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Springtime in DeLand: Wings, springs and other things to do

Incoming first-year student Maddie Novak got her DeLand Wings even before she begins her Stetson career in June.

Incoming Stetson student Maddie Novak discovers the DeLand Wings, a mural downtown, one of the many popular spots for students.

In mid-April, the Oxford, Mich., native and her family were visiting the campus, where she will pursue a business degree in sports marketing. Taking a walk in downtown DeLand, Novak and her family came across the DeLand Wings, a mural-sized painting of huge white wings, designed to be a photo opp for any and all who pass by.

By serendipity, Novak had discovered one of the unique things for students to do in and around DeLand.

“I came across the wings just by walking by them,” Novak said. “I did not know about them beforehand.”

With spring in full swing, here’s a look at some of the happenings, activities and diversions available off-campus, from live jazz, mural-hunting and communing with nature, to shopping for vintage vinyl and – if you dare – attempting to diffuse a bomb at Mindquest Escape Rooms.

Get your wings

The DeLand Wings are located in friendly Pill Alley just to the east of the offices of the West Volusia Beacon newspaper, 110 W. New York Ave., in downtown DeLand.

Artist Erica Group drew the wings, in chalk, in September 2014 for a photo shoot for a local clothing boutique. After rain washed away the original wings, Beacon publisher Barb Shepherd, owner of the building, asked Group to paint a permanent version of them.

The mural has its own Facebook page – DeLand Wings – and wings merchandise, including T-shirts, posters, coffee mugs and more, can be found around the corner at So.NY Market, 100 S. Woodland Blvd.

Artisan Alley Farmers Market

Just one alley west – that is, about two dozen yards west – of the DeLand Wings is the home of the Artisan Alley Farmers Market, which takes place from 6 to 9 p.m. every Friday. The event features more than 40 vendors peddling local seasonal, farm-fresh produce, plus baked goods and other specialty foods, as well as locally made arts, crafts and homemade goods.

Music students Jaida Hawkins, left, and Korah Cuff enjoy visiting the Artisan Alley Farmers Market on Friday nights.

It’s a favorite of Stetson students, judging by the market’s frequent mention in an informal, quickie poll. Jaida Hawkins, a violinist and senior music education major; Korah Cuff, a violinist and senior music performance major; Eric Martinez, a senior piano performance major; and Alannah Cullen, a first-year music education major, each cited the market as a favorite off-campus pastime.

“Being a music major, it is difficult for us to get out on the town because we’re so busy,” Cullen said. “However, I enjoy the farmers market on Friday nights. That’s the only thing I’ve been able to escape for. They have cute little booths and if I see something I like I will buy it.”

Get jazzed

At Café DaVinci, 112 W. Georgia Ave. (across the street from Artisan Alley), trombonist Russ White and his bandmates in the DaVinci Jazz Experiment hold court from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. every Tuesday night. That’s literally holding court – the nine-member group performs free in DaVinci’s outdoor courtyard, a tradition that is now in its seventh year. Only the occasional rain-out, cold snap or unforeseen circumstance prevents the band from delivering its weekly concert.

Russ White

“I call what we do ‘Jazz from the Great American Songbook,’ ” said White, a retired firefighter. “We are a small instrumental jazz ensemble consisting of four horns and five rhythm instruments. We do music from every period and idiom of American jazz: from show tunes to the birth of jazz in New Orleans and Hoagie Carmichael, through the swing era with selections from Duke Ellington and Count Basie, into bebop and cool with Miles Davis, Charlie Parker,  and Coltrane, and on into the fusion rock of Freddie Hubbard, Wayne Shorter, and Joe Sample and the Jazz Crusaders. We also feature original compositions by music educators and arrangers from around the country, as well as members of our own group.”

Mural hunting and antiquing

Students like to shop – who knew? And sometimes such shopping can be educational.

First-year student Jonah Helwig

“When it comes to DeLand, there are just so many fun shops,” said Jonah Helwig, a freshman history major who works as a gallery assistant at the Hand Art Center. “My favorite shop of all time is Dorothy’s Florist and Gift Shop (at 101 S. Woodland Blvd.) It’s a florist shop. But they have so many knickknacks in there. It’s so much fun.”

