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Get ready to reroute on Sebring Parkway

SEBRING — If you want to use Sebring Parkway north from DeSoto Road to Youth Care Lane you’ll need another route for the next six weeks.

Either that, or you will need to navigate narrow residential streets to the east of the construction zone. County public information officials advise local residents to be patients and drivers of large rigs to find another route altogether, such as Sebring Drive/Alt. 27 at the Southgate Publix Plaza north to Lakeview Drive.

For the next six weeks, if weather and logistics cooperate, contract road crews will work the northbound lane of the existing roadway and dig down through the eastside embankment to install the new northbound roadway and the grass median between the north and south lanes.

It actually started on Thursday, and anyone who lives in the area — especially those in the adjacent Francis II Mobile Home Park — will want to navigate around the area. Residents there have a west entrance on DeSoto Road, away from the intersection with the Parkway. Residents on Youth Care Lane might consider entering or leaving home through neighborhoods between them and Kenilworth Boulevard.

Only the northbound lanes will be closed, public information officials said. Northbound traffic will want to detour east onto Desoto Road, turn north on DeSoto City Road, west on Peters Road, north on Orange Blossom Avenue, west on Howard Street, south on Rainbow Avenue and then west on Youth Care Lane to get back to Sebring Parkway. The detour will be marked.

It’s part of the traffic rerouting plan devised by Bergeron Land Development Inc. of Fort Lauderdale, Highlands County Road and Bridge Department and the City of Sebring.

In addition to milling the road, Bergeron may also be adding striping. All motorists, southbound as well as northbound, are advised to use caution and follow all traffic signs.

The contract for construction runs into 2023, but Highlands County Engineer Clinton Howerton Jr. has said he doesn’t think it will take that long. It involves widening the road from two to four lanes from Youth Care Lane to U.S. 27, improving intersections at DeSoto Road and at U.S. 27, installing drainage improvements and relocating utilities and power lines.

{div class=”nb-asciiviewer-content”}Phase 2 will also get its own roundabout, the third in the parkway system and the ninth in the county, at the northwest corner of the Highlands Regional Medical Center campus. It would need to handle an average of 7,000 daily trips on the Parkway from U.S. 27 to DeSoto Road, and a 20-year projected traffic volume of 20,000 average daily trips, according to J.D. Langford, assistant county engineer and project manager for Sebring Parkway Phases 2A/2B.

Langford has said the Engineering Department’s signal consultant for the U.S. 27/Parkway intersection is working with the Florida Department of Transportation to time signal green time for Parkway traffic to prevent backing up traffic from the highway to the roundabout, which must remain a free-flowing intersection to work properly.

Langford also said that doubling the number of travel lanes should add enough capacity to keep traffic flowing. Like other roundabouts in the county, drivers from all directions must stop on the edge of the roundabout. Whether entering the roundabout or the roadway, yield to traffic already there, then enter when it’s clear to their right, using the outside lane to exit the roundabout and the inside lane to circle it.

Lifetime of hard work
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If she was writing her resume, she could include her years of helping her husband farm in Georgia, her years of picking cotton and her years of picking oranges. Oh yeah, and the number of babies that she helped come into the world through her work as a midwife. She also volunteered with a prison ministry at Avon Park Correctional Institution. But probably the one job Lillie Mae Taylor has loved the most in her 100 years of life has been that of a mother.

As we celebrate Black History Month, we honor those like Lillie Mae Taylor, the epitome of a strong Black woman.

Lillie Mae didn’t raise a family of three children, or five children. Lillie Mae had 22 babies, though only 16 of them lived.

Like so many other women at that time, Lillie Mae was 19 when she had her first baby. She and her husband Lucious added to the family about every 12-18 months, and they raised their family together until 1974 when Lucious passed away.

Fourteen of the children continue to shower Lillie Mae with their love. In order, the children are Robert Lee (now deceased), Willie, Eugene, Lucious Jr., Hattie, Lilly, Annie, Faye, Bobby, Gwendolyn (now deceased), Ross, Margie, JD, Henry, Bernice, and Curtis. All but three of the children were born at home.

In fact, there are five generations of Taylors today. On last count, Lillie Mae has 62 grandchildren.

Lucious served in the U.S. Army — as did six of his children — Willie, Margie, JD, Henry, Bernice and Curtis ... and when he got out, he and Lillie Mae married and went to work farming. The older children remember the hard work and the benefits that the family reaped.

Hattie, the oldest daughter, said her daddy farmed and harvest a lot of produce and meat. They would take the food to market and what they didn’t take to market, he would invite neighbors to come and take what they wanted from the fields.

The farm helped feed the Taylor family. Hattie said not only was there the produce and meat that their dad harvested, but there was also a number of fruit trees in the yard.

Lillie Mae said when things got tight, she would just start “pinching” to make the food go a little further. Margie said she doesn’t remember a single time when any of them went hungry. “She’d just keep pinching it. There was always enough,” she said.

Hattie remembers sometimes sitting in the field and cracking a watermelon open, digging her hands into the meat of the fruit to eat.

Hattie said, “She didn’t just feed her own children. She fed others too. She always had a big heart. She didn’t care who you were. She’d put newspaper down on the floor so everyone had their own spot. Sometimes I’d come in and ask who someone was and Mama would say, ‘I don’t know.’ All she knew was they needed to be fed.”

Word is that trait has been carried down through the family line. Margie’s husband, Harold, said when the family gets together for a holiday, any food that is left over is packed up by the girls and taken to different ones in the community. No one they know will be hungry.

