Archive for the ‘Articles’ Category

May Offers a Smorgasbord of Fishing Opportunities

Friday, April 20th, 2018

Pier and surf fishing can be productive, but are often overlooked.
© iStock/meinzahn

Bass, bass and more bass.
For some anglers, it’s the only species worthy of their time.

No doubt bass are superb game fish, but for many anglers, fishing for the same fish year-round would be like eating your favorite food at every meal. No matter how much you loved it, after a while your favorite is bound to lose its allure.

That’s why change is sometimes a good thing.

There is almost no better time than May to change it up. The month offers excellent fishing for scores of species in areas across the state.

This is the height of the season for channel catfish, especially in the Panhandle. Seatrout are hot along the south-central Atlantic Coast, and the Keys is the place for yellowtail snapper.

Also in the Keys and along Florida’s southern coasts, May is prime time for hard-fighting behemoths of the deep: marlin, tarpon and goliath grouper. It’s also a good month to hook tasty red drum and pompano, or ladyfish, if you’re hankering for a good fight instead.

Most bait shops and charter outfits know what’s biting and where. Also, dozens of websites and apps are dedicated to Florida fishing.

For example, Florida Go Fishing ( offers comprehensive information about fishing prospects throughout the state, as well as a chart of species and peak months to fish.

Outdoor App of the Month
Fish/Hunt FL is a free app developed by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. It allows users to access fishing and hunting regulations, get weather and seas information, and determine sunrise and sunset times. Users can even buy and download hunting and fishing licenses and permits from their smartphone.

What’s Special About May?
National Bike Month
National Wildflower Week (May 7-13)
May 12, International Migratory Bird Day
May 16, Love a Tree Day
May 18, National Bike to Work Day

Got a Tip or a Whopper?
Send us your favorite outdoor tip, photo or story. If selected for publication, we will send you $25 for one-time use. Tell us the story behind the picture, and remember to identify people and pets. Email your submission to

Many of Curtis Condon’s fondest memories involve outdoor adventures with friends and family, whether fishing with old school buddies, backpacking in the mountains of the Northwest with his sons, or bird-watching along the Gulf Coast with his wife. He feels fortunate having the opportunity to write about the outdoors and other subjects for more than 30 years.

Cruising for the Time of Your Life

Friday, April 20th, 2018

A passenger gets a scenic view from the top-of-the-ship zipline. Many cruise lines also have climbing walls for active guests.
Photo courtesy of MSC

Looking for a luxury getaway without spending a fortune? Check out a cruise from one of Florida’s five port cities: Ft. Lauderdale, Jacksonville, Miami, Port Canaveral and Tampa. If flexible, you can pick up last-minute deals for a weekend, a week or longer.

Cruise ships as floating cities, with anything and everything you need: plentiful food, diverse entertainment, comfortable staterooms, activities for all ages and shopping.

The MSC Seaside (—the flagship of the Italian-based line—launched its maiden season in December 2017, sailing to the Caribbean. Billed as “The High-Tech Cruise Ship,” common areas feature futuristic black, gold and chrome décor.

Guests board through a soaring four-story atrium with lighted crystal curved staircases, lots of glitz and an elevated stage for live music.

The 5,600-passenger ship is packed with amenities: ziplines, giant waterslides, an aquapark, specialty fine-dining restaurants, a Balinese spa and theatrical shows ranging from tributes and famous entertainers to Broadway hits and a 45-minute adaptation of Puccini’s “Madame Butterfly.”

Carnival, Celebrity, Disney, Norwegian and Royal Caribbean also provide options to the Caribbean and the Bahamas, with ports of call including Nassau, Jamaica, Bermuda, St. Thomas, Cozumel, the Grand Caymans and San Juan.

The best way to get your feet wet with cruising is to start with a short trip, a long weekend or a four-day adventure. Surf the internet for deals, then pack up the kids or that special someone and head out for life on the sea.

Think Small
Digital media company PureWow named Micanopy, just south of Gainesville, as Florida’s cutest town.

Nicknamed “the little town that time forgot,” Micanopy embodies classic old Florida with moss-draped oaks, rambling two-story Victorian homes and a historic district listed in 1983 to the National Register of Historic Places.

In 1991, it was the backdrop for the film “Doc Hollywood,” starring Michael J. Fox.

Check out another relaxing and laid-back town—Perdido Key—near Pensacola. According to The Active Times, pristine beaches, unspoiled parks, a wildlife preserve and minimal traffic make it a hidden gem.

Traveling While Pregnant
If you are pregnant, here are tips from Huffington Post about enjoying a vacation:

  • Schedule your trip during the second trimester, after you have had your bouts with morning sickness. Dr. Aron Schuftan, co-founder of Embrace Her Health and its free Pregnancy Companion mobile app, suggests traveling between 20 and 30 weeks.
  • Choose a domestic destination to avoid uncertainties about unsafe drinking water or contaminated food.
  • Carry copies of prenatal records and medical notes.
  • Plan ahead and locate the closest hospital or medical facility to your destination.
  • Travel by car for more pit stop flexibility for bathroom breaks, to stretch your legs and get fresh air. It also helps if emergency medical care is needed.

