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Bright Students Lead The Way At Wellington-Area High Schools Young Leaders

Bright Students Lead The Way At Wellington-Area High Schools  Young Leaders

Showing endurance, flexibility, perseverance and a sense of decorum few others have been called upon to muster in their young academic careers, the Class of 2020 has made history. The two public high schools serving the Wellington community graduated a combined 1,334 students in this pandemic-altered year filled with unique challenges.

Principal Cara Hayden at Wellington High School said that the school is incredibly proud of its 635 members in the Class of 2020. While the traditional graduation ceremony at the South Florida Fairgrounds was canceled, a virtual ceremony was held online Monday, June 1, featuring speeches from valedictorian Max LeGates and salutatorian Hersh Prakash.

“Our seniors were instrumental in our transition to remote learning,” Hayden said. “Their focus and maturity helped our teachers maintain continuity in the classroom. They responded to the loss of several senior traditions with kindness and promoted the most innovating ideas. Max and Hersh are wonderful representatives of the grace and maturity demonstrated by our senior class.”

Principal Darren Edgecomb at Palm Beach Central High School said that his 699 graduates rose to the occasion. “Of course, it has been an unprecedented year, and our seniors have led the way,” he said. “It is due to their endurance, tenacity, intelligence and confidence that we were able to persevere.”

Palm Beach Central’s class was led by valedictorian Jacob Fingeret and salutatorian Ian Mutschler. “Jacob and Ian are extremely popular, and they helped to lead the way in the Class of 2020,” Edgecomb said. “The class as a whole rose to the occasion, and these two phenomenal young men were truly leaders.”

Wellington High School
Valedictorian Max LeGates

Max LeGates lives with his parents and has two older brothers. The oldest one graduated from Roanoke College two years ago, and the middle brother just graduated from Franklin & Marshall College. LeGates starts in the fall at the University of Florida, studying environmental science.

LeGates decided to strive for valedictorian when he discovered that he was ranked first after his freshman year.

“I wanted to keep up my hard work and keep my position,” he said. “There were no defining moments because I never knew if I would stay valedictorian, but I worked harder and harder every year to keep my position.”

LeGates graduated with a grade point average of 4.0 and an honors point average of 5.40. In the time before the virus hit, he ran varsity cross country since his sophomore year and participated in the Leadership Grow program. “I was also junior and senior class treasurer and involved heavily in student government,” LeGates added.

LeGates found virtual schooling to be challenging. “Transitioning to online learning was quite difficult for me. I’m not used to learning online. The hardest thing for me was trying to stay awake for first period while still lying in my bed! A typical day is very much like real school, except lonely and more boring, but I got used to it and still tried to succeed.”

LeGates is optimistic about the future. “I know the world is going through a tough time right now, but we are all working together, and we will come out stronger,” he said. “I’m excited to start my four years at UF.”

He urged his fellow graduates to never stop chasing their dreams. “If you work hard and keep your eye on the prize, you can accomplish anything,” LeGates said. “My advice for future seniors is to focus on school but also ensure that you have a good time as well. Don’t get caught up in being the best or else you’ll lose yourself in the process.”


Wellington High School
Salutatorian Hersh Prakash

Hersh Prakash completed his high school career with a 3.93 grade point average and an honors point average of 5.55. He lives with his parents and his sister, who is two years older.

It was while attending his sister’s graduation when he was a sophomore that he decided to try for valedictorian or salutatorian.

“I was sitting in the auditorium with maybe 4,000 people and 600 kids who had all worked extremely hard to get through school and graduate,” Prakash remembered. “I saw the salutatorian give a speech, and I got chills. I knew I would be salutatorian or valedictorian because I wanted to leave my mark at Wellington High School.”

Last year, Prakash played soccer. He is a member of the National Honor Society and a math tutor. He works part time as a loan processor and will soon get his real estate license.

During the virtual school era, a typical day began at 8 a.m. “I join the Google meets for my classes. In the afternoon, I go for a run and study for the real estate exam. I go to sleep around 11 p.m.,” he said.

Prakash will be attending the University of Florida where he will major in business and real estate.

“I am extremely optimistic about the future because the country is never going to stop,” Prakash said. “Kids, such as myself, want to see the world be a better place. I recommend trying to have a positive mindset as a whole. That way, current events won’t affect us so much.”

Prakash is also excited to be voting for the first time this year. “I am extremely excited to have a voice and experience being in a voting booth,” he said. “It is one vote, but one vote matters.”

Palm Beach Central High School
Valedictorian Jacob Fingeret

Jacob Fingeret has a 15-year-old brother and a sister who just turned 11. He graduates with a grade point average of 4.0 and an honors point average of 5.5. He has been rated at the top of his class since he was a freshman.

“When I learned that, I thought, ‘Maybe if I try, I can maintain this,’” remembered Fingeret, who will be attending the University of Florida as a pre-med major.

Before the virus hit, he played soccer and water polo, and he served as treasurer of the National Honor Society and a member of the history, environmental and social studies honor societies. Along the way, he also found time to work at Wawa.

The challenge Fingeret noticed most with the switch to online schooling was the workload.

“It was an interesting change,” he said. “I felt like we started doing more work. Maybe it was because the teachers gave assignments, and you didn’t have any time at school, but definitely adjusting to keep your schedule and to keep up with everything was challenging.”

