Meet the Humans of the Keys

Meet the Humans of the Keys

Monday, August 31, 2015

Ashley Velez, Key Largo

My name is Ashley. I’m a proud Mommy to a beautiful toddler, Alexia and wife to the most amazing friend and husband, Derick Velez. I was originally born in the United Kingdom and moved to the United States in 1987. I grew up mostly in South Florida but spent a couple years in California and New York. I met my husband in 2008 and we were married in 2009.
In 1992 my husband’s father died in his arms from a massive heart attack at the age of 53. Derick’s life shattered into a million pieces. The depression was too much to bear so he found happiness in creating a clown character, named Poe Poe. Poe Poe graduated from Clown School and it wasn’t long before Poe Poe became the inspiration everyone needed, including himself. Through his character Poe Poe dedicated his life and mission to promote laughter, love and happiness and he made a positive impression of law enforcement to the children in the community. Before we were married my amazing hubby encouraged and inspired me to create a clown character. In early 2009 I officially became a Professional Clown of America, named Giggles. Not only was I officially married now but I also married my beloved Poe Poe. Poe Poe and Giggles a.k.a Derick and Ashley soon created a non-profit organization – Poe Poe’s Precinct, Inc. which operated under the name Clown Town. Clown Town was a Safe Place for children to gather, learn and play after school and during the summer. We carried out our mission by volunteering, educating, participating in community events and organized/ attended fundraisers for disadvantaged families, terminally ill children and assisted charities.
For the next 3 years we went through the process of In Vitro Fertilization multiple times. Each pregnancy brought miscarriage with the last one being in 2012 where we lost twins. After 3 devastating miscarriages we were ready for a new beginning, somewhere else. In August 2012, we moved to the Key Largo. After 28 years in Law Enforcement my husband had always dreamed of one day retiring near the crystal clear waters in the Florida Keys. Soon after we moved here he was hired on by the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office as a Deputy Sherriff for the road in the Upper Keys. I started a position at Keys Holiday Rentals, a vacation rental company in Islamorada. The owners are like my family and the job has become such a positive part on my life, both personally and professionally. I couldn’t imagine myself working for anyone or anywhere else. I also couldn’t imagine my life without my best friend, Kelly Randin who I met here in 2013. Kelly and her Family are a huge part of our lives. Our daughters play together often, our husbands are friends and Kelly and I are like sisters, even twins sometimes…. We also met a very special person last year, Jackie Harder. Jackie has made a huge impact in our lives mainly because of our daughter. We don’t have family nearby so Jackie has become like a grandmother to our sweet pea, not to mention a wonderful friend to Derick and I. I truly have met so many wonderful people in this community…including the person that asked me to write this article, Bianca Nelson.
On June 27, 2013 our baby girl, Alexia was born – 6lbs 13oz. The first year and half was tough – in and out of hospitals with infections, other illnesses and emergency surgeries. Our sweet angel’s immune system was extremely compromised from birth but after 18 months everything turned around, thanks to the doctors at Kendall Baptist Memorial and Dr. Stanley Zuba of Florida Keys Pediatrics.
In May 2015 Derick was accepted for a position as the School Resource Officer at Marathon High School. After 30 years in law enforcement, this is exactly where he wanted to be to finish the last years of his career….and what better place than to be doing what he loves the most –working with kids. Sadly on Friday, June 26 our lives were turned upside down when Derick suffered two heart attacks at the age of 52. The first one at our home in Key Largo and then a massive heart attack at the hospital. He was rushed into emergency surgery. It felt like days before doctors came out to talk to me. My whole world was on what felt like “fast forward”. I felt frightened, lost and for about 10 minutes of the 4 hours I waited for him to arrive in ICU I felt disconnected….almost like my soul mate wasn’t here anymore. I remember getting up and walking to every double door saying hello is anyone there? please answer me….. It was minutes later when I felt this tight squeeze in my chest just stop. He was out of surgery and being wheeled into ICU. After a week in Critical Care the team of doctors agreed that Derick needed Open Heart Surgery due to the other 85% blockage on the left side of his heart – Open Heart Surgery was scheduled for August 3, 2015.
August 3rd was an extremely difficult day but when the doctors came out to report that Derick’s Double Bypass Open Heart Surgery had gone extremely well, I knew life could only get brighter for us. Derick is fighting to get through his recovery with few complications. It’s been a struggle and the road ahead is long but we are positive. We have the support of friends, family, Monroe County Sheriff’s Office and this wonderful community. Derick and Alexia are my whole world. A piece of me is broken when either of them are suffering. I simply never imagined I would one day have it all, and I do. My life is full of love, happiness, peace and laughter. What more could a girl ask for?
Thank you for letting me share my story.