Florida native and travel enthusiast Pamela A. Keene is a freelance journalist who specializes in travel, gardening, personality and feature writing. She is also a photographer and accomplished sailor. Her website is

Staying On Track

Friday, April 20th, 2018

Few things capture our imagination and connect us to the past the way the iron horses of yesteryear can. These 19th century machines trigger deep memories—either good or bad, depending on our relationship to them. For most, trains represent freedom, progress and the romantic wonder of the Old West. To others, they are grim reminders of wartime and Holocaust nightmares from Europe.

Growing up, I was fascinated by both real trains and models. I remember Little League baseball games temporarily halted as a whistling engine and rattling boxcars passed the field.

I still get goose bumps when I hear a train whistle.

Photographers are often drawn to trains and the railroad culture. One of my all-time favorite photographs, “Hotshot Eastbound,” was made by O. Winston Link in 1956 of a train passing a drive-in theater in West Virginia.

I have a student who began photographing trains before he was in high school. His love of trains—shared with his father—set him on the photographic path he now follows.

I must begin with a safety warning. These big, beautiful, romantic machines can be deadly. A train cannot maneuver or stop quickly.

I am sadly reminded of a former student and dear friend who watched in helpless horror as his brother, who he was photographing for a fashion shoot, was struck and killed on the tracks by a train.

Another warning: The tracks and trestles are property of the railroad. Walking or playing on them is trespassing.

I remember walking across a trestle in Virginia to get in better position to photograph an oncoming train when I was whisked into a car and detained by railroad officials. Thankfully, they didn’t arrest me. It is not only illegal, it is extremely dangerous and dumb to navigate trestles, especially with a train coming.

Warnings aside, photographing trains can be challenging and rewarding. Consider these techniques:

  • Scout locations for the best perspective. Often, the landscape the train passes through is more interesting than a close-up of the train itself. Be prepared to wait. Freight trains are hit and miss. Passenger trains are easier because routes and times are posted. Sometimes getting above a train on an overpass is the best angle to see the shape and length of the train.
  • Using a slow shutter (1/15th or slower, maybe even a half a second) can help create a picture that captures the feeling of motion while dragging and smearing trails of color across the frame. Panning works best if you have clutter—trees, poles and wires—rather than a clean landscape of sky.
  • A fast shutter speed, say 1/500th and above, will freeze the motion if you want to see details: texture, words, graffiti or faces of people.
  • Use a telephoto lens 300mm or more straight-on to squeeze together the field of view so things near and far appear to be on the same plane, with background elements appearing closer and larger than they are. This can create a feeling of power and urgency. The greater the lens magnification, the more subjects will be compressed.
  • Consider using foregrounds to add depth and make pictures more than one-dimensional, creating a cause-and-effect narrative while also providing context and scale.

There is something nostalgic, even magical, about hearing the whistle of a train on a silent morning and watching a mighty metal steed appear, snorting smoke from its nostrils. It’s even better when you capture and forever preserve those images in camera.

David LaBelle is an internationally known photographer, teacher, author and lecturer. He has worked for newspapers and magazines across the United States and taught at three universities. He applies many of the lessons he learned during his magical boyhood years in rural California to photography. For more information, visit

Powering the Community

Friday, April 20th, 2018

Planning Engineer Jimmy Vallejo never imagined working at an electric utility until Peace River Electric Cooperative hired him as an intern. He is now a full-time employee who enjoys the camaraderie of the utility.
Photo by Mark Sellers

Electric utility jobs fuel local economies and the nation

Electric utilities offer much more to their communities than instant gratification at the flip of a switch. Aside from supplying the lifeblood of our nation—electricity—the industry provides an asset crucial to the prosperity of every community: jobs.

Electric utilities bring working professionals in communities across the country competitive pay, a sense of community and stable career opportunities.

In 2017, the leading public power associations—the American Public Power Association, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association and Edison Electric Institute—joined forces to produce a study about the power sector’s economic benefits in the nation’s job market.

The report found nearly 2.7 million jobs across the United States are directly provided by the electric power industry, including employees, contractors, supply chains and investments. This creates a ripple effect, supplying more than 4.4 million additional jobs that support the industry.

In total, that is 7 million American jobs, or about 5 percent of all jobs in the United States, according to the public power associations’ report published by M.J. Bradley & Associates LLC.

“The direct jobs within the companies, cooperatives and municipally owned enterprises number just under half a million, and these are well-paid jobs,” says Paul Allen, senior vice president at M.J. Bradley. “The median annual wages for direct electric power industry employees were $73,000 in 2015. This is twice the national average.”

Many Options Available
Jobs available at utilities are diverse—from hands-on linework and system planning to accounting and management, says APPA Vice President of Education and Customer Programs Ursula Schryver.

On a local level, these positions are filled by neighbors, loved ones and residents who help local economies thrive.

“Public power utilities are unique in the electric utility space as they are community-owned and not-for-profit,” says Ursula. “This presents a unique opportunity for qualified individuals to work in an exciting and challenging field while supporting their community.”

A Chance to Stay Home
What does this mean for people looking for a job?

Take Gary McCaskill, a senior lineman at Escambia River Electric Cooperative.

In 1979, Gary started his career right out of high school as part of the right-of-way crew. He says a desk job was never in his plans.

