A Different Kind of Mother’s Day

I’ve been thinking a lot about moms these days.

My mom would have turned 81 this week but we lost her in 1998 and ever since, Mother’s Day has been a bittersweet holiday for me.
I miss my mom terribly, so the day is tinged with a trace of sadness although I must say that my gratitude for having had a wonderful mother far outweighs any melancholy I may feel.

It’s also a happy day because my two children and my two stepchildren have been absolutely blessed with amazing mothers.
Kathy and Diane are exceptional mothers. Both are kind, nurturing, warm, encouraging and 100 percent dedicated to the happiness and well being of their/our children.
It’s flat out inspiring.
My mother was like that too;
always there for me and Sharon.
For that and a million other reasons I am forever grateful.
And so as we approach a Mother’s Day unlike any other I have a few thoughts.
If you are lucky enough to still have a mom, try and take a moment to savor how fortunate you are. In many cases, you may not be able to see or hug her given the situation but if she’s still here count your blessings.

On this Mother’s Day, I’m going to remember my wonderful mom and do my best to honor the mom I’m quarantined with—my beautiful wife.
I also want to offer a shout out to a few special ladies in Delray that I’ve noticed are amazing moms. This list is not by any means definitive. I will surely leave out so many wonderful moms. Please forgive me.
 But I do want to say Happy Mother’s Day to Rita Ellis, Frances Bourque, Susan Ruby, Lula Butler, Janet Meeks, Vera Farmington, Cynthia Ridley, Michelle Hoyland, Jen Costello, Diane Franco, Lori Nolan, Marjorie Waldo, Evelyn Dobson, Barbara Fitz and Donna Quinlan—mothers who balanced public service with busy personal lives. We know that isn’t easy.
Happy Mother’s Day Melissa Porten, Kim Thomas, Linda Greenberg, Amanda Perna, Ryan Lynch, Pam Halberg, Teresa Paterson, Maria Poliacek, Maritza Benitez, Karen Vermilyea, Sharon Sperling, Karen Zolnierek, Hilary Lynch, Diane Alperin, Connie Barcinski, Lucy Carney, Billie Christ, Karen Granger, Elizabeth Mitchell, Debbie Smith, Sharon Wood, Cassidee Boylston, Debbie Bathurst, Fran Finch, Elaine Morris, Suzanne Carter,  Fran Fisher, Sharon Sperling and the Miracle mom herself Julia Kadel.
Thanks for all you do.
So if we miss our mother’s hugs these days be it because they have passed, live far away or because we are practicing social distancing please remember: a mother’s hug lasts long after she lets go.

Lifetimes of Achievements

Old School Square founder Frances Bourque gave a moving speech praising Bill Branning’s love for the cultural arts center.

This blog is primarily about leadership, entrepreneurship and community building.

Sometimes you come across people who represent all three of those special traits in a magical way.

Last week, two local heroes were honored for their service to the community—the legendary Vince Canning and a legend in the making—Bill Branning.

Mere words cannot do justice to the special people who decide to get involved and make their corner of the world a better place. These are the people who make things happen. These are the people who make the places we live special.

They are the reason we are passionate about Delray Beach.

They teach us through their deeds, inspire us with their character and set an example through their commitment.

The extra special heroes do this over a long period of time.

They create a body of work that enriches all of us. Their good work and influence tends to last.

The best communities celebrate these people, encourage others to follow their lead and hold fast to their examples. They don’t forget, disrespect, ignore, neglect or disparage these good folks—they appreciate them and that creates a virtuous cycle.

Vincent Valentine Canning was born in born in Indianapolis in 1928. After earning a business degree from the University of Missouri, he enlisted in the US Marines for two years and achieved the rank of Sergeant. After his service in the Marines, he worked for Brown Shoe Company in St. Louis and met his wife Patricia Lyng Canning.

