In The News: Allegations Of Gov. Rick Scott, Missing Person’s Car Found, Kentucky Teen Charged With Rape, SkyMall Files Bankruptcy, House Proposes Shrinking Fed Workforce

By on January 23rd, 2015 | Last updated: January 23, 2015 at 5:17 pm
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Clamping Down On Corporal Punishment

By on January 23rd, 2015 | Last updated: January 23, 2015 at 3:13 pm

According to UF researchers, paddling as a form of punishment in schools is ineffective. After interviewing 27 principals about paddling, most respondents said they felt obligated to use corporal punishment and did not know what other methods to use, said special education associate professor Joseph Gagnon.

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Faire Characters Share Medieval Hoggetowne Tales

By on January 23rd, 2015 | Last updated: January 23, 2015 at 2:29 pm
Members of the Thieves' Guild line up to prepare for their final dress rehearsal before opening day at the Hoggetowne Medieval Faire. The group will perform "the human chess board" three times a day during the festival.

Members of the Thieves’ Guild line up to prepare for their final dress rehearsal before opening day at the Hoggetowne Medieval Faire. The group will perform “the human chess board” three times a day during the festival.” credit=”Josh Williams / WUFT News

Twenty-nine years ago the Hoggetowne Medieval Faire began with only a few people.

On Saturday, performers, merchants and the Gainesville Department of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs will work together to create what artisan Joseph Bilella called a truly magical and authentic experience.

The first of two weekends of the 2015 Hoggetowne Medieval Faire will begin on Saturday and continue through Sunday at the Alachua County Fairgrounds. The Faire will resume on Jan. 30 and conclude Feb. 1.

Bilella said many other medieval fairs have been taken over by larger corporations and lack the magic of the old world. A group of artisans agreed that Linda Piper, the fair’s producer, runs the fair differently.

Piper said the Faire must raise enough money to support itself — it receives no funding from the city. In years past, the Faire not only met its financial goals, but exceeded them.

Last year about 55,000 people attended the event with 58 percent of attendees coming from outside of Gainesville — some came from as far away as Pennsylvania.  The local economy has benefited from tourists checking into hotels, eating at restaurants and shopping in the surrounding areas.

This year an additional entertainment stage will be added to attract more people. Twelve new artisans will also be attending this year, bringing the total to 165. Some artisans traveled across the country to show their wares despite all odds.

Dixe-Lee Bernet, 78, came from Minnesota. Originally, Bernet was an English teacher who studied medieval literature in college. Because of her declining health, she was forced into early retirement. When she wasn’t teaching, she enjoyed sewing children’s costumes.

Bernet was inspired by her daughter to take her hobby on the road and make a new living selling her costumers at Renaissance fairs. She had already participated in a couple of fairs before teaching, so the transition back was natural. She has been traveling now for 23 years, but plans to hand the business over to a younger worker in the future.

Like Bernet, Joseph Bilella travels around the country.

“Natively, I’m from New York,” he said, but he laughed and explained his true home is really wherever he spent the night before. “So for right now, I’m from Micanopy.”

Bilella’s artisan roots began in high school when he studied art and later went on to pursue his Master of Art degree. He originally came to Gainesville with two storage trunks of his art and stayed in Micanopy at a bed and breakfast.

The Faire was an opportunity for some artisans to break away from financially troubling pasts and into brighter futures.


Tom McGuigan and his wife Melinda were traveling from art show to art show trying to make a living selling statues in Ohio until they met Piper 15 years ago. They were offered the opportunity to show their pieces at art shows in Gainesville, and after a few years, they were offered a chance to set up a stand at Hoggetowne.

At first Tom McGuigan worried about not having costumes or the ability to decorate a stand. But Piper said she would take care of both the costumes and the stand and even gave them their first name: “Tom Starcrafters.”

Now known as “Ye Ole Wizards and Dragons,”the McGuigan’s stand brought in $6,000 in just two weekends in their first year — it took six months to make $10,000 in Tom McGuigan’s last year working art shows.


The artisans are not the only ones involved in the Faire. Various performing groups put on shows such as jousting tournaments, balancing acts and the famous human chess board — a show put on by the Thieves’ Guild with a different theme and twist each year.

This year’s theme is Robin Hood and his merry men. Each guild member was assigned a role and given the opportunity to personalize his or her character.

Katey Sands is one of the designers behind some of the specialty costumes and acts. She created two costumes based on “The Legend of Zelda” and even worked to create a subplot within the play.

For Sands, joining the guild was a chance to express her creative side — but everyone had a unique reason for joining.

The main character, Robin Hood, is played by Michael Riling, who studied theater in school and picked up fencing during his time there. Seeing the human chess board performances as an opportunity to use his studies and hobby, he performed at his first fair in 2008.

Other members, such as Shael Millheim, remembered growing up watching family members perform in Renaissance fairs and decided to follow in their footsteps.

What draws people to the guild varies, but members all agreed they felt a sense of belonging.


