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Dan DeWitt, Hernando Times Columnist

Dan DeWitt

Dan DeWitt has worked as a reporter or columnist for the Times in Hernando County since 1989. He and his wife, Laura, live with their two sons south of Brooksville.

DeWitt previously worked for the Newport News (Va.) Daily Press. A Cincinnati native, he attended Kenyon College in Ohio and received a master's degree in journalism from the University of Michigan.

Phone: (352) 754-6116


Twitter: @DDewittTimes

  1. One year after a cancer diagnosis, foster family is thankful for a normal Thanksgiving

    Human Interest


    Pat Hoins hasn't completely given up on his dream. "I want a beach chair," Hoins said last week. "Sit under a palm tree with a coconut drink or something." In the meantime, he's content to be cancer-free and last week was looking forward to the dream of his wife, Linda: a normal Hoins family Thanksgiving.

    That meant a table loaded with a turkey, ham, several forms of potatoes and a pan of Linda's trademark sausage-and-mandarin orange stuffing. It meant at least 20 guests, including biological children, grandchildren, adopted children, foster children and former foster children....

    Pat and Linda Hoins, right, sit on their patio in Brooksville with two of their adopted children, Tony and Anastasia Hoins Piccirilli. In July, Pat Hoins, who has taken in more than 100 foster children, was told his cancer was remission.
  2. DeWitt: Nature Coast's DeShawn Smith among the best in high school football history


    The numbers are so big, you figure they must be misprints.

    Four hundred forty-five yards in a game? That's a career day in passing yards for a quarterback. DeShawn Smith, a senior on Nature Coast Technical High School's football team, gained that many yards last Friday night running the ball.

    One thousand yards of rushing is the threshold for an excellent season, 2,000 the mark of greatness. Smith is at 3,555 and counting....

    DeShawn Smith has smashed county and state records.
  3. DeWitt: Care and concern for animals earns Brooksville farm special certification


    Jean White is in the business of raising animals for meat, milk and eggs, but she keeps a hen that is 12 years old — about 11 years past its egg-laying prime.

    "I know," she said. "I'm a sucker."

    White makes time in her day to scratch the bristly, mud-caked shoulders of her pigs. Before milking her dairy goats — Charlotte, Vicky and Cindy — she washes their udders with peppermint-scented organic soap....

    Free-range chickens scurry around Hammock Farm after being let out from the mobile henhouse of 50 Australops.
  4. Choice of Hernando School Board vice chairperson reveals tensions


    BROOKSVILLE — This week's election of a new Hernando County School Board chairman was as polite as might be expected for the filling of a mostly symbolic position, but the choice of vice chairperson reflected the ongoing divide on the board.

    Board member Mark Johnson nominated Matt Foreman to be chairman during the board's annual reorganization meeting Tuesday, and board members elected Foreman unanimously....

  5. Hernando School Board approves earlier start date for 2016-17


    BROOKSVILLE — Students and teachers will get a shorter summer vacation next year as the Hernando County School Board agreed this week to bump up the start of 2016-17 school year by two weeks.

    The board's vote at its meeting Tuesday was prompted by the Florida Legislature's decision during this year's session to end a mandate that prevented districts from starting school more than two weeks before Labor Day....

  6. School Board members faced with two images of superintendent as they consider contract extension


    BROOKSVILLE — The session in a break room at Moton Elementary School was called Lunch, Listen and Learn, and for three hours last Friday Hernando County schools superintendent Lori Romano did just that.

    Over sandwiches, groups of teachers told her about lessons that didn't prepare students for standardized tests and about shortages of everything from workbooks to teaching coaches.

    While Romano took notes and offered suggestions, the teachers pointed out the folly of trying to teach parts of speech to new kindergartners who might not have ever held a crayon, who are likely to have a parent in prison....

    Hernando County school superintendent Lori Romano, center, visits with teachers at Moton Elementary last Friday.
  7. DeWitt: Congressional District 11 seat is a tempting prize for Republicans


    Democratic congressional candidate Dave Koller called it "another coronation."

    U.S. Rep. Rich Nugent announced last week that he would not seek re-election to his District 11 seat in 2016 and, in almost the same breath, voiced support for the newly minted candidacy of his longtime chief of staff, 33-year-old Justin Grabelle.

    Yes, it looked a lot like former U.S. Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite's last-minute hand-over of her job to Nugent, a Spring Hill Republican, in 2010....

