Meet the Humans of the Keys

Meet the Humans of the Keys

Friday, November 4, 2016

Kathryn Watkins Norris, Key West

I lived in Key West in the 90's, from 1994 to 1997, then was gone for 11 years; I left to finish college, but came back in 2008. It was Spring Break that first brought me to the Keys. I grew up in Atlanta Georgia, but a friend of mine's father owned a hardware store in Marathon. She asked me if I wanted to go to Key West for Spring Break, and I said, "Where's that?" We came down for the week, then we came for the summer. We were going to stay one month and that turned into 6 months and then I ended up coming back and just staying. I loved it so much I stayed for 3 years. I worked at Margaritaville. Jimmy Buffett came in 3 times a year; it was great! I got to meet him a few times. He would come in and play concerts and all the employees got to watch.

But, I left to go finish college, and then I worked in sales for a while. I made good money, but I missed Florida. All my family is in Atlanta and I loved being near them and I had good friends, but I just missed Florida. One year I went on vacation to Key West 3 times and my friends were asking "Why don't you just move back?" So I moved down with my little white dog. I had an MBA, so I thought there was no reason I couldn't start over and be successful here. I started out working in a B&B, I worked for Fantasy Fest for while, then I started my own social media company. Because of my work in the hospitality business, I made a lot of connections, and I was able to work with some great resorts establishing their social media. I got to work from home which was great because I was a single mom. It worked out really well. But, that's one of the reasons I love this community. Key West is a great place. If you help your community, your community helps you back. My friends back home couldn't believe that I moved to Key West by myself, had a baby and started my own company! I can't believe it either! And I get to go to the beach anytime I want!

I just got married for the first time 4 months ago. When I met my husband, he was a single dad. His daughter was 3 years old, the same age as my daughter! Now three years later, we are married and the girls are best friends. They love each other. They even look enough alike that people think they are actual sisters, or twins.

My social media business is called Peach Promotions, after my nickname "Peachy." My goal is to help more businesses establish a social media presence, and to use social media to help the community. I helped create a social media movement to improve the perception of Fantasy Fest in Key West. Over the years, some aspects had really changed from what it was intended to be. Fantasy Fest is supposed to be an adult costume party. We know it has it's naughty side, that's part of the fun! But the lewd acts and nudity in the middle of the day at family friendly events like Goombay were getting to be too much. You couldn't take your children downtown, even in the day. So we started a movement to clean up the perception of the event, and make it more about the elaborate costumes. And I think it has helped. Last year there were signs up at Goombay saying it was not part of the Fantasy Fest zone. The Chamber of Commerce started a float contest, a costume contest, and the word costume is being added back into the marketing. So we are making steps forward. That's what I want to do, use my training and skills to help make my community a better place.

We moved to Key Haven in 2015. The genetically modified mosquitoes were originally going to be released in Key West, but it was changed to only release them in one neighborhood as a trial - Key Haven. I was contacted by the leader of the No Consent Movement earlier this year because they knew about my involvement with the Fantasy Fest movement... and it was happening right in my neighborhood. They wanted me to get involved. I hadn't done enough research, so I told them to let me look into it and get back to them. What I found is that the TTA protein (Tetracycline-Controlled Transcriptional Activation) has never been tested for the long term effects on anyone who has been bitten. Because even though they say only males will be released, there are females that are going to released. And, they have never tested the long term effects on pregnant women, infants, anybody. They don't even test them for zika before they release them into our community!

One night I was sitting at home reading up on all this stuff... I was really researching it. I had pages up on DNA and all the technical stuff, and my husband looked at it and asked what I was doing. So, I had him read it. He's a doctor, and I was thinking "If he's against it, then I'll get involved." He finished reading everything, looked at me and said, "We have daughters. This is not good." When he saw the word tetracycline he was concerned about the bacteria on the mosquitoes being raised in tetracycline promoting antibiotic resistant bacteria. Tetracycline is one of 2 antibiotics that he uses daily to save people's lives.

So, I knew I had to get involved. I got involved in the movement, then they wanted me to run for office. I said, "I can't, I'm getting married, I can't do it!" But, there was only one candidate running against the incumbent and he was Green Party. The incumbent was Republican and I'm a Democrat, and I live in the neighborhood so they knew I would give a good fight. I filed three days before my wedding! We got married, went on the honeymoon and as soon as we got back it was time to start campaigning. Because I filed before the wedding, I had to run under my maiden name, Watkins. My husband is Dr. Norris. 

There are just too many concerns for me not to get involved. My husband has also gotten involved on the medical level, he started the petition. The more we got involved, the more convinced I was that I should run. There are good alternatives that should be considered first. There is something called Wolbachia, It's found on many of the insects anyway, but when you inject it into the male and he mates with the female, she doesn't lay any eggs. So it really kills the cycle. And even if a mosquito has zika, if it's treated with Wolbachia it can't spread it. This has a higher success rate than the GM mosquitoes, and it has been tested. The other has not.

I love what I'm doing. I've met so many people, and I know I'm doing the right thing. Another issue we are facing is that Mosquito Control has no building in Key West. They are in a trailer. One hurricane could cripple them. I have a plan to get us a building without having to raise taxes a whole bunch. I want to be prepared and I want to protect our citizens. I plan to travel, to go to conferences and learn everything I can about mosquitoes. I look forward to that.

We own our home in Key Haven and we are going to raise our daughters there. I need to keep my family and everyone protected. The Keys are my home and my family. We have such a great community down here. There is so much diversity, but for the most part everyone is accepting. We need to be accepting and kind to each other. We are one human family in the Keys, everyone is so different, but we accept each other. I had my daughters with me at a fundraiser downtown at the Bottle Cap, and there were some drag queens on the corner that I knew. My girls called them the fancy ladies! Later we were in the ladies room and one of them was in there fixing her make up; we were talking to her and my girls didn't think a thing about it. Later as we were leaving, one of them said, "Did you know that girl was a boy?" And the other one said, "I know. And she had a pretty dress." And that was the end of it; they didn't think any more about it. I feel so proud that they are so accepting, but that is Key West and all of the Keys really. We are all different, but we're all one human family.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Yvette Doherty, Key Largo

“My husband is 15 years older than I am. He lived in Canada. He and my parents were friends and he would come to South Florida every winter to visit. My parents were in the car business so they would give Bob a car, but the contingency was he had to drive me to and from swim lessons; this started when I was about 8 years old. He was a really good friend.

When I turned 17 I took my grandmother and great grandmother to Canada; they had affordable care there for my great grandmother. My grandmother couldn’t leave her so we were there for 3 or 4 weeks! Every time we planned on leaving grandma would put her mom in a home and then she couldn’t leave her!

I was stuck in a hotel room with my grandmother going every single day to visit my great grandmother. I called our longtime family friend, Bob, to please come get me and take me somewhere, to meet his wife, hang out with them at their house, for lunch, anywhere. I needed a break! He came and picked me up.

What I didn’t know is that he had split with his wife and was now divorced. He took me to dinner and picked me up every day and we hung out.

Finally, my grandmother was ready to leave, so we returned to South Florida. Bob called my mom and told her he had 2 tickets to the Montreal Olympics and he wanted to take me. My mom said ok. While there he gave me a $100 Olympic gold coin; an enhancer on a chain, which I wear to this day. After the Olympics we said goodbye and I said “Thank you so much, I had a great summer!” That was it; no obligations, we lived a continent apart, and we each had our lives. I didn’t think anything more of it.

He called me every day; back then they made him pay his phone bill twice a month, there was a lot of long distance on it, and we didn’t have free long distance then. He flew down every month to see me. He flew me to Canada for the summer. He wanted me to marry him.

