Foster Parents Sued For Abuse

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BROOKSVILLE – A year into their prison sentence for abusing their foster children, Arthur and Lori Allain are being sued by their former ward for a nine-figure sum.

John Joseph Edwards Jr. is also suing the Department of Children and Families’ private arm, claiming the agency’s caseworker failed to recognize the signs of neglect.

On Thursday, Edwards’ attorney, Gary Gossett, likened the conditions suffered by his client to a Nazi death camp. The lawsuit says Edwards underwent “physical and mental torture,” to include starvation, beatings, head shaving and “unlawful confinement.”

“You can’t just walk away from that kind of stuff,” Gossett said by phone from Sebring.

Gossett filed the lawsuit Monday and has yet to hear if the Allains have retained an attorney.

Arthur Allain is serving a 25-year prison sentence in Wakulla County in the Panhandle for aggravated child abuse; Lori Allain is serving the same sentence at Lowell Correctional Institute in Ocala.

A message left with a spokeswoman for Kids Central Inc. was not returned.

The Allains were arrested in 2004, when the sheriff’s office learned that DCF had taken custody of a malnourished girl. At 10 years old, the girl weighed only 29 pounds and her ribs were clearly visible.

Reports at the time said that her half-brother, Edwards, slipped food under her door two or three times a week. Further investigation revealed that she was locked in her room and had only a paint bucket as a toilet.

The Allains refuted the charges, saying the girl was already malnourished when they received her and that she had an eating disorder.

Her brother, who turned 18 in November, didn’t receive as much media attention, but Gossett said his treatment was just as shabby.

Without prior knowledge of the case, Gossett said he wouldn’t have believed Edwards when the victim first discussed what had happened to him.

“This is about basic human rights,” Gossett said.

As the Allains’ case wound its way through the judicial system, the spotlight also turned to DCF. Investigations were opened to determine how the abuse could have continued for so long if case workers were supposedly making monthly visits.

Gossett said the discovery portion leading up to a jury trial will determine when DCF turned over the case to Kids Central, the nonprofit company that serves the Fifth Judicial Circuit, which includes Hernando County.

The lawsuit specifically names Cathy Kelly as a caseworker who was allegedly negligent in her duties.

It’s Gossett’s hope that this lawsuit will bring attention to any other children in the foster care system who are undergoing similar treatment.

“The system failed at many levels,” he said.

Gossett would not specify how much the lawsuit seeks in damages, but stated it was a nine-figure sum.

Reporter Kyle Martin can be reached at 352-544-5271 or kmartin@hernandotoday.com.

Extreme Makeover For Old Brooksville Hospital

BROOKSVILLE – From sanitized medical wards to luxury retirement apartments – the transformation of the old Brooksville Regional Hospital continues.

People traveling down Ponce deLeon Boulevard will notice two bright yellow and black banners tied with string to two trees in the front of the once-bustling medical complex. Emblazoned on the banners are these words:

“The Grande Luxury Retirement Living, opening Fall 2008.”

Once completed, the complex will have 75 new apartments, geared toward independent living, dining and deli.

The banner boasts of The Grande’s central location near parks and medical services. Most of the construction has centered around the assisted living facility portion of the new complex, Bill Rain, with Metro Bay Development, said in a letter to Michael McHugh, director of the county’s office of business development. The first floor is already about 50 percent framed with rough plumbing completed, according to Rain.

County Commissioner Rose Rocco said she is encouraged by the speed of the construction. The sooner it gets done, the faster people will find jobs there and stimulate economic growth downtown, she said.

Rocco believes that once The Grande is open, it will spur other businesses to locate in the vicinity.

County commissioners sold the old Brooksville Regional Hospital last year for $1.1 million.

The investors planned to pump $10 million to $13 million to modernize the building. The facility will contain a mix of uses, including an assisted living facility, office and medical buildings and a restaurant. The developer plans to lease space in the building to county employees, alleviating some of the space crunch at the existing courthouse at 20 North Main St.

The contract includes a performance agreement that requires the buyer to provide regular updates on redevelopment of the downtown site and to provide security for one year’s estimated property taxes should the project not proceed in a timely manner.

