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Noel Patterson shifts focus from wine to honey

Bees at Dos Manos Apiaries (2)

Just some of the workers at Dos Manos Apiaries.

“2 years ago, if you’d said I’d become a beekeeper, I’d call you bonkers,” Noel Patterson says.

Noel had sold wines for 15 years. He loved the friendships he’d made with restaurateurs and the fun of tasting and talking about wines.

Noel Patterson at Dos Manos (1)

Noel Patterson at his organic farm.

In 2008, his then girlfriend, an organic farmer, built him a bee hive (a wooden box with frames hanging inside) for a birthday present. His reaction? “This is crazy. I live in the middle of downtown Tucson across from the high school football stadium. I have no idea what to do with this thing. But I had to be a good boyfriend, so I learned.”

It helped that his girlfriend had also found him a mentor to teach him the basics and “bail me out of trouble.”

Noel says, “It was 3 years before I figured out what I was doing.” Once he did, he began showing his honey to restaurant contacts. One of them, who had a restaurant in the historic 4th Avenue district, had kumquat and lemon trees in his yard. He tasted Noel’s honey and said, ‘This is fabulous. Let’s put it on the menu.’”

Noel reminded him he only had one hive; the honey would run out in a few weeks.

“He wouldn’t take no for an answer. The next season he said: What do I have to do to get you to sell me?”

It would cost $300 to build a second, Noel said, if he built it himself. His client wrote him a check. Word spread. 48 hours later, another restaurant owner called. “I hear you’re selling Peter honey. I want in.” In the next couple of months, 11 more calls.

Before he knew it, Noel had 6 six aviaries (bee yards), about 25 hives, 11 sponsors, and was producing about 550 lbs. a year. He bottled honey for clients and printed their names on the label. He charged restaurants his costs, and continued supporting himself selling wine.

Two years ago, he received a call from Miraval—the luxury spa my daughters-in-law and I visit each year. Miraval was creating a sustainability committee; would Noel advise them? “I figured it was a temporary whim; they didn’t really mean it. But I was wrong. Miraval’s very mindful. I met with them for 2 hours and came away with a plan to put a few hives on their property.”

Logo of Dos Manos Apiaries (1)

Click on the logo to visit the Facebook page.

Months later, Noel became Miravai’s resident beekeeper and began conducting programs. He teaches classes to Miraval guests and escorts students in beekeeper suits to tastings of honey right from the hive. Honey flavor depends on where bees get nectar. Apple tree honey tastes different than strawberry plant honey. “Honey has a sense of place,” Noel says. Honey from a hive in his backyard tastes different than honey from his friend’s yard a mile away.

After taking Noel’s class, I have new respect for honey bees. They enter and leave the hive through a hole in a bottom board and fly up to 3 miles. They bring a drop of nectar back to the hive, put it into a cell and fan it until it’s dry. If the comb is full, bees have a gland in their abdomens that makes wax to start another comb.

How’s your sense of direction? (Mine’s not so hot, though I always manage to find my way to Neiman Marcus.) Bees excel at directions. Scout bees clue hive mates into their latest discovery by performing a “waggle” dance. The dance indicates the direction and distance to a new food source. If a bee dances up or down the honey comb, she shows the angle toward or away from the sun. How much time she waggles tells the distance of the food source. If she buzzes loudly and excitedly, other bees know she’s found a bonanza. (Anyone want to waggle with me?)

Of about 4000 species of bees, honey bees are most susceptible to parasitic mites that spread diseases. Conventional beekeeping is chemically intensive. Noel raises his honey bees organically, which he thinks makes them better able to recover when sick.

The queen bee mates once in her life but lays thousands of eggs every day. She is “the reproductive organ” of the colony. When she starts to fail, the worker bees choose another queen.

Noel now has 74 hives (soon to be 130) in 8 locations around Tucson. Consuming honey, he says, has cleared up his allergies. Though he’s been stung many hundreds of times, it’s a price he’s willing to pay. His advice to honey lovers: Buy local. Look for raw honey. If it crystallizes, eat it in that form. Heating honey, he says, destroys its “nuanced flavors.”

Thanks, Noel, for a fascinating peek into one of nature’s sweetest phenomena.

Lynn Buehler’s late father leaves a lasting imprint…on her noggin

Six Wilson siblings

The Wilson siblings, from left on top Bruce and Tom; middle Mark, Carolyn and Lynn; front Jeff.