I did. I was so naive, I was only 18, what did I know? I am very fortunate he is such a good man. That was 39 years ago!

We have lived in the Keys since the 80’s. My husband, from Canada, said we should move to the Keys. My mom said “No one lives in the Keys, there is no water pressure and lots of mosquitoes. No one lives there, you just go for the weekend.” We bought a house in Paradise Point MM 105 Bayside. In the last 4 years I have gotten involved in Real Estate with Coldwell Banker Schmitt Real Estate Co. in Key Largo.

I read an article the other day about The Conch Republic and how it started. I laughed because when we moved here, my Canadian husband would carry his green card with him wherever he went! He thought they were going to keep him if they stopped him for anything. That was pretty funny!!”

Friday, October 21, 2016

Debbie Goldberg, Tavernier

I moved to The Keys from Pennsylvania in January of this year. My husband and I have friends here and have been visiting them for about 12 years. We bought our house here 4 years ago with the intention of eventually moving down permanently. That dream has now finally come true. 

My husband and I just love it in The Keys. I always wanted to move to Florida. My mother, and my sister and her children all live in south Florida. My grandparents lived in Miami when I was little and my family came to south Florida on vacation all the time. I was born in Brooklyn, grew up on Long island, and then moved to Pennsylvania when I was about 21…but somehow, I always knew that sooner or later I was going to live in Florida.

I was a mental health/drug and alcohol counselor for 18 years in Pennsylvania. It was my intention to continue that practice here. But 2 years ago, I had a spiritual awakening and have been following my own personal spiritual path ever since. As I started to connect with the spirit inside of me, my professional career began to evolve along a more spiritual path as well.

This may sound shocking to some people, but as I journeyed deeper into my spiritual self, I discovered that I can hear God / Spriit talking to me. It’s really fascinating. While doing some work around the teachings of Margaret Paul, I was introduced to the technique of ‘Guided Imagery.’ Guided Imagery is a meditative practice that allows us to access and actually see or visualize the energy of love that is within each of us. In short, it empowers us to visually connect with our inner guidance, our intuition, our soul.

As I continued to work with that technique I began to get a clearer understanding of what our true purpose as human beings is here on earth. I came to realize that almost all of us go through our day-to-day lives in a state of spiritual unconsciousness. We’re simply not present in our own lives. We live our lives based on a spider’s web of falsehoods, half-truths and assumption that have been passed down to us by our culture, our society, and ‘family programming.’ We grow up with stories about our intelligence, our health, our appearance, even whether or not we are worthy of being loved, and we believe them. The truth is, none of it is true.

My goal is to remove all the blockages, all of the programming and get back to our original programming, our soul’s programming, the programming given to us by God / Spirit. In doing so, we find out who we really are, not who we think we are or who society or family has taught us we are. Removing these blockages takes patience, self-discipline, and hard work. It’s a journey, a journey of a lifetime.

During the last few months before I left Pennsylvania, I kept having this feeling inside me that I was going to write. I always felt that I’d like to write a book, but I never believed in my ability to do so. I didn’t really believe I had the skills to write a book. But somehow I knew that when I got to Florida I was going to write. I didn’t know what about, but I knew it was in me!

Then in February, I heard Jesus say, “OK, it’s time to write. Get your pen and paper and let’s write.” He dictated 3 books to me over the course of 6 weeks. The books are about the process I used to recognize and walk my own personal spiritual path. They are about how each of us is here to understand our True Purpose in life, what we’re here on this earth to do. They provide insights to learning about the ego and how our egos are blindly leading us to live unconscious lives filled with all our pre-programmed false beliefs about ourselves and all the unhealed wounds we suffered growing up. The books also show us how to reconnect with our soul, that soft voice of inner guidance that is inside all of us that shows us our true inner beauty, goodness, and power… the truth of who we really are.

As you might imagine, all of this has radically changed my whole way of doing therapy. I now believe that depression and drug and alcohol abuse are profound symptoms of something much more debilitating that is going on deep inside. When I worked as a traditional counselor I was trained to identify mental and emotional “illnesses” and attempt to cure them. As I've progressed on my own personal spiritual journey and have done battle with my own demons, I’ve learned that none of us are ill; we just believe we are. Our ego tells us there is something wrong with us. But the truth is, I don’t believe in the ego’s diagnosis anymore; I don’t think anybody is ill or broken, we just believe we are.

So, I no longer fit the role of a classic counselor. My career is changing. None of what I’m learning fits inside that box anymore. It has transformed me. What I’ve started to do is to use what I have learned in helping my clients along their own spiritual path, to reconnect them with their soul or intuition that will help them see their purpose in life and guide them to their own healing and personal truth. Nobody knows what is right for you except you.

I think a lot of people are searching for their spiritual path and don’t even realize it, so it manifests as anxiety or depression or feeling overwhelmed. This sometimes even gets to the point of questioning, “What is my purpose? Why am I even alive? Why is my heart not filled with joy and happiness even though I have a great life? Why is it a struggle every day to just be or stay happy?” These are all spiritual awakenings that people don’t even realize are happening to them. A therapist might think they’re just signs of depression, when there is actually so much more to it. I believe that that person is making a cry for help, their soul is pushing up issues for them to look at and examine in an effort to heal its wounds. People feel so alone and they don’t have to feel that way; it’s just that they carry deep emotional and spiritual wounds that need to be healed.

I grew up Jewish, but not in a religious family. You can imagine it was a bit shocking when Jesus came to me, but our guidance shows up in whatever form we need and are willing to accept. For some people that guidance may have a spiritual or religious connotation, for many it is more of a spirit of nature, a Mother Goddess figure or an animal totem of some sort. Religion really has nothing to do with it.

Some people tell me I must be crazy if I’m talking to Jesus. That’s one of the things I’ve had to overcome, especially within my own family. Most people don’t understand what a spiritual journey is. I’m teaching people how to return to the eternal love that each newborn baby somehow instinctively knows and feels. We all knew that love at one time, but most of us somehow lose it as we journey through life. All the fears that keep us from growing, from being who we really are, are wounds that need to be healed. As the wounds begin to heal, it allows our true purpose to emerge. Many of us wonder what our purpose is. Everybody has an individual purpose and a perfect way of expressing it that is unique to them. Once you open yourself up to it, it just starts to happen. It’s amazing.

I had an abusive childhood. As a result I had all these wounds that I was always seeking to heal, even though I didn’t realize that’s what I was trying to do. Trying to heal my own wounds is what led me to want to help others. Twenty-five years ago I actually had a dream at age 33 telling me to quit my focus on ownership of a jewelry store, enroll in college and become a therapist. That was my first spiritual awakening. That’s another aspect of all this… the Spirit awakens us and then we promptly go back to spiritual unconsciousness. Wake up, go back to sleep, wake up, go back to sleep, over and over again. It’s a cycle that we eventually have to break. Think about it, throughout your life you’ve probably gotten periodic glimpses that there has to be something more. Whenever you go through a trauma or a blessing, you get glimpses, but then it’s gone and you fall back into the spiritual unconsciousness of your day-to-day life.

My goal is to wake up as many people as I can to the love that is within them, to help them ‘Create a Life Worth Living’ and to be who they are supposed to be. We are here to be love; it just gets expressed differently in every one of us.

There is a huge movement out there of people who are starting to wake up and lift their own personal veil of consciousness. Happiness is a choice. All the answers are inside of you; all the validation, all the love that we are seeking outside is actually inside of us. Hopefully, the movement will help others transform and become who they are supposed to be and not just who they think they are. We need to start living from our heart and not our mind.

