Spirit of Ocean Reef
By Holly Houser, Ocean Reef Press Manager
Eight years ago, the Spirit of Ocean Reef award was introduced, and with it, “a tradition that would remain tradition forever.” ORC Chairman Ray Larkin, said at the Annual Meeting, “Year after year, recipients are selected because they’ve gone above and beyond in their contribution to our Club and community. These annual recipients have each made very special and out of the ordinary contributions that the Club will remember forever. This year’s award especially is going to get me a little choked up.”
Past winners have implemented new programs to The Reef, been extraordinarily dedicated to community organizations, enriched the lives of Members through writing and the arts, and altruistically supported foundations in the surrounding Keys community – but the 2022 winners are especially unique in terms of their service to the Club. Their contributions are seen and felt Club-wide on a daily basisbut this year’s honorees took that service to new heights on Sunday, March 6 when a boat carrying 356 Haitian migrants (the second Ocean Reef landing of the year) ran aground just off Buccaneer Island.
“On this day, hundreds of Haitians, tired, worn out, were trying to get from that boat to a place where they hoped they might live. And when I say live, I mean survive the day,” said Larkin as he presented the award. “They were struggling against brutal winds and current, with some so weak they could hardly make it across the channel. I witnessed this group of Club Associates heroically and selflessly dive in to help these migrants get through what could have been a life-challenging and life-costing event. That action, without motivation and without direction, epitomizes the spirit of Ocean Reef.”
The following Ocean Reef Club Associates were presented with the 2022 Spirit of Ocean Reef award for their actions that day – Beach Bar’s Sarai Bolanos, Rosy Gordon, Peterson McClisse, Bemelyn Pucholos, JC Rios, Cynthia Zamudio, and Recreation’s Sam Bauer, Alexis Burton, Doug LaFond, Brandon Lanier, Molly Lechelt, Tori Mann. On their plaque, it reads, “This award is presented to the Ocean Reef Associates that acted selflessly without hesitation to assist the Haitian migrants coming ashore on Buccaneer Island. Your efforts to assist these individuals in dire circumstance went far beyond your call of service to Ocean Reef Club. We would like to recognize and thank you for your overwhelming spirit and strength in that time of need. You are inspiration to us all.”
In recognizing those Associates who truly went the extra mile, we’d be remiss not to also acknowledge the dozens of other Associates who assisted that day in various additional ways. The Club Associates on-scene responded immediately to the situation, which saw 158 migrants flee to shore while 198 others were transported to land via US Coast Guard. There on The Point, Associates were at the ready to render assistance of all kinds, from pulling people out of the water, to offering warm beach towels, food and even translating.
All Associates who assisted that day on Buccaneer Island were recognized with a special breakfast this week, where Club President Alex Tonarelli said, “I look around at the faces in this room and I am proud at the way our Club and all of you handled such an event. The selflessness showed that day is inspiring. Thank you to all of you who had a hand in assisting by all means necessary. You showed bravery, a willingness to act while in the face of turmoil, and an ability to respond in an urgent situation. For that, you all deserve recognition.”
Featured above: These Club Associates, pictured at the Annual Meeting, were awarded the Spirit of
Ocean Reef award for acting immediately and selflessly to assist Haitian migrants
coming ashore on Buccaneer Island last month.