The children also remember when their dad would butcher a couple of hogs or a cow. Family and friends would come from near and far to enjoy the good cooking. “We’d feast for two or three days,” Hattie said.

“We were never wasteful, that’s just how we’d celebrate the harvest. As I got deeper into the Word (the Bible), I learned that’s the way it’s supposed to be. Mama and Daddy stayed as close to the Word as they could,” she said.

Memories go back to the mules that helped with the farming. Hattie said one of the mules seemed to have its own internal clock. The mule always knew when it was time to stop working for a lunch break and when it was time to stop at the end of the day. Lucious didn’t even try to get another minute of work out of the mule, because he knew the old mule wouldn’t budge.

Lillie Mae also remembered how the mule would pull 200 pounds of fertilizer, but not another pound more. She said he knew if there was more than 200 pounds on the wagon.

Hattie, referred to as a second mother by the younger children, was in third grade when the family moved to Avon Park from Doerun, Georgia. Prior to the actual move, they would come and stay with her grandmother, Ruby Lee Coleman, while Lillie Mae and Lucious would work picking oranges.

Lillie Mae said one thing she remembered about the move was the hard work and how she liked the weather. She said it was sometimes cold in Georgia while picking cotton, but the Florida temperatures were so much warmer while picking oranges.

Hattie said her mother did a lot of hard work.

“I remember her having her babies, being home a couple of days and being right back out in the fields, picking cotton, tobacco and farm work,” Hattie said.

When the children squabbled, how did Lillie Mae stop it? She said, “I got me a switch and they stopped,” she said to her children’s chuckles.

How many babies did she help bring into the world through her work as a midwife? She doesn’t remember the exact number but says it was more than 10.

JD said, “She been the best mom anyone could ask for. She’s got a big heart. ... She set the tone for me being the person I am today. She made sure I received my education. I’m truly blessed God gave me the mother I have.”

Hattie and Margie said their mother has not only been a pillar to the family, but also to the community. “Our neighbors referred to her as mom,” Hattie said.

Margie said, “Mom always said if you teach them right and treat them right, you’ll put them on the right path.”

Lillie Mae was 76 when she stopped working and 82 when she stopped driving back and forth to Sebring where she had a friend she helped take care of. In 2014, she was the grand marshal of the Martin Luther King Jr. Parade in Avon Park.

Whether it was picking cotton or picking oranges, it doesn’t matter. The years of hard work aren’t evident when one looks at 100-year-old Lillie Mae Taylor. Within no time at all, a smile comes across her face and if you listen closely to the humble mother of 22, you’ll hear a soft giggle when you speak to her and the love that surrounds her is quite evident.

County records 3 more COVID deaths

Highlands County added 31 new COVID-19 cases when the Florida Department of Health put out its daily COVID reports on Saturday. The new cases brought the cumulative total to 7,087 infections since the start of the pandemic. The documented cases are comprised of 7,019 residents and 68 cases from non-residents.

Over the past seven days there have been 189 cases of coronavirus, or a daily average of 27 cases.

Three more deaths were reported since Friday’s update. On Saturday, the county’s death toll stood at 297.

The positivity rate continued its climb over the past few days and was 8.55%. Testing was up slightly, with 351 processed tests.

Hospitalizations have increased by one person overnight and now is at 558. The Agency for Health Care Administration showed 34 people hospitalized as of 4 p.m. on Saturday. AHCA also reported an adult ICU bed census as 22 with five available.

FDOH shows their have been 80 resident or staff deaths from long-term care facilities.

The ages of those infected runs from 0-99 with an overall median age of 52. Saturday’s median age was 50 years old. Women still have higher rates of infections at 3,829 compared to men who have had 3,157 cases. An additional 33 cases have an unknown gender.

Florida added 7,280 new cases of COVID, bringing the overall caseload to 1,863,707. The cases are made up of 1,829,773 residents and 33,934 non-residents who tested positive.

Deaths rose by 125 people, which is down from Friday. The total deaths have reached 30,339.

The state positivity rate continued to go down on Saturday, as the rate was 5.74%. The positivity rate was the lowest since Feb. 6. The state processed 124,466 resident tests with 117,316 negative results.

The state reported 45,120 vaccines given on Friday. It was the lowest number of vaccines given since Valentine’s Day and less than half of the previous day vaccines administered. Florida has vaccinated 2,668,101 people, with 1,314,176 having received the first shot in the series and 1,353,925 people receiving both shots.

Testing shot up drastically in the United States, according to the COVID Tracking Project’s Friday evening update, so it’s no surprise cases climbed a bit, as there were 74,676 new cases reported. The previous four days had seen increases of less than 70,000.

But there were 1,878,276 tests processed for the day, which is 521,000 more than were processed the previous day.

While hospitalizations dipped under 60,000 — with 59,882 currently hospitalized — deaths were at 2,477, marking the third straight day with at least 2,300 deaths.

While numbers are still coming out of Texas — the state reported 2,937 new cases and 172 deaths on Friday — it’s unknown how complete the state’s reports are.

Saturday’s early numbers didn’t look much different than what we’ve seen the past week, with the California Department of Public Health reporting 6,668 new cases and 481 deaths. Arizona reported 2,047 new cases and 59 additional deaths.

The United States has eclipsed 28 million cases, with 28,039,973, while the death toll reached 496,528.

Globally, there have been 110.9 million cases and 2,456,372 deaths.