We are truly loved; we are actually divine but just can’t see it. There is so much goodness and love inside our own hearts that needs to be explored. Look at it like a treasure hunt. If we keep digging deeper and deeper we find more and more gifts…the gifts of wisdom and love are boundless. But, we have to dig. It’s intense, hard work, but it is so worth the effort. Our life is about growing our heart and consciousness and sharing the love and light.

To learn more about Debbie or to buy her books, go to:

Monday, October 17, 2016

Frankie St James, Key Largo

“I was born in Kentucky and my family moved to Homestead when I was seven years old. I graduated from South Dade High School and attended two years at Florida State University. I married a commercial fisherman, and thus the move to Key Largo. We were blessed with two beautiful children.
My friend and neighbor, Anne Cohan, convinced me to go back to school and finish my teaching degree at Florida International University. I had wanted to be a teacher since the third grade.
I began my education career in first grade at KLS (Key Largo School) and I taught in a ‘pod’ atmosphere; all the classrooms were in one big open room. They have since torn down that building to make way for the new campus.
I had a great team! My teaching team wanted to do a theme every year to get the kids excited about coming to school each day. The first theme was ‘Follow the Yellow Brick Road.’ We made a yellow brick road throughout the pod and developed lessons around “The Wizard of Oz.” Anne Cohan, one of the first grade team, wrote a play from the Wizard of Oz theme and the children presented it to their parents. The following year the theme was ‘Circus’ and we hung parachutes from the ceiling to make it look like the classrooms were inside the circus tent. The principal at that time was Ed Caputo, who was a true inspiration to me as an educator. He had a true passion for education. He loved our theme idea and gave each grade $2,000 to develop a theme for their pod, a more permanent theme. We developed an ‘ Outer Space’ theme. . We created a space anomaly called a black hole. In the far right there was a mural of the earth rise and on the ceiling were lights representing the constellations. Another theme that made a big impact was ‘The Wild Kingdom’ developed by the third grade teachers. Every child was responsible for an animal including gerbils, mice, snakes, birds and Guinea pigs. When a student became proficient at caring for his/her animal, the child became a junior ranger and went to Pennekamp to be a ranger for the day. The teachers also had a token money system called Wild Kingdom Bucks The third grade team built 3 banks in the classroom. Each student had an account at the bank and served as a teller periodically. When a student became proficient dealing with the token money, they were selected to go to one of five banks in our community and work as, a teller for the day. The Wild Kingdom still exists at KLS in a smaller fashion. Such innovative programs teach students real world skills and makes learning fun.
While teaching first grade, I became a young widow. Since I was now a single Mom, I decided I needed to get my Master’s degree, so I could pursue a career in administration.
I moved to Assistant Principal serving with Dale Wolgast and then to Principal of KLS. I was at KLS for 26 years, 14 of which I was principal. There were some magical and creative things that happened while I was principal, but there was also some tragedy.
First, I have to say that none of the honors, awards, or great things that happened while I was principal could have happened without the amazing team I worked with; the Assistant Principals (AP’s), the teachers and staff. I had the best of the best. As an educational leader, I believe in surrounding
yourself with great people, and I was surrounded!! The culture of KLS was a family feeling. Kids came first and we supported one another as educators and friends!!
During my first year as principal, KLS received a Customer Focused School Grant from the State for $250,000. . Our mission to develop instructional technology in our school began with this grant. In those days the school principal handled the school budget and made critical choices of how the dollars were spent. Our priority was to become technology rich for our teachers and students!
In 1997 I had the opportunity to apply for KLS to be named a Florida Blue Ribbon School. We were one of 21 schools in Florida selected. It was such an honor to be selected, but we knew it t had not been possible without the support of our community. I decided to make big blue bows, and send one home with every child to put on their door or their mailbox; we put them on our cars and buses. I spoke at organizations such as the Chamber of Commerce and the Rotary to announce this honor and thank the businesses for their support. We gave each business partner a blue ribbon for the door of the business and hardy thanks from our staff. The police supported to; they tied little blue ribbons on the antennas of their police cars. It was such a great community effort! Our application then went to the U.S. Department of Education for possible recognition as a National School of Excellence. I received a phone call from the office of the President telling me we were selected as one of the 200 National Schools of Excellence; they also chose us as one of the top 3 technology schools in the nation. I was asked to speak at the conference! From that, I had “Technology and Learning Magazine” contact me for permission to write a story about our Alternative Education Programs I was asked to present at their conference in New York.
I applied for a Bell South Power to Learn Grant; it was only for schools in the southeastern U.S. The grant selected 4 schools and we were one of them. We received $250,000 and a team of experts came to our school periodically for 2.5 years to observe how technology affected student learning. . They loved our school. George Lucas was impressed by the many innovative programs at KLS and sent a team from his educational foundation to produce a video for his educational website. We were also one of the first schools in the State to become a Florida 5-Star School.
I am very passionate about education; I truly believe it is the strength of the nation. Students can succeed if schools create hands on, fun, real world activities that are academically challenging and stimulate global awareness. I do not believe state or national testing is the answer to improve schooling. I believe all kids can learn and my staff did too. We studied a book called ‘How People Learn’ and we taught the way people learn. We also studied student learning styles. I believe when you find a great school you will also find risk taking by the teachers, innovative and creative programs and culture where there is mutual respect between administrators, teachers, staff, students and parents.
We were very proud of the innovative programs at KLS. We had Alternative Education programs; for kids who have difficulty in school. These classrooms had fewer students and were themed based. Our first one was Community Connections. With the help of local businesses, the kids worked each week in a different business. They learned how to dress and what they needed in the business atmosphere, and then the kids and the businesses would rate each other. Community Connections also used a program called ‘Brain Gym’, where the kids were given exercises to access the less dominate part of their brain. The Alternative Program was so successful; we added additional theme-based alternative ed. classes to grades 4-8. One of the classes was WWKLS. The students ran a radio program in the school each day and also created PSA’s (public service announcements) for the community. A community member donated $35,000 to build a greenhouse on the campus. It was used in one of the alternative education classrooms to teach about agriculture, food preparation and selling of your goods. We had a Video Production classroom that produced a television program each morning, took some very educational and exciting field trips and competed in a District-wide video productions competition. In our synergistic lab kids built bridges and CO2 cars and learned about engineering, science and technology. We were so lucky to have school district, community and parental support!
One of traditions we started at KLS began way back, 30 years ago, when I was still a first grade teacher; on the last day of school, we would block traffic on the highway and let all the busses come out of the school at the same time. They still do that! We started a tradition still in existence, a Christmas breakfast for the teachers every year with a white elephant gift exchange. It was hilarious, we had so much fun! As principal, I started Faculty Follies, a staff talent show; not all of us have talent but we still did it. The teachers had such fun and the kids loved it.
I also believe kids need incentives. The AP’s and I brainstormed and told the kids if they reached the classroom Accelerated Reading goals, we would be on the roof in our pajamas for one hour. Needless to say, the incentive worked. We were on the roof all day! . Another year we sat in a kiddie pool and the students who reached the AR point’s goal could pour a bucket of spaghetti noodles on us. We had noodles everywhere!! The next year the students got to throw water balloons at us. I started a brag book; a teacher could send a student to me, for positive reinforcement, and the student could sign my brag book and select a prize. I still have those books.
I was a safety patrol sponsor along with KLS Media Specialist, Carter Hannah, for 30 years. We would raise money every year to take the kids to Washington DC. KLS continues the traditions of visiting our national monuments , laying a wreath on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, participating in the Twilight Tattoo and rolling down a grassy hill, to name a few. Other programs I established at KLS were after school activities such as middle school cheerleading, basketball, volleyball, football and a faculty daycare for staff. Daycare is expensive and we were able to keep the cost down so it was less of an impact on teachers and staff. Teacher absenteeism decreased because if a child was sick or had a problem, or if a mother wanted to nurse, she just had to go to the daycare to mother her child. The daycare was there for almost 30 years.
We had so many great things happen and so many honors bestowed on us, but we also had tragedies to get through. At the beginning of one school year, we had a teacher and her husband murdered, she was 8 months pregnant. I had to notify all the staff and hire a teacher that night. We had a support person killed by her husband in a murder/suicide. One of our teachers sheltered her 3 children for two weeks until relatives could come. As was always true of the KLS family, teachers brought food and did the laundry for the kind teacher. Another tragedy was Hurricane Andrew. My teachers were scattered. We couldn’t find 5 teachers when staff returned. We finally heard from them! We had a teacher and a custodian who were hit hard; we took our trucks and assisted them in moving their belongings to a new location. For 5 days we didn’t have any electricity but the teachers had to report; we all had survivors’ guilt. I told the staff to come to school and check in and then they could go volunteer and help; to the soup kitchen, take water to Homestead, whatever they wanted to do to aid those impacted. One mother from Dade County came into the front office. As soon as she saw me she burst into tears. She said she didn’t even have a piece of paper with her son’s name on it. I told her to just write down his name for me and he was registered. That was the beginning of the 300 new kids from the devastated area to register at KLS. It was September and I couldn’t get portable classrooms until January. We had classes everywhere! Due to the relocation and the psychological effects of Hurricane Andrew, I thought it was extremely important to welcome our students at the buses with a hug each morning and one before they headed home. They received a sticker that said “My Principal Loves Me”. This is how I became “The Hugging Principal”. After Miami recovered from Andrew, many parents decided to keep their students at KLS, because they were so pleased with the school. When Hurricane Georges slammed into Sugarloaf Key, KLS teachers organized a work crew and made food and rode a school bus to Sugarloaf School to help with the cleanup and to feed the teachers. The tragedy for everyone was 9/11. I was walking between buildings when the maintenance man came and got me. We got back just in time to see the second plane hit. I had to pull myself together and figure out what to do for the students and staff. We made it through that too.
I am very proud of my school and the team I had! I was a very, very lucky person having such wonderful people around me and I loved it very much. I think I received more back from it than I gave
I married Ken St. James and gained two beautiful step daughters.. We have 6 grandchildren, from 20 years old to 3 months. We are going to be attending graduations for a long time as grandparents!
I am most proud of a couple of things: First, my kids and my grandkids. I am also proud that KLS was a place that students wanted to come each day, teachers wanted to teach and parents wanted to volunteer. I am most proud that it was the kind of school a school should be. Those things are more important than any award or trophy. Key Largo School gave me so many wonderful memories and friendships that will last for a lifetime.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Jack Hudder, Tavernier

