Gary Miller's Outdoor Truths Ministry, Oct. 2, 2023


Levy County Extension leader retires
Outgoing University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Levy County Extension Director Ed Jennings listens as county commissioners tell him ‘Thank you’ for his six years of service in Levy County.
Story and Photos
By Jeff M. Hardison © Oct. 4, 2023 at 1:30 p.m.
All Rights Reserved
     BRONSON –
After a six-year tour of duty as the director of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) Levy County Extension Office, Ed Jennings is retiring.


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     The Levy County Board of County Commissioners on Tuesday morning (Oct. 3) gave him a plaque and thanked him for his service.
     Jennings’ retirement follow the retirement of Albert Fuller Sr. in 2016, who retired after 28 years in Levy County. (To see a story about that 2016 announcement, click HERE.)
     And to see how an island nation honored Fuller in 2015, click HERE. https://hardisoninkarchive.files.wordpress.com/2015/10/8-21-15-hardisoninkcom-albert-fuller-honored.pdf
     Fuller remains active in civil service as a volunteer with the City of Williston as a member of a group who consider matters related to zoning and code enforcement there.
     Beyond the previously retired extension director’s active continuing voluntary service to the people, he was honored in 2022 as the 2022 Florida Jon Gould Outstanding Tree Farmer of the Year – as noted in the story, which can be seen by clicking HERE.
     To see the 2016 story and photo when Levy County Coordinator Wilbur Dean was acting Levy County Extension director, and when Jennings was interviewed by the Levy County Commission back then, click HERE.

(from left) Commissioner John Meeks, Levy County Commission Vice Chair Desiree Mills, Levy County Extension Director Ed Jennings (accepting the plaque), Chairman Matt Brooks (presenting the plaque on behalf of the County Commission), Commissioner Rock Meeks and Commissioner Tim Hodge are seen seconds before the posed photo opportunity.

Pausing for photo opportunities by county employees and the press are (from left) (from left) County Commissioner John Meeks, Levy County Commission Vice Chair Desiree Mills, Levy County Extension Director Ed Jennings, Chairman Matt Brooks, Commissioner Rock Meeks and Commissioner Tim Hodge

     On Tuesday morning (Oct. 3, 2023), it was Fuller’s successor -- Jennings -- who had his day in the spotlight of Levy County government via the county’s partnership with UF/IFAS.
     County Commissioner John Meeks, who chaired the commission back in 2016, said the commissioners wanted Jennings and they worked with UF/IFAS to make that happen.
     Commissioner Meeks said Jennings has served the community well. Meeks said that while Jennings was more focused on livestock, he found an Extension agent for row crops after the retirement of the renowned Anthony Drew.
     Levy County Extension Row Crops and Commercial Agriculture Agent Mark Warren continues serving the people in his role.
     Meeks went on to say the progress of Levy County Extension up to now has led to Levy County Extension 4-H Youth Development Agent Jessica Emerson being a member of the team formed during the six years Jennings served the residents and visitors of Levy County.
     Meeks said he is grateful for Jennings’ service during his short time in the county and that Jennings is “A-1 in my book.”
     Levy County Commission Vice Chair Desiree Mills spoke next to the retiring Extension director.
     As an agriculturalist herself as well as being a member of the Levy County Board of County Commissioners, Mills told Jennings that she concurs with Commissioner John Meeks that he has “bilt a wonderful team.”
     She expressed her gratitude to him and that she is glad the previous members of the Levy County Commission hired him to follow in the footsteps of retired Extension Director Fuller.
     Commissioner Rock Meeks said “Thank you” to Jennings, too.
     Commissioner Rock Meeks was a commission member with Chairman John Meeks back in 2016 when Jennings was interviewed. Rock Meeks said he knew “right out of the gate” that Jennings was the man for the job, adding that he believed this man was “the best fit” for Levy County.
     (On Oct. 18, 2016, County Commissioner Danny Stevens was absent but the four county leaders who were there were Chairman John Meeks and commissioners Rock Meeks, Lilly Rooks (now retied) and the late Mike Joyner.)
     Levy County Commission Chairman Matt Brooks spoke next. He said 39 years is a long time to serve with dedication, as he made reference to Jennings’ UF/IFAS Extension work prior to his six years in Levy County.
     Chairman Brooks said he appreciates the service rendered by Jennings for Levy County and the surrounding counties in the past six years. Brooks said he knows Jennings touched many lives and that the agricultural community was very pleased to have him at Levy County Extension.
     Jennings responded by saying that he is glad the previous county commission was willing to take a chance on him to lead the Levy County Extension Office after the retirement of Director Fuller.
     “No offense to any of the other counties I have worked in,” Jennings said, “but this has been the best – because of the leadership in this county.”
     Jennings went on to say the agricultural community welcomed him with open arms, even though the people in that community did not know him at first.
     After some more comments from Jennings, the five County Commission members joined him for a photo opportunity as he held the plaque they gave him, which they all signed.
     The plaque showed it was a certificate of appreciation presented to Jennings for 39 years of loyal and dedicated service to the University of Florida, and six years of service in Levy County until his well-earned retirement from the UF/IFAS Levy County Extension Office.


Cross City cuts the ribbon
on landscape beauty

This is the moment when the ribbon was cut on Sunday afternoon (Oct. 1) at City Hall. Among the people seen here are (front row, from left) Rebecca Mango, Heather Blake, Terry Zinn, Abby Whitehead, Emma Keen, Kylah Wright, Vice Mayor J. Ryan Fulford, City Manager John Driggers, Karen VanAernam, Joseph Henderson and Jenny Welch and (back row, from left) Cale McQueen, Bill Ochlecker, Joyce Haas and Debbie DeWeese.

