The inaugural Our Wellington Awards honor members of the Wellington community who have made an award-winning difference to our village. These awards, presented here for the first time, are a unique and special way to salute members of the community who have gone above and beyond in a voluntary capacity for the betterment of all village residents.
Wellington The Magazine decided to establish these awards to pay tribute to the many incredible volunteers that our community is fortunate to have among us. In this inaugural year, the Our Wellington Awards are recognizing community leaders who have made significant voluntary contributions in the many areas of public service, such as philanthropy, community welfare, sports, culture, the arts, recreation and education.
We are acknowledging those who have made unique contributions, very often out of the public eye, although they also may be well known within their communities, where their names are synonymous with “making a difference.” Wellington The Magazine is pleased to shine the spotlight on them.
We are happy to announce this year’s Our Wellington Award recipients: entrepreneurs and philanthropists Frank and Herta Suess; equestrian leader and Great Charity Challenge Executive Director Anne Caroline Valtin; longtime Wellington High School educator Paul Gaba; Daniel, Sarah and Jonathan Clein, founders of the local nonprofit Bricks Busting Boredom; and community activists Marcia Hayden and Maggie Zeller.
Over the next few pages, you will get to put a face to the names of these community members who make Wellington more than a great hometown, but also a hometown with a heart. Learn about their background, how they became involved and what motivates them. Learn about the organizations they work with and how they decide to make a difference in the lives of others.
We hope you enjoy reading about these dynamic individuals and consider becoming involved in a worthwhile cause, benefiting and improving the lives of your neighbors as well.
This is the inaugural year of this award, and we look forward to receiving many more nominations for our upcoming 2023 award season.
Frank And Herta Suess
Entrepreneurs Frank And Herta Suess Are Big Supporters Of Their Adopted Hometown
Story by Mike May | Photo by Abner Pedraza
For longtime Wellington residents Frank and Herta Suess, the Village of Wellington is home, sweet home. It has been that way for more than 30 years for the couple, who were both born and raised in Germany.
“My wife and I moved to Wellington in 1989 from Long Island, New York,” Frank Suess said. “We had friends here at the time. We now have lots of friends in Wellington, and we enjoy it here. We always want to have a home in Wellington.”
While living in Wellington, they also raised their two sons, Oliver and Marcus. Both boys are now grown, married, have children of their own, and live in the Asheville, North Carolina, area.
Wellington and its fledgling business community benefited a great deal by having entrepreneurs and philanthropists Frank and Herta Suess living in the community. They operate their medical supply companies and several other businesses out of a location on Fairlane Farms Road.
“We were some of the first members of the Wellington Chamber of Commerce,” recalled Frank, who remains a member of the local chamber, which honored him with its Man of the Year Award in 2003.
Frank was also honored by then Wellington Mayor Tom Wenham with a certificate of appreciation for his work in support of the Village of Wellington. And in the early 2000s, the Wellington Rotary Club also recognized Frank with its coveted Gladney Award for his service to the community.
Over the last 30 years, Frank and Herta Suess have operated a number of successful businesses in Wellington, but what has made them leaders in the community was their willingness to support a wide array of nonprofit organizations across a broad spectrum of focus areas.
“Over the years, we have supported the Boys & Girls Clubs with donations, and supported Little Smiles as well,” Frank said. “We are still involved with Little Smiles, which provides day-to-day assistance to families whose children are battling cancer. We are also supporting the Wellington Community Foundation, the American Diabetes Association, the American Cancer Society, Hospice, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Palm Beach County, My Brothers’/Sisters’ Keeper and Doctors Without Borders.”
Herta, meanwhile, is a member of the Wellington Historical Society and has provided hands-on assistance with the Wellington-based nonprofit Back to Basics. Internationally, Frank is also working with an organization in Poland that helps Ukrainian refugees.
Originally from Bavaria in Germany, Frank’s educational background is in industrial engineering. He worked in the engineering industry in New York but became an entrepreneur when the family moved to Wellington, first focusing on respiratory supplies before moving on to diabetes equipment. Their current businesses span a number of different industries.
When Frank and Herta Suess are not working and supporting those in need, they like to take extended trips.
