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Golden Years Gala celebrates 17th year

Posted 4/18/24

The 17

annual Windsor Ortega Golden Years Gala will be celebrated on Wednesday, May 8,

2024. The Gala recognizes older adults for outstanding volunteer service in

Clay County. This is a …

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Golden Years Gala celebrates 17th year


The 17 annual Windsor Ortega Golden Years Gala will be celebrated on Wednesday, May 8, 2024. The Gala recognizes older adults for outstanding volunteer service in Clay County. This is a wonderful way to say “Thank You!” by celebrating someone you know for their extraordinary efforts. The categories are as follows: Ernie Cohen Lifetime Achievement Award, Volunteer Man of the Year and Volunteer Woman of the Year. In addition to recognizing the nominees, we will be awarding the Shepherd’s Center Outstanding Service Award. Senior adults are important to the community. They are a generation of high values, strong work ethic, commitment, integrity, generosity, and loyalty. Older adults are a wonderful example to all, showing that true fulfillment is to share their time and talents through service.

The Gala will be held at Sullivan Hall, 7190 U.S. Highway 17 S, Fleming Island, Wednesday, May 8. Breakfast will be served at 8:30a.m. There will be a live and silent auction and awards program. Tickets are $50; please call (904) 269-5315 to order yours today. The event benefits Shepherd’s Center of Orange Park, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit which provides education for older adults to improve their quality of life. The award-winning educational program focuses on health, wellness, art, information technology, and history.

A listing of the nominees and the Shepherd’s Center’s Outstanding Service Award winner with a summary of their activities follows.

Ernie Cohen Lifetime Achievement Award

Nancy C. Keating

Nancy has demonstrated commitment to people of all different abilities, faiths, colors, backgrounds, and status. She has been an active member of the Green Cove Springs Rotary Club since 1990 and was the first female member of the club. Nancy has worked tirelessly to raise funds for the Clay High School Scholarship Fund. She is also currently the chairperson for the Annual Rotary Swine and Dine which benefits many local non-profits. Nancy has given countless hours to the Clay County Special Olympics organization and serves the Sacred Heart Church as a eucharistic minister. She was instrumental in the Food Pantry becoming the successful organization it is today. She is also a member of 100 Women Who Care, board member of PET Florida, and Rotarians for the Development of Youth.  Nancy C. Keating is a deliberate, dedicated and loving person whose good works and caring demeanor have been quietly and thoughtfully practiced for over 50 years in Clay County.

  Bea Robinson

  Over the past 35 years, Bea has been a steadfast pillar of support, witnessing the growth and evolution of The Clothes Closet and Food Pantry. At the remarkable age of 90, Bea (a Clay County resident for 72 of those years) stands as a testament to unwavering commitment and compassion, embodying the spirit of volunteerism. Bea’s journey began as she stepped into the community in a caregiving role for The Clothes Closet and Food Pantry’s founder, Madeline Moore. As clients walk through the front door, Bea is at her sorting table meticulously evaluating donations with a warm smile, humming a song, ready to hug or take a moment to pray with a client or volunteer. She is always there offering a comforting presence to those seeking assistance. Bea Robinson exemplifies the true spirit of volunteerism, a spirit driven by empathy, resilience and an unwavering commitment to making a positive impact on the lives of others. Her impact is imprinted on the very fabric of the organization, and her legacy will continue to inspire generations to come.

  Charlotte Sarro

  Charlotte has been a dedicated client of the Middleburg Senior Center, as well as a constant volunteer for over 20 years. Charlotte helps with activities and meals, and her giving attitude and enthusiasm is contagious. Charlotte relocated to Florida to be closer to family and began attending the Middleburg Senior Center. She soon found herself volunteering in many different areas of the center starting with the kitchen, until she found the one, she genuinely loved - calling Bingo! She loves seeing older people pay attention and knows this helps keep their minds fresh and focused. Charlotte shared,  “I really love how excited they get when they win and get a prize!” The bingo participants love Charlotte too. They love her personality and spirit. 

  Woman of the Year

Linda Ashley

Linda has been a volunteer with Community Hospice & Palliative Care since 2017. As a former social worker, Linda understands the needs that may arise, and she has made herself available night or day. In 2016, she helped coordinate the hospice program at Penney Farms. Having come full circle, she is now a dedicated and loving volunteer for patients and families dealing with end-of-life situations. She is also a Community Educator for Advance Care Planning and Honoring Choices. In Linda’s words,” I have loved every minute of helping patients and families at the most important time of their lives.”