Through classes and on-the-job training, he advanced to become a lineman while remaining in the town he has always called home.

“I was born and raised here, and anytime I go anywhere I know everybody,” says Gary. “It is just great working for people around here that you know. I wouldn’t want to work anywhere else doing this kind of work.”

On average, electric utility employees work in the industry for more than 15 years, in careers that support their families and allow them to put down roots in their communities, according to the M.J. Bradley report.

In his 30 years at EREC, Gary says he has enjoyed learning about electricity and watching his utility grow, including upgrading from one bucket truck to eight.

Most of all, he says his work for the community has been rewarding.

When disaster strikes, Gary and his fellow EREC linemen answer the call for local residents, and occasionally travel to other utilities throughout the state to help restore power.

Five times, Gary has been deployed to other cooperatives, including Peace River Electric, Clay Electric and Choctawhatchee Electric.

“We do a lot of stuff for people,” says Gary, who adds that the community response makes him proud. “It is a good job knowing you get the lights back on.”

Next Generation Steps Up
When Gary retires, he will leave behind big boots to fill.

As baby boomers reached retirement age in 2010, the industry reeled. There was concern whether younger generations would step up to replace the professionals who had spent their entire careers building the electric utility industry into what it is today.

The fear was there would not be enough skilled labor to fill the technical positions required and being vacated at electric utilities.

That was eight years ago. Retirements and new recruitment are still big topics of conversation.

The Center for Energy Workforce Development’s 2017 survey reported that between 2012 and 2014, the number of employees with the potential to retire in the next one to 10 years declined 7.4 percent.

While the mass exodus may be slowing down, many utilities have put infrastructure in place to continue recruiting and training the next generation of workers.

Peace River Electric started an internship program as a possible succession plan for a retiring engineer. The internship introduced Jimmy Vallejo to opportunities in the electric utility industry.

Jimmy knew he wanted to be an electrical engineer, but he had not considered a career at an electric utility. With the help of his guidance counselor at South Florida State College, Jimmy landed the internship at Peace River.

Little did he know it would shape his future.

“As a student, I didn’t know what industry to get into,” says Jimmy. “Peace River was the first to reach out to me and give me the opportunity. I didn’t really look for anything else outside of that.”

Jimmy started his internship in 2015. He was hired as a full-time planning engineer when he graduated in 2017.

Jimmy now helps plan distribution service for subdivisions and redesigns new substations.

When it comes to on-the-job experience, Jimmy says his internship taught him the skills he needed to be a successful utility worker.

“They really didn’t teach anything like this in the classroom,” he says. “All this stuff I’ve been doing is new to me.”

Jimmy says an unexpected perk of working at Peace River Electric is the kinship among employees. He notes that fellow engineers at the cooperative embraced him.

“I think the people I work with really got me into this spot and made everything a lot easier,” says Jimmy. “Everyone in engineering are humble, God-loving people. They got me in there, and I want to stick with it.”

Job Diversity Attractive
For Jimmy, working at a utility is anything but mundane.

“I do something different every single day,” he says. “Just being able to do things differently and not being in the office everyday makes it feel like it is not just one job, it is a lot of jobs—and that is what I enjoy doing.”

The power industry is broad and complex, with many roles that require specialized skills and training. There are a variety of roles people can fill, reinforcing the vital role the industry plays in the local community.

“For small communities, the jobs in the electric industry are particularly important for several reasons,” says Paul of M.J. Bradley. “The power industry needs people to provide customer service and billing information. The power industry needs people to communicate with the public. The power industry needs accountants and economists, and it even needs lawyers. Taken together, these skills provide the backbone of the economy everywhere and contribute to the base of knowledge and stability in every community.”

Depending on the size of the community, many utility workers become well-versed in a wide range of skill sets. This can be a result of new positions coming available to meet new needs. In other situations, utility workers take on new responsibilities.

Advancement Potential
For Jason Richards, a new position at Florida Keys Electric Cooperative meant a way to expand his skills and better serve his community.

Jason started on the right-of-way crew right out of high school 27 years ago. When a utility forester position was proposed at Florida Keys Electric Cooperative, Jason pursued it even before it officially came into existence.

“FKEC redid the work chart, and it was a job that was going to come open eventually,” says Jason. “I went ahead and prepared for the certification so I could be ready for the job.”

Jason became a certified arborist and, as he says, “the rest is history.”

His daily work includes supervising utility crews and communicating with members about trees that need to be removed. During his 14 years as utility forester, Jason has refined his workflow to better serve those in the utility’s service territory.

“Most of the houses here are on small lots, and trees play a crucial role in the landscape,” says Jason.

Recognizing this, Jason and his team started the Trade-a-Tree program. FKEC removes a problem tree and plants a suitable native species tree on the property—one that will not interfere with power equipment.

Planted in appropriate areas, these trees also help members improve energy efficiency.

“We are very community-minded, and we’re really invested in our community down here,” says Jason.

Pursuing the Successors
After spending his entire career at an electric utility, Jason says he enjoys educating high schoolers about the benefits and opportunities of working at an electric utility.

“I talk to the students in schools because I was in their boat,” says Jason. “I didn’t want to go to college. I tell them that if you’re not looking to go to college, this is an industry that has openings. You can make a good living for your family.”