The young couple would soon move to Delray Beach to operate his father’s shoe store at 335 E. Atlantic Avenue. He later expanded his store to Pompano Beach, Boynton Beach and Boca Raton.

Vince believes strongly in service. He is a past President of the Delray Beach Chamber, Kiwanis Noontime Club, and the Atlantic Avenue Association. He also did stints on the boards of the Delray Library, Delray Beach Playhouse, the Boca Raton Chamber, the Boynton Beach Chamber, the Achievement Center, Old School Square, CROS Ministries and the Migrant Association.

A spiritual man, Vince has also been deeply involved at St. Vincent Ferrer Church and the St. Vincent DePaul Society where he was a founding member in 1967.

To generations of Delray children (including my own), Mr. Canning was perhaps best known as the leader of the Delray Beach Halloween Parade, which brings a little Norman Rockwell to the downtown area with hundreds of children able to  trick or treat safely on their town’s main street.

But in addition to his decades of service and an impressive list of awards including an official proclamation at the City Commission last week, Vince Canning mentored and influenced generations of Delray Beach leaders; a literal who’s who in government, public safety, business, non-profits etc.

I’ve known many of these people and all of them absolutely adore Vince Canning. He’s just a great guy who cares, gets involved, makes things happen and helps those who are doing ‘good in the neighborhood’ as they say.

People like Vince Canning are essential to communities. We have been blessed to have Vince and others like him.

Which leads me to my friend Bill Branning, who was also honored last week after stepping down as chair of the board of Old School Square.

What you can say about Bill Branning—a man whose passion and commitment to Delray knows no bounds.

Somehow, while running his successful contracting firm (BSA Corporation) he has managed to create a major impact with a decade of service on the CRA, a big commitment to the Chamber of Commerce, service on other city advisory boards and a dedication to Old School Square that started at the center’s inception 30 years ago when he worked closely with Frances Bourque as young man starting his career in construction.

He fell in love with Old School Square and like many of us fell under the spell of Frances. Warning: it’s a spell you won’t be able to break—but you’ll be happier for the experience.

I literally got chills listening to Frances celebrate Bill’s accomplishments at Old School Square during last week’s annual meeting of what I still think is Delray’s signature civic achievement/project.

Bill has chaired the board before—during peace time. His most recent stint was a little more challenging to put it diplomatically.

The organization wrestled with the city over a lease, over events, over funding and over a parks plan. None of these issues were easy. But they brought us closer together and Bill’s leadership was stellar even if our collective patience was tested. He’s smart, passionate, prepared, experienced and mature. And we are thankful for those qualities and more.

During his most recent tenure, we said goodbye to longtime President and CEO Joe Gillie (record holder for most goodbye celebrations) and hello to new President and CEO Rob Steele. Bill bridged the transition beautifully and for that any many other things we are thankful.

Whenever you get tested in life, I recommend that you look for a sign—they are always there if you look hard enough.

For me, Frances and Bill were those beacons in the night. Just when you thought all was lost and you wanted to walk away, I’d heard Frances speak and I’d get energized again or I’d get a message from Bill that gave me hope that the best was yet to come and together all of us could continue to build a proud legacy at Old School Square and beyond.

Vince Canning has been that beacon for many people too. And I spoke to a few this week who felt blessed that he was in their lives looking after them, inspiring them and encouraging them to put service over self.

Bill Branning and Vince Canning—the names rhyme.

Their collective service will stand the test of time.

 

A Man For All Seasons

A painting of Churchill by his granddaughter.

