Everything Isn't ColderIn Iceland

This Villages couple summers in Iceland, where she has a huge family

Story and pictures by SANDI NEWMARK


Remember the childhood game played while bouncing a ball:  A my name is Alice and my husband’s name is Al; we come from Alabama, and we ate apples……etc…all throughout the alphabet?????

Well, it’s a pretty sure bet they don’t play that game in Iceland…..a Villages resident who hails from there has the name: Gudbjorg Baldursdottir (although she is known as Pippi, because of the long stockings she wore when she met her husband.)

And her American husband’s name is John Cassidy………….story1


They live in the Village of Largo during the winter, but every summer they journey back to her homeland for five months with her large family.  They have viewed the Northern Lights, although that is more often in winter, and are accustomed to long hours of daylight.  But from November till March, the sun is barely visible.  People cook and barbeque at home more there rather than go to restaurants, which are special treats and more expensive than here.  Lamb and fish are popular entrees, and the couple often imports some of these to The Villages for winter.

There, John and Pippi frequently swim in the Blue Lagoon, a geothermal body of water with healing chemicals.  There are golf courses as well.

When she was growing up and raising her children in Reyjkavik, the capital and main city, there was a small-town atmosphere…”Everyone knew everybody” and doors were never locked.  Children played freely in the streets and slept outside on balconies when the weather was warm.  Women learn to cook and clean there as part of how they’re raised, but they don’t take their husband’s name when they marry:  the first name of one’s father becomes the woman’s last name from childhood throughout life.  If one had a single mother, she takes her first name.

Since both Cassidys were married previously, their family is exceptionally large and geographically scattered:  Pippi has three children, 11 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren, all in Iceland; John has four children, 11 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren, living all over the U.S.  He and Pippi lived in Virginia Beach, VA, since 1989 before moving to TheVillages in 2006.  They have been married for 25 years now.

story2He had joined the Navy at age 17…growing up in Maine and Massachusetts, John loved the sea.  He grew to enjoy Iceland when he was stationed there in 1969.  Later, when he returned, because he loved to dance, he met Pippi at a downtown hotel dance.  But “she wouldn’t dance with me because she had a boyfriend.”

“I chased her for four months,” John said, until she agreed to date him.  She spoke little English at the time, although the language is taught in all schools in Iceland.

Loyalty is a big thing in Iceland, John says:  “If you make a friend, you have them forever as a friend.”

John was a sailor for 22 years, and Pippi owned a beauty shop in Iceland.  He also worked for several major companies.

Iceland is not as cold as people think, John says.  “They named it Iceland so no one would come,” he laughs, “but it is not as cold as Greenland.”  In fact, there’s no humidity in winter, he says, and the Gulf Stream passes through to keep temperatures moderate.  In summer, there are sometimes 24 hours of daylight, and Pippi loves that.  She says they stay up later, and go out for walks in the middle of what would be the “night.”  Temperatures are generally in the 70s, she says.  Residents are very athletic, she adds, so they climb mountains, go bicycling, hiking and camping out.  They crawl in the grass for good luck.

While Pippi has become an active Villager, she still looks forward every year to visiting Iceland and reuniting with her family and their way of life.





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What you see is what you get—it’s that simple.  Mary Jo Vitale has no airs about her, though she may be considered a celebrity, sometimes known as the “sweetheart” of The Villages, and a regular at Katie Belle’s.  She is down to earth, natural, and as nice as she seems when she’s singing onstage.

In fact, some of her favorite times are when she goes shopping and to lunch locally with her mother and 94-year-old grandmother “incognito” (with no makeup on and her long dark hair tucked under a hat)…and never gets recognized.

But, no doubt about it, she also loves being in the spotlight.  She does her own makeup (and collects it by the ton) and buys her own gowns (with the help of her grandmother’s department store discount from when she worked there).

Mary Jo in her living room with Chester, the Chihuahua who’s “more like a cat,” cuddly and sweet.