In reflecting on his career, Jason notes the rewarding work and the people he gets to work with. He considers them family.

“We’re all the same community,” says Jason. “Whenever someone needs help, we’re there. It just feels good to be able to help somebody.”

Whether an employee is just starting out or has spent their entire working career at a utility, what is never lost is the sense of community that powers the industry.

Public power utilities are designed to serve the community and employees with stability and opportunity.

“I think the most important thing about public power utilities is their motivation,” says Ursula of the American Public Power Association. “They strive to provide safe, reliable, affordable and environmentally responsible power to their customers. They are motivated by service—not profits.”

A Path to Success, Book by Book

Friday, April 20th, 2018

Abby Hamm, far left, distributes books to excited students at Just for Girls Elementary. Coloring books and spiral note pads are included from time to time.

Palmetto High School student starts traveling library to help combat
local literacy challenge

As a kid, Abby Hamm’s favorite book was “The Library Dragon,” which tells the story of a fiery dragon who kept “sticky little fingers from touching and clutching, pawing and clawing, smearing and tearing her precious books.”

In many respects, Abby has become the heroic character featured in the Carmen Agra Deedy tale, unlocking access to books for children and adults in her community.

Committed to improving literacy rates in Manatee County, the 18-year-old Palmetto High School senior founded “Book by Book”—a traveling library program that supplies children with reading materials.

“At 7 years old, I was already saving the world with fictional friends and exploring the sea with make-believe monsters twice my size,” says Abby. “My heart was broken for those who had not experienced the excitement of reading that I discovered at an early age.

“As someone who had been instilled with a love of reading as a young person, it was heart-wrenching to see a child denied the same privileges I had.”

Abby’s effort to improve literacy rates in Manatee County began when she was a high school sophomore seeking admittance into the Junior Manatee Leadership program.

In an essay detailing the biggest problem in Manatee County, Abby wrote about a brokenness in children rooted in illiteracy. She noted the hardships, discouragement and hopelessness spawned from a lack of reading skills, and the slim opportunities to escape from the problem.

Determined to demonstrate someone cared enough about their success to provide them a book of their own, Abby created Book by Book.

“The impact of handing out Dr. Seuss, Junie B. Jones, The Magic Tree House and other examples of literary genius is unimaginable,” says Abby. “Putting books into the hands of children who would otherwise not have reading materials available opens the opportunity to perform on grade level.”

Statistics show children who are not on the proper reading level by third grade are four times less likely to graduate on schedule, and 60 percent more likely to be incarcerated later in life.

“When I first began giving out books, all I had was a big dream, a family that believed in me and a box of classics with tattered covers,” Abby says. “From the beginning, my goal has been to put reading materials into the hands of children in my community.”

She organized book drives to grow her portable libraries, reaching out to teachers and clubs at her school and other schools, churches and support groups.

“An influx of books came to our house, and our garage was filled with them,” Abby says. “I thought we would be collecting books only for children, but a great variety of books became part of the mix, including books for adults, Christian books and baby books.

“More opportunities for distribution just kept popping up. Sorting them for proper distribution became my next challenge.”

Now, two rewarding years later, the sorting and sharing of donations has resulted in more than 4,000 books distributed in Manatee County.

“A variety of reading options are made available,” Abby says. “We want to make sure students are introduced to non-fiction as well as fiction. But the children most often find their favorites in zoo- and animal-themed books.”

Book by Book provides reading material to local schools and organizations, including Palmetto Elementary, a Title I school. It has two 500-book libraries in low-income neighborhoods. Also benefitting is an alternative school, Just for Girls Elementary, in Bradenton.

The girls line up in gleeful anticipation for free book fairs or when the Book by Book library cart arrives. On occasion, the girls get to select from customized baskets filled with a mix of books and extras, such as spiral note pads, coloring books and drawing pads.

“Rather than reinvent the wheel, I attempt to connect with rooted nonprofits like the Salvation Army, the North River Pregnancy Center, Anchor House at Port Manatee, Head Start and local nursing homes,” says Abby.

At Mt. Carmel Resource Center, recipients are both children and adults. El Crucero Church in Palmetto offers weekly tutoring sessions, where books can be checked out from the cart.

As Abby approaches graduation, her goals remain firmly planted in community service. A recipient of a Florida Bright Futures Scholarship, Abby plans to attend Palm Beach Atlantic University and major in ministry, with a concentration on Christian social ministries.

“My heart is in helping people,” she says. “My dream is to be in an internship program where, at the end, I can be plugged into a group that is making a difference.”

4,000 Volts, a Dying Man, and The Kiss of Life

Friday, April 6th, 2018

Jacksonville Electric Authority Lineworker J.D. Thompson performs CPR on co-worker Randall Champion as he hangs unconscious from a utility pole on July 17, 1967. Photo by Rocco Morabito; reprinted with permission from the Florida Times-Union

This April, many Americans will join energy cooperatives and utilities across the U.S. in celebrating National Lineworker Appreciation Day. Roughly 116,650 lineworkers work around the clock to keep 325 million Americans connected to energy, and there is perhaps no better image to illustrate the gravity of the job and the sacrifices lineworkers make than Rocco Morabito’s Pulitzer-Prize-winning photo “The Kiss of Life.”