We went to see a magnificent exhibit at the Society of the Four Arts last weekend.
“A Man for All Seasons; The Art of Winston Churchill” features paintings and notebooks from the legendary British leader.
Churchill took up painting in his 40s and it quickly became a passion. It lifted his dark moods and he became quite prolific.
As you meander through the exhibit (and you should catch it before it closes Jan. 14) you can see Churchill’s growth as an artist. He just gets better and better.
And you marvel..
At his art.
At his sculpture.
At his writing.
Not to mention his speaking and his amazing mind.
It makes you wonder—do people like him still exist?
Where are the giants? Where are the leaders?
As we walked to the car– having spent the past two days or so being bombarded with what sadly has become a steady drumbeat of political claptrap in our society– we briefly discussed why many (maybe most) of our best and brightest shun political office.
And we are not just talking about president or prime minister, senator or governor. Lots of good people are avoiding running for local office too.
Now that doesn’t mean that there aren’t superstars who run or serve—there are.
But not enough.
And if we’re honest, we know why.
While politics has never been genteel, civil, nice or easy it just feels particularly nasty, unusually small and extra frustrating these days.
It’s the inability to compromise, the competing sets of “facts”, the ridiculous trolls running their mouths on social media (often devoid of facts, empathy, context, respect or personal experience). It’s overwhelming.
Winston Churchill would have related to today’s ennui.
He once said about politics: “In war, you can only be killed once. But in politics many times.”
And yet..we need the Winston Churchill’s to do what they do.
Lead us. Inspire us. Save us from despots and fascists. And yes..paint.  So that we can marvel at their genius.
So that we can remember that having adults in our midst makes all the difference…

The Arts Warehouse, Empty Bowls & Public Service

A display at the new Arts Warehouse in downtown Delray.

We attended the long awaited soft opening of the new Arts Warehouse Friday night.

It was worth the wait.

Kudos to the CRA for having the vision—and the fortitude—to stick with this project near Third Avenue and Third Street in the burgeoning Artist’s Alley area of Pineapple Grove.

The addition of the Arts Warehouse which has gallery space, public space and artist’s studios will enable artists to build their skills and their clientele in a low-cost environment in a high value part of town.

Those of us who remember Pineapple Grove founder Norm Radin will remember that the original vision of the district was to be an artsy complement to Atlantic Avenue.

With Old School Square, the Arts Garage and now the Arts Warehouse, Delray Beach is rapidly building an arts and cultural scene that will keep the city relevant and interesting to residents, visitors and creatives.

The CRA’s investment in the old warehouse and its imaginative design (great job Currie-Sowards-Aguila Architects) will pay dividends for years to come.

We ran into one of my favorite local artists the wonderfully talented Ralph Papa who was beaming with excitement. Mr. Papa says it’s critical for artists to have low cost space to grow their talent and that the lack of such space often stunts or even stops artists from developing their artistic vision.

It was also gratifying to see fans and patrons of the Arts Garage and key staff and board members from Old School Square at the opening. Their presence shows support and the potential for collaboration which only leverages each organization and the city as a whole.

The CRA often endures blistering criticism for their investments—much of it way off the mark although no agency is perfect. The fact is the true mark of a good investment is whether there is a return on that investment—in terms of tax base, business activity, vibrancy and quality of life.

Time and time again for three plus decades, the CRA has consistently delivered.

My bet is that the Arts Warehouse will prove to be a solid investment yielding dividends for years to come in a myriad of ways.

When you’re in the neighborhood, make sure to check it out.

 

Empty Bowls

I had the privilege to serve soup (delicious black bean from Cabana El Rey) Sunday afternoon at “Empty Bowls Delray Beach”.

This is the second year for this unique event at Old School Square at which we “eat simply so others can simply eat.”

 

When you think of Palm Beach County, we mainly think of our gorgeous weather, many activities and prosperity. But, even here in our beautiful county, more than 200,000 residents don’t know where they will get their next meal. Last year this event raised more than $100,000 for hungry Palm Beach residents served through the Palm Beach County Food Bank.

Not sure how they did this year, but the event seemed well attended. Kudos to the volunteers and especially Shelly and Billy Himmelrich—two amazing people—who helped to organize and promote the event.

