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Michele Miller, Times Staff Writer

Michele Miller is a Tampa Bay Times writer in Pasco County. Miller coordinates and provides stories and photographs for Pasco entertainment features as well as the Top of the Class education feature.

Phone: (727) 869-6251


  1. Nonprofit group promises family fun at Saturday event in Dade City


    DADE CITY — Family-friendly competitions and a lot of other fun. That's what's in store at Color Me Abstract's Family Field Day, which will take place from noon to 3 p.m. Saturday at the Pioneer Florida Museum and Village.

    The event will feature a lot of outdoor fun along the lines of traditional field days often held in the waning days of the school year, said Junise Belizaire, 32. She and her husband, Handy, also 32, founded Color Me Abstract, a nonprofit organization with a mission to cultivate "meaningful relationships and growth in communities by creating platforms for civic duty, education and charitable contributions."...

  2. 42nd Street Big Band seeks new location for concerts


    NEW PORT RICHEY — For the past four years, the 42nd Street Big Band was a monthly staple at Richey Suncoast Theatre in downtown New Port Richey. The band's concerts, at 2 p.m. on Wednesdays, brought out enthusiasts yearning for the sounds of Tommy Dorsey, Louis Armstrong, Glenn Miller and Artie Shaw.

    After capping off the season with a tribute to legendary ladies Ella Fitzgerald and Rosemary Clooney, the band's gig has come to an end because of scheduling issues at the theater. The group is seeking a new venue for its big band sound....

    The 42nd Street Band performs with entertainer Andy Stefano.
  3. 'Hard wake-up call' gets Pasco High grad back on track



    Go back a year or so, and the odds were pretty much against Leah Walton graduating high school on time.

    "She was a hot little mess — skipping classes, not doing her work," said Pasco High School career resource specialist Mignon Edwards.

    Walton was a bright, articulate kid with lots of potential "just floating off into the abyss," according to Sharon Swonger, her 10th-grade English teacher....

    Leah Walton, 18, is Pasco High School’s 2017 turnaround student. She will graduate tonight, which once was in doubt.
  4. Bumps and bruises just a small part of Revolution Derby League

    Human Interest


    They arrive wearing spandex and team shirts with names meant to intimidate emblazoned on the back — "Michete," "Meowch," "Scarlet Scourge" and "Helga Hufflepunch" to name a few.

    In bare feet they work through a series of walking lunges, jumping jacks, sprints and holding planks while their taskmaster and coach, Keri Santiago, 39, a.k.a. "Diamond Cutz," keeps tabs, whistle in hand....

    Heather Solomon, a.k.a. Bambi, 32, of Lakeland laces up her roller skates before joining a practice of the coed roller derby team Mom and Pop Militia at the Boys and Girls Club of Suncoast in Tarpon Springs.
  5. Motto for 90-year-old Hudson artist: 'Keep moving'

    Human Interest


    On a Thursday morning, in a classroom studio at the West Pasco Art Guild, Betty Mitchell worked brown clay into a fantastical beast.

    The snout wasn't to her liking.

    "Too piglike," she said as she squared the beast's nose. "The hard part about clay is that you just about get it where you want it, and you make one false move, and forget it."

    Clay can be an unforgiving medium, but Mitchell was undaunted. At age 90 on this Mother's Day, that's how she rolls. Always has....

    Roy Pulaski, a custodian at Community Congregational Church in New Port Richey, hangs quilts made by Betty Mitchell that give the illusion of stained-glass windows.
  6. Threat of disputed sinkhole closes Palace Grand in Spring Hill


    SPRING HILL — The Palace Grand, a local venue for corporate and social events, as well as one-night shows, has been temporarily shut down. And that has led to some frantic coordinating on the part of the owners, who have to find new venues for some events because the property has been deemed unsafe.

    That's according to a bright-red notice posted on the front entrance, alongside an accompanying note from the Marasciullo family — the venue owners — notifying visitors that the Palace Grand, off U.S. 19 at 275 Della Court, will be temporarily closed for public safety reasons due to a disputed sinkhole claim. Also posted is a sinkhole report composed by Structural Engineering and Inspections Inc. that is included in the body of a letter addressed to attorney Larry Bache of Tampa....

    A notice posted on the front entrance of the Palace Grand in Spring Hill deems the property unsafe. The venue will be closed temporarily due to a disputed sinkhole.
  7. River Ridge robotics team shines at national championship


    NEW PORT RICHEY — For the past two years, the River Ridge High School Royal Robotics team has fought its way to a berth in a prestigious national robotics competition.

    That's a pretty impressive feat for a team that's winding up its second season after making it to the semifinals and earning the Creativity Award in the 2017 FIRST Championship in April in Houston.

    The 21 members of the Royal Robotics team were among some 1,500 students to compete in Houston. Another championship bout was held later in the month in St. Louis. Winners of the two events will face off at the Festival of Champions in July in Manchester, N.H., where FIRST originated....

    Gavin Dearsman, 17, a member of the River Ridge High Royal Robotics team, works on the team’s competition robot during the FIRST Robotics Championships held in April in Houston. This is the second year the team, now in it’s second year, has made it to the championships.
  8. In competition, young entrepreneurs put their creative minds to work


    NEW PORT RICHEY — For Taylor Townsend, it was time to take her shot — five minutes to pitch an idea along the lines of the television show Shark Tank.

    "How many of you have children?" Townsend, 17, asked the panel of three judges in the school media center.

