The main purpose of the evening, though, was to recognize those who exemplify the qualities of James Newton and his Uncommon Friends – Thomas Edison, Charles Lindbergh, Harvey Firestone, Alexis Carrel, and Henry Ford. Newton was a long-time resident of Lee County who also owned a house on Fort Myers Beach. After his death and the death of his wife, Ellie Ford Newton, the Town of Fort Myers Beach formed the Newton Park Committee, and converted the property to a public facility enjoyed by the thousands of visitors coming to Estero Island every year.
This Committee included Uncommon Friends founder Fran Myers and advisory board member, publisher Carl Conley, both of whom continue to serve the Foundation. The presence of the Uncommon Friends in our area, and particularly the beach, continues to be historically significant connecting Southwest Florida to some of the greatest pioneers of the 20th century.
The Carl Conley Jazz Quintet was the featured entertainment at the river-front gazebo. L-R: Bobby Martin-drums (not shown); Carl conley -sax and vocal; Susan Chastain-vocal; Jay Heavilin-bass; and Gary Goetz-keyboard.
The qualities of this group are honored through giving out numerous awards and scholarships to members of the Southwest Florida community that display high ethical standards and great drive to succeed.
This past weekend, a Business Ethics roundtable was hosted at Florida Gulf Coast University, where all four of the finalists for the Business Ethics Award gathered with business leaders from around the community, and everyone held an open discussion about ethics and building a culture around the standards purported by the Foundation. It also served as an interview for the finalists, so the independent judges determining the award could get up close insight into the companies.
“The winner comes from the application process, where they can show us in black and white how that ethical atmosphere is created, how they lead from the top down, and how it applies to everything they do in their dealings with the public,” Gray Davis, president of the Uncommon Friends Foundation, said. He, along with the Foundation Executive Director Angela Melvin, helped to organize the Evening. “Our judges are very independent. The Foundation doesn’t get to see the applications ourselves.”
“Where these ethics come from is the book written by James Newton, called ‘The Uncommon Friends,’” Davis said. “Our thought, years ago, was that it would be a good thing to nominate businesses in our community that have high ethical standards and behavior throughout their organizations, and in their dealings with the public.”
“One of the things that is absolutely crucial these days is the ethical challenges faced by companies in the past few decades,” Dr. Robert Beatty, the Dean of the Lutgert College of Business out of FGCU, said. “Students coming through FGCU have lived through those kinds of experiences. When they come to college, they’re looking for their educational experience to help them think about some of the decisions they’ll have to make when they get out in the business world. We want to be able to give them the tools to make those decisions when they face them. Uncommon Friends serves as that support mechanism and foundation that we build on as part of that education.”
The finalists this year were CPR Tools Inc., CRS Technology Consultants, Spiro and Associates Marketing Advertising & Public Relations, and The Smart Companies. However, it wasn’t until Tuesday evening that the finalists, and the public at large, found out who would be the winner of the 2015 Business Ethics Award.
The nominees were all present that evening, with each honored and excited to be nominated for the award recognizing the ethical culture they built within their organization.
“I’m not sure who nominated us, but as a long standing business here in Southwest Florida we’ve developed a lot of great relationships and friendships in this area,” Chris Spiro, CEO of Spiro & Associates, said. “In a society such as ours today, it is a wonderful thing to celebrate ethics because too often we here about the negativity as it relates to business and individuals. It’s just amazing to be celebrating doing the right thing.”
“We work very hard to be as ethical as we can, and this is a great recognition by our peers for what we due for our partners, employees, and customers,” Jordi Tejero, owner of CRS, said. “My ex-business partner had always wanted to win this award. It’s a very esteemed award, and when I told her we had been nominated, her response was ‘grats, I had always wanted to win that, and we were never nominated.’ I’m getting goose bumps, because I always looked up to her and she was a phenomenal businessperson.”
“Were located out in Hendry County, so to be included in such a large pool of contestants was such an honor for us,” Sue Benkert, owner of CPR Tools along with her husband John, said. “We are a data recovery and security company, and every day we deal with individuals’ electronic lives. Our policies in place to protect the privacy of all our customers are what inspired us to work towards our current core values. This is such an awesome event, and this is an organization I hope to become more involved in.”
“I’m a very lucky guy, and have been nominated for numerous awards,” Brian Rist, owner of the Smart Companies, said. “There is something about the Uncommon Friends and their Ethics award that’s like nothing else. We’re in the construction business, and the thought of being honored for having the most ethics of companies in Lee County is very special. It really is an important award to us. We have a zero tolerance to bad customer service, so we believe you should always work hard to meet your customer’s expectations. “
In the end, the award went to CSR Technology Consultants, based out of Cape Coral.
“This is surreal,” Tejero said. “I was honored just to be picked, and candidly, I never thought we would win based off my competitors. There is something that humbles me every day, and this will probably humble me for a good year to come.” Patricai Cicero with her son, Carlo.
The Character Education Award was also given out that evening. The award honors a teacher in Southwest Florida that utilizes the Uncommon Friends curriculum for at least two semesters. This year, the award went to Patricia Cicero, who currently teaches at Pinewoods Elementary School. In her time between classes, she founded and runs the Uncommon Friends Club for third graders, where she encourages the kids to be creative problem solvers.
“The children respond to being allowed to create and think,” Cicero said. She attended the event with her son Carlo. “Children already have these ethics. As we get older we seem to lose that.”
Numerous scholarships are also awarded at the event each year, given out to veterans, single parents, and other students who earn special recognition for their academic achievements.
The Veteran’s Scholarship this year went to 1st Lieutenant Forest Sentinella, who was recently called to duty at Fort Hamilton. Hilliard Scholarships were awarded to Cassidy Pascher and Jesus Ramirez. Macie Jones received the Pace Center for Girls Scholarship. Single Parent Scholarships were awarded to Ivana Andular and Maria Herrera-Rodriguez. Barbara Thomas got the Hi Tech Scholarship. Special Recognition Scholarships recipients were Lynn Cadet, Lesly Chavez, You’llseeka Doussous, Leslie Mancilla, Samir Nacer, Taylor Tereno, Antonella Valencia, and Josiah Vega. Sierra Williams was named the Eleanore “Ellie” Newton Student Chair in Humanities, and Emily Casey was named the James D. Newton Student Chair in Leadership.Gray Davis, Maria Herrera-Rodriguez and Lucy Davis
“I’m very blessed to be awarded this scholarship,” Maria Herrera-Rodriguez, recipient of the Single Parent Scholarship, said. Maria, who is the mother of an 8-year-old boy, looks to pursue a Masters in Psychology. She is attending the Collier campus of Florida Southwestern State College. “If it wasn’t for this scholarship, I wouldn’t be able to continue on this semester.”
By Trent Townsend