Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Thoughts from Herald columnist Vin Mannix on the tragedy in our community

First Brett Wagner.

Then Joshua Rogers.

Two 18-year-olds, best friends, Lakewood Ranch High School seniors ready to take the next great step in their young lives, gone.

Taken after a tragic vehicular accident at Rye Road and State Road 64.

On Christmas night.

My God.

Wagner died at the scene.

Rogers, Tuesday at Blake Medical Center.

Only Terron Sanders, Wagner's cousin and a passenger in the truck, survived.

Only he wore a seat belt.

If only ...

They were headed to Walmart on S.R. 64, the west side of Interstate 75 when their truck was struck by another vehicle, causing it to roll, ejecting both Wagner and Rogers.

At a time of year when people should be sharing in the joyous afterglow of a truly blessed holiday, two Myakka City families will each be preparing to bury a son.


How unbelievably sad.

Pray for them.

Lakewood Ranch Kiwanis takes stock in children

Gordon Wardell and Diana Dill. (provided photo)
The Kiwanis Club of Lakewood Ranch recently contributed $2,500 to the Leadership Prayer Breakfast for Take stock in Children.  

Take Stock in Children has provided at-risk Manatee County students with scholarships, mentors since 1996. 

Gordon Wardell, President of LWR Kiwanis presented the check at a recent meeting to Diana Dill, executive director of Take Stock in Children of Manatee County.

Lakewood Ranch Kiwanis supports many activities benefiting students including the Take Stock in Children Leadership Prayer Breakfast and 10K Run, LWR Kids Fishing Tournament, 9-11 Remembrance Ceremony, Project Heart, and Adopt A Family.  

The club meets noon Tuesdays at the Polo Grill on Main Street in Lakewood Ranch.

Information: Gordon Wardell at  941-232-8534 or

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Getting a big hand with the laundry

The Bradford family got a visit from Santa Suds. (provided photo)

Two local families celebrate Christmas early this week with the delivery to their homes of a new Whirlpool Cabrio top-load washer and high-efficiency dryer, according to a press release we received.

John and Christine Bradford were nominated for the washer-dryer giveaway by three of Christine’s fellow teachers at Robert Willis Elementary School in Lakewood Ranch. 

The Bradfords, parents of  four children, adopted four more children from foster care last August to keep a family of siblings from being separated. Doing laundry for a family of 10, their old machines were struggling to handle a minimum of four loads a day.

“This is the first time we’ve ever owned a new washer and dryer. We’ve always had used machines, and our current set is on its last legs,” Christine said. “This truly is a Christmas blessing."

The appliances were donated by Home-Tech, an air conditioning and major appliance sales and service provider, headquartered in Fort Myers. Home-Tech is in the process of opening a new Manatee  location on Lena Road in East Manatee.

“We are an employee-owned company, and our whole team gets excited about this day,” said Steve Marino, Home-Tech founder and president. “We are happy to donate these washer-dryer sets to families who need and deserve the assistance.”

Another happy family is that of Keith Evans, the single father of an 11-year-old son and a 12-year-old daughter. Evans had been struggling since his car broke down, forcing him to take the bus to work and rely on friends and neighbors to do errands, including going to the laundromat. A co-worker at Osprey Biotechnics nominated him for the Santa Suds giveaway.

“This is going to change our lives tremendously,” Keith said. “We really appreciate it, and will treasure this day forever.”

One more local family is scheduled to receive their free washer and dryer in January.

The Evans family with their new washer and dryer. (provided photo)


Monday, December 19, 2011

54,000 loss reported in robbery of Lakewood Ranch home

LAKEWOOD RANCH -- A Lakewood Ranch resident reported robbers stole more than $54,000 worth of property between 2 and 10 p.m. Friday, according to the Manatee County Sheriff's Office.

The victim was out of town, when an  unknown person or person pried open the sliding glass door just north of the bedroom door that leads into the living room. Once inside the home, located in the 7200 block of Ashland Glen in the Country Club,  the suspects removed watches from the night stand west of the bed. 

The suspects also went into the walk-in closet and stole  more watches, jewelry and a bag that contained a .45 caliber Glock handgun with two magazines that were loaded, the sheriff's report said.

The victim's hospital I.D. was also in the bag. The intruders fled in an unknown direction. 

A  crime scene unit responded and processed the scene and the gun was entered into crime data bases via serial number.

The theft was reported by the sheriff's office in a press release Monday night.

Community development supervisors have discussed steps they could take to improve security at the Ranch, ranging from improving lighting to scheduling more security and traffic patrols.

This past summer, a Bradenton man was arrested in connection with two armed invasions in the Edgewater village:


Friday, December 16, 2011

Meet Dick Moran, newest Lakewood Ranch supervisor

Dick Moran at Lakewood Ranch Town Hall. (Photo by Jim Jones)

It was only Dick Moran's second meeting Thursday as a Community Development District 2 supervisor, serving residents of Lakewood Ranch's Country Club and Edgewater villages.

He replaced Don O'Leary in November. Big shoes. O'Leary, the "unofficial mayor of Lakewood Ranch," was known for everything from feeding the hungry to community safety, and being unafraid to butt heads when necessary.

