ColorOcala Contest

Grab your crayons, colored pencils, watercolor markers and cray pas, and join the hot new coloring craze!

Floridians, are you ready to COLOROCALA? Create beautiful art and compete for valuable prizes in Ocala Magazine’s latest big giveaway contest. You could win tickets for four to the Walt Disney World® theme park in Orlando, a family Christmas for four at the Gaylord Palms Resort and Convention Center in Kissimmee, and more. Color us excited!

Our latest contest is specially designed with family fun in mind. With a contest for both children and adults, you and your kids will have plenty to do this summer. And best of all, you can be creative together!

You can always count on Ocala Magazine for the best in news and entertainment, family fun, and fabulous prizes, so let’s get coloring! Show off your artistic side, and you might have a summer you’ll never forget.

Feeling Social?

Visit Ocala Magazine’s Facebook and Instagram pages and Colorala’s Facebook and Instagram pages – and while you’re at it, we hope you’ll Like our pages!

Here’s How You Enter:

You must complete Steps 1 through 4 to qualify for prizes!

  1. Download, print, and color your favorite specially drawn Ocala-themed coloring page from contest sponsor Colorala. (You can download pages as many times as you like.)
  2. Fill out the entry form (below) on the Ocala Magazine website before 6 p.m. Eastern time, July 22, 2016.
  3. Upload a photo of your completed coloring page using the File Upload feature provided on the form.
  4. Post your photo on Facebook OR Instagram before midnight, July 22, 2016. Use the hashtag #ocalamagazinecontest on Facebook OR Instagram in your post. Don’t forget to tag your friends and show off your creative genius!

That’s it. You’ve entered!

Click Each Image to Download a Coloring Page! (PDF Format)

Adult Coloring Page – Thoroughbred
Adult Coloring Page - Thoroughbred
Adult Coloring Page – Silver Springs
Adult Coloring Page - Silver Springs

Children’s Coloring Page – Thoroughbred
Children's Coloring Page - Thoroughbred

Children’s Coloring Page – Silver Springs
Children's Coloring Page - Silver Springs


Entries Are Now Being Judged, Stay Tuned!

Click for Contest Rules

Official Rules

  1. By entering, you agree to abide by The COLOROCALA Official Rules.
  2. All contestants must reside in the state of Florida.
  3. The contest will be administered by contest sponsor 7Hills Communications of Tallahassee, Florida.
  4. Entries must be submitted through the online form located at and all entry requirements must be met before midnight, Friday, July 22, 2016 in order to qualify.
  5. Entries submitted will be screened by 7Hills Communications and/or contest sponsor Colorala of Newport Beach, California, to ensure all entries meet contest requirements.
  6. Ocala Magazine, 7Hills Communications, and Colorala cannot be held responsible for email that is misdirected or undeliverable.
  7. Entries that do not meet all the “Here’s How to Enter” criteria will be disqualified.
  8. 7Hills Communications may, at its sole discretion and depending upon volume of entries, notify contestants whose entries are incorrect and must be resubmitted.
  9. 7Hills Communications will send only properly completed entries to Ocala Magazine.
  10. Completed coloring pages, along with the artist’s name, will be posted on the Ocala Magazine Facebook page and Instagram profile, and the Colorala Instagram profile. If the artist is 12 years of age or younger, the artist’s age also will be published.
  11. Following the conclusion of the contest, a team of fine artists from Colorala will judge the entries and select the winners.
  12. A list of winners will be published on the COLOROCALA Contest official web page, located at; the Ocala Magazine Facebook page; the Ocala Magazine Instagram profile; and the Colorala Color Instagram profile.
  13. Winners must claim their prizes by 5 p.m. Eastern time Monday, August 22, 2016. Any prize not claimed by Monday, August 22, 2016 will be awarded to an alternate winner.
  14. Ocala Magazine and/or 7Hills Communications will make every effort to notify winners via email, telephone, or postal mail within the 31-day prize redemption period. Ocala Magazine and 7Hills Communications cannot be held responsible for winners who cannot be located for notification within the prize redemption period.
  15. Ocala Magazine, Colorala, and 7Hills Communications will hold all contestants’ personal information except name, age, and city of residence confidential, and will not reveal said information to any third party unless required by law.
  16. By entering, contestants agree to allow Ocala Magazine, Colorala, and 7Hills Communications to post their names, ages if applicable, and photographs of their coloring pages to social media.
  17. By entering, contestants grant Ocala Magazine permission to publish their coloring pages in Ocala Magazine without remuneration. Published entries will be credited.
  18. By entering, contestants grant Ocala Magazine permission to publish photos of the winners, if applicable, without remuneration.
  19. Anyone employed as a professional artist, or who holds a college or university degree in studio art or graphic design, is not eligible to participate.
  20. Employees of Ocala Magazine, Colorala, and 7Hills Communications and their families are not eligible to participate.
  21. Each participant may enter the contest only once.
  22. All children 12 years of age or younger in a single family may submit one entry each for the children’s contest.
  23. Only one contestant 13 years of age or older from a single family may submit an entry to the adults’ contest.
  24. Only one prize per family will be awarded.
  25. While we encourage parents and legal guardians to experience the joy of coloring together with their children, contestants 12 years of age or younger must color their own coloring pages without physical assistance from any third party.
  26. All contestants 13 years of age or older must color their own coloring pages without assistance from any third party.
  27. Because children must be 13 years of age or older to have a Facebook or Instagram account, entries from children 12 years of age or younger must be submitted by a parent or legal guardian.
  28. Entries submitted by children 12 years of age or younger without parental supervision and consent will be disqualified.
  29. Contestants must abide by all Facebook and Instagram rules. Ocala Magazine, Colorala, and 7Hills Communications cannot be held responsible for any adverse decisions made by Facebook or Instagram as a result of a contestant’s violations of their Terms of Service.
  30. Contestants may use crayons, colored pencils, watercolor markers, or oil pastels (cray pas) to complete their coloring pages.
  31. Contestants may not use online or electronic coloring apps to complete their pictures. All entries colored with electronic coloring applications will be disqualified.
  32. One grand prize and two honorable mention prizes will be awarded in the children’s coloring contest.
  33. One grand prize and two honorable mention prizes will be awarded in the adults’ coloring contest.
  34. Contestants, or the parent or legal guardian of contestants 12 years of age or younger, must pick up prizes by appointment at the offices of Ocala Magazine, located at 743 E. Fort King Street, Ocala, Florida 34471. Ocala Magazine, at its sole discretion, may waive this requirement for winners who are not area residents.
  35. Winners must present a picture ID to receive their prizes.
  36. Ocala Magazine may, at its sole discretion, require a scanned or faxed copy of a picture ID before shipping prizes to winners who are not area residents.
  37. The Children’s Grand Prize Package is subject to the terms and conditions of the Walt Disney World® theme park.
  38. The Adults’ Grand Prize Package is subject to the terms and conditions of Gaylord Palms Resort and Convention Center.
  39. While we invite contestants to be fans, liking or following any Facebook page or Instagram profile is not required to win a prize.
  40. No purchase is necessary to win a prize.
  41. All judging/winner decisions made by Colorala Color are final.
  42. All contest decisions made by 7Hills Communications are final.
  43. Questions about The COLOROCALA Coloring Contest must be submitted via email to [email protected] No telephone calls, please.

Fabulous Fall

Story, Recipes, and Photography By RSVP Robin

Fall is the perfect time to focus on hearth and home. We can shift our focus away from outdoor activities and concentrate on fluffing our nests. It’s also a wonderful time to reflect on the past year and renew our sense of gratitude, restore our spiritual selves, and shed our souls of unnecessary debris. In other words, count our blessings!

In Florida, spring and summer tend to meld and become one long, hot season. Fall creeps in ever so slowly here. It begins with noticeably cooler morning and evening temperatures. All of a sudden we can wear long sleeves and sport jeans without melting. Our makeup stays fresh, and we relish the good hair days! We Floridians know how to look for the slow, subtle signs of the new season approaching.

