Last updateTue, 22 Jul 2014 9pm


Alachua Spring Festival arrives in full bloom

W - Alachua Spring Fest - DSC 0181Sunday’s Alachua Spring Festival brought beautiful weather and upbeat crowds to the downtown Main Street area.  Spring flowers were on the list of this shopper as she wheeled her colorful purchases along the street.

ALACHUA – Explosions of colorful flowers and art lined Main Street on Sunday afternoon. The sound of bands and vocalists filled the street at this year’s Alachua Spring Festival. The annual festival took place from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and featured a variety of vendors, such as homemade dog treat bakers, churches, charities, artists, flowering plant vendors and a host of activities geared toward children..

Cap’n Jack trotted down the sidewalk, taking in the full effect the festivities could have on such a little guy as he.

There was food at every turn, children playing and laughing, music and even some dancing; entertainment all around, and Cap’n Jack, or C.J. as he is called, enjoyed every bit of it.

“It’s his first time here, but I’ve been to the last five or six at least,” said Susan Dotson, C.J.’s walking partner. Dotson, from Lake Butler, was referring to the Alachua Main Street Festival, and she brings a different dog every year. This time, it was C.J. taking a walk on the town.

“I get dogs through a program called Paws on Parole, and foster them until they’re ready for an inmate to take them,” Dotson said. “I’ll more than likely be back next time around with another dog too.”

Dotson did not just go out for the food and family atmosphere, although she said that adds to the experience. She has a friend who owns one of the shops that sets up a booth each time the festival takes place.

“I always come out and support her, and look for some things myself from the shops,” Dotson said. “It’s a great place to find some things for dogs, too.”

Cap’n Jack wasn’t the only one to visit the festival for the first time though. The Lam family also made their way to Alachua as newcomers to the event. Gwen Lam, of Fort White, said her husband, Frank, was volunteering at the Irish Water Dogs booth, and she figured if he was going to be there the whole day, it was a great chance to take the kids along, too.

Lam stood with her children, daughter Autumn and son Joseph, as they petted some of the goats near the pony rides.

“The favorite part for us would have to be feeding the animals,” Lam said. “I know my kids enjoyed that the most.”

Whether it was walking a dog, or walking a child, the crowd enjoyed a wonderful day on the town. There were food vendors at every corner, offering anything from fried specialties to cotton candy.

“It is a beautiful day,” Lam said. “I would certainly come back again.”

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High Springs Historic Society makes way for spring

W - HS historical society Museum

L-R: Roger Chambers, High Springs Historic Society (HSHS) Secretary, Jim Dyksterhouse, HSHS Vice President and Bob Watson, HSHS President picked a sunny day in March to begin recreating a garden in front of the High Springs Elementary School and Community Center, which also houses the Historic Society Museum. The beautification project is just one of several currently underway.

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City manager claims investigation; FDLE denies

HIGH SPRINGS - The Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) denies it is conducting an investigation of former High Springs Police Chief Steve Holley. High Springs City Manager Ed Booth maintains otherwise, according to statements he made earlier this week and last week.

Booth issued a press release on March 24, 2014 stating that the State Attorney instructed the city to “contact the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to conduct an investigation” after evidence from an 8-month-old case involving a death was found in Holley's car and the “weapon involved in the case was not found in the Evidence Room.” The press release goes on to say, “The Jacksonville office of FDLE was contacted and is conducting an investigation as of Friday.”

“The definition that FDLE uses for investigation apparently pertains to criminal investigations only,” said Booth in an interview earlier this week. “We never saw any criminal action. We only saw neglect. Our purpose was not to pursue the incident as criminal misconduct. It was to determine why the evidence was not turned in properly by the chief, especially for that length of time, and to determine why the weapon was not in the Evidence Room where it should have been,” he said. “Had criminal activity been found, FDLE was the agency that would have pursued it.”

“The police department cannot investigate themselves in a case like this,” said Booth. “Another impartial agency must be brought in to investigate the circumstances. In my way of thinking,” he said, “this was an investigation and FDLE was doing it. It's a matter of semantics. We are still looking into this matter and don't yet have all the facts,” he said.

Meanwhile, FDLE Special Agent Jeff Vash paid a visit to the High Springs Police Department (HSPD) on Friday, March 21, along with Booth. Vash looked at the details of the situation and, according to Booth, urged the city to proceed with their plans to have the Alachua County Sheriff's Office perform an inventory of the HSPD Evidence Room, something Acting Chief Antoine Sheppard requested when he took over supervision of the department.

“Our personnel met with Chief Sheppard on Tuesday, March 18, and provided him with a time and personnel estimate to conduct the inventory,” said Art Forgey, Alachua County Sheriff's Office Public Information Officer. “We have not begun the inventory to date,” he said, “but estimate it will take between two weeks and one month to complete. We will send two deputies from the Office of Professional Standards, the same group that reviews our Evidence Room, and the city will provide one person to work with them to conduct the inventory,” he said.

When completed, the inventory is expected to provide the city with an accurate list of the items stored there, identify any items that might be missing or unaccounted for and, if there is a need to do so, give the acting chief a list of procedures to consider implementing as he goes forward.

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Lions 75th Cattlemen's Banquet

W- Lions Club Banquet 201

L-R: Long-time Alachua Lions Club member Ralph Cellon,  Alachua County Director for the Florida Cattlemen’s Association Dr. Ashby Green and Jim Strickland.  Strickland was the 2014 Lions Club Cattlemen of the Year award recipient.

ALACHUA – It was another fun filled evening of laughter, good food and music at the 75th Annual Alachua Lions Club Cattlemen’s Banquet on March 27.

