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Schools Foundation Gala celebrates making a difference

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Cedar Key graduate and former Levy property appraiser named Alumnus of the Year

By Sean Arnold

The theme of this year’s STARS Gala fundraiser presented by the Levy County Schools Foundation was summed up in a short parable about a boy tossing starfish back in the water along a beach.

The point of the story is the boy’s determination to make a difference in each starfish’s life he saves, rather than succumbing to the feeling of futility in trying to save the thousands of starfish littered along the beach.

The speakers and musical performers at the annual Gala, held Saturday for the first time at the new Williston Middle/High School, touched on the evening’s theme, “making a difference,” drawing a link between the work of the Levy County Schools Foundation and its partners in helping educators make a difference in the lives of students.

“We look forward to continuing to support students, teachers and administrators in improving the quality of education for our students and supplying additional support for our teachers,” Schools Foundation president Denny George announced in his introduction.

The night included dinner, auctions, door prizes and vocal performances, including those by Chiefland High School graduate Bradley Webber, Emily Hallman (CHS class of 2017), Katie Taylor (Williston High School class of 2018), and duo Ronnie and Betty Stevens, who performed a song inspired by the starfish parable. Chiefland Middle High School assistant principal Chritie McElroy delivered the national anthem.

The keynote speaker was freshman U.S. Rep. Neal Dunn.

LCSF director Donna Turner announced there were 260 guests in attendance and 36 sponsors behind the event.

“The Gala has always been a special event for the Foundation,” said Turner, who noted the work of the Foundation and its private partners in recently helping to install Chromebook libraries in each elementary school in the county. Turner said the Foundation provided 65 scholarships totalling almost $50,000 last year, and, with the help of its major business partners – Suncoast Credit Union, Capital City Bank, Duke Energy, V.E. Whitehurst & Sons Construction, delivered around $45,000 for spending on school and classroom projects.

“I don’t expect the Foundation in itself to ever be someone’s hero,” Turner said, “but what the foundation can do is help provide our educators the tools needed to touch a child and maybe become someone’s hero.”

In their opening remarks, Turner, George and Levy Superintendent of Schools Jeff Edison each spoke about teachers or community leaders who changed their lives.

“I know that you’re a difference maker in our communities,” Edison told the audience, “and more often than not you will never know the impact or difference that you have made on an individual.

“But I do want to thank you sincerely for all that you do.”

The late Donald Richburg, a 1955 graduate of Cedar Key School and the Levy County Tax Collector for 24 years, was named the Levy County Alumnus of the Year by Levy school board member and former LCSF president Chris Cowart, who first met Richburg as an 8-year-old seeking donations for a school fundraiser.

Richburg’s family accepted the honor on his behalf. Cowart also revealed a $500 scholarship would be issued to a 2017 graduate in his honor. “He continued on the tradition of the many Levy County graduates we’ve been able to recognize,” Cowart said.

Assistant superintendent John Lott introduced Levy Teacher of the Year Allen Strickland, an algebra and building and construction teacher at Bronson Middle High School.

“Allen (Strickland) has that thing that makes or breaks a teacher – a caring heart,” Lott said. “He’s very humble and cares about the kids, and to me that’s what separates Allen from many of us.”

Assistant superintendent Candy Dean introduced Levy’s education staff professional (ESP) of the year, Yankeetown School media aide Gayle Gatton, adding that Gatton “goes above and beyond to make that media center a special place for our students.” Dean also honored the district volunteer of the year, Melissa Mills, applauding her work with extracurricular clubs like FFA and her time with Chiefland Middle High School.

The night’s big auction prize – a cruise valued at $750; sponsored by Nature Coast Financial Group – went to Patsy Fugate of Williston. Daniel Jerrels served as the auctioneer.

The dinner staff was composed of volunteer students from Williston High School.

At the end of the evening, the Stars Gala sponsors were recognized in four groups.

The Platinum Sponsors included Duke Energy, Smith Asset Management and V.E. Whitehurst & Sons, Inc.

Gold Sponsors included: Ausley Construction Company; Capital City Bank; Drummond Financial Group; Henry & Rilla White Foundation; Superintendent Jeff Edison & Teri Edison; Jerry & Kathy Lawrence; Keith & Naomi Petteway; Paul & Angie Phillips; Paul Stresing Associates Inc.; Suncoast Credit Union; and Wayne Barfield & Associates.

The Silver Sponsors were: Chiefland Citizen; Williston Pioneer; Cedar Key Beacon; Tri County Bulletin; College of Central Florida; Cookie King Real Estate; David Delaney, Dell Graham P.A.; Florida Virtual School; Sabal Trail Transmission; School Board of Levy County; Wilbur & Candy Dean; and Williston Peanuts, Inc.

Bronze Sponsors included: Advantage Roofing & Construction, Inc.; B4 Signs & Advertising; Kevin Whitlow, Inc.; Herff Jones; Levy County Education Association; Levy County Prevention Coalition; Palms Medical Group; Plumbing by Charlie, Co.; Spann’s Heating & Air Conditioning; Tammy Jones, Supervisor of Elections; The Honorable Charlie Stone, FL House of Representatives; The Honorable James Browning & Georgia Browning; The Honorable Joe Smith & Bobbie Smith.