“We started vacationing in Islamorada in the mid 70’s. We had been to Hawaii and rented some snorkel gear. I was astounded by the fish. Jeannie is claustrophobic and I made her put on a mask and fins and come with me, she liked it too. Hawaii was too far to go for weekend trips! Jeannie did some research and we ended up down here; towed our boat down from Pennsylvania and spent 2 weeks here every year.

There was too much pressure and stress in the corporate structure; I had what they thought was a heart attack, but it wasn’t, it was an inflammation of the membrane that surrounds the heart. I decided then that I wasn’t going to let them kill me. We enjoyed the Keys so we started looking.

We had a realtor that was looking for a business for us. I came home one night from work and Jeannie said ‘Guess where we are going this weekend?’ She had made flight reservations for that Friday. We came down and met with the owners of the flower shop in Key Largo. We bought the business in May and took it over in July. It was 1980.

We grew that business from $10 and $15 days to one of the top 1000 florists in the country. Our secret? Good product, good service. Period. We got tired after 24 years and sold out.

We lived in PA and the University of PA had a floral class; we would drive the 45 minutes 2 times a week after working all day to learn about arranging and taking care of cut flowers. Once we moved down here we had a supplier that gave classes, and we took them.

I spent 15 years in uniform. I started as a young crazy kid in high school and joined the National Guard; when I graduated I became a commercial fisherman in Cape May, NJ. We would fish from New Jersey to Virginia and from 4 am sometimes until 1am the next morning. I would miss my National Guard meetings being on the water all the time and they didn’t like that; I had to make the meetings or get arrested. I couldn’t tell the boat owner to come back so I could make a meeting! I left the National Guard. After the fishing season, I joined the Navy and served 4 years in the Navy and then 2 years in the Naval Reserves. When I got out of the Navy I was a precision machinist.

I pumped gas for a while. I worked 2 full time jobs to support my family and I thought there had to be something better than that, so I went back to the National Guard. I took every school they would give me. I taught myself electronics and math up through calculus; I could assemble nuclear weapons and tear down a nuclear guidance unit. I went as far as I could with the Guard in 6 or 7 years and they wanted to transfer me; they wanted all positions to be by seniority so I was at the level to push a broom. I was out of there!

That is how I ended up in the corporate structure. I got hired as an office boy and ended up taking over the computer system, which I knew nothing about so I learned it all; from spreadsheets to reading punch cards, to designing the forms used within the company. I also learned that you will get fatigued sitting behind a desk all day. I changed the way things were ran in the company and helped the company run much more efficiently! By the time I left, I was Operational Vice President.

I have taught myself whatever I needed or wanted to learn. I have been an auto mechanic, a short order cook. The information is out there. I have no sympathy for people who say they can’t get a job. There are jobs out there and every job teaches you something. That has always been my motto. When someone came to me and told me they had a new job, I would congratulate them; every job teaches you something but when you plateau it is time to move on to keep learning.

I am most proud of my wife, Jeannie. She is a very smart lady, very successful. She is a great wife and a wonderful mother; a very good partner. We did everything together; we worked together, we parented together, we did all of our home projects together. We fished together, if Jeannie wasn’t on the boat I wouldn’t catch any fish! She also always caught the biggest fish. We will be married 60 years in March.

I met Jeannie on the Boardwalk in Cape May, New Jersey. My friend and I had just come from a beach party and were sitting on a bench when these 2 girls came walking down the Boardwalk. One girl we
knew so we started talking to the girls. Jeannie just blew my mind. I can’t remember what we talked about but when she walked away I said to my buddy “She’s mine.” I didn’t know where she lived or anything. I found out years later that she would ride her bike down the boardwalk to try to find me.

School started and she was in my study hall. I didn’t know what to do because she was so different than anyone I had ever known. My buddy took a piece of notebook paper and wrote her a note and asked her out for me. She said yes.

I went to take her out and meet her parents; her dad was really strict. I sat down across from her dad, he was reading the paper. He looked at me and said “I understand you want to take Jeannie to a football game.” I replied “Yes Sir.” “Uh huh”, and he went back to reading the paper. He put the paper down and looked at me again “How are you going to get there?” (it was an away game). “Car.” “Uh huh”, and he went back to reading the paper. He put the paper down again and asked, “Who’s car?” “Mine” I replied. “Nope.” He said and went back to reading the paper. What do I do now? I kept looking at the kitchen hoping Jeannie would come out; she was doing her after dinner chores. Finally, her dad looked up at me, “Do you really want to go to the game with her?” I said “Yes.” He said “We’ll meet you at the game and you can sit with us.”

