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Tim Gardner named Burton Citizen of Year

By Staff | Mar 9, 2016

Tim Gardner was more than just a baseball coach. He was a servant of the North Fort Myers area who did everything he could to make his community a better place, and that was a whole lot more important than the final score.

Tim, who died in an automobile crash on I-75 in January, was named by the Board of County Commissioners as the 25th Paulette Burton Citizen of the Year Award recipient.

Tim’s brother, Dusty, accepted the award on his behalf during Tuesday’s BOCC meeting. He said Tim was a person who did these deeds without expecting thanks in return, but got it anyway through tweets, calls and Facebook posts.

“We’ve been overwhelmed by how many kids have told us how he gave them money for gas or brought them to practice or how he helped them while their parents were going through divorce,” Dusty said. “Tim was so humble that he did things we weren’t privy to. It made us feel good for him to be acknowledged by this award.”

Tim, who grew up in the community, served North Fort Myers and Hancock as a volunteer for youth sports programs. He was involved in the creation of the community park with Rick Jarvis and then-commissioner Andy Coy.

He coached football at Hancock when they had a Pop Warner program and did the same at North Fort Myers, where he became vice president before going to coach high school football and North High and Ida Baker, where he also fundraised for both.

“He raised an awful lot of sponsors (at North) to help cover the shortfall that athletic programs have. When North changed from an athletic driven school to the arts, he went to Baker and did the same kind of fundraising,” Dusty said.

After Tim’s death, Lee County Commissioner Brian Hamman was asked to speak at Tim’s celebration of life at the park, which featured the release of 300 balloons. It made Hamman want to know more about him and nominate him for the award.

“For Brian to take that up and submit the application was special to us and it didn’t come solicited by us,” Dusty said. “We always knew how big his heart was and how much he loved the kids and youth athletics.”

But his impact went far beyond the playing field. If a player was hungry or needed a ride to practice, Tim took care of it. He was also known to drop off bags of groceries or clothes to families in need.

The award recognizes a Lee County citizen who has provided outstanding civic contributions to Lee County and its citizens, and who has devoted their time and energy to citizen involvement with Lee County government.

Nominations are accepted from the public, which are then reviewed by a committee which typically includes the previous year’s winner. Finalists are selected and the county commission selects the winner.

It is the second straight year a person with North Fort Myers ties has won the award. Gregg Makepeace, former president of the North Fort Myers Civic Association, won last year.

Dusty said that’s an example of how the close-knit the community is.

“It’s a very unique type of person. We’re a little rough around the edges but their hearts are as big as their chest,” Dusty said. “I carry that with a lot of pride in my adulthood.”

Other nominees for the award included Cape Coral Realtor, former Cape Coral City Council member, and city pioneer Gloria Tate and Alice Washington, a Charleston Park community activist who died in September, who were chosen from a field of seven nominees.

The award was created in 1991 in honor of Burton, a longtime government watchdog and Sanibel resident who died in an automobile accident that year.