An Accidential Zombie Named Ted

written by Brody Barcode
Photography by Chris Redd, Chief Photographer

An Accidental Zombie Named Ted. Cast and Crew Anne Welles’ film, An Accidental Zombie (Named Ted), breathes life back into Ocala’s entertainment district.

Anne Welles’ film, An Accidental Zombie (Named Ted), breathes life back into Ocala’s entertainment district.

Historically, Ocala/Silver Springs, Florida has been considered a hub for shooting Hollywood movies – dating back to silent films. However, over the course of the last sixty years, the idea of shooting a full length feature Hollywood film in Marion County has been somewhat left in the pre-Technicolor black and white past. However, that all changed when independent filmmaker Anne Welles flew in from L.A., along with cast and crew, to shoot her full length comedy/horror feature, An Accidental Zombie (Named Ted).”Ocala Magazine had the privilege of being invited to sit down with Welles, along with a majority of the cast and crew members both on and off set, initiating Q&As, while making some fantastic new acquaintances. It was through this experience I not only found out An Accidental Zombie (Named Ted) was filmed entirely in Marion County, but how the film and the process has positively ignited this community.

B.B. (Brody Barcode): So Anne, tell OM readers a little bit about yourself?
A.W. (Anne Welles): I’ve been in the movie business now for about twenty years and I’ve been making films since around 2004. Before that I was a therapist and stay at home mom.

B.B.: How did you find out about Ocala?
A.W.: I came [to Ocala] for the Silver Springs International Film Festival a couple of years ago – for one of my short films. I completely fell in love with the town and I was really impressed by the festival itself. It was really very special and different, in part, because of the way they treated the filmmakers. At that time I started considering whether I’d be able to do this film here in Ocala. Last year, after coming again to the film festival, I decided I would try exploring the idea of making An Accidental Zombie (Named Ted) here.

B.B.: What was it that finally sealed the deal for you to say, “Yep, I’m filming this movie in Ocala?”A.W.: Yeah, so it was several things. One, we were able to raise some of our funds here. Two, we had lots of great locations for shooting and people who were willing to let us film in their homes and neighborhoods – a welcoming town that was willing to help us out with food and lodging. Three, the proximity we had to film-schools and Orlando. Places where we could get the resources we’d need – like for instance renting equipment.

B.B.: I got a chance to speak to a couple of people in town that were able to volunteer, as well as work as extras on your film. They told me you had mentored them during the Silver Springs International (Jump/Cut) Film festival just this March.
A.W.: So yeah, I was already down here preparing for this film and was asked if I’d mind being a mentor for Jump/Cut. It was perfect timing because I ended up meeting a lot of those people that are now on set. I mentored them and then reached back out to see if any of them would want to get on-set experience. Most of them took advantage of that as production assistants, behind the scenes videographers/photographers, background extras and volunteers. Although, we did cast Brittany Taylor Visser – who’s a local girl now living in L.A., as well as Anthony Gilardi, a local actor who’s also now in L.A. We also cast Cole Mruz, son of local business owner, Sheri Mruz.

B.B.: Do you feel like the local support from all of the actors and volunteers made a positive effect on your films budget?
A.W.: Immensely!

B.B.: So how did An Accidental Zombie (Named Ted) come about?
A.W.: So originally, I was trying to come up with an idea for a film that was marketable. So I thought, ‘Well, I should probably do something with zombies in it because they’re popular.’ And then I thought, ‘Zombies are expensive.’ [laughing] So then I thought, ‘What could I do with one zombie?’ And so I started to think about how that might happen and what that would look like. I tend to like a positive underlying message in my films – partly because of my background as a therapist and also as a mother. An Accidental Zombie (Named Ted) is a story about coming to terms with who you are. Ted is in denial about being a zombie. And to me, it’s sort of a metaphor for being in denial about whatever it is that’s going on with you.

B.B.: As far as a film release goes, are you planning to come back to Ocala to do a movie premier?A.W.: Yes! We’re planning to do a red carpet premier here in town, in association with the Silver Springs Film Festival. We’re hoping to do that in the fall and, when we do, we’re hoping to do that at the Marion Theatre.

B.B.: Looking back at this overall experience, would you consider shooting another full length feature film in Ocala?
A.W.: 100 percent! In fact, part of my goal is to be able to create a team that does this on a regular basis so at the end of this, we can all look at each other and go, “What’s next?” Based on our experience here in Ocala, it’d be my first choice.

Prior to sitting down with Anne Welles, I was able to catch-up with the 2017 Silver Springs International (Jump/Cut) Film Festival winner, Jake Jacobowitz. He states, “The film’s director, Anne Welles was one of our four mentors from the Jump/Cut contest. She invited us to the set to see the process at work. This whole experience has been extremely educational and inspirational.”I was also able to speak with Ocala independent actress/writer/filmmaker, Darian Mosley who states, “As a participant of the 2016 Silver Springs International Film Fest, I had the good fortune of making the acquaintance of filmmaker Anne Welles. Having her as one of the mentors for the Jump/Cut film challenge earlier this year was a great chance to learn more about professional filmmaking, as she offered many valuable bits of wisdom. When she invited myself and some of the other local production groups to be part of AAZNT the excitement level among Ocala’s creative community got amped! Experiencing the production process and working with such a large and well organized crew was very enlightening for me personally and I’m excited to put some of what I learned into practice!”

Following my Q&A with Anne Welles, Ocala Magazine’s Brody Barcode interviewed Ocala native and actress, Brittany Taylor Visser.

B.B.: So Brittany, tell us a little bit about yourself?
B.T.V.: So, I’m Brittany Taylor Visser, an actress from Los Angeles. I actually grew up in Ocala. I started acting at the Ocala Civic Theatre when I was seven years old and did shows there every year until I graduated from high school. I was in the IB Program at Vanguard (Go Knights!) I also sang with an opera company in Orlando throughout middle and high school, so I was performing around Central Florida all of the time. I went on to earn my BFA in Musical Theatre from Syracuse University and then I moved to NYC where I continued to study acting and perform in off-Broadway shows, independent film, on TV and in commercials. I lived there up until last summer, when I packed up my Prius and drove across the country to move to Los Angeles!

B.B.: How did you find out about the film and what was it about it that grasped your attention, compelling you to sign on?
B.T.V.: I found out about the film when I was referred to Anne by a mutual friend, Greg Thompson. He actually directed me in several shows at the OCT when I was growing up, including Pirates of Penzance and Cats as well as a short film he wrote and directed and filmed in Ocala, Swimming to the Moon. Thompson told me he had a friend, Anne Welles, who was producing a film and he asked me to put an audition on tape. This was 2 or 3 years ago, so I had been in contact with Anne for awhile. Then, I came home for the first Silver Springs International Film Festival, where Anne had a short film screening. I met her in person and we hit it off! I thought her script was so quirky and adorable and I loved the message of acceptance at the core of the film – acceptance of yourself and others. We stayed in touch as she developed the script, cast it and got funding. It was inspiring to watch her vision come to life and I wanted to be a part of it. We need more women in film, especially behind the camera, and I wanted to support her.

B.B.: How does work in NYC/L.A. differ from Ocala?
B.T.V.: In NYC and LA, you don’t get the same sense of community rallying together to support one project. In both cities, there are shoots going on all the time, all over the place.

B.B.: What were your thoughts on seeing how the Ocala entertainment scene came together in support of Anne’s film?

B.T.V.: To see so many people donating their time and resources, opening their homes and then getting so excited about the project and wanting to be involved – it’s a very special thing you would only get in a smaller community. It’s definitely inspired me to come back home if I ever wanted to film my own project!

Film Crew:
Anne Welles: Writer/Director
Christopher Peuler: Executive Producer
Colleen Hard: Line Producer
Cinematographer: Aitor Uribarri
Cameron McKendry (playing Ted)
Akari Endo (playing his love interest, Livia)
Kane Hodder (Jason, Friday the Thirteenth movies)
Naomi Grossman (American Horror Story)
Gary Anthony Williams (The Boondocks)
Tanya Chisolm (Big Time Rush)
Sandi McCree(The Wire)
Chris Attoh (Nollywood Star)
Tim Brennen (Mad Men)
Korin Bukowsi (The Voice)
David Kallaway (Logan)
Local Actors:
Brittany Taylor Visser
Anthony Gilardi
Cole Mruz

FishHawk Spirits

Written by Kelli Fuqua Hart, editor – in – chief
Photography by Chris Redd, Chief Photographer

The taste of local flavor is mouth-watering.

The taste of local flavor is mouth-watering.

If you have ever enjoyed a glass of their spicy Twisted Sun Golden Rum or a sweet sip of their Island Grove Blueberry Vodka, you should know you have just tasted a locally developed and locally distilled product made from all-natural, locally grown ingredients. Every FishHawk Spirits product uses some ingredient that is grown in Florida – a step that is important to its owners.