Thursday, August 27, 2015

Luke and Kimberly Glenn, The Luke Sommer Glenn Band, Key Largo

Luke and Kimberly Glenn, The Luke Sommer Glenn Band, Key Largo
Luke - “We used to live in Central Florida, and to make a long story short, we couldn’t make a living there; we had just gotten married and had a house but we couldn’t keep up with the payments. I said “F” it, let’s move to the Keys.”

Kimberly – “He was down here playing every month for a week and a half at a time already. We were spending more time down here than up there. J.R. Reeder, a.k.a Dad, was running Holiday Isle at night and he told Luke “son you could make a living down here playing music”, we needed to sell the house and move. “

Luke – “We had like 3 days to sell our house. The real estate lady said she didn’t think there was any way that was going to happen. We put it on the market and that afternoon she called us and told us she couldn’t believe it but she had sold our house.”

Kimberly – “We were packed and moved to the Keys 5 days later.”

Luke – “We lived in Key Largo Campground for the first 3 months, back behind Publix. It was awesome! We lived in a tent and saved our money. We had a friend on Windley Key that had bought himself a little travel trailer and he didn’t really like it so he sold it to us.

I am from Huntington, WV, but my family is from around Point Pleasant, WV. My mom’s family had a dairy farm so I spent summers on the dairy farm. My old man was one of the finest pickers I have ever known; he could play anything with strings on it. My mom wanted me to play the piano but I had no interest in it, you couldn’t travel and camp out with a big piano! She would jokingly tell me if she caught me with a guitar she would break both of my arms! I learned to play really fast; by the time she caught me I was too good to be discouraged. I would just sit and jam with music; I never thought of it as practice; I was like a kid with a video game, only I had a guitar.”

Kimberly – “He hears music and he plays it, he hasn’t had any musical schooling!”

Luke – “I met Kimberly when she was working at this little red neck bar in Sorrento FL, and I’m talking hard core red neck bar. I was on the road at the time and the band would be on the road for 2 – 3 months at a time and then we would take 10 days of, come back home, work up a bunch of new material and go back out on the road. We would go play at her little bar and try out all the new songs we had learned and figure out how well we learned them. She didn’t like the band very much because we always sucked when we played there; we didn’t have anything worked up at all, and one of the guys in the band had friends there so it was always a big party.”

Kimberly – “That was 18 years ago!”

Luke – “We played Sturgis for a while; camped out by the beer garden. We started playing Sturgis in 1994, before corporate sponsors moved in, when it was still really open and a big party. We played at the 50th anniversary. My favorite place to play, other than The Crib was the Saloon # 10 in Deadwood, South Dakota. That was an awesome place to be; great people. It was like Key Largo except for in the Black Hills. It was about a mile above sea level, and alcohol efects people diferent with the lack of oxygen. There was a big slab of concrete in front of the hotel and it was nice and cold. When we got drunk and got the spins, everyone would pass out on that big piece of cold concrete. We would go out there and chalk like them and take a picture of it. It was called the drunk front; and we all got caught in it!

Kimberly – “We have had some great times and a lot of fun! I think what we are most proud of though is the benefits we are involved in. We are part of a team that organizes benefits in Key Largo. We’ve been involved with many benefits over the years; then we met Callum and Lisa who have been instrumental in organizing. We all have a part and we get it done. The “Pirates on the Water” is another local group of fine people who volunteer whom we are fortunate enough to work with."

