Mr. Jerzy Babski, a resident of Clearwater's Highland Pines Rehabilitation and Nursing Center since June 2008, realized a lifelong dream of becoming a U.S. citizen during a naturalization ceremony Jan. 11.
He came to this country in 1984 as a Polish refugee from West Germany. While visiting the Jersey shore four months after his arrival, he broke his neck while diving into a wave and was paralyzed. After a six-month hospitalization, he spent time in and out of nursing homes due to his disability. Various family members came to this country to help care for him, but have all since returned to Poland. He hasn't seen them in years.
In 1994, he came to Florida and a year later initiated the citizenship process but didn't have the resources to follow through. His disability required more nursing home care over the next 13 years. It would be 2008 before he would resume his goal of citizenship, but was informed he'd have to start the process all over again.
During the first week of January, the staff at Highland Pines learned that he had successfully completed all the steps necessary to be tested. The facility's social director, Tara Berube, worked to arrange an appointment to make his dream a reality.
Representatives from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services came to Highland Pines to administer the citizenship test and swear Mr. Babski in as a citizen.
The 59-year-old said he appreciates the excellent medical care he has received through the American health care system and is happy to finally be an American citizen with all associated rights.
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Andrew and Ellen Rodnite of Clearwater celebrated 50 years of marriage with on a weeklong cruise of the western Caribbean, Dec. 27 through Jan. 3.
The Rodnites met at a beach party in 1958. They married Jan. 2, 1960, at St. Anne's Catholic Church, Garden City, N.J.
After graduating in 1956 from New York's Hofstra University with a bachelor's degree in political science, Mr. Rodnite was commissioned in the Army through the ROTC program after being designated as a Distinguished Military Graduate. He completed a tour of duty with the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell, Ky. and then completed an assignment at Frankfort Arsenal, Philadelphia. While there, he was selected to attend law school under the Army's Excess Leave Program. He is a graduate of Rutgers Law School and the Judge Advocate General's School. He served in Vietnam as counsel to senior officers and as military judge in more than 120 court martials. He left active service in 1970 and became the public defender for Burlington County, N.J.
Mrs. Rodnite is a 1959 graduate of St. Vincent's School of Nursing in New York City. She worked at several hospitals during her career, and spent 20 years as a nurse in the neonatal intensive care unit at Mease Dunedin Hospital.
The couple came here in 1979 from Willingboro, N.J.
In Florida, Mr. Rodnite served as an assistant Pinellas County attorney and was appointed an administrative law judge, a position he held for more than 20 years, retiring in 2006.
The Rodnites are members of Espiritu Santo Catholic Church, Safety Harbor.
Other memberships include the Safety Harbor Rotary Club, Military Order of World Wars, 101st Airborne Division Association, Veterans of Foreign Wars, American Legion, Knights of Columbus (4th degree), and Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks 1525.
The couple has six children; and eight grandchildren.
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On Jan. 11, state Rep. Peter Nehr was selected by the Florida Police Chiefs Association as its 2009 Legislator of the Year for his successful passage of the Confidential Informants Bill referred to as "Rachel's Law."
The legislation is named for Rachel Hoffman, a Florida State University grad who was murdered while on an undercover drug buy for Tallahassee police. It calls on agencies to take into account a person's age and maturity, emotional state, and the level of risk a mission would entail.
Nehr is from District 48, which includes northern Pinellas County and parts of southern Pasco County.