Molly Gillis originally joined the guild three years ago to meet like-minded people. Yet, she never expected to find the man she would fall in love with. Today, Gillis and her husband both play active roles in the guild.

While Gillis has only been involved for a few years, other members have a long history in the guild. This year marked Sunshine Andrei’s 20th anniversary since joining. She was recruited by the original producer and has since worked her way up to that role for this year’s show.

Andrei said the show is a chance for her to meet new people and feel young again. She compared her experiences at Hoggetowne to those of a child entering Disney and even called it her “fountain of youth.”

​The Thieves’ Guild was founded in 1988 by Ted Lewis under the name of The Hoggetowne Players. The Players performed at the second annual Hoggetowne Medieval Faire with only a few members. Lewis later left the group to pursue other opportunities with the Gainesville Community Playhouse.

Meanwhile, The Hoggetowne Players continued to work under the leadership of Shawn Bauldree and first performed the human chess board at the seventh Hoggetowne Faire. With the aid of the Playhouse, Lewis created a second group called The Thieves’ Guild.

The two groups came together to form one guild after the seventh Faire. Today, the group is still going strong and is a not-for-profit organization.

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Grace Marketplace Completes Homeless Census

By on January 23rd, 2015 | Last updated: January 23, 2015 at 12:52 pm

The usual sound of birds wasn’t what woke the residents of Grace Marketplace Thursday morning.

Grace Marketplace, 2845 NE 39th Ave., held their annual homeless census count on Thursday that lasted from 5:45 a.m. to 9 p.m.

The Alachua County Coalition for the Homeless and Hungry, headed by Executive Director Theresa Lowe, offered goodie bags for those who participated in the census. The bags were filled with a meal replacement shake, fruit snacks, a water bottle and other snacks, including a Rice Krispies Treat.

The coalition armed volunteers with binders filled with blank surveys in hope that the homeless would take a few minutes to answer questions about their current living situation.

The homeless census is completed every year on a specific day across the state and is called the Point-In-Time survey. Residents in both Grace Marketplace and Occupy Gainesville, a tent community across the street, were included in the census.

Lowe said there are three main reasons why the census must be done. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the coalition’s biggest funder, requires a census to take place in order for funding to be received.

Lowe said the results of the census will help open the public’s eye to homeless communities. The census also raises more awareness to potential donors in hopes of receiving additional funding to improve conditions at Grace Marketplace.

“I didn’t have what I needed when I got laid off,” said Richard Baily, 46. “So, here I am.”

Similar stories of lost jobs, familial problems and addiction are found within the people who live in and around Grace Marketplace.

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Jan. 23, 2015: Morning News in 90

By on January 23rd, 2015 | Last updated: January 24, 2015 at 12:06 pm

Shahd El Lamey produced this update. 

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Jan. 22, 2015: Afternoon News In 90

By on January 22nd, 2015 | Last updated: January 22, 2015 at 9:14 pm

Jena Sands produced this update.

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Concerns Over LGBT Youth Suicide Spur Anti-Conversion Therapy Bills

By on January 22nd, 2015 | Last updated: January 22, 2015 at 4:11 pm

Conversion therapy for minors aims to change sexual orientation or gender identity. The practice is banned in California, New Jersey and Washington D.C., but Florida may be well on its way to follow suit.

Senate Bill 204 introduced in December, spearheaded by Sen. Jeff Clemens (D-Lake Worth), would ban licensed therapists in Florida from practicing conversion therapy on LGBT minors. SB-204 was referred to the Health Policy Committee on January 8.

A matching bill was initiated in the House by State Representative David Richardson (D-Miami Beach), Florida’s first openly gay elected official. HB-83 only applies to conversion therapy offered by licensed professionals. Religious and other non-professional organizations could still legally offer the therapy to minors, according to Terry Fleming, co-president of the Pride Community Center of North Central Florida.

“You can’t be in the LGBT community very long without hearing about families or churches that have tried to convert their kids,” Fleming said. “They’re pretty horrific stories and often result in kids trying to commit suicide.”

Those in support of the bill point to research by the American Psychological Association, which states these therapies have not been proven to be successful or safe, according to licensed psychologist Dr. Steve Pittman, the executive vice president of Meridian Behavioral Healthcare, Inc. in Gainesville, Florida.

“Research shows that sexuality and sexual orientation isn’t so much a choice as it is a state,” Pittman said. “Sexuality really is on a continuum.”

While these therapies have been around for decades, there is only a relatively new awareness of the damage they can have on minors.

Research has found that lesbian, gay and bisexual minors are four times more likely to attempt suicide than their straight peers, according to the Trevor Project, a national organization that provides crisis intervention for LGBT youth.

“The Trevor Project is a fabulous resource because they specifically look at the entirety of the population,” Pittman said. “Any licensed professional who would be rendering that kind of therapy would be opening themselves up to a malpractice claim.”

Parents’ rights organizations have been a major roadblock in passing the bill. Groups such as the League of American Families have claimed bills like those passed in California and New Jersey violate a parent’s right to choose what is best for their child.

