School Days

Some of Ocala’s favorite faces and local professionals reflect on their favorite school memories, classes and teachers and share those memories in their own words. 

Michael Torres, CPA

Managing Partner, Crippen & Co.

  • Elementary School: Belleview Santos/Sunrise 
  • Middle School: Lake Weir/Belleview 
  • High School: Belleview 
  • College: Florida State University

I’d have to say my fondest memory was in sixth grade. Roughly two to three weeks into the school year, my teachers decided it was in my best interest to be placed in honors classes. It was there that I met Jeremiah and Lamar, two friends I still hang out with to this day. However, the most interesting part to this memory is that six years later as seniors at Belleview High School, Lamar served as team captain of the school’s football team, Jeremiah the same for the basketball team and myself for the baseball team—let’s just say we are extremely competitive friends.  

Growing up, baseball was my life. Every summer, spring break and vacation revolved around baseball. While it was certainly a fun sport, as you can imagine, it kept me busy and out of trouble. Most importantly though, it taught me the foundation of what it takes to run a successful business. Teamwork, dedication, mental toughness and effort are just a few of the qualities it took to be a successful baseball player that I’ve been able to translate into a successful career as a business man, CPA and leader.

Amy Bond

Florida State University Head Women’s Golf Coach

  • Elementary School: Ward Highlands 
  • Middle School: Fort King 
  • High School: Vanguard 
  • College: Florida State University

I played many sports in school that helped shape me into the person I am today. I did not specialize in one sport, which allowed me to enjoy the time spent with my teammates and have lots of variety at different times of the year. I loved team sports, but when I was a senior in high school, I had to choose which sports path I was going to follow. I chose golf, which forced me to work hard and be accountable for my own actions. I succeeded or failed based on my own abilities. Golf gave me the outlet to be my own person and the confidence to go live my dreams. When my professional golf career ended, I was blessed enough to jump right into college coaching at Florida State. Growing up in a small town like Ocala made me appreciate the little things and not take anything for granted. I am thankful for all of my teachers growing up, as each of them helped me grow into the person I am today.

I have fond memories from each level of school. In elementary school, it was our field days. In middle school, it was fun as we gained our independence by getting to change classes. In high school, I fondly remember being involved in clubs and sports.

Karan Gaekwad

Real Estate Development & Asset Manager

  • Elementary School: Eighth Street 
  • Middle School: Howard 
  • High School: Vanguard 
  • College: University of Florida

Mr. John Larson from Howard Middle School was the teacher that most inspired and influenced my learning experience, and that is why he is my favorite teacher. He made me love math by being patient and attentive and presenting the subject in fun and enjoyable ways. Before classes would start at school, he would play Magic: The Gathering with students as a way to teach math and get them comfortable with doing quick math in their heads. He was always caring and relatable and made math entertaining.

After Mr. Larson’s seventh-grade algebra class, I understood math like I never had before, and I started to excel in mathematics. My proficiency with math continues to help me in my current career with various business dealings, especially being able to do calculations quickly in my head. 

One of my fondest memories from school was starting the Ping Pong Club at Vanguard High School. That was the first time I tried to organize my own group for an extracurricular activity. I’m happy to say it was a success thanks to the help of Mr. Todd Carstenn. Mr. Carstenn was definitely one of the best teachers I’ve ever had, and I’m not sure that my friends and I would have been able to form our club without his influence.

Ashley Lopez 

Public Information Officer, Ocala Fire Rescue

  • Elementary School: Sonifel/Kelly’s Mini School 
  • Middle School: Rafael N. Coca
  • High School: Isidro A. Sanchez / West Port 
  • College: University of Florida

I’ve been blessed with great teachers throughout my life, but if I had to pick a favorite, it would have to be Sandra Febo. A true educator at heart, Ms. Febo always kept a balance between fun and focus, being an approachable, yet firm instructor. Since our first class together (in kindergarten!), Ms. Febo and I have been inseparable. From elementary school (where she’d let me sit in her classroom during breaks) through college (where she plastered pink post-it notes all over my car), Ms. Febo—now Mrs. McCoy—has been there, reminding me that fun and resolve can coexist. I’m not sure who adopted who, but I will be forever grateful for Ms. Febo, my second mother and life-long mentor.

Jose Juarez

President/CEO, Victory Solutions

  • Elementary School: Gresham 
  • Middle School: Olson 
  • High School: South Broward 
  • College: Florida State University

Miss Willams [was a teacher who inspired me growing up]. We immigrated from Cuba to Oregon in September 1968, and I did not start school until 1970. I was 7 years old when I started school in the United States. I had a lot of catching up to do, and she taught me English and all of the other basic skills that put me on level with the other kids. I also remember she drove a blue Plymouth Road Runner, so I thought she was cool.

I had a great time in high school. I had lots of friends. We lived two miles from the beach, and every weekend we would go to the beach as a group. I also was on the swim team, and another great memory was going to state finals in my sophomore, junior and senior years. We worked hard but managed to have a blast as well. My swim coach, Hal Boylan, taught us about hard work and showed us how it paid off. We had to practice three times a day—one hour before school, half hour at lunch and two hours after school. I did this and had a part-time job. The hard work paid off, and I went to state three years in a row and earned a swimming scholarship. Today I have two businesses: Victory Solutions, a marketing and customer service follow-up company, and the Barbacuban 455 Sauce Company.

