Bradenton Herald among honorees at eighth annual luncheon

vmannix@bradenton.comFebruary 21, 2013 

BRADENTON -- A 17-year-old whose volunteerism changed her life.

A newspaper that's been a community institution for 91 years.

A Rotary Club with 70 members that gives back a thousand-fold.

A retiree whose passion is feeding homeless school kids.

A civic icon who reflects the fabric of his hometown.

A couple whose generosity is never-ending.

They were among the honorees saluted Wednesday at the eighth annual Spirit of Manatee Awards luncheon, presented by the Manatee County Foundation at the Bradenton Auditorium.

"You see role models for philanthropic giving and people who are not millionaires, but understand being part of this community means you ought to be

about giving back," said emcee and foundation advisory board member Ed Chiles.

He meant student Kristen Truong, the Bradenton Herald, the Rotary Club of Lakewood Ranch, Jane Evers, Vernon DeSear and Fred and Millie Vandergraff, respectively.

Chiles was also referring to Gaile and Francis (Mac) McCracken, deceased teachers, who willed $1 million each to the foundation, State College of Florida and University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee for teacher education.

The McCrackens also willed $3 million to other nonprofits, said Jim Hamner, their financial adviser.

"The perfect example of a legacy gift that's going to impact an entire community and its kids," said Marilyn Howard, the foundation executive director.

The 2013 Spirit of Manatee Award recipients were:

n Young Spirit -- Bradenton Christian School senior Kristen Truong has made an impact on fellow students and others in our community.

"I've always loved volunteering and the smiles on people's faces when I was able to help them changed me," she said.

The BCS Key Club president helped grow a population of BCS service leaders with more than 100 students in Key Club activities.

As Key Club Florida district treasurer, Truong serves nearly 20,000 members around the state and Cayman Islands, supervising more than 350 treasurers and managing a budget of $750,000.

n Community Spirit -- The Bradenton Herald has grown with the community since its inception in 1922, expanding with the Lakewood Ranch Herald and evolving online, and its steadfast support of Manatee County's nonprofits has been a vital part of its growth.

The Herald has supported more than 170 organizations and contributed more than $600,000 to the community through nonprofit scholarships.

The Herald's former owners, the Knight brothers, "said service to the community is inseparable to your job as a newsman," publisher Bob Turner emphasized. "The award validates that we're on the right track."

Perhaps its best-known vehicle is the annual Golden Herald Awards for outstanding Manatee County high school seniors. It has recognized more than 4,300 students with more than 1,000 receiving scholarships since 1978.

n Community Spirit -- The Rotary Club of Lakewood Ranch of 70 members has done much good work for numerous nonprofits like ArtCenter Manatee, Food Bank of Manatee, Manatee Glens and Women's Resource Center to name a few.

The club has also accomplished this through the Suncoast Food & Wine Fest that raised $1.1 million for charity the past decade.

"We have a high level of giving in our club," president Ladd Waldo said.

The club was also integral in starting the U.S. affiliate of Shelter Box disaster relief, a Miracle League sports field for children with disabilities and upgrades to Manatee Glens.

n Volunteer Spirit -- Retirement didn't last long for Jane Evers, Bradenton's former first lady during husband Bill's 20 years as mayor.

Evers established F.E.L.T. (Feeding Empty Little Tummies) to provide backpacks for homeless school children with three meals and a snack per day each weekend of the school year to more than 200 students at 13 elementary schools.

"I feel very humbled," she said. "There are hundreds who have stood side by side with me trying to make the community better."

n Leadership Spirit -- Civic icon. Master of ceremonies. Pageant Judge.

Vernon DeSear has maintained a visible profile for years in his native Manatee County, but it's behind-the-scenes he has also helped make our community a welcome place to live and visit.

"This reward is gratifying, but the most important thing is I'm part of a team and my goal is always to be part of a team," he said.

Manatee Memorial Hospital's vice president for marketing is a familiar sight visiting patients, but he also makes his rounds around the community, helping build alliances among various organizations and providing leadership on their boards.

n Lifetime Spirit -- During the last four decades, Fred and Millie Vandergraff have given generously of their money and time.

"God has blessed us and what we get is not our own, so we have to share it," she said.

Among the nonprofits they support are Guardian Angels, Salvation Army, Sheriff's Youth Ranch, Solve House and Sweet Adelines.

Bradenton Christian School, where she taught, has been a beneficiary, as well.

Her husband ran the BCS auction during the last 30 years, chaired the annual Community Awareness and Fundraising Banquet and raised $5,000 to $30,000 each year, and hosted the inaugural Charity Auction for Duette School, raising more than $4,500.

The couple also helped raise $2.3 million in 28 days for the Bradenton Christian Reformed Church.

Vin Mannix, local columnist, can be reached at 941-745-7055. Twitter: @vinmannix

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