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E Awards celebrate hospitality industry
and top tourism professionals

LEE COUNTY, Florida – The Lee County Visitor & Convention Bureau (VCB) held its 23rd Annual Elaine McLaughlin Outstanding Hospitality Service Awards (E Awards) today to honor tourism professionals and their extraordinary customer service and dedication.

Presented by the VCB and The News-Press Media Group, the E Awards recognize Lee County’s hospitality industry employees for going above and beyond to take care of visitors.

The ceremony, held at the Westin Cape Coral Resort at Marina Village, honored 590 individual nominees with residents, visitors and colleagues submitting 784 total nominations. Special to the event this year: Leoma Lovegrove completed a live painting demonstration and the custom artwork was gifted to the Hurricane Hero category winner.

Awards were presented in eight categories and an honor of distinction award went to the overall nominee who best represents the spirit of hospitality in Lee County.
-Best Tourism Boss
-Hurricane Hero
-Good Samaritan
-Other services/Businesses

Selected for their exemplary service, here are the top winners and excerpts from their nominations:

Honor of Distinction:
Traci Fixler, Lee County Port Authority Police
From the nomination:
In a team effort, Port Authority Police were called to check on a man stranded at the airport with his service dog. The man was an U.S. Army war veteran with PTSD and medical issues.

The responders learned he had been at the airport waiting for funds to buy a plane ticket back home to Colorado. He explained that he came to Florida to assist in Hurricane Ian’s recovery and had difficulty finding work, resulting in him not having a place to stay. He shared that he and his service dog had not eaten in the last 24 hours.

After learning he was stranded and hungry, Fixler got to work gathering ready to eat meals for the veteran and contacted the K9 unit to see if they had dog food for the service dog. She was an integral part in making sure he got back home safely.

In another nomination, Fixler responded to a call that a young woman and her little boy that were dropped off at the airport with no shoes and a missed flight. She responded to the call for help and was able to provide proper clothing for both the mother and child. She also offered to assist in paying for any fees to rebook the missed flight.

Ammie Plummer, Hampton Inn Bonita Springs Naples North
From the nomination:
Plummer is a team player through and through. Her nominator said her most important work was after Hurricane Ian. Even though her home flooded and she had moments to evacuate, Plummer kept a positive attitude and decided to help others. Specifically, the construction workers staying on property who did not have time to wash their clothes after working long hours to help our coast’s recovery. She worked every day from 4 a.m. to 9 p.m. washing and folding all the workers’ clothes and ensuring the recovery workers were fed. Plummer is a true example of hospitality because no matter what, she will always be there to assist anyone in need.

Kathy Arthur, Edison and Ford Winter Estates
From the nomination:
Arthur has been an employee for many years. In addition to watching over the property, she makes sure the rest of the employees get to their cars safely after their shifts and that everyone is safe when lightning is in the area. Recently, a visitor experienced the beginnings of a heart problem, and Arthur identified the symptoms. She insisted that the guest get to the hospital immediately and escorted the guest to the hospital to seek medical attention. The guest later called to thank her and to let her know that her quick action and care saved the guest’s life. 

Best Tourism Boss:
Jay Frias, Hampton Inn & Suites Fort Myers-Estero/FGCU
From the nomination:
Frias has an open-door policy for staff. If you ask if she has time to talk, she will reply, “I always have time for you” no matter how busy she is and always with a smile.

She shows compassion for guests and most notably as reality of the devastation after Hurricane Ian sunk in. As guests began evacuating, Frias made sure they took whatever they needed including linen, pillows, food, extra bottles of water, etc. When an emergency fuel company arrived with a generator big enough to reopen for emergency crews, she made sure they all had shelter and were given a Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner. She takes a true interest in learning about each member of her staff and during the holidays. She generously personalizes gifts for them, making them feel special and appreciated. One employee shared “My nominee has taught me that hospitality may not be lifesaving, but it is life changing. She was our lighthouse during this historic storm.”

