Monday, December 24, 2012

Feeling sporty for your age? Senior Games may be for you

Feeling lucky and over 50? Maybe the Senior Games are for you. (Herald file photo)
Over 50 and feeling your oats? Well there are lot of Baby Boomers who are.

You may have vaguely heard of something called the Gulf Coast Senior Games. The series of athletic competitions have been around for 24 years in Manatee and Sarasota counties.

One of the perks of reaching 50 is that you are finally grown up enough to enter the Senior Games.

The next games are set for Feb. 19 - 24, 2013, and registration has begun.

The local games are one of 19 regional qualifying events across Florida for the statewide games which will be held next December in Polk County. The top five finishers in each event will advance.

Here are the events: golf, archery, shuffleboard , basketball, bocce, bowling, cribbage, cycling, golf, horseshoes, pickleball, racquetball, a 5K road race, swimming, table tennis, tennis and track & field.

Someone just asked, is there an eating competition? No sorry, I don't see that listed.

Registration fee is $12 and includes an event T-shirt. There is also a $3 fee for each event an athlete participates in.

Register by visiting, and clicking on Register Now. Registration must be completed by Feb. 1, 2013. There will be no registration on the day of events.

Are you thinking about it? I am. Maybe I'll see you out there.


Monday, December 10, 2012

One of the artists behind the incredible RiverWalk art is from rural East County

Shipping to Cuba by Jean Blackburn
If you have visited Bradenton's RiverWalk -- and many of us have, and greatly enjoyed it  -- you have seen Jean Blackburn's art work.

It is among "Postcards from the Friendly City," and one of them, "Shipping to Cuba," is shown here. It's a fantasy in the best sense that makes you smile, feel good, and remember the adventurous spirit of your childhood.

Members of the Palm-Aire Art Association got to know Jean a little better recently when they visited her studio in rural east Sarasota County.

Here's what Charleen Gorbet, a member of the association, wrote:

The trip was a whirlwind of sensory perception as Jean took us through the various techniques and media she has used over the years.

Many people have seen Jean’s work, perhaps without knowing it. Her vibrant monoprints led to a commission from Whole Foods to design tiles for the facade of their downtown Sarasota flagship store.

“But don’t look at them, they’ve faded,” she said. “Look inside, on the walls of the dining space at the front of the store…those are the original works.”

Bradenton’s newly-opened Riverwalk commissioned  four of Jean’s works to celebrate the theme “Postcards from the Friendly City.”

 Drawing on extensive research into the history of the Manatee River, Jean created whimsical scenes of early Bradenton life.  These are mounted along the boardwalk, together with four other works by artist Don Brandes.

 A work in progress in her studio illustrated the technique she uses to paint the moving water of the Myakka River near her home.

“These are not photoshopped,” she said emphatically, showing photos filled with vibrant blue, green and orange colors.

She takes thousands of high-speed photographs, watching for the right time and light to give those wonderful colors.

“I’ll even sit in a tree for an hour, waiting for the right slant of sun,” she laughed. Next comes the painstaking work of selecting from a photo one small corner of interesting movement and light, then transferring that in all its complexity to oil painting on a large birch panel. The result is an intriguing abstract that will change the way you look at moving water.

New work in recent years was inspired by children’s art. In this series, called “Growing Up,”she uses gesso and acrylics on birch panel to create a surface that is repeatedly sanded and etched with a wood-burning tool.  Child-like figures are surrounded by simple images that might be dreams, memories, or wishes. The resulting work has a naïf, almost ethereal appearance.

Jean’s website is being renovated, but her Water Series and other work can be seen at

Here's a Bradenton Herald story where Jean Blackburn worked with local students:

Jean Blackburn in her studio. (photo provided)

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Sports portrait sells for $7,500 to benefit cancer research

During Thanksgiving weekend, Tampa artist Kristin Ostermand handed ESPN basketball analyst and Lakewood Ranch resident Dick Vitale an early Christmas gift.

It was a life-size, black and white acrylic painting of him and Jim Valvano together during the inaugural ESPY Awards in 1993, the night Valvano delivered his famous speech after receiving the Arthur Ashe Courage and Humanitarian Award.

Vitale, a well-known advocate for cancer research, decided to auction the painting to benefit and support the Jimmy V Foundation for Cancer Research. Vitale kept the original piece and Osterman created a copy.

Osterman created 'The Promise', recapturing Vitale hugging Valvano just before he takes the stage.

Vitale started the bid at $1,000. That was Nov. 27. On Wednesday, it sold for $7,500 to a person in Virginia.

Osterman included a letter with the painting. It reads:
When Jim Valvano's ESPY speech was delivered, I remember like it was yesterday. Laying on my parent’s bed watching with tears rolling down my cheeks, I knew I just witnessed a most beautiful piece of history that will not be forgotten, at least not by me. I was just a college kid who loved basketball and was sad to see a coach I admired suffering.