The contract also states that 11,000 square feet of existing office and warehouse space will continue to be used by the county fire department and remain under county ownership, until the board determines it is no longer needed.

To assure the project moves forward, the investment group took out a performance bond, or line of credit, for $150,000 until the building is completed. County commissioners opted to sell the building rather than spend the estimated $15 million to $20 million it would cost to renovate the building and convert it into a new government center, which had been considered at one point.

For more information on the project and an artist’s rendering, visit www.thegrande.net

Reporter Michael D. Bates can be reached at 352-544-5290 or mbates@hernandotoday.com.

Extreme Makeover For Old Brooksville Hospital

BROOKSVILLE – From sanitized medical wards to luxury retirement apartments – the transformation of the old Brooksville Regional Hospital continues.

People traveling down Ponce deLeon Boulevard will notice two bright yellow and black banners tied with string to two trees in the front of the once-bustling medical complex. Emblazoned on the banners are these words:

“The Grande Luxury Retirement Living, opening Fall 2008.”

Once completed, the complex will have 75 new apartments, geared toward independent living, dining and deli.

The banner boasts of The Grande’s central location near parks and medical services. Most of the construction has centered around the assisted living facility portion of the new complex, Bill Rain, with Metro Bay Development, said in a letter to Michael McHugh, director of the county’s office of business development. The first floor is already about 50 percent framed with rough plumbing completed, according to Rain.

County Commissioner Rose Rocco said she is encouraged by the speed of the construction. The sooner it gets done, the faster people will find jobs there and stimulate economic growth downtown, she said.

Rocco believes that once The Grande is open, it will spur other businesses to locate in the vicinity.

County commissioners sold the old Brooksville Regional Hospital last year for $1.1 million.

The investors planned to pump $10 million to $13 million to modernize the building. The facility will contain a mix of uses, including an assisted living facility, office and medical buildings and a restaurant. The developer plans to lease space in the building to county employees, alleviating some of the space crunch at the existing courthouse at 20 North Main St.

The contract includes a performance agreement that requires the buyer to provide regular updates on redevelopment of the downtown site and to provide security for one year’s estimated property taxes should the project not proceed in a timely manner.

The contract also states that 11,000 square feet of existing office and warehouse space will continue to be used by the county fire department and remain under county ownership, until the board determines it is no longer needed.

To assure the project moves forward, the investment group took out a performance bond, or line of credit, for $150,000 until the building is completed. County commissioners opted to sell the building rather than spend the estimated $15 million to $20 million it would cost to renovate the building and convert it into a new government center, which had been considered at one point.

For more information on the project and an artist’s rendering, visit www.thegrande.net

Reporter Michael D. Bates can be reached at 352-544-5290 or mbates@hernandotoday.com.

Gas Still Reaching Record Levels

TAMPA – Gasoline prices have constantly been setting new records and this week will be no exception, according to AAA Auto Club South.

Crude oil inventories are rising and demand is down, but OPEC output for March is at its lowest point in five years, according to a AAA media release. As a result, retail fuel prices are expected to rise.

The average price for a gallon of regular gas in Florida is $3.38. That is 13 cents higher than it was March 1 and 60 cents higher than a year ago.

 

Blueberry Farmers, Neighbors Battle Over Use Of Air Cannons

HUDSON – If you talk to the residents of The Estates and nearby communities in Hudson, blueberry season is nothing short of a nightmare, with loud cannons firing off as often as every minute during the day to scare away birds threatening the crop.

If you talk to the blueberry farmers, the pressurized cannons are a necessary nuisance to protect their livelihood from the cedar waxwing, a migratory bird that swoops in each season and takes as much as a third of their harvest.

“They come in by the thousands, and they just devastate the crop,” farmer Robert Waldo of Bob’s Blueberry Farm said. “When they find it, they don’t want to leave. They come in such flocks that they make a cloud on the ground.”

