Alan Korest is a fearless globetrotter, a generous philanthropist, and a tireless advocate for social issues.
Because of his dedication to empowering others through public service and his quiet, passionate leadership, Korest was named the 2011 Naples Daily News Outstanding Citizen.
Dave Neill, president and publisher of the Naples Daily News, presented the 54th annual award at the Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce gala Friday night.
“It may be hard to believe that this is the description of one individual,” Neill said.
He listed Korest’s numerous and diverse accomplishments, such as his role as an intelligence officer during the Korean War and his service as a City of Naples councilman.
During breaks from his charitable work and public service, Korest fearlessly travels around the world. This past February, he was in Libya where he witnessed the start of the armed uprising against the rule of Moammar Ghadafi.
After a few uncertain days, Korest returned home safely and has already made plans go to visit Israel and Egypt in the near future.
“In addition to all of this, he found a way to raise eight children,” Neill said.
When his name was announced, Korest, 81, received a standing ovation from the more than 300 people in attendance at the Ritz Carlton Golf Resort.
Before he could make it on stage, five of Korest’s eight children and one of his grandsons surprised him. They wrapped him in hugs and celebrated his accolade for several minutes.
To prevent him and other attendees from finding out who this year’s award recipient was, Korest’s family members gathered in a secluded room down the hall from the ballroom where the gala was being held until the award was announced.They arrived from places such as Miami and Boston to witness their family’s patriarch receive the honor and remained discreet, avoiding him, until his name was announced.
His family kept the award a secret for about a month, but they said it wasn’t too hard to do because he is not the type to expect recognition.
Even while at dinner with his daughter, Kathy Korest Zagel, and her son, David Zagel, the night before the event, Korest thought his friend was going to be the recipient.
“He already put his buck down on who would win, and it wasn’t him,” Kathy Korest Zagel said.
His son, Phillip Korest, said that leading his father to believe that someone was given the honor was probably the best way to get him to attend.
“He’ll be there to support his buddy,” Phillip Korest said.
The surprise encounter with his family left Alan Korest a bit tearful, and his voice began to crack when he began to speak.
“It was really quite unexpected,” he said.
Aside from championing change at the city-level, Alan Korest has been a part of the Florida Gulf Coast University Foundation since 1999 and works with community leaders to raise funds for scholarships and other charitable endeavors.
He and his late wife, Marilyn Korest, donated $2.5 million to Florida Gulf Coast University in 2006. The endowment established the Bower School of Music, which was named after Marilyn Korest’s father, Edwin H. Bower, a Naples philanthropist and music aficionado.
Marilyn Korest, who was a treasured community and family member, passed away just before the Bower School moved into a state-of-the-art building last fall.
In January, the FGCU Board of Trustees named Alan Korest a Foundation Fellow, a title bestowed upon those who go “above and beyond the call of duty” in donations and service to the university. He is the fourth fellow in the school’s history and joins Fay Biles, Baron Collier III, and Ben Hill Griffin III in sharing that distinction.
FGCU President Wilson Bradshaw believes there is no one who deserves the title of outstanding citizen more than Alan Korest.
“Alan and his late wife, Marilyn, have provided extraordinary support in so many ways to FGCU. Alan is a tireless and passionate advocate for higher education and Florida Gulf Coast University, and we congratulate him on this latest recognition of his many outstanding achievements,” Bradshaw said.
His ability to inspire community members comes from his integrity, according to City of Naples Mayor Bill Barnett. While trying to embolden others to pursue lives of public service, Korest also sets a “super human” example.
“As far as I’m concerned, he epitomizes what the Naples community is all about,” he said.
Barnett served alongside Alan Korest on the city council and the two have known each other for many years. Alan Korest’s quiet, subtle leadership style put people at ease, according to the mayor.
“When he speaks people really listen to him. That’s a quality that a lot of us wish we had,” Barnett said.
Barnett said Alan Korest is kind, good listener with a big heart.
“He’s not one of those people that’s full of himself. You could sit down at a diner next to him and have a conversation with him. He leaves people with a great impression.”
Alan Korest’s acceptance speech was short; he claimed he knew who the real outstanding citizen was.
“Marilyn is the one who really deserves this award, but unfortunately she is not here. She loved this community. She would be really pleased with this,” Alan Korest said.