Matthew Bagdanovich risked his entire life savings to make the FishHawk Spirits a reality. Alongside co-owners Jim Brady and Chris Howard, Bagdanovish erected, operates and has put this unique artisinal distillery on the map.

With 50 states and over 3,000 counties to choose from in selecting a location for this distillery, why Marion County? Bagdanovish answers that question with two solid answers, “Location and water.”

FishHawk’s distillery sits on a secluded 3.5-acre farm in Dunnellon, of which only 1.25-acres are currently developed. Long, dirt roads lead visitors to this primitive, yet beautiful venue where they can see the entire distilling process in action. “Fortunately, Marion County wants agriculture to work,” explains Bagdanovish, “so they were both instrumental and helpful in streamlining the permitting process and opening our doors.”

FishHawks’s second not-so-secret formula is its water source. The farm sits on some of the purest water found in the US. Because it contains no iron or trace of calcium, it is, as Bagdanovich describes, “Classic whiskey maker’s water.” To help put into perspective just how great this water is we can compare it to water bottling plants. These plants use reverse osmosis filters to get total dissolve solids in their water down to 200 or 300 parts per million. The water FishHawk uses begins at 115 parts per million, naturally.

FishHawk opened for business in 2011, but its owners never anticipated visitors. Today, more and more curious passerbys stop in for a tour of the farm and to explore the inner-workings of the distillery. Ocala Magazine was lucky enough to get a private tour that literally showed the Fishhawk process from the pluck of a fresh blueberry to the clink of fully filled and labeled glass bottles as they are packaged for shipping.

The process is tedious, specific and yet exciting for Bagdanovich’s team. Even as he spoke on the processes of yeast nutrients, Diammonium Phosphate and fermentation, Bagdanovish’s face lit up with enthusiasm and passion for his product. He walked us through his distillery with pride explaining every detail of grain and how alpha amylase and beta amylase is created. Who knew how critical and captivating tiny kernels of corn were to the process of distilling, yet here they were making the magical malt FishHawk products depend on!

The smokey smell of oak and cherry deliciously filled the air as Bagdanovich roasted his malt. Smoke is a big part of FishHawk’s flavor process. The grain binds to compounds that form in the smoke. “When we get ready to grind the grain,” explains Bagdanovich, “it still has that smokey flavor. When we mash it, the smokey flavor is still there. Even as the clear whisky runs out of the still, it still contains a hint of smokey flavor. That is a big, big step for our products in terms of flavor.”

Throughout the tour, Bagdanovich kept reiterating the importance of using local ingredients. “We do business with our neighbors,” he boasted. FishHawk’s blueberry vodka is made from 100% blueberries from Island Grove. Everything in its bottle grew and was fermented within 25-miles of the distillery. Bagdanovich uses corn from Meeks’ Farm, oats from his good friend Ricky and local citrus from varying groves. His Silver Queen Whiskey is made from Silver Queen Corn he grows himself. Even the lumber he used to build his remarkable new tasting porch was all milled by a neighbor using local trees.

Under this newly built, rustic porch, detailed with Edison Bulb fixtures and hammered copper, Bagdanovich lined up his products and began to pour us all a sample. A woman on horseback trotted over for a taste of FishHawks delicious vodka collection. Visitors who come by way of horseback are the norm at the distillery.

Packaged in unique glass bottles, adorned with creatively designed labels, FishHawk products taste even better than they look. Watermelon Vodka was the perfect choice on such a hot day. Another gentleman at the tasting bar was complimenting the Marion 106 – a 106-proof Tangerine Brandy seasoned with blackberries and toasted American White Oak.

FishHawk products can be found in over 300 retail locations, as well as many local bars and restaurants. In 2016, FishHawk concentrated on opening two other locations – one in Gainesville and the other in Ybor City, Tampa.

So the next time you are ordering up some spirits, ask for FishHawk. Bagdanovich’s products hit their proof with precision. They contain no artificial flavors or preservatives. In fact, FishHawk products contain no chemical byproducts – such as sodium cyanide and acetone – which means virtually no hangover tomorrow.

“We aren’t looking to take a substandard product and make it palatable,” explains Bagdanovich. “We are taking a premium product and making it excellent.”

For more information on FishHawk Spirits, please visit or call 352.445.1292. OM

Pandora: The World of Avatar

Written by Kelli Fuqua Hart, Editor-in-chief
Photography by Chris Wims

PAndora World of Avatar Mechanical Warrior

On December 18, 2009 James Cameron introduced the world to a film that would forever change the way we view movies. On May 27th, nearly eight years later, people from around the globe were able to enter a foreign world that will forever change the way they view reality – as only James Cameron would have it.

After five years, nine months and 22 days, veteran Jake Sully wakes from cryosleep to link to his Avatar and explore Pandora under the supervision of Dr. Grace Augustine. Anyone who saw this film recalls that moment, where Jake experiences bouts of wonder, curiosity and anticipation. This new, exciting world with all of its astonishing landscape and unparalleled ecosystem was finally a part of Jake’s reality.

Today, the World of Pandora can be a part of your reality – a place where you will be captivated by zooplantae (or planimals) that engage you through touch. One plant in particular is the Flaska Reclinata – a massive pod-like flora that glows fiery orange and pinks and sprays a mist of cool spores across the landscape when rubbed by a visiting human.

By day, you will be mesmerized by patches of worm-like plant life, gigantic vine-covered pods, neon ferns, tentacle-toting life forms, cascading waterfalls and flowing rivers, vibrant blankets of lime-green moss and the distant echoes of alien fauna playing deep inside a plush forest of natural foliage.

Visitors will explore 11-acres of remarkable detail that extends across and above the Valley of Mo’ara – home to the Na’vi and their lush flora. Human visitors trek under and up winding, vine-entangled paths through the Hallelujah Mountains where Flights of Passage on the backs on wild banshees ensue. Over 45-meters in height, these uniquely designed mountains appear to be suspended in air, the same way you recall seeing them on the Silver Screen. Every inch of alien rock is swarmed with woven vines, trickling waterfalls, extraterrestrial pods and breath-taking lifeforms.

Every intricate detail of Disney’s Pandora was thought of and drafted by a team of highly skilled and dedicated creatives who brought Canadian filmmaker, director, producer, screenwriter, innovator and inventor James Cameron’s vision to life.

“I was 19-years old and I had a dream – literally a dream,” recalls Cameron, during Pandora’s dedication ceremony on May 24th in Orlando, Florida, “of a bioluminescent forest with glowing trees and little spinning, glowing lizards. I woke up very excited and I sketched it and I painted it and I remember those images.” Years later, Cameron began writing the script for Avatar and ultimately, as the world knows, his story of a glowing world came to life on screen. “Here we are years later,” exclaims Cameron, standing in the center of Na’vi terrain, “where literally, a dream has come true all around us.”

Cameron is known for other blockbuster films to include Aliens, The Terminator, True Lies and the 1997 hit Titanic. His storytelling often reveals defeat of the impossible, defying the odds or simply challenging the norm. Avatar is a culmination of all three. Walt Disney famously said, “It’s kind of fun to do the impossible.”

Biochemical emissions from alien lifeforms set Pandora aglow and the attraction presents human visitors an entirely new experience.

Biochemical emissions from alien lifeforms set Pandora aglow and the attraction presents human visitors an entirely new experience.

Disney CEO Bob Iger agrees saying, “It’s [Walt’s] sentiment that captures the soul of our company, perfecting the optimistic spirit that truly drives everything we do.”

Iger addressed an anxious crowd of media reps, just before dedicating Pandora and inviting guests to explore the park, by saying, “Jim [Cameron] does the impossible again and again and again, merging wonderful storytelling with mind-blowing technology to create experiences no one has seen before – Avatar was definitely one of them.” Iger went on to describe Pandora as “exotic, captivating and breathtakingly beautiful” – and that’s simply an understatement.

James Cameron and his Avatar cast – Zoe Saldana, Sam Worthington, Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Lang, Joel David Moore, Laz Alonso and C.C.H. Pounder – wandered the park, experiencing a world they’ve only ever known to be a movie set. Imagine Cameron’s delight soaring over Pandora on the back of a wild ikran, across rugged terrain and through the deepest parts of a totem garden – all parts of a 43-year old vision he has now witnessed as part of a 3D simulated flight in Pandora. This 4-minute ride has visitors soaring through treetops, plunging between caverns, barely escaping stampeding land beasts and ocean giants, surfing through gargantuan waves and encountering the majesty of Eywa, the Pandoran nature deity.

During the flight, riders will feel the spray of the ocean as their avatar barely misses being struck by a massive whale-like creature and will inhale a variety of scents ranging from flora-induced perfume smells to earthy grass-type smells that occur as your avatar jets through Pandora’s forest.

