Two people could not be less alike.
Stan Gober, an outspoken, irreverent comic, covets the spotlight feeding on the adoration of fans. Debra Sanders, a shy and quiet worker, is most comfortable behind the scenes.
On Sunday, both stepped into the limelight.
Gober became Naples Daily News’ Citizen of the Year, the first to earn that honor from Goodland. Sanders, named Marco Eagle’s Volunteer of the Year, saw nearly a decade of service acknowledged by an appreciative crowd.
The two awards highlighted this year’s Christmas Island Style Gala, held Sunday at Bistro Soleil in Old Marco.
“People visiting this man (Gober) know that something different and exciting is about to happen,” said Dave Neill, publisher and president of the Naples News Media Group, presenting the award.
Over the years, that excitement has translated into thousands of dollars raised for local charities during Gober’s performances at his Goodland restaurant.
As he accepted the award, the self-made celebrity reflected on his humble beginnings. Growing up in the rural south and dirt poor, he learned how generosity saved his family from the brink of starvation and depression.
“A lot of poor people were in that situation in the south,” Gober recalled. It was the kindness of others that remains his inspiration today.
Gober discovered Goodland more than 25 years ago, a turning point in his fortunes. Buying a small motel and the restaurant across the street, his persona, straw hat and patriotic salutes took shape.
Often referring to Goodland as a “drinking village with a fishing problem,” Gober made use on the quip by turning Sunday’s after church into Sunday’s at Stan’s, the restaurant bearing his name.
Each weekend, Gober celebrates God and country from an outdoor stage surrounded by picnic tables and sun umbrellas. His singing and antics delight repeat crowds who willingly participate in the Buzzard Lope, the area’s longest rendition of the “Star Spangled Banner” and his down-home form of fundraising.
Cajoling his audience to donate a dollar to local charities is part of his act and part of his charm.
“No Sunday is complete without hearing his call for the ‘Yankee Dollar’ while he croons an enticing song to weave happy givers up to his stage,” said Neill, of Gober’s antics.
Gober also allows local organizations to unabashedly sell tickets, run raffles and promote upcoming events to his patrons. He often puts in a good word for the charity urging patrons to buy its offerings as part of their civic duty.
Sanders, who traditionally attends the gala as a volunteer for Christmas Island Style, seemed genuinely surprised as Phil Lewis, editor of the Naples News Media Group, revealed her name as Volunteer of the Year.
“If you could see behind the scenes, you might think that this year’s recipient just has fun playing golf or attending parties or participating in community events,” Lewis said. “But when you peel back the veneer and see what’s happening, you’ll see a person who does the work beforehand that allows for the fun parts afterward.”
Sanders is known for her hands-on volunteerism.
“Debra works tirelessly for the Marco Island Sunrise Rotary,” said Wanda Day, a past president of the club. “She tackles everything — organizing trips, working on every fundraiser, spearheading our Election Day workers. With her at my side, I felt our club could accomplish anything.”
That sentiment was echoed by Ewout de Vries, a member of the Marco Island Seafood Festival board.
“She is one of the most low-key volunteers on the Island,” he said. “She’ll be doing five other volunteer jobs and will still say ‘yes’ if asked to do one more. And she will never ask for anything in return. She’s the perfect volunteer.”
Coaxed to the spotlight Sunday evening, Sanders was as gracious as ever.
“I love everything I do, and I do it with a lot of help,” she said, “and that’s the reason things get done.”
Dick Shanahan, past president of the Marco Island Police Foundation, offered some insight into Sanders desire to give back to the community.
“Her grandfather was a police officer so she saw public service in practice. It’s always been in her blood,” Shanahan said.
He credited Sanders with being the backbone of the police foundation since its inception in 2001.