Tina Chandra DDS

Dentist, Chandra Smile Designs

  • Elementary School: Terry 
  • Middle School: Henderson 
  • High School: Central 
  • College: Middle Tennessee State University  

Mr. Daniels, my physics teacher in high school, really inspired me. It was the most intimidating subject, but he made it fun and interesting! He taught me to never give up. I also did really well in biology in school. I even ended up majoring in biology in college, which led me to becoming a dentist. 

In high school, I was on the dance drill team. It taught me discipline, team camaraderie and leadership, not to mention it was a popular team event at halftime during the football games. Some of my fondest memories from school are high school pep rallies and football games. There were a lot of fun times spent hanging out with my friends on Friday nights. 

Demetrick LeCorn, D.M.D, M.S., P.A.

Endodontist, Cala Hills Endodontics

  • Elementary School: Belleview 
  • Middle School: Lake Weir 
  • High School: Lake Weir
  • College: University of Miami (bachelor’s), University of Florida (dental school and endodontic residency)

My favorite teachers that inspired me were Mr. John Leschak and Mrs. Karen Baumann. Mr. Leschak was my band director. What I remember most about him is how he demanded excellence from every member of the band at all times. He never accepted excuses and not only pushed band members musically but academically. Mrs. Baumann was my advanced anatomy and physiology teacher. She really challenged her students academically and initially sparked my interest in the human body. She taught in a way that captured your attention, and I remember always being excited to go to her class.  

I really seemed to excel in math and science courses. It was what I liked, and it was what I was good at. This absolutely helped me choose my career path. I knew after taking a health occupations course in high school that I wanted to do something in the medical field.

The extra-curricular activities that helped shape who I am as a person were band and track. Being selected the drum major of the band was a huge accomplishment for me and gave me confidence. Running track gave me a competitive edge that has served me well over the years.  

Alex Moy

CEO, Moy Media

  • Homeschooled
  • College: University of Hard Knocks

Being homeschooled was a lot of fun for me. The opportunity I had to focus on my passion and tailor my education around that was the best experience and helped me get to where I am today. Do I feel like I missed out on anything by being homeschooled? Yes and no. The social part was something I had missed but learned later on in life. I feel it’s important to surround yourself with great people and network. I started to meet people in business toward the end of high school and learned the importance of networking and establishing great relationships. I actually took a course at the CEP teaching how to network with some of the best, like Tom James, Joe Reichel, etc. This was really eye opening for me. Being homeschooled also taught me to focus and not get distracted. Tailoring your education to what you want to pursue in your career is one of the biggest advantages to being homeschooled. You can focus on what matters and not get distracted. Spending more time with family is also, I feel, a huge benefit [to homeschooling], and I will never forget those years. 

Tara Woods

Major of Special Operations, Ocala Police Department

  • Elementary School: Howard 
  • Middle School: Osceola 
  • High School: Forest 
  • College: Webster College and Saint Leo University

I was on the drill team at Osceola Middle School and a dancer for the Lady Cat Dancers at Forest all four years of high school. I am presently the leader of the New Zion Missionary Baptist Church Praise-Worship Dance Ministry, where I attend. In both my personal and professional life, dance has played an instrumental part of who I am. Dance has a number of benefits in self-development, including working as a team, listening, unity and patience. I find myself incorporating all of these benefits while working with the community, co-workers and the church.

Math was a subject I really enjoyed. Knowing there was one correct, verifiable answer was thrilling and comforting—until calculus appeared! I could have sworn there was more than one right answer then. With time, I realized that logic and critical thinking, rather than equations, were my favorite aspects of the subject. This awareness shed light on the correlation between math and public information where despite the absence of numerical values, the answers must always lead to a factual and verifiable result.

Rondo Fernandez

Owner, Mojo Grill and Catering

  • Elementary School: Boulevard Heights
  • Middle School: Lake Weir 
  • High School: Lake Weir 
  • College: Lake Vo Tech

Words can’t explain all of the lessons that I have learned from playing a team sport. We are still a big family, and [we] learned accountability, learned the importance of hard work, learned how to deal with an upset authority figure. LOL. I would encourage any student to be a part of some sort of team, whether athletic or academic.

Mr. Natalino (a graphic arts teacher from Lake Weir High) was like a second father to me. He taught me so many trades from how to fix my car to being able to provide for myself. He always looked out for me even though I wasn’t the perfect student.  


Posted in Ocala Style FeaturesTagged

Share this post


What's New at Ocala Style

Read These Writers

Our area has an abundance of authors. Check out some...

‘Water Shapes Florida’

The new exhibit at the Florida Museum of Natural History...

Mastering Your Garden

The dog days of summer can be a good time...

Alligator Allegory

My grandparents were the first to build a home along...

Making Moves

Meet the Ocala-based casting director who has steadily been building...

From France to Ocala

Dr. Jose Gaudier will lecture about the Olympic Games Paris...