 

The Food Bank provides food to more than 110 food pantries, soup kitchens and residential programs who serve our neighbors in need. They also provide weekend feeding packs for children (Food4OurKids), nutrition education in partnership with the University of Florida (Nutrition Driven) and connect residents with federal programs through Benefits Outreach. Each month, the Food Bank’s partner agencies serve more than 100,000 individuals across the county and annually they distribute more than 5 million pounds of food.

Those are astonishing numbers.

 

But despite the yeoman’s work of the Food Bank, the need remains great.

And particularly this time of year, when we are focused on family, fellowship and celebrations, it’s a perfect time to give back and to think of others less fortunate.

The need is year-round and unfortunately growing. Yes, there is hunger in our own backyard.

Here’s a list of the generous sponsors—- and to the chef who made the artichoke soup—well let’s just say words can’t describe how good it tastes.

Empty Bowls Delray Beach sponsors: Old School Square, Old School Bakery, Elmore Family Foundation, Patty & Rod Jones, Pechter Family Foundation, Under the Sun, Brenda Medore & Leanne Adair, Bethesda Hospital Foundation, Katherine and Joshua Littlefield, Jeffrey Pechter, Deborah and Michael Pucillo, Transforming Kids, American Heritage school, Michele and Randy Broda, Caffe Luna Rosa, Cheney Brothers, City Capital Group, Menin, Coco & Co, Delivery Dudes, Delray Beach plastic Surgery, Floridian Community Bank, peacelovesolve, Red Steel Property and Stuart & Shelby Development, Inc.

 

Our trip to the Glades….

Every year, the Palm Beach County League of Cities hosts its year-end meeting at a beautiful waterfront park in Belle Glade.

The event collects toys for needy children and also serves as a reunion for municipal leaders from throughout the county. County officials and state legislators also gravitate to the event for a fun afternoon of food, home grown vegetables and networking.

I like to go every year because it keeps me connected to city government. So while I have been termed out for a decade now (hold your applause), I still feel a kinship with local elected officials and staff. I also know quite a few from my era who are still serving (bless their souls) and it is fun to catch up and trade stories. (It was nice to see you, Chevelle).

We have such a vast county—which you realize when you make the long trek to the Glades.

It’s also a diverse county—with bigger cities such as West Palm and wealthy towns such as Palm Beach, sharing common challenges with smaller cities such as South Bay and Pahokee.

The League of Cities is an important organization because it’s a convener, a connector and a fierce advocate for the principles of Home Rule and the needs and interests of cities.

As the government closest to the people, local cities and towns have the ability to be nimble and affect positive change rapidly…if they are focused, determined and willing to stand up against the naysayers who exist in every town.

There’s not a lot of glory in local government service, but there could be immense satisfaction and opportunity if local leaders engage stakeholders, forge a vision and most important of all, execute.

You have to make decisions and get things done.

It’s that simple….if you choose to take advantage of the huge opportunity presented by public service.

 

Resumes versus Legacies

legacyEditor’s Note: We will see you after the holidays. Have a safe, happy and joyous holiday season! Thanks for reading and sharing!

Resumes versus legacies.
Which would you rather have?
I’ve been thinking about this lately.
I have this app called “Time Hop” and every day it gives you a look back at 7 years of social media memories.
It’s really kind of cool.
Well 7 years ago this month , we lost a local icon named H. Ruth Pompey and the app let me know. I’m glad it did. Because the memory of Mrs. Pompey brought back a smile. I adored her. So did everybody who knew her and many knew her because she and her amazing husband C. Spencer Pompey were integral parts of Delray and Palm Beach County for decades.
They influenced generations of young people and touched many lives very deeply.
Educators, historians, coaches, mentors, founders and leaders, the Pompey’s amassed remarkable resumes but more importantly they left lasting legacies.
Delray has been blessed with many wonderful people who have left legacies of kindness, achievement, voluntarism and dedication. Remembering them is important–because even though many are gone now they are still very much a part of us and ingrained in the DNA of our town.
So remembering Mrs. Pompey also inspired me to remember a slew of other very special people.
Such as…Ken Ellingsworth, a founder of the Delray Affair, a longtime chamber president and former City Commissioner who welcomed generations of young business people to town and helped them get involved. Those were the days when the first stop you made if you opened a business or a professional practice was the Chamber of Commerce.
At the chamber, mentors like Ken and later the terrific Bill Wood got you plugged in so to speak. The mission was two-fold, get involved to grow your business and grow the business community to help others succeed. I think Karen Granger and her team at today’s chamber are following in this tradition; with the chamber serving as a hub of activity, connection and community.
I thought also of my friend  Barbara D. Smith who also left a lasting legacy. I pass a building named after her every morning at the Achievement Center on Lake Ida Road and I still remember Barbara’s kindness and concern for our city’s most vulnerable children.

