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)

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Farm Life Photos: Your photos of agriculture in Manatee

Check out these photos from Barbara Gard of Palmetto. Gard took these photos in March during a tour at the Char-O-Lot Ranch in Myakka City.

Want to share a picture of farm life in Manatee? It will be seen on the Eastword Blog on To join in, email your photos to East Manatee editor Jim Jones at or East Manatee reporter Nick Williams at

Friday, October 12, 2012

Indoor cycling center comes to Lakewood Ranch

By Nick Williams

A 1,300-square-foot indoor cycling and fitness center officially opened in Lakewood Ranch this weekend, offering an indoor studio for area cyclists and those looking for a fun strength and conditioning workout.

Spin Fit, located at 6277 Lake Osprey Drive, opened Saturday, Oct. 13.

"I've been cycling for over 10 years and I've taught at different place and people always said 'Why not open your own place," said owner Sandy Birczak. "My dream is here."

Spin Fit is equipped with 20 indoor cycling bikes in one room and half a dozen suspension weight training devices in the other. The facility will be open seven days a week, beginning as early as 5:30 a.m. into the late evening.
"There's not really an indoor (cycling) facility in this area," Birczak said. "I really want to target this area."

A certified fitness instructor the last 12 years, Birczak said an hour of her cycling workout can burn anywhere between 500 to 800 calories. She also plans to run a separate clinic and boot camp for those looking for more advanced workout and an 'Easy Rider' class for mature clients in the Lakewood Ranch area.

"Members want to be challenged so as an instructor, I will offer challenges to them," she said.

For more information about Spin Fit, visit Birczak's website here.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Happy 101st birthday Gus!

Seated, from left, Betty Massey, Sue Lumsden and Betty Andreone.  Standing, from left, Jim Massey, George Lumsden, Gus Andreone and Bill Endsley. (provided photo)
Palm-Aire resident Gus Andreone, the second oldest card-carrying PGA professional in the country, recently  turned 101.  

And he's still paying golf a couple of times a week.  

In recognition of his 100th Birthday, Palm-Aire members donated $100,000 for the construction of a state-of-the-art golf practice facility  known as The Gus Andreone Practice & Teaching Facility, which opened in late 2011. 

"What an inspiration he is," says Palm-Aire's Renee Woods.

An inspiration indeed. Happy birthday Gus!

Show us your best image of East Manatee agriculture

Calling all farmers, ranchers, growers, cowboys and cowgirls living in East Manatee!

Herald file photo/Richard Dymond
We want to see images of you in action on the farm and we'll showcase those photos on our Eastword blog.

Want to share a picture of your prize-winning cow, new vegetable crop or a weekend activity on the farm?

 It will be seen on and all you have to do is email East Manatee editor Jim Jones at or East Manatee reporter Nick Williams at

Agricultural is a large part of Manatee's history and economic stability.

In 2011, Manatee agricultural business, which consists of livestock, fruits and vegetables, ornamental horticulture and commercial fishing, had a total value of $646 million, making it the second largest economic impact commodity behind tourism.

Vegetable production is the county’s leading agricultural enterprise with 28,000 acres valued at $290 million. Twelve thousand of the 28,000 acres is used for tomato growers.

Manatee and Hillsborough county farmers produce 40 percent of tomatoes grown in Florida and 70 percent grown in the U.S.   Let's share Manatee farm life with the rest of the world.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Manatee youth rowing director honored by county government.

Nick Williams

When Manatee Youth Rowing Program director Trish Jackson walked into the county commissioners meeting on Tuesday, the last thing she expected was to become a part of history.

To recognize Jackson for the progress she's made with the county's rowing program, which began in 2010, county commissioners declared Oct. 9 'Trish Jackson Day' in Manatee County.

"I was under the impression I was going there for being recognized for volunteerism," Jackson said.

The program originated with Palmetto High School and has since expanded to Southeast and Manatee High. Jackson also runs a summer rowing program for Manatee youths.

"The county recognized the hard work and effort we put into rowing in this community," Jackson said. "I did not achieve that alone."

In April, the program made history at the Florida Scholastic Rowing Championships when four boats from Palmetto High qualified for the Scholastic Rowing National Championships in Camden, N.J., marking the program's first national regatta appearance.

In the 2012 fall season debut, Manatee, Southeast and Palmetto High teams combined for two gold medals, four silver medals and three bronze at the Sarasota 5000 Regatta in Osprey on Sept. 30. Nearly 100 high school and club teams entered the race.