O'Leary stepped down to fill a spot on the East Manatee Fire District Commission. Makes sense, he is a retired firefighter.

Talked to Moran earlier today, and he says O'Leary deserves the unofficial mayor title for all he does.

Look for good things from Lakewood Ranch's newest supervisor.

A native of Scranton, Pa.,  he has lived in the Lakewood Ranch area since 1999. He knows the area well.

Moran was one of six district residents who applied for the open seat.

He retired here after a 35 year career with the Internal Revenue Service. His final assignment was as director of the Gulf Coast District, covering Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana.

Moran has been co-chairing the district safety committee four years, and seemed reassuringly able when discussing district business Thursday.

There are a lot of big issues coming up. Remember, two homes in Edgewater village were the targets of home invasion this year. One of the ways the safety and security issue will be addressed is through improved lighting.

Another issue is what to do with Washingtonia palms? They can get so tall as to be nearly impossible to keep trimmed up.

Dick Moran wanted to be in the mix with these problems and more, and figured the best place to do that was on the supervisors' side of the dais. We wish him well.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Yet another snag over Lakewood Ranch lawncare contract

 Losing bidder Garden Leaders has filed a protest against three of Lakewood Ranch’s community development districts in the awarding of lawn maintenance contracts totaling $932,796.

Garden Leaders protested the request for bid process, said attorney Andy Cohen, who represents two of the districts.

At the advice of their attorneys, supervisors for District 1 (Summerfield-Riverwalk), District 4 (Greenbrook) and District 5 (Country Club), agreed to request that Hamilton “Chip” Rice, former attorney for Manatee County government, serve as special master or mediator in the dispute.

Rice’s services would be used if informal discussions between Garden Leaders, a company based in Dade County, fail to reach a resolution.

Garden Leaders has the existing contract for lawn maintenance at Lakewood Ranch. The new contract with Down to Earth Lawn Care, based in Mount Dora, is set to start Jan. 3.

The Down to Earth bid represents a savings of $259,418 a year over the old contract.

For more, see Friday's Lakewood Ranch Herald.


Tuesday, December 13, 2011

A Leader for Life

Thuy Nguyen, right, had her family present to celebrate her success on Tuesday. Photo Jim Jones

It sounded so, well, academic:

"Mission: To enable highly motivated Take Stock in Children Scholars who have demonstrated solid leadership skills, strong moral character and academic success to excel in a university environment by providing the resources that will empower them to develop their full potential as Leaders for Life."

See what I mean?

Fortunately for me, I was able to be present to watch as 17-year-old Thuy Nguyen of Braden River High School received the Leaders for Life Fellowship.

I learned just a little of the uplifting story of how this child of Vietnamese immigrants got herself on the fast track to success and overcame huge obstacles.

There's nothing academic about that. In fact, Thuy worked extremely hard on her studies, and in the family business, paying the bills and serving as translator for her parents who speak little English.

The betting is that one day Thuy will be a doctor and will saving lives. I think that's a safe bet. For more, see Wednesday's Bradenton Herald.


Thursday, December 8, 2011

Lakewood Ranch, East Manatee community emergency response teams keeps on training

East Manatee Fire Rescue Lieutenant Chad Gamble instructs new Lakewood Ranch CERT
 member Lucy Bricker in the proper use of a dry chemical fire extinguisher. (provided photo)

The Manatee County Department of Emergency Management sponsored a training course recently for new members of area community emergency response teams (CERT). Residents from Lakewood Ranch, Heritage Harbour and University Park participated in the training that was held over two evenings and two Saturdays.

Part of a nationwide program started by the Department of Homeland Security and FEMA, volunteer CERT teams in the county provide search and rescue and emergency first aid in response to hurricanes and other disasters until trained emergency personnel are able to reach the scene.

The November training was hosted by the Lakewood Ranch Community Emergency Response Team and held at East Manatee Fire Rescue fire stations and meeting space donated by Gold Coast Eagle Distributing. Certified instructors from East Manatee Fire Rescue, Manatee County Emergency Medical services, and Lakewood Ranch CERT conducted skills training in emergency first aid, search and rescue, fire safety and disaster preparedness.

The Lakewood Ranch  CERT has almost 200 members and is one of the largest CERT organizations in the state. Heritage Harbour is one of the newest CERT programs in the county and graduated their first five members during this class.
Lakewood Ranch CERT Paramedic Nina McCabe and Manatee County Paramedic Lt. Dave Byington demonstrate backboard procedures for neck and back injuries on new CERT member Robert McCabe.

'The Journey' is just the start for activities at the Ranch

 'Best Friends Flock Together,' one of the works of art in "The Journey' collection.

The Journey,” a collection of original art by the group “AWE,” Artistic Women’s Expression, is on display at the ComCenter Lakewood Ranch gallery, 9040 Town Center Parkway, 9 a.m.- 5 p.m. Monday-Friday through Jan. 27. The public is invited at no charge.

Should you want to meet the artists, there is a reception 5:30-7:30 p.m. today. Thursday, Dec. 8. Wine and refreshments will be served.

Also for your consideration:

1. Holidays Around the Ranch is set for 6-9 p.m. Friday at Lakewood Ranch Main Street. Look for Santa riding in on his sleigh, and the lighting of a Christmas tree.

