Monday morning we began the week attending an OZONE Conference for all senior couples in the mission. We had looked forward to this for some time. Johanna and Haley were with us and attended also. We left our apartment early and drove directly to St. Augustine, Florida, the oldest city in the United States. We met President & Sister Lee and the other missionaries at the “The Old Jail.” The other senior couples included the Lee’s, Young’s, Waite’s, Schroeder’s, Mann’s, Whitehead’s and Gilland—18 in all. Sister Lee had purchased ticket packages and handed them out and we began at the “Old Jail” and it was interesting and a little morbid. Also, on the property was the “Oldest Store Museum Experience” and it was amazing to see the items the store sold and supplied to patrons. The next part of the day was a Trolley ride through St. Augustine narrated by an entertaining driver. We covered virtually all of the old Historic district including the Visitors Center, The Oldest Drug Store, Oldest Schoolhouse, Historic City Gates, many, many churches, and a variety of buildings constructed by Henry Flagler who transformed St. Augustine. We had lunch at the Flagler Museum in the bottom of a swimming pool. It was actually an old Hotel, originally built to attract high rollers with a swimming pool, bowling alley, archery range and gamboling. We also toured the front lobby of the Flagler College nearby and it was spectacular with a domed ceiling and exquisite wood work throughout. At that point the missionaries went separate ways. We continued the Trolley tour through the rest of the Historic District stopping at the Castillo San Marcos (Fort) and let Johanna & Haley enjoy this historic beauty. The final area we saw was the Ponce De Leon Fountain of Youth park. The water itself was pretty nasty, but they had a lot of displays on the Indian inhabitants of the area and their homes, etc. From this last stop we caught the last trolley back to where our van was parked and headed south to Orlando for the night. We appreciated the welcome all of the missionaries extended to Johanna and Haley and that made the day extra special. We arrived in Orlando about 6:30 pm where we had rooms for the night. We learned that Hurricane “Michael” was moving closer and closer to the panhandle region of Florida and what was supposed to be a Tropical Depression at best was forecast to be a Category 2 or 3 hurricane upon landfall at Panama Beach. We hoped the people in that part of Florida and Georgia were ready!
Tuesday morning, we were up early and met Johanna & Haley for breakfast and then drove to the Universal Studios parking plaza. Pam’s legs were pretty sore from yesterday’s activities and we inquired about a wheelchair and she reluctantly agreed to ride. It turned out to be a bonus for us. We got preferential parking and renting a chair for the day was simple. I remembered the entry area but that was about all as it had really been expanded and changed from when I was there in 2002 with a group of teachers from Sevier School District. We got our tickets and began our adventure. We were so glad Pam agreed to ride as she would have been finished within an hour. The primary goal of the day was Harry Potter World and we first went to Diagon Alley and wandered the various shops and corridors. It was uncanny the detail expended in the alleys, stores, streets, buildings, etc. You felt like you were in 1900 England. We took a ride in this section of the park called “Escape from Gringotts” and it was a fun, multi-dimensional thrill ride. Next, we took the “Hogwarts Express” train between two Harry Potter locations and ended up in Hogsmeade. We walked the streets of this beautiful village with many shops and activities. In the castle we went on another ride taking us through the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and soaring above the castle grounds as we joined Harry Potter and his friends on a thrilling adventure. We had lunch at the castle and it was quite a feast, highlighted, of course, by “Butter Beer.” For the next hour we exited the Hogsmeade area and went to the Island of Adventure park and road the “Jurassic park River Adventure ride” which was fun. Haley also road the “Hulk” coaster. We wandered through dozens of other attractions surrounding a large lake and then returned to Hogsmeade and took the Hogswart Express back to the Diagon Alley area and moved towards to park exit. We saw a myriad of themed areas and stopped at The Mummy and Haley and Johanna went on the ride and Pam and I relaxed under a tree watching and listening to street performers while enjoying a Slurpee and Popcorn. When they returned we continued towards the entrance and left the park at 4:00 pm. It had been quite an adventurous day and it was easy to see why there were thousands and thousands of families in the park on a Tuesday in October. The drive back to Jacksonville was uneventful and we safely made it to our apartment after a fun-filled day.