  Kay Earhart

Kay’s enthusiasm and dependability to serve on committees, work on projects, and attend district and state meetings, set her apart from the crowd as a leader in the Orange Park Women’s Club.From 2021 to 2023, as President of the club, she led the “Chairs for Charity” campaign. Kay also introduced the first annual charity gala at the Orange Park Women’s Club in the fall of 2022 benefiting the Mercy Support Services Building Fund. She currently serves as the First Vice-President of the Orange Park Women’s Club as well as House Chair, overseeing all maintenance at the club. Other positions she has tackled through the Orange Park Women’s Club include chairing the International Committee, chairing the Community Service Program for Education and Libraries, and organizing a Christmas bazaar which benefited students at risk in Clay County. She loves to garden and has found an avenue to share that enjoyment with like minds in an outreach program that promotes gardening and environmental education for schools and the community.  Kay is not just a spectator, but a participant in her community!

  Joyce Hall

  Joyce volunteers her time with the Pink Ribbon Symposium by finding locations, marketing the event, and organizing door prizes for 70-100 people. This event encourages and supports breast cancer survivors. She has also served as chairperson of the Orange Park Ladies Connecting, providing program direction, marketing, and speaking for the group which encourages and inspires women. Joyce heads up the Christmas party for Teen Challenge, filling Christmas baskets and donating formals to women. She also donates clothing to their thrift store. She encourages small groups, mentors through Bible studies and ladies’ groups, and inspires others through her group speaking. She donates thousands of items including clothing and Avon products to additional clothes closets and food pantries.

  Ruthie Jennings

When you walk into the Orange Park Senior Center, you immediately feel a sense of fun, happiness, and well-being.Part of this fun and happiness is Ruthie Jennings who is the Bingo caller, Karaoke DJ, and all-around helper of whatever needs to be done.Ruthie helps create an atmosphere of family and makes the activities not only well attended (often over 70) and fun, but also beneficial to seniors’ camaraderie with each other and socialization during the various activities. Ruthie does all this while being the 24/7 caretaker to her mom who often attends with her. Ruthie is a “Jack of all Trades” and can always be someone management depends on to lend a hand with whatever they need. Ruthie, grandmother of 9, including one set of twin grandsons who are Florida Police Officers.They keep the peace, and so does she at the Senior Center.She is respected and loved by all the seniors and management staff. 

  Liliana Kinmonth

  Lily has been a volunteer at The Way Free Medical Clinic for over 8 years. Her roles have included working the front desk, triage, and translation for Spanish speaking patients. Through the Catholic Council of Women at Sacred Heart Catholic Church, she has also supported several non-profit groups including the Bear Essential Diaper Program, Diamond Nursing Home, Clay County Food Pantry, Charles E. Bennett Title 1 Elementary School, and the Clothes Closet. Lily is a member of the Military Vehicle Preservation Association, an educational group whose mission statement is “History in Motion” that provides support for veterans. She has also worked with the First Coast Car Council, raising money for the Ronald McDonald House, for over 10 years. As her supervisor Cathy at The Way Free Clinic says, “Dependability, inspiration, enthusiasm - she has it all and then some.”

  Sadako Long

  At Advent Lutheran Church, Sadako serves as a member of the Stewardship Board, the Endowment Committee, the quilters group, and as Chair of the Tellers. Previously she served as the treasurer of the church council. The quilts she has helped create have been gifted to Habitat for Humanity, hospitalized church members and new moms, as well as Lutheran World Relief. As First Vice-President of the Garden Club of Orange Park, Sadako edits an award-winning yearbook. She is Treasurer of the Hummingbird Garden Club and Arranger Guild, manages the club’s website, and serves on the Publicity Committee which designs and sets up displays. Sadako helps make wreaths for the Historical Society Veteran’s Day programs at Magnolia Cemetery and designs flower arrangements to decorate Clarke House on Carrie Clarke Day. Sadako is a cheerful and dependable worker and is ready and willing to volunteer for any and all opportunities.

Man of the Year

Galen Bills

Galen Bills has been a CORE volunteer with Clay County Habitat for Humanity since 2009. He has helped build over 60 homes for individuals and families in need. He also builds wheelchair ramps with the James Boys through Orange Park Methodist Church. He has personally served over 200 individuals in the county and volunteered over 10,000 hours of his time with Clay County Habitat for Humanity. Driven by a passion for hands-on work and a commitment to giving back, Galen found the perfect outlet at Clay County Habitat for Humanity. He loves being able to build homes for other people and seeing the homes built come to life has been truly inspiring. Amy Clay, Habitat’s Volunteer Coordinator, shares, “Galen is an unsung hero at Clay Habitat, humbly, quietly, and precisely going about his work. His keen attention to detail has prompted him to start a project over from scratch more times than he would have liked. However, it speaks to his care, dedication, and integrity to ensuring that a Habitat homeowner will receive a quality home, done right.”