Story, Photos and Video
By Jeff M. Hardison © Oct. 1, 2023 at 10:45 p.m.
All Rights Reserved
Sunday afternoon (Oct. 1) brought sunshine, smiles and a ribbon-cutting that heralds completion of a significant accomplishment by a whole community.
     John Driggers, city manager of Cross City, served as the emcee for the culmination of a landscaping project around City Hall, which first started in January of 2020.
     Joyce Haas, past president of the Garden Club of the Tri-Counties, is among the garden club leaders who were in attendance at the event. She also wrote the grant application, which resulted in the Florida Wildflower Foundation giving $3,000 to fund this project.

John Driggers and Joyce Haas are seen before the event started. They are among the key individuals to bring this project to fruition.

Vid- Here is a video of the actual ribbon-cutting. Click on the PHOTO to see the video.

     While they are two of the many main people involved in this project reaching fruition, many more people joined by putting with hands, trowels, shovels and other gardening implements into the soil for this project.
     Adding to Driggers’ and Haas’ efforts are a cross-section of people from Dixie County who created one garden on the west side of City Hall, measuring 77 feet long; one garden bed on the west side measuring 21 feet long; and two other landscaped masterpieces on the north side of the building measuring 43 feet and 12 feet respectively.
     The installation participation at City Hall last month, on Sept. 9 included eight members of the Garden Club of the Tri-Counties; 
13 members of the Dixie County High School FFA Chapter with FFA Adviser Cynthia Mitchell; three Cross City officials; seven members of Frontrunners Chapter of Florida Nursery Growers and Landscape Association; Seven members of the Cross City Restore and Renew organization; one community resident; and one Bell Middle High School (Gilchrist County) science teacher.
     Several nurseries provided plants and seeds. Florida Forest Products of Cross City donated lumber and concrete. The Print Shop of Chiefland printed signs, and there were other business interests helping as well.
     Before the actual cutting of the ribbon, City Manager Driggers and others spoke about the flower beds.
     Driggers said the entire Cross City City Council has endorsed this project unanimously, including every member from 2020 through the current members.

Before the ribbon was placed to be cut, seen here are (from left) Cross City Vice Mayor J. Ryan Fulford, Dixie County Chamber of Commerce Treasurer Debbie Dembo, Terry Dembo of the Chamber and Dixie County Chamber of Commerce Secretary Tina Keen.

     Driggers mentioned that Vice Mayor J. Ryan Fulford was in the audience Sunday afternoon. Driggers also pointed out other people in the audience, including Cross City Superintendent Jody Pederson, Dixie County Commissioner Mark Hatch, as well as Garden Club of the Tri-Counties President Rebecca Mango, Heather Blake of the Garden Club, Terry Zinn of the Florida Wildflower Foundation, as well as Debbie DeWeese of the Dixie County Chamber of Commerce, Chamber Secretary Tina Keen, Chamber Treasurer Debbie Dembo, and Terry Dembo of the Dixie County Chamber of Commerce, and Karen VanAernam of Cross City Restore and Renew, and others who were in the crowd.     
     The members of the Garden Club of the Tri-Counties, the local FFA chapter, the Frontrunners Chapter of Florida Nursery Growers and Landscape Association; the members of the Cross City Restore and Renew organization, and everyone else involved in this project can take pride in what they accomplished, Driggers said.

Terry Zinn of the Florida Wildflower Foundation (in wide-brimmed gardener’s hat) speaks about the foundation’s mission to help people learn about native Florida wildflowers as everyone listens to him before the ribbon is cut to herald the project’s completion. (A crab trap and an inactive beehive are planned to be added as part of the hardscape décor.)

City Manager John Driggers and Vice Mayor J. Ryan Fulford discuss the mechanics of large scissors cutting a ribbon.

This informative sign is among the items to help people know about plants.

The Sea Purslane plant is marked to let people know what it is, as are the many plants in the various flower beds around City Hall.

A fishing net helps provide some of the décor for the gardens. There is a piece of driftwood from the Suwannee River among the items in the gardens, too.

An old boat is part of the decorations in the flower beds.

Two of the many Dixie County High School FFA members present on Sunday afternoon are Emma Keen, a sophomore, and Cale McQueen, a senior.

     When Zinn of the Florida Wildflower Foundation spoke, he mentioned that funds from the sales of Florida specialty license plates to help promote Florida wildflowers go to this foundation. The foundation provides grants for projects like this, he said.
     Zinn said the Florida Wildflower Foundation has established 57 wildflower gardens altogether, with nine throughout Florida so far this year, as the members strive to teach people about plants that are native to Florida.
     The history of this $3,000 grant award for this project began in January of 2020 after Driggers approached the garden club in to request help and guidance. He told the club members that the drab red mulch around City Hall could be improved with flowers. The club agreed, but then there was a relatively bigger problem that affected everyone to varying degrees. 
     When the global COVID-19 pandemic swept across the planet, the project went on hiatus for a few years.
     All plans and tasks were sidetracked until he returned in July of 2022 with renewed hope, Haas said.
     Jenny Welch of the Garden Club of the Tri-Counties had noticed the grant was still available after the pandemic problems had subsided to a point where people could function more. The club approached Driggers and the City Council, who wrote a letter to endorse the project.
     Funding was going to be a challenge but then the opportunity to obtain this grant offered the garden club a way to move the project forward in 2023. No activity could be initiated prior to the award on May 15.
     Haas said she was pleased to learn the grant application she had submitted was among those selected for approval by the Florida Wildflower Foundation.
     Haas told HardisonInk.com before the event that these flower beds include native Florida vegetation, and there are interpretive signs to show people how, for instance, the plants on the west side of City Hall grow best in sandy soil with full sunlight, and they are drought resistant.
     The plants in this flower bed, are provided with drip irrigation, which is below the surface of the topsoil and uses less water than other forms of irrigation, which can lose water to evaporation.
     The west side plants include those flowers that attract pollinators, and they are bird-friendly, Haas said.
     The plants on the north side are those which grow in shady environments or a mesic habitat, which is a type of habitat with a well-balanced supply of moisture throughout the growing season. They include conifers and non-deciduous plants.
     Pine straw is used around the plant rather than other things to keep with the Florida plant theme. 
     Hardscape décor centered on the Nature Coast habitats and industries, such as a sand dune feature with crab traps, upland or sandhill scrub with mason bee structure, and wetland with boat are part of the project.
     This part of the flower beds provides some representation of the local history of commercial and recreational fishing – like a net and a boat. The crab trap is planned for placement in a flower bed in the future, as is an inactive beehive, again reflecting some of the industry in the area.
     Haas, who retired after 33 years of teaching, including 30 years in Hillsborough County schools, said these flower beds and the information in them – on interpretive signage, as well as labels for the different plants, will help people learn about native Florida plants.
     The flower beds will be monitored by the garden club members, she said.

