Campus & Community

PBSC celebrates 90th anniversary at its inaugural Emerald Torch Awards Gala

During Palm Beach State College’s first gala held to raise funds for student scholarships and resources, Ava L. Parker, J.D., President, makes a toast to the 90th Anniversary of the college she has served for eight years. Parker holds the distinction of being PBSC’s first female president and is the visionary of the college’s emphasis on expanding innovation at its five campuses and educating a technology-literate workforce. Parker is pictured with David Rutherford, Vice President and Institutional Advancement and CEO of the Foundation for Palm Beach State College, and Luli Ortiz, Mistress of Ceremonies.

Palm Beach State College welcomed more than 300 guests for a celebratory night of dinner and dancing at its inaugural Emerald Torch Awards Gala held Saturday, Nov. 11 in the Lake Worth campus Fire Academy Complex.

The sold-out event, hosted by Mistress of Ceremonies CBS 12 news anchor Luli Ortiz, recognized the College’s 90th anniversary, raised funds for student scholarships and honored alumni and other leaders who strengthen the community.

“It’s hard to believe that 90 years ago 41 students were in that very first class to come to Palm Beach Junior College. At that time, it was during the Great Depression, and the community thought we needed to come together and find a way to create opportunities for the businesses within our region but also to create hope for our students,” said PBSC President Ava L. Paker, J.D., who noted that the fire complex was chosen for the gala in recognition of PBSC being the primary educator of first responders in the county. “I’m proud to say that 90 years later, we are an institution that serves almost 40,000 students on five different campuses, nationally recognized and seen as an important force within our state as well as being the largest institution of higher education in PBC. 1933 to 2023 was an amazing 90 years but what is coming up is going to be spectacular.”

The signature award of the night was presented to Lois Pope, one of America’s leading philanthropists, who received the Emerald Torch Lifetime Achievement Award, for her unprecedented commitment to military veterans and disabled veterans, education and serving the needs of children and families in Palm Beach County.

“I love the motto of this school. ‘Knowledge is forever.’  I believe that’s true. Knowledge truly is forever,” said Pope who initiated the discussions that led to the creation of the American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial, to which she and her foundations donated more than $10 million. “I’ve been very fortunate in my life to be able to contribute to the causes I so passionately believe in. But my first major commitment from years past is the one that is so fitting to talk about on this day—honoring our disabled veterans. I urge you to honor all our disabled veterans, not just this day or Memorial Day, but every day. Thank you again for this award. It’s one I will always cherish. And to all the disabled veterans and military families who may be here tonight, God bless you and thank you for your service.”

Also in attendance was PBSC District Board of Trustees Chair Patrice Bishop, and DBOT members Carolyn Williams, Melissa Friedman-Levine and Wendy Sartory Link along with Student Trustee Daniel Gil-Sanchez. The Foundation for PBSC Board of Directors Chair Ricky Wade was also there along with other Foundation board members.

David Rutherford, vice president of Institutional Advancement and CEO of the Foundation, said the evening was overflowing with PBSC pride. Rutherford also gave a brief message on the importance of investing in the lives of others.

“If your presence doesn’t make an impact, your absence won’t make a difference,” said Rutherford.

Emerald Torch Awards were given to three alumni and one community leader. The presentations opened with an award to PBSC alumnus and CEO and Executive Director of the National League of Cities Clarence Anthony.

Lois Pope, a prominent philanthropist, received the “Lifetime Achievement Award” for her unprecedented commitment to military veterans and disabled veterans, education and serving the needs of children and families in Palm Beach County.

“I found my life purpose at PBSC,” said Anthony, who began his career in public service as the Mayor of South Bay, Fla., for 24 years. “I grew up in the Glades and PBCC was the place where I figured out what I wanted to do with my life. And that purpose has made me do things in my life I would have never imagined coming from the Glades. PBSC is the place where you can find your purpose. You gave me more PBSC than I gave you.”

Another honoree who told the crowd that he makes it his mission every day to keep them safe is Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw.

“What an honor to receive this recognition,” said Bradshaw, who has a successful track record of 50 years in law enforcement.  “Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to graduate from PBSC because Vietnam was calling, and I went into the Marines. I tell young people all the time you don’t have to go off anywhere. You’ve got quality education right here at PBSC.”

Also awarded but unable to attend in person was former Dr. Floyd F. Koch Honors College student Fatima Cajas, who is now a meteorologist with TelevisaUnivision. Accepting the award on her behalf was her mentor and retired PBSC vice president Dr. Maria Vallejo. Cajas showed her appreciation through a video.

“Thanks to the unconditional support of my family and friends, my PBSC professors and the scholarship that I received everything was possible,” said Cajas. “Education is the key to success in life. It doesn’t matter where you are but where you want to go.”

The final Emerald Torch Award was presented to alumnus Brad Peacock, a retired professional baseball pitcher and World Series champion who played Major League baseball for the Washington Nationals, Houston Astros and Boston Red Sox. Attending the ceremony with him was PBSC Baseball Coach Kyle Forbes.

“Coach Forbes was a big part of my career. I played 17 years of professional baseball, but the most fun I had was right here at PBSC because of Coach Forbes.”

Guests were also shown a recap of PBSC’s 90 years of service to the community and student veteran testimonials that showcased why the College is nationally recognized as one of the best colleges nationwide for military and veteran students.

At the end, Parker led guests in a special toast to the 90th anniversary. Proceeds from the event supported The Foundation for Palm Beach State College and its initiatives to fund student scholarships and support.

For more information about the Emerald Torch Award Gala and its honorees, please visit Click on the image below to view the Flickr album.

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