South County Highlights

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By Debbie Flessner

Venice native Josh Kaufman wins ‘The Voice’

Josh Kaufman photo source:
Josh Kaufman photo source:

Months after his first audition with the hit NBC singing competition show ‘The Voice’, soulful vocalist Josh Kaufman emerged victorious as the season 5 winner in a star-studded season finale on May 20.

Kaufman, who was born in Sarasota, but lived in Venice during his early childhood, is a 38-year-old SAT tutor who now lives in Indianapolis with his wife and three young children. Since his grand prize for winning the contest includes $100,000 and a recording contract with the Universal Music Group, Kaufman’s career path will most likely change.

After the win, he said that though it was a long process from start to finish, he couldn’t be happier about the end result.

“It was a lot more stressful night and morning than I expected it to be,” he said. “But to end up at this point and have it all work out is just amazing.”


Venice students and jeweler create one-of-a-kind Mother’s Day gifts

Winners Alyssa Lynn, Paige Godfrey and Destiny Ann Neri has pendants made from their drawings by Classic Creations owner Evan Duke. Photo by Debbie Flessner
Winners Alyssa Lynn, Paige Godfrey and Destiny Ann Neri has pendants made from their drawings by Classic Creations owner Evan Duke. Photo by Debbie Flessner

Classic Creations, south Venice jewelry store, offered a challenge to children in a YMCA spring break camp–design a unique pendant to give to give to your mother for Mother’s Day. Afterwards, whoever the top finishers were would get their design custom-made into a beautiful pendant by the jewelry store’s owner, Evan Duke.

Store owners Evan and his wife Pam chose a top finisher, 10 year-old Destiny Ann Nari, and a second place entry from 12 year-old Paige Godfrey. But it was a third design that captured the Dukes’ hearts.

Alyssa Lynn drew a heart with wings in memory of her mother, who passed away when Alyssa was only seven years old. She now lives with family that includes grandmother Helen Meade, who brought Alyssa to the jewelry store to pick up her pendant.

“I thought we were just coming to a special party– I didn’t know that I had won,” she said. “I draw a lot for my family most of the time and for my best friend Emily. Winning this makes me feel…wanted.”

When Alyssa was given her custom piece of jewelry, she turned around to her grandmother and placed it in her hands. “This is for you, grandma,” she said.


Lt. Govenor Carlos Lopez-Cantera was on a southwest Florida trip to introduce himself to loyal members of the Republican party. Photo by Debbie Flessner
Lt. Govenor Carlos Lopez-Cantera was on a southwest Florida trip to introduce himself to loyal members of the Republican party. Photo by Debbie Flessner

Florida’s 2nd in command speaks to South Venice Republicans

Brand new Florida Lt. Governor Carlos Lopez-Cantera was on the Suncoast for the day to introduce himself to members of his party, having only taken over the office three months ago after the abrupt resignation of former Lt. Governor Jennifer Carroll.

In the Venice Gardens Community Center, he addressed the Republican Club of South Sarasota County and answered questions from concerned citizens about everything from proposed casino gambling to what a lieutenant governor actually does.

Prior to the Lt. Governor’s address, Republican Club of South Sarasota County program director Cynthia Crowe expressed concern that her club was being overlooked in the Governor’s office, and not fully appreciated for the work they had done for the party during campaigns.

Lopez-Cantera said he was there to reassure the group that was not the case.

“This governor has traveled the state and visited more areas than any other governor before him,” he said. “Anything the local groups need from us, we will be happy to help with. We all have the same goal.”


Elementary teacher wins Economic Educator of the Year award

Dr. Shari Valencic said her fifth grade students at Venice Elementary School are enthusiastic about the economic lessons she’s teaching them with her out-of-the-ordinary classes. If you ever thought 10 and 11 year-olds couldn’t understand the concept of ‘buy low, sell high,’ think again.

“It’s fun to watch them,” Dr. Valencic said. “They like making money, and money is a motivator, whether it’s real or fake.”

In recognition of her innovative approach to teaching, the Florida Council for Economic Education (FCEE). recently rewarded Dr. Valencic with several honors. For the past 35 years, the Council has presented the Governor’s Awards for Excellence in Teaching Economics, which focuses on and rewards educators who excel in the economic and financial education of students from kindergarten through high school.

Dr. Valencic said she was proud to receive the award from the FCEE, an organization which she said was ‘classy and well-run.”

“The whole idea of teaching is that we want kids to remember, and a lot of the things you do with the students, you know which things they will remember,” she said. “It was wonderful to be recognized for that.”


South Venice Civic Association ponders its future

With the resignation of a key member of its board of directors and a community center in bad need of repair, the South Venice Civic Association (SVCA) is in a state of flux.

Board member Harrison Fox resigned in mid-May over what he said was concern for being held personally liable should the 55 year-old community center collapse on someone. He is in favor of closing the building until a new one can be constructed, but that would take funds the association does not have.

Even though the association dues are only $50 a year and there are close to 8,000 homes in the South Venice community, membership stands at only around 250 families.

One of the solutions that Fox offered the board prior to his resignation was to reinstitute the practice of requiring South Venice residents to become members of the association in order to purchase a South Venice Ferry pass, which is mandatory for use of the popular neighborhood attraction.

In the meantime, SVCA president John Browne said not only would that issue be revisited at this month’s meeting, but all other options of fundraising would also be discussed.

Rare turtle nest found on Venice Beach

Kemp's ridley sea turtle  Photo source Wkipedia
Kemp’s ridley sea turtle Photo source Wkipedia

Though turtle nests in Sarasota County are fairly common, in the 33-year history of Mote Marine Laboratory’s Sea Turtle Conservation Program, there have only been eight sightings of the rare Kemp’s ridley sea turtle’s nests on Venice Beach.

The Kemp’s ridley turtle is a critically endangered species and is the rarest of all sea turtles. They are also the smallest, rarely reaching more than 100-108 pounds as adults, compared to loggerheads, which can weigh as much as 400 pounds.

The 35-mile stretch of beach from Caspersen Beach to North Longboat Key is under the jurisdiction of the Mote sea turtle program, but this type of find seldom occurs in that area. The first Kemp’s nest ever sighted in Venice was in 1999 and the last one up until this point was in 2010.

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