Mary Jo in her living room with Chester, the Chihuahua who’s “more like a cat,” cuddly and sweet.

Mary Jo keeps everything in the family, in fact—her father Perry Vitale manages her career & her stage settings, as he is a former interior decorator.  He is also her “sounding board” because “he knows my expectations.”  She says they rarely disagree as he is “on the same page” as she, “an extension of my own mind.”

Family is everything to her—she grew up in a loving, large Italian family in South Florida, until her parents moved to The Villages about nine years ago.  She is the youngest of her parents’ four children—in fact, her closest sibling is 14 years older.

Mary Jo majored in music at University of South Florida in Tampa, but also got a business degree.  She wasn’t sure what she wanted to do, until she began waiting tables at Bergamo’s in Orlando and met Bill Doherty, who started the singing servers concept.  She waitressed in several other places after that, and was employed by Garvino’s Cigar Bar in The Villages when they opened a wine bar.

She offered to entertain there “for free”—“I had no anticipation it would take off as it did.”  Soon, she was getting calls from all over The Villages to sing, and Katie Belle’s signed her for several appearances a week.  She’s been a regular there for over six years.

Now, of course, she also is very much in demand at almost every club and pub in The Villages.  Her concerts—both solo and with other performers—are usually sold out, and she has produced 6 CDs with more on the way.

Not only a daughter and granddaughter and loving aunt, Mary Jo met her husband Jon-Marc MacLean in college and became his wife in a “big princess wedding” 11 years ago.  He is now co-pastor at Hope Lutheran Church, not far from their home near The Villages.  She also is an assistant worship leader, singing solos and performing with the choir on weekends at the church.

And, most of The Villages watched her baby bump grow as she performed all nine months at Katie Belle’s.  Now, little Danny, the adored son of both his parents, turns 5 this weekend.  Because of her notoriety, she feels that Danny “has hundreds of grandparents” here in The Villages.

Mary Jo puts together all her shows:  she starts by curling up on her bed with her laptop.  She constantly researches music, listens to XM Broadway in her car and sings along, and takes heed of audience requests.  She builds a repertoire from this, constantly aware of the balance between old favorites that everyone demands and the quest to be “fresh” and offer a new experience.  When she’s performing duets, as she will be in Saturday night’s concert with Josh Legget, she must be less spontaneous as everything has been planned involving many others.

She feeds Chester a treat as he stands on hind legs.

She feeds Chester a treat as he stands on hind legs.

Still, “we want to have a WOW factor” in the show.

As she plans the show, she sets the opening and closing numbers first, and writes the rest of the show as well, although she doesn’t work from a script.  She just talks naturally.  She likes to take the audience “on a journey” so they have an “emotional experience” and leave on a high note “with a song stuck in their head.”  Most shows require about 20 songs in two 45-minute sets.

Mary Jo is very content to stay in The Villages, “her home.”  However, with the closing of Katie Belle’s this summer for six months, she may decide to broaden her base and tour around Florida a bit.

“I want to give the best I possibly can (to the audience),” she says ambitiously.  But she admits that since being diagnosed with MS (multiple sclerosis) three years ago, sometimes she is tired more often than a 34-year-old might be.

Mary Jo also actively fundraises and performs for MS events regularly.  She is convinced that soon “they will find the cause, if not a cure, for MS.”

She believes she is “so lucky” to have the best of both worlds: time to perform but also to be a wife and mother.  “It’s hard to have a normal existence in show business generally,” she admits.  “I have my dream job.”

Modest and self-effacing, Mary Jo does admit:  “If The Villages had a tabloid newspaper, I might be in it sometimes.”  But she likes the “big fish in small pond” nature of The Villages, and has no desire to be a Broadway star.  (Indeed, she’s only seen one show two years ago on her first New York visit.)

Her philosophy:  “Don’t ever disappoint your audience.”