Luke – “The Crib has been way more than gracious. They let us use this space all the time. Many of the venues want money to use their venue, or they say we can use the venue but want all the food purchased from them; a quarter of the money is made from food! The Crib just lets us have the benefits, and you can’t get a more beautiful place. They even built us a nice stage with a roof and everything! The Whitehurst family has been very good to us, and really good to the community as well.”
Kimberly – “We like to do fundraising and we are good at it.”

Luke – “Well, when you know somebody is hurting and you can hand them an envelope full of money, and there are many envelopes, it is great! We don’t care to do corporate benefits. We have had a few people make comments about how we must do well organizing and throwing these benefits, but we don’t make any money! It’s about the community, we aren’t interested in making money for ourselves, it is all for the person or family hurting.

We couldn’t do these without the love and support here in the community and we want to thank everyone.”

Peace and Love, Luke and Kimberly Glenn

Monday, August 24, 2015

Katie Schweiss, Key Largo - 2004 Coral Shores Graduate

"I love Key Largo and always planned on moving back. I just wasn't sure when.
After high school, I went to the University of Florida in Gainesville and studied English literature. After graduating UF, I got a job running a fundraising office for Environment Florida, a nonprofit group that does great work protecting and restoring the Everglades. It was an awesome opportunity right out of college and it completely pushed me out of my comfort zone! I've always been shy, but with this job, I was immediately thrust into speaking in front of large groups of people and had to be comfortable in the limelight. So, in a lot of ways, it was a great experience for me. On the other hand, it was incredibly long hours and high stress and I ended up running myself ragged. After being a total perfectionist in college and pushing myself too hard at work, I was exhausted and needed a break. When my contract ended with Environment Florida, I decided I needed a change of pace.
I ended up moving back to Key Largo and started working at Mrs. Mac's Kitchen. I had worked there during my summer breaks and loved it, so when they needed a server, I jumped at the chance. Still, it was just supposed to be "temporary." Until I figured out where I should go and what I should do next. That was five years ago and I'm still here!
Now, I work at Mrs. Mac's a few days a week. I work enough to pay my bills, save a little, travel a lot and eat really good food. I spend the rest of my time teaching yoga at Key Largo Yoga's Studios. I love it! I'm so happy to have found something I'm passionate about! I teach all kinds of yoga, including Aerial Yoga (where you practice in a silk hammock suspended from the ceiling!) It's so much fun!
My family owns to the Caribbean Club and people always ask me why I don't work there. I like to tell them, it's because they're not hiring! Most of our bartenders have worked there longer than I've been alive! But one day, I do plan to help run the Crib. (The first thing I'll do is get beer on tap!) But for now, I'm happy teaching yoga and waiting tables.
I've decided this slow paced Keys life is the life for me. I love to be out on the water, but most of all, I love our community. We have each other's backs and that's something that's very special. I love it here and don't plan on leaving.”

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Pat and Joanne Rogers, Marathon

Pat and Joanne Rogers, Marathon
Above Board Surveying 305-340-8781
“I had developed a solar light for docks and Joanne was my supplier; that is how we met. I had been living in Florida for about 20 years when I met her, she was in Montana. We got to know each other talking on the phone. She gives good phone!
We had a long distance relationship for about 4 years when I moved to Montana and helped her finish raising her kids. We had built a big house with a pool on 5 acres in the mountains.
We sold everything we had, packed up what we did keep and moved back to Florida to live on a catamaran. We started surveying boats together and now live in Marathon and work together on both our businesses (boat surveying and window shutters) with our 2 dogs on a boat!
One of our most memorable times traveling was in Beaufort, SC. It was the most incredible Thanksgiving. There was the most wonderful party for wayward boaters at this bar. There was more food than you could possibly eat and they had a turkey bowl! The woman that owned the bar had lived on a steel sailboat with her husband for like 11 years and they always missed Thanksgiving. When they bought this bar, she would throw a party for all the boaters who didn’t have anywhere to go for Thanksgiving. Her brother was a cross dresser, dressed in an evening gown and heels, it was so much fun! They sent us home with so much food we didn’t have to cook for days!”

