Six people recognized with Spirit of Gainesville Awards


From left to right, Dr. Karen E. Harris, Danny Veilleux, Hazel K. Williams "Sister Hazel," Will Kesling and Phoebe Cade Mills stand with their Spirit of Gainesville Awards at The Gainesville Sun on Monday, November 25, 2013.

Elise Giordano/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Monday, November 25, 2013 at 11:19 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, November 26, 2013 at 10:39 p.m.

Before the announced description of her many years of service was complete, Hazel K. Williams, the winner of The Gainesville Magazine and Gainesville Sun's Spirit of Gainesville Award for community service, was up on her feet.

Walking with the aid of her friend, Bettye Allen, the 88-year-old minister and humanitarian took her place behind the lectern, where she greeted the crowd in the name of God and spoke words of gratitude for being honored.

Then, Williams, better known as Sister Hazel and the inspiration behind the Gainesville-bred rock band of the same name, announced that she is undertaking what she called her last project in Gainesville: to open a place for the children of the incarcerated.

She explained that through visiting prisons, she noticed that the children of the incarcerated often find themselves following in their parent's footsteps.

"It's a serious thing," she said. "Brothers, sisters, ladies and gentlemen: I need you. I cannot do it by myself."

The third annual Spirit of Gainesville Awards ceremony was held in the atrium of The Gainesville Sun's offices Monday evening. Six awards were handed out to individuals in the community who were nominated by their peers as paragons of the spirit of Gainesville in several categories.

More than 150 guests took part in Wednesday's awards ceremony.

The winners were: Will Kesling for the arts, Phoebe Cade Miles for entrepreneurship, Dr. Karen E. Harris for medicine, Hazel K. Williams for community service, John "Jay" Watkins for education and Danny Veilleux for the youth category.

Overall, 74 people were nominated by community members through online submissions in a range of categories.

"What's amazing is that these people are nominated by their friends and neighbors (who) witness their work up close," said Jacki Levine, editor of Gainesville Magazine. "They see what they do for their community, and they appreciate it."

A committee of Gainesville Sun employees selected the award winners from those submissions.

The first award of the evening went to Will Kesling, a UF professor, director of choral activities for UF and the music director of the Gainesville Civic Chorus and Philharmonic Orchestra, who won in the arts category. Kesling is perhaps best known in Gainesville for his involvement with the "Messiah Sing-Along" and the "Sounds of the Season" concerts.

Kesling is also a travelling maestro who has criss-crossed the world to help conduct choirs and orchestras.

"My students and those who have seen or performed with me would say 'I've never seen the old man speechless,' but I'm speechless," he told the crowd upon receiving his award. "And, I'm very humbled and very grateful."

Phoebe Cade Miles, the CEO of the Cade Museum for Creativity and Invention, received a Spirit of Gainesville Award for entrepreneurship. The daughter of the late Dr. Robert Cade, the UF physician and scientist whose research led to the invention of Gatorade, Miles spent much of her adult life overseas, but returned in 2004 to found the Cade Museum.

She also heads the foundation that awards an annual $50,000 Cade Prize, which was created five years ago to inspire a new generation of inventors, creative thinkers and entrepreneurs.

"I'd like to say that I was born at the Innovation Hub," she joked to the crowd's laughter. "Well, it was actually Alachua General Hospital. So, I think it was pre-destined."

Dr. Karen E. Harris, an obstetrician with North Florida Women's Physicians who has been practicing in the area for 20 years, won in the medicine category. In addition to serving on the boards of several community organizations and as a Girl Scout leader, Harris works hard to increase access to quality health care for women and children throughout Gainesville.

"We've seen a lot about women's rights, that's why I'm in women's health care," she told the crowd. "Prematurity rates are terrible in the South … We have so much work to do. We have to lead our women and our youth towards making such a difference for women."

Hazel K. Williams received a Spirit of Gainesville Award for community service. Williams, 88, has led the Angels of Mercy Ministries for more than 65 years, serves as director of the Williams Temple Church of God in Christ's Home and Foreign mission and is trying to open another ministry to serve children of the incarcerated.

Williams, who visits prisoners, feeds the homeless and ships supplies to impoverished countries around the world, provides $1,000 scholarships through her ministries to certain college students in need.

"I'm highly honored," she told the crowd. "And, if I weren't so young, I wouldn't need anybody to help me."

John "Jay" Watkins, a UF assistant professor who serves as associate director of bands, director of athletic bands, director of the Gator Marching Band and who was named this year's Teacher of the Year by UF's College of Fine Arts, won in the education category.

Under his leadership, the Gators represented the U.S. as the only college marching band invited to perform at the Summer Olympics last year, and they were named the 2013 recipient of the Sudler Trophy from the John Philip Sousa Foundation, an award bestowed to one university marching band every other year.

Watkins was not present during the ceremony to receive his award.

The final award recipient was 16-year-old Danny Veilleux, for the youth category. When Veilleux was 13, he created the Polo Drive Ministry, which provides students with donated articles of clothing that are school-appropriate. During that summer three years ago, he managed to bring in 600 shirts and pants, which were donated to Howard Bishop Middle School, as well as $100 in donations.

This year, his ministry has expanded to help other area schools in need, and he is now planning to make his ministry a nonprofit organization.

"They (Alachua County Public Schools) passed the new uniform rule, where everyone had to wear school uniforms, and I saw these kids were just struggling with that," he said to the crowd. "Some of them (were) not able to really get their uniforms and had to wear the same shirts every day. My mom's always telling me to make a difference, so I saw this as my opportunity. And, I just took it and ran with it."

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