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Strolling thru memories to celebrate 50 years

SEBRING – A stroll around the lake in Maranatha Village brought back several memories for many of the residents participating Tuesday, March 7, in the kick-off celebration for the 50th anniversary of their community.

Residents of Maranatha Village lit up the pathway in their park around the lake with luminary bags as part of the Legacy Stroll. Each bag was decorated then placed along the walkway with a canned food item and a battery-operated candle inside. Although many residents waited until dark to stroll around the lake to see the bags lit up, some took advantage of the daylight to read each of the bags bearing messages

“We had four categories that they could participate in — Praying For, In Honor Of, In Tribute To, In Memory Of,” said Linda Pyche, who co-organized the Legacy Stroll with her husband John. “We sold 144 luminary bags and another 10 at the day of the event.”

Proceeds from the luminary bag sales will go toward purchasing flags from the five branches of the military plus the Christian flag and the poles to be displayed in the Veteran’s Memorial in the village. Administrator Brian Halstead said they wanted to honor the veterans with this project.

“We honored 57 veterans in our village during a celebration this past President’s Day,” Halstead said. “We celebrated our veterans because they are so precious to us.”

In addition to raising money for the Veteran’s Memorial, the Legacy Stroll also collected canned goods to be donated to three local charities serving veterans. Halstead said they will go to the Vietnam Veterans of America in Sebring, Highlands County Veteran Services Office in Sebring and Bethany Baptist Church in Avon Park.

“I brought garbanzo beans,” Colene Price said as she raised the can out of her bag. She decorated her luminary bag in memory of her husband Terry who was a former pastor at Maranatha Baptist Church within the village.

Price is a full time resident at Maranatha Village coming from Wisconsin. Her husband was a Bible professor at Maranatha Baptist University in Watertown, Wis. She and her husband came to Sebring to visit Maranatha Village and then realized they needed a pastor. He took over as pastor of the church in 2016.

“We always dreamed of retiring to Florida,” Price said.

Unfortunately, her husband unexpectedly passed away in 2019 from a major brain bleed. They have three sons, all of which are math teachers, and nine grandchildren.

Price was so deeply touched to hear people stroll past her bag and comment about her husband with most saying, “that’s my pastor.” Another resident also made a luminary bag in memory of Terry Price.

For those who could not walk around the lake, they drove their golf carts and stopped along the way to read each bag.

Shirley Kurz, of Ohio, drove her 96-year-old mother Lucy Chapman around the lake in a golf cart to admire the luminaries. She has been a resident of Maranatha since 1988. Her other daughter and son-in-law David and Diana Conrad also live in Maranatha.

“This is a wonderful idea,” Kurz said as she drove around the path looking at the luminaries.

Although they were admiring all the other luminaries, they could not help but notice that their luminary was attracting a lot of attention. Chapman decorated two luminaries in memory of her husband Joseph Chapman. One bag featured her husband’s military service in the U.S. Navy serving on the USS Telfair and the other bag featured him with his trombone that he played in the Highlands County Concert Band. He died March 10, 2017. In between the two bags, was a small American flag on a pedestal that had a sign that said “Press Button.” As people pushed the button, they were entertained with patriotic music.

In addition to the Legacy Walk, residents and the community participated in a Health & First Responder’s Fair in Hammond Hall in Maranatha during the morning on Thursday, March 9. There were almost 20 vendors at the event including the Red Cane Support Group, Low Vision, Sebring Meals on Wheels, UnitedHealthcare, Shield Medical Group, Royal Care Nursing, Neuro Challenge, Assisting Hands, Comfort Keepers, Vitas Healthcare, Beltone Hearing, Amerilife, Advent Home Care, Change of Pace, Florida Ombudsman, Palms Home Care and Florida Home Care.

The turnout was good as residents enjoyed coffee, donuts, raffle gifts, giveaways along with plenty of important information. Vendors were a mix of home health care, hospital care services, hearing professionals, insurance specialists, hospice providers, nursing home care options, meal delivery and physician services.

Halsted, visited with vendors as well as with residents and guests attending. He thanked everyone for making the health fair a success for all.

Each vendor provided a special raffle gift which created excitement each time a number was called from the red tickets given out as residents entered the building. Residents visited the tables so they could speak with a professional, learn about the services they offer and perhaps receive a small giveaway item like water bottles, candy, lip balm, page magnifiers and more.

A gospel concert featuring Niah & Allisha Merrill topped off the weeklong celebration on Friday night, March 10, in the church.

Correspondent Sharon Weatherhead contributed to this story.

Judges amazed with talent at HAL Annual Members Show

SEBRING – The judges were blown away with the talent at the Highlands Art League’s Annual Members Show on Sunday, March 12, at the Museum of the Arts in downtown Sebring.

The high quality of work in the member’s gallery made it very hard to decide on which ones were the best. Winners received a combination of cash and gift certificates.

“The judges were very surprised at the quality here,” Highlands Art League (HAL) President Larry Felder said. “They never know what to expect in a small town show. We were only going to award three places, but with the great art submitted and the great turnout, we added three honorable mention awards.”

“This is such a great turnout!” said Deb Klipper, HAL artist. “We have 21 artists represented and 55 works of art in the show.”

Beautiful examples of local art graced the walls of two gallery rooms. Oils, acrylic, graphite pencil, collages, rock painting and more were on display. About 100 people browsed the exhibit and visited with the artists that were present.

“We’re happy to be back,” Felder said. “We had to hold off for a few years due to COVID. We’re very fortunate to have our members still with us as well as getting some new ones. We’re bringing the art league back to life after the years of COVID. A lot of people are wanting to join us. They want to get their work professionally judged. This is a great turnout and is very exciting,” he said.

Bill and Sharon Nuttall were looking at “Wine Country” by Cindy Haase.