Tuesday, August 18, 2015


As we pulled up to Sundowners for lunch Sunday afternoon in Key Largo, there was a young man feeding the tarpon. I told him to lay down on the dock and hang the fish over, right above the water, and the Tarpon would jump up and get it. He did, and about 15 seconds later a tarpon surprised him from behind as it jumped and took the bait.
A little boy was on the dock watching and his face it up with surprise when it happened.
We sat down inside (where there is air conditioning!) and was watching a family outside at a table. It was the little boy. He was rummaging though his mom's purse as she was preoccupied on the phone. My husband thought he was looking for his electronics for entertainment. I knew exactly what he was doing.
After a few minutes he emerged from the purse with 3 one dollar bills in hand; he showed them to his mom, who was surprised and bent over to scoop up her purse and it's belongings. His face told me he was asking his mom if he had the three dollars right.
He then came in the restaurant and went to the servers station, waited patiently until a server appeared and asked "Miss, can I have some fish food?" as he held the 3 one dollar bills up.
The server disappeared for a few minutes and he waited patiently. She reappeared with a bucket and rubber gloves. He then walked back through the restaurant and outside, then ran to the dock to feed the Tarpon!
He was so fun to watch, such a kid, so full of curiosity, wonderment, and childhood that I just had to meet him, take his picture and tell his story.
Meet Joseph, he is 6 1/2 from France, but they live in New York. He is in the Keys and making the most of it!!

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Aquarium Encounters - UPDATE

HOK had the privilege of doing a story with Ben Daughtry and Aquarium Encounters back in March, and had a GREAT time! This aquarium is so cool!  (Read the original story here.)

In the 380 days AquariumEncounters has been open, we’ve had over 40,000 visitors from around the world. We are honored to say that TripAdvisor has named us the #10 Aquarium in the Country! We are also the top and only attraction in the Florida Keys that made their lists of “Top Attractions in the United States”! Thanks to all of you; each and every one of you has played a part in helping us to achieve all that we have in our first year. We are so excited to have you be a part of our aquarium family, as we grow in the many years to come!

Friday, August 14, 2015

Chad and Meagan Brown, The move

We were driving from Okeechobee to the Keys once a month to dive. After making the 4 hour drive each way for about 4 months, we decided we needed to move. We started looking for jobs and a place to live.
We finally got jobs at Post Card Inn and we were both servers at Shula’s. Within a couple of months I was promoted to a supervisor and then a few months later I was promoted again and Meagan was moved to the front desk. Just a few months later, I was promoted to food and beverage supervisor and Meagan was promoted to Pelican Cove.
I would never move, or leave a job before I had another job lined up. We made sure we had an affordable place to live, even on the lowest of income, that way we could still support ourselves. The rent in the Keys is very expensive, when we first came down we rented a room, that is all we could get, until we could afford an apartment; I was working 6 days a week, 3 doubles a week, probably 80 hours a week. It is difficult, but you have to decide if it is worth it to you.
No matter what, you’re going to have to work hard to live in the Keys. We researched jobs, cost of living, rent, and how the scale works. It isn’t easy. It is beautiful down here and all the people are great. It is definitely worth it, but you have to do your research. You really can’t just pick up and move, you have to plan it.
At first, we didn’t understand what people were talking about when they would say ‘It’s always nice to get off the rock’. Now we understand it is leaving the Keys and going to the mainland. The mainland is where all the restaurants and shopping is, including Walmart!
The Keys are not for everyone, but it is the place for us, we love it and the sacrifices have been worth it!”

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Danny Hampson

"It’s been almost 15 years since an unknown 14-year-old from the Florida Keys burst onto the scene and redefined the wakeskating world’s perception of what the sport would become. Since then, Danny Hampson has remained an innovator and an original – pioneering new moves, putting out revolutionary video parts, winning the sport’s most coveted trophies and, arguably, having the most fun of any guy in the boat."
Read the rest here:

Friday, August 7, 2015

Video Dave - Update

Update on Video Dave, from Dave himself!

