W - Therapy Horses Briarwood Student 2 copyTherapy horse Magic reads with Taylor Kimmel, a tornado survivor from Briarwood Elementary School in Moore, OK. Taylor's father Toby Kimmel was driving to the school to pick up his first grader when he saw the tornado destroy the school.

HIGH SPRINGS – Debbie and Jorge Garcia-Bengochea and their troop of three therapy horses narrowly escaped the onslaught of five tornadoes heading toward Oklahoma City and Moore, Okla. on Friday, May 31, 2013.

The group was in Moore visiting with children who had been in schools hit by the devastating May 20, 2013, category EF5 tornado with wind speeds of 200-210 mph. The Gentle Carousel Horses had been asked by hospital personnel and affected families to come to Moore to visit with some of the children.

With at least five more tornadoes building in the area, the Garcia-Bengocheas evacuated their horses in a successful attempt to outrun the building storms. Debbie Garcia-Bengochea, a former school principal, said in a telephone interview, “The place where the horses were staying and the surrounding area were destroyed. We had to evacuate with the horses in front of the storm because it was too dangerous to stay any longer.”

They left the area just in time as the tornadoes hit the hotel they were staying in about 30 minutes after they fled. “With five tornadoes going at the same time, it was hard to know which way to go,” she said. “We knew we couldn’t stay at the hotel after checking with hotel management and hearing they had no safe area or emergency plan. They just had people pull mattresses into the hallway to cover up,” she said. The hotel was badly damaged when they returned to Moore after the tornadoes had passed.

With all the devastation, hotels and churches that were left standing were housing children during the day. “We met with them [children] wherever there was a safe place they were staying in for the day,” she said.

The couple stayed until late Saturday night, June 1, 2013. They loaded the horses in the trailer and arrived at St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn. Monday. Tuesday the horses rested and exercised at a Nashville farm. On Wednesday, June 5, the horses visited children at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt, Nashville, Tenn.

The group is currently en route back home to High Springs.

“This was another unplanned trip for the Gentle Carousel Horses,” said Debbie Garcia-Bengochea. “After receiving several phone calls and requests by the people in Moore, we just couldn’t not go,” she said. “There was no time to raise money for the trip, so we’re operating in the red again.” This is a situation the group finds themselves in almost monthly.

Following the Sandy Hook/Newtown, Conn., trip earlier this year, the couple worked with counselors to create a book called, “Magic Loves Me” with photos of the horses which were taken by the couple. They have used the book to work with children who desperately need to heal and have found it quite helpful. All of the children want to keep the book, but the couple hasn’t had the money to get the book published. They have the only copy.

They estimate the cost of publishing the book at $5,000, but would not be able to recoup the cost if they gave the books away to the children, which is what they would like to be able to do. They desperately need local and national sponsors to help them continue the work they have been doing with children.

Gentle Carousel Miniature Therapy Horses is an all volunteer 501(c)(3) nonprofit charity. The teams of 32 miniature therapy horses visit over 20,000 children and adults each year inside hospitals, hospice and assisted living programs, libraries and schools programs for at-risk readers.

Anyone wishing to learn more about the program or donate to the organization can contact them on their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/TherapyHorses.

#     #     #

Email Cwalker@


Add a comment

W - Shane 2 IMG 1661 copy

 Photo by SCOTT ROBERTSON special to Alachua County Today

 Santa Fe High School’s Dean of Students, Loretta Shane, receives congratulations from her sister, Ginny Shane, as she retires after 37 years of coaching girl’s athletics programs at the school.

ALACHUA – When Santa Fe High School’s Dean of Students, Loretta Shane, 62, was guiding students up to the stage during her school’s graduation ceremony last Saturday evening, she saw six seniors from a golf team she coaches and got hit with a flurry of emotions.

After 37 years of coaching girl’s athletics programs at Santa Fe High School, last weekend’s graduation ceremony marked Loretta Shane’s last day before retiring.

“I'm going to miss the quirky things that happen all the time here,” she said.

Shane started out as a teacher and coach, and has been dean for 17 years. She started off coaching volleyball and softball, but she eventually oversaw the expansion of girl’s athletics at the school that would encompass much more.  

When Shane started at Santa Fe, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which gave girls equal opportunity to participate in sports, was still fairly recent. Even with Title IX, Shane said it was still a struggle for her teams to get respect.

“I had to fight the battles to get equal access to the facilities for the girls,” she said. “I was coaching the varsity girl’s softball team, and somebody came out and sent the message that the girls needed to get off the field so the junior varsity boys could practice.”

“It’s night and day compared to now,” Shane said. “Girls playing sports has become so common.” Funding and opportunity for girls in sports is on equal footing now, she said.