In my years of planning events and weddings in Florida, the fall events were always the most enchanting. The obligatory floral centerpiece gives way for more creative elements. Birdcages, wrought iron, metal, heavier fabrics, rustic branches, and twigs can all come into play. Tabletop design and home décor are all about texture and layering. Warmer tones take over from their softer, paler cousins. Tawny browns, sage, and olive green, vibrant reds and oranges make a bold, yet cozy and comforting statement.

Our taste buds sense change in the air as well. Now is the time to indulge in heartier soups and stews, starchy root vegetables, and heavier protein choices. So dig out your fall décor, put on a pot of life-affirming soup, grab a soft throw, and make a mug of hot cocoa. However slow and subtle…it’s
fall, y’all!



Roasted Chicken

Prep it

1 whole 4-pound chicken

4 to 5 cloves whole garlic, peeled

1 Tablespoon fresh dill, chopped

olive oil

juice from 4 organic roasted lemons (cut lemons in half, drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper and roast in 375°F oven for 20-25 minutes)

sea salt

freshly ground pepper

1 fennel bulb, trimmed and thickly sliced

approximately 8 baby potatoes, washed and sliced in half (optional)


Place chicken on a cutting board, breast side down. With a pair of kitchen shears cut down both sides of the backbone and remove.

You can discard the backbone or save it for stock. Spread the chicken on a flat surface and press firmly on breastbone to flatten it.

Rub It

Rub the chicken with olive oil and sprinkle it liberally with salt and pepper. Massage the butter, dill, and lemon into and under the skin. Pour the juice from 1 lemon over the top and sprinkle liberally with sea salt and pepper. You can put in the refrigerator and marinate this way for up to two hours. 

Roast It

Preheat oven to 375°F. Place the fennel, potatoes and garlic in the bottom of a roasting pan and place the spatchcocked chicken flat on top of the veggies.

Roast chicken for 40 minutes. Baste the chicken with the pan juices (and/or chicken broth)  and return to the oven, rotating the pan to help with even browning. Roast for another 30 to 35 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through and the skin is browned and crispy.

Roasted Butternut Squash, Toasted Walnut and Fresh Fig Chutney


1 cup peeled and chopped butternut squash

1 cup chopped toasted walnuts

1/2 cup chopped fresh figs

1/4 Gorgonzola Cheese crumbles (optional)

2 tablespoons real maple syrup

1 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Olive oil

Fresh cracked pepper and sea salt to taste


Place butternut squash on a small roasting pan lined with parchment paper, drizzle lightly with olive oil, season with salt and pepper.  Roast at 375°F for approximately 20 minutes until tender. Let cool.

Gently chop fresh figs into small ¼ inch pieces.

Toast walnuts in a small frying pan to release natural oils
(careful not to burn).

In a medium bowl, combine squash, walnuts, figs, and cheese. In a small bowl, whisk together maple syrup and lemon juice. (add olive oil, salt, and pepper to taste) Drizzle mixture over squash mixture, tossing to combine. Cover and let stand for at least 20 minutes or up to 2 hours. Serve on baguette slices as a bruschetta appetizer or as an accompaniment to chicken or pork.

Creamy Polenta and Wild Mushroom Parfait


1 pound of assorted wild (if available) or
gourmet mushroom of your choice 
(Chantrelle, porchini, shitake)

1 tablespoon of unsalted pastured butter

1 tablespoon of olive oil

2 tablespoons of chopped fresh herbs of your choice such as: thyme, rosemary, sage

One package of yellow corn grits or polenta (we recommend Bob’s Red Mill)

Freshly grated fontina cheese

1/4 cup of organic half and half

Sea salt and pepper to taste


Place butter and olive oil in a 12-inch frying pan and saute the mushrooms until soft and lightly brown.

Add herbs, salt, and pepper to taste.

Prepare the polenta as instructed

When a porridge consistency is achieved,
add half and half, cheese, salt, and pepper.
Stir to combine.

Layer the polenta and mushroom mixture in the vessel of your choice.  This can be made into individual servings (as pictured) or in a larger baking dish.

Keep warm until serving.

Healthy Yogurt Carrot Cake


2 large eggs

1 cup plain Greek yogurt

1/3 cup olive oil

2/3 cup maple syrup or honey

1/2 cup almond milk

1 tbsp pure vanilla extract

2 cups whole wheat flour

1 tbsp cinnamon

3 tsp baking powder,
aluminum free

2 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

2 cups carrots, finely grated

1 cup walnuts, chopped (optional)

1/2 cup coconut flakes (optional)


In one large bowl, whisk the eggs for 10 seconds. Add yogurt, oil, maple syrup, milk and vanilla extract. Whisk well and set aside.

In another large bowl, add flour, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Whisk well breaking any baking soda or powder lumps. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter or oil a 9×9 square or round baking dish and set aside. (If using walnuts and coconut do the following) Preheat large skillet on low heat, add walnuts and toast for a few minutes (until fragrant), stirring occasionally. Add coconut flakes and toast another minute, stirring frequently (careful not to burn).

Add dry ingredients to the bowl with wet, stir gently until combined (do not over mix).  Add carrots (and walnuts and coconut flakes, if using). Stir gently just enough to combine. Pour into prepared baking dish and bake for 40 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool completely.

Top with your favorite whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

Music Scene: Bennie Munnerlyn

Local Musician Bennie Munnerlyn discusses the inspirations behind his music.

Out of all of your original work, which song is your favorite.

My absolutely favorite original song is entitled, “Love Myself.” It is an ode to love. I wrote it while I was in college at a very low point in my life. It’s amazing how dark situations often seem to give birth to light. The chorus says, “I’ve got to love myself, be myself, no one else. I’ve got to be happy with me.” What I like most about the song is how the pronoun changes with each chorus (i.e. I, you, and we), and this illustrates that if I can first love myself, I can then encourage YOU to do the same, and in the end, WE can love each other.

From cassettes to online streaming services, technology has drastically changed over the decades. How has this changed your approach to what you do?

Though it is true that the medium has evolved drastically in my lifetime, personally the creative process has remained the same. I am inspired by interactions with people, memories of various places, and, sometimes, even by emotions and feelings I have yet to experience. However, I can say that the shift from the physical to the digital (remember the record store?) has changed my mindset in one way. I can remember being super excited about creating cover art, writing clever liner notes, and thinking about distribution deals; but, I think more about social media presence these days. Although I haven’t really put myself out there yet, it is at the top of my musical to-do list.

You have been both a solo artist and part of a larger group, which do you find is the most conducive to the creative process?

It really depends. There are times when the subject matter is so personal that the songs come together more organically when I am alone. However, on the other hand, collaborating with other musicians can be a cathartic experience as well. Especially when there is an environment where all ideas are valued and can be freely exchanged.

As a musician, singer and songwriter, what is the one thing you want your fans to take away from seeing you perform?

I want my fans to leave a performance feeling like they spent some quality time with one of their best friends. In addition to wanting them to leave feeling entertained, uplifted, and energized, I want them to feel like there is someone else in the world who can relate to how they are feeling as they tackle the ups and downs of life.

Who is your dream collaboration? 

As a fan of intricate arrangements and harmony, it would be a dream to collaborate with Take 6.

Who are your biggest musical influences when it comes to playing an instrument?

As it comes to instrumentation, I have been heavily influenced by Jeff Lorber, Brian Culbertson, Snarky Puppy, Ben Tankard, Moonchild, Hiatus Kaiyote, and recently, Jacob Collier and Jon Bellion.

Lyrically who are your biggest influences?

As an English major, I truly value the power of words. Some of my favorite songwriters/lyricists are Stevie Wonder, India. Arie, Brian McKnight, Fred Hammond, Kirk Franklin, John Mayer, PJ Morton, Common, and Ludacris.

If there was one thing that you could change about the music industry, what would it be?

Although I understand that a certain look creates buzz and interest and will ultimately make money, the focus on the superficial seems to overshadow the actual music at times.

