To increase public awareness of extraordinary customer service provided by hospitality employees throughout Lee County, seven workers were recognized by receiving the Elaine McLaughlin Outstanding Hospitality Service Awards at the 11th annual ceremony in Fort Myers on Sept. 17.
Visitors from around the world submitted a record 455 nominations, giving high praise to those local employees who provided outstanding customer service. The "E" Awards is a collaboration with various local businesses to encourage and support service excellence being provided by Lee County hospitality professionals.
The Honor of Distinction Award, sponsored by Geraci Travel Cruises & Tours, for best overall representative of outstanding service for the year was given to Michael Garbe of Castaways Beach and Bay Cottages on Sanibel.
Michael Garbe, an employee of Castaways Beach and Bay Cottages on Sanibel, was recently given the Honor of Distinction Award.
"Excellent work ethic," said a 91-year-old nominator. "Very honest, kind, and considerate," said another nominator.
As the story was told by a mother, her 12-year-old daughter and a 13-year-old friend went kayaking behind an island. The concerned mother did not see the girls reappear on the other side of the island 30 minutes later. Garbe, who was off work at the time and ready to go fishing, saw the crying mother at the dock and offered to help. He got in a canoe, and promised to find the missing girls.
Time was going by and it was getting dark. The mother became frantic and called 9-1-1. The police, sheriff's office, and the U.S. Coast Guard were all notified, however, it would take at least 25 minutes for the Coast Guard to reach the area.
Thirty minutes later, the girls appeared from behind the island in the canoe with the nominee rowing, as the kayaks towed behind. Due to the current, the girls' kayaks landed on an oyster bed over two miles away from the island. As Garbe promised, he found the missing girls unharmed, but cold and embarrassed. All he asked of the mom was not to punish the girls.
"We will never forget our nominee's kindness in a very difficult moment," the mother stated. "There are no words to express my gratitude for what he did, but at least I can make others aware of his heroic actions. A good deed is a reflection of a person's soul and you are lucky to have him at your resort."
Named for former Lee County VCB Executive Director Elaine McLaughlin, the E Awards exemplifies her core belief that providing outstanding customer service is one of the major cornerstones of success for all businesses. Nomination categories included Accommodations, Attractions, Restaurants, Transportation, Good Samaritan and Other Services/Businesses. Winners were chosen by a committee of business representatives.
"Because of Michael Garbe's actions, he is a true reflection of what hospitality really is," said Tamara Pigott, VCB executive director. "There are so many who work in the local hospitality industry and are committed to excellence, because they take their duties, responsibilities, and genuine concern for others to the next level of customer service perfection and professionalism. The recognition these people earned is very well deserved."
Also selected for their distinctive service and dedication:
Kathryn Cimato, Forever Green Ace Hardware, Sanibel
Tyler Haas, South Seas Island Resort, Captiva
Brandi Wallace, The Gasparilla Inn & Club, Boca Grande
Tosha Wollney, Resort at MarinaVillage, Cape Coral
Barbara and Robert Cardoos, Cafe Pignoli, Cape Coral
John Zangari, Standard Parking, Fort Myers
E Award sponsors included DiamondHead Beach Resort, Edison & Ford Winter Estates, Key West Express, Miracle Baseball Club, Miromar Outlets, Pink Shell Beach Resort & Spa, Shell Factory & Nature Park, South Seas Island Resort, Sun Harvest, Sun Splash Family Waterpark, Tanger Outlets, Tarpon Bay Explorers and 'Tween Waters Inn.