2.  Taylor Morrison invites the community to enjoy a complimentary ride in a festive horse-drawn carriage at the Esplanade Sales Center in the Summerfield Information Center, 6310 Lakewood Ranch Blvd., 10 a.m. - 2 p.m. Saturday. Reservations are encouraged. Drinks, snacks and holiday music will be provided. The event is free for all ages.

Information or to RSVP: 941-799-5496.

3. Come to “Rock Around the Clock Tower” at San Marco Plaza 6-10 p.m. Dec. 16 as The Platters sing “Only You.” Also set to perform are the Tucci Band featuring Dan Toler from the Allman Brothers Band performing with Louie the Lip on hamonica; and The Matthew Facciolla Band.

Tickets are $10 online at or $15 at the door.

Proceeds to benefit the Humane Society of Manatee County and Dan Toller Fund for ALS.

Also planned, a classic car collection, the Budweiser beer truck, and food provided by local restaurants.

Bring your pets dressed in their holiday attire for a photo contest.

Monday, December 5, 2011

University Park Women's Club donate to the "Babies Can't Wait" campaign

Anne Nellis and Kris Higgerson with donated infant care products. (provided photo)

Ann Nellis and Kris Higgerson, community outreach chairs for the University Park Women's Club, recently coordinated the collection of 701 pounds in infant care items, along with handcrafted blankets, baby clothes, and stuffed toys for need families.

The supplies were donated to The Food Bank of Manatee, along with a cash donation of more than $700.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Kickoff for Relay for Life is Mondat\y

LAKEWOOD RANCH -- The American Cancer Society's Relay for Life Kickoff to a Cure is set for 6-7:30 p.m. Monday, Dec.5, at the Lakewood Ranch Visitor Information Center, 6220 University Parkway.

The event will highlight details about the upcoming relay and recognize cancer survivors and caregivers. There will also be drawings for prizes, food and more.

Teams can be registered at the event or at www.relayforlife/LakewoodRanchFL.

A commitment fee of $100 should be brought for each team to the kickoff.

RSVP to Lauren Blenker at 941-328-3776.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Donate a food item, see ‘A Christmas Story’ free

Lakewood Ranch Cinemas is a convenient place to help others this holiday season. (Provided photo)

LAKEWOOD RANCH — To benefit local food banks, Lakewood Ranch Cinemas, 10715 Rodeo Drive, Lakewood Ranch, will be hosting a special showing of the 1983 holiday classic, “A Christmas Story” 9 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 17.  Admission to the movie is free with a food donation.

Throughout December, theater goers can also participate in Lakewood Ranch Cinema’s Salvation Army angel tree,  Humane Society of Lakewood Ranch pet donation tree and the “Cans” Film Festival Food Bank Tree.

Needed food donations include  healthy cereals, tuna and other canned meat, pasta, rice, peanut butter, canned soups and stews, canned vegetables and fruits, macaroni and cheese, flour and sugar, nutritious children’s snacks, and 100 percent fruit juice (in cans, bottles or boxes).  The food banks are also in desperate need of baby cereal, formula, baby food and diapers.

Pet donations include: Science Diet dog or cat food, metal dog or cat food bowls, paper towels, bleach, rawhide bones, cat litter, and Pedigree wet dog food.

Also in keeping with the holiday traditions, 6-9 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 8, Lakewood Ranch Cinema’s is also offering pictures with Santa.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Lakewood Ranch wouldn't be the first community divided by districts

We reported this week that under the Florida Senate's proposed redistricting plan, Lakewood Ranch would be divided between two senate districts.

The dividing line would be the Manatee-Sarasota county line, a line that the folks of Lakewood Ranch work across and ignore every day. It's one community, but there are some things that are different north and south of the line, including which county collects the taxes, and which supervisor of elections collects the voter registrations.

It's not uncommon for a community to be divided by senate districts. Look no further than Bradenton and Palmetto, for instance.

Rep. Jim Boyd, R-Bradenton, says the redistricting plan is not set in stone. But it will be in the near future. After all, there are state elections coming up next year and the legislature is required to finalize those lines.

All that said, here are some insightful comments on the subject from my colleague, Herald Metro Editor Marc Masferrer that he recently posted in his political blog:

New Florida constitutional requirements requiring geographically compact districts for seats in the U.S. House and Florida Legislature make it less likely that identifiable areas like Lakewood Ranch, which spans across two counties, will remain in the same district.

At least that's an early conclusion that be gathered from proposed redistricting maps released this week by the Florida Senate.

All of Lakewood Ranch would remain in the 13th Congressional District, now represented by Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota.

But the proposed map for new state Senate districts, which have much smaller populations than Congressional districts, would split Lakewood Ranch among two new districts -- the northern portion in District 21, made up of most of Manatee and parts of Hillsborough and Polk counties; and the southern portion in a District 23 made up of all of Sarasota County and part of Charlotte County.

Theoretically, the maps would make it possible for two people from Lakewood Ranch to be elected to the Florida Senate. But the more likely result is that Lakewood Ranch's influence would be diluted, diminished to the point its reach in Tallahassee would be limited.