We are always hearing about crazy stories from musicians about the various shows that they do. what is the craziest thing that has ever happened to you while performing?

It seems like there is always that one person in the crowd who is having enough fun for everyone! At one show, I was walking around the crowd and interacting, and a young lady just came to me and planted a wet, drunken kiss right on my face. I was taken aback, to say the least, and I completely forgot the rest of the lyrics to the song.

Music has the power to speak to the masses and even change the conversation of global media. In your opinion- what has been the most influential piece of music recently in both society and for you personally? Why?

I am a HUGE fan of Beyoncé, and while she may have her share of haters, we cannot deny her global imprint and reach. I believe that the albums Beyoncé, Lemonade, and Homecoming each left a major impression on the world and me. The self-titled album, Beyoncé, made history by being released with no promotion. This showed the power of innovation and thinking outside of the box. Lemonade was an album that was musically diverse, deeply personal, and undoubtedly controversial. It proved that you really could take the bitter that life throws at you and transform it into something sweet. Homecoming took the concept of the Black College Experience and showcased this facet of black culture to audiences who probably had no idea that it even existed. Love her or hate her, Beyoncé is definitely solidifying her legacy.

What is one thing you want people to know about you?

One thing that I want people to know about me is that I don’t just love music—I LIVE MUSIC! 

The Power of Pink

By Ilia Laboy

We have all seen the self-exam posters showing us how to check for lumps in the shower but how many of us actually take it seriously? As we celebrate Breast Cancer Awareness month in October, we are reminded that, outside of skin cancer, this is the most common type of cancer among American women.

What exactly is breast cancer? Breast cancer is when the cells in the breast start growing in an uncontrollable way. Most times these cells form a tumor that can be felt as a lump or seen via x-rays, but not all lumps are malignant and not all tumors can be detected this way. That is where the importance of early screening comes into play. Many cases of breast cancer are found during screening.

Breast cancer rates are down 40% from 1989 to 2016, and since 2007, although death rates in women under 50 have remained rather steady, the death rates among women over 50 have continued to decrease. It’s believed this is due to the advances in research and early screening and detection efforts. Actually, 1 in 8 women will develop breast cancer sometime in their life, but women are not the only ones affected by this disease. The American Cancer Society estimates that about 2,670 new cases of male breast cancer will be diagnosed and about 500 men will die of this disease in 2019.

Most of these exams and research are thanks to the donations of millions of Americans through different fundraising efforts, the main event being the Making Strides Against Cancer Walk. This is a noncompetitive 3 to 5-mile walk to help raise money and awareness for the cause. It is a celebration of the warriors who survived breast cancer as well as a way to come together and remember loved ones lost to the fight. The American Cancer Society relies on this walk against breast cancer to not only help raise funds but also have the community come together and support one another through the fight. The recruitment of community leaders brought about the Real Men Wear Pink campaign where men are given a leadership role in the fight and use the power of pink to raise awareness and money for breast cancer initiatives. The nationwide campaign counts on local efforts to be able to make a difference and the Ocala community is not one to stay behind.

The Making Strides walk unites the community behind a common effort to save lives. The residents of Ocala will have their chance to take part in this effort at the Making Strides walk on Saturday, October 19th at the Veterans Memorial Park. Check-in is at 7:30 am and the walk begins at 9:00 am. Local leaders Philip Glassman, publisher of Ocala Magazine, and Josh Leverette of Roberts Funeral of Ocala have come together to form Team Men in Pink and aid in the fight by using the power of pink to fundraise for the cause. 

If you would like to join in their efforts please visit to make your donation.

For more information on breast cancer and local fundraising events visit

It Takes the World to Raise a Village

Story and Photography By Rich Sterne, MSN, APRN

On August 24, 2019, the world stood watch as Hurricane Dorian leveled much of the Bahamas. With winds reaching 183mph, this slow-moving storm decimated anything that stood in its way. In the days and weeks following, many around the world rushed into action.

Rich Sterne, an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN) with a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) was one of the heroic medical professionals who used his knowledge and expertise to help aid those on the storm ravaged island. He shares his experience exclusively with Ocala Magazine—direct from the field.

September 9, 2019

7:30a.m. Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The private pleasure yacht El Jefe is packed from stern to bow with supplies for the hurricane-battered Bahamas. It’s been almost an entire week since Dorian ravaged the islands, and we are headed there to help.

8:30a.m. We embark on a mission to deliver supplies to the floating hospital MV Pacific Hope docked in Freeport, relief supplies for the Bahamian residents, and in the evening, the boat will return to the states with evacuees. Aboard the El Jefe, we have three Bahamian residents heading over to assess their properties, my medical assistant Brandi and me, and of course, Captain Tom Isom with his crew Mike and Mike. The owner of this multimillion-dollar pleasure vessel has basically turned it into a cargo ship full of generators, tarps, cases of water, and medical supplies. The El Jefe is taking all of that cargo and us overseas gratis; not only have they gifted us passage to Freeport, they also covered the cost of over 900 gallons of fuel. And this is just one trip. 

You now know where we are going, so let me tell you how we got here. I’m a nurse practitioner, and I’m trying to get to the Bahamas. A bunch of people, including myself, want to go volunteer. When seeking a way to volunteer my professional services, I was fortunate to be networked with Mike Stocker, a staple member of the South Florida Yachting community. He introduced me to Captain Marvin Wilson of MV Pacific Hope, to Yacht Aid Global, and then locally to Bradford Marine in Fort Lauderdale, Bluewater Yacht Crew Training, and National Marine Supplies. All those mentioned, and some others, meet at National Marine and have a planning meeting about how to logistically manage working in tandem. Many of them have worked together for years, and they plugged me and my medical professionals right in. 

This trip is to help who we can medically in the tattered islands. And with the recent introduction, it became a way for me to work with and assist the MV Pacific Hope with medical staffing solutions, and relief for their current volunteers.

Just to get one nurse practitioner and a medical assistant to the Bahamas, we have so far included two worldwide non-profits, three huge Fort Lauderdale and Caribbean Marine supply companies, a few marinas in a couple different countries, a pleasure yacht owner, his captain and crew; and, last but not least, this wouldn’t have been possible without numerous unmentioned employees, volunteers, emails, phone calls, texts, and social media posts. I am sure that list is less than half of who has acted in our one small mission to get a couple medical professionals to the islands. 

9:30a.m. We are full steam ahead at over 30 knots per hour riding seas 3 to 5 feet. Flanked by flying fish, we are twenty-five miles offshore, so fifty more to go. I look at the beautiful deep blue water, matched with the light-blue sky and its puffy white clouds shaped like cotton balls. It’s a beautiful day and we are on the type of luxury boat that only few get to experience in life. That thought is quickly contrasted by the rude awakening of traumatized Bahamian people, and the devastation which awaits us in the once beautiful Bahamas.  

The only reports that we have received from those ahead of us relay that the stench of death abounds, and it’s accompanied by bloated, dead bodies littering the villages. “Can you bring us a few thousand body bags or large tarps please…”, echoed a voice from one of the medical teams on site. That vivid carnage is juxtaposed with the reports of grateful and determined Bahamians taking care of one another and working steadfastly through the reality that their friends, families, properties, and nation will never be the same again—and that’s if they were lucky enough to survive the storm at all. At this time were told more than 6000 people are still missing, and the death toll keeps rising. On the television news last night in Florida, the Bahamian government last reported about 40 deaths. The reports from our people on the ground there multiplies that number by one hundred.

10:15a.m. Making small talk with my fellow passengers, we discuss our reasons for heading to the Bahamas. One of the Bahamian residents coming with us is a nurse named Gretchen. I explained to her that in our planning meeting in Fort Lauderdale the other day, with all of the aforementioned groups, the topic of needing surgical suites was paramount, as the hospitals in the Bahamas were flooded. She happens to be the Director of Nursing and Clinical Administrator of a surgical center in Freeport that survived Hurricane Dorian; being on the third floor of a well-built structure, it weathered the storm. She explained they are a fully-equipped surgery clinic and have a generator for power. In the next breath, she offered the facility for any procedures needed. What are the chances, in the middle of the ocean, with a total of eight people onboard that I get a contact like that? I’m no statistician, but I would say it’s about a billion-to-one. So, Gretchen Dezelick and her facility, Okyanos Center for Regenerative Medicine, now join the ever-growing list of who and what it takes to help move our little spoke on the wheel of medical relief for those affected by the storm.

