Key to Be the Change Month
Mayor Teri Johnston and the Key West City Commission have proclaimed January Key to Be the Change Mentoring Month. But for the many mentors in the community, every month is mentoring month.
First established in 2014, Keys to Be the Change provides programs, education, awareness and opportunities that empower children, youth and adults to improve health, wellness and skills for success in school and in life. Mentors play a vital role by providing crucial emotional and social support to our children and youth as they grow and develop into our next generation of future citizens and leaders.
The program collaborates with the City of Key West, the Key West Police Department, JIATFS (Joint Interagency Task Force South which includes personnel from the US Coast Guard, Army, Airforce and Marines) as well as numerous community members.
“The organization recognizes that mentoring results in less truancy,” reads the proclamation, “higher rates of graduation, fosters better attitudes regarding law enforcement and encourages bonding with school as well as community.”
“Our kids are so lucky,” said Keys to Be the Change Executive Director Heidi Golightly, “that we have these people in our back yard. They have jumped in to help our high risk youth.”
She noted the youth leaders of the organization, noting that they were a testament to the success of Key to Be the Change.
Key West Mayor Teri Johnston and the City Commission proclaimed July 14th as Flora Barroso Rueda Day in honor of Rueda’s 102nd birthday.
City Commissioner Jimmy Weekley did the honors of presenting the proclamation to Mrs. Rueda, as she is his godmother.
“At 65 she took on a new career of playing the piano,” said Weekley. She played for the senior citizens at Bayshore Manor and in the convalescent center. After taking a break during the Covid pandemic, she now plans to start playing for the residents of Poinciana Gardens.
Born in 1920, she grew up on Bahama Street, where she learned to play the piano -- and to play cards -- at a very early age. She graduated from the Convent of Mary Immaculate High School in 1938.
As a lifelong member of The Basilica of St. Mary Star of the Sea, Flora sang in the choir for more than 50 years alongside her sister Norma.
Flora met and married Evelio “Skippy” Rueda and, over 70 years of marriage, they raised a strong family that now includes three children, five grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
Rueda has been a member of the Catholic Daughters, Court #634, and served in every office of the organization over a span of 52 years. She served as State Regent and Treasurer of the Florida Council of Catholic Daughters.
Rueda’s beautiful still life paintings grace the homes of many friends and family.
Rueda accepted the honor surrounded by family. She recalled fondly her childhood in Key West and the importance that music has played in her life.
Key West Conchs Commended
Key West High School Baseball Team Commended
Mayor Teri Johnston and the City Commission commended the Key West High School Baseball Team for their outstanding season.
The 2022 baseball program for Key West High School won the 4A District 16 Championship on May 5th, 2022. The Conchs baseball program earned their #1 seed in the regional playoffs by commanding a spectacular 23 and 7 record for the season.
“The baseball team and coaches have shown,” reads the commendation, “that through tenacity and perseverance, the spirit of ‘Conch Ball’ remains intact.
“Coach Ralph Henriquez and son Ralph Henriquez Jr. continue to add to the legacy of performance,” it continues, “Coach Henriquez collected over 350 wins in his Key West High coaching career.”
The team thanked the commission and the Key West community for their support.
Key West High School Lady Conchs Softball Team Commended
Mayor Teri Johnston and the City Commission commended the Key West Lady Conchs Girls Softball Team for their outstanding season.
The team won the regional championship on May 20th and became the first ever Key West High School softball team to advance to the State Championship Series.
Coach Jason Garcia, Assistant Coach Erik Snow, and the team accepted the commendation.
“They say it takes a village to raise a kid,” said Coach Garcia, “Well, it takes a community to have a quality softball team. I said here last year that we’d go to the state championships, and we look forward to doing it again next year.”
City Attorney Shawn Smith, whose daughter is on the team, reiterated Coach Garcia’s statement. He noted that this same group of young women has appeared annually in front of the commission, earning kudos for their softball accomplishments as they grew from the eight and under league to where they are today.
The commendation also recognized the team’s leadership. “Coach Jason Garcia, assistant coach Erik Snow and pitching coach Jewls Castillo continue to do an outstanding job with the development of contenders and athletes,” reads the commendation.
Juneteenth Independence Day
The Key West City Commission has declared June 19th as Juneteenth Independence Day.
In 1865, nearly nine decades after our nation’s founding and more than two years after President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, enslaved Americans in Galveston, Texas, finally received a proclamation declaring that they were free from bondage.
“On June 19th, 1866, Black Americans came to commemorate Juneteenth with celebrations across the country, building new lives and a new tradition that we honor today,” reads the proclamation.
Last year, President Joe Biden signed into law the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act creating a federal holiday.
Utility Board member Mona C. Clark accepted the proclamation.
“Juneteenth has been celebrated year after year after year,” she said. “Fortunately, this year it’s being celebrated as a national holiday. We’re very grateful.”
In recognition of the holiday, City offices will be closed on Monday, June 20th.
City Manager Patti McLauchlin, during Tuesday’s City Commission meeting, brought back an important honor by naming Jacek Witczak the Employee of the Quarter.
Witczak came to work with the City in 2007 in public works. He was quickly promoted to the Facilities Maintenance Team, where he continues to keep the air conditioners running.
“Everyone who works for the City knows Jacek as the rock star,” said McLauchlin. She noted that he works many extra hours and performs many jobs above and beyond his job description. When the City needed lifeguards, he got certified.
“You’ve done a great job,” she told him. “Thank you for your outstanding dedication, service and commitment to the City of Key West. We appreciate all that you do.”
Sunday marked the final day in a 27-year career for Key West Police Capt. JR Torres.
At last week’s City Commission meeting, Chief Sean Brandenburg, City Manager Patti McLauchlin and the entire City Commission gave thanks to Capt. Torres for his dedicated years of service, noting that, prior to his tenure with the police he served the community as a paramedic for ten years. In total, Capt. Torres has served the Key West community for 37 years.
Chief Brandenburg, in recognition of his outstanding service to the community, bestowed the honorary rank of Deputy Chief.
During his nearly three decades with the police, Capt. Torres has earned many honors, including the Medal of Valor, the Life Saving Award, and several Chief’s Commendations.
He served as a narcotics detective, K9 handler and patrol officer. Ten years ago, he was promoted to Captain and served as Patrol Captain until his retirement.
“This has been the most rewarding and honorable thing I’ve done in my life,” said Capt. Torres. “In my mind there’s nothing more rewarding that a person can do as a human being. That feeling you get when you put your head down at night knowing you have done right for others is priceless.”
Chief Brandenburg recapped Capt. Torres’s remarkable career and, in a long-standing joke around the station, noted that he was, indeed, the Chief’s favorite Captain.
“Congratulations, JR, on an amazing career,” he said.
At Wednesday’s City Commission meeting, City Manager Patti McLauchlin presented Capt. Torres with a plaque honoring his service.
“We’ve worked together for 27 years,” she said, “Through thick and thin. I’m very proud of the service you’ve given to the community.”
Haitian Heritage Month
Mayor Teri Johnston and the City Commission have proclaimed May as Haitian Heritage Month.
“Haitian Heritage Month salutes Haitian and Haitian-American contributions,” reads the proclamation, “which have immeasurably enriched the lives of the people of this city and the United States.”
Haitian Americans have made their mark as educators, authors, community leaders, activists, athletes, artists, musicians, and politicians, in our society and have contributed to the of this city. They are an important part of Key West’s culturally diverse community.
Pastor Jean of Key West Church of God of Prophecy thanked the commission for the recognition and reminded them that the Haitian community relies on their continued attention to affordable workforce housing.
Mayor Teri Johnston and the City Commission, during a recent commission meeting, proclaimed the week of May 16th through the 22nd as National Emergency Medical Services Week.
The official theme for the 2022 National Emergency Medical Services Week is EMS Strong: Beyond the Call.
“Emergency medical services provide vital lifesaving care to those in need 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” reads the proclamation, “dramatically improving the survival and recovery rate of those who experience sudden illness or injury.”