  8. New Mary's Fish Camp, same as the old camp


    Even after a thorough renovation, Mary's Fish Camp hardly looks any different than it used to — which is just the way its new owners like it.

    "I wanted to see it open again and turn it back into a fish camp and not see a bunch of condominiums," said George Foster, owner of an environmental consulting firm in Brooksville and the founder of Muddy Duck LLC, the group that bought the fish camp in August....

    George Foster, left, and Kent Eppley are part of a group of investors from Hernando County who purchased Mary’s Fish Camp, which dates back to the 1940s. The camp sits off Mud River.
  9. Hernando superintendent applies for Osceola job as debate continues over her evaluation


    BROOKSVILLE — Hernando school superintendent Lori Romano has made good on her recent pledge to apply for other jobs, submitting an application to be superintendent in Osceola County, a position that would mean a pay raise of at least $65,000.

    That prompted School Board Chairman Gus Guadagnino, Romano's most vocal supporter on the board, to urge his colleagues during an informal meeting Tuesday to wrap up the negotiation of her new contract as quickly as possible....

    Hernando County School District Superintendent Lori Romano during a School Board meeting in 2014. Romano has applied to be Osceola County's superintendent amid strained contract negotiations with the Hernando board. [OCTAVIO JONES   |   Times]
  10. Hernando school official, accused of sexual harassment, is suspended


    BROOKSVILLE — Doug Compton, the Hernando County School District's transportation director, has been suspended without pay while he challenges a recommendation that he be fired for sexual harassment.

    Compton, 46, is accused of sending inappropriate texts on his district cellphone to a female employee in his department.

    Superintendent Lori Romano sent him a letter Sept. 24, stating that he had violated school policy and would be terminated if the School Board agreed....

    Doug Compton is accused of sending sexual texts.
  11. Dewitt: Welcome silos show spirit of rural Brooksville

    Economic Development

    The sign says "Welcome to Historic Brooksville" but gives no indication that the city is historic or, for that matter, the least bit scenic.

    This sign runs along the top of a rectangle of chain-link fence, onto which have been attached the crooked and weathered placards of various churches and community organizations.

    It stands on the side of E Jefferson Street, in a drab industrial strip east of downtown....

    The city’s current welcome sign on E Jefferson Street uses a chain-link fence.
  12. Hernando High track star set state standards 100 years ago


    BROOKSVILLE — A tip from longtime Hernando High School coach Ernie Chatman started Gretchen Pingley on a quest that uncovered maybe the most decorated high school athlete in county history.

    Chatman knew only that Hernando High had won a state track and field championship many years ago, said Pingley, a fellow member of the selection committee for Hernando High School Athletic Hall of Fame....

    Hernando High School won the state’s first track and field championship in 1915. Members of the team included, top row from left: captain R. Pearson, C. Law and E. Rutledge. Bottom row from left: J.B. Law, J. Law and W. Hope.
  13. DeWitt: Though mishandled, commissioners had right idea with taxing districts for sheriff

    Local Government

    So Sheriff Al Nienhuis wanted to hear a "sorry" from Hernando County commissioners at last week's meeting.

    The commissioners had dragged the crowd out, he suggested, and caused them to waste a precious Tuesday morning.

    "Frankly, I think it's a disgrace," he said. "It's embarrassing … and I think it's not fair to them to do this, and I think the commission owes them an apology."...

  14. New Discovery Academy gives struggling students 'light at the end of the tunnel'



    Randy Thompson says he wants to be a welder someday, and he already looks like he could fit in with a bridge-building or pipeline crew.

    He has an impressive display of tattoos on his muscular arms. His face is framed by a neatly trimmed but full beard.

    No wonder he didn't want to go back to middle school.

    "It felt awkward because of all the little kids," he said....

    Teacher Joseph Vitalo, left, helps Discovery Academy student Alex Ortiz work out a problem on the computer.
  15. DeWitt: Step up to save Hernando's visitation center

    Public Safety

    What this state most certainly does not need is one less safe place for vulnerable children.

    That, however, is what it will get at the end of this month with the closing of the Family Visitation Center of Hernando County.

    Actually, the center in Citrus County will also shut down, making two fewer safe places.

    If you have not heard of these centers, consider yourself lucky. That means you don't have close contact with children whose parents have been battling one another in divorce court, or have taken out a court order for protection from another parent, or have already lost their rights to be parents because of abuse or neglect....