To tell the truth, Michael Dippy wasn't on our radar screen when the editorial board started talking about candidates for Central Floridian of the Year.
Someone might have even made a crack about his last name when we first heard it (sorry, Michael).
Then we started reading the nominations that came pouring in. This was the first year we solicited suggestions from the public. Usually the editorial board, which as a group follows the news and the community pretty closely, holds a few brainstorming sessions. Then — after some research, consultation and arguing — the group makes a choice.
And they've always been good ones. Marjory Stoneman Douglas, the
' greatest champion, was our first Floridian of the Year back in 1983.
The designation was changed to Central Floridian of the Year in 2001 when the winner was a scrappy group of Apopka youngsters who took the national Little League baseball title and the region's hearts.
Over the years we've picked firefighters, nuns, scientists, academics and, even a couple of deserving politicians. The 2009 winner was Dave Krepcho, whose Second Harvest Food Bank keeps people fed during lean economic times.
They've all had something in common — the drive to do good for their state and their communities.
This year we wanted to hear from you, which is how we heard about Michael Dippy, who only shows up four times — and very briefly — in our story archives. Turns out he's been making headlines of another kind, doing quiet but important work for IDignity to help the homeless regain their identities so they can get off the streets and rejoin society.
And he's found success, something that has eluded other, better-connected advocates for the homeless.
We received about 40 nominations for Dippy, and to my eye, this wasn't a coordinated effort to land him an award. One nomination was a single sentence. Others were lengthy, impassioned pleas to recognize an unsung local hero.
"You need only to observe Michael at any event to witness his compassion and heart for the poor and the homeless," one person wrote. "His leadership and dedication are an inspiration to all. He is definitely deserving of this honor."
We heard you.
We also heard from others who wanted to make sure we knew about people like Lake Mary police officer Zach Hudson. He won a national law-enforcement award — and was featured recently in Parade magazine — for starting a program to aid seniors who need help with anything from yard maintenance to walker repairs.
And Rick Walsh, a longtime civic leader and former Darden executive who took over the embattled chairmanship of
And David Bundy, who heads the Children's Home Society of Florida.
And Anne Hallum of
, who has long been involved in efforts to restore Central American forests.
And John Land, the beloved and looooongtime mayor of Apopka.
And Harris Rosen, the hotel magnate who's had run-ins with this editorial board in years past but whose philanthropy and drive is remarkable (he made our list of finalists).
And even Pamela McEachern of Chuluota, who, in the estimation of Marine Cpl. Wilson McEachern, is such a terrific mom and community servant that she deserves to be named Central Floridian of the Year.
Congratulations — and thanks — to all of them.