LAKE JACKSON — Unsung heroes are those who do good deeds from the kindness of their hearts, not for the glory. Scott Leopold, who was named Citizen of the Year on Tuesday at The Facts’ 23rd annual Citizen of the Year luncheon at the Dow Academic Center, is one of those people.
“I was not expecting it,” Leopold, a previous Unsung Heroes honoree, said to the crowd. “It’s a tremendous honor. I thought I was done, but you can’t quit … I always tell people, ‘I’m on third, headed home. You’ve got to take the ball and run with it because I’m on the last leg.’”
Leopold spent 28 years operating his restaurant, Scott’s Barbecue, where he served customers and provided free hot meals to families in need, and his generosity extended far beyond the confines of his restaurant. When Hurricane Ike hit, Leopold served first responders and people without power hot meals, and when someone in the community loses a loved one, he is there to provide a meal.
Leopold is also passionate about preserving Texas history, which led him to write a book about the origins of Texas and educate others. He is involved in several local historical groups and has dedicated much of his life to honoring the past and respecting those who have served the country.
“Perhaps the reason he is this year’s Citizen of the Year, though, is not because of a grand project or a jaw-dropping achievement,” Facts Editor and Publisher Yvonne Mintz said when presenting his award. “But because of all the small, everyday acts of kindness and selflessness our honoree has shown without hesitation or without judgment.”
Nelson Leopold, Scott Leopold’s brother, said just when he thought he heard it all, his brother does something else for the community. If somebody needs help, he is there to help them.
“He never sits still,” Nelson Leopold said. “He’s not one that sits on the sidelines. ... Me, I want to go home and get in my easy chair and work in my yard, but not him. … He’s always staying busy. You name it, and he’s been there.”
Each year, The Facts asks readers to nominate people who make the community a better place to live. Once nominations close, The Facts leadership team works to narrow down this list of Unsung Heroes and finalists, and the finalist’s names are sent to Chamber of Commerce executives, who then select the Citizen of the Year as an impartial party, Mintz explained to the audience.
Among those honored during Tuesday’s luncheon, a total of 14 members in the community received recognition. In addition to Leopold, three others were finalists for the Citizen of the Year award, eight were awarded Unsung Heroes, and one person received the Servant’s Heart recognition.
Amber Newman, the CEO for the Brazoria County Boys and Girls Club, received the Servant’s Heart recognition for her lifelong commitment to serving non-profits. She served on the Houston Food Bank, the Houston Holocaust Museum and Houston Hospice.
Shannon Whitley was honored as a Citizen of the Year finalist because of her perseverance against all odds. She petitioned the National Football League Players Association to change its retired players’ health exams to include cardiac testing after the untimely death of her husband. Whitley also began the Taylor Whitley Show Up Foundation to continue his legacy, which has given out several awards to deserving young people around Brazoria County.
Dortha Pekar’s dedication to history and library work earned her a spot as a Citizen of the Year finalist. Pekar helped create the Santa Ana Ball for the Brazoria Heritage Foundation, the current largest fundraiser for the foundation, and is working on another historical project for the Old Fort Velasco Historical Association. When she is not educating people about history, she patrols the beaches looking for sea turtle eggs, amongst many other activities that made her a finalist.
Kay Millsap, event organizer for the “Night in the Spotlight” prom, earned a spot as this year’s Citizen of the Year finalist. This night left a long-lasting impact on the lives of those in attendance. She also spends her time working to develop a new special needs program for children called SMILE.
Among the honored 2019 Unsung Heroes were Nathan Bienhoff, Brooke McAvoy, Ryan Raper, Stephanie Vincent, Michael Bailey, Angela Colbert, Sharon McKey, Linda Winder and Sue Neill.
Mintz concluded the luncheon by asking the crowd to consider who deserves to be honored and who should be in the room next year. The nomination form is in The Facts newspaper and online and runs for a few months, starting around April.
“All of these people do a great job for our communities and our county — making it a better place to live and a better place to raise our kids,” Nelson Leopold said. “They all do need to be thanked. These people, they’re not ones that sit around. They are all good examples of what people can do. It just takes a little bit to make a difference.”