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Intriguing People of Central Texas

By Tex Appeal Magazine — December 04, 2012

Clem Mikeska -Temple

Born into a large family of Czechoslovakian immigrants, Clem Mikeska grew up on a farm about five miles southwest of Taylor with his five brothers, three sisters, parents, and grandparents. “We all lived together, without any electricity or running water. We were poor, I mean, dirt poor. But my daddy was a good provider, shoot…he had to be, he had a lot of hungry mouths to feed. We farmed, raised cattle, everything we ate, we raised ourselves. Times were tough during the depression, but there were lots of others who had it much worse than us. We were very fortunate that we could raise our own food.” says Clem.

For 76 years, Clem has carried a significant childhood memento in his pocket; a 1936 buffalo nickel, which has not only served as a reminder, but a motivator. When Clem was seven years old, he did some work for someone and they gave him the nickel. “It was really something back then, for a seven year old to have a shiny new nickel in his pocket. I was so proud of it, I wouldn’t spend it” says Clem “and I’ve carried it in my pocket as a reminder ever since.”

It was Clem’s mother who taught him the correlation between soap and success. According to Clem, the three most important things you need in life are: food, clothes, and soap. “My momma always told me, ‘Clem, you have to have clean clothes and a clean body. It doesn’t matter if you’re going to work in the fields, going to town, church, or staying home, you keep your body clean and you wear clean clothes.’ Why wear clean clothes to go work in a dirty field? Because a clean body and clean clothes makes you feel like a million bucks. And my momma understood this. If you look good, you feel good, and if you feel good, you have more confidence, and you can accomplish anything if you have self-confidence,” explains Clem.

“I am what I am, I ain’t what I aint.” – Clem Mikeska

Clem claims he spent nine years in the third grade before graduating; and one of his proudest school memories was when he was asked to be the interim “school superintendent, substitute teacher, and principal” for three days. “I attended a one room school house, where one teacher taught every grade. All of us kids lived so far out in the country, we couldn’t make it into town to attend school, so we had to attend this little country school and it only went up to third grade. Since there wasn’t anywhere else for me to go after I finished the third grade, I just kept coming back year after year. Back then, the teachers all had to go to Austin once a year to attend a three day teachers meeting. Since I was one of the oldest and my teacher knew I could handle things, she asked me to run the school while she was in Austin. So there I was, a third grader, left in charge of unlocking the school, helping the kids with their lessons, in charge of discipline, the playground, and locking up after school. I was officially working in the capacity of teacher, principal, and superintendent–for three full days. Not bad for a third grader!” says Clem with a big grin.

When it comes to discussing BBQ, Clem is modest, and credits his success to his knowledge of meats and good cuts; which, he learned while working in his father’s meat market. Today at 83, Clem is still working and active in the daily operations of his restaurants. “I am what I am, I ain’t what I ain’t” says Clem. So what is he really? A small town farm boy turned legendary Texas BBQ restaurateur, who is living proof that a country boy can survive.

Sheila Norman – Belton

Sheila_NormanThere’s a sign hanging in Sheila Norman’s office that reads: “We create our tomorrows by what we do today,” and nothing could be more befitting for this energetic visionary. Sheila has worked for Bell County for over 33 years, 18 of which, as the Bell County District Clerk. As an elected official, Sheila must be re-elected every four years in order to hold her office, a feat she has successfully accomplished since her initial appointment in 1994.

When Sheila originally began working for the District Clerk’s office, all of the court records were managed by hand—without any computers. But over the years, Sheila and her staff have had to adapt to several new systems as new and improved technologies evolved. “Just when we thought we had things figured out, something new would come along and then we’d have to start all over again” says Sheila “but I don’t mind, change is good. I’m always thinking of ways we can improve things.”

“Whatever you are, be a good one” – Abraham Lincoln

As the custodian of the court’s records, Sheila is responsible for the management and preservation of all of the county’s civil and criminal records. Although her office has been moving forward with transitioning to a paperless system for several years now, there are still over 5,000 boxes of records in her care, dating back to the creation of the county in 1850. “These records are historically significant to Texas, our entire county history is in them” says Sheila.  Thinking of the future, Sheila has started an initiative to have all of these historical records digitalized, and is working to ensure the county is storing them properly, and in accordance with the state’s guidelines for preservation.