The directional signs above show mileage from 99 N.E. 210th  Ave. Cross City. They are Nature Coast State Trail ¼ of one mile; Historic Putnum Lodge, in Shamrock, 1.1 mile north; Suwannee River Bridge, Old Town, 10 miles to the southeast; Fanning Springs State Park, 13 miles to the southeast; Manatee Springs State Park, 27 miles to the southeast; Horseshoe Beach, 19 miles west; Steinhatchee, 23 miles west; Suwannee, 33 miles Southwest; Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge, 38 miles south and Florida State Capitol, Tallahassee, 97 miles north.
     The directional signs on the west side of City Hall used Dixie County Hight School colors of red and black to promote school and community.
      The plants involved in the area on the west side of City Hall include Weeping Yaupon Holly; Rosinweed; Tropical Sage; Purple Coneflower; Darrow’s Blueberry; and Whorled Milkweed. Pine straw is the mulch of choice in all of the flower beds.
     In the 77-foot long by 8-foot wide flower bed on the south side of City Hall, the following plants are among those there: Dune Sunflower, Beach Morning Glory, Railroad Vine, Sea Oats, Salt Meadow Cordgrass, Purple Love Grass, Sea Purslane, Spiderwort, Dwarf Fakahatchee Grass, Trailing/River Sage, and Coral Honeysuckle.
     The plants in the 12-foot by 10-foot flower bed on the north side of City Hall include Wild Petunias and Stoke’s Aster.
     The flower bed that is 42 feet by 10 feet on the northwest side of City Hall includes Southern Shield Ferns, Wild Petunias, Peacock Ginger, Dwarf Red Annise and Dwarf Oakleaf Hydrangeas.
     Haas said gardeners have found that with many of these types of plantings, the first year the plants are seen to “sleep” or not grow as much as one may want.
     The second year, the plants creep as they being to flourish and then in the third year, they “leap” as the reach toward their plant pinnacle of growing.


Levy County School Board
welcomes journalist

Pausing for some number of seconds as they grant a photo opportunity request, seen here on Sept. 26 are (from left) Levy County School Board Member Cameron Asbell, Levy County School Board Member Devin Whitehurst, Levy County Superintendent of Schools Chris Cowart, Levy County School Board Chairman Paige Brookins, Levy County School Board Vice Chairman Tammy Boyle and Levy County School Board Member Ashley Clemenzi.

Story and Photos
By Jeff M. Hardison © Sept. 28, 2023 at 11 a.m.
     BRONSON –
A journalist seeking answers from Levy County Superintendent Chris Cowart regarding a potential short-term plan to repair portable classrooms at Cedar Key School, resulted in a chance to help the Levy County School Board members show how they were visiting Bronson Middle High School (BMHS) on Tuesday morning (Sept. 26).

     At the Levy County School District Office on that Tuesday morning, the reporter-editor-publisher conferred with Superintendent Cowart’s administrative assistant, and then the writer spoke briefly with Levy County Assistant Superintendent John Lott to determine the best method for obtaining answers in the quickest fashion.
     The award-winning journalist relatively soon learned that Cowart and the five elected members of the Levy County School Board -- Cameron Asbell (Dist. 1), Chairman Paige Brookins (Dist. 2), Ashley Clemenzi (Dist. 3), Vice Chairman Tammy Boyle (Dist. 4) and Devin Whitehurst (Dist. 5) – were visiting BMHS.

Pausing for a group photo as part of their visitation with one another at Bronson Middle High School on Tuesday (Sept. 26) at the entrance to the school are (from left) Levy County School Board Vice Chairman Tammy Boyle, Levy County School Board Member Ashley Clemenzi, Levy County School Board Chairman Paige Brookins, BMHS Dean Pamela Asbell, BMHS Principal Jennifer Bray, BES Principal Marlene Wiggins, Levy County School Board Member Devin Whitehurst, BES Assistant Principal Kaylee Spina, Levy County School Board Member Cameron Asbell and Levy County Superintendent of Schools Chris Cowart.

