5 win Spirit of Gainesville awards


Award winners Mary Hausch (from left) Freddie Wehbe Dr. Carolyn Tucker Dorothy Benson and Ray Crone pose for a photo during the Gainesville Magazine's Spirit of Gainesville Awards banquet on Wednesday Nov. 28 2012 in Gainesville Fla.

Matt Stamey/Staff photographer
Published: Wednesday, November 28, 2012 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 25, 2013 at 10:37 p.m.

Within the packed Gainesville Sun atrium Wednesday stood a psychology professor, a referee, a pizza franchise owner, a community activist and a theater showrunner who embody the spirit of Gainesville.

The five were plucked from a pool of 100-plus nominees for the second annual Spirit of Gainesville Awards.

About 200 guests took part in Wednesday evening's festivities and waited to discover who among them had won. The winners were Mary Hausch for the arts, Carolyn Tucker for medicine, Ray Crone for sportsmanship, Fred Wehbe for entrepreneurship and Dorothy Benson for community service.

A committee of Gainesville Sun employees selected the award winners from the nominations submitted online by members of the community. The Sun recognized local residents for decades through its yearly Community Service Award. The Spirit of Gainesville Awards, first presented in 2011, broadened that concept.

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Mary Hausch, co-founder and producing director of the Hippodrome Theatre, won in the arts category. Now in its 40th season, the theater donates more than $200,000 in tickets annually to nonprofits for use in their fundraisers.

Hausch thanked the artists, businesses and other organizations that have supported the theater since its inception. She also thanked the 4.5 million people who have attended shows at the Hippodrome over the years.

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Carolyn Tucker, a University of Florida professor with a Ph.D. in clinical psychology who has partnered with area churches to create health-related events as part of her “Health-Smart Churches” plan, received the Spirit of Gainesville Award for Medicine.

Tucker, the director of the UF Health Disparities Research and Intervention Program, will expand her efforts to African Methodist Episcopal churches located throughout the state thanks to a grant from the Blue Foundation for a Healthy Florida.

After the ceremony, Tucker said she was surprised she won.

“It really does take a village,” she said. “I have wonderful students, wonderful community partners and, of course, the people that we serve are wonderful.”

UF doctoral student Manny Lopez said he nominated Tucker, who has taught him since his undergraduate years, because he feels her health research focuses on the community and has helped many residents lead healthier lives.

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The Spirit of Gainesville Award for Sportsmanship went to Ray Crone, a physical education teacher at W.W. Irby Elementary School and a multi-sport referee for more than three decades. Crone, a Gainesville native, also dedicates time to volunteering and leads the Irby Elementary School Jump Rope for Heart fundraiser.

“I'm really humbled to be here,” Crone told the crowd, citing his former physical education teacher and coaches as people who instilled the spirit of Gainesville in him at a young age.

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Freddie Wehbe, franchise owner and marketing manager of Gator Domino's Pizza, received the entrepreneurship award. He and Domino's sponsor 60-plus events locally every year and Wehbe is a member of advisory boards like Keep Alachua County Beautiful and the Gainesville Chamber of Commerce.

He said this award goes to his employees at Domino's and cited a quote that he lives by, which explains the community will support a business that supports the community.

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The final award recipient of the evening was Dorothy Benson, chairwoman and co-creator of the Southwest Advocacy Group, or SWAG, who won the community service award for her efforts to help the southwest Gainesville community.

Through SWAG, she helped garner support from Alachua County government and other organizations to open a family resource center.

Gainesville Magazine Editor Jacki Levine, who presented the award, said Benson's work showed her definition of “neighbor” extends far beyond the borders of her Haile Plantation subdivision.

“Wow,” Benson said as she reached the podium. “I would just like to say that the clinic's a done deal.”

Benson, through SWAG, is spearheading the creation of a health clinic set to open off Southwest 24th Avenue in summer 2013. She accepted the award on behalf of the families in southwest Gainesville for whom she and her organization have created these community projects.

As the winners took pictures after the presentation with their crystal awards, other nominees smiled just as wide for photos with their commemorative certificates.

Only five won Spirit of Gainesville awards, but all of them were nominated because, to someone in the community, they represented this city's spirit the best.

Contact Morgan Watkins at 352-338-3104 or morgan.watkins@gvillesun.com.

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