12:30p.m. We arrive at Bradford Marine in Freeport. The Bradford staff is happy to greet us, and we all empty the 20 generators, uncountable cases of water, and medical supplies we delivered on the El Jefe. It is obvious that the dockworkers are grateful that we brought them and their country supplies; on the other hand, it was just as obvious that their faces told the story of weathering a horrific cyclone, and then continuing the trauma in the week since, living in the destruction. The Bahamian customs and immigration officials are not only efficient and professional, they also express gratitude for all the help they are receiving. At least half of the cargo we delivered on this trip is ear-marked for Bradford Marine’s Bahamian employees. There is a distribution center set-up at the main office, and employees are coming and going with food, generators, diapers, toothbrushes and just about anything you can imagine them needing. Employees whose own homes and families are torn apart are actually the ones who are working the pallets of items to distribute to their coworkers. A beautiful microcosm of a village coming together at a time of need; in addition, it’s wonderful to see a company caring for its employees the way that I witnessed today. 

2:20p.m. We take a short tour of the island by transporting our fellow Bahamian-resident travelers to their homes. There are more trees snapped in half than there are complete ones. There are more roof shingles scattered about than there are the roof. Fuel stations are running on generator power, and 100-vehicle winding paths of cars and trucks, out of gas, are being pushed slowly but surely through the line as it moves. Just about this time, my phone chimes, telling us that we need to get to the airport to pick up a couple of Emergency Room Physicians, both with a fellowship in Disaster Medicine. They arrived to staff the Pacific Hope. We give them a quick report of what we know so far as we get back to meet the ship. The only thing they knew was, “There was a bad storm, so we volunteered to come here, and we just got off the plane…that’s all we know…” Fady Issy, M.D. 

3:45p.m. The MV Pacific Hope harbors at Bradford’s Marina. Captain Marvin Wilson gives instructions to his crew. They unload both land and sea vehicles off-board and start the process of setting up shop. We tour the vessel and learn they just got here from Dominican Republic, and, though they just docked, they are ready to bottle 100 gallons of potable water per hour and cook 1000 meals a day to be delivered to those in need. That doesn’t even mention the medical missions they are here to sow. Captain Marvin  loads us into a 4-wheel, all-terrain service vehicle. The small vehicle is clearly marked Pacific Hope, so many people wave, even though, they are in a 5-hour line to get enough fuel to power a small generator and a light. For many, this will reveal the fact that they don’t even have any furniture to sit on because the storm surge gutted their home. These same people give us a smile and a wave, so again we feel the gratitude from the locals.

4:40p.m. We are en route to Rand Memorial Hospital to get a first-hand look at the facility and their capabilities. We have heard rumors but are unsure of the truth. Samaritan’s Purse, another life saving Non-Governmental Organization, is working on a temporary tent hospital, but it isn’t built yet. Reminiscent of a pop-up military type facility, they will have surgical theaters and all the equipment of a top-notch hospital. 

We get to Rand Memorial Hospital and it looks devastated. Uninvited, we interrupt them; the staff is doing their thing managing the patients as best they can, yet it’s a one-story building and was as flooded as anywhere else on the island six days ago. Not only are they managing the healthcare, they are greeting us with smiles. The captain, doctors, Brandi and I step in to a meeting with the medical director, the director of nursing and 10 other administrators of Rand Memorial. Captain Marvin informs the medical director and the administration that MV Pacific Hope is here to support them and serve them with anything they need. He couldn’t have been more courteous in explaining to them that we came to help them, not coming to change anything, but to support them with staff, food, water, patient care, outreach to far villages, transportation, and housing for staff. Pacific Hope was even willing to create a makeshift pediatric unit to hold them until Samaritan’s Purse was running. We complete our meeting with them with a promise to return tomorrow for a meeting with the Bahamian Ministry of Health and all of the key players for establishing and maintaining a medical facility to care for them until they can care for themselves. As indicated to us, Rand’s plan is to close the hospital completely for enough renovationsbto again be operational. Pacific Hope is supplying water and food, housing medical staff, and preparing mobile medic units. Samaritan’s Purse is building tent hospitals. The disaster physicians, Brandi, and I are all sifting through the pallets of donated medical supplies, and Captain Marvin is fielding non-stop phone calls while managing his crew.  In Fort Lauderdale, Yacht Aid Global, National Marine Supplies and Bradford Marine employees are assisting in logistics arranging tons—literally tons—of cargo that the private yachting community has donated. In addition, the private yachting community is donating their private vessels, planes and helicopters to deliver the supplies and manpower; however, this takes a lot of planning to execute.

I’m in the Bahamas watching first hand 40 to 180-foot private pleasure boats and super-yachts whose owners are selflessly turning them into cargo ships. There is load after load of supplies, from diapers and formula to generators and fuel containers. The wealthiest people in the world have come out in force; they have showed up like I’ve never seen before. They are not only donating money and supplies, they are literally donating billions of dollars’ worth of vessels to offer their individual parts for the unraveled isles they have always called their playground. The Bahamas is considered the backyard of the South Florida yachting community; and a regular destination of boaters from around the globe. The mariners have always provided support for the Bahamas, by way of patronage; however, this is an unprecedented response. 

5:30p.m. We get back to the MV Pacific Hope just in time for supper. We sit in a large common area on the ship, eating and talking. The time winds on, then Captain Marvin calls a meeting of all-hands-on-deck. He begins by discussing the information we have learned in the last few hours, the lay of the land we have surveyed, and the Bahamian government’s situation and requests. He shares with the group how far along Samaritan’s purse is with building the hospital. He explains the role Pacific Hope will play in the multifaceted rescue mission. He informs them of the ominous task at hand. His crew of volunteers are ready. The plan right now: supply water, make food, deliver water, and deliver food. Introduce the 2 new physicians and other newcomers to the ship. Then, we get ready to tour around the island to make more plans.

7:20p.m. It’s dark all over the island. The sound of generators abounds. There are no cars on the road, there are no streetlights, there are no stores, restaurants, or any businesses open. There are no cruise ships in harbor, there are no tourists shopping, there are no yachties enjoying libations at the local roosts. There are no birds in the sky, there are no leaves on the trees, and there is no telling when any of those will be back. The air is still, the smell is strong, and the feeling of gloom is palpable. A once-favored spot of partygoers from all over the globe, it’s now ground zero for a massive disaster. There are untold numbers of people and animals dead. All of that said, there is a great need for us to come back and for more to come over. The Bahamas need help, and they will need help for a long time. 

8:30p.m. We complete our journey at Pelican Bay Lucaya, where we obtain board passage back to Florida. Thanks to the sport-fishing vessel, The Predator, and its captain, John Hynes, we get a comfortable ride back to Florida—free. It has been quite a journey. Today has been a long day.

4:30a.m. I am back at my home in Florida, with electricity, warm water, a working refrigerator, and air conditioning. My house is full of furniture and all my family members are still alive. I get back to social media. We are getting hundreds and hundreds of medical professionals from all over the country, and the world, to offer their help to the Bahamas. We are inundated with boat and plane owners willing to transport staff and supplies, all day every day to the needy islands. The real story is the wonderful world of boat owners and crew, planes and pilots, and the large volume of people willing to help—because of their efforts the Bahamas has a chance.