To his fellow seniors, Fingeret suggested that they “expect the unexpected.”

“Not everything is going to go your way. Assess the situation and adapt to it. So long as you have air in your lungs, you are probably doing pretty good,” he said.

A typical home-schooling day for Fingeret included a lot of learning.

“I get up at 8:30 a.m. and do Google meets for my classes,” he said. “I learn calculus that I may or may not understand. The computer doesn’t bother me much. I take college classes that were online before corona. At 3 p.m. I exercise, then do homework until 9 p.m. From 9 p.m. to midnight it is free time for family time or Netflix, then bedtime.”

As for next year’s seniors, Fingeret’s advice is: “Always work as hard on schoolwork as you can but remember that friends are most important. It all ends pretty fast.”

Palm Beach Central High School
Salutatorian Ian Mutschler

Ian Mutschler lives with his parents and has two sisters — an older sister attending college in Jacksonville and a 15-year-old younger sister at home. He will be attending Florida State University, where he plans to major in meteorology.

Mutschler graduated with a 3.9474 grade point average and a 5.3662 honors point average.

“After my sophomore year, I saw I had a shot and thought it would be pretty cool. I wanted to go for it,” explained Mutschler about being named salutatorian.

Of course, he also got some parental encouragement during his academic journey. “My mom pushed me along the way,” he said.

Mutschler was a member of the National Honor Society, active in the Student Government Association and works as a lifeguard at the Wellington Aquatics Complex.

One of the challenges of switching to online schooling was the “bizarre transition of trying to learn calculus over a computer screen. It is not easy. I’m more of a face-to-face person,” Mutschler said.

Mutschler remains optimistic about the future. “I’m confident that there will be a vaccine or some kind of herd immunity,” he said. “I am already seeing signs of re-opening, and that gives me hope. I think that maybe in a few months or a year, things will be back to normal.”

Mutschler offered some advice to his fellow graduates. “Having a high number is great, but don’t forget your friends and the people you meet,” he said. “They are much more important than a number. It is cool to be able to speak at graduation or to have a bunch of cords, but don’t forget your friends. They are more important than your GPA — and enjoy things while they last because, as we have seen, it can all be pulled away at any time.”

To those who will be seniors next year, Mutschler suggested that they may not want to follow his exact example. “Don’t kill yourself like I did,” he said. “I’m not saying it wasn’t worth it; but focus on relationships. That is going to be what builds your character more than anything.”




Wellington The Magazine set out on a mission to do something special for our graduating seniors during these unprecedented times — something no one else was doing and would be meaningful for years to come. This goal led to the amazing fashion pictorial that spreads over the pages of this month’s magazine.

Graduating seniors were not going to have the opportunity to attend their senior prom, a milestone event of the high school experience that many had been planning for all year long, including choosing the perfect dress or selecting a stylish tuxedo or suit. The idea for our pictorial came as we were scrolling through Instagram and read the hashtag #alldressedupandnopromtoattend featuring a young lady polishing her nails in a full face of makeup and her beautiful prom dress hanging behind her. At that moment, the idea was born to give these partygoers the opportunity to show off their “prom looks” in this special “Celebrating Our Seniors” pictorial.

This photo shoot was done in collaboration with our community partner La Casa Hermosa. Iva Ivanova and her team were once again simply amazing to work with. From our initial inquiry, to teaming up during the shoot for hair and makeup, to styling assistance, the team at La Casa Hermosa were exceptional.

Participating seniors had the chance to coordinate appointments with their friends and perhaps bring their prom date to be included in the photo session. It was a moment in time captured for a lifetime of memories, and we know it brought many smiles to their faces. Along with a small swag bag gift, each of the new graduates will also receive high resolution photography to keep and share with family and friends, compliments of Wellington The Magazine.


