was excluded by Booth from negotiations over the labor contract with the City on behalf of the officers and dispatchers. In response, the City alleged Holley had been excluded from the meeting because, at that time, he was management and not eligible to act as a union representative.

A series of conversations, memoranda and letters which led up to and through Holley's 30-day administrative leave were also listed in Holley's complaint. Holley's contention was that he did not request the leave, but was told to take it by Booth.

“Holley was actually given the 30-day leave as a face-saving opportunity to be absent from work while he considered the City's offer to return to the sergeant's position or retire from the police department,” said Booth.

In a conversation Booth and Holley had just before Holley went on leave, Booth contends he explained why he thought reorganization of the department was due and why he believed Holley should go back to his previous position as sergeant. Booth contends he offered Holley the same salary he made as chief of police.

Holley's complaint supports the fact that the conversation took place, but in it Holley contends reorganization of the department was not necessary.

In addition to Holley's complaint that he was being retaliated against because of his testimony, he alleged race discrimination and indicated that he was “removed from his position so that Antoine Sheppard, an African American male, could replace him.” The complaint says further that “Sheppard was substantially less qualified for the position than Plaintiff [Holley] and had less experience but…was paid the same salary” that Holley had been paid to do the same job.

Departmental records show that Sheppard served in the capacity of acting chief when Holley was on vacation or was unavailable to supervise his staff. His replacement was Holley's choice on those occasions.

The third area of concern featured in Holley's complaint was for defamation. The suit claims that the City and City Manager caused the publishing of false statements about him with the intention to harm Holley and his reputation. The complaint asked for damages for slander and read as follows:

“As a result of the defamatory statements, Plaintiff [Holley] has suffered extreme humiliation, embarrassment, and mental anguish, pain and suffering, inconvenience, loss of consortium, lost capacity for enjoyment of life, loss of business and profits, loss of reputation, good standing in the community and other tangible and intangible damages. These damages have occurred in the past, present and are reasonably expected to continue into the future.”

“The City's insurance company, Public Risk Insurance (PRIA) went to court only one time during the course of defending against the complaint,” said Booth. At that time Booth says he was voluntarily dismissed with prejudice. “There was no evidence I acted outside of my official capacity,” Booth said.

The complaint does not list the dollar amount Holley requested, but the minimum amount allowed in this type of action is for damages in excess of $75,000. Ultimately, the insurance company's attorney, Leonard Dietzen, informed City staff that PRIA had already expended considerable money litigating Holley's claim and had tentatively negotiated a settlement with Holley for $75,000.

Commissioners approved the settlement and the settlement amount at their May 26 meeting. Although City Staff were told Holley had agreed to the settlement amount, to date no signed agreement has been received by the City.

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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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