Dec. 08

Holiday Tea… The ladies of Ribault Garden Club got a holiday decorating start on Nov. 27 with a festive home décor demonstration and morning tea. They enjoyed homemade goodies and shopped for ornaments and decorative items at a holiday boutique. Raffle tickets were sold for a chance to win the clever items crafted during presentations by eight members.

Decoupage expert Sally Henry tore apart Christmas napkins to make papier-mâché ornaments. Judy Blocker demonstrated how to make everything from ornaments to napkin rings and gift tags using toilet paper rolls, magnolia leaves, shells and corks. She also reminded members to save those corks. Since April, the club has collected more than 20,000 corks for recycling. Each is worth two cents; one cent helps save the forest and one cent saves the ocean.

Pam Hutcherson gave a humorous presentation using cuttings from her yard and “holly trees in the bank parking lot” to make a holiday table arrangement. A ribbon tied through the handle of the pruning shears identified them as hers, but somehow they always end up among her husband’s tools, she sighed, eliciting sympathetic laughter from the audience.

Remember to bring your clippers to Ribault’s popular December Fun with Flowers event Wednesday [Dec. 12] at 10 a.m. Tony Swik from Kuhn Flowers, Ponte Vedra, will give a hands-on demonstration. The cost for the session is $22 in advance or $23 at the door. Reservations are a must. Call 904-280-8487, or go to www.lookgood2@comcast.net. The clubhouse is at 705 Second Ave. N., Jacksonville Beach.

Hospice Trees…Many years ago—no one remembers exactly when—Marsh Landing Garden Club started a tradition to decorate small Christmas trees for Hospice patients. The garden club disbanded some time ago, but Sue McCaw has continued the tradition for about 20 years. This year she got two-foot-tall artificial trees from Hobby Lobby at a discount. Past club members and friends decorated them; they reimbursed the cost of the trees and provided their own ornaments. They dressed about 37 trees each different, such as a flamingo tree and a snowman tree, and each was made with love. Sandra Francis and Steve Groth took trees back to Haven Hospice and William Sohn and Betsy Beckham were there from McGraw Center Community Hospice.

“It’s a blessing to bring the trees to the inpatient center on Mayo’s campus,”   Beckham said. “They go to every patient. It brings them joy, and family members appreciate it too.”

Deck the White House… Shari Duval, Ponte Vedra resident and founder of K9s For Warriors, took part in the ultimate holiday decorating experience. She just returned from Washington D.C. after five days at the White House helping glue, pin, paint and assemble the cranberry trees that line the entrance. Duval was among 130 volunteers chosen from 8,000 submissions. Although she doesn’t know the criteria for selection, she met many volunteers from the military and gold star families.

The theme this year was “Red and Green.” More than 58 trees were decorated, as well as every room in the White House. Scaffolding was brought in and crates of decorations. Volunteers everywhere strung thousands of lights on live trees. Duval was impressed with the happy atmosphere at the “people’s house” and the gracious First Lady. A special behind the scenes look at the decorated White House will air Sunday [Dec. 9] at 6 p.m. on HGTV.

“All the staff there were so happy. It was an amazing experience,” she said. “The house was gorgeous. It was hard work, but an honor to be chosen and magical to be there.”

K9s For Warriors is the nation’s top provider of service dogs for American veterans struggling with PTSD. Duval started the organization in Ponte Vedra 9 years ago, and to date 500 veterans have graduated from K9s’ programs that train service dogs and pair them with veterans. For more information, go to www.k9sforwarriors.org.

Stocking Stuffers… Elves were sighted at Crosswater Church, Ponte Vedra on Dec. 1. They wore “Stockings 4 Kids St. Johns County” T-shirts and bustled about filling 500 Christmas stockings for less fortunate children in the community. About 30 youngsters, some adults and four officers from the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Youth Resource Center started the work session with an “elf warm-up dance.” They also ate decorated donuts provided by The Donut Experiment of St. Augustine, as well as homemade cookies from the Glynn Family, juice, muffins and more from sponsor RE/MAX Unlimited.