This might be the end of her time at Santa Fe, but Shane said it wasn’t necessarily the last time she would be a mentor.  

“I hope I'm remembered for what I’m going to do, and not what I did,” she said. She plans on taking about six months to figure out what she wants to do with her post-retirement life, but she mentioned the idea of volunteering her time to mentor kids in both sports and academics and participate in fundraisers for after-school programs.

Over the last 37 years, the school has changed drastically, Shane noted. She has seen the school grow in the number of students and expand its academic and athletic programs.

On graduation day last Saturday at 6 p.m., she guided students to the stage of the Stephen O’Connell Center at the University of Florida. Santa Fe High School used to hold graduation ceremonies on its own football field, but there are so many students the school now holds it there.

“We’re now small enough that kids don’t get lost in the shuffle, but big enough to offer diverse programs.”

Since she started working for the school, Shane has been present at all but one of the graduation ceremonies.

In her career, she said she has probably coached about 70 teams.

“My favorite memory, it happened recently” Shane said. “I was standing on the sidelines watching my ex-players coach their kids in volleyball.”

“Everything has kind of come full circle.”

#     #     #

Email cmckinney@


Add a comment

GAINESVILLE - Nutritionally-balanced breakfasts and lunches will be provided to all children 18 years old and younger at no charge. The Summer Food Service Program, offered nationally through the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is available in geographical areas of need, defined as those areas where 50 percent or more of the children qualify for free and reduced-price meals during the school year. However, children do not have to be eligible for free and reduced-price meals to participate in the summer program, nor must they be enrolled in a participating school. Parents and students can simply come to the school during the serving times and check in.

A partial listing of participating sites include:

(B=Breakfast & L=Lunch)

Alachua Elementary

13800 NW 152 Pl. Alachua, Fl. 32615

B(7:30-8:00) L(11:30-12:00)

6/10 thru 7/18 (Mon-Thurs)

Closed 7/4 & 7/5

Archer Community                          

14533 SW 170 St. Archer, Fl. 32618

B(7:30-8:00)   L(11:00-11:30)

6/10 thru 7/25 (Mon-Thurs)

Closed 7/2, 7/3, 7/4

Hawthorne High                              

21403 SE 69 Ave. Hawthorne, Fl. 32640

B(8:30-9:00) L(11:15-11:45)

6/10-6/27 (Mon-Thurs

Irby Elementary                                  

13505 NW 140 St. Alachua, Fl. 32615

B(7:30-8:15) L(11:30-12:00)

6/10 thru 6/27 (Mon-Thurs)

Mebane Middle                                    

16401 NW 140 St., Alachua, Fl. 32615

B(8:00-8:30)   L(11:30-12:00

6/10 thru 7/25 (Mon-Thurs)          

Closed 7/4

Newberry High                                    

400 SW 258 St. Newberry, Fl. 32669

B(8:30-9:00)   L(11:30-12:00)

6/10 thru 7/2 (Mon-Thurs)

Santa Fe High                                      

16213 NW U.S. 441 Alachua, Fl. 32615

B(7:30-8:00) L(12:00-12:30)

6/10 thru 8/2 (Mon-Thurs)

Closed 7/1 thru 7/5

Shell Elementary                                

21633 SE 65 Ave. Hawthorne, Fl. 32640

B(7:45-8:15) L(10:30-11:00)

6/10 thru 6/27 (Mon-Thurs)

Waldo Community                              

14450 NE 148 Ave. Waldo, Fl. 32694

B(7:30-8:00)   L(11:00-11:45)

6/10 thru 7/18 (Mon-Thurs)      

Closed 7/4 & 7/5

For a complete listing of sites throughout Alachua County, visit http://www.sbac.edu and select the “Lunch Menu” link.

#   #     #

Email editor@


Add a comment

     ALACHUA – The city of Alachua's number one export could be employment.

The population of Alachua is about 9,000 people, according to the 2010 census. After subtracting the people below 18 and above 62, the population sits at about 5,000. The city has over 5,000 jobs, said Adam Boukari, assistant city manager. That means Alachua has more jobs available than people to do them. This makes the city a job exporter, creating employment for people in surrounding communities.

From an economic standpoint, Boukari said having fewer working-eligible people than jobs can be a good thing.

“You want your community to be self-sustainable,” he said. “We want people who live in our community to have an opportunity to be employed in our community.”

Progress Corporate Park employs over 1,000 people alone, Boukari said. Then there are the distribution centers for Cisco, Walmart and Dollar General, which employ about 1,500 people combined. That’s in addition to all the small businesses, he added.    

“We're able to attract business here,” he said.

Representatives from any of these three companies were not available to comment on the exact number of people they employ or what makes Alachua an attractive place for them.

However, Boukari gave a couple of reasons why the city draws in businesses.