Nothing suggests that is the intent of the mapmakers. But as lawmakers work to meet the new constitutional requirements -- new districts must be geographically compact AND protect minority voting rights -- splits like what  might happen to Lakewood Ranch are possible.

Another such split in the proposed Senate map affects several predominantly minority neighborhoods in Palmetto and Bradenton, which as they are now, would remain in a Senate district that extends from Tampa in order to keep it a district likely to elect a minority senator. (The district is now represented by Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa.)

To see what some in Lakewood Ranch think of the proposed map, read the story in Tuesday's Bradenton Herald.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Lakewood Ranch students let the sunshine in . . .

Pure joy is how I would describe "Back to the '80s the Totally Awesome Musical" by Roxane Caravan's theater students at Lakewood Ranch High School.

It harkens back to the days of thrift store chic as embodied by Madonna and Cyndi Lauper, and the whacky, danceable tunes of the B-52s. (Remember Rock Lobster and Love Shack?)

Who knew the kids of today would feel a connection to these golden oldies?

Take a look at our video:

And if you would like more information -- and how could you not? -- here's a link to our story:


Monday, November 28, 2011

Holiday decorating, shopping, and a whole lot more

It's the busy time of the year in East Manatee, and that's on top of all the holiday baking, decorating and shopping.

Should you have openings in your calendar, consider these events:

Keep 'em locked up, or enroll them in pretrial services?
LAKEWOOD RANCH  — Twelfth Judicial Court Chief Judge Andy Owens has invited state lawmakers, county commissioners, law enforcement officers and the public to a Pretrial Services Symposium to highlight the value of pretrial release programs.

The symposium will be held 8:30 a.m. Friday at Lakewood Ranch Town Hall, 8175 Lakewood Ranch Blvd.

Recent proposed state legislation has suggested limiting pretrial release programs to only indigent defendants, forcing most defendants either to pay a bail bondsman or to remain in jail at taxpayers’ expense. The average cost per day to host an inmate in jail —$71 in Sarasota, $67 in Manatee — is significantly less than the cost for a defendant to enter pretrial services programs— $3.71 a day in Sarasota, $1.91 a day in Manatee.

Information or to RSVP: 941-861-7817.

Founders’ 50 plaque unveiling set
LAKEWOOD RANCH — The Lakewood Ranch Community Fund will unveil a bronze plaque on Lakewood Ranch Main Street to recognize the Founders’ 50 donors, who have established permanent charitable funds dedicated to causes and interests that impact the Lakewood Ranch community 4 p.m. Friday.

This permanent plaque will serve as a prominent centerpiece on Main Street to honor philanthropists who support the needs of the community through the Lakewood Ranch Community Fund.

Myakka Christmas parade set for Saturday
MYAKKA CITY — The Myakka City Christmas Parade will be held 4 p.m. Saturday. Wauchula Road from Bradenton/Arcadia Road north to the Myakka City Community Center at 10060 Wauchula Road will be closed 4-5 p.m..  At the conclusion of the parade at the Myakka City Community Center the festivities will continue with food and game vendors at the park.

Film on bullying to be shown
LAKEWOOD RANCH — The Sarasota Film Society and Inspired minds have teamed up to offer a free screening of The Good Kids, a short film that addresses the serious concern of bullying.  The Good Kids was created by elementary, middle, and high school students during the Inspired Minds’ Film Kids Camp, and provides a student perspective on the problem of bullying.

The screening will be held at Lakewood Ranch Cinemas at 9 a.m. Saturday. This event is open to the public.

Patrick Lay Memorial Car Show set
EAST MANATEE — Patrick Lay Memorial Car Show, hosted by the Braden River High School FFA Alumni, is set for Sunday  at Braden River High School, 6545 State Road 70 E.

Registration is set for 8-10 a.m.  Cost for those who pre-register is $15. For those who register the day of show, the cost is $20.

The car show is named after Spc. 4 Patrick Lay, a Braden River graduate who was killed in action in Afghanistan in August.

Planned: DJ, cars, vendors, food, and more.

All proceeds benefit BRHS FFA Alumni scholarship fund. Information: Vanessa Giamannco at 941-751-8230, ext. 2141.

Decorating party for Braden River Library set
EAST MANATEE — Friends of Braden River Library are hosting a holiday decorating party 6-7:30 p.m. Thursday. Everyone is invited for fun and refreshments.  Donations of Kwanzaa, Hanukkah and Christmas decorations are welcome.  Food Bank donations are also accepted.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Need a stopper for that wine bottle?

Wine stoppers by Silvia Engel. (Photo by Jim Jones)
We were just at the Suncoast Food &  Wine Fest at Lakewood Ranch.

Coincidentally, look for our story Monday previewing the10th annual Creative Arts Association sale and show at Lakewood Ranch 9 a.m. - 4 p.m. Saturday, Nov, 19.

Why coincidentally? you ask.

The show will have paintings and sculptures and more. Among the more, pick up a very wild, and I might say, beautiful, wine stopper made by Lakewood Ranch artist Silvia Engel. Available for not very much money.