Stockings 4 Kids started nine years ago in Lee County, FL, when Lee Knapp, mother of Ponte Vedran Laura Morey, visited a homeless shelter where she overheard mothers talking about how they didn’t have money for Christmas gifts for their children. Knapp went home and filled 100 Christmas stockings with small gifts and treats. She asked friends to help and last year the Lee County group stuffed and distributed 4,000 stockings.

Morey told RE/MAX Unlimited owner/broker Brenda Horst about her mother’s program, and they decided to duplicate the idea in St. Johns County. Excited youngsters wearing elf hats stuffed small toys, such as a Teddy bear, a mini flashlight, a pair of Christmas socks, and a candy cane, into red stockings. Each was worth $15. The police officers will carry a few stockings in their patrol cars to distribute as they see fit, but most will be given to the Alpha Omega Miracle Home for at-risk youth, the Homeless Coalition of St. Johns County, Betty Griffin House, St. Francis House and the St. Gerard /Campus.

“We’re teaching kids the giving spirit of Christmas, not just the receiving,” Horst said.

Dec. 01

Holiday Shoppes… On Nov. 9 and 10, folks got an early shopping start at the Holiday Shoppes benefiting the Cultural Center at Ponte Vedra Beach. There were items for pets, children and adults. From Amelia Toffee and artistic wreaths to Tim & Karen Bullard Pottery and Whimseas ceramics, the 28th annual shopping spree included more than 20 vendors selling pottery and art, shoes, clothing, handmade quilts, French hair accessories and jewelry, such as fresh water pearls from the My Laura Lively shop and the ever popular Kathy’s Accessories, as well as the Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens shop.

The sale raised funds for the Center’s arts education programs. This year’s shopping extravaganza was sponsored by Publix Charities, Pivot, Laura J. Hall, Legacy Trust and the Tourist Development Council of St. Johns County. The shopping continues through January at the center at 50 Executive Way, Ponte Vedra Beach. A special holiday exhibition and artisan market art sale features artworks by nine amazing local artists. Exhibit times are listed at www.ccpvb.org, or call 904-280-0614.

Vicar’s Boutique… Reflecting the gifting spirit of the season, the annual Vicar’s Landing Holiday Boutique offered elegant treasures at bargain prices. Proceeds from the sale go to a fund for employee scholarships. All items in the sale were donated by residents and folks downsizing to move to the Life Care community. Joan Tobey and Ginny Elliott co-chaired the Nov. 13 sale assisted by volunteers from among residents and associate members. The line to get in formed early, especially for the jewelry room where costume jewelry and more valuable baubles covered tables, but not for long as customers snatched up prized items. A hallway was filled with art; another room packed with tables of fine china, house wares, lamps, antiques and furniture, as well as a section devoted to linens and a room of Christmas decorations.

Vicar’s is a Ponte Vedra Beach continuing care community that provides independent and assisted living as well as a health care center. To learn more about Vicar’s, go to www.vicarslanding.com.

Murdock Turkey Fry… For more than 20 Thanksgivings, Bill and Rose Murdock have welcomed neighbors, friends and family to their driveway for deep fried turkey, sweet potato fries, bottomless Bloody Marys and pumpkin bread. The tradition began in 1995 in Ft. Washington, PA, when neighbors out for a Thanksgiving Day stroll noticed Bill trying out his new turkey fryer and stopped to chat. They were invited to share a beverage and “taste” with the cook. Thus began a semi-annual gathering that migrated with the Murdock’s when they moved to Sawgrass Country Club in 2001.

The Murdocks are moving to a retirement community next year, so the Thanksgiving 2018 driveway bash was the last. Bill deep fried and carved five turkeys one-by-one while about 50 folks caught up on each other’s lives and made new friends as they sipped Bloody Marys, sampled the succulent meat and crisp skin. Children laughed and played horseshoes, and a patient pooch named Freddie begged for spare morsels of turkey. Yet the happy occasion was tinged with melancholy for long time friends knowing the tradition is ending.