As a young newspaper photographer for the Jacksonville Journal, Morabito was on assignment on July 17, 1967, when he happened upon a very troubling scene. Lineworker Randall G. Champion had been working on a utility pole when he contacted one of the power lines and absorbed more than 4,000 volts of electricity. According to First Coast News, the powerful current shot through Champion’s body, burning a hole in his foot as it exited, and he fell back, hanging unconscious from his safety harness at least 20 feet off the ground.

Fellow lineworker J.D. Thompson, who was working on the ground nearby, had been hired by Jacksonville City Electric (now Jacksonville Electric Authority) four years earlier on the same day Champion was hired. Realizing his friend was in trouble, Thompson’s emergency training kicked in, and he sprinted toward the pole.

In the 2008 documentary “Kiss of Life,” Morabito says when he arrived on the scene he heard people on the ground screaming and then saw Champion dangling. He snapped a single photo before rushing back to his car to radio back to the Journal’s newsroom and tell them to send an ambulance. Then he quickly reloaded his Rolleiflex camera with a fresh roll of film and rushed back to the scene.

By then, Thompson was ascending the pole, and when he reached Champion, he thought he was surely dead.

“His face—his cheeks were just blue, and there was no movement to him, no breathing, nothing going on there,” Thompson says in the Kiss of Life film.

He started administering mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to a lifeless Champion.

“I was putting air in him as hard as I could go and also trying to reach around him and hit him in the chest,” Thompson told First Coast News.

As Thompson tried desperately to breathe life back into Champion, Morabito started shooting and captured the iconic moment that netted him the 1968 Pulitzer Prize for Spot News Photography.

After a while, Thompson felt a pulse.

“When he actually started breathing, I can remember it was just like a hiccup or something,” Thompson says in Kiss of Life. “He just kind of jerked a little bit, and I knew there was some life there then.”

Thompson yelled down to workers on the ground: “He’s breathing!” He unhooked and rigged Champion’s harness so he could get him down to the ground. Just before he reached the ground, Champion regained consciousness. Disoriented, he began flailing and kicking.

“I started fighting, trying to get loose from the wire because I didn’t realize I had been out, and I thought I was still on the wire,” Champion says in a 1985 interview featured in Kiss of Life.

Thompson and the other workers calmed Champion down and lay him down on some grass to wait for the ambulance.

Morabito, having captured the entire sequence of events, raced back to the Journal’s newsroom, and the paper’s editors pushed back their printing deadline to get the photo in the paper that day. After it was published, the wire services picked it up, and it ran on the front page of newspapers all over the country and was even distributed internationally.

In Kiss of Life, the narrator notes that, “After saving a man’s life, [Thompson] quietly went back to work. A thunderstorm was on the way, along with power outages. J.D. would be at it until 3 in the morning.”

Telling his story in the film, Thompson deflects the suggestion that his actions were heroic. Perhaps for him it really was just another day at the office for a lineman. But as he recalls his supervisor’s praise after the incident, viewers get a glimpse of what appears to be a more honest reaction to how it affected him.

“[Our supervisor] was proud of the fact we had helped this fella,” he says with a southern drawl. “I felt at that time, you know, that, well, I did it …”

Thompson then trails off as he’s overcome by emotion. His chin slightly quivers, and his jaw tightens as he stares off camera, lost in the memory of the day he saved Randall Champion’s life. The film then cuts to the interviewer’s next question: “Did you feel like a hero?”

“No … no,” he says.

According to the film, Champion was angry when he saw the photo in the newspaper the next day, and his daughter, Ann Dixon, offered this explanation: “He told us that he always kissed us goodbye in the mornings before he would go to work. And all he could remember as he lay in the hospital was he didn’t kiss us goodbye that morning, and he could have easily never had the opportunity to do that again. And that really weighed heavy on his heart.”

In 1991, Champion suffered a second injury in the line of duty, coming in contact with 26,000 volts (roughly six times more voltage than the 1967 incident) while carrying out his duties as a lineman. He suffered third-degree burns to his face and hands, according to the Orlando Sentinel. By that time, Thompson was the chief of the division where Champion worked at Jacksonville Electric Authority, and he told the Sentinel, “I’ve got 26 of these trouble men (linemen are sometimes called trouble men) working every day, and I worry about them every day.”

According to a 1997 Florida Times-Union article, the surge from 26,000 volts of electricity burned off the side of Champion’s nose, his lip, the top of his forehead and one of his fingers. He spent five weeks in the burn unit at Orlando Regional Medical Center and almost six months at Memorial Rehabilitation Hospital, where Thompson visited him regularly as he underwent plastic surgery and rehabilitation.

Initially paralyzed by the incident, Champion eventually regained movement but had to use a wheelchair to get around. He retired from JEA in 1993 after 30 years of service. In 2002, he died at age 64.

Morabito, who had served as a ball-turret gunner on a B-17 with the Army Air Corps in World War II, worked for the Jacksonville Journal for 45 years, retiring in 1982, according to the Florida Times-Union. He died April 5, 2009 after a long, full life.

Thompson retired from JEA in 1994 after 31 years of service, and today, JEA uses Morabito’s iconic photo and the incredible story behind it in its orientation training for new lineworkers.