Hello everyone,
Spent most of the day in Miami Hospital today. Went to see my leg Doctor hoping to get the go ahead to use my right leg 100%. Was not the news I got. I let him know that my right leg was doing real good, but my left foot was causing me more grief.
After checking it over and having X-rays done, he was not happy. It appears that after everything I went thru in the accident, no one bothered to see if I had any breaks in my left leg or foot. The X-ray did not show him everything he wanted to see, but enough to know there was a major problem.
I have to go back Friday for a Cat Scan so that he can see everything very clearly. For now, it was serious enough that he would not let me leave without putting a cast on it. I was told not to put any weight on it whatsoever. So now I am having to use my once bad leg to do the work the other was doing. He did mention that if a certain problem was there, I would need to go in for surgery right away.
All in all, I am still doing good, just more hurdles to get over. This is to keep some of you that are interested up to date on my recovery. Love you all and do appreciate your prayers.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Tony Castillo

Hello Florida Keys, My name is Tony Castillo and I'm the fourth Generation Castillo to have been fortunate to call The Keys my home. My Great Grandfather first came to Key West in 1898 (if I'm not mistaken), he had 3 sons and 1 daughter and the rest they say is history.
I have lots of fun stories handed down to me from them, but maybe for another time. I was born in 1975 and had a wonderful and adventurous childhood growing up in Key Largo. It was an amazing place. The kind of place where you don't realize how great it was until you move away or travel, and that is what happened to me.
I joined the USAF in 1994 after graduating Coral Shores. In basic training in San Antonio, Texas people would be shocked that somebody actually lived there, I kind of got a chuckle from that because it seemed like it was just something in a postcard to most people, or in a movie, or made up. I would tell them about my experiences in fishing and snorkeling on reefs and they would actually listen, it was fantastic.
My life would change not to long after basic training when I graduated from my technical school, and saw a fellow airman literally crying. I asked him what was wrong, and he mentioned that he got his orders to report to Andersen Air Force Base, Guam. I figured he would be homesick, and that is why he was so upset. Turns out he was an amateur bull rider and Guam doesn't have rodeos. Well if you know me I would do anything to help, so I told him I would be willing to swap assignments with him and we did. I had orders for Randolph Air Force base in Texas, and he couldn't be happier. I love that story because it changed 2 people's lives forever, and it was because of the humbleness of the keys in me that just let that decision happen.
As time went by I got out of the Air Force and returned home. I would go on living in Marathon, Big Pine Key, Key West and Tavernier. I've lived the conch life and with the universe working its magic I met a good friend and together we've traveled hundreds of miles in his canoe; to hard to reach islands in the Florida bay and the Atlantic. We became avid birders and photographers, and marveled at how wonderful the wildlife and scenery of the upper keys really is. It made me realize why those people I met years ago found it hard to realize why they thought people didn't actually live in the keys. Such a beautiful place.
I recently moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico, and it is my new adventure. I decided to move because I just feel the Keys aren't the same simple place I remember. I'm not being callous I just can't keep watching my home going to property developers and greedy property managers anymore. I was tired of waiting in traffic 45 minutes to go from Tavernier Town to Founders Park. The poachers from the mainland, and it's not even on a small scale anymore. (ban mini lobster season by the way).
Let the keys breathe. We used to have an off season and now the off season is between midnight and 6 am. I will always be an ambassador of the keys no matter where I go. I will always refer to it as my home, and will always love the water and its life.
Peace and good will to you all.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Jimmy McGuirl

Jimmy McGuirl lost his battle with cancer on July 22.

This was from his son days before...
Dr. Mahoney came by the other night to check on my dad and gave us some bad news. She predicts with the way that the disease is progressing so quickly that we only have a short time left with him. We appreciate all the support from everyone. All of the kind words and donations have really helped. We were all together reading the stories you all are posting laughing, crying, and enjoying the memories. It definitely brightened his spirits, but he is still very weak and can only really visit for about 15 minutes at a time. Again thank you everyone for everything.

In typical Keys form, a Celebration Of Life was held for the family on August 2.
Jimmy was a valuable member of the Keys music scene for many years.  The Celebration Of Life was nicknamed "Keys Stock."
To see pictures from the event:

The family is still in need of your help.  To contribute, please go to: