A toast for Von
Alachua County Tax Collector Von Fraser is honored by Cotton Club Board of Directors
Published: Wednesday, May 1, 2013 at 3:07 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, May 1, 2013 at 3:07 p.m.
Alachua County Tax Collector Von Fraser — a frequent guest at many east Gainesville events — was recognized for his dedication and commitment to serving residents, especially those in east Gainesville, during "A Community Roast & Toast in Honor of Von Fraser," a benefit of the Cotton Club Museum & Cultural Center Inc.
Held Saturday at the Senior Recreation Center, the event featured dignitaries from the community who talked about Fraser's connection to the black community and his fierce dedication to help people keep their property. It was attended by nearly 100 residents.
Proceeds will benefit the restoration project at the Cotton Club, which, once completed, will be dedicated to collecting, displaying and preserving black art and culture.
Gainesville city Commissioner Yvonne Hinson-Rawls, who served as the mistress of ceremony, began the roast by saying the Cotton Club Board of Directors could not have chosen a better person to honor than Fraser.
"We know that Von Fraser is a man that we can trust in our community," said Hinson-Rawls, as Fraser sat on the dais next to the Rev. Dr. Wille Mayberry, his friend of more than 40 years. Mayberry is pastor of Pleasant Hill Baptist Church in Gainesville and St. John Baptist Church in Melrose.
Speaking in place of an absent Matthew Surrency, mayor of Hawthorne, Hinson-Rawls, the first to roast Fraser, said Fraser is at most events she goes to in the community, whether it's at funerals or "events in town or out-of-town, especially at black people's events," she said. "Next to (U.S.) President (Bill) Clinton, Von is the whitest black man I know."
A host of others roasted and toasted Fraser, including Gainesville Police Department Chief Tony Jones; Newberry City Commissioner Alena Lawson; Robert Prather, chairman of the Alachua County Democratic Executive Committee; Marna Weston, who once worked on a Fraser campaign; former Alachua County Commissioner Rodney J. Long; Charles S. Chestnut III, owner of Chestnut Funeral Home in Gainesville; John Power, assistant county tax collector, and Mayberry.
Jones thanked Fraser for serving the community with a passion unlike many others. "When he tells you there are a small number of properties in Alachua County that are taken because they are delinquent in taxes, it is because he works with individuals to keep them from losing their property," Jones said. "That says a lot because there are some people who would just take the properties, but Von Fraser is a man of integrity."
Fraser is known for attending a lot of events, but Lawson said she saw Fraser in a very unlikely place once — sitting on the front row at a black funeral in a church in Jasper.
"It was a little small country church, and I ended up outside with about 75 percent of the people because they couldn't get in the church, and you know Jasper is almost up there near Georgia," Lawson said. "So when I walked in the church to view the body, who did I see sitting in the front of the church — Von Fraser — and I said, ‘How did he get in here.'"
Chestnut said he has not only seen Fraser sitting on the front row at funerals, but he has also seen him sitting with a funeral director. This took place at the funeral of the late Joseph Duncan, longtime co-owner of Duncan Brothers Funeral Home.
Chestnut said he really became concerned once he saw a bishop ask Fraser to come sit in the pulpit at a funeral in the Monteocha community. Chestnut said the latter caused him to think that maybe Fraser had thoughts of trying to intrude his territory by getting in the funeral business. "But I came to the conclusion that was not so, or I hope that is not so," said Chestnut, as the crowd broke out in laughter.
Fraser, an official honorary deacon at Pleasant Hill and also Third Bethel Baptist Church in Rochelle, said the event was the highlight of all of the honors he has ever received.
"I am so appreciative of all you people being here, and this is really awesome to me," Fraser said. "I've had some honors before, but this tops them all."
The event ended with Cotton Club board member Patricia Hilliard-Nunn leading those in attendance in a toast to Fraser. "He is an example of the song, ‘This Little Light of Mine," she said, "and as the Cotton Club board, we want you to know that we appreciate you."
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