Mary Jo Vitale will be featured in “Musical Magic,” a series of duets with guest Josh Legget, a young tenor she often performs with, Saturday at 7 p.m. at Seabreeze Recreation Center.  Tickets are still available through The Villages Box Office for $20 for residents, $25 for others.

















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He’s six foot three and plays almost every instrument—from conga drums to a bagpipe—with one major exception:   no piano or keyboard!  He’s never taken a music lesson, and indeed is completely self-taught, with much help from his family background of constant musical inspiration.

If you’ve ever attended any club party or country club evening in The Villages, you’ve most likely heard his three hours of varied musical entertainment—generally he plays without a break, takes requests and includes quite a variety of numbers.  He averages 40 shows a month around The Villages, sometimes as many as three shows a day.  He has never performed solo at the squares, however, but has worked with the Lenny Wilson Quartet.IMGP7675

“It’s all about having a good time,” the 54-year-old says jovially—and somehow you know he doesn’t just mean for his audience.  He, too, enjoys his entertaining and it shows in his performances.

Despite playing so many instruments, and being involved with jazz bands frequently, he considers himself first and foremost a singer—“It’s 90 per cent of what I do.”  He’s “always” learning new songs, and prides himself on performing anything from Johnny Cash to John Coltrane.  His versatility is his hallmark:  He even blew the shofar (a ram’s horn) at a recent Bar Mitzvah at Temple Shalom.

Robinson grew up in a close musical family from Brooklyn and Long Island, N.Y.  He was the middle brother of three, and they all sang in public from an early age, even being compared to the Jacksons.  His mother played the organ and made recordings; his father played drums as well as organ and was trained in classical piano.  All performed gospel music in churches, and the whole family used to sing during car trips, and his grandfather taped much of that…”Those were some of the best times of my life,” Steve said.

His dad also drove subway trains for NYC Transit, and Steve recalls riding the trains “for fun” with his brothers all day at times, from Brooklyn into Manhattan and Queens.  Today, collecting model trains is a hobby that he says stems from his memories of those early days, when he first had a train circling the Christmas tree as a child.

10527341_10204596059923708_6165974062068733271_nHe has done other non-musical things as well:  he has worked in a department store and driven an 18-wheeler truck around the country.  He spent a season traveling and as a musician on Celebrity Cruise Lines in 2007, seeing Europe along the way.

Robinson moved to Ocala, where he still lives, in 1981, and he has worked in The Villages since 2007.  His wife Barbara was in the same church choir in New York when they met in 1977, and they have been married  35 years.  Only one of his three children has become a musician, however—his son Steven, Jr., 22, is an “excellent jazz drummer.”  He also has two daughters, 33 and 23, who used to play the saxophone.

When he performs locally, Steve generally is accompanied by at least 15 instruments:  he packs six horns into his saxophone case:  flugelhorn, clarinet, cornet, bagpipes, and a slide trombone.  Then there are his bongo and conga drums.  He has background music set-up as well for his vocal accompaniments.  He’ll play anything from country music to West Indian to Hawaiian in the course of one three-hour performance, and often encourages the audience to sing along on Irish folk songs or standard American hits (“Take Me Out to the Ballgame”, for instance.)  One of his standards: he becomes Louis Satchmo Armstrong when he plays and sings “What a Wonderful World,” and somehow you sense that he relates to that sentiment as well..





Lifeinthevillages Music Man


Only in The Villages would a director cast a 71- year- old man in an energetic and physically demanding role like Harold Hill, the erstwhile salesman and con artist leading character of The Music Man.

But also only in The Villages would one find John Rogerson, who has enthusiastically taken on the role to star in his tenth musical production here. (Some of the others included Oklahoma and Carousel, Anything Goes, Pajama Game, Chorus Line and Annie Get Your Gun.)

The  Music Man will be presented Tues, Wed, Thurs and Friday nights next week..March 24-27…at Savannah Center, with the largest cast ever featured there:  more than 100 performers, from children to musicians and dancers.  They have been rehearsing since Oct.  John is in almost every scene.