     The intrepid, illustrious and prolific journalist who has earned multiple awards over the decades as a reporter, as an editor and as a publisher had just missed attending the conclusion of the twice-monthly regular Levy County School Board meeting, which lasted at least two hours that Tuesday morning.
     He had opted that morning to cover a meeting of a technical committee that is striving to help improve Internet service in Levy County.
     Arriving at BMHS, the journalist was confronted by a woman at the front desk who absolutely refused to interrupt the superintendent and the School Board members who were speaking with one another as they were also speaking with BMHS Principal Jennifer Bray, BMHS Dean Pamela Asbell, Bronson Elementary School (BES) Principal Marlene Wiggins and BES Assistant Principal Kaylee Spina behind closed doors.
     The BMHS front-desk attendee seemed under the impression that this group of elected and appointed school officials who were visiting with one another were to not be disturbed by anyone.
     The journalist let her know in no uncertain terms that Levy County Assistant Superintendent Lott had told him where the superintendent was visiting a school with the School Board and that all the member of The Fourth Estate need do was tell the person at the front desk and he would be able to speak briefly with Cowart.
     At first, in the district office, the reporter was told Cowart was visiting “a school,” but after some insistent questioning, the journalist found out which school.
     Upon learning the journalist had been told where and how to speak briefly with Cowart, essentially to confirm a planned telephone call later that afternoon, the woman at the front desk of BMHS went to a room immediately adjacent to the front desk. Cowart came out of the room and spoke with the writer-photographer.
     After exchanging a few words, Cowart invited the journalist into the tiny room where the 10 people were not meeting -- but were visiting with one another.
     There appeared to be no discussion about any matter upon which the five School Board members may vote upon in the future as they conferred behind closed doors with a gatekeeper out front to stop uninvited visitors – except a somewhat persistent journalist.
     During the few moments near the conclusion of the visit to the school by the superintendent and School Board members, the journalist heard part of the conversation about the schools’ administrators wanting to connect more with the Bronson community, but that there is no Rotary Club or Chamber of Commerce in Bronson.
     The daily news website owner let everyone in the room know that he has a method to communicate with the general public throughout the world, as well as more locally in Bronson. 
     A school administrator told the School Board that she sees no established method for regular recognition of Students of the Month by the Bronson Town Council, according to what was mentioned during those few moments of that visitation. Apparently, direct communication between Town Manager Sue Beaudet and school staff is not working or has not been considered, as best as could be determined from the short visit by a journalist watching elected officials visiting with school administrators.
     Students are recognized by elected municipal leaders in Chiefland and Williston through a long-established practice that has been in place for at least a decade, where those cities’ staff members communicate with staff members at schools in those cities. In Chiefland and Williston, it has been known as the “Mayor’s Student of the Month” or the “Student of the Month.”
     Both cities provide certificates acclaiming the student to be outstanding from among his or her peers.
     The truth thereabouts nowadays, though, is that this program is not enjoying 100 percent smooth sailing in either of those two municipalities. The global pandemic put a kibosh on the program for a while.
     School Board Chairman Brookins, although during this visit she was not necessarily chairing the visit, asked about volunteers in Bronson. She heard that the School Advisory Committee volunteers at BMHS and BES are the same core of people who volunteer to help with other activities at the Bronson public schools.
     A shortage of volunteers is common now, not just in schools but throughout the United States. Historically in Florida during the past 67 years, numbers of volunteers have dwindled. And people who volunteer with one group to serve others are often volunteers in other groups, again helping others without consideration for personal gain – other than the good feeling from helping another human.
     The group of six elected officials and four administrators agreed to the journalist’s request for two photo opportunities near the end of the elected leaders’ visit to BMHS.
     One picture shows the superintendent and School Board members in the small room where they had been visiting with the administrators of the elementary, middle and high schools of Bronson.
     The other picture shows the people in a more open environment, closer to the sunshine of outdoors, at the front of BMHS. The mantra of the day was “It’s not a meeting. It’s a visit.” 
     The Levy County superintendent of schools and the Levy County School Board members all graciously tolerated a roving reporter visiting with them for a few minutes while they visited with one another that Tuesday morning, even though he somewhat assertively invited himself into the scene.


UF/IFAS Levy County Extension
preps for Peanut Butter Challenge
Contest kicks off Oct. 1

Peanut Harvesters
Some of the equipment used for harvesting the peanut vines is seen here. This equipment is in the mix where the peanuts grow in the ground and are pulled up, and are dried in the field (to some degree unless it rains too much) before they are harvested (and then transported, processed and eventually eaten). This machinery is seen here on Monday morning (Sept. 25) in a field next to Levy County Road 347 to the west of State Road 345 before the eastern boundary of the unrecorded subdivision known as Jemlands – Northwest 97th Court.

Story and Photo 
By Jeff M. Hardison © Sept. 26, 2023 at 7:15 a.m.
     BRONSON –
Of the three Extension offices in the Tri-County Area of Levy County, Gilchrist County and Dixie County the first to announce the 2023 Peanut Butter Challenge that starts Oct. 1 has an office in Bronson.