“Growing up in a large family had advantages and disadvantages,” Lynn says. “The advantage was having built-in friends and partners in crime. The disadvantage was constant chaos.” Lynn and her siblings numbered 6. 10 years separated the oldest from the youngest. The family lived in a 3-bedroom house in Ecorse, MI.

Lynn calls her mom “the no nonsense parent;” her dad, Bill Wilson, “the cool parent.” When her dad disciplined them (read: her 4 brothers), “We knew he meant business. But we also knew some sort of chuckle would come later.” Her dad had a favorite expression: “Clunks for you.” It was a figure of speech meaning a “flick on the noggin.” He was famous for saying it, though Lynn never saw him deliver one.

Dad.Lynn.Wedding

Lynn, left, with her father in 2010

Lynn calls her late father “a kid magnet.” He was a pal to all the kids In the neighborhood. They called him “Mr. Bill” and loved his slapstick sense of humor. Lynn recalls Christmas eves, spying on her father and his best friend trying to put together toys for her younger siblings, cracking up on discovering missing parts. Bill was a businessman. He sold insurance, “so he could enjoy his real job: devoting himself to kids.”

Bill played baseball, football and hockey. Above all, he loved golf and earned a respectable 14 handicap. As his kids grew older, Bill coached little league, hockey and crew. He served on the Recreation Commission, which oversaw sports programming for kids. “One of my parents came to every tennis tournament of mine, swim meet or softball game of my sisters, baseball game and regatta of my brothers, and even hockey all winter long,“ Lynn says.

Bill was a “fierce competitor and insisted we be the same.” Lynn’s brothers Tom and Mark played college hockey; Jeff played high school hockey. Lynn played college tennis; her sister Carolyn swam and played softball in high school. Brother Bruce was an “amazing” bowler. “Quitting was not an option. We were in it to win it.”

Lynn says, “I have natural ability for many sports, but golf isn’t one of them. I love it, so I persist. But It’s humbling.”

Recently, just a couple of days before the one-year anniversary of Bill’s death, Lynn was playing golf with some folks from her Oakland University alumni association. She was on the 10th hole. “It wasn’t one of my better days on the golf course. I wanted to give up after nine, but I didn’t. Everyone was hitting well except for me.” She decided to grab an 8 iron. When she returned to the cart to get it, she banged her head on the roof hard enough to produce an instant goose egg.

“At that moment, I heard my dad saying, ‘Clunks to you. Now go out there and show them you can do it!’ That was my dad, reaching beyond the grave to tell me to hang tough.”

Lynn did play better on the back nine. She was glad she’d listened to her father and hadn’t quit.

I met Lynn when she was the uber capable and compassionate concierge at Karmanos Cancer Institute and I was a freaked out patient. We’ve been dear friends ever since. If you read GODSIGNS, my memoir of recovery from stage 4 cancer, you may remember Lynn—a hero of my saga. Lynn now lives near me in Florida. She’s program director for Compeer, a remarkable organization that teams mentally challenged people with mentally stable mentors.

Lynn today

Lynn today

On the one-year anniversary of her father’s death, Lynn wrote this to me: “In the few days before my father died, he was in great spirits. He told me how proud he was of me and that he thought he had the two most beautiful daughters. At age 87, my father packed the funeral home for his service, all seats occupied by every available boy or girl he coached over a lifetime. I sure do miss him. As he got older, his hearing was so impaired it became difficult for him to participate in conversation. But we simply adjusted and wrote on a white board. Now he’s communicating in a different way, and we hear him.”

Thanks, Lynn, for this delightful remembrance. Keep listening.

(Readers: Do have words of wisdom from your parents? Thoughts that keep you going? Please write them in the comment/reply section of this post. I look forward to hearing from you.)

A mutual love of birds helps Wendy Palmer’s late dad let her know he’s still in her corner

Wendy Palmer dancing with her father

Wendy Palmer dancing with her father.

Leonard Allen wanted to be a surgeon. Shot with a beebee gun at 11, he was left with a blind eye. Instead, he became a pharmacist—which fortuitously led to my friend Wendy’s appearance on earth.

After several years of dementia, Leonard died in August, 2017. His death involved a series of avian Godsigns. But first, the back story…

Len served in the Korean War. He helped create the army’s first mobile dental unit to aid soldiers in the field. Returning home, he opened his first pharmacy, a Rexall, in Taylor, MI.

Len met wife Karen when she was shopping for cold medicine for one of her kids. Karen, a single mom, worked as a receptionist in a doctor’s office to support a son and 2 daughters. Len adopted Karen’s 3 kids, and the couple had 3 more. My pal Wendy was #5.

Len named Wendy for the character in Peter Pan. Wendy appropriately grew up a tomboy. The family led “fun and active” lives, Wendy says. They went to the beach at Boblo Island, to Tigers baseball and U of M football games. (Len was a Wolverine. Go Blue.) Wendy turkey hunted with her dad. He taught her to identify birds. She helped him in the vegetable garden. Wendy decided to build her own tree house, 20 ft. up, and soon fell out. In a body cast for months, she “never got chastised.”

Len opened a second Rexall store in Taylor. At about 12, Wendy began working part time behind the pharmacy counter. She recalls a male customer asking if they carried prophylactics. Not knowing the word, she yelled at her father, “Dad, do we carry prophylactics?” The quick disappearance of her customer and tittering of others clued her in to her indiscretion.

Len and Karen put all 6 kids through college. Sadly, Karen died at 61. Wendy grew up, became a business exec, and married Burton’s and my friend Ron. They live in Grosse Isle, MI, and raised twin boys. After Wendy’s mom died, the Palmers invited Len to travel with their family. Wendy and her dad became even closer on boat trips to the Exumas and Abacos islands in the Bahamas and one from New York to Maine. Len spent winters at Ocean Reef in Key Largo, FL, to be near Wendy and her family.

On one trip, Ron insisted on having a sketch made of Wendy. Reluctant to display it in her house, she gave it to her dad. He hung it in a place of honor. Whenever Wendy visited, her dad pointed to the portrait and said, “That’s my girl.”

In later years, Len developed dementia. “He knew he was declining, but never complained,” Wendy says. “He was happy. Until the last month when he no longer recognized us, he always told us he loved us and appreciated everything we did for him.”

Wendy visited Len twice on what would be the last day of his life. His breathing was labored; he had stopped eating. After dinner that evening, Wendy felt “agitated.” She decided to visit her father for a third time.

“I wanted to have one last drink with my dad,” she says. She and Len had often enjoyed Hummers together. (Rum, Kahlua and ice cream; created in Detroit at the Bayview Yacht Club. Yum.) She mixed a pitcher full and took it to the convalescent home. Len’s eyes were closed; he could no longer speak. Swabbing the drink on her father’s lips, Wendy “downed a large one.” As she was leaving, her father opened his eyes and looked at her. He died later that night.

After, some events convinced Wendy her father’s spirit was around…

Inheriting a love of birds from her dad, Wendy had filled hummingbird feeders for the past 2 years. No takers. Back home, Wendy still felt “unsettled.” She walked outside on the deck. There, having just shared hummers with her dad, she noticed movement between her flower pots. In full moonlight, she saw 1, then 2, then 3 hummingbirds flitting from one blossom to the next.

Soon after, following dinner with friends, 3 crystal glasses sat on the Palmers’ kitchen counter, waiting to be hand-washed. The next day, a cleaning lady broke one of the glasses. The glasses were etched with birds. Wendy was on the phone, planning her father’s funeral. Ron sat at a desk paying bills, using envelopes Wendy had provided long before. For the past 6 years, Wendy had been missing a diamond ring. Seconds after the glass broke, Ron picked up an envelope. The long-sought ring popped out.

Wendy says, “The hummers, the hummingbirds, the glass, the ring—I knew my father was there, and looking out for me, letting me know he still loved me and always would.”

Thanks, Wendy, for sharing your father with us. And R.I.P., Leonard, for a life well lived.

Leonard Allen

April Glasco shares hard earned lessons with others

April Glasco of Second Chance Last Opportunity in Florida

April Glasco

April survived hell and back. Instead of being embittered, she uses her experience to help others in Newtown, a low income neighborhood in Sarasota, FL.

At 18, April married a man who began abusing her. She knew she needed to leave. With 4 children, she lacked the courage and means. “Every time I brought up leaving things got worse,” she says. She worked 2 jobs while husband Lynn baby sat and took college courses.

Finally divorcing husband #1, April married again. She thought James was everything she wanted. “I was looking for love in all the wrong places,” she says. “The first year, he threatened to kill me.” #2 abused not only her, but her 4 children as well. She says, “I needed a plan.”

April saw an ad in the newspaper. Bold, black letters read: SELF DEFENSE. The ad promoted a job training academy in nearby Manatee County, FL. April enrolled. 2 years later, as a deputy sheriff, she got to know her fellow officers. They helped her to escape. SPARCC, a Sarasota rape and crisis center, helped her slap an injunction on her husband. James was arrested.

Studying for a certificate in mental health, April realized her husband’s behaviors were typical of a substance abuser. “As I learned about his addictions, he got meaner. He belittled me.” He quit his job and changed her life insurance policy to become the beneficiary. He took his girlfriend on vacation.

By the time she left #2, she’d been married for 19 years. She weighed over 260 lbs. “I was so broken.” She and her daughters moved into a small apartment.

April’s husband had beaten her so badly that she was rushed to the hospital, hemorrhaging blood. Surviving that crisis was, she says, her “second chance.” In the hospital, she dreamed about starting a program to help young women avoid the problems she’d faced. She told her father, a minister, about her dream. He said he’d had a similar dream in which she started a program called Last Opportunity.

She started taking care of herself. She began to exercise and focus on school. “I wanted to inspire my daughters to never give up. Going through all I did made me a stronger person.”

April Glasco's daughters from left Sianda, Sha-Quess, Sherrin and Sherral Mapps

April Glasco’s daughters: From left Sianda, Sha-Quess, Sherrin and Sherral Mapps

April and her daughters moved to community housing, in an apartment with no furniture. She decided to reach out to young women. It was 1992. April started inviting her daughters’ friends to their home, providing pizza, talking about HIV and how to protect themselves. Word of her informal ministry spread. Others came. “Some were high or drunk. Some were teen moms. Some were poor or homeless. I talked about making better choices, staying in school.” As a girl, April had sung in the church choir and elsewhere. She ended every session at her home with singing. The girls she worked with called themselves “the positive teens.” They began receiving invitations to sing. By the end of the first year, April had counseled about 350 girls and boys, ages 11 to 16.

April says, “I realized the purpose of going through what I did—domestic violence, homelessness, unhealthy relationships—was so I could help others.” She also became an ordained minister and an HIV-outreach counselor. “I couldn’t give up on a community that needed my help.” She determined to expand her programs and to give them a real home. To finance her dream, she worked as a certified nursing associate and a clerk at Family Dollar. She wrote grants and solicited donations and managed to buy a 900-square-foot building on Martin Luther King Blvd. in Sarasota. She recruited volunteers. “We have a building that’s paid for. It’s full of people with big hearts.”

April’s non-profit, Second Chance Last Opportunity or SCLO, is named for her close health call and her father’s dream. SCLO still operates today out of the building she scraped to buy. She and about 45 volunteers run classes on parenting and other life skills. Their mission statement: “To serve as a gateway to hope for individuals who want to change their lives for the better.”

There’s a Sisters Circle of women 15-36, some of whom have lost children. “They support each other in becoming stronger women.” SCLO offers one-on-one mental health counseling. “A lot of people don’t even know they have a disorder.” Her clients are mostly Caucasian and Hispanic, though many are African-American.

April started out with an empty building, with no furniture or sign. She noticed a girl walking up and down the street, holding a crying baby. April asked if she needed help. She learned her “first client,” Candace, was 13 with a wet and hungry baby. Candace had a check from a summer job but didn’t know how to cash it. April took her to the local bank and sought out the president. Using the girl’s school i.d., they set up an account. Candace used her pay to buy milk for her baby. “Today she’s married and pregnant with her 6th baby—her mom had 9—and independent.”

April’s especially proud of her “positive teens.” She says, “Today they’re working. They dress appropriately. They’ll stop by the office and say, ‘Hi, Mom.’” And of a young man named Jason. When they met, he was 15, homeless, “living place to place.” His mother had died from cancer; his father was in prison for drug dealing. He attended a Positive Teen class, twice. Now he’s 36, living on his own with a job in marketing and a “stable life. He didn’t end up like his dad.”

April has won several awards for the work she does from organizations including Girls, Inc. In 2014, she was named one of the Amazing Women of the Suncoast by WWSB-TV.

April’s daughters are all adults and certified nursing assistants. One is also a registered nurse. They’re all also certified security officers and certified HIV outreach workers. “They put themselves through school,” their proud mother says. “I helped with whatever I could.” Like their mom, the Mapps girls are singers. Youngest daughter Sha-Quess, who graduates from Hillsboro Community College in June, has been invited back for her 3rd audition on “The Voice.”

My neighbor Kim Cornetet has known April for 20 years. “I admire how April helps women escape abusive relationships by turning to God,” Kim says. “I’ve seen her pull herself up and put herself through school and devote herself to her community. I’m amazed at how far she’s come.” April calls Kim when she’s “in a pinch.” April decided to take a group of women in their 40s and 50s to a women’s leadership conference in Orlando. Some of them had never before left Sarasota. April raised all the money except for $100 for gas in the van. “She called me for $100,” Kim says. “She could have asked for more.”

Kim hosts an annual celebration at Laurel Oak CC in Sarasota for April and her volunteers. Last year, about 100 attended. This year’s party, with dancing and a DJ, will be on May 20.
* * *
(Thanks, April, for sharing your remarkable story and for the equally remarkable work you do. Thanks, Kim, for the input. Thanks, Linda Salisbury, for introducing me to April.)

April Glasco at her Second Chance Last Opportunity in Florida

Kate Carter creates lasting memories for dying people

Kate Carter behind her camera

In 1998, Kate’s best friend Tairi was dealing with breast cancer. Tairi’s husband had recently died of ALS. They had young children. Kate says, “I sat around crying, wondering how I could help.”

Kate ran a medical transcription business in Santa Barbara, CA. She began thinking there was “something more meaningful” she was meant to do. Waiting for that something to appear, she signed up for a TV production class.

Soon after, she called Tairi and asked: What do you want your kids to know? She volunteered to film Tairi talking to them. “At first she was excited. But months went by. Facing her mortality became too frightening.”

Even though Tairi died before doing a video, Kate thought others would appreciate the chance. “I knew I had a really good idea. I was terrified I didn’t have what it takes.”

Kate’s inability to help Tairi taught her a lesson. “I learned to start with a conversation that said: This isn’t about giving up. It’s about taking care of business. Knowing it’s done will provide peace of mind—even if you live to 90.”

Kate shared her idea with Gail Rink, who ran the Santa Barbara Hospice. Gail said, “In my years of doing this work, I’m not sure I’ve met anyone else who’d be ready to do something so tough.”

Another friend had acquired 501C3 status for a foundation that didn’t go forward. She offered the charitable designation to Kate, who jumped at it. She decided to focus on seniors and seriously ill patients.

Kate Carter interviewing a client

Kate Carter interviewing a man to capture his story for his family.

Kate’s new mission began slowly—2 or 3 videos the first couple of years. Demand grew. Now, 19 years later, through her non-profit LifeChronicles, Kate has created over 1,500 videos. She’s worked in 40 states and 287 cities, plus Canada and the UK. Friends and/or supporters often donate frequent flier miles or money for last minute flights. When traveling, Kate may sleep on subjects’ sofas or in their kids’ bedrooms.

Health care organizations including Boston’s Dana Farber and Presbyterian Hospital in Queens, NY, have reached out for training so they can provide LifeChronicles services to families.

The video experience is, Kate says, “more than I expected. At first I thought it was about telling stories. I didn’t realize the therapeutic value for families. Some things need to be said. Families have a chance to resolve issues and tie up loose ends.”

Kate enters each filming without a set of questions and with no preconceived ideas. Each situation is different. Kate’s staff and volunteers do their own post-production work. “Anyone can operate a camera with today’s equipment. Our value is our ability to facilitate families. We enter into highly charged situations and walk families through a process that’s unique to them.”

Kate often works with dying young parents. LifeChronicles videos help ease the fears of young children worried about permanent separation from their parents. She photographs parents and children together, as a family, and one on one. “A child who sees herself on camera with her mother not only remembers her mother. She remembers how felt to be with her mother.”

Last November, just before Thanksgiving, Kate received a call from a young mother of boys 5 and 2. She was referred by Dana Farber where her husband was being treated for pancreatic cancer. Kate recalls, “I asked: Could we wait until Sunday? She started crying. OK, I said. I’ll be there tomorrow.”

Kate arrived at their home on Thanksgiving. The 5 year old was wearing a Batman costume. On camera, Kate asked, “What’s it like to be Batman?”