Every spring, American Public Power holds an annual Lineworkers Rodeo where one of the timed events requires lineworkers to put on gear, climb a 40-foot pole and rescue an injured man. The record for this feat is 43.33 seconds.

The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association celebrates National Lineworker Appreciation Day on the second Monday of April each year, and throughout the month, all Americans are encouraged to celebrate the service and sacrifice of those who keep the power on across the U.S.

Spectator or Participant? Think Longer and Closer

Tuesday, March 20th, 2018

Using the built-in wide-angle iPhone lens, I show a broad scene of people intensely watching the final seconds of a youth lacrosse match, at right. By taking a step closer, I watch, anticipate and record the moment of victory.
Photos by David LaBelle

Waiting a half second or taking one step closer might seem like a simple thing, but it can be the difference between static, lifeless pictures that leave viewers feeling like invested participants rather than distant spectators.

Much of photography is about moments: fractions of seconds that capture and hold pieces of time forever. An average picture and a compelling image are often measured in inches and half seconds.

When I speak of moments and moving closer to subjects, some complain such advice is fine for those using DSLR cameras, but not practical for smartphone camera users.

I disagree.

Because cell cameras come with built-in “fixed” wide-angle lenses around 20mm, you can work extremely close with great depth of field—the area that stays in focus. But as with any wide-angle lens, to capture the depth and layers of information in a photograph, you must get close and anticipate action or emotion.

When we photograph from a distance with a wide-angle lens, everything dissolves onto a one-dimensional plane. We lose energy and depth—critical components of a photograph.

Getting closer requires a bit of courage and abandonment of self-consciousness.

Many great conflict photos have been made with wide-angle lenses on the camera bodies of photographers who were close enough to touch the subjects of their pictures.

They understand a sense of intimacy or urgency is seldom captured from a distance. Sometimes you have to be in the fray to see and feel it.

Yes, you can add clip-on lenses to go wider or add magnification with a telephoto lens. These add-ons make a cell camera much like a 35mm digital camera.

A common practice I see with cell camera users is enlarging the image on the screen to bring action closer. Unfortunately, the magnification comes with the price of reduced image (pixel) quality.

Images you enlarge look less sharp and pixelated.

Using magnification is like taking a magnifying glass to a TV screen. You are better served to shoot without magnification—which preserves the integrity of the image file—and enlarge the image in Photoshop after the fact.

Most cell cameras have a fixed aperture of around f.2—the widest lens opening—so they can handle low light fairly well. My iPhone is 2.2.

The ongoing quest for photographic craftsmanship—whatever camera you use—is to see all four corners of the frame, fill the viewfinder only with the desired content and press the shutter button at precisely the right moment to capture the scene you have anticipated or envisioned.

It sounds easy, but few true photographic artists have mastered this. The late Henry Cartier Bresson, who I have often quoted, did not believe in cropping his pictures after the fact. What he saw and captured in the 35mm viewfinder is what he shared.

He was an artist indeed.

Once you get past selfies and posed pictures, recording real storytelling moments with a cellphone requires courage, anticipation and luck.

When you think you are close enough, take one step closer and fill the frame.

Trust me, you will see how different your pictures feel.

You might also practice moving close to subjects, hold your composition, then allow the movement—the action—to move into your frame.

Average pictures suddenly come alive with energy, movement and depth.

Above all, have fun, experiment and please shoot more than one frame.

David LaBelle is an internationally known photographer, teacher, author and lecturer. He has worked for newspapers and magazines across the United States and taught at three universities. He applies many of the lessons he learned during his magical boyhood years in rural California to photography. For more information, visit

A Chainsaw Masterpiece

Tuesday, March 20th, 2018

Michael Von Schroth carves an eagle in flight using one of his chainsaws. After completing the carving, he power-sands the piece, then uses a torch to burn the wood, bringing out the texture and wood grain, as shown on the bear at right.

Carver creates works of art from simple pieces of wood

When Hurricane Irma barreled through Florida in late September, an estimated 4.2 million cubic yards of fallen trees, branches and fences were reduced to an unrecognizable pile of twisted branches, exposed roots and stumps.

That left woodcarver Michael Von Schroth with plenty of raw material.

From November to early April, Michael sets up shop near Gators’ Crossroads Restaurant and Bar at the intersection of U.S. 41 East and San Marco Road in eastern Collier County.

“It was pure serendipity,” he says of his winter locale in Naples. When not in Florida, Michael is in Dahlonega, Georgia.

What started as a hobby now supports Michael and his family.

“Before I started to carve, I did mostly odd jobs and construction work,” he says, noting he was inspired by a friend from Missouri who carved tiki faces with a chisel and mallet. “My brother Kevin and I carved together throughout the 1990s. Our sons eventually picked it up.”

Currently, his stepson, Luke Parker, and a family friend, Devonte Young, help him with finish work. When they have mastered their apprenticeships, Michael says, they will begin carving.
“Around 1990, I started using chainsaws,” Michael says.

His tools of the trade are a Husky for big jobs, a Stihl for medium-sized tasks and an Echo for detail work.

“I started for the fun, attention and love for creation,” Michael says. “I still wake up after 29 years with the same passion.”

