Friday, February 23, 2018
News Roundup

Pasco family pays final tribute to father by publishing his children's book

Calvin Johnson's heart was big as a mountain when it came to kids and family.

I met Cal and his wife, Cindy, in the mid '90s when I was a teacher at Seven Springs Elementary. Cindy, who has nurse's training, worked then as a paraprofessional in a preschool classroom with special-needs children. Their daughter Brina was in my third-grade class, and Dara became my student a few years later.

Cal was a Coke service technician who took care of restaurants, schools or any place with a Coke account. I found it pleasantly curious how often his work route brought him to Seven Springs precisely at the time we had recess following lunch.

Cal would hop out of his van, dash to the playground and join in, usually tossing a football with the boys. He'd play as hard as the kids and then, sweaty and hot, give Brina a hug. And with a big smile and wave to all of us, he'd jump in his van and was back on the job.

As I got to know Cal I realized his route did not always bring him to Seven Springs. He planned it that way.

"He really was just a giant kid himself," Brina said with a laugh, recalling how evenings he'd arrive home and hop out of his van to play, rather than heading indoors.

Cal's enthusiasm for life was infectious and included a love for animals. He often purchased leftover bread to toss to the birds behind their house.

He was a reader, not so much of books, but absorbing daily newspapers. He'd often write a well-put-together letter to the editor, many of which ran in the Times. He had ideas and a good way to express them.

"He loved reading and writing," said Cindy, caressing the front of a children's book, Buzzy the Vegetarian Vulture.

Cal wrote it. In his head. During his Coke runs. He grabbed minutes here and there and blocked it out on sheets of papers, directions for sketches and colors written in margins.

He raced in one day after work and urged Cindy to hear the story. She was impressed.

It was about a vulture who, unlike meat-eating vultures, preferred fruits and vegetables. Through Buzzy, Cal showed that it's okay to be different, passing on a message of believing in one's self.

But the book idea got shelved when cancer struck. He fought hard and maintained a strong outlook, but the disease won in November 2011 with some of Cal's dreams complete and some unfinished.

He'd seen Brina and Dara mature into successful young women, Brina now a teacher at Trinity Oaks Elementary and Dara working in the travel industry.

Cal, 57, wanted to be an organ donor, but that didn't play out due to chemo.

Then there was the book, written but never published.

Months after he died, Cindy pushed ahead to get Cal's book in print. She could make that dream come true, and help him forever reach kids.

"We wanted Cal's legacy to live on," said Cindy, recalling how he encouraged others to lead, not just follow.

With the help of Holly Burr, former Pasco County educator, Cindy found Peppertree publishing company in Sarasota. Seven Springs art teacher Kathleen Ciresi-Abremski had the right touch for illustrations Cal had planned. His scribbled directions would be followed, especially the use of purple and yellow, Cal's favorite colors.

The book was published last September.

I recently opened a copy and found Cal Johnson on every page. I saw his dark eyes sparkling with good humor and his beaming smile.

The story, written in simple rhyming sentences, offers a solid message to adults and children. On the closing page, the little vulture with a purple head determines that it's good to just be yourself. That was Cal.

As a teacher I rarely saw any father more dedicated to his wife and children than Cal Johnson. In the end, his family's dedication was returned to him with the publication of his book.

Comments
‘The sound of death:’ Deadly tornadoes ravage Central Florida in dark (from 1998)

‘The sound of death:’ Deadly tornadoes ravage Central Florida in dark (from 1998)

EDITOR’S NOTE: While many of us were asleep, a string of deadly tornadoes tore through east-central Florida on Feb. 22-23, 1998, destroying homes and resulting in 42 deaths and more than 260 injuries. On the 20th anniversary of that tragedy, here is ...
Updated: 29 minutes ago
Winter Olympics: Alina Zagitova wins figure skating gold, Russia’s first of Games

Winter Olympics: Alina Zagitova wins figure skating gold, Russia’s first of Games

GANGNEUNG, South Korea  — The Russians finally have a gold medal at the  Olympics, thanks to a 15-year-old who beat the fellow teen who inspired her to become a figure skater.Alina Zagitova won one of the Games' spotlight events Friday, edging ...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Long awaited Clearwater Beach garage bleeds money in its first year

Long awaited Clearwater Beach garage bleeds money in its first year

CLEARWATER —City leaders discussed building a parking structure on north Clearwater Beach for more than 15 years before the seven-story Pelican Walk Parking Garage finally opened at the start of 2017.The city paid $11.3 million to own 450 of the deve...
Updated: 1 hour ago
The Daystarter: Tallahassee showdown on gun bills; schools contend with threats; legal lion Barry Cohen closes shop after cancer return; Rays open Grapefruit League play

The Daystarter: Tallahassee showdown on gun bills; schools contend with threats; legal lion Barry Cohen closes shop after cancer return; Rays open Grapefruit League play

Catching you up on overnight happenings, and what you need to know today.• The 80s are here to stay, according to 10Weather WTSP. Weekend temperatures cool only slightly, to the low to mid 80s, with a low rain chance. Next week is just more of the s...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Girl Scouts camp sold to member of Tampa’s Lykes family

Girl Scouts camp sold to member of Tampa’s Lykes family

ODESSA — The 63-year-old lakeside summer camp had no air conditioning or electricity. Cabin floors were often covered in grime, and cobwebs clung to the windows.But under new ownership, the 18.6 acres of Florida woods known as Camp Scoutcrest to memb...
Published: 02/23/18
Legal lion Barry Cohen reveals leukemia and tells how it has changed his priorities

Legal lion Barry Cohen reveals leukemia and tells how it has changed his priorities

TAMPA — Time was, if you were in deep trouble, you turned to Barry Cohen.He kept Jennifer Porter out of jail even after her hit-and-run accident left two children dead. He got charges against Steven and Marlene Aisenberg dropped and won them $3 milli...
Published: 02/23/18
Q&A: New Tampa Electric CEO Nancy Tower outlines safety plan

Q&A: New Tampa Electric CEO Nancy Tower outlines safety plan

TAMPA — Nancy Tower was in junior high when she first came to Tampa Bay from Canada to vacation with her family. Now, she returns here in a more permanent capacity — as Tampa Electric Co.’s new CEO.Tower was appointed to Tampa Electric’s top spot fol...
Published: 02/23/18
Epilogue: Lee Davis, businessman and adventurer, survived many a scrape

Epilogue: Lee Davis, businessman and adventurer, survived many a scrape

TAMPA — Friends and family have a saying about Lee Thornton Davis Jr. Once you met him, even for just a moment, you knew him forever."He was the most outgoing person I’d ever met," Dick Greco said.That’s something coming from Tampa’s gregarious, 84-y...
Published: 02/23/18
Oldsmar has a flea market, waterfront and parks... but really wants a downtown

Oldsmar has a flea market, waterfront and parks... but really wants a downtown

OLDSMAR — Wanted: One vibrant downtown. Contact: City of Oldsmar.Perhaps best known for its enormous flea market, Oldsmar sits at the top of Old Tampa Bay near the Pinellas-Hillsborough county line. On the one hand, it’s a convenient location for peo...
Published: 02/23/18
Iraqi general who helped defeat ISIS returns to Tampa for commando award

Iraqi general who helped defeat ISIS returns to Tampa for commando award

PALM HARBOR — Four years ago, during a visit to Tampa, Iraqi Staff Gen. Talib Shgati Mshari Al Kenani issued a warning to military leaders here about a jihadi group calling itself the Islamic State.This week, Al Kenani, head of the Iraqi commando for...
Published: 02/23/18