“It’s hahd.” (Kate mimics his Boston accent.) “It takes special training.”

Kate asked about his father.

“Daddy has a bad tummy ache. I have his special medicine in the bat cave.”

“What does your daddy do?”

“Daddy cleans the oceans. Daddy likes to help people.” (He worked for the EPA.)

His father limped into the next room and lay down under a blanket. Following the filming, the family insisted Kate stay for dinner, from Boston Market. After, as Kate got into the car, the mother grabbed her in a hug. She said, “I hardly know you, but I love you.”

Batman’s daddy died 4 days later.

Another time Kate filmed a very sick 34 year old mother of 4 girls. First, with her husband and children, then with her parents. The dying patient turned to her mother. “Gently but firmly, she said, ‘I need you to be different with my girls than you were with me. I need you to be kinder.’”

On that occasion, Kate was accompanied by a volunteer—a professional psychologist. After, Kate and the psychologist talked about the woman’s request to her mother. The psychologist said, “Whether or not their grandmother is any kinder to them, those girls will know their mom went to bat for them.”

Raven, a 28 year old woman with ALS, was the mother of a daughter, 2. While a doctor from Johns Hopkins ran a second camera, a social worker wiped away the patient’s tears as she labored to speak. She was so ill she needed a ventilator to force air into her lungs; she exhaled on her own. Kate wondered how to turn this sad filming around. She asked, “At this time, what gives you joy?” The mom answered, “My daughter gives me joy,” and she spoke about her love for her.

A week later, Raven’s husband called. 5 days after the filming, Raven died. Her mother was “ecstatic” to learn about the video.

Kate regards her work as about more than leaving a legacy. “It’s about the courage of people facing their own mortality who want their loved ones to have these memories when they’re gone.” She sees her involvement as “walking into holy ground.”

Kate’s creating a website, LifeSpace, to catalogue videos by the human values they represent, such as overcoming adversity. She hopes the website becomes an academic resource. Almost all subjects have agreed to be included. “Most people want their lives to have had meaning and to benefit others after they’re gone.”

Kate, who turns 65 next month, has learned lessons from the families she’s filmed. “Laugh every moment you can. Don’t take anything for granted. Life is fragile and precious. What matters most is the connections between us.”

Kate has 3 children. Husband Russell Carter is an artist who reproduces masterpieces and also creates original paintings. Kate’s passion for her work means the family sometimes goes without vacations or Christmas presents. “And I’ve taken out a loan on our house. But the sacrifices are worth it.”

In the for-profit world, Kate says, a video would cost $3500. LifeChronicles asks subjects to pay whatever part of $3500 they can. Some pay more to support the cause. Others, far less.

At one fundraiser Kate conducted in a mall, a lady came up to her. “You taped my husband five years ago,” the lady said. (Kate recalls, “She had a TV and a couch in the living room, and that was it.”) The lady said she and her children watch that video every year on her late husband’s birthday. She insisted on giving Kate $25.

Having struggled with serious health challenges, Kate has faced her own mortality. “I have no fear of dying,” she says. “I can be with a dying person and not be devastated because I know he or she won’t really be dead. I believe only our body dies; our spirit lives forever.”
* * *

(Thanks, Kate, for sharing your story, and for the brave and selfless work you do. Thanks, Anne Towbes, for introducing us.)

Marti Huizenga shared her wealth and her spirit with others

Marti Huizenga at left at a fundraiser for the Humane Society (1)

CLASSIC POSE OF A GIVER: Throughout her life, Marti Huizenga (at left) found herself sprinkled across the pages of newspapers and magazines with “giant checks” as a public way to bring attention to her philanthropic causes. In this photo, she’s part of a major donation to a Humane Society affiliate.

Marti squeezed every last drop out of her 74 years. Her motto, according to mutual friend Patty Chaplin: “What fun is it to have money if you can’t share it?”

And share it she did. She had a close circle of friends who sailed the world with her on her yacht and circled it on her plane. As Patty puts it, “She fulfilled all of our bucket lists.”

