Meet the Humans of the Keys

Meet the Humans of the Keys

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Wally, Key Largo

I have been back and forth to the Keys for the last 30 years. This summer I am going to Michigan to work.
I hang out at Publix for breakfast with my doggie. My biggest challenge is getting up every morning and my legs. I have PAD, Peripheral artery disease. If I walk from the bench to the end of the parking lot I have to sit down and rest at the bus stop before I can cross the road. It’s like 2 people have their hands on my calves squeezing them. It's painful, just horrible.
I am most proud of being a waiter for the last 30 years, and living.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

(Flathead) Ted Otto Hirsekorn, Key Largo ***RIP***

HOK: R.I.P. Ted. You will always be loved and leave memories for so many here in the Keys. Ted's original story is below.

Mr. Ted Otto Hirsekorn, 86 of Key Largo, FL passed away on Wednesday, March 16, 2016 at the Levine Dickson Hospice House at Southminster in Charlotte, NC.
Mr. Hirsekorn was born on January 20, 1930 in Miami, FL, son to the late Otto W. Hirsekorn and Feodora E. Hirsekorn. Ted was a corporal in the U.S Army who served in the 817th Engineer Aviation Battalion during The Korean War. He was a faithful servant to the Lord and a good Christian man who was a long time member of the First Baptist Church of Key Largo.
Mr. Hirsekorn owned and operated the Key Largo Transit aka “The Mini Bus” before retiring in 2002. Ted will be fondly remembered by family and friends as a man of integrity, good humor, and one who was full of life. He was a devoted family man and a loving father to his children, grand children, and great grand children.
Preceded in death by his children Karen Hirsekorn, Michelle Hirsekorn, Todd Hirsekorn, and Melisa Burke, sister Ida Fleming of Miami FL, and brother F.D. “Shorty” Hirsekorn of Waller, TX. Survivors include his former wife Pauline Hirsekorn of San Diego, CA, brother Wally Hirsekorn, and his wife Donna of Neptune Beach, FL, sister in law Joy Hirsekorn of Waller, TX, son Ted Hirsekorn and daughters Maxine York and Mary Cook of San Diego, CA, daughter Marcel Wilmont of Tigard, OR, and daughter Melinda Lambkin of Charlotte, NC. He is also survived by numerous nieces, nephews, grand children and great grandchildren.
****NOTICE of services for Ted****
If you would like to pay your respects to Ted and his family, they will be local this week. Please find times and places:
A visitation will be held Monday, March 21, 2016 from 5:30PM until 8:30PM at Allen-Beyer Funeral Home, 101640 Overseas Highway, Key Largo.
A memorial service will be held Tuesday, March 22, 2016 at 11:00AM with a reception to follow at the First Baptist Church of Key Largo, 99001 Overseas Highway, Key Largo.
A military graveside burial will be held Friday, March 25, 2016 at the City of Miami Cemetery, 1950 NW 12th Ave. Miami, FL.
The family requests that in lieu of flowers, memorial donations be made to the First Baptist Church of Key Largo, 99001 Overseas Highway, Key Largo, FL 33037 or to Levine & Dickson Hospice House at Southminster, 8919 Park Road, Ste. 1000, Charlotte, NC 28210.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Carmen Kelley, Key Largo -- part 3 Final

I had my first interview at CSHS in 1997 and I said I wanted to teach in Dropout prevention. I mentioned I was bilingual, that had a Science degree, a Social Science Degree and Art. My first job at CS was at ACE the Alternative center. The following year, I moved to the regular campus and since then, I have taught Physical Science, Marine Science Environmental, earth and Space, Economics, Law Studies, World History, ESOL, Team Sports, Spanish and now the Arts. I teach ceramics1-3, drawing 1-3, Painting 1-3, AP Studio. I teach just fewer than 200 students a day.

The Arts- I earned my first art award in 3rd grade. My science fair poster was also filled with drawings that year. I learned to communicate through art at a young age and found I could trade artwork for candy during my limited English elementary years. I used all of my available electives in middle school and high school for Art classes. My drawings made it to the covers of two yearbooks, the drama sets for plays. I earned money drawing people’s portraits and found it was a great way to invest the money into more art materials.

