Meet the Humans of the Keys

Meet the Humans of the Keys

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Rob Stober, Tavernier

I’ve lived in the Keys 13 years. I was in Miami for ten years before that; I graduated from the University of Miami. My fiancĂ©’ decided she wanted to get her MBA, and we moved to Gainesville for a year so she could go to school. When she graduated, we could have moved anywhere. But, after living in a small town, practicing law outside of the Miami/ Ft. Lauderdale/Palm Beach area, I didn’t want to go back to a big city…we wanted the clear water, we wanted an island life style, we wanted the small community, and so this ended up being the perfect mix of everything for us. When I was looking at job offers, I found one that said, “Coastal town. You won’t get rich but you won’t go broke, especially if you can cast a net.” My wife asked where it was and I told her Apalachicola and she said she wasn’t moving to Apalachicola. So, I kept looking and the next offer was for a position at Hershoff, Lupino & Yagel in Tavernier. And the rest is history!

Before that, I was a yacht captain; full time for 4 years, traveling all around, mostly up and down the east coast. We spent about 10 weeks in Palm Beach in the winter, sometimes in Ft. Lauderdale and sometimes in Key West. It was a private yacht; 80 feet, 80 ton, one engine, 80 years old. It was a great experience. It was good for a young person, something you can’t do when you’re 80 years old! I got to meet a lot of interesting people and travel around to a lot of really interesting places. I’ve been to most of the islands in the Caribbean; I did Antigua to the Panama Canal one time. I’ve sailed to Bermuda. I was fortunate enough to be invited to sail across the Atlantic once. I raced across the Atlantic Ocean in 2002 in the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers, on a 58 feet catamaran, for 14 days, 9 hours, and 35 minutes, with 7 people aboard. We came in 11th out of 275 boats!

The first thing my wife and I did when we moved to the Keys was plan our wedding. We now have two girls, five and eight years old. We came here to slow down a little bit, work a little bit less, fish and boat a little bit more. Of course the opposite has ended up happening. We got involved with the community; Chamber of Commerce, Take Stock in Children, Justice Teaching, Rotary Club, Good Health Clinic, Children’s Shelter, and a dozen other things I can’t think of right off the top of my head. And we love it. We have a great community and it’s easy to get involved. One of the things my wife and I discussed when we moved down is that we can make a difference here. It’s important to get involved in something you enjoy. Pick something you love and do it. If you don’t love the volunteer work you are doing, you should find something else. There is plenty to do, just get involved.

One of the things I enjoy is working with Take Stock in Children. It takes low income high school students, whose parents typically haven’t been to college, and helps prepare and send them to college. If you haven’t been to college, how do you prepare your kid to go? There is an income threshold, and they have to maintain at least a C, stay out of trouble, and meet with a mentor once a week at school. You can volunteer to be their mentor; you just have to meet with them and mentor them about going to college, talk to them about different life experiences, and be an example. They get their college tuition paid for; a prepaid Florida college education. It’s a great program, and they have plenty of money to help send kids to school. The biggest drawback is there aren’t enough mentors. It’s been a great experience for me. I’m on my second student. The first one graduated high school and has entered college. It’s not going to be easy for him, but I try to stay in touch and encourage him.

I am proud of my family; my wife and 2 daughters. None of this would be worthwhile without the family. We all stay really busy, my girls as well. The oldest is at PKS, and the youngest will be there next year. They dance, cheer, swim, and take piano... We’re busy but we find time to spend together. At least one day a week I try to take them to dance, swim or piano lessons. We have family dinner together as often as we can, and love having our friends and neighbors over for BBQs and to swim in the pool; I love to cook when I have the opportunity. I take care of getting the girls ready for school in the morning. We make it work. I think it’s better than us all sitting around watching TV. They like arts and crafts; there is always glitter, paper and glue all over the house. Or they are outside playing. One of my neighbors pulled up in front of my house one day and said “Man look at your house.” There were bicycles and scooters all over the yard and drive way…each kid has 2 bikes and 2 scooters, and we have other kids’ bicycles in our yard, plus half a dozen helmets. They ride around the neighborhood with their friends like it’s the 1950’s. I said, “It’s impossible to keep it all straight and neat.” Then he said, “No, this is how it’s supposed to be!” I agree. It’s good to be busy, but you have to balance. Since I’ve started campaigning, I’ve learned to cut out everything that is non-essential. My family is essential, my girls are essential. I was a great yacht captain, but I left that life because of a lack of family connections.

