BROOKSVILLE — Hernando High School was closed the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. The school was quiet, the morning cold.
Shortly before 9 a.m., a few cars began to arrive, breaking the peace. The Class of 2007's officers had returned.
They are all in college now and had come to their alma mater to see their class gift presented at long last to the school. It was a long time coming, but there was a reason.
The class had commissioned local artist James Oleson Jr. to create a metal leopard, the school's mascot, to be displayed outside in a grassy area. Oleson, a 1993 graduate of Hernando, had a setback, though.
In April 2007, before the artist could finish his project, his father, James Oleson Sr., was shot and severely injured during a robbery of his business, Boyett's Grove and Citrus Attraction on Spring Lake Highway.
As the family dealt with the crisis, the leopard creation languished.
But now, a year and a half later, the leopard — and the students — were ready.
Class of 2007 president Jay Lowman, 20, attends Pasco Hernando Community College and hopes to continue his education at the University of South Florida. Vice president Katie Bechtelheimer, 20, is also at PHCC and is also headed to USF.
Treasurer Jared Korn, 20, traveled from New London, Conn., where he attends the Coast Guard Academy. Cheyenne Sellers, 19, is at PHCC and intends to go to Sterling University in Kansas in January to play volleyball.
They were joined at the school by paraprofessional Teri Sellers who was the Class of 2007 sponsor, along with school secretary Linda Malvesti and assistant principal Brent Gaustad.
"Isn't it cool?" Teri Sellers asked.
Oleson had fashioned the big cat out of scrap metal and rundown machinery parts. He was assisted by another alumnus, Sambo Croft, who is a welder.
The leopard sits atop a slab of marble donated by Merritt Funeral Home. It was installed by Hernando County Schools maintenance director Ken Hill and his staff.
Four plants adorn it, donated by Stewart's Tree Service. The sculpture will include a plaque identifying it as a gift from the Class of 2007. The class paid $3,500 for it.
The money was raised by gift-wrapping at Wal-Mart (the store matched their earnings), candy sales and carwashes. Students bought ads that they read on WWJB using donated airtime. They sold purple and gold (school colors) plaid pants.
"It's very interesting," said Bechtelheimer. "I like it a lot. I'm glad we could donate something for the school that they could have forever."
"I think it's original," Cheyenne Sellers said. "I like how he put his own artistic spin on it. I think it's cool. It represents our class because it's original."
As the students, Teri Sellers and Malvesti stood around looking at the piece of art, they commented on its ingredients.
"There are so many car parts on there, it's crazy," Malvesti said. "You could sit there forever. I've never seen anything like it."
"It's like 'Where's Waldo,' " said Cheyenne Sellers.