I was lucky to have two art teachers who had graduated from Pratt Institute in NY. Every summer, I made sure to attend summer school art classes and begged my parents enroll me in a correspondence art course my last year of high school. I took 18 credits every semester in order to make room for ART. When my kids were born, I would find the time to sit during their naps and draw their shoes they had left by the door, the corners in my house and their little faces as they slept.

I needed art in my life and I surprised my husband with an incredible portfolio full of artwork and so we started our partnership. I drew he framed.

My first outdoor Art show was Circus Magercus in Gulfport. 
It was an Outdoor show, that and I had no clue what a professional artist did. I was ready to learn that hanging a clothesline and placing my artwork nice and neat on that line was not going to cut it. I sold one piece and that was the beginning of my weekend shows: Straub Park, Gasparilla, Dunellon, Sarasota, Treasure Island, and more shows that I can name. By the time I had moved to the Keys I had already won quite a few blue ribbons and hung in several galleries and Restaurants. Once again, I needed to start reach out to this new community that had all of those incredible connections to the things I liked to do in life- Marine life, Art and Teaching. I rented a u haul unit and spread out my easels, drafting tables and started to paint. People kept coming in to my studio during the weekend and offering to buy my artwork, so after two years, I had saved enough to put down on a small space next to Melendi Photography.

In 2005 The Key Largo Art Gallery was born!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Five artist joined the Gallery that first year. Harry Sontag Collection, Morna Strengholt, Jacqueline Campa and Lisa Kohler along with my daughter Tere Kelley. 
That year the Gallery featured two Highwaymen- Willie C Reagan and MaryAnn Carrol. 

Two years later they displayed their art again. I have had the pleasure of painting with Mr. Reagan in his home town.  Award winning artist and a keys artist for 50 years, Dan Lawler joined the Gallery that same year. Today, the Gallery represents 29 Award Winning artists.

Giving Back to the Community-
I don’t know which came first my need to donate art to the Community or the Community asking me to donate art for a cause. I just know that I learned to communicate through art and it has been there for me all my life and I now have the opportunity to use art to help others. On the top of my list, children come first, pets and the homeless. We have donated to Habitat for Humanity, Hospice, Marvelous Pet rescue , Humane Society, League for Cancer Research, Locals in need, Rotary fundraisers, Kiwanis, Mariner’s Hospital, Relay for Life, Safety Patrol, and many more. 
This is the 4th year for the CSHS Art Show.

My art depicts a combination of my two cultures, my love for the environment, the colors of a coral reef, the blue greens of the Caribbean waters, royal palms of my past, Guayabera dressed men, the smell of a good cigar, the sounds of the dominoes and the rhythm of salsa music. Memories can’t be erased, imprinted in my mind is my home in Calimete, the rocky intertidal by my grandparents’ home, the sugar cane fields by the countryside and the white sands of Varadero Beach.

I have learned that the past molds the future, experiences you have make you strong, and people you meet build you character.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Carmen Kelley, Key Largo -- part 2