He has watched Robert Preston in The Music Man “at least 20 times” and carries tiny “cheat sheets” of paper in his pockets to remind him of cues and physical moves he needs to know.  “I don’t have a good memory,” he admits.  But he has learned so much complex dialogue and lyrics for this role that one would doubt that.  He practices his moves and songs in front of a mirror at home.  He gets nervous, but only before going onstage.  John has high praise for the entire cast, including the director Sandie Hawthorne, and his co-star Jill Marrese, who has “wonderful stage presence.”

To say Rogerson has a lot of energy would be like saying Hurricane Katrina was a small breeze.  He is more like a dynamo, active and involved in so many ventures in The Villages that one’s head spins to listen to a typical schedule.  Not content to be only a leading man, he sings at funerals and weddings, in barbershop quartets and doo wop groups.   At Northlake Presbyterian Church, he is in several choir groups as well as the men’s glee club.  He performs in charity concerts frequently, often with Jill Marrese (his co-star) and Billie Thatcher.  Once at Church on the Square, he did a one-man show that showcased some of his varied talents.DSC_0387

The man loves music.  But not just singing—he also dances:  tap dancing and clogging.  He plays instruments: the concert baritone horn and a valve trombone. After not playing the trombone for 42 years, he joined the Villages Band, and at one time was a member of 14 performing groups here.  He volunteers with Operation Shoebox, and helps out any organization favoring the military.

But music by no means comprises his whole life…..there are the sports, which he calls a “big interest.”  At one time or another,  he has been on the swim team, played softball, pickleball, tennis, racquetball, done track and field, played golf, was a fencer and taught karate. He’s won five medals in sports here and at one time was dubbed “Mr. Villager.”

John has an artistic side as well—in the service, and when he was part of a dental clinic, he used to draw caricatures of friends for fun.  In The Villages, he has painted with acrylics, done pencil drawings and pen and ink and done some collages of musical instruments.  He still wants to study oil painting. Photography is another interest—he won an award for one of his photos in The Villages Daily News photo contest a few years ago.

He once thought he wanted to be a Chinese chef so he bought a wok—but never used it.  Cooking is one of the few arts he hasn’t mastered; he buys take-out and makes his own toast.

While it’s hard to imagine John juggling fewer balls at a time, he says he’d eventually like to slow down a bit to “stop and smell the roses.” He’d like to travel more, though he has been almost everywhere.  When he was younger, he took his family on long car trips around the country every summer.  San Diego and Switzerland are two of his favorite places.

Ruddy-faced and wholesome looking, much like his Iowan Music Man character should be, John in fact grew up in academic Princeton, N.J., where his father was an astrophysicist at the university.  He attended Rutgers, the state university of N.J., and served with the Air Force for 28 years, part of the time in Korea.  His career was as a prosthodontist, specializing in mouth reconstruction from 1973 to 2002 and he enjoyed the work and still does some consulting.  He settled in Oregon with a private practice after leaving the military.

He found The Villages about 15 years ago on a chance visit to some long-lost relatives, and promptly decided to relocate from Oregon in 2002.

DSC_0394John has been married for 48 years to Sherri Rogerson, who has written two books about their relationship and adventures.  They have two married daughters and four grandchildren.

Undoubtedly, one of the proudest people in the audience on Music Man’s opening night will be John’s 92 year-old father, visiting The Villages from PA.  And because his father is a linguist, they will converse in French while he’s here, and eat in German restaurants.

“I’ve been blessed with a lot of energy, and I love getting involved,” he explains. Despite all his accolades, he remains modest (he has no CDs to sell) and grateful.  He considers himself “very fortunate” to have landed so many leading roles.  “I love to learn new things,” he added.  “I’m like a sponge; I want to learn it all.”

What show would he still like to star in?  Singing in the Rain. (“I know I can’t dance like Gene Kelly, however.”) He’d also like to try serious acting—with no music (something like “12 Angry Men”), he said.  “I enjoy being something I’m not.”