Waldo, who has been in the business for 10 years, has an interest in nearly a dozen blueberry farms in Hernando and Pasco counties, including a 25-acre farm backing up to The Estates and a handful of other neighborhoods in this northwest Pasco community. He is at the front lines of a battle among blueberry farmers and their neighbors in Hudson, who are trying to outlaw the cannons in favor of a more peaceful deterrent.

The Pasco County attorney’s office, at the direction of the county commission, drafted an ordinance to outlaw propane-powered cannons that exceed certain noise limits at blueberry farms. Certain farms designated as protected by the Right to Farm Act were exempt.

The ordinance, which has been in the works for more than a year, was supposed to be considered during public hearings this month. The commissioners backed off after the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services informed the county attorney’s office they have no jurisdiction.

The propane cannons are considered fireworks, and a 2007 state law says counties can’t regulate fireworks more than the state does. That law was passed, in part, because of Pasco’s efforts to restrict the sale of fireworks.

The fight isn’t over.

County Commissioner Jack Mariano, who represents Hudson, said at a Tuesday county commission meeting he will continue to push the Legislature to regulate the use of propane cannons at blueberry farms. He has argued in the past there are other ways of deterring birds from the crop.

State Rep. John Legg, R-Port Richey, is trying to separate air cannons from the fireworks law so the county can regulate them. But the fireworks law is designed to protect farmers. In fact, the sale and purchase of fireworks is legal in Florida as long as the buyer signs an affidavit saying he or she will use the fireworks to scare birds from fields to protect their crops or fish hatcheries, or for another agricultural purpose.

County officials also plan to crack down on smaller blueberry farms. The county prohibits commercial farming on tracts smaller than 5 acres. Propane cannons are used at those farms as well.

Birds Can Destroy 30% Of Crop

Waldo said he pulled out the cannons during blueberry season in 2005 and 2007, when he was at his wit’s end with the cedar waxwing. He had tried many other methods with mixed success. When the blueberries are ripe – usually early April – the birds come in and peck, Waldo said.

“They don’t eat most of the fruit. They just peck. They’ll peck at every berry on the bush.”

Blueberry season in Florida lasts about two months. Residents complain they can’t tolerate the noise. Waldo said that is his only chance to harvest about 140,000 pounds of blueberries, which are shipped throughout the United States and all over the world.

The birds can destroy as much as 30 percent of that crop, Waldo said. Cedar waxwings also eat holly berries and mulberries.

‘No One Thing Is Working’

Waldo uses the cannons at his other blueberry farms, and he gets complaints from neighbors there, too, he said, but most of the other farms are in more rural areas. The Hudson farms are scattered among neighborhoods.

There are other ways of scaring away birds from the fields, Waldo said. The farmers use other kinds of noisemakers, such as bottle rockets, whistlers, buzzers, air horns and shotguns. Waldo also is testing a spray repellant.

“Air cannons are just part of the artillery,” he said. “No one thing is working. The problem is, it’s an experiment. We haven’t tried it on the bird. There’s no way to know if anything works except when the birds are here.”

Even when the methods work, the birds quickly get used to them.

“The birds become accustomed to everything in about three hours,” Waldo said. “They’ll watch and see if any harm comes. They’ll fly to the edge of the field, but they don’t leave.”

Neighbors have complained about the frequency of the noise – which varies from once an hour to once a minute – and the occasions when farmers forget to turn the air cannons off.

Waldo conceded he has forgotten a few times but said it is not intentional.

“We have one crop a year. That’s the only time we make any money. We have to protect our crop any way we can,” he said. “I am genuinely sorry these people are upset and disturbed. It’s aggravating to me. I have to stand next to the cannon. But people have their life savings in this. They’ve got a right to use their land.

“Anyone who lives in a deed-restricted area, they are the trespassers. If they want quiet and tranquility, they need to buy an island. The people on a little postage-stamp lot can’t control all the thousands of acres around them.”

Reporter Julia Ferrante can be reached at (813) 948-4220 or jferrante@tampatrib.com

This Store Is For The Birds

SPRING HILL Joe Carlino doesn’t own a collection of colorful macaws only to look at them.

To him, they have as much personality as any other domestic pet. He reached into one of the many cages at his store and went for the bird’s ankles.