She served briefly on the city commission but she had decades of achievement under her belt before she even thought of running.
That’s how it was in those days. People tended to volunteer for years before seeking public office. We knew who they were and they knew us.
Think of how advantageous that is: we know if they show up and do their homework, we know if they can work well with others, whether they are capable of compromise or of evolving. We know whether they listen and learn or just keep their own counsel or if they are merely puppets controlled by others.
We knew them through years of service.
It was a whole lot better tradition if you ask me.
I also thought of Carolyn Gholston and her husband Joe,  two leaders in our southwest neighborhood who worked closely with the city and police department on a vision for creating a safer neighborhood for all.
About a dozen years ago, voters passed a bond issue to build a new splash park at the Catherine Strong Center named after our first female mayor who also served as a city clerk. Mr. and Mrs. Gholston worked hard to muster votes for the bond because they wanted to see the first ever park in that part of our city.  It wasn’t about them, it was about their neighborhood and about the future.
As we exit 2016, an interesting year, I can’t help but remember friends we  have lost.
As I rode in the holiday parade for the first time in a decade, we passed by what we on the City Commission used to call “Garito” corner. Every year, the large and boisterous extended family would stake out real estate on a corner that once housed the venerable Green Owl. And every year when mayor’s and commissioners passed by they were greeted with loud cheers and laughter.
This year, the corner was mostly quiet. The Green Owl has closed (for now) and Barbara Garito, the family matriarch and our beloved City Clerk and friend passed away earlier this year.
I miss her smile. But we are so much richer for having known her and so many others who have made Delray such a special place.
You see cities are made special by people, not by rules and regulations, building heights and millage rates. All of those have their place–but the real magic comes when people devote themselves to a place, work together, build trust, laugh with each other, cry with each other and constantly reach out to bring others in.
Those are the people who leave legacies. And make a true difference. Maybe they didn’t build the biggest chamber or clean up every street in their neighborhood but they did touch a whole lot of lives. And continue to do so.
Legacies–that’s what they left. And that’s what’s truly important.

Happy holidays and see you in the New Year!

Unsung Heroes Took Back the Village

toby

“This is my badge. There are many like it but this one is mine. This badge is special. It represents justice. It represents commitment. It represents service. It represents pride and it represents sacrifice. I have worn this badge for many years. Today, I will wear this badge, my badge for the last time. I will receive a new badge. My new badge will have the word “Retired” engraved on it. I will carry my new badge with pride, but it will never fully replace this badge, my badge. God bless the men and women of the Delray Beach Police Department. I will miss you all.” Lt. Toby Rubin on his Facebook page.

Last Friday, my friend Toby Rubin retired from the Delray Beach Police Department.

My guess is that many of you don’t know his name. But you should. Because he and others like him are important contributors to Delray Beach.

Toby rose through the ranks from officer to lieutenant in a stellar 30 year career, but when history books are written most likely Toby’s name won’t be included.

That’s a shame, because men and women like Toby who serve in our Police Department and elsewhere in city government don’t get the credit they deserve for what they do day in and day out. They built this town.

