Dan K. Richardson Humanitarian Award Banquet honors Dr. Hugh and Ann Marie McCrystal

VERO BEACH — Their influence has resonated throughout Indian River County, so the large crowd that turned out to applaud Dr. Hugh and Ann Marie McCrystal as they were honored with the Dan K. Richardson Humanitarian Award was no surprise.  The annual banquet, now in its fifth year and a major fundraiser for the Gifford Youth Activity Center (GYAC), was held at the Holy Cross Catholic Church Parish Hall.

The first Dan K. Richardson Humanitarian Award fittingly honored Dan K. Richardson. Other recipients, all on-hand to support this year’s honorees, were Alma Lee Loy, Eleonora and Robert McCabe and Father Richard Murphy. As guests mingled during the cocktail hour, I spoke with Alan Polackwich, Sr. who chaired the selection committee as then GYAC board chair.  The GYAC is funded by and is located on land owned by the county, so Polackwich resigned from the board after accepting the position of Indian River County Attorney earlier this year.

“I tried to figure out a way to stay, but needed to resign,” said Polackwich.  “It is an organization the people of Gifford can take great pride in, and that enhances their community.”

During the cocktail hour and after everyone sat down for dinner, talented musicians from the Gifford Youth Orchestra treated guests to some delightful musical selections.  As the delicious dinner, sponsored by Catering by Culinary Capers began, Freddie Woolfork, Administrator of Development and Marketing showcased an educational DVD about the development of the Gifford Youth Activity Center and some of its programs.

Dan K. Richardson, Dr. A. Ronald Hudson and the late Dr. William Nigh were the visionaries behind the creation of the GYAC.  Since it opened in 1998, the Center has continued to expand in terms of both the size of the facility and the scope of the programs offered.  Although its primary purpose remains the enhancement of academic achievement for children through programs like the After School Education Program and the Kellogg Academic Program for Success, older individuals are also now included with programs such as Special K for seniors.

“It’s an oasis of change in Indian River County,” said Woolfork.  “We want to be thought of as the Miracle on 43rd Avenue.”

An alumna of GYAC, Latoya Bullard, now a science teacher at Gifford Middle School, started at the Center from the moment its doors first opened and spoke eloquently of her experiences there.

“It was a safe haven to go to after school and I was there every day,” she said.  “It was safe, free and in our neighborhood so I didn’t need a ride to get there.  I started getting my own teaching skills by tutoring the younger students; it was a wonderful experience.”

Bullard went away to college and returned to mentor and teach other children.  “I am a product of what you have offered our community” she concluded.

I was privileged to sit between Angelia Perry, Executive Director of the GYAC and Robert Lamont, the new Executive Director of the GYAC Foundation, and before the award presentation, we spoke about their plans for the future of the Center.

Having only been in his position a few months Lamont smiled and said, “In the short term, I’m Freddie’s shadow.”

With a 37-year history in fundraising though, Lamont will soon be making the push for planned giving and student scholarship endowments.  Students are charged a nominal $26 a year (50-cents per week) to attend GYAC but the actual cost is closer to $2,000 per year.

“We hope that people will consider sponsoring one or more students or including GYAC in their estate plans,” said Lamont.  “If they make a major donation, the income could help fund student scholarships.”

Perry said they will also be focusing on long range plans for their programs and facilities and added, “We have an exciting board with varied backgrounds.”

She stressed the importance of an expanded Future Achievers Program for middle to high school students and said, “It’s a critical grade; either they’re on board or they risk dropping out.”

As McCrystal family photos flashed by on an overhead screen, Ellie McCabe began the salute to the honorees, remarking on their passion for friends, family and the community.  McCabe said of Ann Marie, “She is one of the smartest, most determined person I’ve ever met, and also one of the most compassionate and understanding.”

Carol Kanarek will be taking over as Chairman of the VNA & Hospice Foundation, a position which Ann Marie held for 19 years.  “She may wear a size six shoe, but the shoes I’m filling are more like a size 106,” quipped Kanarek.

Dr. Alastair Kennedy remarked on Dr. McCrystal’s guidance through several administrations and boards of the Indian River Medical Center and said, “Hugh has been a major influence over health care in this community; it makes him, as we like to call him, the Methuselah of medicine.  He has served the community brilliantly and continues to do so.”

John Moore spoke movingly of the friendship between Ann Marie and his mother Pat and of growing up almost as part of the McCrystal household, adding, “As humanitarians, they are larger than life.”

Dr. Hugh and Ann Marie McCrystal moved to Vero Beach in 1966 and have devoted a lifetime to improving healthcare in the community.

Ann Marie McCrystal is a trained nurse professional, founding member of the Visiting Nurses Association, served as VNA & Hospice Foundation Chairman, chaired the VNA Hospice House capital campaign, and now serves as Chairman of the VNA of the Treasure Coast.

Dr. Hugh McCrystal established a successful Urology practice, served as Chief of Staff of the hospital for 24 years, and formulated the Indian River Hospital District Board of Trustees.

In addition, they raised a lovely family of three children, taught health education at local schools and have volunteered both time and resources for local organizations such as the American Cancer Society, Riverside Theatre, Senior Resource Association, Children’s Home Society and the Indian River Community Foundation.

After receiving the award, Ann Marie spoke first saying, “It’s overwhelming for us; it’s a wonderful organization and we truly appreciate it.  Dan Richardson was a visionary, a humanitarian, an entrepreneur and a philanthropist and it’s a privilege to receive an honor in his name.”

Dr. McCrystal also commented on the honor, saying, “The first award was given to Dan Richardson and I was honored to speak; now I’m humbled to receive the award.”

Angelia Perry and Robert Lamont closed out the evening by reading congratulatory notes and proclamations from the City of Vero Beach, Sen. Mike Haridopolos, Rep. Debbie Mayfield, Rep. Bill Posey and Pres. Barack Obama. {igallery 178}

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