Kate Amato Foundation… In 2017, Aqua Grill hosted a wine dinner followed by a golf tournament at Marsh Landing Country Club to benefit the Kate Amato Foundation, a charity founded by the parents and friends of Kate Amato. In 2016, 11 year old Kate died from rhabdomyosarcoma, a rare, aggressive form of pediatric cancer. Aqua Grill owner Cary Hart was moved by Kate’s story and became friends with her parents Lisa and Jeff Amato. He joined their effort to raise funds for research to help families with children who have pediatric cancer. The foundation recently distributed $100,000 for three research grants focused on specific aspects of childhood cancers. To learn more about the foundation, go to www.KateAmatoFoundation,org.Throughout Thanksgiving week the Sawgrass Village restaurant invited customers to contribute to the foundation and on Nov. 25 hosted a four course wine dinner for 60 guests on the restaurant’s deck. The evening included silent and live auctions with all proceeds going to the foundation. WJXT TV-4 news anchor Nikki Kimbleton emceed the event and served as auctioneer. The following day 128 golfers played in the Kate Klassic at Marsh Landing.

“Jeff and I are committed to building the foundation nationally, but nothing is more important than establishing it in our own community,” Lisa said. “We are grateful to Cary Hart and the great Aqua Grill team for playing such a big role in that. They have so much empathy for the cause and belied that every child has the right to a full and happy life.”

BEAM… The flip side of the joy of shopping is the pleasure of giving. Beaches Emergency Assistance Ministry continued its annual Thanksgiving tradition of giving baskets filled with ingredients for a holiday dinner to more than 600 needy Beaches families. Local organizations, churches and individuals helped by donating items for the meals. BEAM offers emergency assistance and a pathway to economic stability for low income families and individuals in the community. The Beaches Community Food Bank and BEAM’s organic garden provide fresh vegetables and fruits to BEAM’s clients. For more information, visit www.jaxbeam.org.

Nov. 17

Plantation Navy Day… In 2003, World War II U.S. Navy veteran Jim Gaff, a resident of Plantation at Ponte Vedra Beach, founded a golf tournament in response to the events of 9/11 and in honor of Naval warriors who fought during the Gulf War. Navy Day at the Plantation is held to thank active-duty military for their service. The Plantation donated the use of the course, and chef Craig Porter and his staff as well as golf pro Nancy Maunder and assistant pros John Grzybek and Steven Fitzgerald contributed their time and expertise. Residents volunteered to serve breakfast and lunch and run the tournament. They also donated money, and area golf clubs gave certificates for rounds of golf as prizes.

On Nov. 5, 75 players from Jacksonville Naval Air Station, Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base, Mayport Naval Station, Blount Island Marines, the Coast Guard, K9’s for Warriors and Wounded Warriors had a fun-filled day of golf with 29 residents (one resident played per foursome.) The tournament began with breakfast and concluded with a steak lunch. Gaff has since passed away, but his widow Donna Gaff and enthusiastic Plantation members have carried on the tradition now in its 16th year.

PVB Chamber Division Veterans Lunch...“We teach every veteran they are a star. One of the hardest things they do is take off their uniform and get into a suit,” ONU (Operation New

Uniform) executive director Michele McManamon told members of the St. Johns County Chamber of Commerce Ponte Vedra Beach Division. McManamon and ONU director of veteran transition Jake Wilson spoke at the division’s Nov. 7 luncheon at Sawgrass Beach Club. Representatives from Wounded Warrior Project and K9s for Warriors were among 50 guests eager to learn how the business community can impact area veterans in a meaningful way.

