LaRita Jacobs, Times Staff Writer

In eighth grade, LaRita Jacobs wrote a speech that won a contest. It hooked her for life on writing. As a writer in the Clearwater bureau, she is constantly entertained by the people she meets and writes about. She believes there are stories in all of us and seeks to uncover the common threads that bind us. LaRita is married to her high school sweetheart, has one daughter who is a teacher for deaf kids and has an Amazon parrot that sings Happy Birthday loudly and off key.

Phone: (727) 445-4156

E-mail: LJacobs@tampabay.com

  1. St. Petersburg nonprofit pushes teen drivers to be more safety conscious

    Human Interest

    Jennifer Graber took a mock sobriety test while wearing "drunk goggles" during a special demonstration Tuesday by the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office at St. Petersburg College in Seminole.

    A few hours later a couple of miles to the north at Indian Rocks Christian School, John Templeton Jr. was telling about his horrifying experience with the real thing.

    "I woke up handcuffed to a gurney and was told I was under arrest for vehicular homicide," said Templeton, a 19-year-old University of South Florida student in 2002 when he killed 18-year-old Julie Buckner in a drunken-driving crash on Interstate 275....

    “We’re here to learn what each of us can do to prevent teen driving (tragedies).” Bruce Murakami, the driving force behind Safe Teen Driver
  2. Clearwater Jazz Holiday is a labor of love for Pinellas banker

    Human Interest

    David Ruppel of Largo is a banker with a passion for jazz. He's managed banks throughout Pinellas County for more than two decades, and has an active family life with his wife and five children. He's also managed to find time for a labor of love as president of the Clearwater Jazz Holiday Foundation board. In this volunteer position, Ruppel is gearing up for the event's 30th anniversary festival, which starts Thursday. ...

    Clearwater Jazz Holiday Foundation Board president David Ruppel has a day job as a banker; the festival is a labor of love.
  3. Tampa Bay artists, NFL luminaries team up at Smocks & Jocks

    Human Interest

    TAMPA — Meeting Vernon Davis, Steve Christie, Garo Yepremian, Jeff Hatch, Andre Collins and other NFL stars had never crossed the mind of Largo artist Susan Kubes.

    "My husband, Tom, likes football, but I wasn't all that interested," Kubes said.

    Kubes and her husband not only met those players, but also found plenty of common ground for discussion last weekend.

    She was chosen to participate in Smocks & Jocks, a jazz brunch and art auction that features the artwork of former and current NFL players and takes place each year in conjunction with the Super Bowl. ...

    Susan Kubes and former NFL star Garo Yepremian talk about his artwork, Blue Dreams, at Smocks & Jocks, an art auction of former and current NFL players’ works.
  4. 5Questions: DJ Christina Rohloff enjoys interacting with guests at events

    Human Interest

    Christina Rohloff, 32, is a DJ from Largo. She is a former communications and marketing specialist for the city.

    1What led you to become a DJ? My father has been a DJ for 32 years. I used to help him carry and set up his equipment. I began 13 years ago. My father has given me all kinds of great advice about the business, so I guess I owe it all to him. Also, I am a ham. I love getting involved and meeting people....

  5. At 37, Sam Lee went to barber school for a better future

    College

    His tools are clippers, shears and passion; he is an artist. For Sam Lee of Clearwater, there is no such thing as a routine haircut. Lee, 37, graduates next month from the American Institute of Beauty of Largo as a master barber. Michael Halmon, an owner of AIB, said the master barber program requires 20 hours a week for 15 months for part-time students. "It's quite a commitment." Halmon said AIB is the only school in the county to offer the master barber program. ...

    Sam Lee gives a haircut to Mike Halmon, son of one of the owners of the American Institute of Beauty, where Lee is working to become a master barber.
  6. St. Paul's School in Clearwater changes leaders

    Education

    When Douglas Eveleth became head of school at St. Paul's School in Clearwater in 1991, the student body numbered 140. By the time Eveleth retired this month, it had grown to 500-plus.

    "One of Dr. Eveleth's greatest strengths is the ability to include all of the families to become a bigger family," said school development director Laura Flannigan of Largo, a parent of St. Paul's students in the sixth and second grades....

    Dr. Angel Kytle is the new head of school at St. Paul’s School, replacing Douglas Eveleth, who is retiring after 17 years. “I was looking for a group that was just as committed to the children and community as I would be as head, and I found that,” Kytle said.
  7. High Point's 'little house' makes a big move

    Human Interest

    For nearly 10 years the High Point Neighborhood Family Center was known as "the little house."

    But Thursday night, an estimated 900 people turned out to celebrate the center moving to a bigger home — a new 7,200-square-foot facility at 5812 150th Ave. N.

    "It's a bigger place to help more people," resident Michelle Wyant said.

    "This is a blessing falling from the sky," Pinellas County sheriff's community patrol Officer Cheko Carter said. "This is a centralized building where everyone can come and receive equal services."...

  8. Largo yoga club laughs its way to better health

    Human Interest

    Imagine a wellness program that requires you to laugh heartily. That's what happens when Patty Darcy of Largo gathers a group to practice "laughter yoga." Darcy, 64, said laughter yoga promotes better sleep, lowers stress and is backed by research. She took a few moments last week to explain some details about the health program that has become her passion.

    1What is laughter yoga? Unlike Hatha yoga, the emphasis is not on poses or postures but on breathing. Laughter exercises create deep breathing. The deep breathing releases endorphins and suppresses stress hormones. It's inner jogging for your organs. Using laughter as an exercise tool, it's a cardiovascular and wellness program. There are more than 5,000 laughter clubs worldwide....

  9. Bardmoor YMCA pioneers national health program for cancer survivors

    Human Interest

    When the Lance Armstrong Foundation wanted a partner to design and deliver exercise programs and well-being initiatives for cancer survivors, it looked to the YMCA of the USA.

