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Graduation redux: Class of 1987 will try it again

The congratulatory notice published in the newspaper after graduation was rained out in 1987.Patricia Hughes Harris of Sanderson and other Baker County High School graduates from the Class of 1987 missed one of the seminal moments in young adulthood.

Due to a bad storm, their graduation ceremony was cut short and they never walked across the stage at Memorial Stadium to receive their high school diplomas as friends and family cheered and congratulated them for the accomplishment.

“We lived nearby in Macclenny, so we walked to graduation,” recalled Ms. Harris, 43, who was joined by her mother and father that day. “But when it came time to walk, it started flooding. Severe flooding. We had to swim home.”

The most disappointing part, she said, was that her mother, who had been so adamant  about Ms. Harris finishing school, never got to the witness the experience. For months afterward, Ms. Harris’ mom lobbied school officials, to no avail, to reschedule the ceremony.

“Nobody cared for years that the Class of 87 never had their graduation,” she said.

Now, 25 years later, it’s happening.

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Feed the Children aides 250-300 families

Families collect food at distribution point.The Oklahoma City-based nonprofit Feed the Children sent a semi-trailer full of food, toiletries and household cleaning supplies to Macclenny on March 15 for distribution to families in need.

Northeast Florida Healthy Start Coalition in Jacksonville orchestrated the delivery and distribution of donated goods here and at similar events in St. Johns and Duval counties the same day.

Local nonprofit groups, which supplied some 30 volunteers for the event, were asked to register families in advance to receive food. The only requirement was that recipients have children in the home.

An estimated 250-300 families picked up donations beginning at 3:30 pm in the National Children’s Study parking lot on S. 6th St. in the Crossroads Shopping Center.

“The event was a great success yesterday when every bit of food, cleaning and hygiene items were distributed to Baker families,” said Kerry Dunlavey, director of the Baker County Health Department, by e-mail last week. “We were blessed to have the event here this year for the first time.”

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River cleanup set for Saturday, lunch at new location

Beer can on the beach at Steel Bridge Road boat ramp.The St. Mary’s River cleanup will take place the morning of March 17 at the Steel Bridge Road boat ramp as usual, but the celebration and lunch following the cleanup has been moved from its former location at White Oak Plantation.

Baker County cleanup leader Greg Sheppard said the after-cleanup festivities will be at Trader’s Hill Campground near Folkston this year because the Yulee plantation is no longer sponsoring the event.

“Financially, they can’t do it,” he said.

The four-hour cleanup will start at 8 am at 27 sites along the St. Mary’s River in Florida and Georgia, including the Steel Bridge Road site commonly called the boy scout camp. It’s one of the few public access points to the river in Baker County.

The annual cleanup is organized and sponsored by the St. Mary’s River Water Management Committee and its member counties. The committee consists of representatives from Baker and Nassau counties in Florida and Charlton and Camden counties in Georgia.

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BCHS senior drops half his weight, joins Marines

Kyle McCarty jogs after school March 4.Kyle McCarty’s Christmas list two years ago was very short. It contained only one, very expensive gift. And when his mother saw it hanging on the fridge, she began to cry.

The overweight teenager asked for gastric bypass surgery, the same procedure his parents received some years earlier.

“She was like, ‘I know you really want this and we’ll do the best we can,” Mr. McCarty, now 18 years old and enlisted in the Marines Corps, recalled March 5 during an after-school workout session.

That moment began a long process in which, little by little, Mr. McCarty shed nearly half his body weight — some 165 pounds.

At age 16, the Baker County High School student tipped the scales at 340 pounds. He did little outside of school except play video games. It was painful to walk around campus. He was teased by classmates. He needed special chairs because he couldn’t fit into standard seats.

Now, all of that is in the past.

After asking his parents for the gastric bypass, also known as the stomach stapling surgery, they took him to see the same doctor who oversaw their surgeries when they each weighed more than 300 pounds.

The physician prescribed a diet of no more than 1000 calories a day and regular exercise.

“My parents literally, physically pushed me to do exercise,” Mr. McCarty said. “All I used to do, day and night, was play video games. I wouldn’t go outside for days at a time.”

The Macclenny teen soon dropped 15 pounds.

“After that first week, it just kept getting easier and easier,” he said.

Mr. McCarty went to see his doctor again. He’d lost 50 pounds at that point and the doctor refused to move ahead with the surgery. “He said you’re too young, we can’t give this to you,” Mr. McCarty recalled.

More time passed and the youth kept feeling better and better, physically and emotionally. Last September, he walked into a military recruiting office and enlisted in the Marines.

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