Prior to founding ONU, McManamon and her husband operated Sandler Training, a sales, leadership and management training business. She gave a talk at a Wounded Warrior meeting and thought she could teach them how to communicate as businessmen. “But I didn’t understand their world. A veteran there said ‘once we take off those uniforms, nobody treats us the same.’ So we recognized the need, rewrote the Sandler Training program for vets and provide it cost free.” ONU has a 96 percent success rate for getting veterans careers not just jobs.

Wilson joined the U.S. army after 9/11. “With all the things I did, I thought it would be easy to find my way, but the military doesn’t do a great job of transitioning,” he said. ‘When you’re helping a vet, you’re also helping their family and the community.” Businesses that hire unemployed veterans can be eligible for a tax credit up to $9,600. For information about hiring ONU veterans, call 904-328-1600 or go to www.military.com/hiring-veterans.

The luncheon was sponsored by Fields Auto Group, Jack Wilson-Chevrolet and VyStar Credit Union. Go to www.sjcchamber.com for division and county chamber events.

Pink Ribbon at Underwood’s…You couldn’t miss the 600 or so pink flags lined up from one end of The Shoppes of Ponte Vedra plaza to the other on Nov. 8. They stood in honor of the Ponte Vedra Women’s Golf Association’s 11th annual Pink Ribbon Golf Classic, which concluded that night with a cocktail party and check presentation at Underwood Jewelers at the Shoppes of Ponte Vedra. The Pink Ribbon is an all volunteer effort that raises money for breast cancer research and services. In addition to the October tournament the multi-faceted event included a cocktail-auction party and sold pink flags to honor survivors and in memory of loved ones who succumbed to cancer. Underwood’s also donated 10 percent of the night’s sale of David Yurman, Steve Mazza and William Henry jewelry to the cause.

Co-chairs Nancy Morrison and Joanne Ghiloni presented a check for $277,000, the largest amount ever, to Mayo Clinic-Jacksonville and Baptist Medical Center-Beaches. Baptist-Beaches president Joe Mitrick thanked everyone “on behalf of all our patients,” and said the donation would be used to serve patients locally and expand the PET and CAT scan program.

“We’ll likely use it for research,” said Dr. Robert Maxwell, division chairman of breast imaging at Mayo. “On behalf of Mayo we are sincerely thankful for all the support we receive.”

Eagle Scout project… When Boy Scout Troop 288 patrol leader Stephen Turner went looking for an Eagle Scout project, he chose a task that will endure and touches the hearts of special

needs families. Stephen, a senior at Harvest Community School, and his parents Ed and Melissa Turner belong to Redeemer Church at 190 S. Roscoe Blvd., Ponte Vedra, where Stephen is active in the youth group. The idea to build a patio area for the church’s Special Nation ministry for young people with special needs was inspired by his long-time friend Kyla Spaulding, a high school senior, who also is a Redeemer member and ministers with Special Nation.

“Special Nation is our outreach where special needs families can find a place of belonging,” Pastor Sean Yost said. “They are a hidden group, especially in church. The ministry is an attempt to help our typical families become aware of and help special needs families.” Special Nation is made up of as many as 50 families who gather at church Wednesday nights for dinner and classes. They are welcome at Sunday services, but once-a-month they attend a Special Nation service. “Stephen’s Eagle Scout project is another way to bless the church and help members understand and turn their hearts to people with special needs.”

Kyla urged Stephen to create a gathering place in the common area between the Special Nation ministry’s two buildings, one used for Bridgehaven, a school for youngsters with autism and challenges, such as cerebral palsy. Stephen’s project is almost complete. The goal of Eagle Scout projects is to demonstrate leadership, which he did by researching how to build a patio on YouTube, raising money for materials and getting the base donated by Hrustic Bros. and pavers by Tremeron. He recruited troop members, and they have worked hard since September building flower boxes, planting flowers, digging out a grassy area, laying the base and pavers.

“I feel great,” Stephen said. “I’m glad because I’m doing something that means something and will leave a legacy people can add to.” To learn more about Special Nation’s worship service, friend’s group, community dinners and parent support group, go to www.redeemerpv.com/special-nation.