Beautiful day for a beautiful event at Lakewood Ranch

 Kelli Strach of Main Street Trattoria greets Jay Goodwill at the 10th Annual Suncoast Food & Wine Fest on Saturday. (photo by Jim Jones)
For a young organization, the Rotary Club of Lakewood Ranch has enjoyed phenomenal success with the Suncoast Food & Wine Fest.

The 10th annual fest today was expected to push the total raised for charity past $1 million.

Originally, the event was called Suncoast Winefestival, but the name was changed in 2009 to reflect the equal emphasis on food.

Check out a gallery of photos from the event today:

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Friday, November 11, 2011

Lakewood Ranch residents: Here's what your elected supervisors will be doing

Next week is go-to-meeting time for Lakewood Ranch district supervisors.

Here's what's on tap:

 9 a.m. Tuesday, Nov.15, agenda workshop meeting.

 8 a.m. Thursday, Nov. 17, district supervisors have their regular monthly meetings starting at 8 a.m.

The meetings are open to the public and are at Town Hall. Want to know more? Here's what's on the agenda:

District 1 agenda (Summerfield-Riverwalk)

District 2 agenda (Country Club-Edgewater)

District 4 agenda (Greenbrook)

District 5 agenda (Country Club)

Inter-District Authority District

Job connection specialist position being created at LWR

The Goodwill Foundation announced it will hire a new job connection specialist at Lakewood Ranch with the help of a $5,000 grant from the Lakewood Ranch Community Fund of the Manatee Community Foundation.

The job  specialist will work one-on-one with folks who  have been chronically unemployed and offer guidance and encouragement  with resume writing, employment applications and job interviews. 

For more on the Lakewood Ranch Community Fund grants:

For more on the recent opening of the Goodwill donor center:

Happy Veterans Day!

Pictured above, from left, retired Col. Jerry L. Hearn of the Rotary District 6960, who served two tours in Vietnam; Christopher Wenzel, student at USFSM, a 21-year veteran of the U.S. Air Force; and Ross Alander, a professor in the College of Business at USF Sarasota-Manatee, who was a combat engineer during the Vietnam War. (provided photo)
In Manatee County, the big Veterans Day event today is the Veterans’ Day parade, sponsored by the Manatee County Veterans Council starting at 10 a.m. at the Manatee County Fairgrounds in Palmetto.

The parade moves to Sutton and Lamb Park. Service is set for 11 a.m. with Brad Smith, who was held as a prisoner of war for seven years in Vietnam, as featured speaker.

The Veterans Committee at USF Sarasota-Manatee hosted their second Veterans Day Ceremony this week, honoring students, staff, faculty and community members who are veterans of the United States military.

Retired Col. Jerry  Hearn of Lakewood Ranch addressed the audience at the ceremony as the keynote speaker and discussed “Honor Flights,” a project run by the Rotary District 6960 that will take 60 WWII Veterans to Washington, D.C. to view the WWII and other memorials.  Honor Flights are taken at no cost to the veteran and will occur in June of 2012.

For more on this project:

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Council's burgers are art, too, and worth risking the war zone

Dwayne Johnson was installing a new water meter in front of Council's on Tuesday. (Photo Jim Jones)

Noon today, we stopped by Village of the Arts to interview a wood sculptor who will be taking part in The Creative Arts Association 10th Annual Art Show and Sale 9 a.m. - 4 p.m. Nov. 19 at Lakewood Ranch Town Hall.

The need to get a story is a powerful motivator, but so is hunger. On the way back to the newsroom we stopped by Council's Recreation Parlor, 536 12th St. W., Bradenton.

For those who have never been, Council's is a pool palace with well worn linoleum  floors and lots of Florida Gator and Manatee High School football memorabilia on the walls. But the burgers, served on a napkin, are the main draw. Best in town, and like they say, they were making burgers back in the day that if someone said McDonald's, you  thought they were talking about a farm.

Council's sits across the street from the historic Manatee Courthouse which is undergoing renovations. It's on a street where people come who are in trouble: lots of bail bondsmen and law offices. 

The Manatee Avenue widening project has many streets in the area that are torn up or blocked off. And on top of that, the sidewalk in front of Council's has a big hole in it, where Bradenton workers are installing a new water meter and backflow preventor.

In other words, it's a war zone. To get to Council's these days, it takes courage, determination and an overwhelming burger drive.

Happy to say that in spite of the difficulties, the lunch counter was packed. Lots of courthouse workers in white shirts and ties, along with blue-collar laborers and a senior citizen or two. Ah, the power of a well-made burger!


The courthouse across the street from Council's is under renovation. (Photo Jim Jones)

Dwayne Johnson stands in a hole in front of Council's where a water meter is being installed. (Photo Jim Jones)

Charlie Brown would be proud: the Great Pumpkin decorating contest

Shades of Tim Burton, Danny Elfman, the Cabbage Patch Kids and Charlie Brown.

How could anyone resist the fun of  Dr. Jeff Thompson's second pumpkin decorating contest.

The second-generation Bradenton orthodontist  provides and delivers pumpkins to more than 20 local dental offices. 

"We wanted to do something fun, unique and get the whole dental team involved. We have one rule, which is that they cannot cut, gut or carve the pumpkin. Other than that anything goes and it’s all about imagination. It’s been amazing to see all the creativity," he said in an email to the Herald.

