To give back to the community is always kind. To do it quietly, without fanfare or expecting something in return, comes close to being a saint.
Longtime friends and coworkers lauded Naples businessman, Realtor and civic leader John R. Wood tonight, before and after he was awarded the 2007 Naples Daily News Outstanding Citizen of the Year.
“John Wood is one of the most charitable and compassionate people that I have ever met,” attorney John Cardillo said of his Pine Ridge neighbor of 30 years.
“He is a spiritual man, committed to his church,” said Cardillo, speaking of how Wood asked Cardillo to assist some people in need without anyone knowing Wood was behind it. “He (works) very under the radar. He doesn’t make a big show about it. John does things very quietly.”
Wood’s tribute came during the Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce’s annual dinner, attended by some 400 at the Naples Grande Resort.
Lloyd Clarke, one of Wood’s closest friends, couldn’t say enough about the longtime Naples Realtor.
Friends since 1968, Clarke said Wood was “ascending the ladder of elected offices at the National Association of Realtors.” At the time, Clarke was president of the U.S. Homebuilders Association.
“I, like many others in national-business leadership roles, became quite impressed with John. He had a reputation of being a strong advocate for the need for real and meaningful standards regarding ‘ethics’ of the thousands of Realtors in the U.S. He was committed to making the profession of being a Realtor as real and as respected as doctors, lawyers, engineers, accountants, etc. Directly attributable to him should go the credit for raising the members of his organization to a truly professional level,” Clarke said.
“John had many other commendable attributes, but one that also stands out in my mind was that John always spoke the truth. That’s tough to do in political Washington, D.C.
“John’s reputation was one of being bipartisan and always in favor of the principle of supporting the ownership of real estate — particularly, owning one’s own home. This he seemed to hold as an American right,” Clarke said.
Tonight, Wood alternately chuckled and giggled as he stood before the microphone, facing a standing ovation.
“This is quite an unexpected moment,” he said, adding that there are many people in the community who deserve the award as much he does. However, “I’m very thankful. The Lord’s been good to us and given us many blessings.”
He then issued a challenge to everyone in the room: Go out and volunteer for a cause. There’s great need out there in the community, he said.
According to background information provided by Chamber President Mike Reagen, Wood, 78, was born in Star City, Ark. Friends and family say he always had great spirit, illustrated by the fact that at age 4 he and some cousins attempted to drive the family car.
He still had spirit when it came time for higher education. After enrolling in Louisiana Tech for two years, he enlisted in the Navy, serving on various ships, including a destroyer and an aircraft carrier.
He then enrolled at Henderson State College in Arkadelphia, Ark., and met his future wife, Wanda. They married, graduated and moved on to the University of Arkansas, where Wanda obtained her master’s degree and John his law degree.
Back in Arkadelphia, their son, Phil, was born in 1955, and Wanda taught school while John practiced law with her father. But John decided he really didn’t like law that well. So they left and headed to Florida with $4,000 to their name and a Plymouth station wagon.
They arrived in St. Petersburg. But a weekend trip to a sleepy fishing village of 1,500 people won them over, and they settled in Naples.
John passed The Florida Bar exam and maintained his attorney status for more than 20 years without practicing law in Florida, but his interest was property.
So in 1958, he obtained his real estate license and opened John R. Wood Realtors.
The first office was on Fifth Avenue South and Wood had just one other agent.
Print advertisements featured the slogan “Walk on it before you buy” and became the company’s trademark in those early days. Port Royal had just opened with prices as low as $7,500.
In 1959, the Port Royal Club was built on the beach, after a guarantee that it wouldn’t serve liquor and never would have nighttime dinner and dancing, a statement that elicited much laughter from tonight’s attendees.
Upon arriving in Naples, Wood had committed himself to the real estate industry. He held numerous Realtor volunteer positions, including two terms as president of the Naples Area Board of Realtors, president of the Florida Association of Realtors and chairman of the Florida Real Estate Commission. In 1981, he was elected president of the National Association of Realtors, a huge honor for someone from a small town in Arkansas and a small town in Florida.
In his national position, he met with various presidents, including Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.
He and Reagan, in particular, really hit it off, as they both loved to throw one-liners at each other, friends say. But Wood never forgot about his community, charities and philanthropies, including a commitment to St. Matthew’s House in East Naples.
Today, Wood’s company has seven offices from Naples to Sanibel, has 500 employees and does $2.7 billion in sales. Wood’s company will celebrate its 50th anniversary next year with the opening of a new corporate headquarters on Immokalee Road.
In addition to the honor awarded to Wood, longtime Naples civic leader Lou Vlasho earned this year’s Chamber “Volunteer of the Year” award.
The big-hearted restaurateur never ceases to lend a hand when the community calls, Chamber leaders said.
Fluent in two languages and conversant in several others, Vlasho graduated from the Ohio University where, today, he is considered one of the school’s more esteemed alumni. With 44 years of experience both in Fortune 400 companies and privately owned companies, Vlasho has been active in international affairs, and through his private consulting firm, has been a personal adviser to the president of Macedonia.
His charitable efforts span the globe, but locally Vlasho has served on the Boys & Girls Club board, heads up the Naples Better Government Association, and is vice president of the Republican Men’s Club of Collier County.
Vlasho seemed almost bashful as he stepped up to receive his award.
“Some of us just don’t know how to say ‘no’ (to a worthy cause) and I’m one of those,” Vlasho said.
Past winners of the Outstanding Citizen award are: Bob Moates; John Cardillo; Ellin Goetz; Henry B. Watkins; Mrs. S.F. Briggs; Dudley R. Gallahue; John W. Rogers; Lester F. Grimes; Mr. and Mrs. Lester Norris; Henry B. Watkins Jr.; Mamie B. Tooke; Joan A. Longshore; Eugene L. Turner; Earl G. Hodges; Joel Kuperburg; E.A. “Doug” Hendry; John Iamurri; Norman A. Herren; George B. Pittman; Edwin H. Bower; Sally Sitta; Henry L. Caballero; William G. Price; Dr. Bruce Boynton; Mary Cameron; William L. Barton; Edward J. Oates Jr.; William J. Longshore; Miles Scofield; Ad Miller; Dr. Weimer K. Hicks; Patricia M. Barton; Willard “Bill” Hill Jr.; Polly Keller; Herbert Cambridge; Bea Harper; Donald L. Berry; Myra Janco Daniels; William E. Barnett; Holland T. Salley; J. Dudley Goodlette; Edwin J. Putzell Jr.; Helen E. Franke; Michael Watkins; Lavern Norris Gaynor; Sister Judy Dohner; John and Kathleen Passidomo; Nancy and William Lascheid; Henry “Heine” Albrecht; and Juliet C. Sproul.