All these years later, it's clear to me where this started. My third-grade teacher in Texas, Mrs. Bishop, liked my stories and read them out loud to the class.
Kids react to such positive reinforcement. At age 9, I knew what I wanted to be when I grew up: a sports writer. I dreamed of someday covering my hero Johnny Unitas.
A dozen years later, I left the Army and landed a job reporting on high school sports in West Palm Beach. The editor gave in to my begging and let me cover a late-season game in Miami between the Dolphins and the Baltimore Colts....
04/22/14 Human Interest
In the early days of January 1984, Pauline Shaver drove from her home in St. Petersburg to the state mental hospital in Fort Myers. She tiptoed past the empty front desk and down the hallway toward a room where Gene Campbell, 21, lay strapped in a large crib.
"Not soul was around,'' she recalled. "I felt God must have been with me.''
Shaver had tried more conventional methods to get custody of the young man who had been at the hospital for 16 years. But officials said he could never leave, that cerebral palsy had left him fragile and bedridden. In time, they said, he would die there....
04/18/14 Human Interest
Sixteen years have passed and yet the tears flow easily at the mention of his name.
Carol Conologue has accomplished so much in that time, raising three kids alone, succeeding in business. She's driven and tough — until she allows herself too much time to remember the awful days crisscrossing the nation in search of a cure for her man who had been so strong, so seemingly indestructible....
04/11/14 Human Interest
Dan Barrus walked across the stage at Gulf High School in the spring of 1974, accepted his diploma and returned to his seat. In his green cap and gown, he gripped the sheepskin and offered this promise to his buddies: "I'm never coming back to this (expletive) place.''
He didn't like New Port Richey and he didn't like school. He sleepwalked his way to a C average. If not for football, he might not have made it to graduation. But on a bad team, he stood out as a hard-charging fullback nicknamed "Snowball'' because once he got rolling, he was hard to stop. He earned a scholarship to play in college. ...
04/04/14 Human Interest
Dave Parris had endured a particularly brutal week of cancer treatments. He dreaded the thought of putting on a tuxedo and mingling with partiers kicking off the annual Chasco Fiesta.
But one thing you must know: This man doesn't break promises. He had told his 9-year-old granddaughter, Mitella, that he would take her to the ball. She had circled March 21 on her calendar, picked out a special dress. ...
04/01/14 Human Interest
Madame Kinney spent a lifetime peering into the future, but even she could not have envisioned the throng that gathered in St. Petersburg for her memorial.
During three days in February, families of Romanian descent from around the country kept coming, more than 300 people sharing barbecue and stories about a woman they believed to have unique powers.
Whether she did, of course, depends on perspective or faith. But it is certain that for 50 years, Madame Kinney personified her psychic profession in Pasco County while endearing herself to a steady clientele from housewives to politicians. She read palms and tarot cards, gazed into crystal balls and offered guidance on everything from business to romance. She called her talent a gift from God....
03/25/14 Human Interest
WESLEY CHAPEL — Patricia Norton grabbed a handful of peanuts and stepped into the 1,500-square-foot aviary, home to 42 macaws whose colors rival rainbows. She raised her arms and two blue and yellow birds imitated, lifting their wings in return for a treat. Along came 12-year-old green beauty named Fenix, who just wanted his head scratched.
"His owner is in the Army,'' Norton said, "in Afghanistan.''...
03/18/14 Human Interest
He left town four years ago, but the Rotary bell still sits atop a post he planted in the front yard.
Bill Cutler devoted 50 years to the international organization that provides humanitarian services and promotes goodwill. The bell is perhaps its best-known symbol.
And if anyone ever personified Rotary's mission and its high ethical standards, it was Bill Cutler.
Quiet and kind and whip-smart, he combined business contacts and a higher calling to improve the lives of hundreds of crippled children. All this from the modest home in the Beacon Woods subdivision of western Pasco County where every December that Rotary bell got lost among thousands of twinkling lights and mechanical cartoon characters he created in his garage....
03/14/14 Human Interest
HOLIDAY — Monica Miracle stood with three other women and their families beneath the bright studio lights Friday morning as Kelly Ripa and Michael Strahan prepared to announce the $100,000 grand prize winner on their show's "Unstoppable Moms'' contest.
"It was nerve-wracking,'' the 27-year-old Holiday woman said later, "but we were cracking up.''
That's because her 18-month-old son, Jayce, meandered to center stage and grabbed a microphone from Ripa, then Strahan. The studio audience for Live! With Kelly and Michael laughed as the rambunctious redhead strolled alone with a huge smile....
03/13/14 Human Interest
John Dubois' artistic and mechanical genius is best appreciated when you see the "before'' pictures of the junked 1960 Chevrolet El Camino he rescued from the Arizona desert.
It had sat for years beneath a eucalyptus tree outside Phoenix with little chance of ever amounting to much more than salvage parts for some other vehicle. Not that it had many parts left. The hood and tailgate were missing. You could see the ground through what was left of the floorboard....
03/11/14 Human Interest
Two weeks ago, Monica Miracle's world revolved around getting four kids off to school and corralling her rambunctious 18-month-old son, Jayce. She clipped coupons to save money. She worried about the rent and the family sedan nearing 200,000 miles.
Then she heard her name on her favorite morning TV show, Live! With Kelly and Michael. Her phone started ringing. Her friends wondered what she might do with $100,000, and she allowed herself to dream. ...
03/04/14 Human Interest
A "closed'' sign hangs on the front door of John Munty's appliance repair shop in the heart of New Port Richey. Press your nose against the glass and you can see machines he enjoyed giving new life, metal and plastic contraptions that seemed destined for the trash.
Repairing them helped repair Mr. Munty. He endured the loss of two wives and a third woman he loved and each time threw himself into his work, a mechanical talent that never waned even as he inched toward his 100th year. It sure seemed he would make it....
02/28/14 Human Interest
It's one of Jeanne Torrence's favorite pictures of her dad. She can imagine the jubilation he and the other prisoner felt hauling down the Nazi flag that flew over Stalag Luft 1 in Barth, Germany.
The guards had cleared out a day before Russian troops liberated the camp and its 7,000 airmen on April 30, 1945. Somehow, Lt. Charles Suprenant wound up with the flag. He posed with it and other members of the crew of the Lady Barbara, a B-24 bomber he had been piloting when enemy fire blew it from the sky 14 months earlier....
02/25/14 Human Interest
Erma Gibson began her 105th birthday with a hair appointment.
"Not much to work with,'' she said as Jen Uselton ran her fingers through thin gray hair.
"Are you kidding, Miss Erma?'' the beautician responded with appropriate honorific and respect. "You have natural curls.''
The salon is but a short stroll down the hallway at Atria Baypoint Village, an assisted care facility at Bayonet Point where Miss Erma has lived the last 10 years. Employees treat her like royalty and had been looking forward to celebrating her special day — Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2014. They serve 220 residents, including a few centenarians. But none come close to Miss Erma in duration, or for that matter, sense of humor....
02/21/14 Human Interest
Jan Glidewell turned 70 on Wednesday. He would have enjoyed all the heartfelt greetings his friends posted on his Facebook page, friends still deeply affected by his spirit and convinced it remains out there — somewhere.
He's been gone since September, a victim of lung and brain cancer, and hardly a week goes by that somebody doesn't ask me about him. He'd laugh about the "legend'' label, but in circles where people appreciate journalistic courage and talent, Jan stood out....