On The Menu: The Keep

Mark and Megan had been discussing opening a small bar or restaurant close to the Downtown Ocala area when the owners of Ocala Wine Experience decided to sell. Naturally they jumped at the opportunity to actually make this dream happen. Megan has an extensive background in finance and has been at the helm of several businesses while Mark is a certified Sommelier and offers close to 20 years of experience in the restaurant industry. Together they came up with a concept rooted in bringing a unique experience to our town. After taking ownership of Ocala Wine Experience in 2016, over the course of the past three years they gradually started putting their taste and personality into the establishment. In May 2019, on the 20th anniversary of Ocala Wine Experience, and the 3rd anniversary of having become owners of such, they launched a full rebrand. Thus The Keep was born!    

Drawing inspiration from their travels as well as their common love for the Medieval era, fantasy, and Vikings, Mark and Megan have made The Keep an extension of themselves and their home.The goal was to bring an alternative place to the area. They wanted to give Ocala the best of their journeys to some of the finest pubs and speakeasies in New Orleans, New York City, and all of Florida, and that is exactly what they have done. The physical location is small but it has a very big attitude. As you enter, don’t be surprised to come face to face with 80s music videos. There is a full wall of wines to choose from as soon as you walk in, leading back to the whimsically lit patio area which is cozy and adorned by a beautiful hand painted mural that stretches the whole back wall. Upstairs you will find the “Red Carpet Lounge”, a quaint bistro-style room where the low lights set the mood and you are bound to find some live talent performing. The basement-bar-feels are accompanied by great wine and mead, tapas, and a personalized service fit for a king.

The menu at The Keep stays true to the fantastical nature of the Viking theme while highlighting simple ingredients and classical pairings to a good glass of wine. Indulge in some authentic pizza topped with corned beef, Guinness BBQ, potatoes and mozzarella, or keep it light with a delicious house salad made with fresh sweet apples, genoa salami, olives, feta cheese and artichoke hearts served on a crispy bed of romaine lettuce and drizzled with tangy house dressing. If you’re feeling a bit more classic, you could order a shareable gourmet cheese platter for the table or just for yourself. They are regularly looking for ways to improve so they have added extra kegs for a more diverse draft menu, bringing additional unique choices to Ocala’s Downtown. In addition to their draft menu, they offer some delicious and exclusive wine and mead choices, with six to 12 honey wines in stock at a time, depending on the season, and demand. “Wine is a little intimidating but I’m a laid back guy and I present it in such a way that makes it approachable for people,” shared Mark. “I help people get into wine and find wines they like and that’s fun for me, so if I can do it for a living that’s doubly fun.” In addition to Trivia nights, goth nights, and open mic jam sessions, they also host events like wine tastings and Viking nights to promote their patrons to step out of their comfort zone and try new spirits. They also offer networking events, space rental, and catering options.

The dynamic duo have literally put their heart into this boutique pub. Their enthusiasm for this business is difficult to ignore and the power couple seems to have found the perfect balance between business and personality at The Keep. “I am extremely lucky to have a business partner who is very passionate about the product”, shared Megan in regards to Mark. This passion translates to the quality of service you will receive when you’re here.  As someone who is not versed in wine, I relied on his palate to recommend some choices based on my tastes and his Sommelier skills are sharp as a tack. He suggested wines I would’ve otherwise never tried, pushing my boundaries and compelling me to expand my palate as well—although I found my new favorite wine in his second suggestion and turns out it is an exclusive of The Keep! I asked them both what kind of advice they had for others pursuing the restaurateur or entrepreneur path and the information they shared was refreshing. Mark recommends that you do what you enjoy most. If you’re passionate about it, people will see it. Megan suggests that clarity is key. “You have to get really clear on your plan,” she says, “you shouldn’t wait for every detail to be planned to go for it, but be as clear as you can be.”

Megan and Mark’s clear vision of what they want to contribute definitely brings a unique experience to the Downtown Ocala area. The atmosphere they have created depicts a modern day version of a castle’s keep, where all the most important and valuable goods were stored. The keep would serve as the center of castle life, often also as the lord’s residence, and, in our case, a safe haven for friends, food, and fun with a twist.

Beyond The Classroom: FAFO

By Kaitlyn Butler

As seasons change, many prepare by swapping summer decor for pumpkins and forgoing an iced coffee for a pumpkin spiced latte. Within the walls of art classrooms all over Marion County, another type of transition is happening. In the weeks leading up to the weekend of October 26 and 27, art teachers are preparing for the biggest annual showcase of their students’ work, the 53rd Annual Ocala Arts Festival.

Each teacher is different. One speaks hurried in sentences that don’t really end or begin, flowing together. Another has a slow drawl that transports the listener to a front porch drinking sweet tea with lemon on a hot summer day. Many of them are artists themselves, working places like The Dalí Museum during the summer. They all hold an invaluable place in our classrooms, creating spaces that allow creativity to flourish.

The Ocala Arts Festival, presented by Fine Arts for Ocala and lovingly referred to as FAFO, is an opportunity to showcase all the work teachers pour into the classroom experience.

“Most teachers, I would say all of us, like to make it a showcase of what we did (in the classroom) at the end of last year and beginning of this year,” Staci Moore, an art teacher at Howard Middle School said. “It’s an opportunity to showcase our programs and all the hard work us teachers are putting in each and every day.”

The Student Art section of the Ocala Arts Festival highlights students from elementary to high school. Fifty-seven public school teachers and twenty-four private and homeschool teachers submit their students’ work for display in the public festival. For some students, it’s the first time they’ve been recognized for a positive school experience.

Veronica Eason, an art teacher at Marion Oaks Elementary School, recalls an experience she had with one of her kindergarten students. He was struggling academically and suffered a devastating setback in the traditional classroom. In art, however, he thrived.

“With art, he always felt successful and always had a smile,” Eason said of her student. “That was encouragement for him, and even when they had the ceremony, and he was there, he received the award, he was so happy. It boosted his self-confidence, and I could see a change in him after that. It was really encouraging, and the opportunity to make him feel like he could succeed was special.”

Beth Cannon, student art coordinator for FAFO, says seeing the students’ and teachers’ reactions is her favorite part of festival weekend. She said she remembers seeing how excited Eason was about her student being chosen for a purchase award. Despite teaching all week, Eason volunteered her time at the festival supporting her students.

“I just love seeing each child bringing their family members along, getting so jacked up about seeing their artwork on display,” Cannon said. “Especially, Jenkins (Auto Group) provides a ribbon for all elementary school students because, at that point, you are a winner because you’ve been chosen by your school to be there.”

The power of recognition does not stop at the elementary level. Moore says many students feel empowered after seeing their piece featured.

Jennifer Moore, the head of drawing and painting department in the MCCA program at West Port, submitted the piece of a sophomore last year. The 18” x 24” pen and ink piece took home Best in Show in 2018. She said the scale of the Ocala Arts Festival and the way the organization highlights student art is what makes the festival—and her student winning—so special.

“It’s one of the biggest festivals that Marion County has, and it is a mixture of both student work and professional artists who come from all over Florida,” Jennifer Moore said. “The variety of arts that are there­­—a lot of our dance students do performances and band—and they have a variety of the arts that are there, so the exposure of it and the location is really wonderful being downtown. I think that’s really unique, because the space, the way they utilize it, they try to make sure that for the students, they have a space that’s particularly designated for them.”

The winning piece was hand-drawn by Gabriela Cortes-Arroyo, an 11th-grade student at West Port High School. She completed the piece the summer before her sophomore year. “10,000 Hours,” the Best in Show piece depicts Cortes-Arroyo’s brother with his back to a trash can that is overflowing with crumpled paper balls. The extensive line work and size of the artwork can only be described as imposing and meticulous.

Cortes-Arroyo said she didn’t expect to see her piece selected for an award when she and her family visited the festival. In fact, they spent so much time looking at professional art booths that by the time she reached her piece, teachers were packing up.

“I saw that there was a ribbon on mine and I was excited to see that, so I went to go look at it,” Cortes-Arroyo said. “I saw it said Best in Show and I was very excited about that.”

Since the show, Cortes-Arroyo has gone on to compete in several other art competitions and taken home multiple awards. She said she hopes to enter more competitions, and has even researched how many awards she can enter and win each year. Cortes-Arroyo says winning the Ocala Arts Festival has impacted the way she views her own art.