Wednesday morning, the big news was the progress of Hurricane Michael. It appeared like it might be the strongest hurricane to hit that area of Florida in years, possibly a category 4 storm which would be devasting. President Lee has evacuated missionaries from Cross City and Chiefland to the Ocala District. We were only experiencing some wind and clouds here in Jacksonville. At 12:30 pm we drove across the St. John’s river hoping to take Johanna and Haley to the Kingsley Plantation. We enjoyed the drive and talked about the various places we were passing. As we approached the plantation turnoff, we noticed a “Closed” sign but continued on and enjoyed the unique drive through the forested area of Fort George Island. At the Plantation the gate was indeed closed (hurricane precaution), and we couldn’t see anything so that was a disappointment. We made the circle loop back to Heckscher Road and continued east towards Little Talbot Island State Park where the gate ranger let us drive around without paying. Haley wanted to walk on the beach and she and Johanna made it that far, but it was quite a hike and Pam and I returned to the van as the rain started to fall. Haley returned with a handful of shells and said there were signs warning not to get in the water because of rip currents. We returned to Jacksonville and had some lunch then on to Mayport and went on base and drove to the Lagae home and visited with Samantha and her children and introduced them to Johanna and Haley. Before leaving the base, we drove around and showed them what a Naval Base was like. There were a couple of ships tied up but not many, because of the hurricane warning. Finally, we returned to the Arlington area and went to a boat ramp on the St. John’s river and walked out on the fishing piers. It was enjoyable to see the huge bridge, river island and homes.
Thursday morning, we learned the full extent of Hurricane Michael’s rampage through the panhandle of Florida. It came ashore at Mexican Beach as a Category 4 storm with winds of 145 mph and 9-13 feet of storm surge along the coastline. It quickly moved inland knocking out power, taking off roofs, destroying trees and homes and remained a Category 3 storm well inland. This morning the storm was crossing Georgia into South Carolina as a Tropical Storm and forecast to be out in the Atlantic by evening. The fast movement and downgraded status were a blessing to those areas already devastated by Florence last month. Today Johanna and Haley returned to Denver and we began the morning opening up the USO and things were quiet with not much bread or pastries. However, we got everything tabulated and set out for patrons. Pam took Johanna around and showed her the place and I manned the office and took calls and checked in patrons. Cheryl arrived at 10:00 am and we introduced Johanna to her and Charlie Tramazzo, but we missed Joyce Schellhorn (Director). We left the USO at 11:30 am and returned to the apartment and Haley was up and they finished packing and we loaded up their bag and headed north to the airport. We had some lunch and then dropped them off at the departure gate and said our goodbyes. We certainly enjoyed having Johanna and Haley with us and enjoyed the feeling of family closeness again. They had an uneventful series of flights to Denver, arriving in Chicago later that afternoon and in Denver around 8:30 pm.
Friday morning, we went to the USO to see if Dave Ostrum needed our help this morning. Dave was working with a volunteer cleaning off all the knick-knacks from the cabinets in the office preparing for flooring which was coming Tuesday. We helped out where we could and sold football tickets, cleaned up and made a deposit for Dave at a local credit union. We left at 2:00 pm and had lunch and then returned to our apartment. Pam did some housework and I got my hair cut throughout the afternoon. We missed Johanna and Haley!
Saturday morning, I watched several videos of the destruction in Mexican Beach (by Panama Beach) and it was just frightening. Practically everything from the coast to about a half a mile inland was gone—just empty concrete pads. Couldn’t imagine what those residents were feeling. With the passage of the storm, the weather was picture perfect throughout the southeast. Temps in the 80’s and low humidity, couldn’t ask for anything better. We heard it had turned to pre-winter in Utah with snow in the mountains and freezing temps. This morning after studying, we cleaned the apartment thoroughly and began a mountain of laundry. We drove to Panda Express and bought lunch for Samantha Lagae as she and several of her kids were sick and Jerald had the duty. We dropped off the food and she was very appreciative. On the way back through Mayport area we had lunch and then did a little shopping, filled up with gas and returned to our apartment.
Sunday morning, we left for church at Jacksonville Beach and had a bonus day—the Head’s, Black’s, Lagae’s, Shay Tuttle, Stephanie Jarvis, Noblits, and Tyler were all in church. Alexis Connelly was sick this morning and Lance Jarvis had the duty. It was wonderful, and we enjoyed the various meetings with these good families. During Elder’s quorum meeting the president discussed assignments for hurricane cleanup in North Carolina and the Florida panhandle. The Stake was asked to provide a number of workers on two upcoming weekends and I was sure they would meet their goal. “helping hands” was a popular thing here and they had enjoyed the benefits of it from other areas in the past. After church we returned to our apartment and Pam fixed some dinner and I made a number of calls to several families and single members inviting them to a Military dinner the Lagae’s are hosting this coming Friday. We can’t wait to get them all together again.