This piece is not a representation of the celebrity Jim Valvano or celebrity Dick Vitale. It is the celebration of friendship and brotherhood. Behind this one fleeting image captured is a story of two souls and a lifelong promise. The embrace they shared is a true reflection of the mutual respect they showed for each other, the joy they shared in their bond, and the pleasure they had in working together. One can see unspoken compassion depicted, evident through body language and expressed through their embrace.

Dick Vitale had Jim Valvano's back He got Jimmy V and the person he was. Dick Vitale understood Jim Valvano's sense of humor... the love he had for his family, his love of a great Italian meal shared with friends, stories and laughter, and most importantly his zest for life. Jimmy V was one of a kind.

I chose to render the image in black and white to hold true to light and darkness … .Darkness which is imminent in the diagnosis of terminal cancer, but more importantly without darkness you cannot see light. The light that brings forth love. Our world was a little more fun when Jim Valvano was here. His soul was larger than life. He brought to us passion, meaning and purpose, through the sport of basketball. If he couldn't have another today, then he wanted EVERYONE to have a better tomorrow. That was Jim Valvano.

The raw emotion that holds true through the piece which is imminent on Dick Vitale’s face is how proud he was of Jim Valvano. Proud of what he was going through and how he was handling it and most importantly what he was about to say.

I believe he knew the opportunity he had in the speech he delivered the night of the ESPY’s. How those words would carry on as a life of their own. That is why I chose this image and this portion of the speech to depict in the art. The quote represents the gift he had on how to deliver a message. Those words ring true today...cancer could not break his spirit. His foundation continues to inspire us to be better people.

God does not make mistakes, Dick Vitale and Jim Valvano's friendship was created through divine purpose.

This piece was created in honor of a promise between friends. Dick Vitale promised he would carry on Jim Valvano's legacy through the Jimmy V Foundation. He loved his friend and knew there would not be another one like him. Some people may make a promise and hold true to the first few thousand dollars raised. However, would they actually go as far as to making it a life purpose? Dick Vitale is committed to the cause; clearly, Dick Vitale is a man of his word. Jim Valvano may be missed, but he has not left Dick Vitale in the quest to cure cancer. He has been right there, by his side, for every dollar raised and every life touched.

Written by Kristin Osterman- Portrait Artist

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Unusual offers this holiday season

We all look for deals, and especially during the holidays.

Here are a couple at Lakewood Ranch:

The good folks at Peace Presbyterian Church, 10902 Technology Terrace, are offering a peaceful shopping day for parents 2-6 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 15.

The church, located off Lakewood Ranch Boulevard between S.R. 64 and S.R. 70,  will be providing care for kids in grades K-5.

Games, crafts, music and healthy snacks are planned to give parents time to shop or enjoy a peaceful afternoon.

The cost is $5 per child and the adult caregivers all have been background checked.

Information and reservations: 941-753-7778.

Now here is something a little unusual and free, to boot:

Taylor Morrison hosts free carriage rides to the public 4-6 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 8, at  5235 Esplanade Blvd., Lakewood Ranch. Esplanade is located north of S.R.70.

Holiday music, drinks and snacks will be offered afterwards.

 For more information: 941-799-5496.

Monday, December 3, 2012

She's only 15, but Maria Wirries has got a set of pipes

Maria Wirries at Patriot Plaza groundbreaking. (Herald photo by Jim Jones)

Maria Wirries started turning heads in 2009, when she was only 11-years-old.

The Myakka City girl stood on a stage at Lakewood Ranch during the celebration of arts called "Ovation" and blew the doors off with her singing.

She's only gotten better with age.

Now all of 15, she sang the Star Spangled Banner and "God Bless the USA" today at the groundbreaking for Patriot Plaza, the covered amphitheater that will be built and gifted to Sarasota National Cemetery by the Patterson Foundation.

For more about Maria, read Richard Dymond's story.

For more about Patriot Plaza, see our story today.


Maria Wirries at Sarasota National Cemetery (Herald photo by Jim Jones)

Friday, November 30, 2012

Restore the Shore benefit concert a success

The Restore the Shore benefit concert for Hurricane Sandy victims was a success at Lakewood Ranch Polo Grill and Bar on Wednesday.

Organizers expect the final tally for the concert to reach $7,000, and donations are still rolling in. Proceeds will be donated to the Hurricane Sandy New Jersey Relief Fund, which was started by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and his wife, Mary Pat.

"It really hasn't stopped," said Sudie Brattli, the creator of the concert and Jersey Shore native. "People said they will keep donating."

The storm, also called Superstorm Sandy, left more than 100 people dead, thousands homeless and caused billions of dollars in economic losses. Brattli's three brothers lost their homes during the storm. Through Facebook, she learned of friends who had suffered similar damages. The neighborhood she grew up in was decimated.