I am proud of my work here; there is satisfaction in resolving problems for my clients, and as an attorney the client’s needs come first. I’m happiest when contributing to the community, so my hope is to be on the bench for the next phase of my life. It’s a natural mix with the practice of law, which I really love. I think that John Irving said it best, “If you’re going to stick around, make yourself useful.” I’ve always tried to do what needed to be done, and I think being judge is an honorable job. It’s not going to be easy, but I’m looking forward to the opportunity. I say again, find something that you love and pour your heart into it. It works well with your job, it works well with volunteering and charity, it works well with your personal life. Just find something you love and follow it.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Betsy Jacocks, Islamorada

“Growing up in the Keys was wonderful! It was very quiet. 

Cheeca used to close right after Easter and that was our playground. We would go over there and enjoy the pool, roam the hotel. We would ride our horses on the golf course; on the driving range. There were a few of us who had horses down here back in the early 70’s. Cheeca was a fabulous place to go hang out for the day. We would just take off on our horses in the morning and peruse the island until the street lights came on. It was unusual, but it was a lot of fun!

I had a kudamundi growing up; they are a cross between an ant eater and a raccoon. They are indigenous to Central America. One of my mother’s friends came back with a couple of them and ended up with one of the babies. My father got us a Saint Bernard, we had a boar, and for Christmas when I was 10 years old, my parents bought me horse. Little did they know she was in foal. We had a hurricane that year and she foaled in the back room; my mother and I assisted the horse in her delivery. Yep, we had a foal born right here at the Trading Post in the back room. They lived where the parking lot is now, there was a corral there. Parking wasn’t such a big deal back then!

There was a lot of boating, we did a lot on the water. My only rule, really, was when the streetlights came on, I had to go home; that meant it was time for dinner. Other than that, it was pretty idyllic for a kid, it was very safe. Nothing was really off limits.

My parents bought The Trading Post in 1966. It was a lot different. Tourism hadn’t really caught on yet, so our customers were primarily commercial fisherman. Like I said, everything closed after Easter, you could walk down US1, play tennis, whatever.

The Keys used to have drive -thru bars. Oh ya! In Key Largo, the tall building in the middle of the highway, the one with the mural on the side, that was a drive thru bar. I think it was called The Shorthand. There was a window on the side; you could just pull up to the window, order a rum and coke, and be on your way. All of the bars and restaurants would serve ‘to go’ drinks. Right when you got into Key West there was a liquor store on the ocean side and they had a drive thru bar; now it’s just a drive thru liquor store. Things have changed a lot!

I moved away and went to college in Miami and went to LSU for a while. I really missed the water, being land locked is just one of those things; made me miss the Keys, the water.

My father died suddenly in 1978 and that is when I decided to come home and help my mom. We thought about selling but decided to wait and see how things went. I bought the store from her in 1992. We just celebrated 50 years as a family business. It is very unusual. It will probably be 3rd generation in the future.

So much has changed down here. The cost of living, the population, the construction. I couldn’t let my kids roam the island when they were young like I did, but some things have stayed the same. The sense of community hasn’t changed’ the way the community rallies around someone in need. The beauty of the area hasn’t changed either and I hope it never does

Nearest and dearest to my heart are my 2 kids. My daughter is about to have her first baby, my first grandbaby, and my son is running the property here in the back. I am very proud of both of them.

The life style of the Keys is also near and dear to me. I feel very fortunate to be able to still live here; it makes me so happy. I never get tired of the views; to get to see them every day is amazing for me. I never get tired of the atmosphere. This is all pretty normal for me. I’m not all that interesting at the end of the day.”

