by Gladys Neigel
Sylvia Torres-Thomas, Winter Springs Church member, is one of 18 students to receive University of Central Florida’s (UCF) most prestigious student award—Order of Pegasus.
Sylvia is a Ph.D. candidate in the College of Nursing. She received a Bachelor of Science in nursing from Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Michigan, and a Master of Science in nursing from UCF. She presently serves as vice president of the Organization of Doctoral Students in Nursing and holds memberships in several honor societies.
The Order of Pegasus award honors outstanding academic achievement, university involvement, leadership, and community service. As a doctoral student, Sylvia has participated in National Institute of Health funded research and presented her findings in the area of Hispanic health issues at a national nursing conference in Washington, D.C. Service in the community includes involvement in family and children’s ministries at Winter Springs Church and volunteering as a nurse for Shepherd’s Hope Clinic.
by Melissa Cechota
Keren Taccone, third- and fourth-grade teacher at West Palm Beach Junior Academy (WPBJA), is among 10 teachers in North America selected by the Alumni Awards Foundation (AAF) to receive a 2011 Excellence in Teaching Award. Since 1995, this nonprofit organization has recognized 106 exceptional teachers.
Keren also serves as Special Needs Coordinator for her school in partnership with the Florida Conference Office of Education. In this volunteer position, she assists in regional training by demonstrating effective ways to implement positive learning communities. At WPBJA, she initiated After Glow ministry services and organized the first campus drama team.
Through her dedication and effort, low-achievers and behaviorally challenged children are beginning to meet with success for the first time. “As a teacher, I can be a doctor for the hurting student, a lawyer to plead on their behalf, and a counselor to guide them as they make choices,” says Keren. “This career choice pays in great rewards, as I can impact lives for eternity!”
by Angela Baerg
Sean Lemon, a member of Forest Lake Church, Apopka, dreamed of playing in the National Basketball Association (NBA). He excelled in the sport throughout his high school years at Forest Lake Academy (FLA) where he developed exceptional skills, in part from training with former NBA player Anthony Bowie.
Upon graduation from high school in 2006, Sean took the next step toward achieving his dream—he enrolled at University of Central Florida (UCF) and went to his first basketball tryout, which was held on a Sabbath. During the exercises, Sean broke his ankle, disabling him from completing the tryout.
Discouraged, but determined to try again, he planned for his training to get him back to the same skill level by the same time exactly one year later. Ironically, one month before the second tryout, Sean broke his wrist on his shooting hand in a casual basketball game with friends. “That’s when I realized it wasn’t God’s plan for me to play basketball,” says Sean. “It was my Jonah story. I figured if I didn’t listen, I might get swallowed by a whale!”
With his basketball dream demolished and his grades dwindling to a 1.9 GPA, Sean knew he needed a change, so he followed his high school sweetheart, Jacqueline Soler, to Southern Adventist University in Tennessee. Southern’s environment was different from that of UCF, and Sean initially resented living under Southern’s rules. Four years later, Sean is glad he decided to give them a shot. As a health science major with a 3.34 GPA, he graduated May 1 a different person in many ways from the one he used to be. Sean attributes his turnaround to God’s persistent efforts to pursue him and Southern’s Christian atmosphere of fellowship.
“Now, I appreciate the rules,” he reflects. “I actually feel that having them helped me mature. I’ll probably follow a lot of them for the rest of my life, like having worship every night, going to bed early, and getting things done in a timely manner.”
More than simply following the rules; however, Sean became proactive in pursuing God and helping others. Rather than dreading worships, Sean worked as a resident assistant and often held worships in his room for the dormitory men on his hall.
He also served as vice president of the Wellness Club on campus, organizing activities for college and elementary students, and raising money for charity. He was involved with Flag Camp which connects Southern Adventist University students with local children through football, snacks, and arts and crafts. This past year, Sean received the Student of the Year Award from his department for involvement in both school and community.
Sean’s positive life changes also helped him win over the girl of his dreams. He is engaged to Jacqueline, the high school sweetheart he followed to Tennessee. After graduating, the two returned to their parents’ homes in Florida. Now, they will pursue their masters’ degrees—hers in social work and his in health and business administration and finance. They plan to marry in the summer of 2012.
