The Ledger and Magnify Credit Union started the Golden Garland program to honor Polk County residents who are leaders in six fields – the arts, community service, education, entrepreneurship, medicine and sportsmanship. Nearly 150 nominees were honored at a ceremony at the Polk Theatre on Nov. 11, when the winners were announced. On these pages, meet the winners and find out why they are so special.






Photos of Ceci Ingram for the Golden Garland Awards

Ceci Ingram, an adjunct teacher at the Lois Cowles Harrison Center for the Visual and Performing Arts, said she knows she must figure out what makes her students tick before teaching them the music.

Ingram, 62, has taught vocals for the Musical Theatre Department at Harrison since 1998. She’s also taken on duties of creating costumes for the department’s spring show and the annual all-school musical in the fall.

When she was in college, there weren’t as many options for kids in the musical theater field as now. She chose to be a performance major over being a music education major because she didn’t like the idea of teaching more than 25 students at a time.

Ingram spent a number of years performing around the country before moving to Lakeland in 1996. Currently,Ingram gives one-on-one vocal lessons to 43 students during 30-minute sessions each week at Harrison or at her home.

Ingram said she keeps in regular contact with several of her former students and follows their endeavors in and beyond the musical theater world. She is known for opening her home to any of her students who needed a place to rest, study or do whatever they needed in between rehearsals and lessons.




Joyce Bentley

It was through Girl Scouting that Joyce Bentley discovered a passion for community service, a passion that endures today through numerous volunteer outlets. Her career choices also reflect a strong desire to work closely with people, especially in her current capacity as district manager for a nonprofit agency that mentors youth.

Bentley, 57, is in her fourth year with POPS, which stands for Professional Opportunities Program for Students Inc. Combining mentoring, community service and paid internships, the agency, based in Orlando, strives to increase high school graduation rates and give students facing economic, social and other hardships a lift in furthering higher education.

Bentley founded Project Lifesavers, a notfor- profit program that works with the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice to teach anger management, shoplifting prevention and other instruction designed to turn young lives around.

Bentley is a graduate of Bartow High School. She earned an MBA at Webster University, completing the degree in 2005.

The scope of Bentley’s volunteerism is extensive. Her involvement extends to a variety of community agencies and programs, including the American Cancer Society, the Polk County School Board, and the Women’s Care Center of Bartow, board of directors.




Match for Golden Garlands

When it comes to special needs in Polk County, Mary Ellen Rowker is special. From school to church to the bowling alley, Rowker has dedicated hundreds of hours to making the developmentally challenged feel welcome and important. Those who know her best say she seems to have an endless amount of energy for those who need it most.

Rowker, 69, helped develop the Saturday Nite Live program at the church, which is a monthly social event for mentally and physically challenged people of all ages. About 50 people from all over the county come to the church-sponsored program to play games, socialize and have fun.

Along with all her volunteer activities, Rowker makes her living as an ESE teacher at Floral Avenue Elementary in Bartow. When she has a class with students in wheelchairs, Rowker keeps all the work at the bottom of the board so they can wheel up to the board and participate like anyone else.

Rowker has been involved with Special Olympics in Polk County for more than 10 years, and currently coaches developmentally challenged students ages 8 and older in bowling and track and field.

In her “down” time, Rowker spends time with her children and grandchildren.




Larry Madrid winner of Golden Garland award.

The logo for Madrid Engineering Group Inc. carries the motto, “The earth is our business.”

Turns out that’s also owner Larry Madrid’s motto when it comes to community service, as the children of the small town of Bernal, Mexico, can attest.

Madrid has boundless enthusiasm for service, which embraces the Polk County community, its schools, the engineering profession, the city of Bartow and its business community, his church and international causes.

Madrid’s heart was moved in 2010 when he took a trip to a youth camp in Bernal with his son, Daniel. Not only was its soccer field barren of grass, but the arid region had barely enough drinking water and only five inches of annual rainfall, so irrigation was out of the question.

When he returned to his Bartow office, Madrid designed a septic system that allowed water to irrigate the field, instead of seeping down. In 2012, Madrid Group sent two of its engineers to supervise construction of the septic system using the youth and other local labor.

Madrid, 53, and his wife, Connie, appeared for dedication of the project, which he estimated at about $75,000. Scores of local youth in soccer-crazed Mexico use it now.

“It was the project of a lifetime, as far as I’m concerned. It was a blessing to be able to do this,” Madrid said.




Photos of Ceci Ingram for the Golden Garland Awards

While in college to become an optometrist, Dr. Gerald Hudson Hubbell traveled with a medical team into rural areas of Alabama. Working with those patients showed him the extent of unmet need that often goes unnoticed. It played a role in his decision to treat low-income patients in need of eye exams referred by Vision USA. He has treated patients referred by Vision USA for years and has a special affinity for working with veterans.

His faithfulness in doing that brought him commendations from two U.S. presidents – Bill Clinton, who met with Hubbell at the White House, and George W. Bush.

Hubbell, 65, started practicing in Winter Haven, where he and his wife still live, in 1978. A year later, he opened a branch office in Lakeland, which took off quickly. He went on his own with the Lakeland practice.

His local roots, success in business, charitable efforts and work with students training at the former Traviss Vocational- Technical Center resulted in Hubbell being inducted in 2005 into the Polk County Schools Hall of Fame.

The Hubbells have no children. They intend to leave their estate to a foundation to help Polk County teachers further their education, Peggy Hubbell said.




Golden Garland ó Sue Wilsman 110613 ep WILSMAN 2 NEWS.jpg

The physical education teacher at Lakeland Christian School is no stranger to the sporting world. She coaches junior varsity volleyball and varsity softball at the school. She balances sports, faith and family with a smile on her face and an eye toward the sky.

When Wilsman, now 52, rediscovered her faith at 21, there was a change. She doesn’t wake up in the morning planning to be good to people, it’s just how Wilsman operates.

Much of Wilsman’s work comes with middle school students and her older high school athletes. Many of those kids are growing into themselves, learning who they are as they push through some of the most awkward years of life. That’s where she comes in as a guide and mentor.

Sports were Wilsman’s everything early in her adult life, but as she embraced her faith, that passion for sports became a casualty of circumstance. Her focus shifted. She homeschooled her children for 11 years; she was involved in her church and community before coming to Lakeland Christian nine years ago.

For the coach in her, the statistics and wins happen in the now, but the real selfsatisfaction is a down-the-road process. Real results are what Wilsman sees later, once those young kids have grown into young adults.




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