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 RenĂ©e 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