I would walk 6 miles to Jeannie’s house; she lived about 3 blocks from the beach. We would walk to the beach and talk. We would talk about what we wanted from marriage and all the rules we wanted; you never leave without a kiss and you never return without a kiss, you never go to bed mad because tomorrow has enough problems of its own. We never let anybody come between us for any reason. We could have an argument but when we walked out the door you would never know; it wasn’t anyone’s business. I would defend her to the gates of hell if need be. That was one of my rules with family, nobody was allowed to interfere with our family. We have 3 kids. It worked out well, quite well!!

We have a photographer friend that loved to take pictures of Jeannie. He said she had Elizabeth Taylor beauty. I said no she doesn’t, I don’t like Elizabeth Taylor. Jeannie is much better than that!

We retired and we were going to do a lot of traveling. Mother nature had other ideas. Jeannie got the shingles and it turned into trigeminal neuralgia. There is a nerve center behind your ear; there are 3 nerves, one that goes to the top of your body, one that goes down the middle, and one that goes to the bottom. The Shingles hit the corner of her eye and it went down her face. She doesn’t talk or do too much anymore; she has chronic pain. Trigeminal neuralgia is considered to be one of the most painful afflictions known to medical practice.

It’s been a good ride, a good life. I can’t complain. Now I take care of the grounds, I paint, do stain glass, and I just built my first kayak and I am considering a second! And, I still have my Jeannie here with me.”

Monday, September 26, 2016

Joyce Hough, Key Largo

“I was born in Seoul South Korea and my family came to the states in March of 1977. My dad was in the U.S. Army and got stationed in Homestead so we came to the States.

When we first arrived in the U.S. I was diagnosed with multiple learning disabilities. I spoke Korean and was put into English speaking and Spanish speaking classes. They couldn’t figure out why I was quiet and stayed to myself in a corner. I couldn’t understand anyone. Finally they figured it out and got me help.

In the 80’s my mom came down to the Keys and opened a laundry matt in Tavernier Town, and we have been here ever since.

I have been in the Keys so long, and it has changed so much.

When I was in high school I was the vice-president of Students against Drunk Driving. I have seen so many people die from it. We live in paradise but we have problems.

When I graduated from high school I wanted to be a vet.

I’ve had a hard life.

My parents got divorced when I was 5 and my dad left. He was physically abusive; that’s how we got to the Keys and my mom opened the laundry mat; she had that for almost 20 years. Now she works at Mariners in housekeeping; for 17 years! She’s doing great.

Me, when I was in high school, I got into drugs and ended up in rehab. I’ve stayed clean. It’s still a struggle, but I go to meetings and I’m making it.

When my biological dad died I received a trust fund. I paid my mom’s house off, bought her a car, traveled, and acquired friends who were around just for the money.

I have lived through sexual abuse.

I was in a car accident in 2004; my truck went through a chain link fence, flipped 5 times and when I stopped I was about 10” from a concrete barrier. I had another car accident in 2013 that I walked away from. I was driving on Card Sound when I had a blowout and hit the guard rail. My car ping ponged and spun around. Luckily, I was the only car involved. I was rushed to Homestead Hospital and they told me I almost broke my neck.

I suffer from bi-polar and paranoid schizophrenia.

I lost my best friend suddenly a couple of years ago. That hit me like a ton of bricks; she was only 31.

As I am getting older, I am learning things and realizing who my true friends are. I am pushing the bad people away.

I have learned to take my meds. I have studied my illnesses and have learned about them so I can deal with them better and do what I really need to do. I am finally able to be comfortable in my own skin. I feel like the pieces of my puzzle are finally falling into place.

I am now 41 years old and I want to pay myself on the back. I have been through so much, but I am here and I am healthy, and I get to watch my kid grow up. I have a great 19-year-old daughter, who is beautiful, independent and driven.

God has a plan for me because there are too many times He had the opportunity to take me; I have to be here for a reason. I could have died so many times. I count my blessings. Life is great now. I am drug free. I feel like, after all the trauma I have been through, that I am a Phoenix rising from the ashes. I have come out stronger.”

Friday, September 23, 2016

Jennifer Potter, Key West

“I was born and raised in Key West. My mother and father operated a charter boat business, literally just 4 blocks away from our home, out of Charter Boat row. I spent my entire childhood bagging bait and trying to convince random strangers they needed to book a once in a lifetime fishing excursion. I grew up in the Meadows in a house that my late grandfather built. I had an incredible childhood running up and down the streets barefoot and playing with the neighborhood kids.

I was always the type of kid that could talk to anyone and would somehow persuade you into buying something. I was always at the docks trying to sell the charter boat captains my million dollar ideas; I would convince them that they needed to buy whatever it was I was selling (books, baked goods, lemonade).

When I was 16 years old and attending Key West High School, my friend Leon Curry and I launched our clothing line ‘Joven Fashions’. Joven of course meaning young in Spanish. We sold our wears to several local boutiques and down at Mallory Square. Everything we made was handmade; we painted, sewed, and knitted everything (at times we would lure my mother into working for us). We worked 3 jobs and never took no for an answer. We were the type of kids with a vision, a dream, and we wanted it to work. We would go to concerts and try to give our creations to celebrities or anyone willing to wear our line.

After years of designing, I was thrown into the world of Hip-Hop and R&B. I was enrolled at FIT in New York City, I was supposed to be studying menswear design. I quit school to dress rappers. I was offered a styling job assisting celebrity stylist, June Ambrose, on the set of a Ne-yo music video and the rest is history. I met Hype Williams, music video director, on set and he quickly became my mentor. He taught me a lot about business and success.

I styled numerous celebrities for years in Miami. I traveled the country living out of my suitcase working for prominent labels such as, Gap, H&M and Walmart.

When the economy took a dive I had to come back to the Keys and figure out a new plan. I knew I always wanted to design and create. Growing up in Key West, I knew I had this unique freedom to do as I wish.

My grandmother passed away in 2002, 2 years’ shy of watching me graduate from Key West High School. She was the most influential person in my life. I had inherited several boxes of her jewelry when she passed away. These boxes sat for years without me ever wearing or touching them. Her jewelry collection, as one might imagine living on an island, was mostly seashells and palm tree pieces with the occasional religious medallion. It wasn’t my style to say the least. I wanted to find a way to honor my grandmother and wear her pieces to keep her close to heart, so I melted everything. I started sketching and the Jennifer Potter Collection was born. I think it is an incredible way to keep my grandmother alive; She is scattered throughout the country (figuratively speaking of course) in 14K Gold pieces that have caught the eyes of complete strangers.

I knew I always wanted more. I’ve been this way since I was a kid. Ask anyone on the island that knows me, they will all agree. My heart belongs to inspiring people and rescuing dogs. I wanted to find a way to give back and inspire women so I designed a very special piece out of 14K gold that reads “Keep Going”. I feel this piece is one we can all relate to. I have it tattooed to my body in my best friends handwriting to be a positive affirmation for myself.

Look. I don’t have all the answers. Actually, I am still trying to figure out life, but what I do know is everyone is fighting a battle. I have friends dealing with weight loss, cancer, financial problems, school, relationships, and I wanted to inspire them. I tell all of my friend’s daily you have two choices; Give up or Keep Going. I am launching the Keep Going campaign, which will showcase real women with real stories of strength, courage, and perseverance. I had the opportunity to shoot two women; one young lady battled with weight, self-harm, and eating disorders most of her life. I shot her as I shoot all my models, tastefully nude. You can see her scars, her excess skin, but what you can’t see is her strength. This woman is a warrior; she is powerful and let me tell you there is so much beauty in those scars!

I want to inspire the girl sitting at home who feels less than perfect-Darling you alone are enough. You are perfect and you have a light to shine!