A change of venue was in store this year as the banquet was held at the Santa Fe River Ranch. The evening’s program this year included the addition of a social hour and silent auction leading up to the main event, as well as a live auction afterward.

Opening the banquet and welcoming guests was Alachua Lions Club President John Hopkins, who then handed off the evening’s agenda to Master of Ceremonies J.K. “Buddy” Irby, Clerk of the Circuit Court, who has strong ties in Alachua and graduated from Santa Fe High School.

As is tradition, Gussie Lee led the crowd in singing “God Bless America” to kick off the evening’s program. Providing musical entertainment during dinner was Zack Emerson.

Before presentation of the Cattleman’s award, Irby used his time at the podium to share a few jokes and offer a good ribbing to some in attendance, eliciting roars of laughter from the crowd.

Dr. Ashby Green presented Jim Strickland with the 2014 Cattlemen of the Year award. Green said, “From his early days as a ‘cow hunter’ or ‘day worker’ on central and south Florida ranches, to today’s leadership roles in the state and national cattle industry, Jim Strickland epitomizes service.”

Strickland currently serves as Director of the Agriculture Department for the Manatee County property appraiser. He is a former president of the Florida Cattlemen’s Association and has served on a number of statewide and national boards and committees.

Keynote Speaker Jim Handley, a fourth generation Floridian from Sebring, Fla., shared his experiences and insights on the agriculture and beef industry. Handley is currently the Executive Vice President of the Florida Cattlemen’s Association, Chief Executive Officer of the Florida Beef Council and Executive Director of the Florida Cattlemen’s Foundation, all of which are located in Kissimmee, Fla.

In keeping with tradition, the Santa Fe High School Chapter of FFA was on hand to assist as guests helped themselves to the choice aged controlled steaks, loaded potato casserole and dessert.

Following dinner, an animated, and oftentimes comical live auction was led by Alachua Lions Club member and “auctioneer for the evening” Rod Smith.

The Cattlemen’s Banquet is the Alachua Lions Club’s largest fundraiser of the year, and all profits from the banquet support charitable sight, hearing, youth and community service activities.

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Two High Springs firefighters honored

Photo special to Alachua County Today
Kevin Mangan and Kimberly Wilson (center) of the High Springs Fire Department recently received Firefighter of the Year awards at a ceremony held at the fire station.W - HS firefighters group

HIGH SPRINGS – In September 2013, Restoration Specialists, a company which routinely interacts with fire fighters and first responders, launched a campaign on their Facebook page to find the top firefighters in the 19-county central-Florida area. “Nominations for Firefighter of the Year came pouring in...” said Cay Wyatt, Firefighter of the Year Coordinator. ‘It’s quite an honor that two of our winners this year are from the same fire station,’ said Wyatt.

Kevin Mangan, a volunteer firefighter, and Kimberly Wilson, the first and only female firefighter under 25 to complete the academy, were honored Thursday, March 27, with Restoration Specialists' Firefighter of the Year Awards. The award ceremony was held at the High Springs Fire Department (HSFD), 205 NW 1st Ave. In addition, recipients each received a $100 Visa gift card and, because they were both from the HSFD, a donation of $200, $100 for each of the winners, was made to the department in their honor. Following the brief ceremony, Restoration Specialists also catered lunch for everyone from Firehouse Subs.

Mangan said later that he was honored to have been nominated and to have won. ‘Firefighters are a brotherhood and a family. They all give everything they can to help wherever they can. Any one of the firefighters’ names could have been on this plaque and they would have deserved to receive it,” he said. “This plaque and this honor is for all firefighters.”

Entries were received for this honor from colleagues, people who were saved by firefighters, friends, family and anyone who wanted to single out a firefighter who they believed had gone above and beyond in performing their duties.

Dianya Markovitz, a former firefighter at HSFD, nominated Mangan for this honor. In her letter she praised all of the firefighters who put their lives on the line every day. “There are a few who especially stand out. Kevin Mangan is one of them. Brave, courageous, selfless,” she said.

“Kevin is volunteering to serve with honor...and has volunteered to serve his community for nearly 5 years. He knows that when there’s an emergency, after his work is done, people just want a shoulder to cry on, a hug or someone to talk to. Kevin is always there. ... maybe that helps give them [people] faith and hope when it could just as easily be lost forever,” she said.

Although the author of Kim Wilson's submittal is unknown, it is nonetheless impressive. “Forget that she’s a woman, Kimberly Wilson is described by many as the hardest working, most dedicated firefighter you’ll ever meet, period. In a field dominated by men, Kimberly stands out as an example that women can be elite firefighters.  In some ways, Kimberly is a true pioneer who is opening the door for future female firefighters in Florida.”

The writer goes on to say, “Kimberly can be described as fearless, tough, butt-kicking, caring, compassionate and passionate about helping others and the community she serves.”

The awards were presented to both recipients by Eric Ehrlund, Restoration Specialists General Manager. Two of the company's estimators, David Kress and Mike Mitchell, and two project managers, Chad Bowland and Brian Mallard, all from the local Restoration Specialists' offices, were on hand to congratulate the winners.

City Manager Ed Booth, Vice-Mayor Sue Weller, Fire Chief Bruce Gillingham and other firefighters and citizens attended.

“Bob Preusler, Restoration Specialists owner, believes that firefighters are some of our unsung heroes,” said Wyatt. “He realizes just how hard these people work and believes they are underpaid for all they do. This is one way he decided to honor them and let them know how much they are appreciated,” she said.

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