Sheila is also actively involved with the Temple Caring Bell where she serves as the committee chair, the Altrusa Women’s group, Temple Kiwanis Club, and the Bell County Youth Fair. When not working, Sheila and her family enjoy spending time at their cabin on the Colorado River. She also takes an annual girls’ trip with her closest friends, “We go on canoeing trips, bungee jumped off the Royal Gorge, and just try to find something exciting to do” says Sheila.

Troy Kelley – Salado

Troy_KelleyLife works in mysterious ways. And if anyone can attest to that, it’s Troy Kelley. Although he was an art major who had studied abroad in Italy, Germany, and Prague, when it came to a career, Troy chose the “path of least resistance.” Like so many others, he opted for security and stability over “starving” artist, and accepted a job with a guaranteed paycheck and benefits. However, in 1983, life dealt Troy a game changer when a severe concussion left him unable to work. After re-evaluating all of his options, Troy decided to leave Washington D.C. and head west, back to his Texas roots. Although Wichita Falls was home, Troy decided to settle somewhere new and Salado appeared ideal. “I liked the fact that Salado was a small artistic community, and that I could go into town without someone asking me, ‘Troy, how are you feeling today?’

“Art saved my life.” – Troy Kelley

Inspired by the Salado creek and an old Indian legend his grandmother used to tell him as a child, Troy cast bronze a statue of a mermaid named Sirena . Now sitting on the banks of the Salado Creek, Sirena has become a part of the local folklore and made Troy a Salado legend. “Art saved my life” Troy says.  Renown for his cast bronze work, Troy’s artistic talents are not limited to sculpting, he also paints in a style he refers to as “free-wheeling abstract expressionism” and claims his work often “takes on a life of its own.” Recently, he has been doing some sculpture case in clear urethane, which has been very well received.

Today Troy’s work can be found in over 16 public collections across Texas, and in private collections in Israel, Italy, Germany, and throughout the United States. His latest shows include Works in Progress, New York University; Venice, Italy; Texas One Hundred, Salado, Texas; and Loveland Sculpture Invitational, Loveland Colorado. The Prellop Fine Art Gallery in Salado represents Troy’s work. He has recently been commissioned to do the bronze casting for the Fort Hood Memorial in honor of the thirteen victims killed on November 5, 2009.

While it was an accident that changed his life and led him back to his passion; make no mistake about it, Troy Kelley’s success was no accident.

Carrie Kuehl – Killeen

Carrie_KuehlWith a passion for the arts and  traveling, Connie Kuehl has found  her true calling as the Director of  the Killeen Civic and Conference  Center and Convention and  Visitors Bureau. In addition to  managing the civic and conference  center, Connie is also responsible  for the Killeen Arts and Activities Center, the Special Event Center and the Rodeo grounds. Connie began her career in the travel and convention industry with the City of Temple, 22 years ago, before moving over to the City of Killeen in 2001.

Although she tries to deny that she has any artistic talents herself, Connie creatively markets the City of Killeen every day. As a result, the Killeen Civic and Conference Center hosts over 80 events a month, which keeps Connie and her staff on their toes. “What some people may not realize is the fact that we don’t just host big banquets, receptions, or conventions here. We have a lot of smaller rooms available that can be reserved for family reunions, children’s birthday parties, or business related meetings and workshops. So there are a lot of local businesses and churches who reserve rooms for meetings, as do many of the local organizations or women’s groups, so we have a continuous stream of traffic coming through here weekly” says Connie.

“Travel brings power and love back into your life.” – Rumi

Actively engaged in promoting the arts in Killeen, Connie also works with countless community partners and organizations across Central Texas to create local community art events, such as the Take 190 West Arts Festival. This annual art festival offers five days of great activities for all ages, and features artists, authors, and professional sculptors. According to Connie the arts scene is starting to gain a lot of momentum in Killeen, “With the new Killeen Arts and Activities Center we have something going on all the time. And last year we participated with the Bell County Quilt Crawl, and that is where the activities rotated throughout the county between Killeen, Temple, Belton, and Salado.”

“Killeen is such an exciting place. Every day, I get to meet new people, learn new things, and experience new cultures and customs. And what’s not to love about that?” says Connie smiling.

