Rice receives President’s Volunteer Service Award
Local restaurant owner and community leader Tom Rice has been recognized with one of the nation’s highest volunteer awards. David Goetsch, vice president emeritus of Northwest Florida State College, surprised Rice during last Monday’s Memorial Day ceremony with the announcement that he had received the Presidential Lifetime Achievement Award.
Created in 2003, the President’s Volunteer Service Award recognizes people whose service positively impacts their communities and inspires those around them to take action. The award has several levels of recognition, depending on the number of volunteer hours served. The Lifetime Achievement Award that Rice received requires documentation of more than 4,000 hours.
“This is the highest level, and not that many people reach that level,” Goetsch said. “But for Tom it was easy; he’s probably done 40,000 hours.”
It was a fitting venue to honor Rice, a retired Army first sergeant who has served as master of ceremonies for the city’s Memorial Day services for about a decade. With 27 years of active and reserve duty, veterans issues are near and dear to his heart. Rice was a founding board member of the Fisher House of the Emerald Coast, a 12-suite residential facility opened in 2010 near Eglin Hospital where military service members can stay with their families while awaiting, receiving or recovering from medical care.
He also served on the board of directors and helped raise money for the Emerald Coast Honor Flight, a program that flew local World War II veterans to Washington, D.C., to visit the nation’s World War II memorials.
Rice also is president of the Veterans Tribute Tower Committee, which led the community-wide effort to raise $300,000 for the 30-foot clock and bell tower that stands at the front of Beal Memorial Cemetery. Rice also serves as chair of the Salvation Army Advisory Board, helping the organization with it Christmas Red Kettle campaign and the Empty Stocking Fund, and is secretary of Catholic Charities of Northwest Florida.
“Each of those groups is doing a lot of good in the community,” he said. “Things that would be difficult for me to do personally, but there are things that I can help them do.”