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Rotary Club of Boca Raton honors community leaders with OPAL Awards

By Dale M. King

BOCA RATON – Seven special community leaders became even more special this past Saturday night when the Rotary Club of Boca Raton honored them with the OPAL (Outstanding People and Leaders) Awards at the 14th annual presentation.

Rotary President Alan Kaye said the fundraising gala at the Country Club at Boca Pointe celebrated “the numerous accomplishments and contributions of a select group of out community’s finest citizens who make a difference in our lives and in our world.”

A packed house saw the following receive honors in various categories: activist Marta Batmasian, for community service; Boca Regional Hospital president and CEO Jerry Fedele, in the healthcare and medicine division; Florence “Flossy” Keesely for lifetime achievement; Boca Community Resources and Affairs Specialist Emily Lilly for civil service; Boca Community High School teacher Dr. David Robbe for education and Jim and Arlene Sclafani in the private sector division.

Each stepped to a podium centered between two large TV screens to receive the award from either Kaye or co-chairs Ingrid Fulmer and Neil Saffer.

The awards ceremony opened with an invocation from Mayor Susan Whelchel, who asked for a moment of silence for those recently killed and wounded by a gunman in Tucson.

Robbe was first to the podium, and offered recollections of his many years at Boca High.  He organized a “Journey of Courage” to the Ground Zero site of the 9/11 terror attacks, where students spent three hours in the firehouse closest to the World Trade Centers. He also organized student trips to the USS Missouri at Pearl Harbor; worked the Caring Kitchen on Veterans Day and supported the Go Pink campaign at Boca Raton Regional Hospital, among other things.

During his years as an instructor, he said it was “my privilege to look into the faces of hope and the eyes of excitement.”

Fedele, credited with keeping Boca Hospital out of bankruptcy, said, “It takes a team to accomplish anything.”  He honored the staff who “stayed the course” despite staggering financial problems. At Boca Hospital, he led an initiative that resulted in an operations improvement of $60 million in 18 months.

Lilly, a familiar face in Boca where she is the go-to person when events need to be planned, is a former teacher in upstate New York who was named to “Who’s Who among National Educators.”  The always-jovial lady looked over to Mayor Whelchel and said, “My evaluation is coming up.”

She is a member of numerous organizations, including the Children’s Museum where she chairs the KidsFest celebration; Boca Ballet Theatre, Soroptimist International; Kiwanis Club of Boca Raton and the George Snow Scholarship Foundation.  “I appreciate Rotary and what Rotary does for the community,” she said.

Marta Batmasian has excelled in the fields of education, business, politics and community service.  She received bachelors and master’s degrees from Emerson College and a Ph.D in Near Eastern Studies from Brandeis University. A member of 37 different organizations over the years, she paid tribute to the other recipients, saying, “I am very grateful to you all, all the unsung heroes.”

She is co-founder and director with her husband, Jim, of PROPEL, an organization that provides homes, jobs and work skills to youths who have aged out of the foster care system.

The Sclafanis took a humorous turn at the mike, each joking that they would talk for half an hour.  The couple operates Multi Image Group, an audio visual company they founded in 1979.  MIG now has a staff of 95 and is recognized nationally and internationally.

Jim has been involved in Rotary since he became a member of the club in Walden, N.Y. in 1957.

Earning a lifetime achievement award was Flossy Keesely, who, at nearly 97 years of age, has “dedicated her life to the field of fines arts and philanthropy,” Rotarians said.

He heads her own non-profit corporation, Flossy’s Dream, and has been a major supporter of the Rotary Club’s Future Stars fundraiser, an event scheduled March 4. It will kick off the 2011 edition of Festival of the Arts BOCA.

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