“We really like the soft muted color combinations. It’s so Florida-like,” Sharon Nuttall said.

Friends Joy Sutherland, Teresa Moore and Jeri Slaybaugh were checking out the wrinkles on the face of “Pontius Pilate” by Preston Stafford. They all agreed that the wrinkles are so real and there is so much fine detail in the work.

“Madness” by Deb Klipper and winner of an Honorable Mention, caught the eye of Maryls Geiss and Lynn Kern. They said it’s quite a unique piece. It kind of tells a story.

“We have two great judges for this show, a husband and wife team from St. Petersburg, John and Margaret Bayalis,” Felder said.

According to their bios, John is known for his distinct, realistic style. His vibrant watercolors reflect a specific clarity of light and form.

Margaret has an impressionistic style that has a luminous quality making her paintings glow with an inner light.

The winners of the show were Mary Johnson, first place for “‘The End and the Beginning;” Beverly Marshall, second place, for “Anamorphic (1);” Eileen Allen, third place for “Splashes of Color.” Those receiving honorable mentions were Deb Klipper for “Madness,” Preston Stafford for “The Bead Stringer,” and Jean Cormier for “The Old Yellow Truck.”

“‘The End and the Beginning’ is an acrylic of a bulldozed orange grove,” Johnson said. “There was a huge rain storm and I waited it out. Everything was so dark and then the sun came out. I love the contrasts of light and dark. The orange grove is dead; the rainbow is the promise of new beginnings,” she said.

Johnson said what draws her in and inspires her is that fascinating contrast of light and dark.

Eileen Allen said her third place winning watercolor, “Splashes of Color,” was inspired by a European scene.

“There are people going places in the rain, no specific location, just somewhere in Europe. It’s watercolor on paper. I always seal my work with many coats. That way you don’t need to cover it with glass,” Allen said.

Be sure to check out HAL’s website at for information on upcoming events.

Ag tourists see what's sprouting up in horticulture

The Highlands County Ag Tour on Thursday, March 9, focused on horticulture throughout the southern portion of the county.

The bus toured horticulture facilities such as Costa Delray Farms in Venus, Miller Farms in Lake Placid, Windy Point in Lake Placid, Happiness Farms in Lake Placid and Secret Garden Winery in south Sebring. The tour is sponsored by the UF/IFAS Highlands County Extension Office in Sebring. Guests boarded the bus at the Highlands County Extension Office in Sebring and departed early in the morning to make it to the first stop at Costa Delray.

Carlos Deshon, of Costa Delray, welcomed guests to the farm located in Venus and served as the tour guide. He informed the group that Costa Delray is a farm where they grow houseplants and garden plants that are shipped to retailers across North America. Their plants can be found in garden centers, home-improvement centers, club stores, or grocery stores. The company started in 1961 when the founder, Jose Costa Sr., purchased 30 acres south of Miami, where the company’s headquarters is located. Costa Delray grows more than 1,500 varieties of houseplants and is one of the world’s largest horticulture growers.

According to Greenhouse Grower website, “Delray Plants, based in Venus, FL, was number 13 on Greenhouse Grower’s Top 100 Growers list in 2016, with 3,868,116 square feet of environmentally controlled greenhouses, 119 acres of shade greenhouses, and 20 acres of field production.”

Deshon showed the group various ferns, palms and other houseplants before they departed for their next stop to Miller Farms in Lake Placid.

Janelle Miller of Miller Farms was the tour guide for this adventure which took the group through the produce section of the farm. Janelle’s father, James Miller and his wife, are the owners of Miller Farms and the family established the farm in 1990. Janelle showed the group the cleaning room where the vegetables are prepped for shipping. She also showed how the shipping crates are constructed.

The next stop was Windy Point which is on the southern end of Lake Istokpoga. J.D. Foster took over as tour guide at Windy Point. The facility has a large parking lot with covered pavilions and picnic tables which made it ideal for the group to break for a nice steak lunch. There is a nature trail with paved pathways that are good for an enjoyable walk and bird watching. There is also a boardwalk leading to a large deck overlooking a small pond, which is a great spot for fishing and watching for the wildlife.

Foster also talked about the Kissimmee River Restoration project, authorized by Congress in 1992. It is sponsored by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the South Florida Water Management District.

After lunch, the bus headed to Happiness Farms Caladiums in Lake Placid where they were greeted by the mother and daughter team of Darlene Phypers and Danielle Phypers Daum. This farm has been in operation for more than 50 years providing caladiums all over the U.S. The Phypers team took the onlookers to a room where the caladium bulbs are dried and sorted. They then strolled over to the shipping area where they saw how the bulbs are packed in rice husks in the box. They mentioned that the past two hurricanes have caused a lot of damage to the caladium fields with the excess water.

The final stop for the day was at Secret Gardens Winery & Farm in southern Sebring off Lake Josephine Road where Alexa Murray took over as tour guide. her parents, Richard and Valerie Murray, are the owners of Secret Gardens, a certified Florida Farm Winery and Muscadines Vineyard. The Murrays opened for business to the public in November 2019. Prior to that, they built a barn and tasting room in 2018 and planted their muscadine vines on their 20 acre farm.

The next tour will be an Agriculture & Natural Resources Tour on March 22. Included in the stop is Barben Blueberry Farm, Maxwell Groves Country Store, CitraPac Inc., Lake Istokpoga, The Practical Arts Resort Campus (P.A.R.C), and Sugar Sand Distillery. The cost of the tour is $95 and includes lunch. Bus leaves at 8 a.m. from the Highlands County Extension Office in Sebring and returns around 5 p.m. For details, call 863-402-6540 or register on

This story was based on Correspondent John Lawson’s account of the Ag Tour that he attended.