Good Samaritan:
Brian Price, Tim Gard, Lee County Parks & Recreation
From the nomination:
During open recreation senior basketball, staff responded to a participant lying on the ground, not breathing and with no pulse. Another participant (a retired nurse) began doing cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) while staff retrieved the automated external defibrillator (AED). These individuals used the AED and CPR was continued. A few moments later, the man started moving and opened his eyes. While waiting for EMS to arrive, staff began to address the issue of the gash on the participant’s head. The participant was able to speak and answer basic questions. EMS arrived and took the lead, taking the participant to the hospital. These men exemplified professionalism and remained calm under pressure resulting in saving a life.

Hurricane Hero:
Noah and Josh Stewart, Adventures in Paradise
From the nomination:
The morning after Hurricane Ian made landfall, my Hurricane Hero nominee made his way to the marina and found that some of his boats were working. He jumped on, started the engines and went straight to Sanibel. Upon arriving he rescued his family members and several neighbors, taking them back to the mainland. Having seen the devastation and the bridges out, he immediately started transporting the Sanibel firefighters and police to start search and rescue. He contacted his staff to see if anyone was available to help run the other boats that survived the storm. From that point on, these nominees ran their boats seven days a week from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. for three weeks straight. They rescued approximately 1,200 people off the island and transported search and rescue teams including the U.S. Coast Guard, National Guard, Red Cross, U.S. Fish and Wildlife, contractors, workers, city and county officials, Samaritan’s Purse, FISH of Sanibel and citizens authorized to go to the island. These two individuals were raised on Sanibel and felt that it was their responsibility to do what had to be done with the tools they had to work with. They transported people and pets off the island and brought everything from refrigerators, generators, ice, food, ATVs, cleaning supplies, tools, tarps and building materials out to the island. They saw things that no one ever should have to see and did not stop until the job was done.

Other Services/Businesses:
Glicelle Torres, Home Depot
From the nomination: My husband and I ordered three pallets of flooring, paying extra for in-home delivery. Upon arrival the delivery driver said he could only drop the flooring in the driveway. After explaining that I paid extra for the service and refusing to sign for delivery, the driver loaded the flooring back onto his truck. Unfortunately, he had already marked it in his computer as delivered so the tracking information was gone. After attempting to call the delivery hotline many times and not receiving help, I went to the store and was connected with my nominee.

She made it her mission to help solve our problem. We were going away on vacation for two weeks so the flooring could not be delivered. Our nominee contacted the manufacturer to have the flooring delivered and stored until we returned. Upon delivery and to our amazement they brought each one in and made sure they were up to standard. After finding a few more boxes at the store, our nominee called to ensure we had all of ours and even sent someone to make sure we had our full order. We are so pleased with how this was solved and the exceptional customer service she displayed.

Marshall Barnhart, Dudley’s Beachside BBQ
From the nomination:
Barnhart is an active member of his community and known for his kindness, selflessness and compassion. Following the landfall of Hurricane Ian, this individual served food and water, free of charge, for 52 days straight with a warm embrace welcoming residents back to the mainland. Barnhart is a three-time stroke survivor is someone who pours as much heart and soul into his craft as he does to his community. This nominee works tirelessly in the heat, sun and rain to help rebuild homes and lift spirits. He gives many yummy reasons to celebrate life and togetherness on the beloved island.

Ron Smith, United Airlines
From the nomination:
Last August, a young woman walked into the airport with her 3-year-old son and went to the visitor’s information booth where she spoke to a volunteer. Port Authority Police were called to conduct a welfare check on her and her son. When responders met with her in the Visitor Center’s office, she was visibly distressed. She explained that she and her son were driven to the airport by her boyfriend who had kicked them out of the car when they arrived.

She said she had had a flight the day before, but missed it. She only had $100 to her name and they did not have shoes on their feet. She was taken to the airline’s ticket counter to find information about her previous flight. After hearing about her situation, Smith found the previously booked flight and rebooked her at no charge and waived baggage fees. Because of the care this employee showed, the woman and her son were able to fly home safely to her family.

For a complete list of winners, click here. For more information on the individual stories of the above-mentioned award recipients, please visit

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