Alex Salabarria is as good-natured a fellow as you will ever meet. He admits to being an indifferent student (albeit with a lengthy tenure at FSU). He embraced Mark Twain’s admonishment to “never let your schooling interfere with your education.” He says was never happier than when at Florida State.
The Salabarria family’s emigration-from-Cuba story could almost be a movie. His father fought as a revolutionary soldier under Castro. Once Castro revealed himself to be a communist, the elder Salabarria became a counter-revolutionary guerilla, and ended up working in-country as an agent for the CIA. His mother and father finally escaped to Puerto Rico, and then to Miami.
Alex was born in Miami and grew up in Ocala, seven years younger than his brother and nine years younger than his sister. “I was a mistake,” he laughs. Former Seminole punter and Pro-Bowler Rick Tuten was his high school mentor. Tuten encouraged Alex to follow his brother to Auburn, but the out-of-state tuition proved too daunting.
Alex enrolled at the University of Florida. After two years he transferred to Florida State. “I walked around the campus in Tallahassee, taking in the beauty and the culture and the feeling of the place. I fell in love with it.”
He waited tables at Bennigans for a while, and eventually joined their Management program. “I loved it,” he says. “I remember arranging it so I could work Deion Sanders’ table when he came in.” Alex laughs, “Man, he was really something, with the girls and the jewelry, rolling up in that white LeBaron convertible. Turned out Deion was a really good guy too, classy and a good tipper.”
Alex is Chief Executive Officer of Oaks Senior Living. Twenty years ago he moved to Atlanta to work with his father and help realize their dream of developing and managing communities for the elderly. “The Oaks Senior facilities are very upscale and beautiful,” he says. “We’re all in Georgia right now but we’re coming to Florida.” Alex’s wife Denise is Vice President of Sales and Marketing.
Alex met Denise in late 1998. “We were broke when we married, but we still scraped together $500 a year to give to Seminole Boosters. We’d drive down to the games on weekends.”
“Every year we’ve been able to do more,” he says. Considerably more, in fact. The Salabarrias have created a planned gift to Seminole Boosters of nearly $2 million, and they have endowed a Football Scholarship. They are Platinum Chiefs, and active in the Coaches’ Club. They have three children. Brock, 26 graduated from Savannah School of Art & Design and now resides in Cary, NC. Therese’, 24 graduated from Georgia Southern and works in the family business. Caylee, 22 is completing her degree at Florida State. “My last kid is graduating August 5th,” he laughs.
“I’m blessed that I was able to attend FSU, and to be around people like Bobby Bowden and Mike Martin, and the Women’s Coaches – people with the highest character. Right after God and my family, Florida State is my biggest passion.” He says. “I’m kind of a psycho fan…I throw chairs in the pool.”
“My father instructed me in morals and instilled my work ethic and Faith in God,” Alex says. “That is exactly why I am successful today.”
At this writing we learned of the untimely passing of our own Seminole, and Alex’s mentor, Rick Tuten.
Salabarria said, “When I was a very young man, Rick had a most positive influence on my life for which I could never re-pay him. I will miss him every day. Rick was a champion in every aspect, on and off the field.”
Yes, a champion indeed. Rick punted for the 1983 Miami Hurricane National Champions as a freshman. Later he transferred to Florida State and lettered two years including 1987, inaugural year of The Dynasty. Tuten played almost a dozen years in the NFL, most of it with the Seattle Seahawks. He was tapped for the Pro Bowl while playing for Seattle in 1994, and won a Super Bowl ring with the 1999 Championship St. Louis Rams.
His death was unexpected. He leaves behind his wife Jennifer and children Chase, Kinley and Ryan.
A fine man, Seminole and mentor. R.I.P. at age 52.
Max Alvarez’s mother lost both her sons within days.
Max’s parents left Spain to create a new life for themselves and their children in Cuba. After the communists took power in 1959, they decided to send their two sons away from the violent dictatorship overtaking the island.
Max’s brother (“seven years older than me”) went to Spain. Soon afterward, 13-year-old Max fled on the last ferry out of Havana to West Palm Beach. These young children of the great Cuban exodus were called “Peter Pans”.