“Hi, Phoenix,” he said. “I play with your feet.”

The green wing macaw bobbed her head, stuck her tongue out and playfully tried to bite his fingers.

A few minutes later, he got her to talk.

“Hi there,” she said over again.

Why do people spend more than $1,000 for a bird that is usually kept in a cage and not permitted to fly? The short answer is that there are a lot of people like Carlino, who also breeds and sells them for a living.

“They are talking birds,” he said, referring to various species of macaws. “You can have conversations with some of them. They make great pets.”

Bird owners must understand how much attention their pets require, Carlino warned. If one regularly interacts with the animal, the happier it will be.

“The key thing is to develop a one-on-one relationship with the bird,” he said. “If you have that, you’ll have a wonderful pet.”

In December, Carlino and his wife, Roseann, opened Quality Exotic Birds at 7349 Spring Hill Drive. In the front half of the store, customers can usually see canaries, African grays, cockatiels, macaw hybrids and other birds. On the shelves there are bird toys, perches, feed and other products for owners to use to keep their pets happy and occupied.

There are a variety of cages on display in the front and back, all of which are “bird safe” – which is to say they contain no paint or chemical products that could be harmful to the animal.

Smaller cages are best-suited for the canaries while the larger, wider cages are best for macaws and their exceptionally large wingspans.

Carlino does a lot more than sell products and offer grooming services. He also does more than invite potential bird owners to his store. He will often invite them to his house.

“If we’re selling birds to a first-time owner, we’ll open our home to them to show them how to hand feed them,” he said. “We want it to be a good experience for the bird owner.”

An American singing canary – which often is bought for children – usually cost about $70. Some macaws, like a green wing or a scarlet, can cost thousands.

A hyacinth macaw, which is all-blue, can cost almost $10,000.

“You’re buying longevity, Carlino said. “That’s why they are so expensive.”

Macaws can live for up to 100 years, but the average is more like 50 years. In the past, exotic birds were captured in their own habitat in South America or Australia and shipped across the world.

That devastated the bird population in some regions. Furthermore, many of the animals died during the transport. The business still continues, but most local dealers, like the Carlinos, breed their own birds.

The Carlinos are from New York and moved to Spring Hill from New Port Richey in 2005. Quality Exotic Birds is the only local place where people can buy medium to large birds, they said.

Joe Carlino has a 32-year-old photo of him at the former Parrott Jungle in Miami where his fascination with birds manifested into an obsession. The 6-foot-5-inch Italian had at least four multi-colored flying parrots perched on his arms and shoulders. He was looking directly at the camera sporting a wide smile.

“That’s where my dream came alive,” he said.

He and his wife are among the newest members of the Greater Hernando County Chamber of Commerce. A ribbon-cutting ceremony is scheduled for 11:30 a.m. Thursday, March 13.

The public are invited and refreshments will be served.

Reporter Tony Holt can be reached at 352-544-5283 or wholt@hernandotoday.com.

Biz at a glance:

Name of biz: Quality Exotic Birds

Owners: Joe and Roseann Carlino

What it is: Medium to large exotic bird retailer

Where it is: 7349 Spring Hill Drive

Get in touch: 352-835-4040

Local Pilot Missing In North Atlantic

BROOKSVILLE –

An international search is on for a veteran

Spring Hill pilot who went down Thursday morning in a

severe storm off the coast of Iceland.

Greg Frey, 66, was traveling from Rekyjavik to Scotland

in a Piper Cherokee single-engine plane when he made a

mayday call to report “severe icing on the plane’s

control surfaces,” according to a news release issued

Thursday from the United Kingdom Defense Ministry.

Frey (pronounced “Fry”) told traffic controllers that

he was “ditching” the plane about 100 miles south of

Iceland, the release states.

He was wearing a survival suit that could offer some

protection from the icy waters, according to the

release.

He also had a life raft aboard the plane, according to

Greg Frey Jr., Frey’s son who flew Thursday from

California to Spring Hill to be with family members

while awaiting updates on the search.