I want to impact the word we live in while making women feel beautiful. I plan on donating a percentage of each piece sold to NEVA and the American Cancer Society. I know you don’t know me and you barely know my story, but I believe in you…. Keep Going!!”

To check out Jennifer's Keep Going Campaign go to the link:

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Jeff Wingate - Bee Keeper, Key Largo

“It was during an early mid-life crisis that I came to the Keys 24 years ago, the spring after Andrew.
I was married living in New York when it didn’t work out and I went back to Texas. I had been back in Texas for 2 weeks and I was tired of being in restaurant/bar management, so I decided to become a scuba instructor and move to paradise. Little did I know there was no way to afford a mortgage and all the other bills on a scuba instructor’s income, but I did it.
I came down and took all of my courses at Ocean Divers, then got a job with Captain Slate. I worked at Slate’s for a couple of years and got quite a bit of experience out on the boat and teaching.
3 weeks into being a dive instructor we had a fatality on the boat. I had to pull a guy back to the boat doing rescue breathing in 4 foot seas; he had had a heart attack. Welcome to reality! That was a horrible event, but that is the incident that made me realize what a great community the diving community is here. The story was on the VHF radio and everyone had heard about it. I went down to Sharky’s to have a beer and everyone and their brother showed up to pat me on the back and tell me it would all be ok. The support was wonderful and the support showed to me that day was a really cool experience.
Dave and Debbie Williams owned the small boat, Wreck Diver, at Slate’s and they decided to sell it, so I bought it and got my captain’s license. I worked with Slate for a while then went out as an independent.
We had a spring season in 2001 where the wind seemed to blow 25-30 knots out of the south/south east for what seemed like 2 months straight. No charters = no business = no money. I was burned out after almost 10 years in the biz and I began taking some classes to get some IT certifications. Then came 9/11 and the Scuba and Charter business dropped off again making 2001 the year that broke the camel’s back; I sold the boat and got an IT job with TIB (The Islamorada Bank). The rest, I guess, is history. I have been with TIB, now Capitol, ever since.
A few years ago I got into home brewing and have really enjoyed that hobby, so much so that I’m now president of the Upper Keys Home Brew Club and really enjoy brewing my own beer and exploring all the possibilities out there; making and experimenting with new beer styles. About 18 months ago I became interested in Mead a.k.a. Honey Wine, and that led me to the bees….
Bees are my newest hobby. But they are more than a hobby. I guess passion is the right word…I have truly fallen in love with the bees.
I have a friend in Houston that has been keeping Bees for years and who has regaled me with stories of his beekeeping exploits. When I decided to get into it I picked his brain, did some research online, and thought to myself “that doesn’t look too hard” and took the plunge and ordered the equipment and some bees and jumped in with both feet.
I have gone from 2 hives in the back yard the first season to 28 hives scattered around the upper Keys. I met Sarah Hamilton from the Electric Coop on a bee rescue up at Ocean Reef and worked with her up there. The electric concrete poles along the highway are all hollow and bees love them. No matter how hard FKEC tries, if there is one hole left open in the pole, bees will find it. The problem is, the linemen working on the poles get to either wear a protective bee suit or a high voltage protective suit, there is no such thing as a high voltage bee suit! When the Coop has to work on the poles that have bees in them, they have to kill the bees to have access. I wanted to save those bees and had Sarah’s blessing.
I started putting out swarm traps last spring. When bees reproduce, the old queen takes about 60% (10-15,000) of the bees and leaves, finding a new place to live. The old queen leaves behind queen cells; when the first new queen emerges, she kills the other queen cells and then you have a new queen with the balance of the bees left behind and a new hive started by the old queen. With the blessing of FKEC I put out swarm traps to catch the swarms as the colonies split to keep them from moving out of one pole and infesting another. Once caught, I relocated them to a safer place to live. Over the course of the spring and early summer I caught about 40 swarms.
I know people think the mosquito spraying is killing the bees and yes it does kill some and it always makes me sad to see it. It also affects the dragonflies and the lady bugs and all the little things flying around that time of day too, which is horrible, but that’s the price we pay for paradise. I was concerned when I started beekeeping so I met with mosquito control and they placed me on their notification list and advise me of when sprays are to occur and provide me with all sorts of information about what they spray and how it affects the insects. With all of the Zika hysteria you would think there would be a lot more spray activity this year but they have only sprayed 1 aerial spray more this year than last to date. There has been a lot of discussion about what chemicals are in use but what chemicals they are using are not really that important, and I’ll tell you why. They are putting the chemicals out in what is called a micro aerosol; little teeny tiny drops in a spray. They are targeting little tiny mosquitoes, not a big bee. The bees need way more spray for it to affect them and the spray becomes inert after 30-45 minutes. Once they spray it and it finally gets to the ground it has degraded enough that it just doesn’t have any affect anymore and has no residual affect. The spray is not lingering on the pollen or in the nectar like crop pesticides which are much much worse since they are engineered to have long lasting effects and the bees carry it back to the hive in the nectar and on the pollen and it can kill the entire colony, not just the bees directly exposed to it. I hate it, I won’t lie, but I have also been to the Everglades in July and August and know if we didn’t spray, we couldn’t live here and enjoy it like we do.
Bees have a lot of other challenges that are making it into the news and while there is some truth in most of the stories there are also a lot of reports that are colored somewhat by the author’s views and there are some really inaccurate statistics in the stories you see out there on the internet. Don’t be a sheep, don’t follow the crowd and believe everything they tell you. Not all of it is true. I see dead bees, sometimes a couple of thousand in front of a group of hives after a spray and I don’t like it, but it was that way last year and the year before that and according to some old timer beekeepers, it’s better than it used to be now that they are spraying chemicals that are less toxic. Another thing to remember, worker bees live about 45 days; the bees that are dying are at the end of their life span anyway and the sprays don’t affect the bees in the hive or the queen. Judging by the number of wild colonies out here, we are ok; just do your part.
Don’t complain about the mosquito spraying, do something. The Mosquito Control people don’t spray just to spray. They have traps and monitor mosquito levels and when they get to a certain level they spray. Walk around your yard and the empty lot next to you. Turn your planter dishes over, flip over your bird baths. Don’t let containers collect water and then sit. Don’t let standing water stay. It rains all the time here. It only takes 7-10 days from egg to flying mosquito. Bromeliads are terrible because they hold standing water inside the plant; unless you spray your bromeliads every couple of days to move the water out and get new water in it, they will hold water and mosquito larva.
One more thing to mention; the studies of the bees and where the numbers are coming from are all done through volunteer surveys. Think about who is filling out the surveys; is it the bee keeper who is having a great year and doing well and is busy, or is it the bee keeper who has lost hives and is not doing so well? The surveys are voluntary, so they don’t cover the whole span, only those areas and hives of registered bee keepers who decide to fill out the survey. There isn’t any statistical validity to them. Remember the part earlier about every colony splitting every year? If there wasn’t some death and colonies that didn’t make it we would be up to our eyeballs in bees and their population would double every year.
I do ‘host’ bee hives on people’s property. I am always open to that, but every yard is not a good fit. The yard has to fit the profile I am looking for; proximity to wooded areas, places with lots of plantings, places that are safe from pets and children. It’s a win win…the bees get a good home and the host gets a share of the honey! 
I like the idea of putting bees out there. It is a fascinating hobby and I love it, I love exposing and teaching others about bees! Bees are just so interesting.”

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Trish Docherty Gibson, Key West

I grew up in central Pennsylvania. My parents were professors at Penn State; they were in the sciences, microbiology and biochemistry. I went into law and basically had a full scholarship at Penn state; I went to law school in Harrisburg, PA, but later transferred to the University of Miami so I could work for the Public Defender’s office. That’s how I ended up in south Florida.