Former Mayors Kathy Foster And Tom Wenham Added To Founder’s Plaque

Kathy Foster and Tom Wenham, both former mayors of Wellington and members of the inaugural Wellington Village Council, will soon have their names added to the Wellington Founder’s Plaque — a special honor reserved for those instrumental in making Wellington the community it is today.
Foster and Wenham are integral parts of village history and, for many residents, household names. They have held a variety of leadership roles since their arrival here, both in elected and volunteer capacities, improving their neighbors’ lives and setting the bar high for like-minded community activists.
The current council voted to add Foster’s name to the plaque on Tuesday, March 10.
Foster moved to Wellington with her husband and two young sons in 1979 because the boys, Jeremiah and Christian, were experiencing health issues up north. In 1980, she organized other mothers to go to the Palm Beach County School Board to ask for schools to be built in Wellington and, as a result, Wellington Elementary School opened in January 1981.
“That’s when I learned that people could make a difference,” Foster said.
Yet 15 months after relocating to Wellington, Christian passed away from spinal meningitis, turning her life upside down. “Everything I thought I knew was up for analysis,” she recalled.
As Foster started to find her “ground legs” again, little Adam Walsh went missing from Fort Lauderdale. When police discovered his body, beheaded, it hit her hard.
“I wrote to his parents, John and Reve, that my son died in my arms, loved and cared for,” she said. “It was hard to imagine what they were going through. A year and a half later, when they started the Adam Walsh Children’s Fund, I offered to help them with fundraisers.”
For the next 20 years, working with the Walshes gave Foster a focus to help other children in Christian’s memory. She also put her design degree to work by opening K. Foster Designs in the Town Square shopping center in 1983. A nearby restauranteur, Dennis Witkowski, wanted to start a chamber of commerce, and Foster was in.
It was a short leap from that first business-related involvement to government.
“In 1989, it was mandated that elections for the Acme Improvement District board [Wellington’s pre-incorporation government] be opened to residents. Until then, the board was comprised of real estate developers, major utility companies and law firms who do land development — there was no local representation.”
There were also no women.
“Father Walter Dockerill [pastor of St. Rita Catholic Church] and Buz Spooner [principal of Wellington Elementary School] talked me into running,” Foster recalled. “They wanted a representative who had young children to maintain a hometown feel centered on faith and families.”
Foster was convinced. “When I spoke, I said I lived here, worked here, owned a business here and had a fair understanding of what the people who lived here wanted. I also said I had no outside agenda — and no experience— but promised a common-sense approach,” Foster said. “I also thought it was important to have a balance of representation from men and women because we think differently.”
Foster was the only woman in 23 candidates and won with 48 percent of the vote. She was elected president of the Acme board in 1992.
“That’s when we started to pursue whether incorporation was a good idea for us,” Foster said. “At the time, Palm Beach County was receiving $7 million in taxes from the Wellington area and investing less than $700,000 back into our community. It was all going east of I-95. We also wanted self-rule. We wanted parks and certain amenities that we couldn’t create because we had limited authority — the widening of Forest Hill Blvd., for example. A committee was formed with Ken Adams, Mark Miles, Dick Palenschat and others to explore the ramifications of incorporation.”
The measure failed the first time it was proposed, but it was modified and passed in 1995 — by just 121 votes.
“We officially became the Village of Wellington on Dec. 31, 1995,” Foster said. “In March of 1996, elections were held for first council. Mike McDonough, Paul Adams, Tom Wenham, Carmine Priore and myself were elected, and again I won with a majority of the vote. So, based on number of votes, I became mayor.”
Foster stayed in elected office until 2000, when she left to become executive director of the Adam Walsh Children’s Fund. When the organization merged with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and moved to Washington, D.C., Foster stayed in Wellington, going on to become executive director of Junior Achievement, founding Wellington Cares, which helps seniors age in place, and, at age 65, adopting her grandson Jack when his parents were unable to care for him.
“When we moved here in 1979, no one could have envisioned what a wonderful community Wellington would become,” she marveled. “It’s so diverse in its population, international in its flavor, thanks to the horse industry. Every school is an A-rated school, and there are wonderful sports programs for our youth, but that’s thanks to the hard work and investment of time and energy of young families who have moved here and given that to this village. For me, it has been a privilege and a joy to have had a small hand in making Wellington what it is today.”
The council added Wenham’s name to the plaque on Tuesday, Feb. 25.
Also a member of the inaugural council, Wenham became the village’s appointed mayor in 2000, and when the charter was changed to call for a directly elected mayor, he put his name on the ballot, becoming Wellington’s first elected mayor.
“I didn’t want him to run. He ran anyway,” Wenham’s wife Regis recalled. “Tom worked as assistant property appraiser for Palm Beach County, so he’d always been around town. He has always been involved in government no matter where we lived. He has worked for municipalities of different sizes. I guess it was inevitable.”
Wenham was on the board of the community activist group Residents of Wellington (ROW) early on and became its president in 1988, taking over from Dick Nethercote.
“From there, I was appointed to chair a committee of the Acme Improvement District, the Utility Review Committee, where residents would come to us with whatever problem they were having, and we would try to solve it for them,” he said.
That interaction with members of the community, that ability to help, made Wenham want to do more. In 1994, he ran for a seat on the Acme board and was elected. He also became involved with the quest for incorporation.
“A big part of the reason incorporation passed that second time was that Wycliffe opted out,” Regis explained. “If they had stayed in, and their votes against incorporation had been counted, it would have failed again.”
By 2000, Wenham was serving as mayor of Wellington, holding that position until 2008. Since then, he has remained active in the community. He is currently chair of the Wellington Community Foundation and sits on the village’s Architectural Review Board.
Yet, he was surprised when he heard that his name would be added to the Founder’s Plaque.
“I was speechless when they made the motion to discuss it,” Wenham said. “Regis was there with me, and we both shed a tear. We are 39-year residents of this community but that they were going to bring my name up? I hadn’t even thought about it. I was greatly and pleasantly surprised.”
A veteran of the Korean War, Wenham has always taken his role as a citizen quite seriously.
“It’s quite an honor to be recognized by your hometown,” Wenham said. “I’ve always said that everybody has to give something back to their country and their community. You can’t just keep taking, you’ve got to give something back. It’s why I first joined ROW. What greater honor could be bestowed upon a resident of Wellington than to be considered a founder of the community? To my mind, it’s the premier community in the county and in the state. I’m proud of it. I’m proud of those who have served on our councils, and I’m proud of the staff.”
The Founder’s Plaque is on display in the lobby of the Wellington Municipal Complex at 12300 W. Forest Hill Blvd.