" Two weeks prior to Halloween each of our patients vote on which pumpkin they feel is the most creatively decorated. We’ve seen everything from a red M&M to an aquarium, a beaver to Dracula, scuba diver to Jack Sparrow and a graveyard. They’ve all been incredible," he wrote.

The grand prize winner also gets their name engraved on a traveling custom made trophy,what he calls the Stanley Cup of pumpkin decorating."

 It brings the community and our local dental professionals together.  Then everybody’s a winner and smiling, he said.

This year's winner: Dr. Margaret Kirkland’s office.

Check out the gallery:

Monday, November 7, 2011

Calling all runners to Lakewood Ranch for Veterans Day Challenge

Manatee Technical Institute’s Law Enforcement Academy at Lakewood Ranch will hold its third annual 5K Veterans Day Challenge and one-mile walk on Saturday, Nov. 12.  Registration is at 7 a.m.; the race starts at 7:30 a.m.

The run is scheduled in honor of all veterans.  Law enforcement basic recruits will be running alongside all participants.  The funds raised will help send students to state and national SkillsUSA competition. 

Refreshments will be provided.  The first 100 to register will receive raceT-shirts.  Post-race chair massages will be available to all on a first-come, first-serve basis.   Pre-registration cost is $20; registration is $25 the day of the race.  A $5 discount applies to all veterans, military, police, fire rescue personnel, and students.  Register online at (a $2.50 fee applies).  

The race will be held at MTI East Campus, 5540 Lakewood Ranch Blvd. Information: Pat Proudler, 941-751-8479, ext. 2015, or

Event sponsors include On a Shoestring, Suncoast Striders Walking and Running Club, Publix, New Balance, S & R Uniforms, and Road Runners Club of America. 

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Brunch on the Bay a winner

Rebecca Gutherz and Rick Fawley show their Bulls pride at the Brunch on the Bay event for USF Sarasota-Manatee. (photo Jim Jones)
So, this is what 1,000 folks under a circus tent look like, I thought.

It was the 18th annual Brunch on the Bay at the Powel Crosley Estate, located just to the west of USF Sarasota-Manatee on Sarasota Bay.

Impressive sight today, with folks from East Manatee to Anna Maria Island and points in between coming out for a really good meal (try lobster and flank steak before morning) and helping local students with scholarships to USF.

Among those from East Manatee I spotted were John Clarke, former CEO of Schroeder-Manatee Ranch; Anila Jain and her mother Mona; Eva Rey, executive director of the InterDistrict Authority at Lakewood Ranch; Ken and Judy Larrabee; Scott Rudacille and his wife Janae; and more.

For more, see Monday's Herald.


Thursday, November 3, 2011

Got a smart phone? Get your Lakewood Ranch and East Manatee news on the go!

The new generation of smart phones puts the world at your disposal.

You can tweet, check your Facebook page, get travel directions with GPS, listen to your favorite music, make a web search, video something crazy you might have just seen, or take a photo.

Did I mention that, yes, you can even make a phone call?

What the smart phone does so well is to keep you in the loop, no matter where you may be.

We invite you to check out throughout the day for news of our local community. It's a robust, dynamic presentation of news, sports and entertainment.

For a sample of what anyone with a smart phone might see, here's a screen grab of the mobile version of the Lakewood Ranch webpage.

Check in often, let us know what you think. And we'd love to hear your news tips and suggestions for news coverage in general.


Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Pincher's promises to grab you

Developer Schroeder-Manatee Ranch has long sought to bring a traditional American seafood restaurant to Lakewood Ranch Main Street.

Now it has one.

 Pincher’s Crab Shack, what owner Greg Phelan calls the quintessential Southwest Florida seafood restaurant, is headed to Lakewood Ranch.

It's going into this vacant space next door to Lakewood Ranch Cinemas. For more, see Thursday's Herald.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

New Goodwill donation center sets up shop in Lakewood Ranch

A little coaching for the ribbon-cutting ceremony at the opening of a Lakewood Ranch Goodwill donation center. (Photo by Jim Jones)
Once upon a time, Goodwill was a place where persons with disabilities and other barriers to employment went to find a job.

But with the the prolonged economic slump, there's now only one criteria to seek a job at Goodwill: to be unemployed, said The Rev. Mr. Donald L. Roberts, CEO of Goodwill Manasota.

Roberts made his remarks Tuesday at the opening of the Lakewood Ranch donation center at 9135 Town Center Parkway.

The new center is expected to take in 16,000 donations a year and to create 10 "sustainable" jobs, Roberts said.

For more, see Wednesday's Herald.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

So, what's Alex Sink been up to?

Alex Sink was  talking up a way to chart the future with her new Florida Next Foundation. (Photo by James A. Jones Jr.)

Alex Sink, former president of Florida operations for Bank of America, said she tried to retire a decade ago.

It didn’t work out.

Since then she has served as Florida’s chief financial officer and narrowly lost a gubernatorial election to Rick Scott.

Thursday, she spoke to members of the Lakewood Ranch Business Alliance about her new think tank, Florida Next Foundation.

Or as Sink put it, Florida Next is a “think and do tank.”