He estimates he has created around 100,000 figures. His specialty is marine and wildlife figures, such as dolphins, pelicans, eagles, sea turtles, owls and bears. He also makes short totem poles.

“I try to carry a variety of everything because people are traveling from different places and may want marine life even though I may be in the mountains of Georgia,” Michael says. “I won’t do dogs, cats or horses because those pets are too personal. I can’t recreate a specific animal, only its likeness.”

The smallest piece he has carved was a 2-inch-tall pelican. His biggest was 13.5 feet tall. He dreams of creating an even larger, more complex piece. His vision is to show a baby dolphin’s first breath, with its mother pushing it to the surface. Incorporated into the piece will be sea creatures watching the birth.

“Carving is a full-time job, seven days a week,” he says, noting he loves to do unique commission work.

Michael typically works with cypress because of its quality and longevity.

“I want my pieces to last even when I’m gone,” he says. “Black walnut is my favorite, but it’s hard to come by. The results are beautiful.”

The genesis of each piece starts with an idea and then a chainsaw. Nothing is drawn out ahead of time.

“Everything I see is three dimensional,” Michael says. “I can’t draw on a piece of paper because I can’t see flat. I am also color blind. The chainsaw is the pencil.”

After the carving is complete, Michael power-sands each piece multiple times to make it smooth. He then uses a small torch to burn the wood. The burning brings out the texture and wood grain.

“Carving a piece doesn’t take too long because of my experience,” Michael says. “Fine, finished pieces can take up to two weeks depending on the type of wood I use. Nothing is sold without the proper, fine finish. Depending on the placement of the sculpture, the finish is either oil finish or spar urethane.”

Prices for his work start at around $150. Although he often creates the same figure, each piece is unique. He signs carvings with a black marker in front of the buyer, guaranteeing it is an original.

“Sometimes you have to change the piece midway according to how the wood grows and maintain the integrity of a certain part in the wood, which creates a one-of-a-kind piece,” Michael says. “I start from a log, knowing each piece will be similar, but one of its own.”

Michael’s shop is at 19820 East Tamiami Trail. He can be contacted at or (706) 429-7094.

A Second Chance at Life

Tuesday, March 20th, 2018

Big brother’s kidney donation transforms little sister’s world

Kayli Ward of Wauchula has never forgotten the day her brother, Brannon, saved her life.

It was May 7, 2003.

After developing end-stage kidney failure and enduring more than two years on dialysis, Kayli received a kidney transplant from her older brother at the age most girls get a driver’s permit.

He was 24. She was 15.

About 115,000 men, women and children in the U.S. are waiting for a lifesaving transplant—including more than 5,400 Floridians—because of a disease, trauma or birth defect that is causing one or more of their organs to fail. Unfortunately, more than 150 people die each week because the organs they need are not donated in time.

Kayli’s symptoms began as a preteen, according to her mom, Patsy Ward. It started with nausea and fatigue, progressing to an intolerance of the Florida heat that left her dizzy and faint. Unlike her fraternal twin sister, Kara, Kayli remained small for her age.

“It took the doctors years to figure out what it was,” Brannon says.

In January 2001, when Patsy took her daughter to the doctor for what she thought was the flu, blood tests revealed Kayli had end-stage kidney failure.

With only 20 percent kidney function, Kayli began peritoneal dialysis at home, receiving treatments through a catheter in her abdomen.

She would eventually need a kidney transplant.

Doctors never determined why her kidneys stopped working.

“When I was on dialysis, I couldn’t go to school,” Kayli says.

Teachers sent work home, daily at first, but as her symptoms increasingly eroded her concentration and energy, a teacher began visiting the Ward home to give Kayli the lessons.

The side effects of dialysis also affected the growth of the bones in Kayli’s legs, causing severe pain and increased immobility. Eventually, she needed a wheelchair to get around.

Patsy says it was emotional watching her daughter struggle mentally and physically every day.

“We tried to do as many normal things as possible to help distract from the reality of the situation,” Patsy says. “Kayli was the kind of kid who really adapted. It made her the person who she is today.”

Soon after Kayli began dialysis, her parents were tested as potential kidney donors. They were determined not to be candidates, so Kayli was put on the national waiting list for a kidney.

“I did worry,” Patsy admits. “However, her day-to-day issues always seemed to take precedence and keep me focused. It seemed like there just wasn’t enough time to worry about tomorrow or the next day. From day one, I knew that I had to be strong and keep it together for Kayli. I could tell that her strength came from me and my reaction to some of the conversations with her doctors and nurses.”

After about two years, Kayli developed a serious infection in her abdomen and could no longer receive home dialysis. Patsy began driving her to a hemodialysis center in St. Petersburg three times a week.

The nearly four-hour treatments coupled with the 140-mile roundtrip commute meant long days for a sick child and a mom struggling to hold down a job while caring for her daughter.

“The doctors said we had to find a kidney donor soon because Kayli was getting worse,” Patsy says.

More than 80 percent of patients on the national waiting list are in need of a kidney transplant. The average wait is three to five years.

After talking with one of Kayli’s dialysis nurses who had donated a kidney to her own mother, Patsy decided to ask Brannon if he would consider becoming a donor for his sister. Kara was still a minor.

