BELLE GLADE — Steve Prielozny, president of the Bank of Belle Glade, was named the 2019 Citizen of the Year at the Annual Belle Glade Chamber of Commerce & Visitor’s Information Center Awards Dinner. The event was held on Monday, Oct. 28, at the Everglades Research & Education Center. The theme for this prestigious event, which celebrated 55 years, was “Kentucky Derby, Race for the Roses.'
Citizen of the Year presenter Dolly Hand said in her opening remarks, “It is a rare occasion when someone moves to the Glades and immediately begins to have a profound impact on the quality of life in our entire community. But, that is precisely what happened when our 2019 Citizen of the Year, Steve Prielozny, arrived in Belle Glade just over 20 years ago.”
Mr. Prielozny has served as president of the Bank of Belle Glade for 21 years. Mrs. Hand said, “Steve loves being a banker and uses the position as an opportunity to help people. He is passionate about helping others and serving his community.”
In addition to assisting people in planning for their family’s future, in growing their business, or in dealing with financial pressures; Mrs. Hand said he counsels, guides and advises the bank’s customers. Mrs. Hand also noted he has been known to pray with bank customers as well as with his employees.
Born into a military family in Columbus, Georgia, he grew up on bases all over the country. While a teenager, his family moved to Germany and in 1968 he graduated from Frankfort High School. In 1969, at the peak of the Vietnam War, he joined the United States Army. During the war, he ran a top-secret communications center in what was then called DaNang, South Vietnam. He completed his service to our country as a highly decorated E-5 Sergeant.
After serving, he returned to Georgia and landed a job as a teller at the Columbus Bank & Trust Company. At this same time, he entered Columbus State University on the G.I. Bill and was eventually awarded a BS degree in Business Administration. Columbus Bank & Trust became Synovus Financial and Steve spent 20 years with Synovus, during which time he earned two additional banking degrees. At the tender age of 35, he became the President and CEO of the Ft. Rucker National Bank, making him the youngest bank president in the entire Synovus Financial system.
In 1998, Bank of Belle Glade President Wayne Mikell recruited Steve Prielozny to come to the Bank of Belle Glade. Mrs. Hand said that under Steve’s stewardship, the bank has quadrupled in size. He has served on several banking boards, including Chairman of the Florida Bankers Insurance Trust; on the Florida Bankers Government Relations Council and a Trustee for the Florida Bankers Association.
“During the financial crisis of 2008…a period that saw almost half of the nation’s community banks disappear, Steve led the Bank of Belle Glade in obtaining the highest safety rating in the state, a rare “five-star” designation by the bank rating service, Bauer Financial. That is a distinction that the Bank still enjoys today,” noted Mrs. Hand.
Mr. Prielozny has, or is serving on numerous boards in our community, including: director of the ARC of the Glades, director and treasurer of the Black Gold Jubilee Committee, past director and president of the Belle Glade Chamber of Commerce, Chairman of the City of Belle Glade Task Force, member of the City of Belle Glade Surtax Committee, Chairman of the Finance and Leadership Committees of Community United Methodist Church, director and chairman of the Dolly Hand Cultural Arts Center, a director of the Western Palm Beach County Farm Bureau, a director of Glades Initiative, a director of Leadership Glades, a former director and chairman of the Lake Okeechobee Regional Economic Alliance, a director of the Palm Beach County Police Athletic League, a director and chairman of Street Beat and a member of the Belle Glade Rotary Club and Gideons International.
Steve has two sons, Matthew and Joseph and his wife Julie has two children, Kathryn and Shands. Together they have six beautiful grandchildren.
Paul Gross named Agri-Industrial Man of the Year
Paul Gross was presented the Agri-Industrial Man of the Year award by Robert Underbrink, President & CEO of King Ranch.
The son of a Methodist minister, Paul was born in New England. At the age of four his family moved to Malaya, where they were involved in missionary work. His family returned to the United States when Paul was eight to live in Austin, Texas. Paul’s interest in agriculture grew from working on his grandfather’s farm in Georgia while on summer vacations.
He studied Range Management at Texas A&M University and worked for one semester on a cattle ranch in Colombia, South America prior to receiving his Bachelor of Science degree. Paul returned to work on the family farm in Georgia, but an uncertain future there prompted Paul to return to Texas A&M for his master’s degree. Interest in international agriculture caused him to press King Ranch for a job in its South American cattle operations.
Paul worked in Venezuela for 2 1/2 years, where he gained valuable experience and where he met his bride Lenoska. The young couple spent a year in Brazil on another of King Ranch’s cattle and horse operations. After returning to the U.S., opportunities in Florida brought Paul’s family to Belle Glade, where they lived for seven years. He was first put in charge of King Ranch’s sod operation, then given additional responsibility in the sugarcane operation, and eventually promoted to Farm Manager.
Paul is currently vice president for KR Florida Operations, managing the 20,000-acre Palm Beach County farms, as well as 8,500 acres of row crops in Martin County. Paul is responsible for 80 employees and all aspects of sugarcane, sweet corn, corn silage, rice, and turfgrass production on muck and mineral soils.
Paul has been active in leadership positions with various trade associations, regularly hosts educational tours of the local agricultural industry, serves on the Everglades Agricultural Area Environmental Protection District Board of Supervisors and is a member of the Executive Committee and Board of Trustees of the South Florida Fair.