Dance Your Way To Health And Happiness At Fred Astaire Dance Studio In Wellington

The world-renowned Fred Astaire Dance Studio has a new home in Wellington. The studio opened in October 2019 and has already snagged the top spot in the 2020 Best of Palm Beach County Awards for dance studios. Part of this success stems from the fact that the new site offers a variety of dance genres for all ages, styles and abilities.
When Fred Astaire Dance Studio (FADS) Wellington owner Doreen Scheinpflug Fortman first started as a dance instructor, she never envisioned the career and opportunities that lay ahead.
“I am originally from Germany. I started dancing when I was five,” Scheinpflug said. “In 2006, I moved to the United States because they were looking for experienced European dancers to come here and teach. I actually came just to have a year or two of a fun experience before getting into the real adult world.”
Scheinpflug studied marketing and graphic design in college and was intrigued by an ad in a dance magazine that ended up bringing her to Connecticut. She was impressed by the structure and unexpected career opportunities that FADS had to offer.
“Fred Astaire Dance Studios is a big corporation. The school was developed by Fred Astaire himself, who opened the first studio in 1947 in New York City,” Scheinpflug explained. “The feel inside the studio is that we are carrying on his legend, his steps and techniques. I ended up really liking it. I enjoy working with people. I like to see how they feel when they are seeing progress.”
FADS has nearly 170 studios spread across the country, giving a unique structure to the schools and extensive resources to its clients.
“Being from Germany, I like to have structure — to have plans. Fred Astaire has a unique trophy system. There is a foundation level, bronze, silver and gold. Each level gives you a program of what steps to be learning and what the techniques are, so we can show the clients their progress.”
This trophy system also means participants can take their training to any FADS location in the country and stay on track without losing a step.
But often clients walk through the studio doors with a specific purpose in mind.
“Sometimes people come in for their wedding dance or something very specific, like they are going on a cruise. We also get lots of couples that just want to have a date night. This is one sport where people can do it together because you don’t compete,” Scheinpflug said. “You play tennis — who is going to win? Any type of game or sport is about competition, but dancing is about working with each other leading and following.”
FADS Wellington begins adults with a special introductory experience — two private lessons for a flat rate. This can be an individual or a couple and gives the instructor a chance to connect with the student before offering advice on which classes to take. Children ages five to nine receive their first group class free as well.
“Couples see it is a great way to spend time together and reconnect. For those without a significant other, they can come and meet people in a friendly, social environment and build a new group of friends,” Scheinpflug said. “Also, it’s a great exercise. Some people don’t necessarily like to go to the gym, but they want to stay fit and active.”
FADS Wellington offers regular social events, participates in local community events and even has a special showcase where students perform for the public. Scheinpflug’s studio also works with local organizations in the fight against Alzheimer’s disease.
“Not only do you have to remember steps, but you’ve got to coordinate those steps with music and movement,” she said. “We are there to enrich lives from the mental health, physical health and social life aspects, because dancing has huge benefits.”
Here in South Florida, Latin dances like the salsa and cha-cha are very popular, and FADS Wellington has experienced staff in place to bring the best instruction to its students. Studio managers Michael and Tanya Chaves, along with the rest of the team, hail from around the globe and bring with them a diverse repertoire.
“There is no college to be a dance teacher. Most of the time you have a dancer who’s decided to become a teacher, but there is so much more to be a good instructor,” Scheinpflug said. “If you are familiar with Dancing with the Stars, Tony Dovolani is the national dance director for FADS. He is in charge of making sure the dance quality is top notch. Our teachers are tested every six months to ensure the instruction remains top level.”
This depth gives FADS Wellington the ability to recommend dances for students or tailor lessons to fit their strengths and interests.
After running a successful location in West Palm Beach for 12 years, Scheinpflug is thrilled to bring the talent to Wellington, where she lives with her husband and is happily raising her baby daughter, Anya.
“The Wellington community — it has been amazing to see how supportive the community is. I ran a business in the West Palm Beach area, and it grew to one of the top studios in the country, but here I’ve really experienced support,” she said. “The goal was always to have a location in Wellington because I love the community.”
The Fred Astaire Dance Studio Wellington is located at 157 S. State Road 7, Suite 103. To make an appointment, or learn more about classes, call the studio at (561) 812-3825 or visit Questions can also be e-mailed to