In response to the devastation, Brattli, a lifelong singer, came up with the idea to organize a benefit concert to help victims of Hurricane Sandy. Musical acts included Brattli, who sings with the Suncoast Ladies Sing the Blues group, the Florida Blues Brothers, Ben Hammond, Big T and the Tornadoes, CCL, Kara Nally, Come Back Alice and The Lotus Fire.

The event also included a silent auction. Brattli said the biggest ticket item sold was a $2,500 package of botox and injections at Lakewood Ranch Plastic Surgery and Skin Care.  

Roughly 300 attended the concert and Brattli said there is growing interest for more benefit concerts in the near future.

"Our goal was $15,000, so we'll like to meet $15,000 before we stop," she said.  

Those interested can still donate through the benefit concert's website

-- Nick Williams

Monday, November 26, 2012

Jingly events for runners in December

Bells on horse-drawn sleighs are always popular this time of the year, at least in Vermont and Minnesota.

Maybe we don't have sleigh rides in Florida, but we do have jingle bells. And we're pretty sure we'll hear "Sleigh Ride" on the radio a few times this holiday season. 

Here are a couple of jingly  events to look forward to locally that can lift the spirit and do good in the right places. 

For you runners, consider these: 

The 2012 Jingle Bell Run/Walk® Bradenton is set for Dec. 7 on Old Main Street. Registration begins at 5 p.m., followed by the race at 7 p.m. 

Runners are invited to wear a holiday themed costume and tie jingle bells to their shoelaces for the 5 kilometer run. Proceeds benefit the Arthritis Foundation.

Here's a  link for more information:

Also coming right up is the Jingle 5K Run-Walk at Lakewood Ranch, with registration at 5 p.m. Dec. 21, followed by the run-walk at 7 p.m. Proceeds benefit the Childrens Pediatric Unit at Lakewood Ranch Medical Center. The event starts in the Lakewood Ranch Medical Center parking lot.

For more information, call 941-358-5100.

Palm-Aire artists launch fundraiser for Ringling scholarship

President Barbara Saabye with Helen Fleder, one of the founding members of the Art Association (provided photo)
Charleen Gorbet reports the Art  Association of Palm-Aire Country Club is offering an unusual painting as a fundraiser for the Ruth Levin Scholarship awarded to a Ringling College student

Hats Off
 (provided photo)
 Five artists collaborated to make the painting, using different techniques.

The association kicked off its 30th Anniversary Year on Nov. 16 with a champagne lunch at the club for 118 attendees.

 Raffle tickets will be sold through January.

Fitting the luncheon theme “Pearls of Wisdom,” guests Carol Sparrow and Randy Locke  demonstrated a master class with voice students Esther Dickman and Tyler Bazenas from State College of Florida.

Key advice: “Your entire body is your instrument - take care of it!”

The music and pure voices were a fitting start to a season packed with activities to celebrate 30 years of growth and development, from 31 to 155 members.

Composed of practicing artists as well as people who simply appreciate the arts, the group sponsors workshops, field trips, and special events through the season, culminating in an art show in April which is open to the public.

Scholarship Bus Trip Committee, Marcia Knight, Marcia Bachura and Joan Paulus (provided photo)

Luncheon Committee: Marilyn Nordby, Gela Rozic, Helen Martin and Judy Hall. (provided photo)

Randy Locke and Carol Sparrow, Opera Stars and their students Tyler Bazenas and Esther Dickman who presented a Master Class with Voice (provided photo)

Voice students: Tyler Bazenas and Esther Dickman, during the Master Class for Voice presentation (provided photo)

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

A little unusual, both truck drivers were charged

DUETTE -- Both drivers were charged after their trucks collided at a Duette intersection early Wednesday morning, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.

Although there were no injuries, a 1998 Kenworth driven by Leonardo Echevarria, 48,of Miami Gardens overturned at 3:30 a.m. at State Road 62 and Duette Road, according to the FHP.

The Kenworth was struck as it entered the intersection by a Freightliner driven by Dale Brent Cody, 43, of Bartow.

Cody was charged with violation of right of way. Echevarria was charged with operating a commercial motor vehicle while license disqualified.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Climbing alligators will get your attention

Climbing alligator at Lena Road. (Photo by Chris Hughes)

Chris Hughes' photo of a large alligator climbing a tall chain link fence at the Manatee County wastewater treatment plant off Lena Road is getting lots of attention today.

But it's not necessarily so unusual to see a gator trying to climb a fence there, says Amy Merrill of Manatee County government.

I stopped by the wastewater treatment plant Wednesday, hoping to see one of those myself.

Unfortunately, all was quiet on the fence, but Chris and his co-workers say gators are just part of campus life, often seen walking pond to pond or even trying to climb a fence.