Welcome to Miami, Bienvenidos a Miami. (1962) Through immigration to a relative’s home on Biscayne My parents were both Doctors. My father an MD and my mother a PhD. Both graduated from the University of Havana, the same University and years where Fidel had attended law school. Here they were now in Caracas, in exile with two degrees that were not accepted. You do whatever it takes to survive in a new land, My father sold fruit on the street, my mom washed hair and the hairdressers downstairs, my grandfather, a top executive and head of sales on the island for a Cheese company Guarana Y Nela in Havana, sold ice cream in the park. My grandmother took comfort in caring for us during the day.
It took 4 months until my uncle and aunt, my cousin Ani’s parents and her little brother Gerry were able to leave Cuba and join us. Now we had another member of our family who could work. My godfather, my uncle Tico was a CPA. His skill would allow us to move to a larger apartment.
A Good education in Venezuela is limited to those who can pay. Every day my aunt, mom and grand mom would take us for walks to visit the Catholic schools nearby hoping one of them would allow us to attend. Every day we would be refused to go to school because we could not pay. Every day we headed out to a new school. This day was different. The Immaculate Conception, one of the kindest group of nuns I will be ever grateful to for the rest of my life took us in and we started school. We would be picked up by the bus in front of the apartment building and dropped off in the afternoon. A very kind and very rich and influential family had sponsored us to continue our education in a strange country. I had my first Communion at their home, they bought me the dress, long and beautiful like their daughters, the party was amazing and the gift changed our lives forever. I was given a pair of earrings that I was not allowed to refuse. Two aquamarines that many years later I was told paid for the visa and tickets to Miami where we started the next chapter in our journey, except here we were called refugees. My parents would never have accepted a hand out.
I saw President Kennedy and Jacqueline Kennedy in his convertible! Just before we left, we had stayed home sick and saw a commotion on the main Highway to the American Embassy. We had no radios, no TV so news was just word of Mouth. Today was a special day, the American President was visiting the American Embassy. The streets were blocked and The President of the United States and the first lady drove past our building in a convertible, I know they waved up at us on our balcony. My dad hung the Cuban and American flags in their honor.
for a few weeks, to the projects. The only help we received was from a church who provided, Velveeta cheese, powdered milk and bread. My father worked for several months and was able to purchase an old car that could take us through the Everglades to a town called Tampa. There my dad had a Doctor friend who had gotten him a job as an orderly in the Hospital. So our lives would continue to change and our family would continue to grow. My youngest brother was born. And that’s the year I entered an American school. My brother and I were the only Cubans who had ever attended that school. I loved to learn and I wanted to communicate so I drew pictures, lots of pictures, and gave them away made lots of friends.
Spot, Dick and Jane! My first book in third grade introduced me to different sounds. By the end of the year I was reading Charlotte’s Web and Winnie the Pooh. I could take the books home and they were free!
Education: never stop learning. Knowledge is powerful
My father read too, he worked nights in the Hospital and studied during the day. He was preparing to take the foreign board exam. For the next seven years, An English dictionary next to a stack of medical books on our dining room table. My mom’s PhD served as an equivalence of a high school education and she too would study. My father became the oldest resident at the hospital, took his state board and hung his Medical and opened his practice when I entered high school. My mom earned a Masters and taught in public schools for 25 years. Ten years after arriving in this country I became an American citizen, graduated from high school and started college I graduated from High school in 1972. If you work hard you can achieve just about anything. We did not have government help back then, we had family. My parents and grandparents were my heroes. I learned that I was the only person who had control of what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. But I wanted to be all kinds of things so college I took art classes Sociology classes, history classes and graduated with a Social Science degree, added Art and Teaching.
My life changed my last year of college. I met the love of my life. Pennsylvania transplant to Florida, my husband Jack has been my soul mate for 40 years. Jack, An incredible gentle, intelligent, hardworking man who has stood by me throughout all of my crazy life. We have three amazing children.
My life as a teacher and a lifelong learner:
I needed to go to work after my third child. My first job was in a Catholic school. I accepted the challenge of teaching out of field, how hard could it be so I taught Science and Math to third and fourth grade. Four years later we moved to Ft Myers and there again, I taught Math and Science. I went from a private school to a Public school where I became the Dropout prevention teacher at Lee Middle School. I had found my calling! I believe life experiences can lead you through many different paths in life. My neighbor and friend in St Pete who was the Director of the Florida Institute of Oceanography introduced me to the principal in Ft Myers. This job in 1989, would someday bring me to where I live today. I had inner city school kids and with the help of an incredible assistant principal, we rounded up enough money to bring my class, 28 students to the Florida Keys. We stayed at Keys Marine lab, where for the first time in their lives, my students had an opportunity to snorkel, collect specimens, use seine nets and walk work side by side with scientists to learn hands on what they had been ignoring in school books. This became real and they were the scientists for the day. In Long Key what they experienced, went beyond data collection. With a purposeful focus on saving the environment the students studied the marine plants and animals with a heartfelt approach that made this style of teaching meaningful. These students were the first young group ever invited to the State owned facility. These same students along with the rest of the school wrote over 500 letters to state legislators urging them to buy the facility when a developer had threaten to convert it into a time sharing condominium. Here all levels of students were equal, working side by side and the learning was fun. My life as a teacher was just beginning. That year I was nominated teacher of the year and was selected as one of 33 teachers in the state of Florida to become a Lead teacher at sea through a grant written by The Florida Institute of Oceanography and a consortium of 5 different counties. Unfortunately my husband was transferred back to St Pete and I was on the hunt for a new job in a new school. I was hired at Dixie Hollins High school on my first and only interview. I had told them I wanted to work in the dropout prevention Program and I was bringing a Grant Program into the school through the Florida Institute of Oceanography- USF campus based right there in of Pinellas County.