“I think it’s given me some more confidence in my work,” Cortes-Arroyo said. “After FAFO, I more consistently started entering in pieces to art shows. I won three others after FAFO.”

Even beyond the scope of high school, the impacts of the student art section last for lifetimes. Beth Cannon says she remembers visiting the festival as a child to view her own artwork.

“The impact is huge,” she said. “Several FAFO board members’ first encounter with the FAFO arts festival was attending the festival to see their artwork on display in the student section.”

Teachers selecting art to submit rather than students submitting their art is what separates the Ocala Arts Festival from a lot of other competitions. Some schools have more than 250 art students, so being selected for the showcase is worth being recognized. In the late summer months, art teachers are finalizing projects so they can review and submit their most notable student pieces.

At Marion Oaks Elementary School, kindergarten students are learning the fundamentals of collage. Howard Middle School students are working on a recycling project. At West Port High School, the home of the visual and performing fine arts magnet program in Ocala known as MCCA (Marion County Center for the Arts), 11th-grade students are experimenting with surrealism.

These are just sample pieces that may be on display at the annual arts festival presented by FAFO. Each year art teachers in Marion County are given four panels on which to display their students’ work. Depending on the size of the pieces, they may display anywhere from four to 25 pieces of art.

Staci Moore says the number of students showcased each year depends on the work they have been doing in the classroom.

“There was a year that I had four panels, and I had four door-sized pieces, and they were so great that I only submitted four,” Staci Moore said. “There were other times that we did tiny little small things, so I could fit 15, 20, 25 — it just depends on the size of the work.”

According to Cannon, the judging for student art is based on criteria assessing how far along students should be in their art education. She said the student art show is its own show within the Ocala Arts Festival.

“The process of selecting works from each school essentially emulates the jurying process that the festival artists go through,” she said. “David Reutter (FAFO board member) secures a qualified judge for the middle and high school artwork. This judge gives out the best-in-show and other artistic awards of distinction. Jenkins Auto and Duke Energy provide ribbons and prize money for the winners, and the Appleton Museum hosts an awards reception in December.”

Though the student pieces are not for purchase at the festival, there are purchase awards at each student level. More valuable than the cash prizes are the invaluable confidence and impact the student art imparts on the students who are chosen to participate.

A resounding message came from each teacher: continue to support the arts. One way the community can encourage art education is to visit the student art section at the Ocala Arts Festival. High school art is located at Citizens’ Circle in downtown Ocala. Middle and Elementary art is located on SE Second Street just west of Citizens’ Circle.

“They (the students) get to experience the work of the professional artists that are out there and support Marion County so that more arts can happen,” said Jennifer Moore, “and they get to see what the real world is like once they graduate, the potential of what they can do with their art.”

A Life Under The Big Top

By Carey David | Photography Provided By Jean Garden

Who among us hasn’t described our lives at one point or another as a 3-ring circus? A term that brings to mind too much to do and too little time to do it. Juggling work, family, and personal obligations, praying not to drop any of those balls that will cause our world to spin into absolute chaos. I recently had the chance to visit with local Jean Garden, the daughter of Ian and Micheline Garden of the world-renowned Garden Brothers Circus. Her parents are considered “Circus Royalty” in the business. Although there are many moving parts and people involved in running a circus, Jean was clear that vision, planning, and having the right professionals passionate about what they do was and continues to be the key to Garden Brothers’ success.

In North America, there are two circuses that set the standard for excellence for the industry. Garden Brothers Circus of Canada and Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey in the United States. Ringling Brothers closed their big top show in January of 2017 after 146 years. Garden Brothers continue to operate today in the same grand fashion with performances not only in the US and Canada but around the world. The Ian Garden story is a rag to riches story similar to the one told of P.T. Barnum in the blockbuster movie, The Greatest Showman. But before we can go forward, we need to go back.

The passion to entertain lies deep in the roots of the Garden family. Ian’s father William was born in Scotland in the little town of Buckie. He eventually met Jean Shaw of Glasgow and they were later married. William and Jean migrated to North America to become Garden & Shaw, a song and dance act. William then formed Garden Brothers Amusements. The couple had five children: Bill, George, the twins-Dick and Kandy, and Ian in 1933. Ian started training animals at age 14. He worked at a riding stable as a kid and his interest in horses was sparked. He also got a job exercising high energy steeds at a local racetrack. The balance of the time he was training his own animals: a dance horse, dogs, and a rhesus monkey. In later years Ian would be called the “Fairy Dust Trainer” as he had the ability to break (train) any animal to respond to voice and hand commands and have them ready to perform in as little as three months.

In the early ’50s Ian was off to Montreal with his animal act to work the nightclub scene and his show was in high demand. He continued to operate the nightclubs, including the famous Mocambo Club in Hollywood, CA that was frequented by many stars for the silver screen like Humphrey Bogart and Elizabeth Taylor. Ian was performing on the same stage as the likes of Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra! If you’re not familiar with the Macambo, its main stage was replicated to be the “Tropicana” Club on the “I Love Lucy” show. It was these years that Ian met a beautiful singer working on the same bill, Micheline. She only spoke French, and he only spoke English, but love would eventually find a way.

In 1956 Ian returned to Montreal and formed the Royal Brothers Circus with his brother, Bill. They needed initial operating capital, so Bill took out an ad in the Toronto Globe and Mail looking for an Angel investor and found one. With $2,000 Royal Brothers were on the road. Ian ran the animals, and Bill ran the show. The tour by Jean’s description was “… a disaster and the season closed early. In the late 50’s dad did a series of shows with Bill, but none ever came to fruition.” Ian wasn’t the type to give up though. In 1959 he married that beautiful French girl, Micheline. “His real success came when he returned to Montreal to stay. He spent the majority of his time developing telemarketing for the show and personally handled every event he booked, which would lead to a single, highly successful date in Montreal for the circus. This was essentially the rebirth of Garden Brothers Circus”, Jean told me. In 1961 Ian and Micheline’s son Richard was born. In 1962 a second son, Ian Jr. And in 1963 the Garden’s daughter Jean graced the scene. By 1968 the circus was in full tour mode, and it was truly a family affair. Ian Sr. was not only the owner and trainer but the Showman and Ringmaster as well, directing every facet under the Big Top. Micheline handled all the production numbers from music to choreography. The children played an active part in the day to day operations of the circus, whether it was caring for the animals, performing, working the concessions or helping with staging, rigging, and production—all this and still keeping up with their education by correspondence courses.

After nearly 30 years Ian and Micheline—referred to as the King and Queen of the Garden Brothers Circus—passed the baton to their sons. Richard, the oldest, worked behind the scenes acting as the General Manager handling the business aspects of bookings and promotions. The talents of Ian Jr. didn’t fall far from the tree. He performed as Showman, Ringmaster, Trainer, and handled the day-to-day operations when the circus was on the road. Garden Brothers Circus has since been taken over by a cousin and is still going strong today with both Canadian and US tours.

A circus that started with a dream and a $2,000 investment of Angel investors continues to be a multi-million dollar-a-year legacy of primarily one man—Ian Garden Sr. His daughter calls him a man of honor and integrity. She shared with me, “It wasn’t always easy. No matter how tight things were, Dad spared no expense on the production of the shows and the performers and staff ALWAYS got paid. It was a class show, and the people that came got their monies worth every time. It was always the best…and Mom was the glue that held us all together. She gave up her own career for Dad’s.”

Ian Garden has lived an incredible life. He has been inducted in the Ring of Fame in Sarasota, FL as the foremost animal trainer in America. He trained the last six Bactrian camels for Ringling Brothers before they took their tent down for the last time. He trained horses, camels, zebras, elephants, and dogs. You can take the boy out of the circus, but I guess you can never take the circus out of the boy! Ian has lived in Ocala for the last 14 years, owns a 12-acre training facility and seven-days-a week, 8-hours-a-day continues to train Liberty Acts (horses who perform without riders or tethers, controlled only by commands of the trainer) and still performs from time to time.