He pointed to the quality of life in the area as one reason.

“I think it's one of the biggest things that bring people to Alachua.” Everything else being equal, the quality of life in Alachua can be a clincher, he said said.

Another reason is the tax rate, he said. The millage rate, the amount per $1,000 that is used to calculate taxes on property, is 5.5 percent. It might not be the absolute lowest in the area, but it's still competitive, he said.

Location might be a driving factor, too, noted Gib Coerper, mayor of Alachua. The town is central to several towns in Florida and Georgia, making it a good place for a distribution center.

The city streamlines the process for businesses setting up shop, Coerper said. When a company comes in, Alachua helps them set up their infrastructure and hook up utilities such as sewage.

“The City tries to find a way to help them get here and be successful.”

The willingness of the community to accept these businesses also plays an important role, Coerper said.

“They wanted the businesses”he said.  

Alachua continues to attract jobs at a faster rate than it increases in population.

Last month, Governor Rick Scott announced that the biopharmaceutical company Nanotherapeutics, Inc. based in Alachua will open a new manufacturing plant being built with a contract from the Department of Defense.

The plant is expected to bring in about 150 jobs, Governor Scott said.

#    #     #

Email CMcKinney@


Add a comment

W - Student pilot Feature IMG 3947 copy

Andrew Geelhoed “gets his wings clipped” by Express Air Flight Instructor, Randall Taylor. Geelhoed successfully completed his first solo flight on his sixteenth birthday at Keystone Heights Airport on May 9.

Unlike most boys, when Andrew Geelhoed turned 16 on May 9, he probably wasn't too concerned with getting his driver's license.

When he awoke for his birthday, he drove from his High Springs home to the airport in Keystone Heights with his mother Kathy for his first solo flight.

"I was so nervous," Andrew said. His mother was no less worried.

Ever since he can remember, Andrew has been interested in planes and flying. He started his training in the virtual world with Microsoft Flight Sim X.

The Santa Fe High School sophomore first took the controls of a real plane when he was 12. A coworker of his dad with the Gainesville Civil Air Patrol bought him lessons. He was a little scared of his first flight, but that quickly changed, he said.

"I couldn't believe it when the instructor handed me the controls."

Since then, he has spent about 25 hours in the air.

When he first pulled into the Keystone Heights Airport on his birthday earlier this month, he found a Cessna 150 plane fueled up and ready to go. He got inside, went through the pre-flight checklist, and told his flight instructor, Randall Taylor, everything was clear.

As his mother watched him, she thought of all the mishaps that could happen to her oldest child.

After Andrew entered the plane with Taylor, they took the plane to the runway. Andrew then called out on the radio "Keystone Area Traffic Cessna 8536 Uniform departing runway 29 to the northwest, Keystone Traffic."

After that, he took the plane off and headed northwest. After completing two landings, Andrew landed the plane for Taylor to get off. He wasn't completely on his own, though. He had his flight instructor guiding him over the radio.

He spent about half an hour circling over the airport at 1,200 feet in the air, unable to really see the landscape below him through the clouds.

Without the instructor, "The plane felt lighter," Andrew said.

When he finally landed, his mother felt a burden being relieved.    

"I breathed a sigh of relief," she said. When the seasoned pilots hanging around the airport began complimenting Andrew's landing, his mother felt less worried.

"That really put my mind at ease, she said."

With his first solo flight under his belt, it would be easy to think passing the test for his driver's license would be easy.

"He would tell you that driving is harder than flying," said Andrew's dad, Don Geelhoed. "It is!" Andrew added.

Many boys fantasize about the day they turn 16 and get to drive. For Andrew, he fantasizes about the day he gets his pilot's license, which he hopes to have when he is 17. He still has a way to go. Common requirements for a private pilot’s license include a minimum of 40 hours of flight time, an oral and written exam and that the student has flown more than 100 nautical miles in a single flight. The student pilot must also undergo a hands-on flight exam with a certified examiner.

After that, he plans on going to the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs to train to be a pilot.

"I'm thinking I want to fly fighter planes," he said.

#     #     #

Email CMcKinney@


Add a comment

HIGH SPRINGS – Hubert Jacques, who at almost 60 says he is “at the pinnacle of his advanced career in governmental finance,” will be the man who will help chart the City’s financial future as the new finance director.

Jacques, who will come onboard June 24, 2013, has had more than 25 years experience in state and local governmental financial management and operations. He has been a Certified Government Finance Officer (CGFO) in Florida since 2001 and has been a member of the Florida Government Finance Officers Association (FGFOA) since 1997.

According to his resume, Jacques has been a Senior Finance Manager and Business Division Manager for Seminole County Environmental Services Department since 2010. He provided strategic financial leadership, which included rate making, rating agency reviews and modeling of utility acquisition and sale opportunities.