Florida Next is dedicated to reinvigorating and re-envisioning Florida’s small business and quality of life, Sink, 63, told the audience at Polo Grill.

Sink, who now serves as a senior advisor with Tampa-based Hyde Park Capital, asked audience members to imagine a newspaper headline that said local area lands new company with 500 jobs.

An even better headline would be if 500 local small businesses announced they were each hiring one new employee, she said.

Sink said she liked the notion of trying to build on businesses already in the area, rather than trying to lure large corporations that may be chasing cheap labor, and could easily move on in a  few years.

“What can’t Florida be the start-up state? Why can’t Sarasota-Manatee be a startup region?” she asked.

Local communities should tap into the mentoring talents of retirees, but should also try to stem the brain drain of  local youth who go elsewhere for greater opportunity, she said.

For more, see Friday's Herald.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Help for those with Parkinson's

Many of us know someone with Parkinson's.

The disorder usually leads to shaking, difficulty moving, and problems with coordination. Most frequently, it appears in men and women older than 50. But I have a friend who has been diagnosed with Parkinson's, well before 50, and can no longer drive. He is looking at retirement.

For that reason, I am passing along this press release:

The Rehabilitation and Sports Medicine Center, a member of the Manatee Healthcare System is now able to offer free land-based and aquatic Parkinson’s classes thanks to funding from the USF Parkinson’s Foundation.

 The funding will cover an instructor for two classes that will meet weekly starting Tuesday, Nov. 1, at The Rehabilitation and Sports Center, 6020 State Road 70 East, in Health Park East.

 The land based exercise class will meet 9:30-10:30 a.m. Tuesdays and the aquatic exercise class will meet 10-11 a.m. Thursdays.

 To register for either class, contact class instructor, Kathi Sims, RN, medical exercise specialist, at (941) 351-3040. For additional questions please call Rehabilitation and Sports Center at 941-745-7559.

Monday, October 24, 2011

'A Brush With Kindness'

Manatee County Habitat for Humanity’s announces the availability of funding  to assist qualified homeowners in East Manatee  with minor exterior home repairs as part of its new program called “A Brush with Kindness.”

Qualified recipients must own and live in the home and meet income and program guidelines.  Habitat volunteers partner with homeowners in small repair projects which include painting, minor repairs to roof or siding, building ramps and repairs to windows, doors and porches.

Funding is made possible through a grant from the Rotary Club of Lakewood Ranch.  Applications are available on line at or by calling (941) 748-9100, ext 101.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Corcuera women are notable achievers

Project Light of Manatee received a $1,356 grant for educational materials, including English in Action student and curriculum kits. Shown above are (from left) Jeff Burkee, Luz Corcuera and Lisa Ramirez. (Photo by Jim Jones)
I have long been an admirer of Luz Corcuera, president of the Project Light literacy center in Manatee County.

Luz has worked for years to constructively and compassionately address some of the problems of undocumented workers in our community, a part of a far larger issue nationwide.

I have often gone to Luz, as have many reporters at the Herald over the years, as we worked on one story or another to do with this complex issue.

But I had never met her in person until Friday at the Lakewood Ranch Community Fund grants award ceremony at Town Hall.

Luz, a gentle soul with a wonderful heart who has done much for the betterment of our community, was there to accept a $1,356 grant for Project Light. She more than lived up to my expectations. You can get to know a person very well over the phone.

During our discussion, I mentioned that I had  been in touch with Luz' daughter, Mariella Corcuera, a member of the Lakewood Ranch High School graduating class of 2001, which recently celebrated the 10th anniversary of its commencement.

Mariella is working in Europe, and was unable to attend the reunion. But she wanted to share with her classmates some of what she has been doing.

I'm pleased to offer an excerpt about the impressive young woman in Mariella's own words. I know Luz is very proud.

"I arrived at LRHS in 1999 (after everyone had been there for 1 year already) from Toronto, Canada.

"LRHS placed me into Honors classes from the beginning after reviewing my Canadian course work which was a good fit and later allowed me to take AP classes and get university credit.  

"Specifically, Mrs. Carole Sicard was a great calculus teacher and I even skipped my first math course class in engineering school because I had taken her honors/AP class.  She would even host tutoring sessions to better prepare us and taught us that hard math was possible to conquer.  LRHS also welcomed my French and science interests with open arms allowing me to win senior awards in both subjects.

"After LRHS, I decided to go to USF in Tampa since I had moved just recently; I wasn’t ready to go anywhere too far.  I got great scholarships to enroll in their Engineering School, where I majored in electrical engineering.

"I did a lot of research in the biomedical devices field and was accepted to do a REU (research experience for undergraduates) at Boston University for a summer.  I was then accepted into Duke University for my master’s in engineering management on a full corporate scholarship and decided it was the perfect fit for me.

Mariella Corcuera
"The MEM degree is a mix of the sciences along with MBA and some patent law classes.  It allowed me to obtain my first job in 2006, a Rotational Leadership Development program in a satellite company that was looking for someone from the technical arena who was business savvy. 

"The Rotational Program allowed me to rotate through various departments within the company and provided me with the opportunity to complete one international rotation in Europe.  After my rotation in Europe, it was clear to me and my company that the Product Management team was the best fit for me.