"I thought the growth and success would come, but I didn't expect it to come as quickly as it did," Jackson said.

Jackson did not compete in college but has won medals at national competitions. Last year, former Sarasota resident and television star Jane Lynch and her wife, Lara Embry, donated $15,000 in money and equipment to the program. Embry and Jackson were rowing partners.  

"To have a day a named after me is the highest honor that has been bestowed on me, besides motherhood," Jackson said.

Now that she has her own day, Jackson said she will celebrate it doing what she loves most. 

"I might get in a boat and just row for myself," she said. "I can't think of a better celebration."
The program will compete in the Head of the Indian Creek regatta in Miami on Sunday, Oct. 14.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

What's on Rex' smart phone?

Rex Jensen reads off the songs in his smart phone. (Photo Jim Jones)
"Music lover." Not necessarily the first two words that come to mind when you mention the name Rex Jensen.

Jensen is the chief executive officer and president of Schroeder-Manatee Ranch, the developer of Lakewood Ranch.

Warrior, fierce advocate of free enterprise, serious business executive, and leader are some of the words I would use to describe him.

A man of his word, good family man are others.

My perception was altered just a bit Monday when Rex told reporter Nick Williams and I that he would like to bring a big, new musical festival to Lakewood Ranch, maybe as early as winter 2013. See link below for the story.

Funny thing about the timing of the announcement, I responded to him. My Sunday column was all about my favorite rock songs. See link below.

Then I asked Rex what music he had on his iPod. Actually, it was a smart phone of some kind. Rex immediately began scrolling through the bands and singers. It was a quite the hip list, too,  Wade Tatangelo, the Herald's resident entertainment writer, said later when I showed him the bands back in the newsroom. Good to know Wade, because I hadn't heard of many of them.

As Rex read off the performers, you could see a few layers of stress melt away. He was clearly enjoying the exercise.

"That's just the point," he said of the proposed Lakewood Ranch Winterfest and how much people crave live entertainment and enjoying discussing and arguing about it.

For the record, there were several hundred songs in Rex' smart phone. Here is a sampling:


Shack Shaker

Patsy Cline

Elvis Costello

Florence and the Machine

Led Zeppelin (his favorite is the Immigrant Song)



Lucinda Williams


Johnny Cash

Kris Kristofferson

Andrea Bocelli

Rita Coolidge


Emmylou Harris

Neil Young

CCR - "As Long as I Can See the Light," and "I Put A Spell on You"

Monday, October 8, 2012

Peace prevails at Gullett Elementary School

Yoko Ono announced today that the Imagine Peace Tower in Iceland would be re-lit Oct.9, on John Lennon's birthday.

For most of us, Iceland is a long way to go to pray for peace.

Closer to home, at Gullett Elementary School at Lakewood Ranch to be precise, 650 children and several members of the Rotary Club of East Manatee gathered recently to rededicate the peace pole in front of the school.

Rotary members donated the six-sided pole with the message “May Peace Prevail on Earth” in 12 languages in 2007.

The languages were those spoken by the students when the school first opened.

Several students recited "May Peace Prevail on Earth" in their native language while other children read peace poems and essays and sang and danced under the direction of music teacher Tim Hamand.

East Manatee Rotary Club President Ross Russo explained the significance of the peace pole and reinforced the message from school Principal Kathy Hayes: “Peace begins with you.”

The Rotary Club of East Manatee meets at 7 a.m. Thursdays at Popi's Place IV, 3911 U.S. 301 N., Ellenton.

Information: 941-724-7974.
Peace pole rededication at Gullett Elementary School. (provided photo)

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Berns vacates Lakewood Ranch district 1 seat

By Nick Williams

Longtime Lakewood Ranch district supervisor Gary Berns has resigned from his seat in Community Development District 1, which serves the Summerfield and Riverwalk neighborhoods.

Gary Berns (Herald file photo)
Berns has sat on the district board for 10 years and was chairman of the organization opposed to incorporating Lakewood Ranch.

He officially resigned on Monday.

Berns has been a resident of Lakewood Ranch for 13 years. Prior to serving in Lakewood Ranch, he was a fire commissioner in Long Island, N.Y., for 23 years.

Berns said he'll cherish his time serving his community.

"It all comes down to helping people and giving people a decent place to live at a reasonable price," he said.