Cameron graciously thanked 20th Century Fox Chairman/CEO Stacey Snider, Film Vice Chairman Emma Watts, Senior Executive Vice President Victoria Rossellini, film producer Jon Landau and Joe Rohde, Veteran Executive at Walt Disney Imagineering – just some of the folks who make rides like the Flight of Passage possible. His proclaimed favorite simulators were numbers 8 and 9 (one of which happens to be the very seat I experienced my own Flight of Passage in – sitting where James Cameron sat before me – no big deal!)

C. C. H. Pounder, Avatar’s Mo’at, shopped for loved ones inside Pandora’s Windtraders and even stopped for photos with Ocala Magazine’s Director of Social Media – warning him, semi-jokingly, against interrupting a woman while she shops. Sam Worthington, who plays Jake Sully, enjoyed Pandora with his family, joking with cast-mates Zoe Saldana and Joel David Moore from time to time. Worthington, his wife Lara, and their children were seen enjoying Pandora’s other interactive experience – the Na’vi River Journey.

This slow-moving, bioluminescent boat ride features animatronics like never seen before. The Shaman of Songs’ smooth movements are so lifelike you’ll have to take a closer look to decide if it’s perhaps not a real Na’vi after all. The glowing rivers of Pandora give riders a chance to sit, soak up the AC and be captivated by the glowing, moving sights and sounds of this unfamiliar planet. The Na’vi River Journey is a sampling of what Pandora will transform into at nightfall.

Each species of alien flora takes on a new light – literally – under the moon. Crevices along suspended mountains glow like ember. Unexplored paths beneath human feet glow in the dark. Waterfalls are illuminated. Biochemical emissions from alien lifeforms set Pandora aglow and the attraction presents human visitors an entirely new experience.

Disney’s Pandora: The World of Avatar is now open to the public, inside the already popular Animal Kingdom Park, and its mythical creatures extend a warm, radiant welcome to all who wish to explore it. Strap on your most comfortable walking shoes and be prepared to snap a ton of colorful, vibrant selfies. The Na’vi hope to kìyevame – see you soon – and know you will be frrfeien – happy to visit.

For more information on Disney’s Pandora, please visit or call (407) 939.5277. OM

A Four Legged Author

Writing a children’s book can be difficult – especially when you don’t have opposable thumbs!

Written by Nicole DeIorio, Editorial Intern

“Pleased to meet you. I’m Buck – Buck the Dog! I’m a Boston terrier. RRRRRUFF!”

Buck the Boston Terrier has many accomplishments under his paws – especially for only being around six-years-old. A published author, comedian and professional pest controller, Buck has done many exciting things in his six years of life (or is it 42-years?) Either way, life wasn’t always this incredible for the Boston Terrier. Buck once faced starvation and the threat of euthanization before he found his furr-ever home. With an abundance of love and care, Buck and his owner forged a bond that developed into his first children’s book.

Buck the Boston Terrier was adopted four years ago by Linda Yacovetti Arvanitis, Ocala Realtor at Remax AllStars Realty – and now published author. Before he was known as Buck the Dog, he was picked up by Winter Park Animal Shelter and given a second lease on life.

Buck the Boston Terrier has many accomplishments under his paws – especially for only being around six-years-old.

Buck the Boston Terrier has many accomplishments under his paws – especially for only being around six-years-old.

His snaggle tooth smile and brindle coat were dull from him being malnourished when the animal shelter found him. Little did the shelter know, the unnamed Boston Terrier’s life would be changed forever. Being six-months-old when the pup was found, the Boston Terrier wasn’t adopted until his first birthday.

The shelter tried adopting him out for months, but hopes looked grim for the sweet puppy. Thankfully, Florida Little Dog Rescue came along at the very moment Buck was scheduled for euthanization. They temporarily placed him in a foster home for the next nine months of his short, rocky life.

Meanwhile, Arvanitis scoured adoption websites, plotting the rescue of her future dog. She was a Boston Terrier lover at heart. Over her lifetime, she’d loved and lost four terriers. When she found the adorable Boston Terrier’s picture, her heart instantly connected with him – she fell in love! That’s when the plot thickened.

Having already scheduled to meet with the dog rescue, Arvanitis only needed to convince her husband this dog was meant to be in their lives. Her creative words won over her husband’s heart and the following day they adopted the little Boston Terrier they affectionately named Buck. He was a perfect fit for their terrier-loving family.

“Buck’s a warrior. I recognized that the moment I met the little guy!” Arvanitis said. “He must have been raised with big dogs at the shelter because he acts like a big dog himself – thinking he can take on the world! He won’t even give small dogs the time of day.”

Buck found a way deep into the family’s hearts – as well as their beds – soon thereafter! Arvanitis, with a stroke of inspiration, opened Facebook and created a page dedicated to her lovable Boston Terrier – only one day after adopting him. Since then, the Buck the Dog page has exploded with interest in Buck’s daily antics.

Arvanitis wrote what came naturally – humor. Writing from the perspective of Buck, she found his followers adored his hilarious jokes. Arvanitis’ friends and family thought Buck’s adventures were quite funny. In her posts, she affectionately called herself The Lady and her husband The Man. From chewing up pine cones to finding the sunniest spot in the house, Arvanitis documented Buck’s curious antics — particularly, his love for chasing animals.

Buck’s favorite critter to chase is a lizard, although that admiration is closely followed by his thrill for chasing squirrels. Buck’s tenacious desire to chase animals doesn’t stop with skittering creatures. In one of Buck’s Facebook posts, he details his encounter with another one of his favorite animals. “I just got home from my walk with the lady and we came across a black snake. He was all coiled up, except for his little head. I was sure I would be able to go up real close to that little head and BITE IT…so that it would squeak, like my toys do. But the lady gasped – even freaked out a little bit – and pulled me away. Until next time, little black snake, if in fact that is your REAL name. I noticed you weren’t wearing a name tag.”

Friends and family told Arvanitis her posts should be compiled in a book. While building a social media following, she continued posting as Buck’s trusty writer since he doesn’t have opposable thumbs.
A year after starting the Facebook page, Arvanitis and Buck wrote their first children’s book. In August of 2015, Arvanitis began compiling her posts about Buck. “Writing the book took an entire year! I never realized how long the process would take. Even after the story was written, finding an illustrator proved difficult and self-publishing took longer than expected.”

In August of 2016, the adorable Boston Terrier released his first children’s book titled Buck’s New Home. Shortly after the book’s release, Arvanitis attended a Florida Realtor Women’s Conference. While she was there, her friends set up her first book signing. “Honestly, my first book signing happened by accident,” Arvanitis laughed. “My coworkers set up the signing at the conference after hearing about the publication. I am beyond grateful to them for that opportunity.”

At her next book signing, Arvanitis brought Buck. There was only one problem with this – Buck was more popular than the book reading. “The children flocked to Buck,” Arvanitis said. “They were more interested in petting Buck – whose tail was going a mile a minute – than listening to the book reading. It was delightful!”

The local community has been very excited about Buck’s story. When Arvanitis reached out to Barnes and Noble of Ocala for a book reading, the company jumped at the opportunity. They went above and beyond for the author, creating a book signing with Buck and a chance to put the children’s book on their shelves. Since the start, Arvanitis has taken part in three book signings and readings with the lovable Buck.

“Buck has afforded me many wonderful opportunities,” says Arvanitis. “From the day he came into our home, he has made his way into our hearts. He sleeps in our bed – something I thought would never happen. He thinks he’s a human. Buck eats, sleeps and goes on walks when we do.”

Since adopting Buck, Arvanitis’ life changed. From having a Facebook page dedicated to Buck to writing a children’s story to going to book signings to becoming an author – she is in awe of how much more happiness is in her life.

Arvanitis believes inspiration is a large reason her life turned out this way. “I follow my instincts and try to live without fear. My inspiration to write the book and reach out to Barnes and Noble of Ocala didn’t lead me astray. It’s one of the reasons I’m a published author with an incredible dog. Inspiration led me to adopt Buck which, in turn, afforded me these wonderful adventures.”

Let Buck crawl into your hearts! Support a local author and, at the same time, enjoy reading a sweet dog’s “tail” to your children. And make sure to follow Buck’s adventures on his website.