What do we have like the circus today? Something that brings the family together. That delights children and adults alike. That creates a memory by the sights, sounds, and smells that can be relived years later, giving you the same feeling of excitement and joy.

Hemingway said, “The circus is the only ageless delight that you can buy for money. Everything else is supposed to be bad for you. But the circus is good for you. It’s the only spectacle I know that, while you watch it, gives the quality of a truly happy dream.”

Thank you, Ian and Garden family, for those truly happy dreams created under the Big Top.

Fashionable Faves: Pamela Calero Wardell

True fashion goes beyond the confines of trends to give us a glimpse into the personality of the individual. Whether it’s handed-down vintage, custom-designed items, or new off-the rack—we ask Ocala to dig into their closets and show us the pieces that make them truly unique.

Occupation: Executive Director of the Reilly Arts Center and Ocala Symphony Orchestra

Newly Married To: Matthew Wardell

Community Organizations: PACE Center for Girls, Junior League of Ocala, Ocala Mainstreet, Ocala Municipal Arts Commission.

Recently Received: Her Masters Degree in Business Administration

Mother To: Buckley, the Labradoodle

Favorite thing about fashion: Fashion is art. Just like you can play music to fit, enhance, or sooth a mood…the same can be done with an article of clothing. A comfy sweatshirt, sexy dress, obnoxiously high heels, string of pearls, or a pair of converse sneakers…they all can inspire you to be the person you want to be in that moment…or be comforted by the threads you know and trust.

The Scarf: This Perry Ellis scarf is so delicate and beautiful because of who it comes from. This is the scarf of my friend Robin’s late mother Mille Fannon. She gifted me a few of Millie’s music books along with this beautiful scarf after her mother passed because she knew I would care for it. Earlier this year, I wore this scarf out during my first night in Paris. I took it to have coffee in a dimly-lit bistro and then off to enjoy Rusalka at the Opéra Bastille. While there, I took a photo in the scarf and sent it to Robin, to show her how I had taken this pieces on one of the most memorable trips of my life. It meant a lot and I believe is a testament to how fashion and clothing can be a fabric that binds time and lives together.





Black and White Dress:

There’s nothing sentimental about this dress except that it’s Halston, it’s fun and I love the structure! It has good bones and that should always be a staple in anyone’s closet.

Blue Gem Earrings:

From my wedding—they are vintage. Matt picked them out.






This dress was given to me by my friend Cass Roth, and it’s one of my favorites—I always receive compliments! With the leather, studs and metal—you feel like you can definitely kick some ass and look good doing it. The shoes are vintage Manolo Blahnik’s from my friend Jess, and they stay far far away from my puppy Buckley! This suede jacket is my favorite and can pull together any outfit.





I love this dress because it was an unexpected find in the most romantic of ways! While Matt and I were walking along the Avenue des Champs-Élysées in Paris, he saw this in a shop window and insisted I try it on. I was hesitant because I thought it would be too long, but it fit like a glove. I wore it to a lovely engagement party our friends threw for us, as well as to the SONY Hall in New York City where I had an incredible night listening to my favorite singer, Madeleine Peyroux.






The Sweatshirt: Running a music venue, I love all kinds of music. One of my favorite indie-rock bands since high school has been The Shins (Never heard of them? Just watch “Garden State”). While in Vegas a few years ago, Matt and I saw them in concert at the Chelsea Hotel and we picked up this sweet sweatshirt. I live in this sweatshirt. Ninety-nine degrees, 45 degrees—doesn’t matter. It’s super comfortable and it’s representative of me.

Speed of Life

By Melissa Deskovic | Photography by Ralph Demilio and Lisa Criger

From the polished black exterior of his most recent creation, Don Garlits achievements are far from the humble roots of pieced together junkyard cars. No longer painting numbers on the side of rusted-out steel, he has everything at his disposal. As the first person to break 200 mph on the drag strip, he has solidified for himself a place in drag race history. There is no denying that Garlits’ reputation among drag race fans spans numerous continents and multiple generations.  In fact, Garlits achievements are so vast it takes an entire museum to house them.

A staple of the Ocala community since 1982, Don Garlits Museum of Drag Racing located just off of I-75 in southwest Ocala sits in an unassuming warehouse. Part museum, part garage—it’s filled with thousands of pieces of memorabilia—each one chronicling his journey. Under the bright florescent lights, rows of dragsters—close to three hundred in total—fill the room. Each vehicle, hand made by Garlits, and raced under his care. Every dragster carries with it a story as colorful as the coat of paint on its exterior. The number of items packed into the expansive building borders on overwhelming, and it’s easy to tell how one can spend hours perusing its contents.

Staring at over 50 years worth of accomplishments, my glazed, deer-in-headlights expression must have been indicative of someone who took a wrong turn and needed direction.

His staff is kind and welcoming as spectators wander through the showroom pointing at each car and gawking in hushed tones. Heading past the pristine aisles of restored race cars, behind the security of this team, is an attached garage. The smell of motor oil and fresh afternoon rain replace the comfort of the air-conditioned showroom as other members of his crew are quietly working on a dragster. This is the part most do not see, the everyday steps that lead to the 50 year journey.

Located on the backlot, within sight of the museum, is a single steel building. Black letters spell out ‘Don’s Garage’ above the door. “No one really comes back here. It’s my private workshop,” he explains. “I only come out here every once in a while. I’ve always got five or six projects.” His latest dragster sits in pieces in the middle of the room as he tweaks it for his upcoming race.

Garlits is welcoming and humble as he shows off his private workstations. It’s a gearhead’s paradise—floor-to-ceiling shelving littered with every tool and car part imaginable.  Oversized racing tires hang from the ceiling and boxes of trophies, cast aside not because he feels they lack worth, but because there are so many it’s hard to keep up. “Right now I’m rebuilding a Chrystler Hemi from a water pump from the Everglades.” He smiles. “I got it from the Army Corps of Engineers. Thing pumped billions of gallons of water down there—they were very gracious to give me this motor. “ Ingenuity has been key to Garlits success over the years and one of the main reasons he has been able to maintain his illustrious career.

The juxtaposition of Don Garlits the legend and Don Garlits the man is refreshing. Most who have risen to such a stature carry with them a haughtiness that can tend to be off-putting. But with Garlits, there is no sign of ego, only southern hospitality—a take your time and enjoy the moment approach to life.

His beginnings in drag racing were not as exquisite as his current state. Growing up in Tampa as the son of a dairy farmer, his families aspirations for him were that he would follow suit, but that was never in the cards. He loved cars as much as he loved life, and once he realized that, there was no separating the two. “Coming out of high school, I loved racing. I love fast cars.” He states. “Of course, there was no drag racing then. A friend of mine had a round-track car—and I was a body fender guy—so I helped him paint it and get it all pretty. We went out to the local round track in Tampa, and he was pretty good. He had a nice fast engine…but the wiley old experienced guys just bumped him over the wall and just smashed it all up. It’d still run, but he’d be there with his sledgehammer beating his car trying to make the next heat. I said, “I don’t want to do this kind of racing.” There were only two options when it came to vehicle racing, the round-track or the roads. There were dangers present in both options, so Garlits and his friends—who formed a club where they could race side by side–petitioned the city officials for the use of a local abandoned airstrip located in Zephyrhills. Looking to keep drag racers off of the street, the city immediately granted their request.

“In 1950 there were 18 of us. We had no clocks, no trophies, no classes. We just painted two lines on the asphalt and everybody raced everybody.” He states. “That’s just what I loved. I loved to race—and the fastest car won.” With the west coast already saturated with the James Dean-esque racers, the East Coast was just catching up. “In ’52 it (drag racing) was all black leather jackets and hoodlums.” It was during this time that Garlits would meet his future wife. Yet, with her father disapproving of drag racing, he gave up his custom-made vehicle for a bone-stock Ford sedan.