Frey had an emergency transponder that sent a distress

signal after the crash, which confirmed that the plane

was in the water, according to the defense ministry

release.

The Royal Air Force launched its Nimrod aircraft to

join the Iceland Coast Guard in the search. By Friday

evening, no trace of the plane, or Frey, had been

found.

“The weather conditions are very bad with heavy

thunderstorms and 20-foot swells,” a RAF spokesman said

in the release. “We always try to remain optimistic on

these occasions, but this is very much a race against

time to find the pilot. You have to be realistic as

well as hopeful.”

By Friday, family members had gathered at the Spring

Hill home that Frey shares with his wife Maureen,

waiting word from U.S. embassies and the Iceland Coast

Guard.

Among them was Frey Jr., who said the news that the

distress beacon sounded for more than an hour after the

crash is encouraging.

“That means he survived the impact,” Frey Jr. said.

“That’s giving us some hope.”

The search had been halted temporarily until dawn, Greg

Jr. said Friday afternoon.

The family has gotten calls from the American Consulate

and the American Red Cross. A spokesman for U.S. Rep.

Ginny Brown-Waite said Friday that the Brooksville

Republican was doing what she could to ensure the lines

of communication remained open.

Frey’s ultimate destination was Germany, where he

planned to deliver the Piper to its new owner. He works

for Globe Aero Ltd., a Lakeland-based firm that

specializes in ferrying planes throughout the world.

Frey, who’d worked for the company for about a year,

left Lakeland on Monday and headed up the east coast to

Bangor, Maine, Globe Aero president Phil Waldman said

Friday.

He then flew into Canada, across Greenland and on to

Iceland, where he ran into storm delays and spent three

days “waiting for the weather to move out of his way,”

Waldman said.

Frey took off Thursday and likely encountered that same

storm system, Waldman said. Ice on the wings slows an

airplane down, forcing the pilot to descend, he said.

Waldman acknowledged Friday afternoon that, nearly 36

hours after the crash, it would be “a miracle” if Frey

is found alive.

“The North Atlantic is not forgiving,” he said.

Waldman and others reached Friday described Frey as the

most competent of pilots, a man with a serious love for

flying and an easygoing personality.

He started flying at the age of 16, when he left a job

in a steel mill to pursue a career in commercial

aviation, Frey Jr. said.

He retired at age 60 after flying commercial planes for

34 years. But he kept flying, doing aerial photography

for a real estate company and working as a private

pilot for a real estate developer before taking the job

with Globe Aero, Frey Jr. said.

“It wasn’t a job, it was a passion,” he said. “It was

something he loved second to his family.”

Frey also is well-known in the local aviation

community.

He is a former board member of the Hernando County

Aviation and Airport Authority and an active member in

the Experimental Aircraft Association’s Hernando County

chapter.

Frey was instrumental in securing a hanger at the

county airport for the chapter, fellow EAA member

Bernie Berger said.

Berger described Frey as “an idea man.”

“He has an ability to get people together,” Berger

said.

Frey, who owns a single-engine Cessna, also works to

instill a love of flying in young people as an active

member of the Young Eagles program. He and other EAA

members recently made plans to visit local schools to

talk about the joys of aviation and the career

opportunities in the field, Berger said.

Greg and Maureen Frey moved to Spring Hill in 1981.

They have another son, Chris, and two daughters, Megan

and Lisa.

The couple would celebrate their 33rd wedding

anniversary on March 2 and Frey’s 67th birthday two

days later.

Frey Jr. said the family knew the possible perils of

crossing the ocean in a single engine plane.

“Everybody understood the risk, and we had confidence

in him,” he said, “but sometimes situations tend to be

out of our hands.”

Reporter Tony Marrero can be reached at 352-544-5286

Deputies Cleared In Fatal Shooting

OCALA – No criminal charges will be filed against two deputies who fatally shot a 25-year-old Spring Hill man last November.

The State Attorney’s Office justified the lethal force used by deputies Christopher Croft and Michael Glatfelter in a letter obtained by Hernando Today on Thursday.

Its contents are the result of a closed investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement into the death of Kyle Gabelman.