Helwig has a theory about why so many of his generation love browsing antique stores: “Everyone loves HGTV (a channel devoted to real estate and home design) and it really turned us onto this whole idea of antiquing. I’ve been to a few antique shops downtown. They have an antique coin collection in one of them and I’m like, ‘OK, this is actually really cool for me because I’m a history major.’ ”

Also, Helwig notes, “DeLand is known for her murals all over the place. They capture the historic heritage of the town.” The website mainstreetdeland.org lists 15 murals, not including a newly minted one consisting of giant monarch butterflies, located on a building at 115 E. New York Ave., beside a parking lot just a dozen yards east of Boston Coffeehouse.

Vinyl hunters

Downtown DeLand is home to two music stores that specialize in vinyl records: Groovy Records at 212 N. Woodland Blvd., and Steve’s Downtown Music, 108 S. Woodland Blvd.

Jerry Schafer, owner of Groovy Records, said the presence of Stetson University was “one of the factors that made us move here” from New York.

“We were trying to duplicate what goes on in Greenwich Village, and Greenwich Village (in New York City) is a walk-through town — you park your car and you walk,” Schafer said. “There’s not that many towns like that, and DeLand is one of them. It’s one of the good ones.

“The college is a big deal. NYU is in Greenwich Village — Stetson is here in DeLand. I say half my clientele is under the age of 30 and half of that clientele is under the age of 21.”

Stetson first-year students Julie Dilecce and Zaria Graves pop into Groovy Records in downtown DeLand.

As if to validate Schafer’s assessment, two Stetson students entered his shop as he spoke: Zaria Graves, a freshman viola player and instrumental performance major, and Julie Dilecce, a freshman violinist and music performance major.

“I have a record player at home and I just love vinyl and hearing things on vinyl,” Dilecce said. “If I could go back in time and live and have only vinyls, I’d be cool with that.”

While Dilecce admitted her music tastes include such old-school rockers as Bob Dylan, the Bee Gees and Van Halen, she left Groovy Records with her freshly purchased vinyl copy of the Johann Strauss operetta “Die Fledermaus.”

Back to nature

Robert Sitler

Robert Sitler, Ph.D., professor of World Languages and Cultures at Stetson, has been free diving in local springs for 25 years – and photographing and taking GoPro video of springs and other area water sites. The results of his passion for the DeLand area’s aquatic environments can be found on his website floridaaquaticgems.com.

“The DeLand area enjoys one of the richest aquatic environments in North America with pristine ocean beaches, immense springs, abundant lakes, marshes, estuaries, and the historic St. Johns River,” Sitler wrote on the website. His Florida Aquatic Gems project “focuses on diverse aquatic sites that are accessible on public lands within a 30-mile radius of the Holler Fountain at Stetson University.”

Manatees enjoy Blue Spring State Park in Orange City. Photo/Bob Sitler, Florida Aquatic Gems

“I’ve bathed in our local springs hundreds of times and each visit still offers a freshly satisfying experience,” Sitler told Stetson Today. “The stunning beauty both above and below the water has become a healthy addiction. The chilly water challenges the body without overwhelming it. The sensation of weightlessness allows for uncommon relaxation.”

A menu on Sitler’s website provides details, directions and breathtaking photos of such places as DeLeón Springs State Park, 601 Ponce Deleon Blvd., DeLeon Springs; and Blue Spring State Park, 2100 W. French Ave, Orange City.

Steam rises off of DeLeon Springs at the State Park north of DeLand. Photo/Bob Sitler, Florida Aquatic Gems

Eric Martinez, the piano performance major, shares Sitler’s passion for the two springs: “At Blue Spring you can see the manatees. There’s also DeLeon Springs in the other direction. They have that pancake thing (at Sugar Mill Restaurant on the park grounds). It’s fantastic. They give you batter and you can just make pancakes yourself at your table.”

Video game bar and escape rooms

Anyone looking to beat the heat with some indoor fun can check out two relatively new businesses in downtown DeLand.

Rewind Arcade & Bar, 112 W. Indiana Ave. #102, is a venue for ages 21 and older. The bar serves beer, wine and margaritas, and features music by a live deejay on weekends, but its main attraction is more than 25 arcade video games – and patrons play for free.

MindQuest Escape Rooms, 207 N. Woodland Blvd., offers “live adventure games” played by two to six players, according to its website, mindquestescaperooms.com. Mindquest offers four scenarios: The Bomb, Diamond Heist, The Asylum: Ward 5 and Contagion.

“Players have only 60 minutes to find their way out of the game,” the website says. “There are many twists and turns, surprises, and different encounters that require logical thinking to resolve the game with your friends, team, group or corporate outing.”

— Rick de Yampert