John considers himself a “jack of all trades, master of none,” although many would disagree and say he has indeed mastered most everything he’s tried.  “I love life,” he summarized, and for him, even that’s an understatement.

Happiness Happened – By Sandi Newmark


Discovering LOVE later in life


I have been intrigued by love my entire life…………..and been left hungering for that feeling after every romantic song, movie or book was long finished.

“Happily ever after” always implied love to me…………and as a teen, I was devastated by Marjorie Morningstar,  got  goose bumps  experiencing  Oklahoma and Carousel,  bawled at “An Affair To Remember” and “West Side Story.”  Any song by Johnny Mathis, Paul Anka or Pat Boone evoked dreamy eyes and deep sighs in the innocent 50’s and 60’s.

But always there was that inherent question….Will I ever find real love?  And what is it really?  Will I feel the same emotional connection I see in the movies when I find the “right” one?  Do you “just know”?

No one explains the concept very well when one is young—or when one gets older, for that matter.

The first time I directly encountered these issues I was way too young to deal with them.  I was about 14, “dating” a cute high school sophomore—dating in the 1960’s meant group outings to movies and roller skating rinks, watching school basketball games and eating pizza together.  He quoted Schopenhauer the philosopher, and I was very impressed because I had never heard of him.  Once he gave me a pink pearl necklace that I still have in a jewelry box somewhere.  And one day, after a long flirty phone conversation, he suddenly said, “I love you.”  Taken aback, I stammered, “Uh, …..I’m pretty confused myself.”

And that was my very first romantic encounter.  (Except it wasn’t anything like in the movies where the guy looks into your eyes and holds you tightly when he says it.)  But to me, it was as good as it gets.

That began a long series of seemingly-romantic-but-not-quite-the-real-thing experiences that marked my life, but left me wanting.  It was like eating diet food and pretending you had had a satisfying meal.

My first goodnight kiss, on the front doorstep with the boy practically next door, followed a movie date to “Bridge on the River Kwai.” (Romantic?  I think not.)

A long college relationship ended with a proposal but then a break-up, because I knew he wasn’t the one.  A very romantic walk around Paris at 21 with someone I met on a plane was magical, but the guy didn’t speak English and lived with his parents. Getting married at 24 was certainly romantic—but it ended in divorce 17 years later, which devastated me and my two children for many years afterward. Attending Parents Without Partners was a nightmare best forgotten.  Then came a long off-and-on relationship with another wrong one, but it was easier to stay together then to deal with the often-upsetting middle-aged dating scene.

So by the time I retired in my early 60s to The Villages, love was low on my list of things to experience here.  Not that I didn’t still long to find “the real thing”…but I was beginning to doubt it could exist in my world.  And, while that would have meant failure and a huge loss to me, it seemed to be my fate.

Until …….David and I met –in very ordinary circumstances (no flashbulbs went off) at a singles party– where we had mostly ignored each other until we were leaving, when we discovered we were both New Jersey natives who liked dancing at the squares, traveling and eating hamburgers.  That alone wouldn’t have jump started a successful relationship.

However, his life had been filled with the love I had only dreamed about.  After being married for 52 years to his high school sweetheart, he lost her suddenly to cancer. He had never experienced all those “near misses” I had throughout my life.  His life had been a fairy tale, but with an unhappy ending.

On our first dinner date, I was touched when he shared a “reference from the grave”: his wife had written her own eulogy, saying she had had a “perfect life” with the one she loved.  And the proud expression on his face when he showed me pictures of his two children and five grandchildren told me what I wanted to know.

I again felt the pangs of unfulfilled romanticism.  We learned more about each other: I wanted to be loved deeply by someone who was capable of it, and he did not want to spend the rest of his life without love.

Soon, we were together almost constantly:  Dinner dates and movies led to cruises and road trips, and then we were sharing our houses with each other.  Three years ago, we bought a Villages house together and sold my courtyard villa.  And now we are engaged.

