If ever there was a time when joy was needed, 2020 was the year.
Here’s a look, in condensed form, at some of the stories revealing big moments and happy times in The Laker/Lutz News region, during the year that was.
Soaring into the wild blue yonder
Olivia Jenkins flew her first solo flight from Tampa North Flight Center in Lutz, aboard a Cessna 172 Skyhawk, on Sept. 23. In doing so, she achieved a personal goal to fly solo before even getting a license to drive a car. She intends to get her private pilot’s license when she turns 17, on Feb. 10. She has big plans after that, too. She will seek a congressional nomination to a military service academy, and one day hopes to fly for the U.S. Air Force or perhaps to fly helicopters for the Army.
Superheroes give boy an epic parade
David Castle — an 8-year who loves superheroes, WWE, Fortnight, motorcycles, fast cars and
fishing — had a very special Halloween when hundreds of people joined in to put on an epic parade for him. Superheroes dropped by and bikers threw up smoke, giving David a day to get his mind off cancer and just enjoy being a kid. He’s had a hard battle — but on this particular day, he was surrounded by people who wanted to make him happy, and they did.
Making birthdays happy, despite COVID-19
When Kynlee Kuberski wasn’t able to celebrate her 11th birthday at Universal Studios, her mom, Jessi, took to social media inviting people to drive by to wish her a happy, socially distanced birthday. People responded, making the day a treat for Kynlee, who lives in Connerton. Kynlee, center, reacts as a Pasco County Fire Rescue truck drives by — adding to the fun. Her mother, Jessi, stands to her left, and her older sister, Kalyn, is on her right.
When original plans for Evelyn “Ev” Furman’s 99th birthday were canceled, her daughter came up with Plan B.
The plans were all set. Furman’s family planned to travel to Land O’ Lakes and to take her to the Rusty Pelican to celebrate her 99th birthday.
A birthday lunch with friends was planned, too.
Neither happened, thanks to COVID-19.
Instead, her daughter, Debbie Storts organized a party — inviting people to drive, walk or bicycle by the house to help Ev celebrate.
Storts used a 6-foot tray to hand out cupcakes. Those bringing gifts left them at the edge of the driveway, where they were collected and sanitized, before being delivered to the Birthday Girl.
Although the original plans fell through, Ev didn’t mind.
“It was the best party I ever had,” she said.
The Rev. Harold Thomas, and his wife, Bermice, enjoy lunch, during the “Birthday King’s” surprise birthday party.
Members of St. John Missionary Baptist Church, in Dade City, wanted to do something special for the Rev. Harold Thomas, who was turning 85.
So, they threw him a surprise celebration, complete with a drive-by parade with police sirens, and a luncheon with social distancing.
The finishing touches were a red robe and crown, for the “Birthday King.”
The pastor has led the church for 37 years.
Faithful woman has a national role
Michele Bowman, who lives in Zephyrhills, has achieved something attained by only three other Floridians in 117 years. She’s been elected as one of nine national directors for the Catholic Daughters of America.
The organization promotes spiritual growth, charitable giving, community service and sisterhood.
She wants to expand the membership and to attract younger members.
“It’s a problem when your membership starts to age out” she said, in a Laker/Lutz News interview. “We may have to change the way we approach things, and I’d like to have a voice in this because I believe it’s a big issue. We should be proactive.”
Gesture honors a Marine’s service
Otis Felder, a retired U.S. Marine, was already having a pretty good Veterans Day — even before he made his daily trek to the dog park at the Land O’ Lakes Recreation Complex, off Collier Parkway. But when he arrived, it got even better. That’s when he was surprised by a new bench at the park, which his friends had dedicated to him. ‘Holy mackerel,’ the 84-year-old said, when he saw the bench. ‘I never expected anything like that.’
Venue changes, but dignity preserved
A date had been set to honor Francis Xavier O’Connell — a decorated military veteran and a former prisoner of war — during the legislative session in Tallahassee, but that couldn’t occur because of COVID-19.
So, new plans were made to provide a socially distanced ceremony at Angels Senior Living at the Lodges of Idlewild, in Lutz, where O’Connell lives.
Because of the COVID-19 lockdown, he had to watch the ceremony through glass doors, as it was performed outside.
O’Connell’s niece, Carolyn Matthews, who was involved in arranging the tribute, said members of two veterans groups stepped forward to help create a meaningful and dignified event.
First Day, learning in-person
Beyond requirements for masks, social distancing and frequent hand-washing, the first day of school in the 2020-2021 school year will stand out for Principal Tim Light for another reason, too. It was his first ‘First Day’ leading Cypress Creek Middle School in its newly opened home on Old Pasco Road. He’d been planning for the day for months, and he was ready. ‘I’m very excited,’ Light said. ‘Honestly, I never thought this day was going to get here.’
First Day, learning remotely
Five-year-old Brooklyn Holtzman, of Land O’ Lakes, had her first day of kindergarten at home — learning remotely through Pasco County Schools’ MySchool Online. She’s enrolled at Sanders Memorial STEAM Magnet School. She even had a special hat for the day.
Celebrating the Lightning’s Stanley Cup
The Tampa Bay Lightning injected joy and excitement in the midst of a global pandemic by defeating the Dallas Stars, to bring home the Stanley Cup.
Amelie Arena was open for a limited number of spectators and outdoor watch parties were socially distanced. Spectators wore masks. (They’re not masked up in the photo, but once the picture was taken they put their masks back on.)
When the Lightning won the cup, euphoria erupted.
Mary, David and Kimberly Eberhard are loyal Lightning fans.
When she’s not cheering on the Lightning, Mary’s financial acumen helps keep The Laker/Lutz News running smoothly.
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