Max’s parents had intended for him to go to America and then on to Spain to join his brother. But there had been an accident; Max’s brother had died on the same day Max was on his way to West Palm Beach. No one told Max anything for six months. He did not speak the language; he had no way to contact his mother and father; he did not know where he was to go or what was going to become of him.
Monsignor Bryan O. Walsh embraced Max and 60 more of these ‘Pedro Pans’ and kept them close to him. “I never left Miami,” Max says. Max’s parents were eventually able to leave communist Cuba and join him in Miami.
After graduating from high school, Max attended Belmont-Abbey, a small Catholic college in North Carolina. He transferred to Florida State as a junior. Max laughs, “I developed a strong southern accent in North Carolina. But of course I also sound Cuban so I’m sure I confused a lot of people!”
“I always worked,” he says, “And I am so grateful to Sherrill Ragans for giving me the opportunity to work as a resident advisor in Smith Hall and Kellum Hall, and as a counselor in DeGraff.” In 2006, the University named a new residence hall for Ragans.
Max graduated with his Master’s Degree from Florida State in December 1970. “On January 4th I went to work as a field representative for Cities Service Oil Company, which is now Citgo.” Max spent six years working for a number of oil companies before purchasing four low-performing 7-Eleven stations and creating his company, Sunshine Gasoline Distributors, Inc. “Nobody wanted those stations but me,” he says.
Max still has those four stations. He also now owns about 400 more gas stations primarily located in Dade and Broward Counties. Sunshine also contracts to supply another 100+ stations that he doesn’t own. His is the largest family-owned distributorship in the South.
On his loyalty to the Seminoles, Max says, “I never left Florida State. I am one of those people who start every day by making a list,” he says. “I examine the list in detail, and I give thanks. I thank every person and every institution that gave me the opportunity for a great education and treated me like a son.”
“If I had to give away everything I own tomorrow, it would count for less than 10% of what I was given.” My wonderful parents and Monsignor Walsh always stressed the importance of morality and basic human values.” Max is an unabashed patriot. “That’s why I love this country so much,” he says. “You can start a business out of the trunk of your car and grow it into a Fortune 500 company. “
Max is a Seminole Booster MICCO, and a Seminole player carries the Max Alvarez Endowed Football Scholarship. In 2016, Governor Rick Scott appointed Max to the Florida State University Board of Trustees. Max has been a financial supporter of Seminole Boosters for more than 25 years.
Mike and Bekki Haggard
Mike Haggard says, “I was born in Garnet and Gold,” and lest anyone question that he goes on to prove the point, “My great grandmother went to Florida State College for Women (before it became the Florida State University), my father, my mom, my sister, my wife, my brother-in-law, my in-laws, my cousins, everybody went to Florida State.” Of course he also is a 1992 graduate in Communications at FSU. Point proved!
Far from simply being proud to be a Seminole and resting on his laurels, Mike Haggard has “taken up the mantle of leadership” and become a positive force in the advancement of his University and its athletic programs.
"I grew up so much around FSU and leaders like my Dad (Andy Haggard), George Langford, and Les Pantin. But, you just can’t sit around and hope these guys will do something else. When you look at the pride we have in our university we have to give back to it,"he said. Consequently, Mike and his wife, Bekki, have become major donors and backers of the Booster programs in helping advance them to the level now achieved. He also is a major backer and member of the Leadership Board of the College of Communications.
The unique thing about Haggard’s total devotion to Florida State is that he grew up right in the heart of the enemy’s camp-Coral Gables, home of the Miami Hurricanes. While there was never a doubt where he would go to college, there were some questions about what career path he would take.
However, there was little doubt that Mike would be excellent at protecting privacy something an attorney must do. His dad remembers a vivid example of that. From the age of 10 up to junior high, Mike was Bobby Bowden’s ball boy and clipboard carrier on the sidelines.
"We were playing Miami and we came back and beat them in the second half. It was unbelievable and everybody was going crazy." Andy remembers. Afterwards a large group was celebrating in the Haggard condo in Tallahassee. Since Mike had been in the locker room they figured they would get the scoop. “So Mike walks in and everybody is listening and I said, "Son, what did Bobby say at the half that charged them up?" He looked at me and said, "Dad, I can’t tell you that. It’s privileged." Little wonder he is an expert at protecting privacy.