2017 Silver Springs International Film Festival

The show must go on – So, what’s it gonna take? (Left to Right: Laurie Zink, Joe Pantoliano, Greg Thompson and Tony Spiridakis)

The show must go on – So, what’s it gonna take?
(Left to Right: Laurie Zink, Joe Pantoliano, Greg Thompson and Tony Spiridakis)

written by Amber Tompkins
Photography by Ralph Demilio
A brilliant idea is born
The Ocala Film Foundation is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that recognizes and upholds Education as its major mission – with economic development as a close second. Founder of the Marion Cultural Alliance, Ocala Film Foundation and Chairman of the Horse Fever project, Laurie Zink has always been passionate about the arts and how they can stimulate economic growth in Ocala. Zink, along with many others, saw great potential in Marion County’s youth population. It may or may not come as a surprise to some, but our county alone contributes more artistic talent to the film and media industry than any other county in the state of Florida. This, in conjunction with our rich history in filmography that began in 1911, makes Ocala a highly desirable place to produce a film. The idea for the Foundation came about because Zink had always encouraged and supported her daughter’s artistic endeavors but also wanted to be able to foster these talents in other students as well. It was through the Ocala Civic Theatre Zink became acquainted with current festival director, Greg Thompson. Thompson was guest directing a production at the time. He had been active in the arts community for over 25 years and, while he does not live in Ocala, he felt the same zest for Marion County arts as did Zink and saw great potential in the way of developing a film festival. Zink and Thompson witnessed other communities greatly benefitting by hosting their own festivals and both knew local students could use a local festival as an outlet to exercise their own artistic talents while building valuable relationships that would help to launch their careers and improve their skills as artists.
“It is the fact underwater photography was started and perfected here that makes Central Florida a great place to shoot,” Thompson explained. “Silver Springs has always been and continues to be the world’s greatest water stage.” It is the largest basin of its type and has unique mineral deposits that make for reflective walls and unsurpassed crystal clear water. These factors equate to exquisite underwater filming conditions – something that is attractive to filmmakers who visit or discover Ocala because of the festival. To maintain the integrity and beauty of Silver Springs, a portion of festival monies raised goes back to preserving them. Not only is the Foundation benefiting from our beautiful springs, they are passionate about being eco-friendly and helping to maintain them.“It’s not just the rich history of filmography that makes Ocala the perfect city to host [a festival],” Zink tells OM, “it’s our contained downtown area and historic theatre as well.” When you look at big named festivals, those are factors they all have in common. Zink and Thompson knew from the get-go it was a recipe for success – Ocala needed its own film festival and they were going to be the ones to make it happen. Between Zink’s gumption and Thompson’s experience, the two began laying the groundwork for the first Silver Springs International Film Festival in 2014. It was their hope to expose Marion County students to some major players in the industry, as well as bring growth and exposure to our beloved city.There are a lot of people who dream up ideas and say, “We should (do this or that),” letting those ideas fall flat. However, the day Laurie Zink and Greg Thompson met, words sprang into action and the Silver Springs International Film Festival went from being a “We should” notion to a “Let’s do it!” action. While Zink will admit they didn’t fully realize what they were getting themselves into, all of the hard work and man hours were completely worth it. The festival was a success from inception. If it were not for Thompson’s connections and experience with film festivals, SSIFF would not be where it is today. In fact, it is his influence and guidance that has singlehandedly helped lead the festival to such successes. SSIFF is looked at as a model for other film festivals around the world.  “If we keep doing this with the same intention and rate of progression,” says Zink, “we will continue to make serious headway,” – a great thing for Ocala. For years now, Ocala has been working to revitalize its downtown area and encourage more tourism and commerce. Tourism is a main economic driver and professionals in the industry understand it goes hand in hand with hosting a film festival. For those of us who know and love Ocala, we know it only takes one visit here for someone to fall for the quaint charm of our tight-knit, beautiful and artistic community. Because filmmakers from all over the world submit their films to be shown at the festival, Ocala is getting beaucoup exposure. When the participating filmmakers come to town, they boost the local economy by eating numerous meals at local restaurants, staying multiple nights in hotels and doing a great deal of local shopping. Businesses in and around the downtown area will attest to this – when the festival is in town, business is booming.
Community Impact
Orchestrating the festival and all that it encompasses is a year round process that is currently being done by selfless volunteers who all share one common trait – a passion for the arts. Countless hours of work and planning go into each festival. There is much more to it than a night of movies and popcorn. The weeklong festival consists of daily Meet the Filmmaker coffees, multiple workshops and seminars that include a cast of renown players from the industry such as the Manhattan Film Institute’s founder Tony Spiridakis who is more widely known as a director, writer, actor, producer and playwright; James Walker, world renowned writer, producer and director; and representatives from the prestigious Torchlight program at the Florida State University. These events are held at local businesses and are free for guests to attend. Venues that have hosted in the past include Trilogy At Ocala Preserve, The Appleton Museum, Central Florida College, Pi On Broadway, Stella’s Modern Pantry and more. Guest attendance stimulates business and increases exposure, making it a win-win. If it wasn’t for the hard work and dedication of Laurie Zink, the Silver Springs International Film Festival wouldn’t be a reality and people from all over the globe might not even have Ocala on their radar. Zink is proud to say, “We’re bringing the world to our community,” and she has every right to be proud. This festival literally attracts people from all over the world. Other festival planners want to know the secret to the rapid success of the SSIFF. Zink recalls being “overwhelmed by the positive response.” Just to paint a picture of the magnitude of this event which has taken place for 3 years now, in 2014 alone, 11 filmmakers from around the world participated in the 3-day event. In 2015, that number jumped to 53 filmmakers and lasted 5 days. Last year, the festival became a 7-day event and featured works from 77 different international filmmakers. The Foundation has put many programs into place that encourage and allow young burgeoning artists to explore their talents. The Dream2Screen program offers classroom grants that help support Marion County school media programs. These grants have brought major media growth to our student population. Lake Weir High School for example, has been able to start a morning show with a grant they won in 2014. David Guest’s students at Forest High School have been able to learn the ins-and-outs of making a documentary. They’ve won a grant the past 2 years and it has afforded them the ability to purchase camera equipment and put together an amazing documentary called “Safe Haven: The Story of Paradise Park.” Their 18-minute documentary focuses on the segregation that took place right here in our community, decades ago. When these students learned about Paradise Park from Dr. Cynthia Graham at the Silver River Museum, they were appalled – partly because they could not imagine segregation like that in our community today, but also because they had never heard about it! They asked themselves, “Why aren’t Marion County students learning about this part of local History?” So they decided to do something about it. David Guest’s students wrote the grants themselves and took great pride in their submissions. “The documentary took nine months to produce, but has been a wonderful learning experience for the students,” Guest told OM. “This festival brings real world experience to our students and when they get to meet real actors, producers and directors at the festival and workshops they see we really aren’t as “Slocala” as people say.” David Guest also acts as the liaison between Marion County digital arts students and the festival. In addition to classroom grants, individual scholarships are offered annually. These scholarships have helped many students in our county who otherwise might not have had the opportunity to expand their knowledge of the industry. “The Ocala Film Foundation and Silver Springs International Film Festival is connecting people with opportunities,” Zink told OM. The Foundation also grants a Fresh Squeezed Award in the form of a $10,000 cash prize for the best made film in Florida – both feature films and shorts. Last year a student from the FSU film school was named a winner and continues to be very supportive of the Ocala Film Foundation and what it’s working towards. In fact, their next film is already in preproduction here in Central Florida. With every success story, community support becomes stronger and the economy grows a little more, not to mention the pride each participant takes in their work. “For the people who are just starting out, a little bit of cash turns into a whole lot of effort,” explains Thompson.The most recent endeavor developed by the Foundation was this year’s Jump/Cut Film Challenge. The 5-day long event consisted of 2 full days of workshops where mentors were flown in from all over the country to provide guidance to those participating. One mentor in particular, Todd Thompson, who worked at the Yellow Shoes Creative Group at Disney for over 20 years was impressed by Ocala’s “commitment to the arts and the emphasis people put on creativity here.” The remaining 72 hours of the challenge was for teams to make a film using parameters they were given. These parameters included a character name, job, prop, local landmark, a spoken line and film genre. It was truly amazing to see what all of the different groups came up with – each taking their own spin, using the same requirements and time allowance. Arguably the most valuable relationship formed by the Foundation has been the one established with the Manhattan Film Institute, an elite boutique film school in New York. MFI has been gracious enough to partner with the Dream2Screen program and is committed to matching the dollar amount of the student-won scholarship, if the student qualifies and wishes to attend MFI. This has made attending the distinguished school a reality for many people in our community, people who otherwise might not have been able to attend. One success story in particular hits very close to home for OM. ChrisWims, the current Director of Media for Ocala Magazine, started out as a scholarship winner who attended MFI as an acting student. He was thrilled to recently learn they want him to return as a director. Wimswholeheartedly attributes his success to the Foundation and the doors it has opened for him. The relationships built by the Foundation are invaluable and Marion County has greatly benefited from them. Festival director Greg Thompson believes these scholarships and grants are really changing things for our county. He also let OM in on a little secret – a Florida filmmaker approached him because of the Silver Springs International Film Festival in hopes he would agree to produce a high quality film with a $2 million budget, right here in our backyard! “This could make a big splash,” says Thompson, “and I am beyond flattered and incredibly honored to be asked to participate.” And while he can’t divulge any more details at this time, Ocala should be very anxious and excited to find out more.
So what’s next?
The program founders have worked tirelessly to create a successful festival model built on a sturdy Foundation. Everything about it greatly benefits our community, but only so much can be done with strictly volunteering and fundraising alone. “We can’t keep planning this thing on a wing and a prayer,” explains Zink. “The city and county both love what we’ve done but we need more support.” In other words, if Ocala wants to continue to benefit from the attention and revenue the SSIFF brings, we had better figure out a way to help fund it. People can’t keep working, tirelessly for nothing. And while funding is an integral part of making the festival a success, “What we need is more than just money,” urges Thompson. “We need a commitment from the community. It’s so doable. This could be astounding!”So many industry leaders have said they’ve never seen anything like this before. The key to the success of this festival has been the leadership of the Foundation. They have looked at how to strategically bring attention to Ocala, and it has worked. But one cannot put enough emphasis on the support they actively, critically need – and it is going to have to come from city and county officials. OM

ON THE MENU: Tomato and Avocado Salad

The Tomato and Avocado Salad simple, fresh and delicious.