I met Marti 3 years ago when Patty and I attended a luncheon/fashion show benefit for Tampa’s Moffitt Cancer Hospital. The event was held in a tent erected on a tarmac of the Sarasota Airport. Patty and I were seated at Marti’s table before she arrived. Suddenly we heard the sound of an airplane engine. We watched a jet taxi to within several yards of the tent. Marti and a small group of friends and family descended the steps and walked to the tent. She was friendly and unassuming, dressed no more nicely, nor more bejeweled, than the rest of us. If I hadn’t known who she was or seen her disembark, I’d never have guessed she was one of the country’s wealthiest women. Nor would I have known she was suffering from what would be terminal cancer.

Hearing about Marti’s recent funeral, which she planned, I had to share her burial with Godsigns readers. But first, a little more about Marti…

Marti’s husband of 45 years, Wayne Huizenga launched 3 Fortune 500 companies: Waste Management, Blockbuster Entertainment and AutoNation. He also owned the Miami Dolphins (football), the Miami Marlins (baseball) and the Florida Panthers (hockey). The Huizengas had one box for family and one for friends in each stadium.

Marti and Wayne Huizenga talk about the year of the rat craze

Marti and her husband Wayne talk with reporters about the year of the Rat craze.

Marti loved watching their teams play. In 1996, the Year of the Rat, the Panthers competed for the Stanley Cup Finals. (They lost to the Colorado Avalanche.) During the game, fans celebrated goals by throwing plastic rats onto the ice. Marti brought bags full of rats and heaved them with glee. She hosted luncheons at her home for players and staff and cooked and baked herself. Once a friend’s son wore a Jets t-shirt to a Dolphins game. “Marti had a fit,” Patty says.

Marti was as generous to organizations as she was to friends. Her philanthropic passions were “kids, critters and cancer.” The Huizengas gave millions to the Humane Society, the Boys & Girls Club, Moffitt Hospital and many other causes. Marti put in countless hours of personal time as well.

Marti loved adventure. For one birthday, she flew in an F-18 fighter jet and landed on an aircraft carrier. After watching a TV special on the migration of polar bears, she arranged for 25 friends and family members to fly to Churchill, Canada, to witness it.

Marti often took a small circle of friends on travel excursions aboard their yacht (the 229 ft. Floridian formerly belonged to Greg Norman) or 737 jet plane.

Marti Huizenga (right) with Patti (1)

Marti (at right) with Patty.

At one point, she asked Patty, “Where else would you like to go?”

Patty said “Venice.”

Marti said, “Let’s go.”

2 years ago, when she still felt well enough, Marti took her girlfriends on a mystery trip. It would be their last. Screens on the plane were covered; window shades drawn. They landed at Teeterboro and rode to New York City where they enjoyed front row seats to “Book of Morman” and “Warhorse.” Designers welcomed them to their showrooms for private fashion shows. As always, the best wines flowed.

Several years back, Patty’s husband Lee’s family was badly injured in a car crash while on vacation. They were immobilized with multiple casts, braces and rods. Unasked, the Huizengas flew them all home from the hospital.

Marti loved giving gifts. Patty, who graduated from the U. of Florida, is a devoted Gators fan. Marti sent her gators in every form, including an enormous gator-shaped table and chairs. A devout Catholic, Marti sent a last gift to Patty a few weeks before she died. It was a leather-bound daily devotional, Jesus Calling, signed “to my true and dear friend.”

It was quite a life for a small town girl from Florida who once swam for tourists as a mermaid in Weeki Wachee Springs.

And now for Marti’s unexpected burial…

Her funeral was followed by a larger celebration of life. Her small funeral was by invitation only. It was attended by family, close friends, staff and several EMT firemen Marti had hired to take care of Wayne, who’s also been ill. Marti, who traveled the world in such style, chose a simpler way to travel to her final resting place–a plain pine casket. Mourners were given colorful Magic Marker pens with which to sign the casket with their names and a message. And so to accompany her to eternity.

Patty signed with the nickname Marti gave her. “Always in my heart. Pattycakes.”

(Thanks, Patty, for sharing your remarkable friend with Godsigns readers. What a finale.)

Marti Huizenga (1)

After much uncertainty, Stephanie Weil will soon become a farmer

Stephanie and Dan Weil sampling the ripeness of wheat by tasting it

Daniel Weil shows his daughter Stephanie how to test the maturity of wheat by picking and tasting a bit of the crop.

Like many young people, Stephanie couldn’t decide what she wanted to do when she grew up. As a little girl, she wanted to be a farmer. Her grandparents had started Weil Dairy Farm in 1951. Later, Stephanie’s father, Dan, joined in the family business along with his wife and Stephanie’s mother: Shauna. But, for years, it was not clear if there would be a third generation of Weil farmers.