I was chosen to be a Lead teacher for Project Seas, (an Education Grant through the Marine Science Dept. USF and Fla Institute of Oceanography) and taught on board a research vessel from 1989- 1997.Along with 33 other teachers I learned from the best research scientists, through a 2 year grant that allowed me to work on my science degree. I taught hundreds of teachers at Sea and on land from Layton to Marathon to the Dry Tortugas and back. My final project was to create a program that would encompass hands on learning and bring meaning to science and research into the classroom.
The beginning of The Oceanography Camp for Girls 1991- at the University of South Florida Marine Science Bayboro campus.
I proposed a grant possibility to the Science Director for Pinellas County that would encourage girls entering 9th grade to select courses in science that would not be limited to just biology or environmental science. I wanted to include Chemistry, Geology and Physics as part of a summer camp that would incorporate all the of the components of Oceanography. With the help and support of the Florida Institute of Oceanography and all of the professors and grad students at Bayboro USF Campus the Oceanography camp for Girls received a grant from the State for 25,000 dollars for a two week camp. For the next three years that I spent running the camp the grant jumped to 250,000 dollars, doubled the time and resources and organizations as well as the research vessels that made it possible for students to learn at Sea. The camp is still going strong after 25 years.
While teaching at the high school, running a camp and raising a family, I would also spend time teaching teachers. In 1996 my husband was once again transferred, this time to Dade County. I had to leave the school, the camp and explain to my 3 high school and now middle school that we were going to live in the Keys.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Carmen Kelley, Key Largo -- Part 1

"Only Oppression should fear the full exercise of Freedom"
- Jose Marti

"Freedom: we take it for granted until we lose it.

I have lived two lives. My life changed forever the last week in October 1961 when I boarded a cargo boat packed with strangers. We were like cattle being herded into a holding pen. That was the day I said good bye to familiar faces behind guarded gates by the docks in Havana Harbor. My parents were searched, our luggage was picked over, the guards chose what they wanted; if they found jewelry they would take it and there was nothing we could do. I was only six and had already experienced the beginnings of a Revolution, the Invasion of the Bay of Pigs, the intrusion of strange men dressed in military gear with machine guns who forcefully converted our home into a school which would now be owned by the government. Names like Castro and Che could only be whispered in our home, and conversations between my parents became very private, the walls had ears. The confusion of leaving my home, family, and friends forever did not set in until I found myself at sea among strangers. For close to a week, I slept with my mom in a bunk with 6 more people in our cabin. My father had my brother in the men’s section of the ship and we met every day early in the morning to find that there was not enough food to feed the passengers onboard headed for Caracas, Venezuela. I was hungry, I was scared, and from now on, I had just changed my status from a child who descended from one of the first families to settle in the Island of Cuba in 1519 to forever leaving my homeland behind and being labeled a refugee. 

My grandparents were at the Dock!!!!!!!!! We finally docked in Maracaibo Harbor after a long week at sea. It had been a year since I had tasted bubble gum or drank a soda. That’s what I remember the most about that day as I sat next to my Grand mom, my Nena, who had left a month earlier, a lifetime in a child’s memory. We seem to travel for hours, and when we finally reached where my grandparents were staying, it was so different from the home they had in Havana by the water, where we swam and played and had family gatherings. This place was empty except for 5 little cots pushed together, a couple of chairs and lights and had many lights coming into the efficiency from outside the windows. This apartment was in a sky rise next to the American Embassy. You could hear echoes in the room when we talked. I can’t describe all the feelings I felt, happiness to be with my family, strange feelings of separation in my stomach because of the unfamiliar surroundings, a desire to explore where I was and so my new adventure began."