What was the gator doing on the fence? The easy answer is it was trying to get to the other side. Workers out there suspect the gator was tracking prey, perhaps a raccoon walking along the top of the fence.

What I did see Wednesday was the customary huge flock of birds circling over the county landfill. One of them flew into a transformer while I was there. There was a loud boom as the transformer blew up and equipment went quiet. That happens a lot, too.

Chris' photo of that gator reminded me of Rosedale residents William and Mary Naylor, back in 2001.

One of their neighbors put a sign,  "Linger Lodge II," on their garage door.

The sign was in reference to snakes that came calling, and even a  4 1/2-foot alligator.

The Naylors had a photo of the gator standing on its hind legs and tail against the glass patio door.

I looked back in our archives and here is what Mary told me back then:

"He was just sitting out there, looking in the window. At first, you would think someone was playing a trick or it was a fake," Mary said.

The Naylors called on Rosedale's head golf pro Dave Dickens to remove the reptile.

 Dickens took  a length of plastic pipe, the kind used in yard sprinkler systems, and a loop to lasso the gator and move him to a golf course lake.

"He got so excited when he saw the water," Mary said of the gator. "He just zoomed in there."

-- Jim Jones

Monday, November 12, 2012

Veterans Day becomes personal: general and I worked the same terrain in Vietnam

Retired Lt. Gen. James H. Johnson Jr., left, with county commissioner Larry Bustle, a U.S. Air Force veteran of Vietnam. (Herald photo Jim Jones)
Back in my day as a junior officer in Vietnam, lieutenant generals were well beyond my pay grade.I started out in Vietnam as a first lieutenant.

That, of course, would have been one silver bar on my collar, compared to an officer with three stars on his.

I might have briefed a general or two, or answered a few of their questions back then, but my knees would have been knocking. Truthfully, I  went out of my way to avoid an encounter with a general.

Sunday, I was covering the Manatee County Veterans Day activities in Palmetto, when the honored speaker, retired Lt. Gen. James H. Johnson Jr., was introduced.

My ears perked up when I heard that he had been a MACV (Military Assistance Command Vietnam) adviser in the southern Mekong Delta, among his many other assignments.

He was a 1960 grad of West Point. I was a 1967 grad of Signal OCS at Fort Gordon. So by the time I arrived in Vietnam, he was probably already at least a major.

Sunday, however, any trepidation about approaching a senior officer was long gone.

I sought out Gen. Johnson after the observance ended.

Where had he been in the Mekong Delta? I asked.

He responded that he had been far south, in Soc Trang and Bac Lieu.

I responded that I knew the area well, had been a company commander there in 1969, and in fact my wife was from Bac Lieu.

He looked mildly surprised.

We established that we had both served the same folks: the 21st Infantry Division of the South Vietnamese army. My other customers as a signal company commander were Special Forces, MACV advisers, American helicopter companies and engineers.

Gen. Johnson might well have talked over one of my radio relay links, or sent a classified teletype message through my communications center. It was not clear, however, if we were in the area at the same time. But my unit had most probably provided the communications he needed to stay alive in a very dangerous area.

The general said I should return to see how the country has changed. He related how he had made a recent visit, and attracted quite a crowd in the Mekong. The police came  and scattered those who gathered around him.

I replied that I had been back to Vietnam twice since the war, once in 2006 and again in 2010.

Now, there was a look of recognition as we talked the same talk.

I mentioned to him that I had so badly wanted to revisit the Soc Trang Army Air Field where I had worked long ago, but my wife's family talked me out of it, saying that it was a risky idea to even approach the air field, now a Vietnamese army training center. In the end, I dropped the idea.

There was so much more I would have liked to have discussed with Gen. Johnson. But there wasn't time.

There were others waiting to talk to him, but I felt privileged to have those few moments with Gen. Johnson.

As I prepared to depart, I drew myself up straight as possible, and gave him my best salute. I held it, waiting for him to return it. He did, crisply.

It was a unique experience for me, my journalistic present colliding with my military past.

It seemed the right thing to do. After all, it was Veterans Day.

-- Jim Jones

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Dick Vitale Clay Court Classic raises $10,000

The Third Annual Dick Vitale Lakewood Ranch Intercollegiate Clay Court Classic featured some of the nation’s top tennis programs and raised $10,000 for cancer research this past weekend.

The three-day tournament boasted a field of 16 Division I teams and counts toward each player’s individual ranking. The men’s teams scheduled to compete are Arizona, Duke, Minnesota, Miami, Florida, Oklahoma State, Princeton, Virginia, USF and Pepperdine. The women’s teams are defending national champion Florida, Notre Dame, Mississippi State, Tennessee, Northwestern, Oklahoma State, Miami, Alabama and Memphis.