Stephanie says at 5 or 6, she was “a natural farm kid. I loved working beside my dad, helping him milk and feed the cows.”

As Stephanie grew older, the dream faded. In middle and high school, she fancied music. She took piano and percussion lessons and sang in the church choir. She was busy, and as for the farm? “Dad didn’t really need my help.” Her 2 older brothers were more likely to spend time working on the farm.

As her brothers grew older, however, neither chose farming as a career. Nick Weil works at Michigan State University in geo-spatial analysis used in map making. Brother Drew is at UCLA on a fellowship in health care administration. The family farm looked as though there’d be no more family to run it after Dan and Shauna retired.

In middle school, Steph wanted to become a graphic designer. Later, working on the high school yearbook, she decided she wasn’t creative enough. In 11th grade, she held an internship with an occupational therapist. That didn’t suit her either. “It was unsettling not knowing what I wanted.” As a senior, she got the go ahead to intern with her dad. The next summer, her dad suggested she haul wagons of haylage, a form of feed for the cows. “I loved it. I couldn’t get enough of it. But I still didn’t think I could be a farmer.”

Stephanie Weil with Cow 288In college, she began to wonder if agriculture wasn’t her destiny after all. “I was nervous about it,” she says. “There’s so much you have to know, both about technology and how to work with animals.” Nevertheless, she dove in and is now almost finished with her ag studies at MSU.

For instance? “The use of precision ag. We plant every field with variable-rate seeding. We take into account 5 years of previous yields from our fields, as well as soil types. We plant higher rates of seed in areas that will have a higher yield and lower rates in poorer areas.” Before adopting precision ag, she says, they planted one rate across an entire field.

Now, they use the same approach for applying nitrogen to corn and when spraying herbicides. The result? “We better manage our applications and support environmental stewardship.”

Stephanie has worked full time on the farm the last 3 summers. “I love being outside with our animals, and seeing the sunrise, and working with my dad. After that first summer, I was pretty sure I wanted to be a farmer.”

Weil Dairy Farm is in Goodrich, MI, about an hour north of Detroit. The only dairy farm in town, Weil has 190 dairy cows and about 500 cattle in all, including calves. Male calves are kept for beef; females for milking. Alfalfa, soybeans, corn and wheat—much of it to feed their livestock—are grown on farmland of about 1200 acres.

Having recently watched “Charlotte’s Web” with my grandchildren, I wonder if Stephanie ever becomes attached to their animals. “Our oldest cow was 11. I celebrated her birthday with her. I made her a ‘cake’ of her favorite feed ingredients and served it to her on a bucket lid and wished her happy birthday. I was sad when she got shipped. But it had to happen. It’s part of the cycle.”

Stephanie, an animal lover, would like to eventually take over the cow side of the farming operation and free up her dad, now 57, to concentrate on crops. Stephanie hopes to someday be able to afford a system of robots. Presently, cows are milked by farm workers using standard milking equipment, twice a day, at 5am and 4pm. Each session takes about 4 hours, including time to clean equipment and clear the manure. The process could be done by robots, she says—but at a cost for the equipment of about $1 million.

Stephanie Weil's childhood books

The books Stephanie created in elementary school. Click the photo to see it in a larger format.

While thinking about her future, Stephanie had “many” talks with her mom, whose support encouraged her. Her decision was further reinforced by a discovery she made on her mother’s bookshelf. She came across 5 little books she’d created as an elementary school student. Printed in the school’s publishing center, the books contain Stephanie’s illustrations and stories about her dream of someday becoming a farmer.

Stephanie Weil's Facebook post about her vocationWomen comprise a growing minority in farming. In 2007, women were 30% of the 3.3 million farm operators in the U.S., according to a government survey. That was up 19% from 2002, significantly beating the 7% increase in overall number of farmers.

Now 21, Stephanie graduates in May. About her decision to join her father, she says, “I think my brothers are excited for me. They’re happy there’ll be a farm to come home to.” Her grandmother, 89, still lives on the farm. “My grandma’s the most proud. She brags to everyone that the farm’s going into its 3rd generation.”

Thanks, David Crumm, for introducing me to your niece. Thanks, Stephanie, for sharing your story. May your cows’ udders runneth over and your fields abound.