The letter, written by Assistant State Attorney Richard Ridgeway, provides new details about the events that led deputies to fire six shots at Gabelman outside his parent’s house in the early afternoon of Nov. 20, 2007.

It paints a picture of a troubled man high on drugs and alcohol who told his mom that day she would hear about him on the evening news.

To his dad, he revealed his plans to “go out with a blaze of glory.”

Sheriff Richard Nugent said through a spokeswoman that the report speaks for itself and declined to comment further.

An internal investigation at the sheriff’s office will now be opened per policy for any officer-involved shooting.

Gabelman’s father, Tom, answered the door at their home on Banyan Drive and turned away a reporter.

The letter provides this narration of that day’s events:

On that morning, before noon, Gabelman showed up at his parent’s house angry about a recent breakup with his girlfriend. He appeared to have been drinking.

Tom Gabelman was concerned enough to call the sheriff’s office, but by the time deputies arrived his son was gone. Gabelman’s parents believed he was suicidal, so his name was entered into the National Crime Information Center as an “endangered missing person.”

Gabelman returned about 1 p.m. Deputy Croft responded and Glatfelter served as his backup. But Gabelman had left again, so Glatfelter made his way to a hit-and-run accident in the area.

In one of the two visits, Gabelman demanded prescription drugs from his father. When Tom Gabelman refused, his son fired a shot into the ceiling with a handgun.

Meanwhile, Glatfelter discovered that one of the vehicles involved in the hit-and-run belonged to Gabelman. When deputies went to his apartment to find him, they found it abandoned and in disarray.

An empty box for a 9 mm handgun and its ammo was also discovered.

The third and final time Gabelman turned up at his parent’s house was around 2 p.m. Again, deputies were called and this time Gabelman was home when they arrived.

Glatfelter and Croft found the suspect at the front door, demanding he be let inside. Because of previous reports that Gabelman was armed, the deputies drew their side-arms.

They demanded Gabelman show his hands. He turned and dropped “objects” in his hands, then removed a handgun from his waistband.

He waved the gun, but did not point it at the deputies. Instead of obeying their commands to drop the gun, Gabelman went around to the back porch of his house.

At one point, he put the gun to his head and said, “You’re going to have to kill me.”

After a “short period of time”, Gabelman fired a shot through the sliding glass door to get inside the house.

That shot prompted Glatfelter to go back to his car and retrieve his department-issued AR-15 rifle. Croft took a defensive position at the corner of the house with a view of the front of the house.

While the deputies were taking cover, Gabelman was inside in a confrontation with his father. Tom Gabelman pleaded with his son not to go outside because he would be shot.

Gabelman’s reply: “You want to see something, watch this.”

When Gabelman stepped outside, he held the gun where deputies could see it and chambered a round. Deputies yelled, “Put the gun down.”

Instead, Gabelman walked towards Deputy Glatfelter and fired two shots. The letter does not specify what direction those shots were fired.

Glatfelter returned four shots that struck and killed Gabelman. Croft also fired two shots, but they missed.

“Based upon these facts, there is no question that the actions of Deputy Glatfelter and Deputy Croft were completely justified by (Florida law),” the letter concludes.

Reporter Kyle Martin can be reached at 352-544-5271 or kmartin@hernandotoday.com.

Slow Start To Bartlett Trial

BROOKSVILLE – A pool of 50 jurors and almost eight hours were needed, but a 10 person jury was in place by the end of the opening day of Steve Bartlett’s trial.

Now that a jury is seated, their job is to decide whether Bartlett deliberately stole nearly a million dollars from customers expecting homes from his now bankrupt company, Coral Bay Construction.

The trial is expected to take upwards of four weeks as more than 100 witnesses take the stand and close to 1,000 pieces of evidence are submitted.

The prospect of spending a month in court scared off many prospective jurors, while others were dismissed because of prior knowledge about Bartlett’s case.

By 3:15 p.m. – about seven hours from when jurors first showed up – the core group of six jurors was chosen.

In the end, all the parties involved settled for four alternates instead of the originally proposed six. Every juror in the original pool of 50 was either used or dismissed.