The University of Florida tennis program enjoyed a strong showing. Men’s double team Billy Federhofer and Gordon Watson defeated Minnesota’s Matthew Froment and Juan Pablo in the finals to win the championship while the Gators’ women’s team reached the singles and doubles finals. Florida’s Brianna Morgan and Alexandra Cercone lost to Memphis’ doubles team Kelly Gray and Courtney Collins in the finals and Caroline Hitimana finished runner-up to Memphis’ Liza Tymchenko in women’s singles.

Pepperdine University’s Finn Tearney defeated Andre Vidaller of Arizona to win the men’s singles competition.

The Vitales hosted a VIP party for the players at their home in Lakewood Ranch. The players were also visited by renown tennis coach Nick Bollettieri.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Lakewood Ranch student Alisha Erozer wins speech contest to kick off Farm City Week

Alisha Erozer, 1st place speech contest winner, is shown with John O’Connor, Jr., Manatee River Soil and Water Conservation District Board vice-chairman. (provided photo)

Alisha Erozer, a Lakewood Ranch High School student, won the annual Manatee River Soil and Water Conservation District speech contest on Nov. 7 and qualified to compete in an area contest.
Second place went to  Braden Causey. Also
shown: John O’Connor Jr. (provided photo)

The event kicked off Farm City Week, Gail Somodi reports.

Erozer's first-place performance earned her a $150 check.

Placing second and awarded $100 was Braden Causey, a student at Bayshore High School.  Home-schooled student Courtney Wingate, placed third and received $75.

Other schools represented in the competition were Buffalo Creek Middle School, Haile Middle School, Palmetto High School, and Manatee High School. 

A drawing for a $50 gift card for educational supplies, to reward teachers for encouraging their students to enter the contest, was won by Bayshore High School teacher Lori Ladd.

Manatee County students in grades six through 12 competed in the annual contest..

Courtney Wingate, 3rd place winner, and
John O’Connor, Jr. (provided photo)
Designed to develop leadership through participation in public speaking activities and to stimulate interest in conserving our natural resources, the topic this year was, “Where Does Your Water Shed?”

A watershed is an area of land that water flows across as it moves toward a common body of water, such as a stream, river, lake or coast.

Students came up with imaginative ways to explain the importance of watersheds to the audience in 6-8 minute speeches.

Judges were Renée Isom, fiscal services manager for Manatee County Public Safety, and former member of Toastmasters; Jim Strickland, past president of the Florida Cattlemen’s Association and agricultural appraiser with the Manatee County Property Appraiser’s office; and John Zimmerman, retired Manatee County Water Utilities manager.

Manatee River Soil and Water Conservation District speech contestants, from left, Jose Reyes, Alisha Erozer, Courtney Wingate, Jacob Johnston, Braden Causey, Paige Morrison, Amanda Neal, Tabetha Lex, and Layne Burton.
Provided photo

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Atlanta developer plans multi-unit complex in LWR

An Atlanta-based development company is making plans to build an apartment complex in Lakewood Ranch.

According to preliminary site plans provided by Manatee County, The Venue at Lakewood Ranch by Davis Development will be off Lakewood Ranch Boulevard near Nature's Way. It will feature 237 units, a fitness center, yoga room, billiard and business centers and a pool area.Permits have already been submitted to the Manatee County Building and Development Services and are awaiting final administrative approval.

The project is the company's first venture into Manatee County and second development in Florida. David Development is planning to eventually open Venue Emerald Coast in Destin in the Florida Panhandle, according to its website.

Davis Development, in conjunction with sister company Morrow Construction, has developed more than 30,000 units throughout the Southwest and Southeast United States.

-- Nick Williams

Spin Fit hosts Hurricane Sandy Relief Ride

In conjunction with the American Red Cross, Spin Fit, an indoor cycling and fitness center in Lakewood Ranch, will host an event Saturday to raise money for Hurricane Sandy victims.

Spin Fit owner Sandy Birczak. Herald file photo.
Hurricane Sandy Relief Ride, a two-hour indoor cycling session, is set for 9 a.m.-11 a.m. at the fitness center, 6277 Lake Osprey Drive. A minimum donation of $15 per rider is appreciated. Membership is not required.

Sandy Birczak, owner of Spin Fit, said the event will allow people to exercise and contribute at the same time. 

"I want this to be a fundraiser for the Red Cross for disaster Sandy," she said.
Only 20 bikes are available. To reserve a bike seat call 941-524-6103.