    Specifically, it looked to the Bardmoor branch of the YMCA of the Suncoast in Largo.

    Bardmoor YMCA is one of 10 YMCAs nationwide chosen to pilot the initiative, paving the way for a national program within the next six months....

  10. Museum shows war history in 3-D

    Human Interest

    Deep in the trench, lanterns flicker as machine guns above fire away. "Rat-a-tat-tat." The sound of the diving Red Baron is suddenly heard as smoke pours in. The radio chatter intensifies. In the distance, the rumble of tanks begins.

    Created as a living experience of history, Largo's new Armed Forces Military Museum is set to open Aug. 16. The 35,000-square-foot museum features lifelike displays and engages multiple senses with theatrical lighting, unusual artifacts, projected video and well-placed sound effects....

    A diorama at the Armed Forces Military Museum depicts soldiers descending from a Navy troop ship to an amphibious landing vehicle to be transported to the beach.
  11. Largo's Trick Shop conjures magical moments

    Human Interest

    “Harry Potter Shops Here" reads the sign on the wall. I had just discovered the Trick Shop, the only magic store in Pinellas County.

    Owner Steve Cargill greeted me dressed the part of a magician with his trademark cigar in his teeth. As I looked around the small shop, I couldn't stop smiling. Perhaps I'm gullible, but I've always loved the mystery of illusions and magic tricks.

    Cargill, a professional magician, was entranced by magic as a youngster....

    At left, a stack of tricks welcomes customers at the front of Cargill’s magic shop, which he opened in 1981.
  12. "Fantasticks" a timeless tale of love

    Performing Arts

    With lines and lyrics that are both enduring and endearing, the Eight O'Clock Theatre brings The Fantasticks to Largo this weekend. A classic coming-of-age story, The Fantasticks launched the career of Jerry Orbach in 1960 and went on to become the world's longest running musical. It plays on countless stages throughout the world.

    "Most people are familiar with The Fantasticks and maybe have even been in it in high school or local theater," said Jason Tucker, the director of the Largo production. ...

  13. Q&A with Largo hospital patients' advocate

    Human Interest

    Nancy Read isn't a doctor, but Largo Medical Center patients depend on her every day. As manager of patient relations, she works to help everyone feel welcome and important. Read heads the hospital's VIP program. Begun in 2002, this cooperative effort among departments seeks to help patients and their families experience personal, patient-oriented care.

    1 You are known as a patient advocate. What does that mean? I have a special group of volunteers that go visit patients and welcome them to the hospital. We give them a brochure and a special phone number to call if they need anything. We want our patients and their families to be happy.

    2 What kinds of requests do you receive? It is often small things, like a newspaper or magazine for people who have come to the hospital without money to buy them or don't have any family here to bring it to them. I have a basket of items such as shampoo, toothpaste, denture cleaner and even hearing aid batteries. Sometimes I stop on the way home to pick up a small thing someone requests that I don't have in the basket. Other times nurses will refer a problem to me if a family is not happy with something.

    3 What kinds of problems might be referred? Emergencies happen and scheduled procedures get pushed back and there might be a lengthy delay. I might need to find answers and explain what is going on. People are not always happy, but at least they know. It is the not knowing that makes people frustrated and sometimes angry. I often get calls to please visit with someone. Just being there to comfort people when they are alone. I visit patients every day. I feel you need to do whatever you can to help people who are sick and their families, too.

    4 What other services might you perform? I am a notary and am often asked to notarize documents. I locate hairdressers and barbers to come in for people who have been hospitalized for a long time. Occasionally we get someone's clothes washed or provide clothing for them to go home in. The nurses call me if a patient is having a birthday or anniversary. We bring cake to the room with balloons and the nurses sing. We had a patient who turned 100 while here. I got the CEO and about eight of us went to her room with cake, balloons, a card and we sang to her. She was thrilled. She was alert and amazing for 100 years old.

    5 You seem to have a passion for this job. What makes it special? If you like people and you want to help, you get great satisfaction. I have a wonderful job. It is rewarding.

    LaRita Jacobs, Times staff writer ...

    Patient Raul Febres of Clearwater speaks with Nancy Read at Largo Medical Center. Read is manager of patient relations, volunteer services and a program to acquaint the community with the hospital.
  14. Largo paintball business caters to all kinds

    Games

    LARGO

    The 2.5 acres behind PSI Xtreme Sports on Ulmerton Road is a playground for teens and adults.

    The field lures hundreds of thrill-seekers from around the Tampa Bay area eager to test their skills in a game of paintball or the lesser-known sport of airsoft.

    "We cater to the recreational player," said Tori Blute, PSI's owner. "Most people don't realize they can play paintball and airsoft right here in the city. They think they have to go out to the woods."...

    Robert Stillwell, 18, of Seminole fires his airsoft rifle in a mock urban environment at PSI Xtreme Sports in Largo. The facility welcomes a variety of players, from enthusiasts who have their own equipment to church groups, girls soccer teams and charity fundraisers. 
  15. Largo High band's volunteer retires after a 40-year run

    Human Interest

    One of the longest serving members of Largo High School's Band of Gold is retiring. After more than four decades of volunteering as a roadie, Gatorade guy, unofficial counselor, mentor, stand-in parent, concessionaire and all-round helper, Howard Taylor, 88, is stepping down. He says he'll keep coming to the Packer football games, but now he'll be able to cheer without being distracted by other duties. Chances are, he will miss the band members and they him. Story and photos, Pages 8-10

    He's outlasted six band directors and four principals and attended 316 high school football games. Now, after more than 40 years of volunteering with Largo High School's Band of Gold (BOG), Howard Taylor is retiring....