Monday, May 23, 2016

Amanda Jorgensen, Big Pine Key

"I lived in Minnesota my whole life and that is where I met my husband Ivar. We lived there together for years. My brother in law lived in the Keys and we would come down to visit. We got stuck in a snow storm one year in Chicago on our drive home. My husband and I looked at each other and joked about moving to the Keys. 

Who would have thought 3 months later we would be down here? Once we were living down here, I fell in love again with ceramics; I had done it through high school and college and hadn’t been able to do it for a long time. I went to Morada Way Clay in Islamorada, met new people and turned my love into a small side business. I teach classes and have pieces in a gallery in Marathon and even do a few shows. If you can make some money doing your hobby, or at least recoup the expense of your hobby, it’s a wonderful thing. Not everyone can do that!

After a year of renting we bought a house on Big Pine Key and I now have my own small studio to ‘play in the mud’ as my husband calls it. We have a lot of land with peacocks, land crabs, and Key deer running around all over! It’s quiet and secluded – we love it.

It’s fun living down here. I expected to come down and spend all of my spare time on the water, but I actually fell in love with art again instead!”

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Jim Horan, Key Largo

“I really enjoy people. I know many say this, but I really do. I enjoy learning about them, finding out where they are from, hearing different perspectives (even the not nice ones).

I grew up in Philadelphia. My dad was in the Navy for 20 years. I went to Catholic High School. I attended 16 different elementary schools; not overseas, we just shuttled around the mid-atlantic area. My parents were divorced when I was around 9 but it was friendly so there was no custody battle; I was able to live with who I wanted. I have 2 sisters and a brother and we choose who to live with based on what was best for us at the time; I ended up in Philadelphia for High School. I went to college there too.

I was a party boy. I was engaged 3 times and married once. At 37 I was afraid I was going to be the drunk Irish uncle, so I got married. We gave it a hard try with counseling and all, but I was a party guy.

Things weren’t going as I expected, as I thought they would.

She asked me for a separation. She thought I would move across town. I had a friend in Key Largo, who was a part time writer and bartender, and he had a sailboat at Pilot House Marina. I needed to get out of dodge. I felt like a failure, but also a sense of relief. I came to Key Largo in 2007 and expected to stay for a couple of months; I thought I was going to move to New York, but I didn’t have a plan. I didn’t know what I was going to do.

I was drinking a lot. When you’re in the depths, you’re not growing, you’re not maturing. After 4 months in the Keys I got sober. That was 9 years ago. I went to AA. I was completely sober from 2007 to 2014. I drink moderately now, I don’t drink like I formerly did.

Once I came to the Keys and decided to get sober, my life started changing. I realized I wasn’t the person I want to be and I needed to do something about that. I was ashamed of the person I was.
I always had my heroes when I was younger, but I never lived up to those things; I was way off.

Those years of sobriety allowed me to come back, to like a medium, where I could think; what were my goals? What did I want to do?

So, I was sober and working out. I joined the gym. I saw this beautiful, tall, blonde, European woman at the gym and I thought she worked at the Sandal Factory. I decided I was going to figure out a way to talk to her. I was talking to my buddy and he told me there wasn’t just one beauty, there were twins. I thought he was pulling my leg; that was a story!

The woman and I talked a few times, and one night I went out with my buddy, the friend I came and lived with on his sailboat. I told him I was going to find a way to ask her out. We were driving home when I found a note on my windshield: ‘Call me. Abby”. The note had been there for 4 days before I found it! She thought I wasn’t calling.

We went out on a few wonderful dates when I asked her if she was still working at the Sandal Factory. She said that wasn’t her that was her sister. She isn’t a twin, but her she and her sister look just alike! I am so lucky Abby left me that note and I didn’t ask her sister out. I just couldn’t have made that switch. I value that note she left, I still have it; it’s in my wallet and it’s always with me. We are now engaged!

My life continues to get better. Abby and I have been together 7 years this year. She has an amazing daughter, Skye, that I get to help raise now and be a role model to. These wonderful ladies made life serious. These two gave life shape and a meaning. These two inspire me; I have goals now. They accept me for all my quirks and love me for just who I am.