“While parental rights are an important thing to discuss, in this particular case it’s not about parental rights,” Fleming said. “It’s about protecting children from damage.”

Various initiatives have been implemented locally to provide supportive spaces for LGBT minors, such as Gainesville Equality Youth.

Co-founded by LB Hannahs, director of LGBT Affairs at the University of Florida, the group hopes to empower LGBT youth between the ages 13 and 18 through the formation of community and individual empowerment.

“An organization like this provides these kids with the opportunity to connect with folks who can validate their identity rather than trying to change it,” Hannahs said. “It’s really important to see yourself reflected in other people so you don’t feel so alone.”

With other topics at the forefront of the LGBT movement, issues including the dangers of conversion therapy can get swept under the rug.

Fortunately the efforts made by local community leaders and parents have led to an open dialogue among LGBT children on discrimination.

“We need to make sure that we’re building some kind of rapport with the students,” Hannahs said. “That we’re built into the culture of the community.”

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Research Shows Paddling Still Prevalent in Florida Schools

By on January 22nd, 2015 | Last updated: January 23, 2015 at 12:35 pm

A recent UF research study found that corporal punishment is still legal in nearly half of Florida’s school districts. The study calls for an end to paddling, calling it “archaic” and “outdated.”

Researchers are urging for more positive ways to deal with disciplinary action.

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Ocala Artisan’s Puppets Carved Up For Adoption at Medieval Fairs

By on January 22nd, 2015 | Last updated: January 26, 2015 at 1:01 pm
Business owner and artisan Bob Walker, 51, demonstrates how to move one of his Woodbaby puppet creations.

Business owner and artisan Bob Walker, 51, demonstrates how to move one of his Woodbaby puppet creations. Dahlia Ghabour / WUFT News

There were body parts everywhere: scattered legs and tails, heads with glassy eyes and a table full of fur.

At a warehouse in Ocala, Bob Walker, 51, makes puppets so lifelike people treat them like pets.

“They’re called Woodbabies,” Walker said of his creations.  “You don’t buy them. You adopt them.”

What started out as a one-man summer hobby quickly turned into a full-time profession when a friend introduced Walker to Renaissance fairs. Now, six people work with him to create Woodbabies, sold at Renaissance fairs around the country.

His puppets were an immediate hit.

The first fair of the year, Hoggetowne Medieval Faire, begins in Gainesville on Saturday. Of the 165 artisans booked for the event, Walker’s company, ‘The Midsummer Knight’s Dream,’ is the only one that sells puppets.

“They’re one of a kind,” said Hoggetowne events coordinator Linda Piper. “The product is very special, a little dragon or medieval character that has a contraption that goes under your shirt. The creature can look like it’s moving.”

Artist Bob Walker’s Woodbaby puppets are resin-casted and one of a kind. They are available for purchase at this weekend’s Hoggetowne Rennaisance faire.

Artist Bob Walker’s Woodbaby puppets are resin-casted and one of a kind.  Dahlia Ghabour / WUFT News

Each Woodbaby is resin-casted, sanded, carved, painted and embellished with colorful fur. Each fox, owl, dragon or unicorn is unique, set apart by a smile, curve of the cheek, or color of the fur. Because of the intense building process, created completely with American-made materials, they can range in price from $28 to $150 and in size from 5 to 12 inches tall.

Those who adopt the Woodbabies seem to get fiercely attached to the creatures, Walker said. He recognizes some of the creatures perched on people’s shoulders at fairs 20 years after he sold them.

Each adoption comes with a lifetime warranty should anything go wrong. Some Woodbabies are sent in for repairs with food and blankets so they can be warm and eat on their postal-service journeys, according to Walker.

“It really is a lot of fun,” said Veronica LaCoure, 21, a member of the Midsummer Knight’s Dream staff. “This is my first job, so I had the blessing of never having to work in the craze of corporate everything. I like what I do. I work on things like armored dragons.”

The Midsummer Knight’s Dream team is made up of specific stages. LaCoure does specialty painting and carving to make the Woodbabies seem alive. Walker mostly does the original carvings. One person acts as the “front office” to field phone calls and orders. Another sets up future events.

“It really is like a big family,” Walker said. “There’s an impression that we’re like carnies; we’re not. We get thrown into that same thing because we travel, but most of these people are hardworking. They’re there to do a job.”

Walker takes his Woodbabies to up to 25 fairs a year— most of them in Florida. Each time, his favorite part is seeing customers’ eyes light up when they meet the Woodbaby they will soon take home.

“They’re well received because they’re not lifeless,” Walker said. “They’re the pets you can’t get anywhere else. I used to say I make homes for souls, and it’s kind of true. They all seem to have a life.”

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In The News: Vigilante Tackles Legal Gunholder, Plane Crash Kills Two, Toddler Kills Himself with Father’s Gun, Teacher Arrested on Molestation Charges

By and on January 22nd, 2015 | Last updated: January 22, 2015 at 2:25 pm
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