It turned out that crabs and oysters may have been responsible for his career path and they didn’t lead him into the seafood industry. Mike’s dad, Andy, is senior partner of The Haggard Law Firm, a highly respected firm in Coral Gables. He has an almost endless list of accomplishments including high-ranking posts in the International Academy of Trial Lawyers. Even with that exposure it was not a done deal that Mike would become a lawyer.
Andy says he was "absolutely uncertain" what field Mike would enter and never pushed him to consider the legal field, but he recalls a summer job that might have decided it. "I had him working hard in the summers. He had a job in a restaurant shucking crabs and oysters. When he came home from work, he smelled so bad, his Mom, wouldn’t even let him in the house. He had to go into the garage and change clothes," Andy said with a smile.
It seems that by the time he was a junior at Florida State, Mike was done with that oyster shucking gig and decided that law school might be a good replacement. He had been around trials and lawyering all his life.
Today Mike is fond of saying "I'm still on the wait list at Florida State Law School." After graduation he applied, but never heard whether he got in or not, so he went to law school closer to home at the University of Miami. It is obvious he never changed from a Garnet-and-Gold-mindset to one of Orange-and-Green.
Haggard’s love for FSU stretches beyond the usual passion one has for an alma mater. Mike, while in school became friends and built strong relationships with many student athletes. In fact, a portion of his major gift to FSU Athlietcs will be designated in memory and honor of Toddrick McIntosh, who recently passed away. McIntosh was a defensive lineman for FSU and was selected by Dallas in the 1994 NFL Draft. McIntosh had a memorable interception returned for a touchdown in the No. 1 Noles vs No. 3 Michigan game in 1991.
After law school, Mike Haggard went to work in the public defender’s office where he was very effective. "It was a phenomenal experience. I was in trial every week for two years," he said. He learned a lot then moved on to a high end law firm for awhile before finally deciding that his future lay with his Dad’s firm.
Mike Haggard is currently in the process of becoming a legend in the legal field. In 2003, he received national exposure after winning two back-to-back record setting $100 million verdicts in cases dealing with pool accidents involving children. Then in 2007 he obtained his third $100 million verdict in a negligent security case. It is said that this case was "the largest jury verdict award in history for that genre of case law." Mike has become a perennial member of the Florida Super Lawyers list having received this honor every year from 2006-2014.
When you walk into the attorney’s office it is likely you will see two blackboards. One has legal strategies on it. The other has X’s and O’s. Youth football Coach Mike Haggard diagrams his team’s plays on that one. Does a pretty good job with it and brings his team to FSU for Jimbo Fisher’s football camp.
His 9-year old son Carson is the quarterback and they won the 2013 flag football national championship in Cowboy Stadium in Dallas. "While other Seminoles are hoping for a Dallas-to-Dallas championship that began with Oklahoma State in the first game and continuing to the National Championship game, we are pulling for a Dallas-to-Dallas-to-Dallas success story since we won our flag football championship there to start it off," says Coach Mike.
Andy says one of the things he is most proud of is the kind of father Mike has become. "Being a trial lawyer is a very, very tough thing and is unbelievably time consuming, sometimes taking 18 hours a day. But Mike never sacrifices family for the practice of law. He is at every game, practice and kids school events."
12 year old daughter Maddison, who is also a flag-football star, may just be the most avid Seminole fan of the bunch. "Just like her Mom she loves everything Florida State. She was the loudest fan in the Rose Bowl at the National Championship. She knows all the players and follows the NFL draft closely to make sure they get picked by good teams," said Mike.
Seminole football even played a role in the Haggard marriage since Mike met Bekki at Florida State. "We went to the 1997 FSU-Southern Cal game in Los Angeles. Took a little side trip to Carmel and there we got engaged," said Mike.
So the Seminole adventure continues for the Haggards. From time to time Mike Haggard stops and reflects back on where they were and how things are now. "It has been an amazing transition. I remember the day when it was just Charlie Barnes and Andy Miller in the little house right on campus. Just see what the Boosters have built. The transformation of Doak Campbell and Dick Howser Stadiums, softball, soccer, and the indoor practice facility. It is truly amazing."
What is also amazing is the role that Mike Haggard has played, following the example of his Dad, in enhancement of the evolution of facilities at Florida State with not only his gifts but his dedication to greatness.