     Kristen Brault, an administrative assistant with the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) Levy County Extension office, announced Sept. 25 that the competition begins this Sunday (Oct. 1). It is all about giving unopened jars of peanut butter to food pantries to help people. Well, there is a little bit about bragging rights, too.
     Levy County has been in the winner’s circle before in this contest, thanks to donations from the people in this community.
     The Peanut Butter Challenge is an annual collection of jars of peanut butter to be placed in local food pantries for distribution to people who are in a food insecurity situation.
     Hosted by UF/IFAS Extension and Florida A&M University (FAMU), the UF/IFAS Cooperative Extension Service launched this event in the Florida Panhandle counties in 2012, Brault noted.
     It is again spreading statewide this year, she said.
     To help the Levy County effort, unopened jars of peanut butter can be donated to the Levy County Extension Office, located at 625 N. Hathaway Ave. (U.S. Alt. 27), in Bronson, from Oct. 1 through Oct. 31.
     Peanut butter contributors can give their donations for the 2023 Peanut Butter Challenge at other Levy County collection sites, too, Brault noted.
     These other locations include:
     ● Bronson Public Library, 600 Gilbert St., Bronson
     ● Town of Bronson – Town Hall, 650 Oak St., Bronson
     ● Levy County Tax Collector – In The Levy County Government Center, 310 School St., Room 100, Bronson
     ● Clerk of Court-Asset Clerk, In The Levy County Courthouse, 355 S. Court St., Bronson
     ● Cedar Key Community Center (now serving as Cedar Key City Hall), 809 Sixth St., Cedar Key
     ● Luther Calloway Public Library, 104 N.E. Third St., Chiefland
     ● Levy County Tax Collector – Chiefland Branch, 226 N. Main St. (U.S. Highway 19), Chiefland
     ● Capital City Bank – Inglis, 95 Levy County Road 40 West, Inglis
     ● A.F. Knotts Public Library, 11 56th St., Yankeetown
     ● Williston Public Library, 10 S.E. First St., Williston
     ● Levy County Farm Bureau – Williston, 208 N.W. Main St., Williston
     ● Levy County Tax Collector – Williston, 506 S.W. First Ave., Williston
     ● Rafter Cross Cowboy Church, 4361 N.E. 162nd Court, Williston
     ● Levy County Schools – all public schools in Levy County are collection sites as well.
     The competition among counties – for bragging rights only – was conceived as a way to feed hungry families ahead of the
holidays in addition to promoting a Florida-grown crop, Brault said. The peanut, which is produced mainly throughout the northern regions of Florida, contributed $147 million to the state economy in 2022, according to the Florida Agricultural Statistics Service.
     Peanut butter is an ever-popular item in food pantries because of its nutrient density and shelf stability, Brault said.
     Last year’s Peanut Butter Challenge collected a total of 27,258 pounds of this nutritious spread from 48 Florida counties, Brault said.
     “This program grows each year through grassroots community support and simple word of mouth,” said Jennifer Bearden, agricultural agent for UF/IFAS Extension Okaloosa County and co-organizer of the Challenge this year. “I love that we had our partners at FAMU join in the friendly competition last year. It’s such a great way to highlight not only the importance of the crop to our agriculture industry, but also the nutritional value peanuts can offer our neighbors who are food-insecure.”
     To join or to partner with Levy County’s collection this year, call 352-486-5131.


CF breaks ground for Center for Nursing
CF Building
With shovels in hand to commemorate the start of the project on Sept. 21 are (from left) CF District Board of Trustees Charlie Stone, Dr. Mike Torres, and CF President Dr. Jim Henningsen, and CF District Board of Trustees Joyce Brancato and Bobby Durrance.

Story and Photo Provided
CF Marketing, Public and Community Relations
Director Lois Brauckmuller
Published Sept. 23, 2023 at 9:30 a.m.
     OCALA —
The College of Central Florida welcomed more than 200 community partners, faculty, staff and students to a groundbreaking Thursday (Sept. 21) for the CF Center for Nursing, held in partnership with the Ocala Metro Chamber and Economic Partnership.
     “This is a great day for the college, our health care providers and the citizens of our community,” said Dr. Jim Henningsen, CF president. “Each of you here today has played a role in this project, because it truly takes partnerships to create success!”
     Infrastructure is in place and construction has started on the $20 million capital expansion project, with funding provided by the Florida Legislature, Marion County Hospital District and Marion County Commission.
     The two-story, 42,500-gross-square-foot building will include six classrooms, three skills labs, six simulation exam rooms and a testing lab. It will serve 325 Nursing students in associate and bachelor’s degree programs. The first classes are expected to be offered in the building in January 2025.
     In spring 2023, CF received a $6.7 million Linking Industry to Nursing Education grant from the Florida Legislature to expand its nursing program. CF’s Associate Degree Nursing program was named the 2023 Best RN Program in Florida by RegisteredNursing.org.


Matt Brooks runs for Levy County Clerk
Campaign starts
with strong presentation

Matt Brooks
Matt Brooks welcomes everyone to the event where he announced his intention to be elected as the next Levy County Clerk. Standing in the background is Campaign Manager Tisha Whitehurst.

Story and Photos
By Jeff M. Hardison © Sept. 20, 2023 at 9 p.m.
Matt Brooks, who currently serves as the chairman of the Levy County Board of County Commissioners, on Tuesday evening (Sept. 19) announced his candidacy to become the next Levy County Clerk of Circuit Court and Comptroller in the 2024 election.

     Currently there is one other announced Republican in this race – Brian Gore of Chiefland. If no Democrat enters the race, then it will be decided during the primary election on Aug. 20, 2024.
     If there are only Republican candidates, then Democrats can vote in the primary election.
     If one or more Democrats seeks this office, then there will be the primary to decide winners there, followed by the general election on Nov. 5, 2024, to choose between the Republican and Democrat candidates. 
     As for Brooks’ announcement, his campaign team organized an extraordinary event at Fireman’s Park in Williston, complete with a catfish, cheesy grits and hush puppies dinner by Sister’s Place Café. Coca Cola was among the drinks at the park that once house a Coca-Cola bottling plant.
     Williston Fire Chief Lamar Stegall gave the opening prayer at Fireman’s Park. Chief Stegall married Brooks’s sister Darlene, and he has known the man since he was in diapers, and Stegall said he has loved the man since he met him when he was an infant.
     Stegall said he has considered it an honor to watch Brooks grow into the man he has become, and the public servant he has been during his lifetime.
     Candidate Brooks made a clear statement about his qualifications and his intentions. Joining potential future Levy County Clerk Brooks in the announcement event were Campaign Manager Tisha Whitehurst, retired Levy County Judge Joseph E. Smith and Williston Fire Chief Stegall.

Matt Brooks
Retired Judge Joseph E. Smith hugs Tisha Whitehurst after she had introduced him.