Wellington-Based Bluman Equestrian Reaches Great Heights In Its First Decade

Established in 2010, Bluman Equestrian is celebrating a decade of exponential growth in 2020. As the family-run team heads into what could prove to be one of its most memorable years yet, the dichotomy of its early days in Wellington to winning records around the globe is an astounding feat.
Since establishing a permanent base in the “Winter Horse Capital of the World” in 2013, the five cousins of Daniel, Steven, Ilan, Mark and Joseph Bluman that make up the enterprise have increasingly made known the name and abilities of Bluman Equestrian, which is now synonymous with excellence in and out of the show ring.
With all of the family members still under the age of 35, the future of Bluman Equestrian is bright as the family enters the new decade with lofty goals and the talent to achieve them.
“Wellington has been instrumental for the Blumans. We started our professional careers here, and we own a farm here. This is the one time of year we can spend a few months together and train and compete as a family,” Daniel said. “We have so many great memories here. All of the Blumans have been at the top of the leaderboard at some point in this town, and achieving those goals together is particularly gratifying.”
A haven for the Bluman clan, Wellington is the one location where all five of the Bluman riders and their families converge each winter, unlike the remainder of the year, when the team may be separated by state or national borders. Thanks to their communal presence in Wellington for the winter equestrian season, the members of Bluman Equestrian are able to more effectively implement their combined specialties to produce success for themselves and their clients.
The main rider in internationally rated competitions, Daniel is the go-to source for high stakes classes and spends part of his summer in Europe, while Ilan uses his skills to provide training to customers, in addition to managing his own competition schedule across the United States.
A gifted catch rider, Mark spearheads showing most of the sale horses that the team has produced, and Steven splits his time between riding, training clients and operating his company, Equo, often described as “Uber for horses.” An amateur equestrian, Joseph spends the majority of his time in their native Colombia, managing the non-equestrian side of the business to allow his brothers and cousins to focus on equine matters.
“When we were just boys, we already knew that we wanted to end up riding and competing in Wellington and at the highest level of the sport. I remember when we first moved to the area as kids, we would sell shirts so that we could meet the riders and get in front of them while funding some of our training,” Steven recalled. “Now that some of us have kids, we have the new generation of Bluman Equestrian. It feels a little like things have come full circle.”
Though Wellington has served a pivotal role in Bluman Equestrian’s development, in 2020 the team has its sights set on another location: Tokyo. As the Olympic Games in Japan draw near, the Bluman squad has been diligently preparing for the competition, during which Daniel will ride for Team Israel, as the country makes its first appearance as a nation represented in Olympic show jumping.
From the humble beginnings to 2020, which will showcase Daniel’s third Olympic efforts, the five horsemen of Bluman Equestrian have relied on principles instilled in them by their parents.
“We are competitive by nature. From our early days, we wanted to better each other in every game or sport there is,” Ilan said. “Our parents taught us to be honest and persistent. They taught us to work with integrity and resilience. Without that education, none of this would have been possible. All of us took these lessons to heart and have been able to put them to good use, which has resulted in a successful business and proper horsemen.”
A unified front in everything they do, Daniel, Steven, Ilan, Mark and Joseph have each worked for years for the betterment of the group, always putting the achievements of the team ahead of the individual. Thanks to this facet, Bluman Equestrian has reached the pinnacle of the sport in a relatively quick timeframe and, with all of the members still early in their careers, set them up for continued success.
“Our success is based on teamwork,” Mark explained. “As individuals, we are all very capable and talented for different things, and as a team, we respect each other, and we support each other. I don’t think many families can work together the way we do.”
Having grown from mere spectators in Wellington to winners of key Grand Prix events at the Winter Equestrian Festival, Bluman Equestrian has managed to solidify itself as a fixture in Wellington while still remaining committed to its family values. With a quintet of hardworking cousins at its core, it is a safe bet that the Bluman name will continue to impress for years to come.
Visit to learn more.


Inspired Perfection One-Of-A-Kind Fashion Wear That Looks And Flows Beautifully On All Body Types

Founder Kiki Simon credits divine inspiration for her clothing line Lovely Salt, which she named after a verse from the Bible, “You are the salt of the earth.” (Matthew 5:13)
“I followed my faith and vision and decided to leave my career of 11 years to follow my passion,” Simon explained. “My creative gift has inspired me to design fashion wear that looks and flows beautifully on all body types. My pieces are one of a kind and hand-detailed to perfection.”
Simon said that once clients try on Lovely Salt, they feel confident and beautiful and step out of their normal fashion comfort zone. “It truly is an inspiration for me to keep designing more styles as I listen to their comments,” she said. “I also enjoy assisting clients on accessorizing their new fashion look to individualize the piece to make it uniquely theirs.”
Simon said that she is following her dream and doing what she loves to do. “I am blessed to have clients who are friends and friends that became clients,” she said. “Life is not to be taken for granted, and I am grateful daily to be able to follow my dream. The smiles on my customers’ faces are priceless.”
Find Lovely Salt at Resilient Fitness Boutique, located inside Resilient Fitness at 11596 Pierson Road, Building M, in Wellington. Call (561) 596-4296 or visit for more info.


Martha Jolicoeur Supports Give Back For Special Equestrians At Inaugural WEF Wine Down

images from the january 2016 issue of wellington the magazine. all content ©2016 wellington the magazine