Berns said he'll continue to volunteer at Tidewell Hospice, a not-for-profit agency serving patients and families who are living with advanced illness in the Manatee area.

"I may do more work now that I have time," he said.

District 1 supervisors are now accepting resumes to fill the seat. Applicants must be legal residents of Florida and district 1, over the age of 18 and registered voters in Manatee County. The deadline to submit applications is Nov. 5. Applications can be mailed to Lakewood Ranch Town Hall, addressed to Jessica Mears, Clerk to the Boards, at 8175 Lakewood Ranch Blvd, Lakewood Ranch, FL 34202.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Manatee's rowing program shines at Sarasota 5000

By Nick Williams

The Manatee Youth Rowing Program is off to a fresh start for the 2012 fall rowing season.

Manatee, Southeast and Palmetto High teams combined for two gold medals, four silver medals and three bronze at the Sarasota 5000 Regatta in Osprey this past Sunday. Nearly 100 high school and club teams entered the race.

Southeast High's men's 4 novice (Austin Teaford, Krishna Muhundan, Kaden Henslick, Connor Yaryura - coxswain Coral Nimz) won a gold medal, as did Palmetto women's varsity 8 (Brandi Achenbach, Erin Monaghan, Brooke Mailloux, Stephanie Brouwer, Shelby Falsetti, Sammie Theising, Hannah McCoullough, Colleen Monaghan - coxswain Callie Bedford). Manatee High's women's single rower Jennifer Zebrackitook silver while Manatee's men's double boat (Alex Martinez and Jarrett Tsai) won the bronze.

Palmetto won seven medals overall, which included silver medals in the mixed novice 4 (Ryan Chastain, Callie Bedford, Crystal Chouinard, Josh Dawson), men's varsity 8 (Luke Myhree, Grant Fletcher, Trevor Lovett, Todd Chastain, Jerome Robinson, Clayton Flournoy, Gus Brouwer, Beau Wessel - coxswain Emily Whisenant), men's varsity 4 (Luke Myhree, Grant Fletcher, Trevor Lovett, Todd Chastain - coxswain Emily Whisenant) and women's varsity 4 'A' (Brandi Achenbach, Erin Monaghan, Brooke Mailloux, Stephanie Brouwer - coxswain Callie Bedford) and bronze medals in the men's novice 8 (Kaler Turenne, Courtland Higgins, Ryan Chastain, Tyler Gingras, Michael Reyna, Christian Brunger, Jacob Gwynn, Peter Myhree - Coxswain Chase Bafia) and women's varsity 4 'B' (Lauren Bedford, Hannah McCoullough, Addie Pratico, Jackie Roberts - coxswain Colleen Monaghan).

"When the kids started their fall season, they came prepared to train and how hard they trained showed  in this regatta," said Trish Jackson, program director.

The program will next compete in the Head of the Indian Creek regatta in Miami on Oct. 14.

Nearly two dozen Manatee youths, from middle to high school, participated in the The Long Skinny Boat Camp summer program just months ago in preparation for the 2012-2013 season.

In April, the Manatee youth rowing program made history at the Florida Scholastic Rowing Championships when four boats from Palmetto High qualified for the Scholastic Rowing National Championships in Camden, N.J.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Dakin Dairy enhances 350-acre farm for public use

By Nick Williams

Dakin Dairy, a prominent Manatee dairy farm located in Myakka, has added a few features to its 350-acre farm for its upcoming "Farm Fun" season.

The farm has offered farm tours in the past, but has added a recreational and family picnic area. The farm will become open to the public for use beginning Oct. 6.

"Our farm tours are awesome, but you can come out and have a great farm experience without even taking a farm tour by just having a picnic under the gorgeous oaks and letting the kids play, feed goats and more," said Karen Dakin.

Guests can also partake in hayrides, pig races, feeding calves, making butter or enjoy food provided by Dakin Dairy. The farm is also available for birthday parties.

Starting Oct. 6, the public can schedule farm tours available Wednesday-Friday starting at noon. and Saturday's between 10 a.m.-3 p.m. through April. 

The farm's 7-acre maze will be open every Saturday beginning Oct. 27 through the end of December and "It's A Country Christmas", which will feature Christmas carol hayrides and photo opportunities, will start Nov. 24-Dec. 22:

The farm's market is open all year, Monday-Friday.

For more information on Dakin Dairy, visit