Although enjoying her retirement immensely, including traveling, gardening and writing a book about her family upbringing in Louisiana called “Bayou French,” former Centerstone of Florida leader Mary Ruiz was clearly delighted to be with hundreds of local health care professionals Thursday.
“I’m filled with gratitude to receive this award before an audience filled with healthcare champions,” the relaxed and well-rested-looking Ruiz exclaimed when she stepped to the podium at the Polo Grill ballroom to accept the Manatee Chamber of Commerce’s Lifetime Achievement Award before a crowd of 350 at the Fifth Annual Champions of Healthcare Awards Breakfast.
“It’s hard work, isn’t it?” added Ruiz, for decades Manatee’s most persistent voice for the mentally ill. “We are very fortunate to do this hard work in Manatee County because our Chamber of Commerce, our elected officials and our business community understand the importance of health. We live in Manatee County, a place where collaboration is our strength. Our problems are not small. But we should not be discouraged.”
Joining Ruiz in the winner’s circle at the event, in which people nominate those they feel have exhibited excellence in their careers, was Calen MacDonald of Southeast High School who won the 2017 Youth Volunteer Award and captured the audience’s admiration with a heartfelt acceptance speech.
In what one person, the winner herself, termed a huge upset and surprise, Manatee County Commissioner Carol Whitmore, a nurse with Florida Home Health, won the 2017 Individual of Merit Award.
“I’m shocked,” Whitmore said. “I was up against Mickey Presha of MCR Health Services and Beverly Hindenlang of State College of Florida, Manatee-Sarasota. I had no chance!”
Whitmore told the crowd that she was in the unique and personally satisfying position of being a nurse who treats illness and a politician who can push for action regarding important health care issues.
“Health is my No. 1,” Whitmore said.
Dr. Jennifer McCullen of the OB/GYN Women’s Center won the 2017 Physician Award and Mary Ann Legler of the Manatee County School District won the 2017 Nurse Award.
Dr. Arthur Valadie of Coastal Orthopedics, who can always be found at youth athletic events if needed to treat injuries, was named 2017 Adult Volunteer.
The Neochord Trial Team, heart surgery specialists at Blake Medical Center, whose ranks include Dr. Ashok Krishnamurthy, Arika Manapat, Sally Mathews and Dr. Alessandro Golino, won the 2017 Innovation/Research Award.
Angie Hadlock, Earl Kulpa, Victoria Reinhartz and James Crutchfield of Manatee County’s Community Paramedic Program, whose members received a huge ovation when announced, won the 2017 Institution/Program Award.
An emotional Kobee Masiello, one of many winners who thanked their family for support, won the 2017 Allied Health Professional Award.
Finally, Congressman Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota, applauded for his health advocacy, was named 2017 Community Impact Award winner.
Young winner makes big impression
MacDonald, a junior in the International Baccalaureate program at Southeast High and a volunteer at Tidewell Hospice, was very humble when accepting his Youth Volunteer award, which included a $1,000 college scholarship.
Throughout his high school career, MacDonald has logged almost 200 service hours, said Claudia Gordon Sohnleitner of Southeast High.
MacDonald this year founded a Spanish Club at Southeast High and through the club established a tutoring program at Samoset Elementary School, which connects Southeast High students with struggling students at Samoset, Sohnleitner added.
“Calen strives not only to help students academically, but to form a mentoring relationship,” Sohnleitner said.
When it came time for him to speak, MacDonald thanked his mother who encouraged him to volunteer at Tidewell and the volunteer coordinator and the staff at the Tidewell, as well as the Manatee Chamber of Commerce for recognizing him.
“I’m honored more than words can express,” the poised and articulate MacDonald the told crowd. “I could never imagine I would actually win this award. I thought my contributions were far too small. But this experience has shown me the value of volunteering. Regardless of what you do or the number of hours you contribute the importance lies in donating your time for the greater good.”