“I’m not a golfer or tennis player,” Frank said. “But we love to travel. We visit our sons and their families in North Carolina. We return to Europe every year in the fall, and we like to visit Asia.”
Story by Mike May | Photo by Lois Spatz
Nonprofit organizations in Palm Beach County are better off now than they were 13 years ago thanks to the hard work of Anne Caroline Valtin, executive director of the Wellington-based Great Charity Challenge, sponsored by Fidelity Investments.
The big-picture numbers associated with the Great Charity Challenge are eye-opening. “In 13 years, the Great Charity Challenge has distributed $17.7 million to 294 charitable organizations and nonprofit groups,” said Valtin, who is also an accomplished equestrian rider.
Every dollar raised by the Great Charity Challenge is distributed to approved Palm Beach County-based charitable organizations, due to the GCC’s support from Equestrian Sport Productions and the Global Equestrian Group covering all event expenses. “We are proud that 100 percent of the funds raised are distributed to approved causes in need,” said Valtin, who has led the Great Charity Challenge since its second year of existence. “We track how the funds are distributed and spent, and we generate a report every quarter. We are very transparent with how we distribute the funds and how that money is spent.”
The GCC’s grant application process starts each year on Oct. 31. Groups have two weeks to get their paperwork completed and submitted.
“Our application process is very fair and simple,” Valtin said. “We know that nonprofit organizations have limited time and resources to dedicate to such a task.”
Valtin makes sure that the vetting process is performed in a professional manner.
“We have a very thorough vetting process to determine the validity and impact of each group’s mission, thanks to a partnership with Bank of America and the support of GuideStar,” she said.
Once a nonprofit has been approved, its application is placed in a lottery bin. By the end of the vetting process, roughly 300 groups will have been approved. Then, just like in lottery drawings, one approved application after another is extracted from the lottery bin. An average of 50 applicants will receive funding through the process, which will next be held in January 2023.
Soon after the drawing, nonprofits will be assigned to 35 different show jumping teams for the event held in early February. At the GCC, those 35 teams will compete against one another at Wellington International, home of the Winter Equestrian Festival. The better that each team does, the more money its charitable organization will receive. The 15 charities not assigned to a show jumping team will receive funding in the form of grants, but not as much as the 35 charities involved in the Great Charity Challenge itself. The riding groups will win $15,000 to $100,000 for their nonprofits.
On the day of the GCC, everybody affiliated with the nonprofit groups is a show jumping fan.
“I am passionate about equestrian sports and philanthropy, but for this special night, I’m truly just a facilitator,” Valtin said.
And thanks to Valtin, the Great Charity Challenge will continue operating smoothly, which means that charitable organizations in Palm Beach County will continue thriving.
For information regarding the 2023 Great Charity Challenge, visit www.greatcharitychallenge.com.
Story by Mike May | Photo by Abner Pedraza
The role of teachers and coaches in the lives of students is difficult to fully measure, but they certainly can positively influence students in a way that will impact them for their entire lives. And when a coach gets to teach what he coaches, then the impact can be powerful and profound.
Paul Gaba, a teacher at Wellington High School, is one of those educators who coaches what he teaches. He teaches speech and debate at WHS and also coaches the school’s highly regarded speech and debate team.
“I’m now starting my 21st year as the speech and debate teacher and coach here at Wellington High School,” said Gaba, 58, a native of Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, who also teaches a TV production class and two social media classes at WHS.
Gaba realizes that when students register for his speech and debate class and join the team, they will learn more than just how to speak in public.
“With each student, I focus more on success than winning a speech or debate tournament,” explained Gaba, whose speech and debate team is nicknamed the Red Dawn Debaters. “For me, success takes place when a student achieves more than they thought was possible, such as a student being afraid of public speaking and then actually doing it. Success can be measured when a student discovers a new talent and passion. I’ve had students who couldn’t talk their way out of a paper bag, and then they actually master public speaking. That’s success.”
While many students learn about teamwork, sacrifice and communication as members of any of the athletic teams at Wellington High School, those same skills and more are taught by Gaba to the members of his speech and debate team.
“As the speech and debate coach, my focus is bettering each student’s future,” added Gaba, who has personally taught and coached more than 3,500 students since he has been teaching here in Wellington.
Gaba’s speech and debate squad competes on a local, regional, state and national level — and the Red Dawn Debaters have achieved success at every level.