The Tomato and Avocado Salad simple, fresh and delicious.

Tomato and Avocado Salad Ingredients:

Tasti-Lee Tomato (found only at Publix)
Organic Avocado
Premium Olive Oil (not extra-virgin)
Imported Balsamic Vinegar
Basil Leaves


This recipe is all about quality ingredients. For a fresh summer salad, give this recipe a try. Start with Tasti-Lee tomatoes that can be found exclusively at Publix. These are the best for this recipe because they are Florida grown and are the perfect size and have very good flavor. For one salad you will need one tomato and half of an organic Avocado. Begin by slicing your tomato into quarter inch thick slices and slicing your avocado like an apple. Arrange the tomato slices on your plate or dish and then top with the sliced Avocado. Pour about one tablespoon of premium Olive Oil over the top. Try and avoid using extra virgin Olive Oil for this recipe because of the bitterness. Drizzle with Imported Balsamic Vinegar and garnish with organic basil leaves. There doesn’t seem to be much to this simple recipe, but the flavors speak for themselves. Enjoy!

Visit Ashville North Carolina

Written by Kelli Fuqua Hart, Editor-in-chief
Photography by Chris Wims, Director of Media
You can’t go home again.” Asheville native and literary genius Thomas Wolfe’s words made sense as I wound my way through the many facets of his inspiring hometown. From the breathtaking views at the Biltmore House to the many local boutiques nestled into the heart of downtown, Asheville offers some of the most diverse, unique cultures and lifestyles in North America. As much as I adore my hometown Ocala, it was tempting to abide by Wolfe’s demand.

You can’t go home again.” Asheville native and literary genius Thomas Wolfe’s words made sense as I wound my way through the many facets of his inspiring hometown. From the breathtaking views at the Biltmore House to the many local boutiques nestled into the heart of downtown, Asheville offers some of the most diverse, unique cultures and lifestyles in North America. As much as I adore my hometown Ocala, it was tempting to abide by Wolfe’s demand.