One day, while on a drive together, she spotted a small sign that said “drags today” with an arrow pointing in the direction of the races. Never seeing a drag race before she suggested they go and watch. Not one to say no to a race, he kindly obliged. Stopping at the gate, the ticket taker asked one simple question that changed everything. “Do you want to run it?” With his bone-stock Ford, Garlits again obliged-this time winning first place in his class. The trophy from that race currently sits in his office. One of his most prized possessions, he keeps it close. “There was one guy that was there that was winning everything, and I wanted to be like him. So my wife and I build a ’36 Ford cut down coupe. We went from that to a roadster and from that took the body off and got a dragster. Then I got into Hemi engines, and it just got faster and faster.”

Garlits won his first big race in 1955 in Lake City when the National Hot Rod Association came through town with a regional championship. Winning Top Eliminator in an official NHRA event was a big deal. “I will never forget the president of the club said ‘I guess you’ll retire now’, and I said ‘Why would I do that?’ and he says ‘Because you will never beat the Californians.” It was August of 1955 that this statement was verbalized to Garlits and it was in August of 1957 that he outran the World Champion from California at the World Series of Drag Racing in Cordova, Illinois. This race was especially poignant for Garlits. The driver he defeated was a personal hero of his, so much so that the driver’s poster was tacked up on the walls of his shop.  As the first to go over 160 miles an hour, defeating him meant everything. Up to this point, the driver had never been outrun. Lining up on the blacktop, knowing he was going toe to toe with his idol, there was a rush of exhilaration. When the signal for the race was dropped, Garlits did what he was born to do-he crossed the finish line first. “When we came back down the return road for the next round, the President of the association says ‘In all fairness to the world champion we’ll have to see that again.” He laughs. “So they made me run him again, and I outran him again.” It was after this event that Garlits skyrocketed to fame. Dethroning the world champion placed him on the cover of the drag newspapers and every form of media. Wanting to keep his winning streak alive, at each race he took note of what others were doing—researching their wins and losses to see how he could make his cars better. He was methodical in approach, and over the years it has paid off well for him.

The ability to handle a vehicle is paramount in drag racing but to become a record-breaking mastermind of the field you need the vision to see the next wave of revolutionary ideas that will take your vehicle from fast to legendary. “The experts said that we would never be able to exceed 169 in the quarter. Where they got that idea from who knows… they’ve reached 340 mph in the quarter-mile now.” 

His story, however, is not without its own setbacks. One time in particular almost cost Garlits his hands. Early in his career after a particularly bad accident left his hands burned and unable to open, a doctor gave him little hope for ever racing again. The doctor in charge of his care advised that the only option was to remove Garlits’ hands or the blood pooling in them would become septic and he would not survive. Garlits, who built his life around the refurbishment and racing of vehicles was not accepting that diganosis. After much argument, he sought a second opinion that changed his life. As his next physician began to manually uncurl his fingers, the blood that had pooled in his hands began to flow and, with a little bit of care, he was able to fully recover. That would not be the last time he had an accident that would threaten the life of his career.  “In 1987, I had a bad accident in Spokane where I broke three of my vertebrae so I was off and couldn’t race for six months.” During this time his fame carried his career.  Offered a position with NBC to do television, he was transferred to their Nashville network where he spent the next 17 years. “I’m watching all these cars, and the sport had just stagnated so I designed this car that I thought would be the next level in drag racing.” He reminisces. The Swamp Rat 32 was a mono-wing dragster. “I put this car together and then hurt my eyes racing it in Gainsville while testing it.” He explains, “They had given me this special chute, and it stopped too fast, and I had detached retinas. So I got a new driver, and he drove it for a while, but I didn’t like not driving the car, so we put it all up.”

In 2001, under the encouragement of a friend, that he took one of his cars out of the museum, put a late-model motor in it and began racing once again. “I got Swamp Rat 34 and I was working on getting it ready to take it to Nationals, and I got a 16-page fax three days before time to leave for NHRA of all the stuff I was going to have to do to this car to run indie and there was no way we could do it, so I pulled the plug on the program.” In the age of social media, the fans spread the word that Garlits would not be running. “I got a call from Gary Capshaw in Las Vegas, Nevada—he had a car that he had been 300 mph in and he said ‘Don, we will just put a nice wrap on mine and you can drive it,’” Garlits states “So I went to Indy and went 303 mph, and it was a thrill. But I was upset about not being able to run my own car. So after the race was over, I had the NHRA tech guy come here and look at my car.  And there was just one little tube here that had to be changed. We could have fixed it in 15 minutes—they were just being nasty.”

Not letting the politics get to him, he worked on his car and entered it into the races in 2002. Running a total of 10 races in 2002 (one of which he went 318.54mph) and 10 in 2003 (one of which he went 323.04mph). “At the end of the season in Indianapolis, my last run was 310.81, and my wife always came down to the end of the race when I got out of the car. She said to me ‘Please don’t drive this car anymore. It’s scaring me to death.”’ He states fondly “I said ‘What’s wrong?’ and she says, ‘Look at me,’ and she was just shaking all over like a leaf and I said ‘Oh my god, honey, what’s wrong?” He pauses, “She says ‘You need to go with me to my neurologists—we need to have a talk.’ She had been diagnosed with Parkinson in 2000 and never told me. So I never drove the car again, it’s been put up just like it was and that was the end of my Top Fuel racing.”

In 2008 Crysler announced the build of a drag pack Challenger prototype. Garlits, who has worked with Crystler since 1961, was extended the invitation to travel to Denver to test one of the prototypes. “They had me match race another driver, and I won the race—it was kind of fun. But when I came back, the wife says ‘How’d ya like the run in Denver?’ I said it was a lot of fun, so she said, ‘Why don’t ya get you one.’” Knowing his wife’s fear of higher speeds, he questioned if she was okay with him racing again. She replied with a laugh, stating, “Honey, 130 mph for you is like walking. Get all of them you want.” Purchasing a couple of these vehicles, he continued to race. It wasn’t long after, that his wife passed away.

“I was in really bad shape. I didn’t want to eat or anything. When my wife died, we were married 61 years, and it was really a lick. I had seen all of my friends that had spouses pass away. Most of us had come out of high school marrying high school sweethearts. It was unbelievable. The husband, or the wife would die and it wouldn’t be a year, and the other one would go, and there wouldn’t be anything wrong with them.” Garlits passion for life was sidelined. With no interest in the business, his daughter continued to carry on the day to day operations. After some time had passed, his daughter convinced him to come to a car show hosted at the museum. “It’s important to keep the mind active as well as the body. Both of them are important.” 

After being out of the public eye for quite some time, he reluctantly agreed, and as he mingled with fans discussing his career and the plethora of vehicles that were surrounding them, he ran into Lisa Criger. At the time employed by the Star-Banner, Lisa was there covering the event as a guest of the media. The two clicked instantly, and they’ve been together ever since.

Since that time, Garlits has found the passion for getting behind the wheel and taking another crack at breaking more records. As the first dragster to top 170, 180, 200, 240, 250, 260, and 270 mph and the first to top 200 mph in the quarter-mile, there is no doubt that he has more to add to his list.

At 87 years of age, he has not slowed down. Recently racing a battery-operated dragster, he topped out at 189. “We pushed it to 189, and we think it would have run better on the next run, but we had two bad battery cells on the 189. But we broke one of the homemade hubs that drive the wheel. So it just turned one of the wheels loose, and it just spun. Of course, I immediately lifted when I felt the acceleration fall off and it couldn’t be fixed at the track.” Bringing it back to his shop and working on it, they put 4000 amps into the motor. The motor, salvaged out of an old sawmill is a heavy-duty motor that was converted into a high-speed motor.  A few short weeks after the dragster was repaired Garlits took it out again, this time breaking the 200 mph record for a battery-operated vehicle.

With win after win under his belt, a museum full of memorabilia, and a fan base that has been with him for more than 50 years, there is no end in sight for Garlits. After each win, there is another goal, another record in his crosshairs. “I’m sure there will be a time when I’m done, but I’m pretty sure that will be just before the funeral—I hope.”


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