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Lee Sharp, Key Largo

I am originally from Memphis, Tennessee, and have been in the Florida Keys for five years. I was told by a friend of mine in Memphis about a wonderful place that I had never heard of; that place turned out to be Islamorada and the Key Largo area. So, I packed up and moved down.
When I first got here, I started playing with the Dana Collins Band. I was also working as a server at a couple of local restaurants, but then I decided to try and play music…period. It took a little while because I didn’t really know anybody down here, but so far I’ve been pretty successful. Of course, I’m always looking onward and upward.
My show is basically anywhere from Stevie Wonder to Stevie Nicks to Steve Perry …I can do any of the Stevie’s! I play music from the 50’s through today, but I’m a child of the 80’s and 90’s so I do a lot of that. I’m also from Memphis, so there is a lot of soul in what I play. So, you got Otis Redding to the Beatles and anything in between. You want it you got it. I play piano; I’m also a vocalist, and play saxophone, some guitar and some percussion. I’m trying to do it all; a one man band, a duo or trio. Whatever you like, I’ll step it up to the next level, beyond your expectations. Especially with the people I have behind me, like Scott Youngberg. We will rock your socks off. I have some wonderful friends that I play with; Scott and Rusty Lemon, and a myriad of different people who have helped me along the way, and helped me grow as a musician here in the Florida Keys.
I’ve been playing music since I was 14. Saxophone was my first instrument, my first love. Piano came second; my mom put a piano in the living room, and I thought, hey it’s sitting there, might as well learn to play it! I started playing sax in the school marching band, and eventually went to the University of Michigan on a full music scholarship. (On a side note to all the people out there: Do not let them take away school music programs. I know that’s a threat right now, but I am proof that it makes a difference, and that people get scholarships.) After Michigan, I went back home to Memphis, the music mecca of the world, to pursue music…real music. But, I was ready for a change when my friend told me about this wonderful place, and it was a good move.
There may be an album in my near future. I want to be remembered as an excellent song writer first of all. My ultimate goal is to be a song writer; to write a song and have someone like Keith Urban record it! Music these days is all so universal, you can write what you actually feel, and then let other people put the beat they want on it and shape it to whatever genre they want. I want to reach a large audience with my music, not just one area or one genre.
In the last few years, I’ve been playing shows from Orlando to Key West, and back and forth and back and forth. Someone actually wants me to go play in Cape Cod for a few weeks, and another person from New Jersey said I could play up there this summer as well. So, there are things in the pot! I’m putting in ingredients, stirring it up, boiling it down, and we’ll see what happens. I love what I do; very few people get to do what they actually love. We all complain about our jobs. No one is exempt from that. But I truly love my job. Even if I won the lottery, I would keep playing (I would just buy better equipment and more toys!) Sammy Hagar bought a tequila company and made it huge, then sold it for 400 million dollars. So, here he has four-hundred million dollars in his pocket, and he still plays these festivals for five thousand, or maybe even three. Because he’s the Red Rocker, and that’s what he does, what he loves.
The keys are my home. I just love the people here. It’s extremely laid back. I can go fishing if I want to; I just go right over there. I can go swimming if I want to; I just go right over there. And, I don’t have to be cold. That’s important to me. Plus, there are always tourist coming in and out, so I get to meet new people all the time. The people who come down to the Keys want to get away from the big city hustle and bustle. They want to come down here, have a good time, meet the musicians, meet the caterers and the bartenders; they are really interested in what you’re doing, how you got down here.
I love the Keys. I like getting out on the water, and I’ve had some interesting adventures. I fell off a boat once, and fell off a jet ski once. The first time I went stone crabbing…(I didn’t even know you could do that!)… I went out with friends who had traps set. They made me pull them by myself and its hard work. Then you have to get them out of their shells, and they have claws. So, yes, I got pinched a few times. But, then I got to eat them!
I go to a lot of benefits and events for causes, like the Relay for Life - which is going to be cool, by the way. That’s how we do things in the Keys. If somebody is hurt or needs help, we get together and help them fix it. No questions asked. That’s what I really love about this community. A lot of people won’t do that. The community is what keeps me here. It took a while, but I feel like I’ve paid my dues now and I’m excited that people are starting to involve me in things and I’m a part of the community.
I’m a simple man with simple needs. I love it down here... It’s fun. And it’s not cold.
(For more about Lee’s music, visit:
(Photo credit: Emily Marks Campagna)