Bob Ragan – Florence

“Set in stone” is one phrase you may  want to avoid using around Bob Ragan,  because he can literally do it. An Old  World artisan, Bob is a self-taught master  carver, who has spent a lifetime studying art and architecture. He has traveled extensively throughout Europe and Central America to research the works of the Old World masters, as well as their historical carving techniques. Bob even spent ten years during his childhood living between Germany and France—a region renowned for its massive Old World style cathedrals and castles, while his father served in the military.

Bob first began carving over 30 years ago as a stone mason; then progressed into stone carving and architect stone work, creating fireplaces, mantles, columns, and fountains. He has carved out quite a niche for doing historical renovations and restorations, due to his ability to reproduce the works of Old World carvers, and he has done extensive work for a billionaire philanthropist, and many other unnamed celebrities, socialites, and dignitaries.

White dust swirls through the air as two stone carvers chisel away on two large stone columns with power tools in the workshop at Texas Carved Stone. It is here, that that sheer magnitude of Bob’s masterful skills are revealed. A fireplace with a full safari scene carved in it is for the home of a big game hunter, massive columns that showcase complete scenes of Greek tragedies, as well as the comical expressions and fine details of countless whimsical creatures and animals, all prove Bob’s artistic talents are unlimited.

“I saw the angel in the marble and cared until I set him free.” – Michelangelo

A generous mentor and teacher, Bob is always willing to share his techniques and knowledge with anyone interested in learning more about this old world craft.

Rock of ages, Bob’s masterpieces will withstand the sands of time and remain a testament to his extraordinary skills and craftsmanship; inspiring future stone carvers for generations to come. Clearly carving him out a place in history among the world’s greatest Old World artisans and masters, and all from right here in Central Texas—set in stone in Florence.

John Campbell – Belton

The day after his high school graduation from  Rogers High School, seventeen year old John  Campbell boarded a train in Temple, leaving  his family and the Central Texas farm he grew  up on to embark on a career in the telephone  switching industry. It was 1957, and he was  headed east to the big city of Rochester, New  York. There he would travel the country with  Stromberg–Carlson doing telephone switch  wiring, and discover a new hobby that would  develop into a lifelong passion.

“Stromberg sent me to Sitka, a little  remote village in Alaska, for two months in  January 1958. With nothing to do after we  got off work, me and a couple of guys decided  to order some model kits to work on. They  ordered car kits and I ordered a boat kit. And  from that moment on, I was hooked” says  John.

“Ships are the nearest things to dreams that hands have ever made.” – Robert N. Rose

Working up and down the West Coast  with Stromberg gave John the opportunity  to explore the beautiful and scenic Pacific  coastline and ports. There, he met other  craftsmen and sailors who shared his passion,  and learned more about the craftsmanship of  boat building.

Diving into naval architecture and  engineering, John learned how to draft  his building plans and patterns from naval  architect blueprints. This requires using many  complex formulas to ensure the patterns  are drafted accurately so each piece will fit  properly. John has built some of the old  classics from the 1950’s era using the original  naval architect plans from some of the world’s  most renown maritime masters and seamen;  men like Victor Slocum, whose father Joshua  Slocum, was the first man to sail singlehandedly  around the world.

The rich colors of the mahogany wood  planking combined with the hand-painted  trim and the handcrafted hardware reveals  more than a boat, it’s a masterful work of art.  Some afternoons John takes a break from  building, and actually does a little boating.  He’ll take one of his electric model boats  down to the Salado creek behind his home,  or one of  his 10-13.6 ft. boats out to Lake Belton  for a cruise. He jokes about having more boats  than he needs, and says, even his children  point this out to him whenever he mentions  beginning a new boat.

“I guess the truth of the matter is, it’s  the process of creating the pattern from the  blueprints that I enjoy the most. I’d rather be  building a boat, than out boating. For me, it’s  all about the challenge of building it. That’s  what I love the most” says John.

With the wind in his sails, John always  looks forward to making his annual excursion  to New England. He begins in Mystic,  Connecticut at The Wooden Boat Show,  the most dynamic wooden boat show in the  country. Then he takes off to explore the  ports and harbors up and down the historic  coastline. Sometimes stopping at some of  the old flea markets or junk stores along  the way, but he stresses, “only the old junky  ones off the beaten path, that’s where you’re  most likely to find the real unique and best  treasures.”