He has taught me how to play golf, a passion of his; I encouraged him to try water aerobics. (which he only did once, but that’s another story)

He peeled lobster for me in New England;  I constantly correct his spelling.  He handles finances; I decorate our home.  He tolerates my weekend garage sale sprees; I reluctantly watch “Glee” and 3D movies with him. But, we laugh hysterically at the same things, share ice cream sodas, try out Segways.  He helps remember what I forget and vice versa. I finally have a golf cart with our names across the front….that was something I was jealous of when I was single here!

He holds my hand in the movies and treats me like I am the most valuable thing in his life.  And I make sure I am.

At last, all the love songs and romantic writings make sense. As a popular song words it, “….once I was half, now I’m whole.”

It’s never too late.




Just Doggin It

Doggin It



One of the most humorous errors I’ve seen recently related to a lack of proper proofreading, which does happen a lot.  As a former proofreader, I can attest to some pretty weird errors people make with context and/or spelling. But this one had a happy ending that raised some money for charity! – HERE IT IS



We want your opinions on this one…..

Alice the poodle, who lives in the Village of Bonita with her owners and a brown poodle mate, was spotted last weekend………SHE IS DYED PINK!  Reason given?  Her owner likes pink.
The dyes are supposedly completely safe and approved by her dog groomer. And she looks…like a pink poodle! Or a white poodle with a strawberry milkshake spilled on her….

So, we want your opinions….should dogs come in colors?  Designer dogs in teal, Irish green, purple pooches?  Should they match one’s decor?–I know someone who only had black cats to match her black and white decor.  Or should the basic dog brown, black, yellow or white be enough for owners…does Nature know best?

Send us your opinions and/or examples of Technicolor pets, with pictures if possible! you can comment below or email us at

A Surprise Gift Cements a Long Term Friendship – by Sandi Newmark


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Amidst the tumultuous and determined browsing at the Showcase of Quilts Friday at the Savannah Center, in one corner there was a quieter, more touching scene.  One quilter, Marilyn Paluszak, of the Village of Mallory Square, surprised her long-time friend from childhood with a hand-sewn wall hanging featuring two geese in a pond. The recipient, Heather Pemburn Snively, was moved to tears by the generous gift and the thought behind it.

“One Wing,” an injured goose, commemorated on a wall hanging Surprise gift cements a long-term friendship

Currently a snowbird renting on the historic side, Heather plans to move to The Villages permanently from a farm outside of Cleveland, Ohio, as soon as possible, and Marilyn classified the surprise as “an early housewarming gift.”

Heather had spent many years watching over a particular gander from her home overlooking a pond filled with geese in rural Ohio.  She became very attached to his comings and goings and even knew his life quite intimately.  She knew that the gander had fathered many goslings at one time.  But, in her words, “(he) was injured while protecting his lady sitting on their eggs in a nest.”  Something attacked viciously, and the bird became One Wing.  After that, for 10 years, she observed the maimed gander attempt to mate but be rejected each time.  He finally managed to produce one more set of goslings before he died.  And Heather viewed it all in awe, like watching a soap opera, throughout the whole saga.  She took many photos and developed as close a relationship with the gander as one could.  The incident, for her, symbolized the spirit of overcoming any type of impairment.

Although Marilyn and Heather had attended high school together near Albany, N.Y., they didn’t see each other again until 2006 in Albany.  Marilyn was about to move to The Villages, and Heather kept in touch, always hearing about the many activities that kept Marilyn so busy.  When she decided to check out the place for herself, it was Marilyn who helped her find a rental.  And since 2007, Heather has stayed here, each year a bit longer, joining every writing group she could and trying out many other activities.


Marilyn Paluszak and Heather Snively

The women became closer, so when Marilyn actively took up quilting with The Quilting Guild of The Villages, she was moved to create a special gift for Heather.