  Bob Donnellon

  Bob Donnellon is an example of everything a volunteer should be kind, thoughtful, enthusiastic, and loving. Bob is a member of several non-profit organizations including St. Luke Catholic Church. Bob is there most days, and volunteers in many capacities including serving as Eucharistic Minister to the homebound, which allows him to bring communion to anyone who is unable to attend worship. In this position, Bob witnesses situations that call for action. He assists those who are medically fragile, widows, or those who have limited abilities by organizing groups that cut grass, do yard clean-ups, build wheelchair ramps, paint houses, and make minor repairs. Bob works at St. Luke’s food pantry, organizes a group that donates food to homeless Middleburg High School students, and assists with dinner baskets for “Operation Blessing”. He is also the main chef for dinners run by the Knights of Columbus. Finally, in Bob’s spare time, he creates memorial flag boxes to honor deceased veterans and first responders. 

  Kenneth Johansen

  Ken volunteers at Advent Lutheran Church, Shepherd’s Center of Orange Park (SCOOP), and Camp Chowenwaw. He is past president of Advent Lutheran’s Church Council and currently serves as liaison from the Stewardship Board to the Endowment Committee. He has taught a Bible study class for ten years and is a singer with the Awaken Worship Team. Ken is a deacon and served as lector and assistant minister. He is a trained Stephen Minister at the church which allows him to spend one-on-one time with a grieving parishioner, providing support. At SCOOP Ken is a co-facilitator for the Current Events class. He spends 6-8 hours preparing each of the sessions he teaches on political issues. As a park naturalist, Ken served as a docent in the Nature Center at Clay County Camp Chowenwaw Park. Ken enjoys sharing his knowledge with everyone he meets!

John Merrill

  John is known for his goodwill and desire to help others throughout the area. He volunteers through the James Boys, a group of men who build wheelchair ramps for the homes of people who are not able to pay contractors to install ramps. He even helped rebuild the deck of one of the recipients. After completing the rebuild, John stayed to remove all the trash and loaded it into his truck, making two trips to the landfill. John has also volunteered his time and resources to the Thanksgiving Feast of Plenty put on by five Orange Park Churches. John is a woodworker, and his skills are well-known by those in his community. John is happiest when there is a job to be done. John’s good neighbor attitude and approach to tackling projects sets him apart from others.

  Dave Neal

  Dave volunteers at The Shepherd’s Center of Orange Park, Orange Park Rehab and Nursing Center, and Orange Park Athletic Association Baseball. He is a volunteer teacher at the Shepherd’s Center where he shares the rock ‘n roll hits of the 1960s and 1970s. He hands out information he has researched on songs, artists, and the events that shaped the music of that time. Every other week he visits Orange Park Rehab and Nursing Center to share his music with the residents which brings many to a lively remembrance of songs they know and enjoy sharing why it meant something special to them. Dave also loves baseball; he coaches a 10–11-year-old All-Star team at OPAA. He teaches them the basics of baseball as the pitching coach and serves as a role model to these youth. Dave’s love of music and baseball provides him the perfect outlet for his volunteer service. Lamar Smith

  Lamar Smith

  Lamar is the Green Cove Springs Senior Center’s “handyman.” He does anything that needs to be done, including cleaning, maintenance and much more. The senior center serves around 55 clients per day. Lamar shows appreciation to the seniors he serves, and they do the same to him. His positive attitude is contagious as he greets and works with clients. Lamar saw a need for his skills when he was a client of the center, and he stepped into a volunteer role. Lamar will tell you that his favorite part of the day is putting a smile on someone’s face.


Shepherd’s Center of Orange Park Outstanding Service Award

  Katy Kearson

  Katy recently completed her term as the Board Chairman for the Shepherd’s Center of Orange Park in 2023. She also serves on the Fun Committee to schedule additional events each month, and the Gala Committee plans the annual fundraiser to honor our volunteers. Besides serving on various committees, she attends a wide variety of classes to learn, enjoy, and fellowship with others. Katy is an active member of the Orange Park Woman’s Club where she chairs the Health & Wellness Committee which works to support Ronald McDonald House, Lion’s Club, Breast Cancer Awareness, Heart Month, mental health, and many other worthwhile projects. In addition, she is involved in the Civic Engagement and Outreach Committee and the Education and Libraries Committee. She frequently represents the club at the Orange Park Town Council meetings. The Orange Park Methodist Church plays a huge role in Katy’s life, from the Logan Chapel Sunday School class, Sunshine Chair for the Women’s Circle, Wednesday night dinner and Bible Study, and the breakdown of altar flowers for shut-in members. She stays current through the Federated Republican Women of Clay County, attending monthly meetings at Club Continental. Last but not least she is a season ticket holder to the University of Florida football games. (Go Gators!) Katy’s high energy and spirit of giving are amazing gifts for the many organizations in which she is involved!

  The Shepherd’s Center is honored to tell these amazing volunteer stories and honor these older adults at the Golden Years Gala. Our hope is that you will be inspired by these stories to share your time and treasures with the community.