Matt Brooks
Retired Judge Joseph E. Smith speaks about the many qualities he sees in Matt Brooks and why he believes he will be a fine county clerk for Levy County.

Matt Brooks
Jared Blanton, CPA, (left) and Jonathan Smith, Williston Community Redevelopment Agency member Chief Executive Officer of Levy County Prevention Coalition, are among the many people at the event. Blanton has returned to the Levy County Clerk’s Office to help with financial accounting. Smith served as the music director for the event, and he had perfect timing for playing the Star-Spangled Banner and other acoustical actions during the night.

Matt Brooks
Some people are seen milling about or sitting on a brick wall before the event. County Commissioner John Meeks, who Matt Brooks thanked for introducing him to the Florida Association of Counties as a means to learn best methods as a county commissioner, is seen on the wall.

Matt Brooks
People gather after the announcements.

Matt Brooks
Levy County Sheriff Bobby McCallum (left) shakes hands with retired Levy County Judge Joseph E. Smith. Standing near them is D.C. Floyd of Country Boy Cutz, a Williston businessman.

     A strong set of relatives, friends and colleagues attended the event, among whom were County Commissioner John Meeks, and County Commissioner Desiree Mills.
     Patrick Williams, one of Brooks’ partners in his business interest at B4 Signs & Advertising, was at the event. Steven Messer, a manager at Levy Jones, where Angie Brooks leads that company, also attended the event.
     Sheriff Bobby McCallum came to hear the announcement as well.
     One surprise guest who made a lot of Levy County residents smile when they heard about his return to duty is Jared Blanton, CPA, who has come back to work with Levy County Clerk Danny J. Shipp again.
     Blanton is known for saving Levy County very significant amounts of money and for assuring finances are properly recorded.
     Brooks definitely was right at home making his announcement in Williston. He clearly loves the town where he graduated from Williston High School, like many of his guests that night.
     Even before the big event, Brooks provided insight about his choice to run for Levy County Clerk.
     “After a lot of prayer, thought and encouragement from many people in Levy County, I have decided to move forward with launching my campaign for Clerk of Circuit Court and Comptroller,” Brooks noted. “Our current Clerk of Court Danny J. Shipp is set to retire after his current term ends in 2024. It has been a privilege and honor to have worked alongside Mr. Shipp for seven years as a County Commissioner.
     “We have accomplished a lot of great things working together for the people of Levy County. Also, having done so, my interest has only grown stronger to pursue becoming the next Clerk of Circuit Court and Comptroller,” Brooks continued.
     Brooks plans to spend the fall and spring meeting with Levy County residents and all who interact with the Clerk of Court’s Office to hear their concerns and ideas. Before the summer of 2024, he will release a comprehensive platform to voters to consider the focus on four key priorities:
     ● Supporting The Levy County Court and Eighth Judicial Court Systems
     ● Supporting The Levy County Board of County Commissioners
     ● Safeguarding Taxpayer Dollars
     ● Preserving the Records of Levy Counties’ Communities
      “The role of the Clerk of Circuit Court and Comptroller is vital to protecting, connecting and serving our communities and requires someone with careful attention to detail.” Brooks said. “In order to best serve our communities, I believe we need a Clerk of Court that values timely and accurate information, ensures
county funds are expended for public purpose and cares about the preservation of records and the public’s ease of access to those records.”
     This was an extremely powerful announcement event Tuesday night. This candidate has invested $15,000 to start his campaign, and he sees that as 50 percent of his goal for funding the run for office. Judge Smith mentioned that individuals can contribute up to $1,000 each, and the limit is the same for a business donating to the campaign.
     Whitehurst introduced the honorable Judge Smith -- a third-generation Williston High School graduate. Smith earned his undergraduate degree at Florida State University and his Juris Doctor from The University of Florida College of Law. Judge Smith retired as a Levy County judge and then served for a number of years as a Senior Judge in the Eighth Judicial Circuit before retiring.
     Like Brooks, Smith chose to return to his hometown of Williston. The now-retired judge is beloved throughout the county.
     Being relatively well known for providing lengthy speeches, however, Smith was outdone Tuesday night by Brooks.
     The man who wants to serve the people as the next Levy County Clerk shared stories about people who helped him become who he is today. Brooks let anyone listening know reasons to choose him as the person to cast a ballot for as clerk.
    He grew up in the Gulf Hammock community of Levy County and attended Williston High School. After honorably serving in the United States Army for six years, earning a Bachelor of Science Degree from the University of North Florida and gaining valuable business experience he, his wife Angie and their family returned home to Williston in 2011.
     Matt and Angie Brooks opened their own business.
     Years ago, the Brooks family moved their home into the city limits of Williston upon the urging of the late Williston Mayor Emeritus R. Gerald Hethcoat. Hethcoat wanted Brooks to serve on the Williston City Council, which Brooks did.
     Then, he felt called to serve as the District 5 Levy County Commissioner. Now, Brooks wants to serve the people as the clerk.
      Judge Smith spoke about Brooks.
     Brooks has a pleasing personality, Smith said. He cares about his community and he will carry those attributes with him as clerk, Smith said.
     The judge spoke about Brooks being a “yes man,” although not in the detrimental sense.
     Brooks has said “Yes” to community service, to public service, to involvement with his church, and as “a supportive dad to three smart, pretty, athletic teenage girls, all in one household.”
     The retired judge spoke about Matt and Angie Brooks’ daughters, aged 13 to 17 years old -- Baylin, Berkley and Brityn.
     Smith also spoke about Bowen, Matt and Angie Brooks’ son who is almost 9 years old now, who the judge described as mischievous and good looking.
     “He has a goal,” Smith said, “He has a vision of helping to lead Levy County into the future. He wants to make it an even better place to live, to work, to enjoy life, to raise our children…”
     While attaining this goal, Smith said, he sees Brooks as maintaining the core values of the American and Levy County way of honesty, morality, a strong work ethic and fiscal responsibility.
     After Brooks received a rousing applause and welcome after Smith’s introduction, he added that the one “Yes” the judge missed was when wife Angie said “Yes” and agreed to marry him 19 years ago.
     Angie Brooks is not only the chief executive officer in their house, he said, but she is the president of one of their companies.
     Brooks said his brother-in-aw Chief Stegall has served as a mentor to him, as well as to many young men in the community, as he thanked him for all he has done for Williston and Levy County.
     He thanked his many, many other blood relatives and in-laws who attended the event, including his mother Jettie Griffin Brooks and his mother-in-law Karen Miller.
     Brooks mentioned his gratitude for all his mother has done throughout his life for him, his sisters and brother, but especially for hosting him and his family this past year as they build their house.
     Brooks shared his history as a worker with his father in agriculture – at Brooks Grassing; at Hardee’s – where he learned that “if you can lean, you can clean”; as a gasoline full service station attendant when there was the complete service of filling gasoline, cleaning windshields, checking oil and other fluids, and tires.
     Brooks said spent time as an employee at King Munchies Pizza, where he was “spinning dough to make a little dough.”
     His time with the cattle business was short lived because the horse knew where to do and it was different than what he thought.
     Another pivotal moment in his life is graduating from Williston High School. 
      Brooks chose to join the United States Army at the age of 17. He had to get his parents’ signature. His mother was reluctant because she had lived that life with his father in other countries, and one of his Matt Brooks’ brothers was an Army Ranger.
     He went to Taszár Hungary as part of a peace-keeping mission during the conflict in Bosnia. Brooks was part of personnel involved with transportation logistics.
     Paying attention to detail was critical, he said, and this helped him in that regard. Brooks said he excelled at this in the Army from his father being his first “drill sergeant at home” who always helped him stay on task.
     His captain put Brooks in charge of briefing colonels and generals on the base about all of the missions. He felt this was an honor, because he was an enlisted soldier and not a non-commissioner officer or officer to brief the leaders about missions that were happening.
     He was given the meritorious service medal, Brooks said, when there were not many enlisted soldiers who were so honored. It was more for NCOs and officers.
     Brooks spoke about his work at the University of North Florida, where he met his wife Angie. 
     Brooks spoke about many people in his life who cared about him, guided him and helped him through his life. He knows the importance of relationships with people.
     During part of his closing, he mentioned there are a few ways people can help in the campaign now. First, sign a petition to help him qualify to run. Either get 340 valid registered Levy County voter signatures on petitions or pay $8,000. He chose the petition method.
     His goal is to have enough petitions by Christmas.
     Brooks is seeking volunteers to wave signs on corners, too, and for other jobs as he moves forward in this campaign.
     As for funding the campaign, he said he appreciates monetary donations to the campaign. His $15,000 shows he “has skin in the game.”