Those who want to donate to the cause but are not able to attend can still help by contacting the Red Cross at or call 800-RED-CROSS.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Horrendous crash kills Georgia man, blocks south-bound lanes of I-75 in northern Manatee County

Traffic creeps along I-75 after two south-bound lanes were closed this week in northern Manatee County, creating a massive backup. (Nick Williams photo)

MANATEE -- Following a fatal traffic accident involving three vehicles at 1:41 a.m. Tuesday, the right and center south-bound travel lanes of Interstate 75 in the vicinity of Buckeye Road and Moccasin Wallow Roads in northern Manatee County, are closed for repair, the Florida Highway Patrol reports.
Repairs are expected to take until approximately 5 p.m. Traffic is still flowing in the left lane.
Drivers are urged to avoid the area if possible.
An 18-year-old Seffner woman was driving southbound on I-75 when she dropped her cell phone and reached to pick it up. Her 2002 Ford Expedition entered the inside shoulder. The driver over-corrected and the vehicle overturned several times, coming to rest in the middle southbound lane, the Highway Patrol reported.
She exited the Expedition and attempted to call 911. The driver of a second vehicle, a 2002 Chevy Suburban, could not see the overturned Expedition in the roadway, and plowed into it, leaving two vehicles disabled on the interstate.
The driver of third vehicle, a 2001 truck, saw what he thought was a person waving a flashlight and moved from the right lane into the middle lane. The driver of the third truck then began to see crash debris and tried to brake, but was unable to avoid the crash scene and struck the Suburban.
The third truck over-turned, blocking the center and outside lanes. Fluids from all three vehicles leaked onto the road, damaging two lanes.
The driver of the suburban, James E. Sims, 66, of Stockbridge, Ga., died in the crash.
The Seffner woman, and the driver of the third vehicle, a Miami resident, were taken to Manatee Memorial Hospital with minor injuries, the Florida Highway Patrol reported.

Read more here:

Monday, November 5, 2012

SMR President Rex Jensen to speak at LWRBA meeting

Rex Jensen, the chief executive officer and president of Schroeder-Manatee Ranch, the developer of Lakewood Ranch, will speak at the Lakewood Ranch Business Alliance  Membership Luncheon on Nov. 14.

The luncheon begins at 11:30 a.m. at the Polo Grill in Lakewood Ranch. The cost is $25 for members and $35 for non-members.

As CEO since 1990, Jensen is responsible for 30 subsidiaries and nearly 400 employees. Jensen will talk about SMR's latest developments, which include the completion of The Premier Sports Campus at Lakewood Ranch and the development of Country Club East.

To register, visit

-- Nick Williams

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Braden River High School chorus working hard to get ready for that performance at Lincoln Center

Braden River High chorus members, from left, include Danielle Sacchi, Mackenzie Meola, Taylor Garganta and Erin Donnelly. (provided photo)

In case you haven't heard, Braden River High School students hope to be singing in New York City next year.

The 37-member River Rhapsody Chorus has been invited to take part in a performance of John Rutter's "Requiem" at Lincoln Center's Avery Fisher Hall in New York City on May 27.

Braden River choir members are hard on work, raising money for the trip. For instance, the  Rhapsody Chorus is going to sing to residents at The Windsor of Lakewood Ranch on Saturday, Nov. 3.

For more about the trip, read Richard Dymond's story below:

Here's something you can do: order a meal at Pei Wei, 8511 Cooper Creek Blvd., located near Interstate 75 and University Parkway, on Tuesday, Nov. 6. Eat in or take out food will be available all day.

Just mention BRHS and they will give you a flier or you can print the one below. A portion of the proceeds will help the chorus make their way to the Big Apple.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Peace River Electric Cooperative joins Sandy relief effort in Pennsylvania

   Peace River Electric Cooperative workers are expected to arrive in Pennsylvania today to assist with recovery from the devastation of Sandy.Shown, left to right, Tyler Wise, Danny Turner, Ryan Lassiter, Tyler Hoopingarner, Danny Congleton Jonathan Benbow and Ramiro Narciso.
Peace River Electric Cooperative, which serves much of East Manatee, as well as many other counties in south Florida, is sending a crew to Pennsylvania to help with recovery from the unprecedented storm Sandy.

 The co-op is sending a line foreman, six line technicians and four service trucks.

"The team will arrive today and immediately begin helping the crews of Citizens’ Electric, located in Lewisburg, repair damage to power lines caused by unprecedented storm Sandy," according to a press release.

 As Sandy began moving into the Lewisburg area on Tuesday, the number of Citizens’ Electric consumers without power climbed rapidly as high winds caused tree-related outages.

Citizens is was advising consumers to expect outages to last for an extended period.

 “We know first-hand the importance of mutual assistance crews following a weather disaster, and we welcome the opportunity to help restore power as safely and quickly as possible for another utility," Nell McCauley, co-op spokeswoman, said.

Monday, October 29, 2012

The people behind that home-grown food live right here in Manatee County

I love this photo by Richard Dymond of Ben King, taken at King Farm in East Manatee on Sunday.