“All you have to do is meet Heather and you’d understand what would prompt me to spend about 100 hours sewing a housewarming gift for her.  She is the single most giving person I’ve ever encountered.  Her generous heart and spirit reaches out and pulls you in before you even know you’ve made a new friend.  Like many other nurturing, giving people, she is intent on taking care of those around her….  There simply is not an ounce of selfishness in her body,” said Marilyn.

“It brought me great joy and happiness to surprise Heather with this wall hanging at the quilt show on Friday.  She was shocked and awed.   I’m still smiling because I know deep down that it was the perfect gift for me to give to a great friend.”

And Heather’s reaction?  “ I was so surprised and thrilled… I cried like a baby right in the middle of the quilt show! The hanging is just beautiful.  (It) is something I will always cherish.”

Story by Sandi Newmark


He Had a Dream and So Did I – By Sandi Newmark

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Little did I know that a white girl from New Jersey might have something in common with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. In fact, when I was 11 in the 1950s, I had not even heard of Dr. King, and African-Americans were considered “colored” people.

That Christmas vacation, my Aunt Zelma took me on my first airplane trip. We flew from New Jersey down to Miami Beach, Florida. I couldn’t believe how my heart was beating as the pilots revved up the roaring engines. Takeoff was the most amazing thrill I had ever experienced! The plane soared higher and higher, and I could see the Eastern coastline from above. I loved the whole ride. I didn’t close my eyes once, just stared out the window the entire time. Before I knew it, we landed amidst palm trees and pink flamingos. The weather was warm, and I took off my heavy coat and got ready for the vacation of a lifetime.

However, my mood changed as soon as I stepped into Miami’s airport. The first thing I saw were two water fountains, side by side — one labeled “Colored” and the other “White.” I couldn’t believe my eyes. I turned around and asked my aunt why. She said, “We’re in the South. The law here is ‘separate but equal’.” I felt like throwing up, but the restrooms had the same signs.

I thought of a classmate back home. Keisha and I had fun together—the key word being “together.” We never had to use separate facilities for anything in New Jersey, just because she was black. I had a silly thought, but serious, too. At home I had a black cat and a white cat. If we lived in the South, did this mean they couldn’t share the same house?

We stayed at a fabulous hotel on the beach. But during my entire vacation I never saw black people on the Miami beaches. And the only blacks I saw in our fancy hotel were maids and bellboys, not guests. Even the restaurants and lunch counters were divided! “Separate but equal”? Even I could see that black people didn’t have equal anything, certainly not respect.

My aunt called it progress that so many new hotels were opening along the beach, but it seemed strange to me that progress was occurring only in construction, not between people. Why should people’s skin color affect the way they were treated? Shouldn’t who they were inside count instead?

I had a lot to think about on the flight home, and didn’t notice the scenery as much. Those “Colored” and “White” signs haunted me, and I decided they were insulting to all people.

I suddenly felt like a privileged white child. I guess I had thought that because the Civil War and slavery had ended many years ago, all the racial problems had been resolved. And I had thought my life in the Northeast was different. Didn’t I have black friends? Wasn’t my family kind to Maggie, the elderly black woman who came weekly to clean and cook and launder for us? But now I realized that I didn’t really know the feelings of black people, and that this discrimination must hurt them, since it was upsetting me so much.

I decided that in a democracy, even an 11 year old could protest a policy that was so obviously painful to people. I felt very brave one day, so I took out my best stationery and handwrote a letter to the President of the United States, saying that I believed discrimination was against everything our country was supposed to stand for. I wrote, “How can this exist in a country that is so proud of offering freedom for all?”

Then I checked the mailbox daily. But when nothing came, I began to think the President had never even read my letter and that no one cared. Then, one day months later, I received a square white envelope. “THE WHITE HOUSE, Washington, D.C.” it said. The letter inside was personally addressed to me! I had received a formal thank you for my interest. And the letter was signed by the President! I kept it right out on my desk for years, proudly displaying it to all my friends.