Much like I fell in love with its mountainous skyline and blooming dogwoods, George Vanderbilt too was immediately mesmerized by Asheville’s majestic views and change of seasons. In 1889, after visiting his mother, Vanderbilt began building what is now called Asheville’s crown jewel, Biltmore, “A retreat reminiscent of the grand castles and estates of France and Britain.”America’s largest private home, Vanderbilt’s estate has over 4-acres of floor space and 250 rooms, all originally set inside 125,000-acres of wildlife and scenic pathways. Today, the family home is filled with original collections of art, heirloom furniture and over 20,000 rare books both read and cataloged by Mr. Vanderbilt himself. A quick Google search will yield you page after page of information pertaining to Mr. Vanderbilt’s prized home but, what you might not read about are the intricate details hidden throughout the iconic manor’s four floors. Over 60 stonemasons worked to produce over 32,000 bricks each day. Thousands of furnishings dating back to the 15th century were bought during extensive overseas purchasing excursions – items to include tapestries, prints, linens, carpets and decorative elements. The main floor contains Italian marble, stone archways, sculptured wood and multifaceted glasswork. Many of the rooms’ ceilings are hand-stenciled – a common European practice that Vanderbilt admired. Walnut paneling, ornate mantles, golden walls and ornate tiles are found throughout the home, as well as thousands of dollars’ worth of fresh cut flowers, arranged perfectly in ornamented vases. The sound of a melodious harp bounces off of the marble columns and breezes up the winding staircase as I make my way through the spacious bedroom chambers and sitting rooms. An indoor bowling alley, state-of-the-art gymnasium, indoor pool and smoking room are just a part of what you will experience along the tour – all leaving you in awe. The 30,000-acres of grounds surrounding Biltmore House include formal and informal gardens, designed by renowned American landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted. From the Italian Garden with its reflecting pools and aquatic life to the Walled Garden surrounded by 75,000 blooming spring tulips and a native butterfly sanctuary, the picturesque scene Vanderbilt planted for his guests forever blooms. Visitors can spend an entire day touring the depths of the estate, meandering through ornamental gardens, indulging in fine cuisine and exploring the Biltmore Estate Winery. Tucked away in the Blue Ridge Mountains, the historic winery offers complimentary tastings, a wine bar, winemaking tours and delicious food in a gorgeous setting. Named America’s Most Visited Winery, the Biltmore Winery provides guests an underground stroll through the cellar towards a tasting room where they enjoy a variety of wines and shopping opportunity. A multitude of events are offered each month, making it a new experience every time you visit. The historic, awe-inspiring Biltmore is one of the many reasons the city in which it resides is called Romantic Asheville.
River Arts District
Between 1880 and 1900, Asheville’s population grew from 500 residents to 10,000. This booming little town thrived for nearly three decades before the Great Depression moved in. Businesses shut down and production ceased. Large buildings and warehouses were vacated, putting the town in debt – $56 million to be exact – and laborers at a loss. Rather than renouncing its debt, Asheville committed to paying off the Depression-era bonds in full, despite the 40-plus years it would take. In fact, “Asheville is believed to be the only American city not to have defaulted on its bonds,” according to John Miguel Almaguer, owner of Asheville Art Studio Tours. However, during the almost 50 years Asheville lied dormant, little new construction was performed and many buildings became increasingly dilapidated. It wasn’t until around 1985 this sector of town – known today as the River Arts District or RAD – was reignited. Once a neglected ghost town, this district finally had life breathed back into it when a group of local artists moved their studios and galleries here, calling it home. Porge and Lewis Buck were the first artists to invest in the RAD, buying an old building in 1987 they named Warehouse Studios. Two years later, Pattiy Torno purchased what is now CURVE Studios and Garden – “the first live/work studio space in the district,” according to By the early 1990s, more and more artists flooded the RAD and in 1994, these same artists hosted the inaugural Studio Stroll. Today, just shy of a 30-year milestone, Asheville’s RAD is home to over 220 working artists within 21 unique buildings. Some of the art guests will enjoy includes basketry, bookbinding, clay, textiles, glass, interior design, lighting, music, painting, mixed media, sculpting, wood, glass and more. Several eateries and breweries have landed in the mix, providing artists and spectators alike a chance to dine, socialize and bask in the culture of the RAD. As part of the Asheville Art Studio Tours, you will engage with artists, watch them work and hear their stories. One of the most mesmerizing stops along the tour is the North Carolina Glass Center which offers demos and hands-on workshops. This non-profit studio’s mission is one of dedication to education, exploration and artist collaboration. Executive Director Kari Rinn, alongside Operations Manager Kathryn Adams and Studio Manager Hayden Wilson, operate with a high respect for tradition, responsibility and sustainability for energy, innovation and focus on the discipline as a whole. Visitors and students will be in awe of the masterpieces displayed throughout the spacious gallery, as well as the ability to create their own beads, vases and other pieces of ornamental glass. Open 7 days a week, North Carolina Glass Center offers a Hot, Coldworking and Flameworking Shop. Students work one on one with glass artists, getting undivided attention while creating a work of art that will last a lifetime. With over 20 in-house artists, the North Carolina Glass Center has become a staple in the RAD and a fan-favorite along the Asheville Art Studio Tour. Artist Stephen St. Claire comes to Asheville by way of Los Angeles. The owner of St. Claire Art, another stop along the guided art tour, Stephen has developed an oil painting technique he calls Dialuminism or light passing through. This one-of-a-kind technique involves embedding metal leafing onto a three dimensional, oil-painted canvas that Stephen ultimately seals with layer upon layer of solar resistant resin. When light hits the canvas, some of it gets swallowed in the shadows, while other facets of light reflect off of the silver leafing hidden within. Gallery-goers stand in awe of the results, often moving left to right to see how the light plays on the surface of the canvas. From abstracts to landscapes, Stephen St. Claire is well versed in his craft, having won numerous awards for his work – many of those international. His studio is immensely welcoming, filled with natural sunlight and colorful, intriguing works of art. Stephen creates his art in the lobby of his space so guests can watch him as he becomes engulfed in his craft. Stephen is like most of the artists in the RAD, making himself accessible to his guests and other artists alike. What once served as the National Biscuit Company, the 5,000-square foot, century-old Lift Studios is one spot you do not want to miss along your stroll of the RAD. Artist Daniel McClendon, owner of Lift Studios, has one remarkable story. He graduated from Western Michigan University with his Bachelors of Fine Arts. Having focused his studies on realism, Daniel soon found himself living in Asheville, painting full time. The idea of making a living while doing one’s passion sounds like a dream realized for most. For Daniel, however, it became a dark and confusing void. “I was creating was I was good at,” explains Daniel, “not what I was meant for.” His work felt insincere and “fraudulent.” For several months, he’d go to his studio, his wife Michelle convinced he was happily working – painting – when, in reality, he was at a total stand-still. “How do you tell your wife you’ve given up painting?” Daniel asked in rhetoric. “You don’t!” he chuckled. It was an internal struggle he battled until one very early March morning. Unexpectedly, Daniel had an epiphany that broke his hiatus and had him back in front of the easel. On the back of the last page of a Doubletree Hotel scratch pad, he jotted down his vision. “Find good scientific/accurate/simple source material of animals. Think about use of black. Emphasis on layers and process.” The list of ideas went on. On the back side of the same paper, Daniel sketched a buffalo and made a few other notes about layers, oil paint and facts. Today, this integral note hangs framed, pressed between glass, in The Lift Studios. Now, and authentically, Daniel creates primal compositions that reference highly abstract animal forms. He begins with a white canvas and then loosely applies large strokes of black paint that ultimately decide which animal will be born on canvas. His pieces are powerful, dynamic, colorful and exert an energy that stirs throughout the hallways and corridors of Daniel’s exquisite studio. Set diagonally from The Lift Studios is Studio A – a co-op of artists with varying talents. From handmade lamps and paper to scrap metal jewelry and woodblock prints, this creative space offers a uniqueness unlike any other stop along the tour. One artist who calls Studio A home is Andrea Kulish, owner of Pink Dog Creative. Andrea is diverse in her talents making lamps with handmade paper shades as well as teaching pysanky workshops – a class that introduces students to the art of Ukrainian egg decoration. Looking much like folk art, Ukrainian pysanky is executed using a wax resist method and dyes to create colorful, intricately detailed eggs that Andrea sells. Watching Andrea work was mesmerizing. Her steady hand and attention to detail encapsulates spectators. She begins the process with a real egg, writing out her design in hot wax using a special stylus called a pysachok or kistka. Imagine first a white egg. Andrea executes near perfect lines, swirls, dots or the likes on areas she wishes to remain white. She then submerges the egg in a colored dye of her liking. Once dry, she adds more wax lines or details to areas she wishes to remain colored. Again, she submerges her egg. As more wax is added, the layers of colors are preserved. After Andrea has skillfully finished each detail of her egg, she uses a lit candle to carefully melt away the wax, exposing a multitude of colors and designs. Her art is authentic and her passion, unsurpassed. Although it is a tiny shoppe, there is a huge amount of talent filling the joyful space.
Part of beautiful Asheville’s culture is the attention to fine dining – fine in the sense most of its eateries and restaurants focus on farm-fresh ingredients and healthy recipes. One venue in particular, housed on North Market Street, is Sovereign Remedies – owned by Charlie Hodge and his partner Sunil Patel. “Somewhere between warm and regal, [Sovereign Remedies] is filled with visual treasures of vintage service-ware, rich black and gold curtains, and locally built furniture and fixtures by Iron Maiden Studios,” says Hodge. Tall, picture windows allow natural lighting to enter the space as it hugs the foliage that is tucked into SR’s many nooks and crannies. In addition to SR’s massive, fully-stocked bar, patrons can gather in an urban-style atmosphere, enjoying culinary creations that are 100-percent farmed or foraged. From artisinal cheese and meat boards to crispy pig ears and stinging nettle tagliatelle, the menu items at SR are one-of-a-kind – made with the freshest of ingredients. The mission behind SR is that of organic, locally-sourced, sustainable foods. Charlie and Sunil mix with patrons, a true testament to their amazing customer service – a theme among Asheville’s restaurateurs. Once a Gulf service station, Asheville’s Ghan Shan Station welcomed us in and presented us with a chef’s tasting that was beyond expectation. The fully converted space is adorned with mementos from the original Gulf station, meshed with trendy fixtures, updated bar and local artwork. Chef’s first presentation began with a coconut squash soup – a creamy, flavorful starter of winter squash, coconut milk, chili oil, chive and black sesame. Next a progression of delicacies arrived to include a mushroom yuba salad, dan dan brussel sprouts, whipped tofu, house made dumpling and Koji marinated beef. To sweeten the deal, a Szechuan Root Beer Float followed the six courses. Between each tasting, we were taught what each recipe included, how the ingredients are farmed and which wines were best paired to enhance flavor. With an open-view kitchen, patrons are able to see their meals being prepared by Gan Shan chefs and an open-seating area allows guests to see every aspect of the space. The concept might remind you of the RAD, where older buildings are reborn as new businesses. Before a long day touring Asheville’s Biltmore or hiking through the Blue Ridge Mountains, make sure you indulge in a hearty, southern-style breakfast at Early Girl Eatery. Falling in line with many other local restaurants, Early Girl Eatery offers made from scratch dishes using local, organic ingredients. Imagine my surprise, finding out I was sitting at the same table actress Andie MacDowell once sat at while enjoying eggs over easy! Although I did not order Andie’s favorite dish, I did enjoy the freshest, most delicious banana nut bread I’ve ever had the pleasure of tasting. Owners John and Julie Stehling are active owners, offering patrons and newbies alike a true dose of southern hospitality. According to their website, “John does the cooking while Julie does the talking.” Having been featured in publications such as The New York Times, USA Today, National Geographic Traveler, Southern Living and now Ocala Magazine, Julie has many reasons to talk – about both what’s on the menu and the many diners who claim Early Girl Eatery is the best breakfast in town. Dining in downtown Asheville is an experience. Walking city streets to your venue, you will be met with fantastic street art, musicians and highly decorated boutique storefronts. When choosing the perfect place to have dinner during your visit to Asheville, there is really no wrong selection. However, a few places do stand out among the rest. Chef John Fleer was named one of the Rising Stars of the 21st Century by the James Beard Foundation and is a four-time finalist for the James Beard Best Chef in the Southeast award. “His unique foothills cuisine he helped establish at Tennessee’s Blackberry Farm wanders the link between refined and rugged, fancy and familiar,” according to Landis Taylor, Asheville Public Relations Specialist. With a menu that changes daily, Rhubarb makes for the perfect venue to celebrate some of life’s most special moments. Growing up, most of us shared moments and created memories while sharing a meal together at the dining table. This is the same feel and concept Rhubarb has built its mission around. Chef Fleer wants Rhubarb to be the go-to place to meet, celebrate, propose or reconnect. It made for the perfect stopping place to reminisce on the day’s events and wonderful first-time moments made in Asheville. The Mongolian Barbecued Lamb Ribs were a perfect selection from the snacks and shares menu, followed by a Grilled Ashley Farms Half-Chicken and a smooth glass of white wine. From Glazed Duck Confit and Octopus a la Plancha to Charmoula Grilled Bear Creek Farm Bavette – all fresh and made to order – the menu at Rhubarb pleases any palate. However, if you are looking for a quaint venue located in the heart of downtown Asheville, near Fine Arts Cinema, Diana Worthham Theater and many fine art galleries, look no further than The Blackbird.Blackbird owners Jesson and Cristina Gil pride themselves on serving locally farmed ingredients, fresh catches and creative specialties – coined modern southern with a nod to tradition. While enjoying a crisp white wine, I watched locals walk past the venue’s massive windows, many walking hand in hand or being led by their pooch. (Sidenote: Asheville is big on dogs and most every venue in the city welcomes dogs of all breeds.) I had the perfect view of sparkling patio lights, boutique window displays and giggling people enjoying Asheville’s Amazing Pubcycle tour. Soon after being greeted by both Jesson and his wife, welcoming us to The Blackbird, a spread of delicious charcuterie and house crackers kicked off what would ultimately be my favorite meal while in Asheville. Allergic to shellfish, I required a twist to Blackbird’s Grilled Seafood Risotto – of which Chef Michael Reppert happily obliged, replacing the seared scallops with a mouth-watering stack of seasoned, grilled asparagus. Each bite of my fresh catch was flaky and melted like butter on my tongue. From the Blood Orange Tuna Tartare and Wellington to his Cold Smoked Heritage Pork Chop Schnitzel, Chef Reppert has designed a menu that will have you calling The Blackbird your favorite stop in Asheville.
Good Morning America named Asheville among the Ten Most Beautiful Places in America. Citizen Times named Asheville the Number 1 Coolest City in America. Last year, Conde Nast Traveler voted Asheville among the Friendliest Cities in the U.S. But in 2014, named it the Quirkiest Town in America – perhaps I stumbled on one of the reasons why?After an 8-hour car ride from Ocala to Asheville, getting a foot soak sounded like an absolute marvelous idea. Imagine being nestled into a soft chair or loveseat, inside a dimly lit room where cell phones and noise are restricted. Now imagine having a warm wrap placed at the nape of your neck while a soft-spoken technician delicately places your foot into a copper pot filled with hot water, oils and spices. A gentle hand begins to massage your neck and you feel the worries and stresses of the day lift and flee from your body. It’s a retreat from life’s madness that is offered at Asheville’s Wake Foot Sanctuary. Wake is not what’s quirky about Asheville. In fact, Wake may be one of the best, most necessary and overlooked concepts in all of business. What I found quirky is the fact Asheville has numerous – like one on every corner – foot-focused businesses. From massage and soaks to podiatrists and reflexology, Asheville is very adamant about foot care. And for a girl who spends plenty of time on her feet – usually bare – I had no complaints! Another venue that offers foot treatments, along with skin care, massage and other body treatments is the Spa at Omni Grove Park Inn. This luxurious escape offers a 43,000-square foot spa with amenities to include mineral pools, an inhalation room, eucalyptus-infused steam room, relaxation lounges, outdoor fireplaces overlooking the Blue Ridge Mountains and more. From scalp refreshers infused with exotic botanicals to honey wraps and aura imaging, the Spa at Omni Grove is an oasis where visitors can escape the hustle and bustle of life, all while wrapped in a plush robe, sipping the finest herbal teas on the market.
Beer enthusiasts will love Asheville’s Wedge Brewing Company, now brewing it up at two Asheville locations. According to, “Malt, hops and adjunct ingredients are of the highest quality and each beer is given the time it needs.”The newest location on Foundy Street, once the largest leather tannery in the country, opened this year and offers patrons the finest, most consistent of brews as well as a tasting room. Located in the River Arts District, Wedge Brewing Co. stands out with its graffiti-covered exterior and outdoor patio. Neighboring buildings are covered roof to footer with colorful, dynamic street art, making this location within the RAD a must-stop, must-see destination when visiting Asheville. There is even a collaborative skate park project behind the brewery – Foundation Skatepark – which was built by and totally funded by local skaters. Open daily, Wedge Brewing Co. is quickly gaining momentum, becoming a hub for locals and travelers alike. Other interesting offers you will want to consider when visiting Asheville include the local Friday night drum circles, a stroll through Grovewood Village shops and museums, a hike along the Catawba Falls trails, peddling through town on a pedal-powered, BYOB Pubcycle, Thomas Wolfe Memorial and Ghost and Vampire Tours.
After setting out to explore all of what Asheville has to offer, you will want to find a place to sleep peacefully that offers luxurious amenities and is located close to downtown. Asheville’s Hotel Indigo makes checking in, parking and dining incredibly simple. Like most all of Asheville’s dining establishments, the hotel’s oneFIFTYone Bar & Kitchen offers a strictly farm-to-table menu and serves brews from local breweries. A supporter of the arts, you will find original works of local artists displayed throughout the hotel’s hallways and lobby. The rooms offer sightly views of the Blue Ridge Mountains and, if you are as lucky as was I, you will wake up to a fleet of gorgeous hot air balloons hovering in the distance. Don’t leave your pooch at home. Hotel Indigo welcomes your pet and makes even those accommodations a cinch. Greeted with a smile each time we left and returned, the Hotel Indigo staff practices unsurpassable customer service. OM
For more information:
Asheville Visitors Bureau