At 73, John isn’t planning to throw in  the anchor on boatbuilding any time soon.  In fact, he is already busy working on the  plans for a new boat he intends to build in  the spring, a boat that will help him fulfill  one of the goals on his bucket list in the fall  of 2013; a one-man boating and camping  expedition to New England to explore some  of the most revered lakes in Massachusetts,  Maine, and New Hampshire. His list of stops  include: Walden Lake, Sunapee Lake, Lake  Winnipesaukee, and several other smaller  lakes in a scenic region of Maine. John plans  to camp at each lake and enjoy the beautiful  New England fall foliage from a lake view seat,  in the boat that John built.

Coleen Beck – Harker Heights

Giving back to the community is important to Coleen Beck. An advocate and mentor for  at-risk youth, Coleen works closely with the C5 Youth Foundation of Texas. The mission of  this program is to help at-risk youth beat the odds, by inspiriting them to pursue personal  success, and prepares them for leadership roles in college, work, and their communities.

“I wish all kids could go through this program, because the results are just amazing;  99% of our kids go on to college, and the few who didn’t, joined the military” says Coleen,  “it’s a five year program and throughout those five years, the kids are actively involved in  community service projects, attend leadership camps, and lots of other fun activities.”

A native of Killeen and an inspiring business leader, Coleen is one of the few women  who work in upper-level management in the banking industry. She is the President and  CEO of Union State Bank; a hometown bank, which originated in 1928 in Florence. It has  been a part of her family’s heritage since 1955. Today there are over 8 branches throughout  Central Texas.

“This is our family heritage, we know this community, and we know what the small  business owner needs” says Coleen.

“We make a living by what we get – we make a life by what we give.” – Winston Churchill

Another important organization very dear to Coleen’s heart is the Association of the  United States Army (AUSA). “We adopted four units of the 4–9 CAV and throughout the  year, we host a variety of events for them. We just try to give a little back to the soldiers and  their families, who sacrifice so much for us.  We want them to know we care. We do things  like host Halloween parties, barbecues, and  various other things throughout the year,”  says Coleen.

Colonel Larry Phelps – Killeen

Colonel Larry Phelps has spent a lifetime  traveling the world with the military; first, as  a military dependent and then as a United  States Army officer. His final assignment at Fort Hood was as the  Commander of the 15th Sustainment Brigade, where he commanded  three units during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Larry and his wife quickly  fell in love with Central Texas and the idea of retiring here. But when  the local community partners began showing up to offer their support  to his soldiers and their families during Operation Iraqi Freedom,  that’s when Larry knew this place was truly special. “It was absolutely  amazing, almost overwhelming. The way this community turns out to  support Fort Hood, is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before–and I’ve  been to a lot of places.”

When approached about joining the National Mounted Warfare  Foundation (NMWF) to help bring the Museum of Mounted Warfare  and Soldier Center to Central Texas, Larry said it only made sense.  As vice president of business development for the NMWF, Larry is  working to raise the $94.5 million needed to build the museum. The  mission of the NMWF is to honor the legacy of mounted warfare  through education, to preserve, interpret, and to tell the stories of the  soldiers who served in mounted units, and to depict the history and  value of Killeen and the Central Texas communities and its unique  relationship and role with Fort Hood.

“This is the right place.” – Larry Phelps

“Fort Hood is the home of mounted warfare and  there is no better place for us to honor these soldiers  than right here. Fort Hood deserves it, and Central  Texas deserves it, for all of the unwavering support it  gives to the military. There’s no doubt about, this is the  right place” says Larry.

The 85,000-10,000 square foot museum will create the first major  destination in Central Texas and is expected to attract over 268,000  visitors per year, adding an estimated $4.5 million dollars into the  local economy.