Step 2 Of Becoming A Reverence For Life Coach
Reverence For Life
Column and Graphic Provided
By Robert M. Echols
Published Oct. 2, 2023 at 7 a.m.

My dear friends in a reverence for life,
     I offer you this morning step 2 in our 13-step program aimed at recruiting as many people as possible to believe in, proclaim, and ultimately serve as coaches for a reverence for life.
     A reverence for life is an ethos of love and mercy, a life affirming ethos mandating that we humans accept a commission to enhance, protect and assist life wherever we find it.
     To aver that we humans have entirely failed to accept that commission is to utter a classic and tragic understatement.
     I am convinced that much of our malaise and unwillingness to adhere to a reverence for life stems from our egomaniacal belief that we must maintain and manifest our individuality.
     Thus, we have eight billion humans caterwauling “I've gotta be me” with the concomitant biospheric depredation that lack of unity in purpose has occasioned.
     It is incumbent upon us to learn and interiorize this truth -- that each one of us is capable of being an individual while uniting our behavior in a common cause; namely, the bestowal of love on every creature on earth, indeed in the universe.
     There is a cosmic force at work, and we can and must tap into it. More on that cosmic force in future steps.
     So please, cast off your predispositions, and open and align yourselves with the universal life force.

Step Two
     ● Let us acknowledge that awareness of the universal life force occasions blessings and curses.
     ● Blessings in that we are able to discern an energy motivating all life on this planet to exist, survive, and evolve.
     ● Maledictions because, by dint of our unique ability to introspect, we realize that, while the life force is indeed extant, it is currently not transporting Homo sapiens towards any singular, unified goal or destination. 
     ● Acknowledge our existential angst at remarking how all else in nature seemingly comports itself in accordance with an invisible plan, while mankind flounders away in quadrillions of discrete moments of imperfection bereft of meaning and purpose.
     ● Admit our seemingly quixotic desire to subsist within the paradox of extolling the benefits of collectivity while maintaining and worshipping our individuality.
     ● Agree that while Homo sapiens strives for perfection of our actuality, such a state of a perfection is only to be found in the fusion of our individual essence with a greater totality.
     ● Concede that our union with the potency of the universal life force, that greater totality, is the true path to perfection, and choose, accordingly to embody those beliefs and consequent actions that will bring about that spiritual union.