2017 Celebration of Nurses Event

Our mission was to celebrate nurses and celebrate nurses we did!

Our mission was to celebrate nurses and celebrate nurses we did!

written by Kelli Fuqua Hart, Editor-in-chief
Photography by Chris Redd, Chief Photographer
Ocala Magazine and a host of local businesses came together on Thursday, April 20th to host the 3rd Annual Celebration of Nurses event. Over 800 nurses, nursing students, medical staff and instructors, along with their families and friends celebrated local nurses with a fun night filled with a variety of food, spirits, games, door prizes, live entertainment, awards and more. Pixel Pro and The Event Firm set the tone for the evening with a upbeat music and a photo booth –all carrying out the Mardi Gras theme. Guests were welcomed by a Zydeco Band and soon after entertained by live jazz performers and a Blues Brothers Tribute Band. Local food vendors were vying for a People’s Choice Award –Mojo’s taking First Place and Brick City Southern Kitchen & Whiskey Bar coming in a close second, just 6 votes behind. Six deserving nurses received honors from their peers and loved ones, some shedding tears over the kind words spoken of them. And every guest left with a neck full of beads, full stomachs, vendor swag and smiles – many with a valuable door prizes and bottles of delicious wine.
Instructor award
Dr. Justin Williams
College of Central Florida
“When I felt as if I wasn’t meant to be a nurse and was ready to give up, Dr. Williams was there to remind me what nursing is all about,” recalls Roxana Valle. “He played a major role in me finding my confidence as both a new nurse and person as a whole.” Williams was both an instructor in Roxana’s ADN program and a professor in her BSN program at CF. Denise Odier also had amazing things to say about Justin. “He’s not just here to make sure his students succeed in class, but in life overall. He’s the best nursing instructor Marion County has ever had!”As an Associate Professor of Nursing in CF’s RN-BSN program, he’s earned a reputation for being as inspiration to faculty as well. “His passion to advance the nursing profession is evident in his teaching pedagogies,” according to CF’s Tammy Martineau. “Dr. Williams is an asset to the nursing profession and the future of nursing education.” June Tickle goes on to say, “Dr. Williams promotes nursing professionalism, interdisciplinary collaboration and lifelong learning.” With over seven individual nominations from peers and students alike, it is clear Justin has touched many lives. Lorna Rembert agrees. “Dr.Williams is a shining example of both a leader and teacher. He should be celebrated for that!”That is exactly what we did –celebrate Justin and his accomplishments in winning Ocala Magazine’s Nursing Instructor Award – presented for the first time at this year’s event.
Student award
Gina Hall
Rasmussen College
West Milligan had this to say about his mother, Gina Hall, “My mom has worked so hard to get through school. She has stretched her savings and sacrificed so much to make sure we all have what we need. However, she’s never once sacrificed the care she’s given to her family. I’ve seen her sick and still study and make it to class – never late, never complaining. Even when she’s been tired, she’s never slowed down or given up. She’s an awesome mom and will be an awesome nurse. I am so happy to see her dream coming true.” West’s nomination was one of over one-dozen that rolled in, all saying the same things. Gina’s sister Jennifer Way knows how becoming a nurse has been a lifelong dream of Gina’s. “When [Gina] was a child, she’d pretend she was a nurse, taking care of me by sticking me with cough syrup syringes that resembled actual syringes. She’d pretend to take my blood pressure and heartbeat. Today, as an adult there is no one I’d rather have take actual care of me than Gina.”In raising three wonderful children, no obstacle or challenge has slowed Gina down. “She was challenged early in life, at just 20-years old, with the birth of her oldest son who has Down’s Syndrome,” explains Kristian Branch. Her strength has always been unwavering and that same determination and dedication is evident as a student. “Gina will push patients who need enthusiasm and nurture those who need a tender touch,” says Erin Callahan. “Marion County will be lucky to have her.” Ocala Magazine agrees and was happy to award her with the first-ever Celebration of Nurses Student Award.
Legacy award
Cindy Phillips
Ocala Regional Medical Center
“She is fun-loving, classy and a ray of sunshine,” says Michele Svenningsen of Cindy Phillips. “She is always there when you need her – a mom to us all.” Cindy has been caring for patients for over 30 years. With over one dozen independent nominations, the majority of those who know Cindy have known her for a very long time. They all agree she’s always had a reputation for being charismatic and completely committed to her patients, friends and loved ones. Sultana Beverly-Duke has known Cindy since grade school and says, “Her character alone is something to honor.”“We need more nurses like her,” says Sandi O’Boyle in her nomination. “She is one-of-a-kind. There are few like [Cindy].”Cindy’s daughter sent Ocala Magazine a heartfelt nomination and had this to say about her mom, “Even when her day has exhausted her, my mom keeps her head high and does everything in her power to do what she’s done for decades. She is the reason I decided to become a nurse. She has inspired me to follow in her steps and I hope to be even half the nurse she is every single day.” Family is most important to Cindy and even after a long day on her feet caring for other people’s loved ones, she makes sure her husband and children have dinner on the table – a moment they all value. Cindy’s sister Gloria Cochran agrees with the many kind words spoken and says, “This award will mean the world to her.”
Inspiration award
Christine Barbur
Hospice of Marion County
Christine graduated from the Crouse Hospital School of Nursing in Syracuse, NY. She worked in multiple clinical specialties before finding her true calling in 2010 at Hospice of Marion County. She began her career as a case manager. Within six months, she was taking on pediatric hospice cases and ultimately landed a management role in the newly created Palliative Program, designed specifically for children. According to Lila Ivey, “Christie excels at mentoring and served as Senior Nurse, teaching others. She was recently promoted again – three times in seven years – to a senior management position, overseeing a team of 30 people and caring for 140 patients in assisted living facilities and nursing homes.” Christine started a joint program in Florida that provides care for children with advancing illnesses. As the Pediatric Palliative Care Program Manager, Christine expanded the services to include dozens of youngsters who received excellent comfort care and specialty services. One of Christine’s cases involved a baby born with multiple anomalies just before Christmas of 2015. Not expected to survive her birth, the girl lived for two weeks at home under the care of Hospice and Christine’s direction. She worked with her team around the clock to care for not only the infant but the distraught young parents as well.Christine used to bandage her little sister with a toy nursing kit, dreaming of the day she’d be able to help people for real. She’s acheived that dream and so we honor her!
Spirit award
Lorelly Mobley
Munroe Regional Medical Center
Some of the adjectives used to describe Lorelly, by the multiple peers and friends who nominated her, include competent, dedicated, hard working, compassionate, kind, joyful and bubbly. Christina Philbin says, “Nursing has been a dream of [Lorelly’s] for a very long time. Since realizing her dream in 2014, her passion for this career has done nothing but expand.” Lorelly grew up in Marion County so her continuous passion for and dedication to providing health and wellness here comes as no surprise. Chad Mobley describes Lorelly by saying, “She has a spirit like no other, uplifting the hearts and minds of both her patients and coworkers.” Prakash Motwani would agree.“Lorelly is a very conscientious, responsible nurse. She provides great care to her patients and everyone under her care is appreciative of her positive personality.”With over 25 independent nominations, an Ocala Magazine Celebration of Nurses record, there is no doubt Lorelly’s peers and loved ones admire her devotion to not only nursing, but everything she touches. Debi Pardee was a patient of Lorelly’s and Debi’s husband Chuck had this to say, “Lorelly stands out. Having started in hospital housekeeping, I admire her working her way to her dream career.” Ocala Magazine congratulates Lorelly for her excellence in nursing.
People’s choice award
Sharese Ajuzie
Heart of florida
In addition to honoring nurses with our judged awards, we present the opportunity for local nurses to be chosen by their peers for a prestigious People’s Choice Award. This year, with over 950 votes, Ocala Magazine is happy to name Sharese Ajuzie our People’s Choice winner! Sharese’s photo received over 209 comments, all praising her work ethic, compassion for others, selflessness, ambition and professionalism. One Facebook follower, Maxine Hutchinson McFarlane, wrote, “I am not surprised Sharese has been nominated for this special award. During our high school years, she demonstrated leadership skills, excellence and a passion for living life to the fullest. Through the years she has epitomized strength and grace while showing she is a woman with a heart of service. Sharese is a blessing to humanity.”Patrick Clarke wrote,” Sharese was born to serve people – it is in her DNA. She’s from a family that dedicated their whole lives to public service – her mother, a retired teacher and principal; her late father, a former municipal councilor,JP and dedicated entrepreneur that gave long unwavering service to his county – now Sharese Ulett Brown-Ajuzie is walking in her parents’ path.”Linda Ulett-Dixon wrote, “Most importantly you are commited to the needs of the less fortunate and often go beyond the call of your profession to give assistance. I admire your spirited personality and positive disposition. I continue to applaud you on your achievements over the years.” Ocala Magazine applauds Sharese as well on this deserved People’s Choice Award.

