Finalists named for Paulette Burton Award
Four Lee County residents have been named as finalists for the 19th annual Paulette Burton Citizen of the Year Award.
Sixteen people were nominated for the award, which recognizes “exemplary civic-minded” citizens who “get involved in the community and work diligently for causes in which they believe,” according to Booch DeMarchi, Lee County special events coordinator.
DeMarchi reported the 16 were narrowed down by a seven-person committee appointed by the Lee County Board of County Commissioners. Commissioners will select the winner from the list of finalists and will announce the winner at 9:30 a.m., Feb. 16 ,at the Old Lee County Courthouse in downtown Fort Myers.
According to the nomination forms and background material, the four 2009 finalists are:
— Samira Beckwith of Fort Myers — Beckwith, president and chief executive officer of Hope HealthCare Services, was nominated by Keith Arnold.
Arnold cited a resolution issued by commissioners in December 2009 to define Beckwith’s contributions and added that, “Under Samira’s leadership, Hope has become one of the largest employers in Lee County and the region.” He cited programs saved because of Beckwith’s actions, awards she and Hope have received and noted that “Beckwith has enhanced health care and made improvements in Lee County in ways that no one else could.”
“There is simply no way to measure the number of Lee County residents — patients, family members and loved ones — who have been touched by Hope under Samira’s guidance and leadership,” Arnold wrote.
— Mary Miller of North Fort Myers — Miller, a member of the Suncoast Neighborhood Task Force and a community volunteer, was nominated by Angel Coates.
Coates wrote that Miller “has been performing acts of kindness for many years” through the task force and on her own. Three days a week she picks up baked goods in her van for needy residents. In November, Miller’s efforts assisted in feeding more than 2,300 people. Coates noted that Miller cleans the neighborhood ditches twice a year and volunteers for charities like the American Cancer Society, Goodwill and Friendship Volunteers Centers.
“Everyone in Suncoast know Mary Miller. In fact, she’s the soda can lady!” Coates wrote. “Everyone knows that they can drop a bag of empty soda cans over her fence, and Mary will remove the tabs for the Ronald McDonald House and crush the cans! Her energy and willingness to serve others is endless.”
— Roxie Smith of Fort Myers Beach — Smith, a community activist and self-employed manager of rental properties, was nominated by John E. Albion and D.J. Petruccelli.
Albion and Petruccelli cited Smith’s extensive involvement in community organizations like the Fort Myers Beach Chamber of Commerce, Fort Myers Beach Local Planning Agency and Tourist Development Council. She served as a founding member for several organizations, including the Horizon Council and Estero Island Historic Society and was instrumental in projects like the Time Square Redevelopment and first trolley on the island, Molly The Trolley.
“Her tireless efforts through a lifetime of effort and commitment have been both inspiring and recognized by leaders at both the county and the state level,” Albion and Petruccelli wrote. “Her resume is remarkable and has only been exceeded by her heart for others.”
— George Szymanski of Lehigh Acres — Szymanski, a community volunteer and founder of the Westminister Code Violation Task Force, was nominated by Peggy Egan.
Egan explained that Szymanski worked “hundreds of volunteer hours in an attempt to restore the neighborhoods of Lehigh” in 2009. His efforts led to a cooperative program with Lee County Code Enforce-ment, and he organized and tracked a program so efficiently that the Lee County Sheriff’s Office included his work in a grant application. Egan noted Szymanski volunteers his time with various groups, is active in his church and helps feed the hungry.
“As a resident of Lehigh Acres, I know first-hand that 2009 was an unprecedented year for increased crime and lowering home values,” Egan wrote. “I can honestly say that I have not seen a man work harder for the citizens of Lehigh Acres than George Szymanski.”
The winner will receive a framed certificate.
According to DeMarchi, the award was created in 1991 to honor Burton, a long-time Sanibel Island resident and government watch dog. She spent many years serving as a voice of the people to the Lee County Commission, as well as playing an active role in Sanibel politics. She died in a car accident in 1991.
The selection criteria for the award includes a “positive attitude, knowledge of the objectives and activities of Lee County government, a demonstrated interest in community/county government partnerships and promotion of harmony between the community and county government,” he reported.