    Then came a horrific laundry list of facts about children who have died of hyperthermia while left strapped into car seats in hot cars....

    Jackson Rossi, J.W. Mitchell High
  9. Cotee River Seafest promises three days of food, fun and music


    NEW PORT RICHEY — It will be boats, blues and more as the Cotee River Seafest takes place this weekend in Sims Park.

    The annual festival, presented by Main Street New Port Richey and Auto Enterprise, will feature three days of free music starting at 5 p.m. Friday with local favorites SPF 40, Barefoot Bob and the Hope and Sean Chambers on the Sims Park stage.

    Saturday comes with a full lineup, with six bands playing back to back starting at noon with Franc Robert, followed by Troy Youngblood & the Soulfish, Tampa Music Machine with Nitro, Sarasota Slim with LC Williams and the Driver, Albert Castiglia and multirecording artist Eric Gales....

    Tampa blues guitarist Selwyn Birchwood will perform at the Cotee River Seafest this weekend in Sims Park. He’s shown here at the 2015 Gasparilla Music Festival in Tampa.
  10. Gallery's April exhibit gives a nod to spring

    Visual Arts


    The West Pasco Art Guild and Gallery is giving a nod to spring while preparing to wind down its seasonal shows with the exhibit "How Does Your Garden Grow?" this month.

    "We're really impressed with the showings for this exhibit," said guild board member Chuck Simmons, who headed the April exhibit with fellow artist Marilyn Wescott. "Most of our submissions are from local artists, and we have some faithful snowbirds as well."...

    Local artist Janet McCann’s Sea of Sunflowers hangs in the art guild’s gallery.
  11. Eclectic mix on tap at Sertoma's annual Stringbreak Music Fest

    Music & Concerts


    More than 20 bands will take turns on stage at the annual Stringbreak Music Fest, which offers an eclectic mix of alternative country, Americana, rockabilly, Cajun and bluegrass in the serene, wooded setting of the Sertoma Youth Ranch.

    Among those performing over four days: 2011 Grammy Award-winners Chubby Carrier and the Bayou Swamp Band playing funky zydeco; HuDost, a neo-folk world rock ensemble from Montreal and Kentucky, and some amusing sets from Hayseed Dixie. They promise to entertain with their hillbilly covers of popular hits such as Twisted Sister's We're Not Gonna Take It, Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody and Journey's Don't Stop Believin'....

    The Hummingbirds will bring their blend of Northern and Southern Americana.
  12. Canner operates in high gear for Florida Loquat Festival



    On a spring day that tempted many to open their windows, the aroma of hot, bubbling loquats drifted through Sue Andreski's modest kitchen and out her front door.

    "Come on in," Andreski said as she gave her stove-top pot a stir, adding that it would be about a half-hour before she would be ladling this batch of jam into jars.

    Harvesting, deseeding, peeling and canning fruit, it's been a busy time for Andreski, 61, of Holiday. She is one of three cottage industry canners who will be selling an assortment of loquat-inspired foods — jams, jellies and butter that spreads oh-so-smoothly over a piece of morning toast — at the annual Florida Loquat Festival on Saturday....

    Sue Andreski, 61, of Holiday pours loquat jelly into jars for canning for the Florida Loquat Festival to be held Saturday.
  13. Broadway's 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory' includes a little local flavor

    Human Interest

    It's a magical world for Ryan Sell, who has landed his golden ticket to Broadway.

    After months of rehearsals in the Big Apple, the 11-year-old from New Port Richey is stepping into the spotlight with a lead role in the new musical adaptation of Roald Dahl's bestselling novel, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

    For those who haven't read the book or seen the two movies, the story follows the adventures — and sometimes misadventures — of a handful of children who, after finding a golden ticket tucked in a chocolate bar wrapper, are awarded a tour of the mysterious candy factory owned by the eccentric Willie Wonka....

    New Port Richey’s Ryan Sell, 11, is one of three boys cast for the role of Charlie Bucket.
  14. Ridgewood High students teach French language to Calusa Elementary kids




    That's a new greeting for first-grade students in Jennifer Daly's classroom, one they are warming to nicely courtesy of the new French Foreign Language Experience program.

    Since early February, Ridgewood High School students have been making a trek each Thursday morning to Calusa Elementary School to impart a 30-minute lesson on the basics — French greetings, numbers and colors — along with some unfamiliar pronunciations of those words. It has many first-graders, as well as their teacher, favoring the color bleu these days, mostly because there's a funny facial contortion that seems to go with rolling the word off the tongue....

    Ridgewood High student Jessica Ruwell, 17, works with Eliza Curtis, 6, left, and Jaylene Duclos, 7.
  15. Local artist has put finishing touches on long-forgotten piece of work

    Visual Arts

    NEW PORT RICHEY — Fran McLean didn't quite know what she was getting into when she agreed to complete a painting that had been tucked away for decades in the back of another person's closet.

    The painting, though incomplete, was too good to toss. That's what Bobbi Armour, director of Gateway Gallery & Emporium, figured when she happened upon the three-paneled piece — called a triptych — while cleaning out an elder neighbor's belongings that were destined for charity....

    An unfinished painting started by the late Tom Burrichter and completed by local artist Fran McLean, shown here, highlights the April featured artist exhibit at the Gateway Gallery & Emporium in downtown New Port Richey. "Unfinished ... Finished" was donated to the gallery by Burrichter's widow and will be on display with McLean's other work. The three-paneled piece is up for auction to raise money for the nonprofit gallery.