Gaba has been leading the debate program since 2002. He is also chair of the Florida Oceanfront National Speech & Debate Association District, vice president of the Palm Beach Catholic Forensic League, and statewide tournament coordinator for the Florida Civics & Debate Initiative. He was named Florida’s debate coach of the year in 2011-12.
Aside from his work at Wellington High School, Gaba is an active member of Wellington’s Temple Beth Torah, where he is a board member of the Temple Beth Torah Brotherhood, a service group that raises money for charitable causes.
If you’re interested in learning more about coach Gaba’s squad, follow the group on Twitter @RedDawnDebaters and visit the team’s web site www.wellingtondebate.com.
With Gaba’s teaching and coaching, the Red Dawn Debaters are sure to achieve success this year, which is the ultimate goal. And don’t be surprised if they add to Wellington High School’s impressive collection of speech and debate trophies.
Story by Mike May | Photo by Abner Pedraza
Creativity is essential to enriching young minds. To help build this creativity, Wellington siblings Daniel, Sarah and Jonathan Clein collect Lego bricks and distribute them to children in need.
Their nonprofit Bricks Busting Boredom has grown rapidly since Daniel started the program in 2015 after visiting his cousin in the hospital and learning of how useful Lego sets can be for young patients.
Daniel, soon joined by his sister Sarah, saw that there were very few creative outlets for children undergoing treatment. While fighting for their health, children are stuck in the hospital, sometimes for months. While hospital staffers work hard to entertain the children, they need assistance.
The Cleins realized a colorful and creative channel for these children: Lego bricks. They just needed to find a way to get them into local hospitals. So, they founded Bricks Busting Boredom, a nonprofit organization dedicated to collecting new and used Lego bricks to give to the children.
Daniel ran the organization while he was in high school. While serving as head of the organization, he expanded the donation sites to include homeless shelters and foster homes.
In 2017, when Daniel graduated, he passed the mantel as head of the organization to Sarah. She also loved meeting the children who were the recipients of the donated Lego sets. Sarah decided that, along with their donations, Bricks Busting Boredom would start throwing “Lego parties.”
“We hosted the parties for children, brought the used Legos for them to play with, and left new Lego boxes for each child to take with them,” recalled mom Deborah Clein.
At these parties, the Clein family piles the Lego bricks on tables and then encourages the children to be creative with them and have fun. After hours of playing, they each get to leave with their own Lego box.
“Along with food and games, BBB’s Lego parties give the parents of these children time to take a break and watch their children simply be kids, playing with Legos and having fun,” Deborah said.
Clearly, Bricks Busting Boredom has grown into a great family project. Deborah and her husband Kenneth have supported their children as they each contributed their own ideas to expanding this family-run organization.
After Sarah graduated from high school in 2021, the youngest Clein child, Jonathan, became the new head of Bricks Busting Boredom. Nowadays, Jonathan conducts events at the Quantum House in West Palm Beach, the Kids Cancer Foundation in Royal Palm Beach, and JAFCO, an emergency shelter in Broward County.
Since this unique, Wellington-based nonprofit was founded, the impact that the Clein family has had on the lives of local children has been significant.
“Since 2015, we have collected and delivered more than two tons of Legos,” Deborah said. “We collect new and used boxes from those who contact us. Each donation makes a huge difference in the lives of children. So, if anyone has new or used Legos that they want to donate, they should definitely contact us.”
Story by Mike May | Photo by Abner Pedraza
One of the reasons why Wellington is such a great place to live is because of people like Marcia Hayden. Every community needs to have more residents like Hayden, who has done more in 20 years for Wellington than most people will do in their lifetimes.
Hayden’s commitment to Wellington started in 2001 when she and her husband Frank relocated to the community.
“We moved to Wellington from Detroit, Michigan, when my husband took a job with the South Florida Water Management District,” Hayden recalled. “We chose Wellington because we wanted to live in a community with great schools.”
With her youngest son attending high school and her husband busy working, Hayden started volunteering with the School Advisory Committee beginning in 2002.
“I’ve been involved with SAC for nearly 20 years, and I was president for a number of years,” Hayden said.
