PALMETTO -- Before he was named the 2013 Distinguished Citizen at the Manatee County Fair's VIP luncheon Thursday, Charles Kenneth Burton Sr. said he was just a guy with a routine.
Lunch on Thursdays, breakfast on Saturdays with his good friend John Marble Jr. It was Marble who convinced Burton to attend Thursday's award ceremony, Burton said, by telling Bur
ton that Marble himself was being honored.
"You might have to say a few words," Marble warned him.
Ken Burton Sr. did say a few words after he won the annual award given to a local citizen who has made an impact in Manatee County. Attendees said Thursday that part of the fun is figuring out how to ensure that the winner -- who is always announced at the event -- actually attends.
"It's a very closely guarded secret," said Sue Revell, Manatee River Fair Association board member emeritus and Fair Queens coordinator. "They are usually invited under another guise."
Marble and the committee almost kept Burton in the dark, until he started to see children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren at the event, and the many family members who carry his name. First there was his son, Ken Jr., the county tax collector. Then his grandson -- called Chad to avoid confusion. And finally his great-grandson -- Charles Kenneth Burton IV -- Charlie, for short.
"That's when I knew," Burton said with a laugh after he posed with his wife, Judy, family and committee members for photographs with a large framed award.
Former Manatee County schools superintendent Gene Witt, who attended Thursday's event, said he understands the guises that get winners to the podium. He didn't see the award coming either when he won in 2002.
"I was embarrassed," Witt said Thursday, remembering that someone had convinced him to go. "I wasn't dressed properly."
Master of Ceremonies Vernon DeSear shared with the audience Burton's many contributions to Manatee County.
"Always quiet and self-effacing, he called himself a country boy," DeSear said. "Always contributing a good deal of old-fashioned common sense into politics."
In 1964, Burton was elected to the city council in Palmetto, where years later he'd serve as mayor. He was a Manatee County commissioner for a decade, and Burton says he's the most proud of those years.
"If you go back and look at the history, it's probably the best group of commissioners ever," he said with a smile. " Not because I was on it, but because we just got things done. That was really a turning point for me."
Burton has also helped organize church softball leagues and raise money for school athletic teams and has been a valuable member of the business community.
He has served on the library board, Manatee County Cancer Crusade and the Kiwanis Club. He is a former owner of the North River News.
Burton, president of the Palmetto Historical Commission, has a passion for Florida history and genealogy, with a particular interest in cemeteries.
He's lived in Palmetto since 1959, he'll tell you proudly, moving from North Carolina after serving in the Army. He's also served in the Florida National Guard.
"I want to thank you," Burton said to the crowd. "I am very humbled, and very proud to accept this award."
Katy Bergen, Herald education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081.