Stephanie Turnham – Belton

How can we teach future  generations to learn  from our past, or to  appreciate and understand  the significance of the  challenges and hardships  previous generations faced?  By interpreting, exhibiting,  and preserving history in  museums. Items like this  letter: 

Rhoda Riggs, Sugar Loaf,  November, 1859: Not long  ago, a band of Indians rode up  to our home near Salado and  killed my father as he mended  a fence. My mother tried to  get my two baby brothers, my  sister and I to the safety of a  neighbor’s house, but they killed her, too, and left the babies for dead.  The Indians stole food from our house and put me and my little sister,  Maggie, on their horses and rode away. We traveled all day, but when  the Indians tried to outrun some cow punchers we saw, Maggie fell off  of her horse, so I jumped off of mine. We were rescued the next day by  a group of neighbors who had followed the Indians, and we were glad  to find out that our little brothers were alive. Now we are all living with our  aunt and uncle in Sugar Loaf. (Bell County Arrives: 1850)

As the director of the Bell County History Museum, Stephanie  Turnham’s mission is to collect, preserve and interpret the historic  and prehistoric cultural heritage of the Bell County region for  future generations. The museum also brings in traveling exhibits,  and Stephanie is excited about hosting the upcoming, Abe Lincoln:  Self-Made in America exhibit. Organized by the Abraham Lincoln  Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Illinois, this traveling  exhibit will be on display in the museum on December 29, 2012.

“The sea is nothing but a library of all the tears in history.” – Lemony Snicket

With an obvious passion for the past, Stephanie pursued majors  in museum studies, history, and art history. After graduating from  college, she spent a summer backpacking across Europe, in an  attempt to visit as many of the most historical cities and landmarks as  possible; which she explains was a, “remarkable experience.” Hoping  to return to Europe again this summer, Stephanie plans to revisit the  beaches of Normandy and other significant memorial sites of World  War II. “To imagine the atrocities that those young soldiers endured  on that beach…is absolutely unimaginable” explains Stephanie.

An adjunct professor at Baylor University in Waco, Stephanie  also teaches American studies part-time. When not in the pursuit of  history, Stephanie enjoys her two pups, reading, playing the piano,  tennis, and traveling.

Dr. Michael Campbell – Harker Heights

Since his early childhood, Dr. Michael Campbell has always been around horses and loved riding; and it’s a passion that has continued to grow over his lifetime. The owner of seven Arabians, Michael rides several days a week, and on weekends he often travels to compete in national organized endurance rides. Since he first began endurance riding in 1995, Michael has ridden over 10,000 miles in these organized events. Addicted and devoted to the sport, he actively participates in numerous endurance riding organizations, where he serves on a variety of boards and committees. Currently, Michael is the Central Region Director for the American Endurance Ride Conference, where he manages a six state territory, chairman of the trail committee, and a member and past president of the Texas Endurance Ride Association. Michael’s wife Diane also shares his passion for horses. Although she no longer rides, following an accident in 2000, she continues to travel with Michael and remains actively engaged in the sport. Diane is the President of the American Endurance Ride Conference and works at the events in various capacities.

“Our family has a little saying for ‘a passion,’ we call it a ‘fire in the belly,’ and even the grandkids use that phrase. So we joke about Michael definitely having a ‘fire in the belly’ for horses and endurance riding” says Diane.

“Finish to win.” – Michael Campbell

Endurance riding events are organized in either 50 mile, or 100 mile rides and must be completed by one rider and one horse. A 100 mile ride must be ridden in 24 hours, while riders have twelve hours to complete a 50 mile ride. Aside from long rides over rough terrains, riders must also endure the weather, which at times can be harsh. Even in extreme temperatures–heat or cold, rain, sleet, or snow, the ride goes on. “They don’t cancel rides because of the weather, unless it’s a severe storm advisory like a hurricane or something. In fact, the only weather issue that is likely to cancel a ride, is if the road to the event campgrounds has been flooded out, or the snow and ice is so deep we can’t get our trucks and horse trailers down it. And even that’s only happened twice since I started riding” explains Michael. Obviously, just another reason why the sport is named: “endurance” riding.

“To ensure the safety and health of the horses, there are mandatory stops for horse checks, and that’s where veterinarians check and monitor their vital signs, examine their hooves, etc., for any signs of distress or lameness. Protecting the health of the horses and preventing injuries is taken very seriously in this sport” says Michael.

Bruce Bowman – Lorena

For over 44 years, Bruce Bowman has been the village lamplighter, turning lamps into works of art. Born and raised in Lorena, he grew up watching his father make lamps. So naturally, Bruce followed the light in his father’s footsteps, and in doing so, has kept lamps in the Bowman family’s legacy.