See that corn in the  basket? I know that corn. Several years ago Ben invited me out to his farm, and I had a chance to eat an ear, raw. Tender, sweet, delicious. Who knew that was possible? Still, I think I prefer mine cooked.

Some sad news also came out of the National Food Day event. Ben and Shelby King announced they won't be reopening their farm market this season. Too much competition from international growers who don't have to compete by the same rules.

Here's hoping that Ben and Shelby can reopen the market next year. They are wonderful people who live the mantra of safe, nutritious, sustainable farming.

For more about the Kings, see stories by Richard Dymond (@RichardDymond) and Nick Williams (@_1NickWilliams) below.

However, we also just learned that the O’Brien Family Farms store and education center, 16505 State Road 64 E., will re-open to the public on Thursday, Nov. 1

O’Brien’s farm stand features hydroponically grown fresh fruits and vegetables.

The farm stand carries 90 percent local produce grown at O’Brien Family Farms where customers can pick their own in our hydroponic farm or buy in bulk.

Last season O’Brien had groups from elementary, middle, high and special needs schools to learn about the live bee hive observatory, farming and to pick their own fruits and vegetables. This season O’Brien is looking forward to more groups and field trips, “we’re looking forward to educating chefs, schools, Leadership Manatee and more groups on the importance of farming and agriculture.”

-- Jim Jones

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

East Manatee events you might want to consider

Ultimate competition returns to Lakewood Ranch. (Herald file photo)

Oct. 25-28 — USA Ultimate Frisbee Club Championships play begins 9:30 a.m. Thursday at Sarasota Club, 8201 Polo Club Lane.

Oct. 26 — The Boo Fest, an annual Halloween fall event, is set for Lakewood Ranch Main Street 6-9 p.m. Friday, Oct. 26. Included is a costume parade (register online at, trick-or-treating, a haunted house and a creepy graveyard. Also look for the decorated scarecrows.

Oct. 27 — The 9th annual Boo 5K Run/Walk is set for 8 a.m. Oct. 27 at Lakewood Ranch Main Street.
This is a family-oriented race with a costume contest and awards. Awards will be awarded for Best Couple, Best Hero, and Best Villian. More than 1,200 runners and spectators are expected. Information: Jim Nelson at or 941-345-3868.

Oct. 27 — International Beer Festival at Lakewood Ranch Main Street 5 – 9 p.m. Oct. 27 on Lakewood Ranch Main Street. Pre-purchased tickets available starting at $25.

 Oct. 27- 28 —   Hunsader Pumpkin Festival 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. Oct.  27-28 at Hunsader Farms, located on County Road 675 midway between S.R. 64 and S.R. 70.

Oct. 28 -- King Farm, 4630 60th St. East (Caruso Rd.), East Manatee, hosts the Food Day Festiva 10 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Oct. 28. There will be a Farm-to-Fork Lunch that you may purchase and enjoy, starting at 1 p.m.

Nov. 2 —  Shotgun Justice Music to perform a free concert 6- 9 p.m.on Main Street.

Nov. 7 — “Make a Difference” Volunteer Fair, 1 – 4 p.m. Nov. 7 at  Keiser University, Auditorium at Lakewood Ranch.  Information:

Nov. 10 — Lakewood Ranch Asian Women Cultural Fashion Show & Luncheon is set for 11:30 a.m. Nov. 10 at Michael’s on East. Cost: Members - $40, non-members - $45. Information: Cora Sanders at or 941-320-4886.

Nov. 10 — The 11th Annual Suncoast Food & Wine Festival is set for 1 - 4 p.m. Nov. 10 at the Sarasota Polo Grounds.

Nov. 10  — Lakewood Ranch Club Day is set for 10 a.m. - 1 p.m. Nov. 10 at Lakewood Ranch Town Hall. Community Activities will present residents to  48 active social clubs.  Free refreshments.

Nov. 10 -- Anytime Fitness, 8332 U.S. Hwy. 301 N., Parrish to Host Tough Hero Competition 10 a.m. Nov. 10 to benefit military families and active heroes. Register at

Nov. 17  — LWR Club’s Creative Arts Association 11th Annual Art Show & Sale is set 9 a.m. - 4 p.m. Nov. 17 at Lakewood Ranch Town Hall. Admission is free,

Nov. 18 — The Mustang Club of West Central Florida holds its 21st Annual Ponies under the Palms Mustang and Ford Show 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Nov. 18 at Lakewood Ranch Main Street.This event is free and open to the public.  The cost to register a car is $25 before Nov. 12 and $30 on the day of show.  Information: 941-704-4474.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Vitale raises another $10,000 for cancer research

Every year, Hall of Fame ESPN basketball analyst and Lakewood Ranch resident Dick Vitale makes a pledge to raise $1 million for cancer research.