“I had to be assured that it would be safe for Brannon, since that was something I had considered as a last resort,” she says.

Brannon says he considered it “a no brainer.”

“It was my sibling,” he says. “I said, ‘Absolutely. Sign me up.’”

Despite being a willing donor, Brannon had to undergo testing and evaluation to make sure he was physically and emotionally healthy enough to donate a kidney. The process took nearly three months.

About 6,000 adults in the U.S. acted as live donors in 2017, donating a kidney, lung, or a portion of their liver, pancreas or intestine to others in need. Thanks to improvements in medications, living donors no longer are limited to immediate family members such as a parent, child or sibling. A spouse, friend, in-law or even stranger can also donate.

After receiving her new kidney, Kayli’s health steadily improved.

“It was like pouring water on a wilted flower,” Patsy says, describing the transformation.

Kayli went on to finish high school with her class.

Surgery on her leg a year later allowed her to walk independently again.

The siblings have developed a special bond. Kayli never fails to express her gratitude for Brannon’s generosity—especially on their anniversary.

“I always call my brother,” she says. “One year, I even gave him a Happy Kidney Anniversary cake.”

Now 30 years old, Kayli says that although she will need to manage her health and take anti-rejection medication the rest of her life, she looks and acts like “a normal person.”

“I attended college, I work full time as a store manager in Fort Meade and I have plenty of energy,” she says.

Since her transplant, Kayli shares her story to inform others about organ donation and transplantation. She and Patsy traveled to Washington, D.C., with a group from the National Kidney Foundation, where she met with congressional representatives to talk about organ transplantation and the importance of insurance coverage for recipients.

Her story has also inspired others closer to home.

“All my friends have signed up as donors,” she says.

Brannon encourages those who are considering becoming an organ donor to understand the impact it has on not only an individual, but a family and a community.

“It totally changes a person’s life,” he says. “My sister went from having to get dialysis and being unable to live a normal life. She couldn’t work. Now, she runs a business.”

Golden Age in Florida’s Movie Past

Tuesday, March 20th, 2018

Johnny Weissmuller, second from left, with members of the “Tarzan” production crew at Silver Springs between scenes.
Photo courtesy of the State Archives of Florida

It was the call of the jungle heard around the world: that classic Tarzan yell created by movie star and Olympic swimmer Johnny Weissmuller nearly 80 years ago.

Those of us of a certain generation remember it well, but did you know Florida factored into “Tarzan” and other great old movies?

One of the early films shot in Florida in the 1930s and 1940s, the Tarzan franchise helped put Silver Springs ( and Wakulla Springs ( on Hollywood’s radar as directors, producers, makeup artists and cameramen crawled over the landscape like ants.

In the 1920s, Weissmuller set 50 world records and won five Olympic gold medals before he turned to acting.
He starred in 12 Tarzan films and played the title character in “Jungle Jim,” released in 1948.

Silver Springs and Wakulla Springs both hosted “Creature from the Black Lagoon,” too. Produced in black and white in 1954, the horror film was one of many 3-D movies released in the 1950s.

The gift store at Silver Springs State Park has an exhibit about both films. You can see the Creature costume worn by stars Ben Chapman on land and Ricou Browning underwater. Wakulla Springs promotes the Tarzan films with an informational kiosk.

Lakeland-born singer and entertainer Frances Langford hit the radio big time as Bob Hope’s vocalist and the comedic sidekick to Don Ameche. She had minor film roles, but is better known for recording “I’m in the Mood for Love,” “Hurray for Hollywood” and “You are My Lucky Star” in the 1930s and 1940s. She was also a regular performer with Hope’s USO shows.

Langford spent her later years in Rio, near Jensen Beach, where she fished and supported several charities. She died in Jensen Beach in 2005 at age 92. Her story is told in a permanent exhibit with photos and memorabilia at the Elliott Museum in Stuart (

“The Yearling,” based on Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings’ book, was filmed in the Juniper Prairie Wilderness in the Ocala National Forest in 1948, and starred Gregory Peck and Jane Wyman. Head to Hawthorne, between Gainesville and Palatka, to visit the author’s home, Cross Creek, and have lunch at The Yearling Restaurant, which features old-Florida décor.

Affordable Florida
Three Florida cities made the GoBanking Rates list of affordable places to visit if you are age 50 or older.

St. Augustine was ranked No. 9 with living history museums and re-enactments. Trolley rides take visitors past all the sites from Old Town/St. George Street to the Pirate Museum. The beach is nearby.

Tampa, No. 22, boasts the new Riverwalk entertainment district, the Florida Aquarium, the Tampa Bay History Center and transportation ranging from streetcars to water taxis.

Tallahassee, No. 39, has more than 600 miles of trails, sunset paddles, swamp tours and fine dining districts.

Passport Changes
Getting a passport jumped in price. The $110 application fee carries an additional $35 fee—a $10 increase—when renewed at a local post office.

Save the $35 and renew by mail, if you qualify. Mail renewal typically takes four to six weeks via priority mail. For details and options, visit

Florida native and travel enthusiast Pamela A. Keene is a freelance journalist who specializes in travel, gardening, personality and feature writing. She is also a photographer and accomplished sailor. Her website is