Wellington real estate agent Martha W. Jolicoeur hosted an innovative philanthropic event at one of her Palm Beach Polo & Country Club listings on Thursday, Feb. 27. The setting was breathtaking, and the cause was worthy.
The WEF Wine Down event celebrated the joy of horses while encouraging the Wellington equestrian community to pay their passion for horses forward to benefit disabled children and veterans through the Wellington-based charity Give Back for Special Equestrians.
Founded in 2013 by Sissy De Maria-Koehne, Isabel Ernst and Dr. Heather Kuhl, Give Back for Special Equestrians is an all-volunteer organization that provides therapeutic horseback riding scholarships for disabled children and veterans suffering from some of life’s most difficult physical, mental and emotional disabilities. Their goal is to help as many people as possible experience horsepower that heals. The charity has provided more than $100,000 in support of horseback riding for the disabled and is active in Florida, Colorado and New York.
“Give Back for Special Equestrians is an organization that is very near and dear to me,” said Jolicoeur, a Wellington-based Douglas Elliman Real Estate agent. “As a rider and supporter of horse sport throughout my entire life, I have learned first-hand about the therapeutic power that sitting in the saddle wields. It was an honor for me to be able to host this event alongside fellow Douglas Elliman agent Mark J. Norman at one of our most popular listings. It was inspiring to see the willingness of riders, owners, members of the Wellington community and supporters of equestrian sport to help raise the profile of one very deserving charity.”
Jolicoeur and Norman selected 12443 Cypress Island Way as the stunning setting for the event. Dubbed “El Sueno,” the one-of-a-kind, 11,654-square-foot estate home is situated in the heart of the Palm Beach Polo & Country Club community. A masterpiece from all angles, the home sits on a spacious lot with a waterfront backdrop. Plenty of green space is featured throughout the property, which combines privacy with all the amenities of modern design.
Rare marbles were imported from Italy, gorgeous walnut cabinetry was sourced from Canada and custom furniture was meticulously designed to give the home an exclusive touch. A collaboration in the truest sense of the word, the home is equal parts equestrian retreat and design showcase. Listed at $9.95 million, the home was built by RWB Construction Management, a concierge builder, in partnership with Primark Partners, Decorators Unlimited and Affiniti Architects.
The evening also introduced Give Back for Special Equestrians’ giving society, aptly named the “S.P.U.R. Society” (Special People United for Riders), which encourages equine enthusiasts to get involved and help provide horseback riding lessons to the children it serves.
“We are humbled to have the support of our title sponsor, Martha Jolicoeur and Mark J. Norman of Douglas Elliman, as well as our hosts Robert Burrage and Matthew Epstein,” said DeMaria-Koehne, co-founder of Give Back for Special Equestrians. “Thanks to their combined generosity and the evening’s success, we will be able to award several therapeutic horseback riding scholarships at Good Hope Equestrian Training Facility to their deserving equestrians, so they can benefit from this life-changing therapy.”
Epstein surprised guests with the announcement that he would make a $25,000 donation to the charity should any registered attendee purchase the property.
Highlighting the evening’s program, Dr. Peggy Bass, executive director of Good Hope Equestrian Center, welcomed guests with a tale of her experience witnessing how horses changed the life of a foster child dealing with challenging circumstances.
Give Back for Special Equestrians ambassador Dorothea Johnson then introduced the attendees to her son, Hunter Johnson, a special-needs rider and Give Back for Special Equestrians scholarship recipient. She shared her personal journey of having a young son diagnosed with autism while expressing her deep gratitude to the organization. Hunter stole the show and was clearly thriving with the help of the Give Back for Special Equestrians organization.
Notable guests included Tom Wright, Chris Leavitt, Dr. Guenther Koehne, Randy Fiorenza, Aimee Deupi and Kristian Stensby; Give Back co-founders Sissy De Maria-Koehne, Dr. Heather KuhI and Isabel Ernst; board members Sandra Fiorenza, Emily Sherman, Munisha Underhill, Carlotta Goyeneche, Ashley Cagle, Cheryl Ernst and Dr. Peggy Bass, along with Murray Bass; and Douglas Elliman Realtors Waverly Ernst and Sharon Loayza.
For more information about Give Back for Special Equestrians, visit To learn more about Jolicoeur and her Wellington listings, visit