Lt. Rubin didn’t get rich serving our city. He does have a decent pension to go along with aches and pains that come from a hard life spent protecting and serving our city.

Delray Beach is not an easy place to be a police officer. Or a firefighter. Or these days—a planner or a parks maintenance employee—pick your job.

You pick up a newspaper and you read about public pensions destroying municipal budgets. You open your email or visit social media to share good news and find a diatribe about government and government workers.

But I know a different story.

I saw a different side to the argument.

Oh, I won’t pretend that bad government employees don’t exist—they do. A few exist in the upper echelons—suits who manage to whine about problems but offer no fixes other than cut, cut, cut. Tsk. Tsk. Tsk. They always look down, backwards and elsewhere when they ought to be looking in a mirror to see waste up close.

But I saw the other side. I worked alongside people who got things done.

Delray Beach didn’t happen by accident. The downtown didn’t magically transform from blight and grime to vibrant and safe.

Neighborhoods didn’t just miraculously clean themselves up and your $120,000 house didn’t increase to $500,000 or in some cases to over $1 million because some self-important politician or self-anointed citizen watchdog remade your crime and drug infested village into a place where you can take a golf cart and visit 130 restaurants, attend festivals and see free Friday night concerts at Old School Square.

It took vision. And it took money.

It took guts. And it took years.

It took hard work. And it required collaboration, dialogue, passion, patience, optimism and team work.

And it took guys like Toby Rubin.

I used to ride with Toby in the late 80s and early 90s when he was a member the “Tact Team.”

The drug dealers called them the “jump out” crew because they rode in big black SUV’s through drug and crime infested neighborhoods and jumped out to arrest people selling narcotics on almost every corner.

We were mere blocks from the beach and the downtown, which was mostly dead back in those days. I rode with some legendary cops: Mike Swigert, Chuck Jeroloman, Don West, Alan Thompson, Jeff Rancour, the late Johnny Pun and a very young Jeff Goldman, who is now our chief.

I saw Delray through their eyes and many others in the department: Skip Brown, Will McCollum, Craig Hartmann, Michael Coleman, Ed Flynn, Dwayne Fernandes, Robyn Smith, John Evans, Robert Stevens, Tamijo Kayworth, Terrance Scott, John Battiloro, Bob Brand, Tom Whatley, Paul Pitti, Mark Woods, Paul Shersty, Rick Wentz, Jimmy Horrell, Casey Thume, Russ Mager, Geoff Williams, Scott Lunsford, Bobby Musco, Nicole Guerrero, Jeff Messer, John Palermo, Dave Eberhart, Brian Bollan, Scott Privitera, Vinny Mintus—the list goes on and on and on and it continues with excellent officers today.

Most of these names, the general public will never know. But they make the city safe. And without safety there is no community. There would be nothing to argue about, because iPic wouldn’t want to be here and neither would anybody else.

There is no investment, there is no appreciation of property values and there is no quality of life without people like Toby Rubin.

All of those people I mentioned and hundreds more cared about Delray and took great pride in what they were building here. They knew they working on something special—as does the parks worker, the planner, the people in utility billing and the really nice people in the City Clerk’s Office and throughout city government.

We have done a lot in this country to denigrate public servants and public service. It’s pathetic and it’s wrong.

We fixate on what it costs to have a Police Department and a Fire Department, to have a cultural center and a library. We begrudge our public workers when they get a pension and when they get a raise. We send angry emails when they screw up and they do. We all do. Want to see dysfunction? Spend some time in the private sector.

Yes, we need to demand good services delivered efficiently and professionally. Accountability is a good thing, but we also need to make room for gratitude and we ought to take some time to consider the benefits, not just their costs.

That’s actually a good approach to everything.

As Toby spends his first week in retirement, I’d like to wish him a long and healthy life. And I want to thank him and so many others for sticking a young reporter in his SUV and showing me and so many others what needed to be done to transform Delray into a place we can all take pride in.