Fort Lauderdale officials honor outstanding citizens at annual ceremony

For the 43rd year, the Fort Lauderdale City Commission honored community-builders at its annual Citizens Recognition Awards.

The event at City Hall publically recognizes those who have "contributed in significant ways to our community," said Mayor John "Jack" Seiler. Since 1972, the ceremony has honored 125 locals.

Mary Fertig took home the title of "Citizen of the Year." The former high school teacher is known as an advocate for public schools with more than three decades of civic service.

"She's an unwavering and unfailing citizen of this community," Fort Lauderdale Commissioner Dean Trantalis said as he presented the proclimation to Fertig. Her outstanding achievements are too many to list, he said.

Fertig said she was surprised to receive the honor, especially since some of her causes over the years have been controversial.

"It's hard to believe advocating for books and safe learning environments is controversial," Fertig said. She credits the many volunteers she's worked with for her success and thanked them for all they do to build a "great community."

The late developer Terry Stiles was named Honored Founder. The award goes to "courageous citizens who paved the way for future growth in Fort Lauderdale," Seiler said.

His son, Kenny Stiles, accepted the plaque, stating his father spent the majority of his time doing whatever he could to make the city a great place to work and play.

"He really loved this city. This [award] would be very important to him," Stiles said.

The designation of Exemplary Former City Employee went to the late Freddie "Gene" Dempsey. The expert arborist died unexpectedly in his late 50s.

Other foresters admired him as a "legend," Seiler said.

Dempsey's legacy includes street tree planting, Arbor Day events, expanding the adopt-a-tree program and helping the city gain wildlife habitat certification.

Activist Ron Centamore was named Distinguished Citizen. During a 20-year career with the police department he modernized the organization, said Commissioner Bruce Roberts.

He has founded and serves in civic associations downtown and in Progresso Village.

"In 1981, when I got here there was one tall building downtown," Centamore said. Families were moving to the suburbs but "those who stayed got the reward."