Your Nominees Make Community Shine: Paul Owens

Posted January 18, 2015

It was former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush's father, President George H.W. Bush, who described those who dedicate their lives to serving others as "points of light."

By the elder Bush's definition, Central Florida is a radiant place.

Starting in October, the Sentinel Editorial Board invited readers to nominate candidates for the 2014 Central Floridian of the Year. They responded, as they have in years past, with dozens of nominations.

The one we selected as our winner, Harriett Lake, has given millions of dollars over decades to support arts and culture in the region. She's been a favorite of readers since the first time we asked for nominations four years ago. A two-time runner up, she's been a favorite of ours, too.

As the details in the capsules above make clear, the four runners-up for 2014 also stand out as leaders who have made Central Florida more vibrant, more compassionate and more just.

But the list of readers' local heroes for 2014 is considerably longer. And while there isn't space in this column to give each one the recognition he or she deserves, here are a few more of the most notable nominees.

Some are familiar faces in Central Florida:

  • Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer presided over grand openings in 2014 for projects he helped bring to fruition, including a renovated Citrus Bowl, the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts and SunRail. His other efforts to revamp downtown picked up steam.
  • Consultant Dick Batchelor led his second winning campaign for a sales tax to build schools in Orange County, and had the able assistance this time of former TV anchor Lauren Rowe. (Batchelor was our 2002 Central Floridian of the Year for his first campaign.)
  • Mark NeJame, a high-profile lawyer and legal commentator, has with his wife, Josie, raised millions of dollars for kids with cancer through a nonprofit called Runway to Hope.
  • Jim Pugh and Kathy Ramsberger, the chairman of the Dr. Phillips Center and the CEO, respectively, provided crucial leadership, fundraising and sweat equity toward opening the first phase of the $514 million project in 2014.
  • Martha Haynie, Orange County's comptroller since 1988, is a watchdog over public agencies, but also active in supporting a wide range of other causes, including the arts, gay rights, mental health and women's health.

Other nominees are less well known, but no less worthy:

  • Sarah Elaine Dewitz, at 14 the youngest nominee, started a charity four years ago to give books to low-income kids. (I mentioned her last year, too, but her achievements bear updating.) Just 1 Book has now distributed more than 200,000, and Sarah won a national award in 2014 for her efforts.
  • Kathy Hewitt is founder of a Lake Mary-based charity, Just Our Soldiers' Helpers, whose volunteers pack and send care packages to U.S. troops in Afghanistan and other remote locations abroad.
  • Terri Jones is founder and president of BASE Camp Children's Cancer Foundation, which supports children with cancer and their families. A nominator wrote that Jones is "the closest thing to a saint that I have ever known."
  • Albert Manero and other student engineers at the University of Central Florida developed low-cost prosthetic limbs for children using a 3-D printer, and have shared the design to help others in need around the world.
  • Terry Olson, the director of Orange County Arts & Cultural Affairs, has launched and helped grow performing-arts organizations in Central Florida for decades, and has helped secure the county's support for arts groups.

Thanks to all the nominees for their dedication to serving others in Central Florida, and thanks to the readers whose nominations made these points of light shine even brighter.

Source: Orlando Sentinel