I have a job I enjoy bartending, so I get to meet and talk to different people all the time. I keep my eyes and ears open for service opportunities. I have started a business that offers many services to Keys residents and guests.

Once I came to the Keys and decided to get sober, my life started changing. I have so much to live for and I am so happy.”

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Buddy Hammond - ***RIP***

HOK: Our little community has suffered another loss. Many of you may remember Buddy Hammond.

Sheree Hammond: "This is Buddy's wife, Sheree Hammond. I am not sure who to contact, but Bud has left to make music in a place where he will never know pain again. I am not very good with his phone, but I will try to be here for anyone who needs closure. Please feel free to call on me. He was my companion in every way. My family will never be the same, but will forever have him with us.
I am sorry for the world's lose. We were lucky to be in his life. Please listen to his music. I will try to post some special moments. Thank you all for being smart enough to know him. One love."

HOK: "I sat at the OV Jam last night listening to the great players and I felt blessed and sad at once. Hearing about Buddy hit me hard. He and Sherree were some of the first folks we met when we moved here 19 years ago. Buddy played bass for Big Dick and she worked at Lorelei with Scott. We are so fortunate to live here with so much amazing talent. But I'm telling you that band up in the sky just keeps getting better and better. RIP Buddy and peace to Sherree and family." --Suzi Youngberg

Monday, May 2, 2016

PJ Milazzo, Plantation Key

I worked with NASCAR as part of the pit crew and I worked for Holman and Moody for a while, Tiger Tom Pistone, Neil Castle, and a few other guys. I was in NASCAR for quite a few years, about 20. I was in Pennsylvania for a while and worked on Sprint Cars for Bobby Allen. It was a lonely life, you work 7 days a week and you travel a lot; I can’t tell you how many times I have traveled across the U.S.

I met my wife in North Carolina when I was with NASCAR. I brought her to Miami to meet my mom. We were staying with my mom and one day my wife said ‘Get me away from that women, let’s go somewhere!’ So we drove to the Keys. We stayed for a couple of months. We went back to North Carolina, I quite working with NASCAR, packed up, and moved to the Keys.

I have been in the Keys for a long time, since 1970. I have a lot of memories and stories!

In the 70’s there were druggards and cops; there weren’t too many people in between. I had to leave the Keys in 1985 because everyone was offering me money. The law wanted me to work for them and the druggards wanted me to work for them. I told my wife I was going to be killed by accident, so we needed to leave because I knew everyone and was friends with both sides; we went to Tennessee then North Carolina for a while. We were out of the Keys for 10 years. It was hard to get back, but we really wanted to be back in the Keys.

When we moved back we got affiliated with Island Christian; they had just been given the old movie theatre. Here’s a funny fact: The last movie to play at the movie theatre before Island Christian got it was ‘The Godfather’!

I have watched the Keys change since 1970. The Keys aren’t for everybody, but people don’t realize that; when they first get here, everyone is fascinated, but it’s a hard existence here. You have to have a lot of money, and for the people who work here it is a constant battle. It’s getting worse.

When I first came to the Keys, we used the barter system; there wasn’t much cash. The marine mechanics would fix boats and then the boat owner would go catch some fish and give the mechanic fish. It was always ‘I’ll trade you this for that’.
The Trading Post was the only grocery store. Mr. Jacocks would let you charge there, and he didn’t even know who half the people were. There was a code. Most people don’t understand that anymore. Even if you didn’t like somebody, if they were having problems, you helped them out. It was a brotherhood here, everyone depended on everybody and everybody looked out for each other. You never knew when your turn would come up when you were going through hard times. It’s just the way it was.

Everything was word of mouth. There wasn’t a lot of last names used, we all knew each other. Most of the people were good people. I have a lot of stories from back in those days.

The Keys has changed a lot.

I have 7 kids they are all doing well. We are all certified divers. I have had several businesses. A poor man can live as good as a rich man in the Keys, you just have to work it a little harder. There are opportunities here.