Dee Dee Kerkes of Home received the 34th annual Key Peninsula Citizen of the Year award from the Lions Club during the club’s annual fundraising banquet at the Key Peninsula Civic Center March 31.
Kerkes had been repeatedly nominated for her many years of volunteering for and on behalf of the KP Fire Department, the Key Free Clinic and the Key Peninsula Community Services senior center and food bank. She was first nominated in 1999, but was still taken aback when it happened again this year.
“I was surprised when I was nominated but floored when I was actually given the honor,” she said.
Kerkes started helping the community about 43 years ago. “We had a completely volunteer fire department then and most of the men were gone during the day,” she said. “There were several women that decided we wanted to fix that and we became volunteer firefighters.”
She later became a professional paramedic while continuing as a volunteer EMT/firefighter for KPFD throughout the 1980s and ’90s. She finished her career working the front desk at the Key Center fire station in the early 2000s.
“Dee Dee was the receptionist when I started here in 1999,” said KP Fire Chief Guy Allen, who was likewise nominated for the award this year. “She was also an EMT instructor and first-responder instructor. I am very honored to have been nominated for Citizen of the Year with Dee Dee and very happy to congratulate her.”
Lions Club Treasurer Claudia Jones also met Kerkes in 1999, when she trained residents of Herron Island to be their own first responders.
“She came out on her own time to do Tuesday night drills for about three months—she stayed overnight with us and would go home the next day because of the ferry schedule,” Jones said. “She taught us basic life support, AED (automatic external defibrillator), radio ops, airlift; just the whole spectrum because we would be alone for at least 40 minutes before we had backup on the island.”
Kerkes still attends fire commissioner meetings and volunteers for the department. “She is very well known for her expertise in firefighting and aid, and also served as chaplain,” Jones said. “To this day, she makes department hats, gloves and novelties at Christmas; she’s well into 30 years with the Santa sleigh.”
“I do whatever I can whenever they need help,” Kerkes said. “I belong to the Ashes women’s auxiliary group and the Volunteer Firefighters Association. We also donate to families who’ve come into hard times.”
“Dee Dee has her fingers in a lot of very worthy organizations,” said Penny Gazabat, executive director of Key Peninsula Community Services in Home. “She started working in the food bank about three years ago and now she’s the treasurer on our board.”
Kerkes continues to volunteer in the food bank, assists with fundraisers and takes blood pressure and blood sugar measurements for some of the seniors who utilize the center. “I just kind of do what I can,” she said.
“She’s a very worthy person to receive this honorable award,” Gazabat said. “I think Citizen of the Year is great for our community, to pull everybody together to acknowledge all of the work that we do here.”
“Anyone can send in a nomination,” said Lions Club President Bill Jones (Claudia’s husband). “They all go through (club member) Hugh McMillan, who does the bios, and then at the last meeting before the dinner, we have a roundtable to discuss them.”
Every member in attendance votes by secret ballot for three first, second and third choices. “This way, even somebody with a whole bunch of third-choice votes could win if more people voted for them than the first choice,” said Bill Jones.
While the Citizen of the Year award is intended to recognize volunteers, it has been given to people whose work has gone above and beyond the requirements of their paid position.
“We should acknowledge the people that are doing that,” he said. “I don’t think people knew everything Dee Dee had done, even though she’s been nominated before. Yeah, she was paid for working in the office, but that didn’t have to do with training on Herron Island, or getting up in the middle of the night to go and feed firefighters because they needed it, or go and do death notifications or raise funds for those families.”
“There are some criteria that don’t go with standing at the front desk,” said Claudia Jones. “This is about recognition for the passion that you have and what you put into the well-being of people, and that’s what Dee Dee has.”
“I think this area has a very big heart and its people are extremely kind and very, very giving,” Kerkes said. “It’s an honor to be able to volunteer out here.”