Last week at a dinner event to benefit the V Foundation for Cancer Research, Vitale was able to encourage others to add to the pot.
A sold-out dinner at the Bella Roma Restaurant in Siesta Key raised $10,000 for the V Foundation. Tickets to the event were sold in advance.

Vitale also released a new book, 'Getting a W in the Game of Life' , in which the 11-time Hall of Fame inductee shares his life's lessons and experiences of others he has known throughout his life as a educational tool to inspire and motivate today's youth.

All of the proceeds from the book will go towards cancer research.

Vitale's seventh annual Dick Vitale Gala in May raised $2.1 million for cancer research.

“No kid should be doing chemotherapy and radiation,” Vitale said shortly after the gala. “They should be playing, they should be out having fun like my grandkids have been able to do. We’re trying to give to those kids and put a smile on those family faces and providing an opportunity through research.”

-- By Nick Williams

Monday, October 22, 2012

Duette Preserve Wagon Tours available now

By Nick Williams

The 2012 fall season Duette Wagon Tour dates are set and reservations are being taken for tours on Saturday, Nov. 3, and Wednesday, Dec.

To understand the fun behind the tours, read this story printed back in April during the spring season:
Provided Photo

Merrie Lynn Parker’s love for Florida’s nature is evident.

A certified master naturalist, Parker can talk at length about the distinct habitats of the Duette Preserve, the largest preserve in Manatee County. She has studied the history of the preserve and befriended the descendants of the first families to settle on the land. On cue, she can list the many types of wildlife that call the 21,000-acre land home.

To Parker, Duette Preserve is a state treasure and should be treated as such.

“Most preserves have one type of habitat,” Parker said. “Duette has wetlands, big and small pockets of low lands, scrubs and prairie.”

For the past three years, Parker and her husband, Roy, under the umbrella of the Manatee-Sarasota Fish and Game Association, have teamed with the county’s Natural Resources Department to provide wagon tours of the preserve. The association puts on four tours each year, including its last tour of the spring season on Saturday.

The tours are by reservation only and are led by Duette Preserve rangers and naturalists. Parker said some descendants of the land’s pioneers also speak to the tours.

“It’s to get people out to see the preserve and appreciate the value of the preserve,” said Parker, the association’s secretary-treasurer. “It’s a great resource we have and it’s unique as far as its habitat.”

Parker said many of those who take the tours are visitors from out of state.

“They gain an appreciation for Florida in its natural state,” she said.

Located in the county’s northeast corner, Duette Preserve is almost entirely contained by the source of the Manatee River and the northeast area of the Lake Manatee watershed. The Manatee and Braden rivers serve as the principal sources of water supply for Manatee and Sarasota counties.

“Natural Florida habitat is different from what you’ll find in the Midwest or the Northeast and even the South,” Parker said. “It’s a different type of terrain.”

In the 1980s, the county purchased the land to maintain the watershed, Parker said. Since then, it has been the mission of naturalists and the county to improve its water quality.

“A healthy upland makes for healthier water,” she said.

The preserve offers biking and hiking trails, managed fishing and hunting and picnic areas. Its greatest benefit, Parker says, is educating the public about Florida’s environment.

“It’s here -- appreciate it and spend time here,” she said.

For more information about the tours, visit For reservations call 941-792-8314.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Benderson mall groundbreaking a really big deal

Benderson Development Company broke ground for a huge new mall at the intersection of Interstate 75 and University Parkway on Monday.

In case you missed Josh Salman's story, take a look:

And here are more Herald photos from the event:

Randy Benderson
Paul Blackketter

Randy Benderson with Carol Whitmore and Ben Jordan.

Rep. Vern Buchanan

Jackie Dezelski and Kim Dalglish

Mopping up the rain drops.

Bill Taubman, Randy Benderson and Rep. Vern Buchanan.

A little rain, a lot of sun for the groundbreaking.

White hats at the ready.

A sprinkling of confetti where parking lot is going.

Manatee County Cattlemen team excels at cooking, whip popping

 Manatee County  whip poppers, from left, Clay Wingate, Cully Rowell, Manatee Cattlemen's president, Jessie Embach and Clint Thum. (provided photo)

The Manatee County Cattlemen took part in the 2012 Ranch Rodeo Finals and Heritage Festival held recently in Kissimmee.

 Beef brisket cook team sponsors.  (provided photo)
Two rodeo teams from Manatee County placed in the top 10 overall. Jessie Embach won third place in the whip popping contest at the Heritage Festival.

 The beef brisket cook team of Craig Wolfe, Steve Thum, Gene Wingate, Wayne Wingard and Eric Hoying won first place in the brisket cooking and second place in the people's choice contest.

Beef brisket cook team, from left, Craig Wolfe, Steve Thum, Gene Wingate, Wayne Wingard, Eric Hoying and Cully Rowell, Manatee Cattlemen's president. (provided photo)