Giving back to others is the theme for this year’s Light-Up! honorees
If there is one consistent theme in the spirit of the holidays it is giving to others, whether it is helping others to have a Thanksgiving meal, making donations to a favorite charity so the needs of others can be more easily met, spending time in a shop, mall or on-line picking out that special gift for a friend, or simply sharing time with a loved one.
A traditional part of Light-Up! Night, the opening night of St. Augustine’s Nights of Lights, has been naming those who will actually “flip the switch” that turns on the lights that kick off the annual event.
For this the 25th year of the Nights of Lights, St. Augustine Mayor Nancy Shaver has chosen to honor someone who has given much to her own community for decades and others who left their homes to assist communities in the Florida Panhandle that lost so much because of Hurricane Michael.
Turning the switch that will light the city’s tree will be Carrie Johnson, a Lincolnville native, graduate of Excelsior High School, and longtime enthusiastic community leader who for over 20 years led an annual holiday caroling event drawing hundreds of participants. Until her health limited her mobility, Miss Carrie, as she is best known, was a familiar sight throughout the city on her oversized tricycle exchanging greetings and waves to everyone she met. Long known as “The Voice of Lincolnville,” Miss Carrie is always ready to sing solo or lead a chorus in song which she did during a vigil held in the Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine just two days after September 11, 2001. In 2010, she started the Carrie Johnson Foundation to provide educational assistance for homeless school children.
“One would be hard pressed to find a better example of real, honest joy than Miss Carrie’s radiant smile and cheerful greetings that always improves the day for anyone she meets,” said Mayor Shaver. “And I am certain that when she turns the switch that lights our city’s tree, she will bring real joy to old and young alike just as she does everyday.”
Designated to turn the big switch that lights the city are representatives of the teams of city employees who traveled to the Florida Panhandle in the wake of Hurricane Michael to assist communities in their recoveries. The City of St. Augustine sent a total of 30 skilled professionals from the St. Augustine Fire Department, Police Department and Public Works Department to assist devastated communities in search and rescue missions, supporting local law enforcement agencies, and restoring vital water and sewer systems.
Representing their departments on Light-Up! Night are: Lt. Brandon Seymour, St. Augustine Fire Department; Patrice Drinkard, Dispatcher, St. Augustine Police Department; and Josh Fixl, Pipe Layer, St. Augustine Public Works Department.
“In our town we consider it an honor and a privilege to help those who need it whenever and wherever we can, and I am proud of the work of our city employees who volunteered to leave their own homes and families to help our fellow Floridians,” said Mayor Shaver.
The St. Augustine Fire Department deployed a total of six personnel to Liberty County including, in addition to Lt. Seymour, Capt. Mike Fittipaldi, Engineer Josh McKenzie, and Firefighters Ryan Costeira, Rob Murphy, and Chris Chester.
While on site, these members of the fire department assisted residents with downed trees, secured protection for roofs of homes and businesses alike, and responded to multiple calls for fire suppression. In addition the crew assisted in repairing damage to the local fire department and worked with fellow firefighters handing out relief supplies at several points of distribution.
The St. Augustine Police Department had 16 personnel who served in two cities in Bay County, Southport and Lynn Haven. In addition to Patrice Drinkard, the deployment included Sergeants Brian Frasca, John Niederriter, and Richard Warner; Corporal Kevin Carroll; Detective Wayne Ferrell; Officers Jonathan Brown, Brittney Garmon, Kasey Keen, Daniel Lui, Frankie Shipp, and Eric Yarborough; Dispatchers Loren Bolante, Diane Forman and Jacob Godfrey; and Public Information Officer Cecilia Aiple.
While on location members of the police department supported the Lynn Haven Police Department and the Bay County Emergency Operations Center in a wide variety of duties including search and rescue operations, patrol and security at command posts and distribution centers, organizing media briefings, and managing dispatch and communication tasks.
From the City of St. Augustine’s Public Works Department eight personnel traveled to Bay County’s City of Callaway. In addition to Josh Fixl, others from the Transmission and Distribution Division were Foreman Scott Gessel and Utility Worker Joe Marcano. The crew from Waste Water Collection Systems Division included Supervisor Danny Hodges, Foreman Sean Burski, Equipment Operator Damon Ratterre, and General Maintenance Worker Thomas O’Boyle. Supervising the operation was Wade Giddens, Utility Operations Manager.
While in Callaway, these utility crews reestablished water to the city’s residents and businesses, checked for leaks in the system, assessed damage and coordinated response to dozens of requests for repairs each day. These same crews worked to establish emergency sewage bypass systems, and assessed damage and made repairs to all of the Callaway’s 36 lift stations which were without power because of hurricane damage.
Light-Up! Night is Saturday, November 17 with the lighting ceremony scheduled for 6:30pm in the Plaza de la Constitución. For more information, visit www.CityStAug.com/LightUpNight.