Paul has been employed by King Ranch for more than thirty-six years. He and his wife Lenoska have two grown sons, Andrew and Brian. Andrew and his wife Kendall have two children - Benjamin, who is 3- years-old, and Caroline, who is 7-months-old. Brian is in medical school in Europe and will be returning to the United States following graduation in 2020.
Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Deputy of the Year
Deputy Sheriff Jesse Peters was named the 2019 Deputy of the Year by the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office, District 13. Presenter Lt. Emory Payne said Deputy Peters is an integral part of the Glades community. He has volunteered his time to mentor the city’s youth through the Police Athletic League and the Boy’s and Girl’s Club. He has also volunteered for special projects, such as book bag giveaways, holiday time food giveaways and Harmony in the Streets.
“Deputy Sheriff Peters is an extraordinary leader that leads by example,” said Lt. Payne. “In 2019, he topped the district in the number of cases and traffic crashes worked, and ranks in the top 5% amongst all district deputies across the remaining categories. He is an exceptional investigator who takes ownership of all his calls and investigates them to the fullest. His drive resulted in a phenomenal 91% conviction rate on a variety of cases such as retail theft, domestic battery, grand theft, and aggravated battery.”
“In addition to his outstanding work ethic, Deputy Sheriff Peters has shown tremendous dedication, diligence, and willingness to serve the great city of Belle Glade and its valued citizens; especially its students,” said Lt. Payne.
Jesse and his wife, Christina, have a 2-year-old daughter, Julissa.
Firefighter of the Year
Captain Frank Cote was named Firefighter of the Year by Palm Beach County Fire Rescue. Presenter Captain Javatis Midget said Captain Cote has been a part of the Glades community for a very long time and has served in many capacities.
Capt. Cote started his career with the Belle Glade Fire Rescue in 1985 and quickly moved through the ranks, achieving the rank of captain. During that time, he was responsible for training new hires and station personnel in skills such as rescue diving, rope rescue, fire operations, apparatus pumping as well as overseeing shift operations. He still has these rolls today.
In 2006, when Palm Beach County Fire Rescue merged with Belle Glade Fire Rescue, Captain Cote was instrumental in the transition with his vast knowledge of the people and the area he had already served for so many years. He has also personally developed a very successful airboat program that benefits this community on a regular basis.
Captain Midget said, “Captain Cote has been unrelentingly serving this community that he calls home for 34 years, which is absolutely amazing.”
GEO Correctional Officer of the Year
Correctional Officer Nikeshia James accepted the GEO Group, South Bay Correctional Officer of the Year award from Warden William Hamilton. Officer James has worked for GEO for over five years. During that time, she has overseen housing assignments, the main control center and visitation posts.
Officer James was commended for her professionalism, willingness to accept assignments and for her communication skills. “She is truly a team player and it is a pleasure to worth with and supervise her,” said Warden Hamilton.
Palm Beach State College Impact Award
Palm Beach State College Dean Dr. Latanya McNeal presented the 2019 Impact Award to her Executive Administrative Assistant Heather Love.
Heather has been an employee of Palm Beach State College, Belle Glade for over eight years and is a staple of the community and campus. “Her value to the campus and its students, faculty and staff has no title and is priceless,” said Dr. McNeal.
She went on to say that Heather has secured funding from community sponsors to support student events and engage the community with the Belle Glade campus. She created a lunch and learn series to support her colleagues with navigating through a new budget and timekeeping system that the college has adopted. “She is always looking for ways to streamline processes and is always willing to share these ideas with her peers,” Dr. McNeal added.
Heather has led the campus holiday party and has served on a college-wide staff recognition committee for years. She is always trying to increase her skills and knowledge so that she can be an asset to others at Palm Beach State College. She is a notary and is currently seeking a master certification for administrative professionals.
Heather serves on the campus Executive Deans Council, where she brings forth the voice of the campus administrative staff and the campus communications team to expand the social media and public relations footprint on campus and in the community. She has served on the planning committee for the Belle Glade campus Innovation Showcase and upcoming Economic Forum.
Community Pride Award
The Community United Methodist Church was presented the Community Pride Award at the 55th Annual Chamber Awards Banquet.
This year, Community United Methodist Church is celebrating their 100th Anniversary. The church has a rich and storied history in the community. Presenter and Chamber President Beverly Scott noted that the church has had an impact on the lives of many of our citizens.
They have partnered with both county and city organizations to provide food for the hungry, Salvation Army and Red Cross services, Food Stamp services, hurricane relief, grief counseling and assistance to pregnant and addicted women in the PANDA program. They allow their facility to be used by many organizations for the good of our community and its people.
Attending church members come from all walks of life; farmers, merchants, politicians, financial brokers, bankers, teachers, firefighters and law enforcement. They love this community, take pride in it and serve their community by their involvement in various organizations such as the Chamber of Commerce, Rotary and Lions Club, Black Gold Jubilee, the ARC of the Glades, Dolly Hand Cultural Arts Center, The Lighthouse Café, and others.
“From their humble beginnings in 1919 they have worked to make life and our community better for all people,” said Ms. Scott.
Photos of the Belle Glade Chamber of Commerce awards winners can be found on the jump page included with this issue. Read the whole story at https://lakeokeechobeenews.com/community/belle-glade/.