His creations are inspiring, unique, and quite frankly, amazing. When Bruce looks at an object he doesn’t see it for its function or purpose, he sees it as a “piece”—a lamp piece. “You can create a lamp out of just about anything” says Bruce. And when you walk through his shop and into his workshop, you’ll see he’s right. The possibilities appear endless. He has created lamps from vases, glass bowls, stacks of books, figurines, bottles, various antiques–even an old-fashion typewriter, boots, stuffed animals, driftwood, machinery pieces, and more. There is something almost magical about the way he can illuminate a legacy—when he reinvents old family heirlooms and turns them into stunning displays or accent pieces.

When asked about his most unique or favorite creation, Bruce describes a lamp he created for a good friend who was a pilot. “I used a crankshaft from an airplane. The size and shape was perfect, and it created a very sleek and modern piece. Most people would never even guess it was made from a crankshaft” explains Bruce, “but to him, being a pilot, he loved it. I even added a switch that when turned on, made the crankshaft slowly rotate under the lampshade. It was very original, quite the conversation piece.”

“To love beauty is to see light” – Victor Hugo

Bruce’s creativity and his ability to transform everyday objects into inspiring works of art is enlightening. As a result, he has a steady flow of traffic coming through his doors with boxes of random items of personal, professional, or sentimental significance, wanting him to “work his magic.” And at the flip of a switch, a light comes on, and so does Bruce’s magic.

John Ross – Salado

Outside a cattle pen, a lanky cowboy wearing a black felt hat and brown leather chaps is sitting atop a big beautiful red gelding. Climbing off the horse, he walks it over to a nearby corral and ties it to a fence post, his spurs a’ jingling with every step of his boots. It’s like a scene straight out of the pages of one of Elmer Kelton’s western novels; except John Ross is definitely not one of Kelton’s fictitious characters. This cowboy is the real deal. Soft spoken, polite, and well-mannered, this self-professed bookworm, who loves to read literature and history, is as authentic and genuine as his charming West Texas drawl. John was born and raised on a ranch in West Texas, and has spent most of life in the saddle. With five generations of cattle ranchers in his family, it’s not only a lifestyle–it’s a legacy.

“I put myself through college doing ranch work and I did consider pursuing other agriculture–related fields, but to be honest, there’s only been one thing I’ve ever been really good at—and that’s being in the saddle. I enjoy working with horses and watching them mature into really good cutting or ranch horses,” John says.

John has trained horses for clients all over the state; however, Central Texas keeps him the busiest. Training cutting horses is a multi-phase process, which often requires several years of training. He has a string of horses in training at all times; each at different ages and stages of their training. His two year olds are just learning the ropes and this is where John begins to teach them the basics of cows and cutting. During this phase, John assesses their talent, skills, and maturity, and determines who will make a good show horse or just a good ranch horse. The three year olds, John grooms and trains to compete in the futurity, and pending their successes there, they move on to showing. When asked, what is his secret to training a good cutting horses, John is quick to deny he has any secrets.

“Always be yourself and treat others well.” – John Ross

“Spending a lot of time with them is probably the most important key to training a good horse, but there really aren’t any secrets to it. Not every horse is capable of being a star, no matter how much money or time you spend on them. And you can figure this out pretty quick once you begin working with them. Your true stars don’t come along very often. You may have some really good horses that win a lot, but they’ll still never be a star; and then you’ll have some that will never win anything, but they’ll still make a great ranch horse. I like to load up the younger horses and take them up to my family and friends’ ranches in West Texas and spend four or five days out on the ranch working cattle with them. It’s a great experience for them. They are instinctively curious and naturally interested in cattle, and this gives them the opportunity to learn about cows. Of course, I still have to work closely with them, but its important for them to spend as much time around cattle as possible. They’ll get more out of those four or five days, then eight months of training in a round pen. And they enjoy it so much more, ” John says.

John admits being a cowboy isn’t the easiest way to make a living. The work doesn’t ends at five o’clock, and come the weekend, that’s when he really goes to work, traveling the state showing horses. And if he’s not on the road, he’s still in the saddle; doing what he does best—training horses.

“I know I’m never going to amass a great fortune doing this, and I’m ok with that. There’s way more to life than money anyways. But there’s three things I’ve always felt were important, and I try to live by them: Always be yourself, treat others well, and do something you enjoy.”


By Teresa Hernandez



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