From then on, as I grew up, I was more aware of gutsy black people like Rosa Parks, who wouldn’t be limited to sitting in the back of a bus because she felt it was unfair, and watched schools become more integrated although not always peacefully. I participated in sit-ins and non-violent peace marches, and joined with black friends to lobby for equal rights. I was especially inspired by the Rev. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech because he was saying what I had been feeling during that Miami trip. And I like to think that maybe my letter played a tiny part in this country’s transformation, that a sensitive kid might have made a difference.


Meet Our Newest Contributor – Sandi Newmark




I’d like to introduce myself……………..I am Sandi Newmark:  journalist, photographer and longtime (well, 8 years) Villages resident and fervent supporter of the lifestyle here.   I’m excited to be your new correspondent and editor for Life in The Villages!

As a journalist, I have had many bylines and exciting experiences…and the highlight  was going on tour to Japan for two weeks with the Jackson Five, during the height of their popularity in 1972.  Getting to watch shows from backstage and traveling in limos with them was thrilling and unforgettable!  I bought my first Pentax then, and took pictures of them constantly throughout the trip.

I have been writing since age 7, when I loved the 5 Little Peppers books & was determined to write one.  But I was an only child, and had no family to include!  So my career waited till I was about 11, when I started a newspaper column in a local weekly in Orange, N.J., interviewing fellow students in junior high school.  Later, during high school, I worked at a local monthly social magazine, and edited the high school yearbook.  I first realized how exciting a career journalism was when I got permission to go backstage after seeing “The Sound of Music” on Broadway and interview one of the 16 year olds in the cast!  Then, when the story was published in the school paper with a byline, I was hooked!

I actually got a degree in magazine journalism from the Newhouse School at Syracuse University, and had a national magazine article published  before I graduated at 21.  I was very precocious in those days—and made sure I met outstanding important people.  I worked on national teen magazines in New York City…which led to wonderfully exciting  assignments like going on the Jackson tour and covering the Osmond family during many performances.  I also interviewed diverse personalities like Barbara Walters and Dr. Margaret Mead in the 1960s.  Later in life, when I lived in South Florida, I worked for daily and weekly newspapers, covering the community with stories and photos.

Taking pictures , which is really capturing moments in time, thrills me in a different way.   While I am basically an amateur, and only use a point and shoot,  photography challenges my creativity to capture the perfect shot at just the right moment and angle.  While others may take more obvious shots, I’m often off shooting doors, walls, flowers, even interesting garbage cans.

My life wasn’t all glamour and excitement, however.  As a single parent in the 70s and 80s, I struggled and worked as a secretary, store cashier and telemarketer, among other things.  But all that is for a future memoir.

While I am currently engaged to a wonderful man, I have been divorced and widowed.  I’m a mother of two happily married grown children, and proud grandmother of a gorgeous 6 month old baby girl and I have a 16 year old step-grandson who’s a Taekwando black belt! I’m also a traveler, gambler on slot machines, lover of cruises, musical comedy, garage sales and many other things…………so I can represent  many aspects of life in my writing……….and ask all of you for feedback about your lives.

One of the reasons I moved to The Villages was because of the many media opportunities here, and because of the many interesting people who reside here.  I didn’t plan to retire….and have had several short stories & articles published  here.  Writing and photography can be pursued at any stage of life.

That’s probably much more than you want to know about me, but since I haven’t yet written a memoir, this was as good a place as any to summarize!

I love Facebook:  recently found some childhood friends on there and reunited with them.

LIFEINTHE VILLAGES.COM will have a blog, Facebook posts, etc.  I welcome the chance to express myself and encourage all our friends to do the same.

See you Soon!


Life in The Villages Podcast Episode 5


In episode 5 of the Life in The Villages podcast we –



– Hear about the events going on the week of November 25th

– Find out aboout the Canadian Loonies and Toonies from Dave Horsman

– Get to know Alan Stone and the Villages Antique Car Club

– Talk more about the features of


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