Village Music Café Pairs Culture And Entertainment With Great Food And Drink

When it comes to music and business, timing is everything. For Steve and Donna Willey, owners of Village Music Café, that’s what makes both of them, and their business, tick.
“I just love this spot. It’s the perfect size and right at the entrance to the mall,” Donna Willey said.
This hometown treasure, now located near Barnes & Noble and Walgreens in the Shoppes at Wellington Green, first opened its doors in 2012 near Fresh Market. A few years later, not only did they need more room, but they also wanted to try a new concept, adding a café space to what was previously just a music store.
Located just one shopping plaza over, the new venue has brought a world of change, hitting a high note with both regulars and newcomers each week.
“We really see ourselves as a cultural center that brings the community together,” Donna said.
It’s a cultural center surrounded by the arts. It includes not only music lessons, live music, instrument sales and monthly exhibits by local artists, but it’s also all tied together with artisanal food. That food, along with various craft beers and wine, harmoniously set the stage for all things art.
“The stage is an integral part of what we wanted to do,” Donna explained. “Once we had that, we decided we needed to open this up to the community and bring in local artists. And that has become an extremely popular phenomenon. People love to come here and see local musicians play — and we get great talent here.”
That talent runs the gamut from jazz to rock, comedians to open mic nights, art exhibits to mixers, from the accomplished to those just starting out.
“During the day, it’s a hangout for parents while their kids are taking lessons. They grab a gourmet coffee or a snack while waiting. The kids will have a snack when they come out. In the evening, it turns into a place where the community hangs out,” Donna said.
A hangout filled with dark-toned bistro tables with high-backed seating along the back wall. Each month, paintings by local artists rotate, hanging throughout the space. A dim and relaxed atmosphere with sparkling tea lights dotting the tables create a calm ambiance, all while visitors nosh on some tasty eats.
For starters, there’s the Charcuterie Board for $20. It’s loaded with mixed meats and cheeses, including prosciutto, salami, serrano ham and capicola. Cheeses include white cheddar, port wine and smoked gouda. Marinated mozzarella balls, olives, artichokes, grapes and bread fill it all in. “We had a lot of input from different chefs that we worked with,” Donna said.
Other starters include hummus, ceviche, as well as fresh guacamole paired with homemade spinach tortilla chips for $8.
“Thursday through Saturday, we have a grill outside. On those nights, we have the full menu that includes New York strip steaks, pork chops, tacos and all kinds of fun stuff. The menu is constantly evolving,” Donna added.
From a gourmet cheeseburger, made with eight ounces of sirloin on a brioche bun served with homemade steak fries for $10, to grilled or blackened salmon with broccoli, for $13.
“It’s really having something nice to eat and a glass of wine to enjoy with the food,” Donna explained. “It’s not a place people come to drink, but people come to eat and listen to the music. It’s one of the reasons we get high-level musicians playing here, because they’re not background music. They are the focus.”
A large focus is also put on the selection of available craft beers and wines — from California wines to South American, New Zealand and more. “I had a vision of what I wanted. It came from all my time in Europe,” Donna said.
It’s in Europe that the couple originally met in 1987. Steve, a U.S. Army veteran, was stationed in Germany where Donna was in graduate school. Both had musical backgrounds. A year later, Steve was sent back to Texas, while Donna finished her studies. The two were separated, and they went on to marry others and start families.
But 23 years later, Donna got a message from Steve. At a time, both had been divorced. “He found me on Facebook, and we were reunited,” she recalled.
In that nearly quarter of a century, there was still music involved between the two. A love song that had been lost, still waiting to be heard.
“Steve had written a song called, ‘Donna Sweet Donna.’ An army buddy did a water painting and calligraphy with the lyrics. But I moved after our breakup and never got it. He assumed I just wasn’t interested anymore. He played it over the phone for me. So, that was the beginning,” Donna said.
Steve headed back to Germany to be with her. The two eventually moved to Boston, where they’re both originally from. “Boston is too cold, and Steve’s parents were down in Florida,” Donna explained.
Steve soon sold his music store in the northeast, and the search for a Florida location began, bringing them to Wellington.
It seems to have been written in the stars when they made that decision, as now they and others shine bright on the stage they created for a community of all generations and backgrounds, sharing a love of music accompanied by great food and drink.
Village Music Café is located at 10410 W. Forest Hill Blvd. near Walgreens in the Shoppes at Wellington Green. For additional information, call (561) 798-5334 or visit Check online for weekly events and menu specials. Table reservations are recommended.


Lou LoFranco Assists Clients In Living Within Their Means And Preparing For Retirement Financial Goals

Lou LoFranco has been paying strict attention to his own finances since his first check from his first employer. As his career grew, he watched over multi-million-dollar budgets for multi-national firms until age 57, when he earned his licenses to be a financial advisor and found his true calling.
“My father was in the Air Force and was stationed along the east coast as I was growing up, mostly in New Hampshire, but we spent time at Homestead Air Force Base during the Cuban Missile Crisis,” LoFranco recalled. “I loved the weather, so when I graduated high school, I was off to Biscayne College, now called St. Thomas University, on a golf scholarship, graduating in 1980.”
LoFranco was always interested in the financial side of businesses and 401Ks. “I did research deeply and got to know a lot about finances and started helping my parents and cousins and brother,” he said.
Throughout his career, LoFranco worked for UPS, as a consultant for GE’s wind turbines business and at other multi-national corporations, often commuting from South Florida to northern locations, all the while continuing to invest and learn more and more about his own finances.
He and his family loved the weather here and always had their eyes on getting back to the South Florida lifestyle. LoFranco has six children, ages 16 to 33. At age 57, with kids at home, he found out that his position in Juno Beach was eliminated in a cost-cutting measure. It was a late age to be at a crossroads.
“I was considering retiring,” LoFranco said. “But my Edward Jones financial advisor said, ‘Why don’t you come work for us. You have the background.’ So, I earned my licenses, and it was the best move I ever made.”
In 2017, a Wellington office suddenly became available, and LoFranco stepped into the position. He said that the area is a great place to be. “The community is tremendously supportive,” he said. “I teach clients about investments. The most important thing I believe about investing is finding out what’s important to the client.”
LoFranco spends a lot of time finding out about a client’s objectives, sometimes meeting with them several times just to answer questions to understand them and determine if he would be the right advisor for them.
“We work at building a portfolio based on their long-term goals. My job as their financial advisor is to be a teacher who teaches his clients what we are doing so they know what they are investing in and why,” LoFranco explained.
LoFranco enjoys the Edward Jones style of building a personal relationship with clients even though the firm cares for $1.3 trillion in client assets. “You don’t get lost in the shuffle waiting for someone to see you,” he said. “I develop long-term relationships with my clients. I use the talents that God gave me and the knowledge I have gained over a lifetime to help my clients.”
LoFranco said that he loves the community of Wellington, visiting its great restaurants, retail shops and golf courses. “Our business is about relationships. It’s not about money, it’s about reaching goals. It is important to know what really matters to my clients. We try to instill the philosophy of buy low, sell high and hold for long-term investments.”
Each client is different, he said, yet they all have their own financial dreams. “When I understand those goals, I can help them work out a strategy to reach them. It is a partnership,” LoFranco said. “I ask them where they see themselves in retirement, or 10 years, or 20. I ask the important questions and give them ideas, so we have the whole picture, and we do the planning that is right for their particular situation. I think that is how we add a lot of value for our clients.”
For a second career, LoFranco is enjoying every day of it. “Working with talented team members like Marlene Siflinger, the front-line branch office administrator who is essential to the firm, I have no ambitions to retire as long as I can continue to help people save for the future,” he said.
He also enjoys Wellington’s equestrian amenities.
“I like to go watch the Grand Prix on Saturday nights,” LoFranco said. “I believe in getting to know as many people as we can. Edward Jones is still big believers in the local community. That’s how we started with Ed Jones himself almost a century ago, going out and introducing himself face-to-face and beginning that personal relationship that is so important to build that trust.
Lou LoFranco’s office is located at 12020 South Shore Blvd., Suite 100, in Wellington. To contact LoFranco, e-mail or call (561) 798-4106.