He led four sections in the county’s Business Division, which include permitting, billing, customer service and accounting. He also oversaw accounts receivable and payable, grant accounting, general accounting purchasing, payroll and financial reporting.

He developed and administered two large budgets; a $48 million annual operating budget and a $300 million capital budget that built and expanded surface water treatment, ground water treatment and wastewater treatment facilities. He also collaborated with other division managers and the director in allocating financial and human resources.

One aspect of his experience that High Springs commissioners may appreciate is his ability to brief commissioners on matters coming to the board for approval. In his current position, Jacques personally reviews all the financial reports, makes corrections and then translates the numbers into verbal or written reports to help staff, elected officials and citizens better understand what those figures mean.

Although Jacques has a financial manager in his current position, he explained, “I do not have any qualms about doing the day-to-day operations of a finance director in a small town. I am well versed in all of the current rules and regulations that need to be followed and routinely attend seminars and take advantage of other continuing education opportunities.”

Asked why he would consider moving to a small town after providing financial leadership to a government serving 123,000 water and wastewater utility and 66,000 solid waste customers, Jacques replied, “I’ve gone as far as I can with the credentials and experience I have. I now need to begin planning for our retirement.”

“I looked at our financial status and retirement destinations and found that the northwest Alachua County area was an ideal location for us. It has the university community nearby and all that it can offer. Also we are outdoors people. Northwest Alachua County has a huge variety of parks and recreational opportunities, which we want to be able to enjoy.”

“In our retirement planning, we targeted two areas in the state. This opportunity came along and together with its locale, makes it a very desirable situation for us.”

Not only does the university provide a rich and varied experience for the Jacques couple, but it also provides an easy commute for Jacques to maintain his 80 hours of continuing education, which is required every two years in order to maintain his credentials.

While Jacques was Director of Academic Support Services at the University of Central Florida, College of Business Administration in Orlando, he completed a full-time master’s degree in Business Administration while working full time. With additional post graduate coursework and seminars under his belt since 2008, Jacques has not yet decided if he will use his proximity to the university to advance his degree.

Instead he says he is more excited about the opportunity to help the city manager, staff and citizens to make a difference.

“I have always been a very good steward of my government’s financial resources,” he said. “I am constantly aware that it is the citizens’ money that we are administering. It is my responsibility as a finance officer to make sure their money is safeguarded and used to benefit the citizens.”

The couple visited the area this past weekend and found a home to rent nearby Newberry.

#     #     #

Email Cwalker@


Add a comment

W - Gentle Carrousel Breyer Hamlet  copy

Now headed to Moore, Okla., the Gentle Carousel Horses have recently visited children’s hospitals and the Sandy Hook/Newtown, Conn., area.


HIGH SPRINGS –Debbie Garcia-Bengochea, husband Jorge, and the Gentle Carousel Horses are on the road again. This time they are heading to Moore, Okla., after receiving several requests for visits from area hospitals and families of children affected by the recent devastating tornado.

“This was another group of telephone calls we just couldn’t say ‘no’ to,” explained Garcia-Bengochea. “It was the very best thing we could do, so we’re doing it. Anytime there are children involved, we know we can help,” she said.

The team of miniature therapy horses just returned from a second trip to Sandy Hook/Newtown, Conn. They visited children's hospitals on the way starting with St. Jude Children's Hospital in Memphis and ending at Yale-New Haven Children's Hospital. They also worked with victims of child trafficking in Washington, DC.

“On the way back to Florida we will be stopping at various children’s hospitals on our route,” she said. “We want to be there to support as many children and caregivers as possible.”

One of the benefits of working in different cities and recently working in Washington, DC is the couple’s new-found ability to contact sources to help them coordinate their visits. In addition to the local people in Oklahoma, FEMA and the Health Department are all pitching in to help. “We have people we can call on now to help us, which is great,” she said.

Garcia-Bengochea also extols the virtues of social media. “So many more people know who we are now because of our Facebook page and the press coverage we have received along the way. It really helps,” she said.

Also, unlike their first trip to Connecticut, there are teams of people along the way and in Oklahoma who have volunteered to help with the horses and to provide locations for them to rest and play between visits to the families. “It’s more economical for us if we do not have to bring a team of volunteers with us,” she said.

Gentle Carousel Miniature Therapy Horses is an all volunteer 501(c)(3) nonprofit charity. The teams of 32 miniature therapy horses visit over 20,000 children and adults each year inside hospitals, hospice and assisted living facilities, libraries and school programs for at-risk readers.

Anyone wishing to learn more about the program or donate to the organization can contact them on their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/TherapyHorses.

#     #     #

Email Cwalker@


Add a comment

More Articles ...