Ed Verner, a part-owner of the Plant City Times & Observer and founder of the Plant City Photo Archives and History Center, was named the 2017 Citizen of the Year.
Editor’s Note: Ed Verner is a part owner and co-founder of the Plant City Times & Observer.
As residents know, Ed Verner’s impact in the Plant City community can be seen in every corner of the Winter Strawberry Capital of the World – from the streets of Historic Downtown to his involvement in local civic organizations.
His fellow Plant Citians have noticed. On Wednesday, Feb. 15, Verner was announced as the 2017 Citizen of the Year.
Verner was presented the award by the 2016 recipient, Sharon Moody.
“I’m humbled,” Verner said. “I would not be here today if it were not for my father and my grandfather. Both of them loved Plant City and instilled that in me. I would like to say thank you to my wife, Amanda ... I would not be here today if it wasn’t for my wife. I want to thank her publicly and declare my love for her, and for how she re-engaged me in Plant City. I’m very grateful for her. This is an honor I very much appreciate.”
The Citizen of the Year award is kept a secret from the recipient and members of the community until it is announced. Given annually by a committee and the leaders of local civic clubs, the award is presented to a resident who has demonstrated service above self. Potential recipients are nominated and voted upon until a final recipient is chosen for the award.
For Ken Gibbs, this year’s award was well-earned. He met Verner through the Kiwanis Club more than 20 years ago, and the two have remained longtime friends.
“We’ve been friends for 25 years,” Gibbs said. “He’s a very giving person who doesn’t look for anything in return. He challenges you in your thoughts.”
Verner’s wife, Amanda, was honored to see her husband recognized for his contributions to Plant City.
“I cried first (when I found out),” Amanda Verner said. “He doesn’t like recognition. I’m happy he’s being honored for the many different things he’s involved in, and for his passion and love of the town.”
Verner, a Lakeland native, graduated from Lakeland High School and went on to graduate from Duke University, where he majored in sociology and minored in business and accounting.
He currently runs City Properties Company in Historic Downtown, but has had stints as an 18-wheeler driver, DJ, waiter, funeral home attendant, Ford dealership owner and night club manager.
Verner’s contributions to Plant City include being a founder and co-owner of the Plant City Times & Observer, creator of the Plant City Photo Archives and History Center and the redevelopment of much of Historic Downtown, including the Lee Building.
“I’ve seen Ed give selflessly of himself through his commitments to Plant City and his investments of wanting to start the paper,” City Commissioner Nate Kilton, a fellow Observer co-owner, said. “There couldn’t be a better person to receive it.”
Gil Gott, the executive director at the Plant City Photo Archives, agreed.
“I’ve known Ed for some time,” Gott said. “He was focused on revitalizing the old Lee Building, and he brought it back. He put life into the Photo Archives and made the photos and history available to the people.”
Verner was joined at the ceremony by much of his family, including his wife, Amanda, parents, Dr. John and Sally Verner and brother, Jamie.
His three children, David, Robert and Vaviel, were away at college for the ceremony, but took to social media to share their congratulations.
“I cannot express how proud I am of my father for having achieved the honored status of Plant City’s Citizen of the Year award,” David Verner wrote in a Facebook post. “For all of my life, he has been a humble, pious, generous and unquestionably sincere man, and anecdotes like this only serve to expound upon his often anonymous kindheartedness toward the community and all with whom he interacts.”
Verner’s daughter, Vaviel, also posted on Facebook.
“This man has not only influenced Plant City in so many aspects, but also my own life,” Vaviel Verner wrote. “You are truly a man of honor, integrity, courage, Godliness and intelligence.”
Upon accepting the award, Verner thanked his family for their continued support.
“I was just humbled,” he said. “I was thinking about my dad and my granddad. It’s easy to stay motivated with my involvements because it was a passion to start with.”
Verner’s additional involvements include serving as a past president of the Kiwanis Club, a past chairman for the Greater Plant City Chamber of Commerce and as a past chair for the East Hillsborough Historical Society.
In his spare time, Verner is a singer-songwriter, composer and recording artist who has written over 150 songs. A fan of all things in the air and sea, he also is a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)-rated pilot and a United States Coast Guard certified captain.
Verner and his family attend First Baptist Church of Dover, and he has been baptized in the Jordan River twice while visiting Israel.
As Plant City grows, Verner hopes that the town will keep its hometown charm.
“I hope that she (Plant City) won’t outgrow her roots,” he said. “I have faith. Plant City has an eye on heritage and history.”
Contact Emily Topper at [email protected].