The designation is a way of reaching out and thanking all of those first responders who ensure that the community has the best and fastest medical emergency response possible each and every day.
City Manager Patti McLauchlin, during Tuesday’s City Commission meeting, honored Police Chief Sean Brandenburg for his 20 years of service to Key West.
Surrounded by colleagues, commissioners, the mayor, and his wife Julie, Chief Brandenburg was presented a 20-year coin and gold watch commemorating his service.
“We thank you, Sean, for all your many years of service,” said McLauchlin.
“It’s an honor to make this milestone in my career.” Said Brandenburg. “I still enjoy going to work every day. The two big reasons for that: The fine men and women of the Key West Police Department, and the community support we get. And by community support I also mean our law enforcement community. Nowhere else do you see city, county, state, federal and the military get along the way we do in Key West.”
In presenting the honors, McLauchlin recalled the many contributions and milestones in Chief Brandenburg’s career. Hired on April 1st in 2002, “Sean started on the night shift, quickly becoming a K-9 handler. He was paired with his K-9 Wind, who would serve faithfully by his side for the next several years.”
In 2005, he was promoted to Sergeant, and, in 2010, Brandenburg and Wind were assigned to the Special Investigations Unit or narcotics unit.
“During his time in narcotics, Sean was the leader of the unit,” said McLauchlin, “working closely with our local, state and federal partners, to combat the opioid epidemic that was just beginning to take hold in the US and Florida. In one six-month stint while working with a special task force from the DEA, his unit filed over 250 felony charges against individuals selling drugs in Key West.”
Brandenburg was promoted to Lieutenant in 2012. In 2014, he was promoted to Administrative Captain.
While he was Captain, Brandenburg attended the prestigious FBI National Academy, an honor less than one percent of Law Enforcement worldwide are selected to attend.
On December 3, 2018, he was promoted to Police Chief.
“As Chief, he has continued to strive to improve the agency's relationship with the community,” McLauchlin noted. “Sean is a member of Rotary, Business Guild, Cooking with Love and Military Affairs Committee, and sits on various boards to include Keys to be the Change, Wesley House, Love Fund, and PAL. Sean is also an enormous supporter of Special Olympics, MARC House, and Autism Society of the Keys, hence the Blue Badge on his chest. Sean has received numerous awards, such as Life Saving, Officer of the Quarter, Unit Award, and the Chief's Commendation, for his work throughout his tenure.”
Mayor Teri Johnston and the Key West City Commission took the opportunity this week to recognize Harry Bethel for 50 years of public service.
Bethel served on the City Commission from 1991 until 2007. Thirteen of those years he served as vice mayor, earning him the honorary title of Vice Mayor Emeritus.
“Harry is the face of what public service is all about,” said Commissioner Jimmy Weekley, noting that much of Bethel’s service over the years was “pro bono.”
“Harry Livingston Bethel has served the citizens of Key West and the Florida Keys for more than half a century,” reads the proclamation, “through a long and historic series of elected and appointed public offices, and as a public utility employee.”
In addition to his many years on the City Commission, Bethel has served on a plethora of board, from the Key West Bight Management Board to the Monroe County Housing Authority Board. He was elected several times to the Key West Civil Service Board and has been a member of many social organizations, including the Key West Jaycees, Key West Noon Rotary Club, Elk’s Club, Moose Lodge and the Military Affairs Committee. He has enjoyed several gubernatorial appointments.
During the first eight years of his service on the City Commission, he championed construction of the Skate Park on Flagler Avenue through private donations, and through his efforts, the Key West Annual Christmas Tree Lighting continues to feature trees provided by a private donor.
Bethel is an 8th generation Conch, and the commission chambers were filled with family and friends.
“I had the honor of serving my city and my people, my neighbors and my friends,” he said, accepting the honor. “I only hope I did well by you.”
The proclamation ended with Bethel’s mantra, “Always be fair and you will always be right,” as well as with his slogan, “I did it my way.”
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