First Published Feb. 1, 2011 at 8 a.m.
     On Feb. 1, 2011, HardisonInk.com came into existence on the Internet. On All Saints Day - Nov. 1, 2011, The Christian Press section on The Life Page of HardisonInk.com started, which was about nine months after the start of the daily news website. The name "The Christian Press" was derived from an encounter a decade earlier in 2001 in St. Petersburg, when and where a man mentioned to a journalist that this particular journalist must work for "The Christian Press." Although the presumption by the man about that journalist was incorrect and misplaced, the name sounded good. And the journalist said that if he could work for The Christian Press, then that certainly would be the publication to serve.
     Since Nov. 1, 2011, The Christian Press section of this page has run daily devotionals from several individuals who contributed over the past years. There were two days in 2018 when the daily devotional did not run due to a journalist requiring emergency orthopedic surgery on broken bones in his left arm and wrist. That surgically added metal, though, makes that part of that arm even more able to withstand forces. Many daily devotionals are pulled from Strength for Service to God and Country (Whitmore & Stone © 1942; Renewed 1969 by Norman E. Nygaard; Second revised edition © 2002 Abingdon-Cokesbury Press, Providence House Publishers). The journalist who is the sole proprietor and owner of HardisonInk.com (Jeff M. Hardison) notes his appreciation for the use of those devotionals from that now-defunct publishing company, and for the many other contributors who have helped people over the past decade-plus now. Strength for Service to God and Country's daily devotionals include many from a time when the United States of America was a partner in a World War, both WWI and WWII. This journalist welcomes contributions of daily devotionals. Daily devotional authors are asked to please send only their original works to hardisonink@gmail.com. Americans are reminded that all religions, having no religion and or being a person who endorses anti-religion are all protected as part of the freedoms from government intervention, as are other benefits from being an American.


Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2023 at 5:30 a.m.


Read Matthew 28:16-20

     Then he answered and spake unto me, saying, This is the word of the Lord unto Zerubbabel, saying, Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the Lord of hosts.
-- Zechariah 4:6 (KJV)

     Manpower is a familiar word. The ebb and flow of fortunes in war are explained by manpower for fighting or for the production of implements of war. But this is more than a physical term. One cannot measure manpower by counting troops or laborers in the factory or the members on a church roll. Statistics can’t record all of the resources. Scripture says “How should one chase a thousand, and two put ten thousand to flight, except their Rock had sold them, and the Lord had shut them up?" (Deuteronomy 32:30 KJV). It may not always be wise to insist upon these proportions. But the principle is everlastingly valid. The physical strength of a person must always be added to the strength of his or her soul and power for marshaling the resources of truth, righteousness and love.
     The universe is synchronized with the moral realities of God. It ultimately defeats hate, dishonesty and unrighteousness. Because it is a moral universe, it works together with love, truth and righteousness. When armed with these, we find ourselves working together with God and time, regardless of the mere manpower operating to the contrary. Conscious of these reinforcements, we all have a faith, a level of courage, and a determination that makes us superior to physical power alone.
     A pure heart, a righteous cause, and a faith in a Divine Presence provide the amount of strength sufficient to complete every task, however difficult.
     O GOD, our help in ages past, our hope for years to come, sustain us for every task with the consciousness of Thy Presence, Truth and Love. Grant that our inner power may never fail, however strong the temptations or fierce the conflicts. Help us to know that “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me." (Philippians 4:13 KJV) Prepare our hearts for this day’s tasks, we pray in the name of Jesus. Amen.
The Rev. Dr. J. Richard Spann
Laurel Heights Methodist Church
San Antonio, Texas
Strength for Service to God and Country
(Whitmore & Stone © 1942; Renewed 1969 by Norman E. Nygaard; Second revised edition © 2002 Abingdon-Cokesbury Press, Providence House Publishers)


Outdoor Truths Ministry

By Gary Miller © Oct. 2, 2023 at 7 a.m.


     By now, just about every state has opened their bow season for deer. These weeks are always some of the most exciting times for those of us who are anxious to get back into the tree stand after several months off. It is also the part of the season where many hunters’ goal is to add meat to the freezer. The doe are fair game and it’s good to get that first shot under your belt knowing that in a few more weeks the waiting may be longer as you look for that big buck.
     Taking doe from the herd is also important for deer management. Since a tract of land can only hold so many deer, one needs to make sure the doe-to-buck ratio is healthy. And one way you can tell it’s not, is if you see doe that have no fawns. This means they are either unable to have a fawn or they have not been bred. Either way, they are simply taking up room which could be used for a more productive doe or for a buck. The comparison to cattle farmers would be like having a cow on your farm that never has a calf. It wouldn’t take long to figure out that that cow is eating grass and is not helping the farmer make money. The principle is the same and these types of doe are prime candidates for early bow season. I hope to not only put one in my freezer but also in some other folks as well.
     Perhaps more than I should, I look at my own Christian life in terms like these. I simply ask myself if I am productive or just taking up space. Am I just feeding on God’s goodness and grace without ever producing something besides my spiritual fatness? Is there something to show, outside of myself, for what God has placed into my life? Am I making a positive, fruitful, and spiritual impact in the lives of others? I think all these questions are important, but I also know that, many times, they cannot be answered by me, but only by God. Only He sees the full picture and only He knows what is fully transpiring in my life right now. This means while sometimes I may feel I am not making an impact, I actually am. Or while I may think I am not going anywhere, God is actually working all around me, getting things ready for the time when He sets me down into my perfect place. So how do I know which is right?
     Well, one way I can know I am being all God wants me to be is by getting up each morning and simply presenting myself to Him for His will and work. After that, my responsibility is over until I receive His orders. Today it might be I simply write an article. Tomorrow it may be that I speak to thousands – the next day to 12, or just one. But the contentment for me will be knowing I am a fruitful member of the herd and not just feasting from the field of His blessings.

-- Gary Miller  gary@outdoortruths.org

     Gary Miller has written the Outdoor Truths articles for 20-plus years now. He also has written four books which include compilations of his articles and a father/son devotional. He speaks at wild-game dinners and men's events for churches and associations. Gary Miller's website is located at http://www.outdoortruths.org/.

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