“God wanted me to be at Southern, though it wasn’t what I wanted at the time,” says Sean. “Before I came to Southern, what I knew about Christ was what I read about Him. Now, I truly understand what He did for me. Being at Southern made me want to live with Christ leading in my life. In any success that I have, I am humbled because it is a testimony to His glory.”
by Martin Butler
Relious Walden fulfilled his military duty with the United States Army in 1949, sold his motorcycle for quick cash, and used the G.I. Bill to enroll at Southern Missionary College (now Southern Adventist University) in Collegedale, Tenn. There, he was attracted to student Beverly Smith as she diligently worked in the school cafeteria. After she transferred to a local business college, their courtship continued to develop. On June 27, 1951, they married in Chattanooga.
Two years later, after Relious graduated with degrees in religion and business, the young couple moved to Nashville to join the work force at Southern Publishing Association. In the 40 years which followed, treasury-related positions for the Adventist Church took Relious to Georgia; Florida; New Jersey; Ohio; Uruguay, South America; Iowa; California; and back to Orlando where he retired in 1993 as treasurer of Florida Conference.
Throughout their marriage, when Beverly wasn’t at home caring for their three children, David, Lisa, and Neal, she served as a secretary in conference offices and as administrative assistant for Glendale, California, City Church and Forest Lake Church in Apopka, Fla.
“Long-time friends we made in all the places we lived have enriched our lives,” say the active Forest Lake Church members. Six grandchildren and twin great-grandsons also bring them additional joy.
by Sandy Doran
Eric Doran, pastor of Kress Memorial Church in Winter Park, recently received his doctor of ministry degree from the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary at Andrews University. Doran’s dissertation focused on the sermons of radio evangelist H.M.S. Richards as a basis for examining the distinct purpose of Seventh-day Adventist preaching.
“This has been a deeply spiritual journey for me,” he says. “I am grateful to Florida Conference for providing this opportunity which has led me to re-examine my preaching in light of the unique message and mission of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.”
Doran received his degree at Pioneer Memorial Church in Berrien Springs, Michigan, on May 1, along with graduates from more than 50 countries.
by Leo Ranzolin
The salvation of young people is still utmost on the minds of former youth directors who met earlier this year for fellowship at Florida Hospital Heartland Medical Center in Sebring. More than twenty retired leaders who gathered for the event have served young people for an average of 30 years. Their love and support for youth ministry is still evident by the reports shared with the group:
Responsibility of Parents
Norm Middag, former North American Division leader, presented a devotional about parents’ responsibilities to guide children’s footsteps.
Reclaiming Alumni Pathfinders
Wayne Hicks, Upper Columbia Conference Pathfinder Director, sent a document that described a plan to reclaim alumni Pathfinders. The proposal received favorable attention.
Young People in Volunteer Army
Les Rilea, National Service Coordinator and Civilian Chaplain for Southern Union Conference, reported on problems facing young people in the United States volunteer army, especially in keeping the Sabbath.
Terry Dodge, President of the Youth/Pathfinder Museum to be established in Battle Creek, Mich., gave a project status report. The hope is to settle soon on property to make this dream a reality.
The next meeting of retired youth leaders will be held in Orlando, February 26, 2012.
by Herb Pritchard
I was there to see Ricky Couch baptized at a special Saturday evening vespers program along with his Ocala Church family. With a love only a mother could display, Karen Couch stepped to the pulpit and read a letter written to her towering 14-year-old son before signing off, “Little Mommy.” My heart burned in this moment that inspired me from head to toe.
As Ricky’s parents, Karen and Rick, stood arm-in-arm, Pastor Dave Swinyar dipped Ricky into the baptismal pool. As he arose, the smile on his face was met with resounding “Amens” from his church family. As an octogenarian in the congregation, I praise God for young people who, with spiritual vision, have pledged themselves for the better things of life, both now and for eternity!
Karen Couch’s Letter to Ricky
January 15, 2011
What a special occasion this is. Nineteen years ago, Daddy and I stood right here and began our life together. Six years later, we stood here and dedicated you to God. Now, 14 years after that, we stand here again to watch as you are baptized.
As a mother, my greatest desire is for you and your brothers to know God and to choose to follow His principles for life. Today is not so much a new beginning for you, but a continuation of what has been growing in you since you were a little boy. You have always had a heart for God, and it has been a joy to watch you grow and mature in your relationship with Him.