From Open Gym To Camps And Academies, Wellington Has What You Need To Keep Fit Athletic Programs

Sneakers squeak against the shiny, wooden floors of Wellington’s Village Park gymnasium as players race across court to pass, steal or send the ball swishing through the hoop. Their faces glisten against the fluorescent lights as they aggressively shoot for victory.
For Tyler Gilham and his friends, it’s a typical Thursday afternoon. “There’s nothing like competitive sports to make me work out harder than I’ll ever push myself at the gym, or going on a treadmill, or going for a jog,” Gilham said in a quick break before the next game. “When I’m here with the guys playing basketball, it’s more fun. I get a way better workout.”
Gilham has been playing basketball in the Village Park gymnasium for about six years, and Open Gym is just one of the many athletic outlets that the Village of Wellington offers.
All Wellington residents and non-residents 12 years old and over are welcomed and encouraged to participate in Open Gym, though there is a difference in admission. Visitors are required to show an ID before stepping onto the court. Residents can enter free of charge while non-residents are required to pay a $5 fee.
“I can bring my friends from other communities here, and they pay $5,” Gilham said. “They can get in, and we can play basketball.”
Children under 12 years old are also welcome but must be accompanied by an adult.
Along with being a relatively inexpensive activity, friends, classmates, neighbors and strangers are drawn to the Village Park gym simply because it’s indoors.
“As you get older, playing outside is just more stress on your body,” Gilham said. “Playing inside is the only way I can really play anymore.”
Open Gym is just one of many athletic programs offered by the Village of Wellington, Athletic Programs Manager Ryan Hagopian said. The village also offers sports leagues, as well as camps and academies for students over the summer, and much of it takes place indoors.
“We don’t really run any leagues during the summertime only because, one: the weather is not always cooperative during the summertime, with rain and everything like that,” Hagopian said. “But two: it’s so hot out — I mean, it’s really, really hot out for the kids, so we make sure we monitor that when we have them in summer camp. No more than an hour outside at a time to keep them safe.”
With that in mind, the campers have ample opportunity for athletics, including splashing around in the Wellington Aquatics Complex pool twice a week.
“We also have the whole facility here at Village Park to play anything from dodgeball to basketball, indoor soccer, go fishing out front, play capture the flag — a multitude of games,” Hagopian said.
The camps include activities outside of sports as well. It is set to run from June 1 to Aug. 7 this year. Ages range from 5 to 15, broken into groups by age, and prices range from $160 to $185 per week.
Registrations are currently open and are based on availability. Families can sign up for camp up until the very last minute, but early registration is encouraged. Hagopian estimated an average of 225 kids per week attended summer camp with Wellington last year.
Along with camp, children can also participate in the different “academies” the village offers. According to Hagopian, the academies are like mini camps that focus on specific sports, such as soccer, basketball or fishing.
“We also have a speed and agility camp that we run through the summertime, and that’s good for all sports,” Hagopian said. “It’s not sports-specific; it’s really working on their footwork and endurance, and gaining their speed, so you can equate that to any sport.”
Hagopian expressed a desire to provide kids with creative and athletic outlets because today’s children need time to recharge.
“When I went to school, it wasn’t nearly as stressful as it is now,” Hagopian said. “There’s so many tests and so many things that the kids have to do, and they’re doing more at younger ages. It’s not a bad thing, but [our programs are] an opportunity for them to have fun, de-stress and enjoy themselves.”
Wellington’s Community Programs Coordinator Chris O’Connor stressed his idea that social activities, whether they be sports or crafts, are important for overall health.
“I’d say the biggest aspect is getting people out and active in some way, shape or form — whether it’s mental, physical, emotional — it draws people together as well,” O’Connor said. “And that’s really important.”
The village also offers many athletic opportunities for adults, such as softball and flag football. They are also working to add a co-ed kickball league.
“Sports take your mind off of what could be going on in your life, and I think it’s really important for people to be able to do that,” Hagopian said.
Hagopian invites all Wellington families to learn more about the village’s camp offerings.
“We understand that you’ve got only 10 weeks of summer, and then you’re going right back to the grind of school,” Hagopian said. “And we want kids to have as much fun as possible during the summertime.”
To learn more about the different athletic programs that the Village of Wellington has to offer, visit and click on “Parks & Recreation.”