"I’ve been working in this team since 2008 and focus on Reception System Technology.  It’s a combination of technical and business which goes along what I always wanted to do.

"Living in Europe is amazing and I hope that I’ll be lucky enough to live here and experience its beauty forever.  I’ll always hold Bradenton/Sarasota close to my heart because it’s where my family resides and it is a great place to go on vacation to a couple of times a year - the beaches are beautiful!"

Friday, October 21, 2011

Bob and Billie Delaney named Humanitarians of the Year

Bob and Billie Delaney with the John A. Clarke Humanitarian of the Year  Award. (Photo by James A. Jones Jr.)

Bob and Billie Delaney became the second couple to be named John A. Clarke Humanitarians of the Year by the Lakewood Ranch Community Fund on Friday.

Bob Delaney, former undercover police investigator, NBA referee, and author, may be the famous one, but he said he couldn’t do what he does without the full participation and support of his wife Billie.

In accepting the award, named after the first recipient, the former president and CEO of Schroeder-Manatee Ranch, Bob Delaney talked about the service and sacrifice of members of the American armed forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. He has visited those troops several times in the war zones and in the military hospital in Germany where many go to recover from wounds.

The willingness of those Americans to serve their country offers an example in how to serve and sacrifice for others, he said.

Check out our gallery of photos:

For more see Saturday's Herald.


Ranch looking for emergency volunteers

A training session for emergency volunteers at Lakewood Ranch.. (provided photo)

LAKEWOOD RANCH — Knock on wood, our community has been fortunate the last few hurricane season.

We've not seen anything recently like the menace of 2004-2005.

That said, the Lakewood Ranch Community Emergency Response Team is seeking members to join neighborhood search and rescue teams.

There is a new 4-session training class is set for Nov. 3 at Lakewood Ranch Town Hall. The class will cover emergency first aid, family disaster protection, fire safety and search and rescue skills. The training will be conducted by instructors from East Manatee Fire Rescue, Manatee County Paramedics, and Lakewood Ranch CERT trainers.

The organization currently has 185 trained volunteers on 27 teams, but needs additional members to reach its goal of a team in every Lakewood Ranch neighborhood.

 Membership is open to Lakewood Ranch residents who are interested in learning valuable skills to help their families and their neighbors in times of emergencies.  The training and emergency equipment are provided at no cost.

To register for the course, or for more information, email

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

New county parks set to open in East Manatee

 Four generations Tom Bennett's family are shown in this 2005 photo: (from left) Rick Bennett, Andrew Bennett, Tom Bennett and Richard Bennett. (provided photo)

 In the next few months, two long anticipated county parks in East Manatee are set to open to the public.

The first phase of the 175-acre Tom Bennett regional park at Interstate 75 and Kay Road is scheduled to open 9 a.m. Nov. 12, Cindy Turner, director of Manatee County Parks and Recreation, said Tuesday.

About two months later, a 25-acre park at 7110 44th Ave. E., north of Creekwood, is expected to open, Turner said.

Tom Bennett and Creekwood will be the most significant parks to open in East Manatee since Jiggs Landing, 6106 63rd St. E., last December.

For more, see Wednesday's Herald.


Friday, October 7, 2011

Visiting with the lemurs at Myakka

Baby lemur hitches a ride with mother. (Herald photo)
 We were recently invited to visit the Myakka Lemur Preserve and brought this photo back.

Want to know more? Check out our story from April:


Harvest Methodist pitches in to fight child hunger

 Nancy Reed, Misty Pope, Ron Reed and Pat Smucker of Harvest United Methodist Church fill grocery sacks with nutritious snacks for their pack-a-sack ministry to help children in need at Samoset Elementary School.
 Harvest United Methodist Church and Samoset Elementary School are nearly 14 miles apart.

The church, with its 1,200 members, is located at 14305 Covenant Way, next door to Lakewood Ranch Country Club.

The school is at 3300 19th St. E., in a  struggling neighborhood, where 95 percent of the children are on free or reduced lunch.

You could say they are worlds apart.

Late last year, Harvest members learned that too many of the Samoset students arrive at school hungry. Some are technically homeless.

Volunteers pitched in to start a pack-a-sack ministry to slip a little extra food discretely into the backpacks of 60 to 80 children on Friday to help tide them over on weekends.

For more, see Saturday's Herald.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Wine tasting to benefit fight against breast cancer

Winestyles Lakewood Ranch staff member Kathy Jones, a Breast Cancer survivor, and her husband Bucky, a member of "Team Inspiration." (provided photo)

LAKEWOOD RANCH —  WineStyles, 8225 Nature’s Way, Suite 111, in Lakewood Ranch’s San Marco Plaza, is set to hold a special Komen fundraising wine tasting event 6-8 p.m. Oct. 14.

The cost to attend the event is $10 at the door and includes the wine tasting, appetizers, a $5 off purchase from WineStyles, and one raffle ticket to win various prizes.

Proceeds from the event will support “Team Inspiration” that is participating in the 3-day walk for the cure of breast cancer in Tampa. For more information or to purchase your ticket: (941) 306-5804.