Her commitment to local schools also extends to her volunteer work on Wellington’s Education Committee, which works to support and improve local schools through keeping open lines of communication and also providing direct grants to the schools.
In addition, Hayden and a number of other college-educated women recently started a local chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc. “Our purpose is to be of service to mankind and to give back to the community,” Hayden said of the organization, which is also known as the Crowned Pearls of Wellington.
During the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, she and her Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority members helped distribute free food to needy families who lined up at the Mall at Wellington Green. They also helped stock the pantry at Wellington Regional Medical Center with free food, snacks and drinks for hospital workers who were working extra-long hours as they tended to the needs of patients.
Another one of Hayden’s causes is Students Working to Achieve Greatness (SWAG), a public-private partnership between the Village of Wellington, local schools and local businesses. “We work with students from both high schools in Wellington,” she said. “It’s a mentoring program where we help prep students for life.”
When Hayden speaks to the students, she tells them of her immigrant roots and reminds them how fortunate they are to be living in the U.S., where opportunities abound. “I encourage students to find their passion and follow their dreams,” Hayden said.
In addition to being mentors to the students, Hayden and her SWAG colleagues have mobilized students to help with hurricane preparation in Wellington and provide internship opportunities for the students during the summer months.
Hayden is also the secretary for the Florida division of the American Civil Liberties Union. With the ALCU, one of her key initiatives is voter registration. As an immigrant, she really appreciates the power of voting. “Many people have lost their rights and don’t know that they have been restored,” she said.
With all that she does, it’s not a surprise that her husband is amazed at her commitment to Wellington. “My husband says my volunteerism is like a full-time job,” Hayden said.
Story by Mike May
If community activist Maggie Zeller didn’t have a job, she’d spend even more time providing a helping hand. “I love giving back to the community and volunteering in Wellington,” Zeller said. “It’s my passion.”
Zeller, 70, is an independent health insurance agent. Also known as “Medicare Maggie,” she works to make sure that seniors have the right Medicare coverage.
“I want to make sure that seniors make the right decision on their Medicare policy,” Zeller said. “I’m passionate about our seniors. I’m one of them.”
When Zeller is not at work, she’s busy providing assistance to those in need.
“Growing up in Westchester County, New York, my mother was president of the Junior League,” Zeller recalled. “I remember attending meetings with her. As an adult, the first nonprofit I joined was the Junior League.”
Today, Zeller is a board member of the Wellington Rotary Club, the Wellington Community Foundation and Back to Basics. One great thing about volunteering in Wellington is that organizations often work together.
“We all work together as we help children and seniors,” Zeller said. “My role with the Wellington Rotary is to organize and coordinate all the community projects that Rotary does.”
Three of the projects that the Rotary supports and Zeller helps coordinate are the Dictionary Project, the Angel Program and the Pay It Forward program.
“With the Dictionary Project, we go to every public elementary school in Wellington and provide a free dictionary for every third-grade student,” Zeller said. “Every year, we distribute more than 2,500 dictionaries.”
The Angel Program is a holiday program through Back to Basics for underprivileged children. “We give children in need a care package that includes new socks, sneakers, underwear and school uniforms,” Zeller said. “The Rotary and the Wellington Community Foundation support this holiday program by volunteering to purchase and wrap gifts.”
The Rotary recently started a new program, Pay It Forward, which provides groceries for a number of families whose children attend the local Boys & Girls Club. “We helped more than 200 families with bags of groceries that contained rice, sugar, macaroni and cheese, pasta, sauce, canned goods and vouchers for food at Chick-fil-A,” Zeller said.
Recently, Zeller participated in the Village of Wellington’s Back-to-School event. Backpacks and school supplies were provided by the Wellington Rotary and the Wellington Community Foundation. School uniforms were purchased by the foundation through Back to Basics. Zeller coordinated volunteers to make sure that the children who attended received what they needed for school.
For Zeller, being a volunteer in Wellington is like being a part of a winning team. “I cannot do what I do without the support of the dedicated volunteers with both the Wellington Rotary and the Wellington Community Foundation,” she said.
When not working for local seniors or the local community, Zeller enjoys spending time at the beach.
“You can find me on the beach Sunday mornings, where I sit in my beach chair, read my book, and watch my two grandchildren ride the waves and play in the sand,” Zeller said.