BRADENTON -- Bradenton's 86-year-old Ray Baden looks a bit like Santa Claus minus the whiskers, and also embodies the jolly man's spirit.
That quality was not lost on representatives from 10 Manatee County nonprofits who each received a $10,000 check Thursday from Baden as part of the annual $100,000 gift to the community from the Sara and Ray Baden Fund at the Manatee Community Foundation.
"I was whispering to Becky Canesse of Just For Girls that I would love to just bottle him up," said Dawn Stanhope, president of the Boys & Girls Club of Manatee County. "He gets it. He understands what we are doing. He appreciates it."
Baden, who July 17 lost his wife and soulmate, Sara Nell Baden, whispered words of encouragement like Santa to a little child, hugged, kissed a cheek or patted the back of nonprofit representatives receiving aid: Boys & Girls Clubs of Manatee, Family Partnership Center of Manatee County, Florida United Methodist Children's Home, Just for Girls, Meals on Wheels PLUS of Manatee, Salvation Army - Manatee Corps, South Florida Museum, Turning Points and Visible Men Academy and Season of Sharing - Manatee County.
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The giveaway was part of a tailgate reception at Manatee Community Foundation's new home at 2820 Manatee Ave. W., Bradenton,
Baden, a former Bradenton flower shop owner who invested in real estate, says Sara Baden is still guiding him philanthropically.
"She loved community giving," Baden said. "I am continuing it in remembrance of her."
"This money has been tied up a long time," Baden added. "I put the money in a trust when I sold some real estate back when times were good and this is what we are doing out of that trust money. I might be able to do this one more time, but I'm not sure."
The retiring Marilyn Howard, whose last day as executive director of the Manatee Community is Dec. 31, asked the spirited crowd of roughly 50 to pray for the stock market to rocket in 2016 so Baden can continue his $100,000 gift giving a fourth straight year.
"This couldn't have come at a better time for us," said Dawn Stanhope, president of the Boys & Girls Club of Manatee County, which sold all 800 Christmas trees Monday at its Manatee Avenue West location in one of the earliest sellouts ever.
"This year has been a little bit more challenging in terms of fundraising efforts," Stanhope added. "We had cutbacks earlier from the state so every bit is helping bringing kids back into the clubs and off waiting lists so we are thrilled with his support."
"The Baden family is so generous," said Marti King, a Boys & Girls Club board member. "They are long-term members of Manatee County and care so much for our community."
Julie Showers of the Salvation Army-Manatee Corps said the $10,000 her organization received will go to the adopted family program for next Christmas.
"Last year's money went for Christmas gifts this year for more than 1,900 children," Showers said.
Baden told the crowd a personal story.
"You wonder sometimes if the gifts you give really make a difference," Baden said. "But I had a woman come up to me and said: 'You saved my life.'"
She told Baden her daughter was failing in school, but when she enrolled her in the Girls Club of Manatee County, she began to thrive.
"It's gratifying to hear something like that," Baden said.
The Badens were once described as "relentless" in their giving and responsible for the creation and nurturing of nonprofits.
Sara Baden was a founder and past president of the Manatee County Girls Club now known as Just For Girls. The Badens were also financial supporters of Saint Stephen's Episcopal School, Manatee Players, Palma Sola Botanical Park, The Service Club, Manatee County Art League and Entre Nous as well as founding members of the Manatee Community Foundation, where Sara Nell served on the board for six years and was president from 2008-2009.
"Ray helped establish the first Blood Bank in Manatee County and Sara was involved with Just for Girls for over 40 years," said Joan McCaw of the Manatee Community Foundation.
"Ray and Sara have left a legacy of permanent support for charities in Manatee County through their three funds at the Manatee Community Foundation - The Baden Family Fund, The Sara and Ray Baden Fund and The Baden Family Scholarship," McCaw said.
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7072 or contact him via Twitter@RichardDymond.