Home Experts

Written by Kelli Fuqua Hart, Editor – in – chief
Photography by Chris Redd, Chief Photographer
Mark Hall
D&H Homes & Remodeling
Proudly serving Ocala, The Villages and Leesburg as well as Marion, Sumter and Lake Counties, D&H Homes & Remodeling has boundless experience in both commercial and residential construction. This experience has come from primarily the state of Florida but expands to another 9 states within the Southeastern United States as well.. A forerunner in their industry, CEO/President Mark Hall and his highly trained team are the best in Central Florida when it comes to custom home construction, home additions, residential remodels, garage expansions, lanai enclosures, kitchen/bath remodels, driveways, pavers and more. Katie Donahue contacted D&H for an upstairs remodel estimate. “Mark took the time to discuss all aspects of the project and different options to best fit our needs. He presented us with ideas and sought our approval every step of the way. The D&H team was friendly, knowledgeable and worked around our busy schedule,” she says. Many people put off remodels and upgrades because of inconvenience – it’s difficult to live in a space that’s undergoing renovations. “With three school-aged kids under one roof, we thought overhauling our kitchen would be impossible,” recalls John Marks. “Mark made sure the process was executed in a way that finished the project without interrupting the daily routine of making meals for my family.” The D&H philosophy is one of fine craftsmanship and superior work. Their family and faith-based foundation includes not only using quality products and promising excellent service but helping families maintain their standard of living throughout the process.
Shannon Roth
Interior Decorator
Located inside Ocala’s historic Dixie Theater on the downtown square, the Shannon Roth Collection is a place where design meets distinctiveness. When someone desires to transform a space – home or office – they look to the expertise and creativity of Shannon and her team. With over 20 years of retail and interior design experience and an impressive list of clientele, Shannon has earned a reputation for being Marion County’s top designer. Shannon has built relationships with the finest of seamstresses, upholsterers, painters, galleries and furniture collections to provide her clients the very best in the way of décor and interior upgrades. She treats each job with superior attention to detail, understanding each client’s styles, preferences and needs are unique – customizing the process to ensure brilliant, beautiful results. Front Street Managing Director Keith Crutcher called on Shannon when he needed a remodel inside downtown’s 101 Building. “Shannon has excellent taste and was able to transform the space into something modern, yet functional – all within our budget. She is a pleasure to work with, helpful, resourceful and always conscientious of style.” What sets Shannon Roth apart from other interior designers is her intrinsic ability to perfectly pair objects. She seems to have a magic about her when she takes a collection of objects and marries them together – always creating perfect symmetry, balance and attractiveness. Shannon has an eye for buying and display. Her taste is exquisite and classy, tasteful and divine. Her signature blue doors are the entryway to Ocala’s best décor boutique, operated by Ocala’s most reputable, most sought-after interior designer.
Bryan Caracciolo
BWC Construction
When it comes to a wide range of service, BWC Construction sets the bar. From custom home construction and large-scale construction management to commercial building services, Bryan Caracciolo and his team offer unexceeded quality and service. A superlative in his field, Caracciolo and his family have proudly served Ocala and surrounding areas for over two decades. Fully licensed and insured, BWC Construction believes in quality workmanship which is how they can confidently guarantee all of their work. Hiring a true professional with a reputation for stellar work and craftsmanship can be the missing link when building with or maintaining the integrity of your home or commercial space. BWC has that stellar reputation. “I have referred him on multiple occasions because I feel confident attaching my name to a company who is reliable, professional, organized and who left my properties in pristine condition upon completion,” says Kelli Fuqua Hart, Editor-in-chief at Ocala Magazine. “And thankfully, the BWC team came highly recommended to me.”BWC is a general contractor, focusing on custom home and commercial construction. In the last year, BWC has built one dozen homes ranging anywhere from 175K to 2-million dollars in value. They also have over 200,000-square feet of commercial space under construction to include full retail shopping centers to large box store build-outs. Some of BWC’s commercial work includes a new, ground-up 300-room boutique hotel, large scale apartments and hotel building remodeling.
Dale Martin & DebWiseman
Jireh Custom Landscape
Jireh Custom Landscape is the crème de la crème of landscaping companies. They are more than just a landscape company. Jireh is an outdoor oasis – an exterior showroom that leads you along exquisite paved pathways that wind in and out of foliage, patios, waterfalls and pergolas. Their massive 5-acre location welcomes customers and displays the natural stones, hard woods and dramatic lighting they use as part of their service. Both perfectionists, Dale and Deb guarantee satisfaction and pride themselves on superior knowledge, products and execution of services. There is no other landscape company in Central Florida that compares.


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