“It came down to the last juror,” Assistant State Attorney Mark Simpson said.

Opening arguments will begin today at 9 a.m.

Bartlett is charged with grand theft of more than $100,000; his attorney, Donald Harrison, has made the argument that Bartlett simply took on more jobs than he could handle.

Reporter Kyle Martin can be reached at 352-544-5271 or kmartin@hernandotoday.com

Help! I’m Turning 50!

First of all, it’s very important for me to say that as you read this, I am still in my 40s (OK, I’m a very late age 49). I won’t turn 50 until next week.
About halfway through 2007, people began asking me if I thought turning 50 would bother me. Actually, until people started asking me if it would bother me – it hadn’t. Of course, there are those, like my 12-year-old son, who put the worst spin on it, “Gee, Dad, you will be half-a-century old!”
So You’re Turning 50
Of course, what I fear most is not the age, but the payback. Didn’t all those people know I was just kidding when I joked with them about turning 50? I can already imagine the kind of bantering I’m going to get:
– “50 is the age of discovery … you discover you’re old!”
– “After 50 it’s a matter of maintenance.”
– “Fifty isn’t old … if you’re a tree!”
– “Remember when you were little and thought 50 was so-o-o old. You were right!”
– “Nifty Nifty … look who’s 50!”
– “If things get better with age, then you’re approaching magnificent.”
Precious Memories
It seemed like it wasn’t that long ago, that I was 27 years old, six months married and a new minister at Northcliffe Baptist Church in Spring Hill. This month, I will be almost twice that age; married for 22 years; and oh, yes, I have four children. I can also remember when my weight stayed at 135 pounds (blame it on the chips and salsa at Chili’s); the only pills I took where M & Ms; and the only two gray hairs I had were dealt with by a pair of scissors once a year. People can say that graying is a sign of distinction, but me and my mirror aren’t buying it. Only this past year, I have found myself in the store looking twice at a container of “Just for Men” hair coloring (“Touch of Gray”). I realize that some readers will shake their heads and think “I wish I was only 50.” While other readers will think, “He really is a senior pastor, now.”
At times, I feel like I can’t be turning 50. Just this past week, at one of our local hospitals, a senior adult volunteer called me “Hon.” Granted, as a minister, I am usually addressed as “pastor,” but as I get closer to you-know-what, I didn’t seem to mind that she felt I was still a youngster. On the other hand, after getting a haircut this past month, the young lady cutting my hair asked, “Do you get the senior discount?” Why would she ask me such a question? Her statement knocked the fantastic right out my “Fantastic Sam’s” haircut.
In the midst of all these changes, there is one thing that has not changed in my life – the faithfulness of God. In the Bible, God says, “I the Lord do not change” (Malachi 3:6). He is the One constant I can count on no matter what else (even my age) changes. Realizing the reality of this wonderful truth, led me to incorporate the faithfulness of God into my prayer life. On Mondays, part of my time with God goes like this: “God, thank you for 49 years of faithfulness. For 49 years, You have never failed me.”
Now, have there been times when things didn’t go the way I wanted? Yes. Have I experienced hurts in my life that have left inner scars? Certainly. Has my life been stress-free, problem-free, struggle-free? Absolutely not. But no matter what the problem, God has always been there for me – giving me His assurance, His peace, His comfort, His direction and His love.
The Wisdom of
a 50-year-old
Sometimes – no guarantee – age can bring wisdom. You start sharing bits of wisdom like: “Wealth has nothing to do with your bank account.” “Friends are a special gift from God.” And “Growing old isn’t always fun but it sure beats the alternative.” But no matter what my next 50 years bring (even though I doubt I will be here that long) I will always be able to hold on to the fact that God never changes. He is always dependable. I can always count on Him. He is always faithful. Which is why next Monday morning, I will say to God, “God, thank you for 50 years of faithfulness. For 50 years, You have never failed me.” And what God has done for me, He will do for you, if you will turn to and trust in Him.

Jerry Waugh is senior pastor of Northcliffe Baptist Church in Spring Hill. He can be contacted at 352-683-5882.