During the first year or two that I was in Miami, I was working at the News Café from midnight until 8 A.M., I had 30 credits of law to finish, I was working at the Dade County Public Defender’s office, and I had to write a thesis for my school up north... I didn’t sleep at all! Believe it or not, I actually made more money as a waitress at the News Café than I made at the Public Defender’s office. I came down to Key West to talk with the Monroe County Public Defender and was hired on the spot. I was planning to move here on August 1st, but there was a hurricane which delayed me a couple of days, so I’ve been in the Keys for 22 years as of August 4th.

I came down initially with a boyfriend. But as most of those stories go, it didn’t work out. Interestingly enough, I met my husband, Barry, here in the Keys after I had been here for 3 or 4 years. He‘s from Pittsburg. Our families were 2 hours away from each other up north, and we met here in the Keys! He came down on vacation and never left. He also moved down with somebody, a girlfriend; same story…she didn’t stay and he did.

We live in Key West, although as the Chief Assistant to the Public Defender for 12 years, I work in all 3 offices in the county, Marathon, Plantation Key and Key West. As Chief Assistant, I have a full case load and I am also an administrator. I do all the death penalty cases, all the violent sex offender cases; I do civil cases and regular cases as well. So in addition to my normal duties defending my clients, I also travel up and down the Keys assisting and training my attorneys. In the Marathon office I do some of the bigger trials just because they are gaining experience as they assist me and they are learning that way. The Plantation Key office is very well trained so I don’t have to spend as much time there. I also go to Tallahassee to assist my boss, and I go to the budget meetings, for both state and county.

I love my job. It’s what I’ve always strived to do. I love trial work, I really do, but it’s been 21 years and I’m ready to take a little break from that. I’m ready to do primarily administrative work. I decided to run for Public Defender because it’s the natural progression. Being Chief Assistant is kind of the training ground for becoming Public Defender. I have worked my way up, knowing this was where I wanted to go. I would like to lead the Public Defender’s office for no less than 16 years, which would be 4 terms. At that time my daughter will be off at college.

Many people ask me, “How can you defend someone when you know they are guilty?” If I had a nickel for every time I’m asked that question, I could certainly retire. The answer is that I truly believe in the Constitution of the United States. The Constitution is so near and dear to me that when I actually went and saw it in DC, I got goosebumps looking at it. I believe that this country is at a pivotal point right now and I do not want to see any loss of rights by anybody. We have this living breathing document that was created so that our country could grow and so our people’s rights would be protected - the poor, the black, the gay, the straight, the white… you know, everyone. I so truly believe in it, it’s how I am able to do this job. Without it in the criminal justice world we might as well be a country like Iraq or Iran…where suspicion is enough for conviction. It is really important to me that our rights are protected; that everyone’s rights are protected. One thing that I think I’ve brought to the table in the last 21 years is that when dealing with the victims’ families I’m kind, I’m caring and I show them respect, so they don’t feel like the system is out to get them.

Juggling a busy career with having a family isn’t easy, but you can make it work. We have a daughter, Taylor; she’s 8 and is absolutely the most adorable thing in the world! I have a newfound respect for single parents. I’m able to make it work because I have a great husband who is willing to pick up the slack when I can’t do it. I don’t know how anyone could do it by themselves. I’ve sometimes worried if I’m doing the right thing, but I hope Taylor will one day respect the fact that her mother was able to have a successful career and have a family. Can you have it all? No, I guess not; some things have to suffer. But, I hope the example I’m giving her is worth any other areas that might lack due to my choices. She will know that she can do anything and still be a woman…she can even be President!

I think that I’m showing my daughter a whole new world that just two generations ago women didn’t know. I taught law at St. Leo’s University in Key West for 15 years, and I would bring her to class a lot of times because my husband was working, so she got to see her mom in front of a classroom, with people listening to her. I haven’t taken to her the courtroom yet because I deal with people that I don’t want her exposed to yet. But, one day I will certainly show her the courtroom.

I am incredibly proud of my daughter. She is such a wonderful child. Don’t get me wrong, there are moments…! But I am also proud of the fact that I have worked really, really hard to get where I am. I was lucky in a lot of ways. My college was completely paid for, and I did have help paying for my law school. But, I worked really hard; I worked through high school, I worked through college and law school. Now, I get up early and I work, I campaign, I’m a mom... I think that things come to those who work really hard and put effort into what they do. I hope that transfers to my daughter and that she’s not one of those people who just expect things to come to them; I want her to know she has to work for them. So, I’m very proud to be a mom, but I’m also proud that I’ve worked so hard to get to this point.

When I first moved to Key West from Miami, I literally said to myself, “What did I do?” It was a very foreign place to me; it was very odd! I had moved from Philly to Miami, and then to the Keys, and it was very different! For the first year I drove back to Miami almost every weekend. Interestingly enough, it was softball that got me into the community. You know, I had met lawyers through my work, but I just couldn’t break into the community. Then I joined the softball league and suddenly I got to know a lot of people.

I got a boat because the boating is amazing here! I love the neighborhoods; I love the way we all take care of each other. It’s the people of the Keys who keep me here. Every time we consider moving to the “real world” (air quotes!), friends who have done it say, “Don’t do it! You’re not going to find what you think you’re missing. You’re not going to find the people anywhere that you have there.” It’s important to me to raise my child in a place where people know and care about each other. There is an amazing amount of generosity in this community. Any tragedy, any illness, the community is there to help. It’s just what we do.

These last few years of campaigning and traveling up and down the Keys, I’ve gotten to know about lots of gems I didn’t even know existed. I love living in Key West, but I have really fallen in love with Islamorada. I told my husband that and he thought I was crazy. Then we recently spent a long weekend up there while my daughter was away, and he has seen the light. The people are so nice, the restaurants are wonderful, and it’s closer to the mainland. I don’t know that we will be moving up there any time soon, but I can see traveling up that way more often.

I think I’m a fun person, but I also think a lot of people don’t see that because of how seriously I take this job. But, I enjoy life, and I love the Keys. When we go boating, which hasn’t been often enough lately, my stress level goes down immediately! I love to watch my daughter and Dottie, our Jack Russell, play for hours. They just run around the house and swim and enjoy life. I really enjoy being home with my family. On the rare occasion that my husband and I do go out any more, we are always ready to go home early. Seriously, we have to force ourselves to stay out past 10 o’clock and that’s fine! I guess it is part of really growing up and becoming adults; I enjoy time at home with my family so much more than going out.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Suzy Roebling, Rock Harbor