I know from your studying of the Bible that you believe God is love, and everything He does is because He is love. I am glad you are learning to think for yourself and that you understand God wants us to reason and think things through for ourselves rather than just accept what someone tells us to be truth. Be settled in the truth you know, but never be satisfied that you know all truth. God is infinite, so our knowledge and understanding of Him will always be growing. How you know Him today is only one point on a line that will continue for eternity. Always be willing to learn and grow as the Holy Spirit leads you.
As you stand in the water this evening, I will be standing here with you, not only to support you in your decision to allow God to do His transforming work in you, but also to reaffirm my own decision.
Well, I can’t believe it has been almost 15 years since I first held you in my arms. A huge, tiny little baby, and now you are taller than me. How did we get this far so fast?! I enjoy our talks and conversations. You have some deep insights into things and I learn from you. I love when you make me laugh. I am proud of you, and I look forward to seeing what else God has in store for you.
I love you with all my heart,
Your “Little Mommy”
by Amanda Martin
Adventist Contact was designed to introduce compatible and single Seventh-day Adventists. The need for this service arose from the number of men and women who were marrying outside of the Church and leaving their Adventist heritage.
In 1974, Adventist Contact was a new, innovative instrument to introduce couples who would not have ordinarily met. Since its inception, hundreds of individuals have married and found happiness as husbands and wives—some of whom in their eighties and nineties. Such is the story of Ron Bryant and Claire Breaux, the third couple to meet and marry through Adventist Contact.
Ron lived in Michigan and Claire lived in Louisiana. Ron didn’t know what a Cajun was, and Claire didn’t like cold weather, so only God could have brought them together. They were introduced through Adventist Contact, and its comprehensive profile helped them get better acquainted before meeting in early 1975. They married in August the same year.
Today, as Ron and Claire give back to God by attending and volunteering at Forest Lake Church, Apopka, Fla., they look back with no regrets for their prayerful decisions to join Adventist Contact. They are strong advocates for this matching ministry which serves only unmarried Seventh-day Adventists age 18 and older.
Adventist Contact information can be found at www.adventistcontact.com
by Carole Seifert
Blair and Verona Seifert celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary in Avon Park, Fla. They met in 1936 while working at Hinsdale Hospital, Hinsdale, Ill. and were married there on March 13, 1941.
After a term in the service of his country, Blair began a nursing course at Glendale Adventist Medical Center, Calif., and finished it at Paradise Valley Hospital, National City, Calif., in 1950. He then completed nurse anesthetist training in 1952, at Madison Hospital, Tenn.
Blair worked as a Nurse Anesthetist in Aurora, Ill. until 1972, and then at Walker Memorial Hospital, Avon Park, Fla., as a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist until his retirement in 1982. Verona spent her time raising their two children while working part time.
Blair and Verona have enjoyed many trips and cruises, as well as time with their family: daughter, Julie, is retired and lives in Lakeland; son, Thomas, a dentist, lives in Avon Park; four grandchildren; and two great grandchildren.
by Jossette Sookie
Olive Este, at 107, is the oldest member of the Northwest Dade, Fla., congregation. She was born March 28, 1904.
When paying Este a visit, the first thing she will say to you is, “I’m deaf and dumb.” It is true she can no longer hear very well, and her eyesight is also failing, but she continues to have a kind and indomitable spirit. At her age, she still makes her famous and delicious fruitcake for church potlucks.
“I’ve known her for most of my life,” says Jossette Sookie, friend and fellow church member. “Every encounter has been a positive experience. She has always lifted my spirits with just the power of her smile. We have had many conversations over the years, and these are the lessons I have learned from Sister Este:
- Love deeply. Loving God, family, and those around you is everything. Nothing matters as much.
- Have faith in God. When her son was dying, she poured out her heart to God the night before his surgery, then went to bed, and slept soundly knowing she had left her son’s life in God’s capable hands.
- No matter what, smile. Be a positive force in this world; it’s what Jesus would do.
- Be a friend. Everyone needs someone, sometime. Befriend someone, think about others. The best way to avoid depression is by helping someone else.
“My goal in life is not to live to 107, but rather to have a good spirit and a kind and loving heart as Sister Este has modeled throughout my life. She has also been a wonderful example to her church family of what it means to live a Christ-like life.”