“Our family moved to Key largo in 1968. My dad and mom were both Miami natives and we were always in boats. At different times, my father, Tom Roebling, had an airboat for the Everglades. He ran a charter boat, and fished commercially for yellowtail, all while building houses. We spent many days and nights coming south for skin diving and fishing, both in the backcountry and off the ocean side of the Keys. After many trips and vacations, we five kids were ecstatic to live here full time. A few years after we moved here, my mother, Marilyn Roebling, began teaching and founded the Canettes at Coral Shores High School.
The memories from those days are like we were living a dream. The ledges on the inside of our basin were stuffed with lobster; they were stacked atop one another in June. We rarely went to the reef or beyond to fish because we could run out a mile or so to some sweet spot and return with a 15 pound mutton or grouper within an hour. Our neighbor, a native Conch, kept sea turtles in his salt water pool, and our land sheltered families of both marsh rabbits and Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnakes. The waters over the reef tract were crystalline and filled with colorful life, but our nearshore flats on the ocean side were also highly productive. We used to find conch grazing, numerous sponges, and all types of mollusks in the rocky shoreline in quantities I rarely see anymore: Deer Cowries, Bleeding Tooth, and Tulip snails. Under every rock there'd usually be several brittle stars, and sea stars, sea cucumbers and many other invertebrates that were numerous in the shallows. One of our favorite adventures was to explore the flats at the low spring tides. Living this lifestyle, I always dreamed of working some day with native wild life or as a marine biologist.
Taking some advice which discouraged that type of career path, I went away to school, where I studied and graduated, working towards a law degree. I quickly realized after starting law school, that it wasn't for me, and so I went to work in various jobs and lost focus on the career I'd always desired.
By then, the Keys had rapidly changed - and not for the better. I was appalled at the conditions of our islands after only a decade or so. The clear waters and abundant animals and plants I had taken for granted were gone, or with only a vestige remaining of what they were. Suddenly, it seemed, those quiet days and evenings - sometimes hearing only the hum of mosquitoes, and a languid US1 transecting the islands - were replaced by bustling development; suddenly more houses, people, and shopping plazas were everywhere.
It was soon after my son (his name is Buck Wiseman and he is now a new Professional Architectural Engineer in Key Largo!) left for college, that I began to notice different organizations and agencies working to help protect, repair and restore this wondrous, unique and complex ecosystem of the Everglades, Florida Bay, and our coral reefs. These components are intertwined and equally dependent on all parts to function as they have for 10,000 years. 
In March of 2005, over a hundred Rough-toothed dolphins became stranded on flats near Marathon. This event was the catalyst to propel me to step up, to become proactive and begin working to assist our ailing habitats and wildlife. After a few years and many learning experiences later while volunteering to help distressed whales and dolphins at the Marine Mammal Conservancy, a day came that a rare, live, stranded, but elderly, beaked whale died in my arms. I decided that day that I must return to school so I could better understand biological processes and the wildlife sciences in this incredible ecosystem. So I did.

I wanted to make a difference and be effective on a larger scale, as I learned that all habitats and animals are part of a web that is so complex we may never discover all of its workings, so I added more organizations where I volunteered. I rescued birds and assisted staff at the Florida Keys Wild Bird Sanctuary hospital. I applied and currently serve as an alternate on the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Advisory Council to act as a liaison between the Sanctuary staff and citizens of the upper Keys. Lately - with my degree almost complete - I help out at Crocodile Lake National Wildlife Refuge assisting with crocodile nest monitoring, exotic plant removal, building Key Largo Woodrat nests or whatever is needed. I also work with Save a Turtle to help with sea turtle nest monitoring and documenting stranded sea turtles for FWC, at Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF), and with the Coral Restoration Foundation (CRF). I find myself working in all parts of our ecosystem - unable to separate out one particular component, perhaps similarly to how this system naturally operates.
If I had to choose the volunteer work closest to my heart, however, it would be when I helped out with the Audubon Everglades Science Center in Tavernier's Roseate Spoonbill and other wading birds nest monitoring in Florida Bay. Working from boats out in the backcountry and in the Everglades National Park brought recollections of the happiest of childhood memories lived in that peaceful place of many little islands, stunning sunsets and statuesque egrets and herons.
It's never too late - and dreams do come true! I work now as a seasonal field ecologist at the Science Center assessing populations of wading birds, and especially the Spoonbills, who are dependent and bound to the natural cyclical flow of fresh water into the Bay from the Everglades. These pink beauties serve as indicators regarding the health and any recovery of Florida Bay. I am fortunate to be sharing this important work with an unassuming group of dedicated biologists who are out there almost every day to keep check on the pulse of the Bay: its salinity, sea grasses and density of small prey fishes. This organization has done so since the 1930's, and our data is likely critical to detecting any successes from Everglades hydrologic restoration. Also I have seasonal employment as a biological scientist to survey for special species in Wildlife Environmental Areas found from Key Largo to Sugarloaf for the FWC, and I guide kayak Eco tours for Florida Bay Outfitters in Key Largo.
The Florida Keys are unique and blessed, as well, with local communities of generous, caring, and hard working families. Sometimes they are hard to spot - buried under the droves of guests visiting the Keys - but if you find yourself ever in need, they are the first to be there for you, giving what they can. You can count on that. Their kindnesses have helped to make this a wonderful place to grow up. Indeed our humans are as precious a resource as our animals, plants, and waters!
How lucky are we who live in this majestic group of islands with gorgeous sunrises, sunsets, and sea breezes, surrounded by life giving waters for many creatures and by the local folks who care for each other and for our Florida Keys!”

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Joyce Nealey, Key Largo

Going Wear, a clothes closet for the Upper Keys
“I have lived in the Keys for almost 27 years. Michael and I got married in October of ’89 and we moved down after we got married. Michael didn’t think he would ever get married again, and then he met me!
Michael had been coming to the Keys since he was 15. He had bought a house down here so he could go fishing and such, and have a home for his parents. He traveled a lot then and bought it as a ‘home’ base. When we got married, we made it our home.
My parents are missionaries and I grew up in India. I have always had a heart to serve people, it is in my nature. I am a nurse and have worked at Homestead Hospital for 22 ½ years. I knew when I was 8 years old I wanted to be a nurse, I just knew it and there has never been a doubt.
My parents lived up in Pennsylvania and their church had a clothes closet. My dad was a visiting pastor at the church and every time I would go up there, he would let me go to the clothes closet and check out the cloths. That idea always stuck in the back of my mind.
Down here, we have a lot of food opportunities. We have food banks, but there aren’t any clothes opportunities. Islamorada has a little clothes closet, but there is nothing here in the upper Keys. The idea from my father’s church was still in the back of my mind, and was then in my heart.
I tried to start a clothes closet in Tavernier down by the airport. The logistics didn’t really work out; being by the airport and it was too far south. One day, on the way home from church, Michael said he had an idea; why didn’t we get mom’s motor home and use it? She had wanted us to have it anyhow and it wasn’t in great shape so she couldn’t really sell it. We had a friend who was a ‘jack of all trades’ so he fixed it up, gutted it for us, and set up hanging bars and shelves. ‘Going Wear’, was born.
I had been talking about it and had been receiving cloths donations and organizing. Well, life happens, I brought my mom to live with me and I worked on the closet, but it was delayed for a year. After mom passed, I started moving forward with Going Wear again. ‘Resource Magazine’ is doing a story about the clothes close, so that was my kick in the pants to finish the details.
Michael saw a man one day with ripped, tattered jeans on and invited him to come by and pick new jeans and a couple of t-shirts. It is great to be able to do that. I met a mom and daughter in the hospital who didn’t have anything and were being discharges; I took them some clothes, but I don’t want to pick clothes for people I want them to make their own choices. I am taking Going Wear to them.
I made my official debut at First Baptist last week. My plan is to take Going Wear to First Baptist Church (on MM 99) every first Wednesday of the month and to Burton Memorial on Thursdays, when they serve their meals. My schedule will expand and I’ll go to more places, but Going Wear is a baby right now, it will grow and we will take it to more locations. Eventually I want to be at a different location every evening of the week. I have a dream for Going Wear and am so excited to execute. I have a tendency to go 100mph right out of the gate and I am trying to slow myself down and ease into this.
My goal is to go back to school for nutrition. I help people in the hospital and have for 22 years. It’s time to start helping them out of the hospital.
Right now though, Going Wear is where my heart is. I know this is what I am supposed to be doing and I am excited to do it.”
To donate clothes, please email Joyce at
Be sure to put ‘CLOTHES’ in the subject line.
Baby and Kids clothes/shoes are her greatest need right now.
If you would like to express a need or someone in need, you can email her or PM HOK and we will extend her phone number.