Veterans Hall of Fame Class of 2020 Inductees
Click on Inductee’s name to reveal biography
George Walter Duren joined the military after graduating from Florida State University. He trained as an Infantry Rifleman and was sent to Vietnam around June 1968. He was assigned to the 2nd squad of the 2nd Platoon of Charlie Co. of the 2/35 Infantry of the 4th Infantry Division, based in Camp Enari, West of Pleiku in the Central Highlands.
Mr. Duren has often said that he has never forgotten his experiences in Vietnam and they never get too far from him. Over the years, he has dedicated himself to celebrate soldiers’ return and to give honor to the lives some of them gave. Serving other veterans has been a very rewarding experience for George. Perhaps no other group of American citizens do more to earn the gratitude of a nation. George co-spear headed the Forgotten Coast Warrior Weekend which entertained 20 wounded Veterans and their companions with deep sea fishing and activities on the coast for 9 years. He served on the board of the creation of the Three Servicemen South Park in Apalachicola, FL and has been instrumental in leading a committee to raise money and build the Honor Walk, a venue to Honor all veterans at the Gulf County Veterans Park on Beacon Hill, overlooking the Gulf of Mexico
Served in the United States Air Force from 1967 until 1993, retiring as a Colonel. Mr. Clark’s service to this nation and state have continued with his assistance in helping Gold Star Families to his efforts to establish a “Flight to Honor” which flies veterans from Lakeland Linder Airport to Washington, D.C. Mr. Clark established the Polk County Veterans Council which has acted as a nexus for the veterans organizations and actives throughout Polk County for the past 20 years. Mr. Clark has been instrumental in forging a strong partnership with the Polk County School Board in its administration of 13 JROTC units. These units, representing the Air Force, Army, Navy, and Marine Corps, routinely participate in community events, from Color Guards to parades. He organizes the annual JROTC Banquet where awards and scholarships are given to deserving cadets.
He has served as the Chairman for our local Congressional District’s Service Academy Selection Board, appointed to this post by the last three men elected to Congress from this district. This board process has resulted in a great number of our best and brightest students given the opportunity to serve our nation as commissioned officers. Thanks to Gary’s leadership, Florida’s 15th Congressional District has produced a number of West Point, US Naval Academy, US Air Force Academy, and Merchant Marine Academy graduates.
Brigadier General Michael Lambert Ferguson served In the United States Army from 1960 to 1986. He received a nomination to the Military Academy at West Point in 1956. He was commissioned a Second Lieutenant from West Point in 1960, followed by the Infantry Basic Course, Airborne and Ranger School. Of the many accomplishments that Mike Ferguson can be credited with in his post-military career, several are worth noting, especially is support of soldiers. He advocated for the relocation of the Army 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne) from Fort Bragg to Eglin Air Force Base.
His post-career mentoring of the Florida Ranger Camp students, staff and families was well-received and continued until his passing. Adding to these time-consuming efforts was his support. In word and deed of the numerous College ROTC programs from Tallahassee to Pensacola, which included Leadership Scholarships and Recognitions. One of his recent efforts has been the organization and funding of the Veterans Service Centers on Florida College campuses. In 2014, General Ferguson was honored for his extensive work “Creating Veteran-Friendly Campus Strategies for Transitioning Veterans for Success”, as a Veterans Resource Center Donor.
Served in the United States Army from 1967-1973, serving in Vietnam from January 9, 1968 until February 1969. Mr. Gayeski has always placed a significant emphasis on the hiring of Veterans and the disabled for all job vacancies at the City of Pembroke Pines. He is a member of Vietnam Veterans of America in Fort Lauderdale, Fl. Member of the American Legion #347 in Lady Lake, Fl. Supported the “Band of Brothers” in The Villages, FL, a Veterans club who are incredibly involved in community affairs within The Villages. Sponsored the mobile Vietnam Memorial program and Honor Flights for Veterans to visit Washington DC to tour the Nation’s Monuments. Spearheaded the design and construction of Memorial Park in Pembroke Pines which honors those that lost their lives on 911 and pays homage to the US Armed Forces and its Veterans.
In 2015 Mr. Gayeski worked with the City’s Community Services Department, Home Depot, and several private contractors to renovate five homes owned by the City to develop Reconnect and Reenergize (R&R) Village. R&R Village was established in 2015 to provide transitional housing for Veterans getting back on their feet
Frank is a former U.S. Marine and a Vietnam War Veteran. Frank served with 1st Tank Battalion, 1 Marine Division, I CORPS, South Vietnam from May 1967 to May 1968 (369 days in country, boots on the ground). Frank is a 1968 TET Offensive Survivor.
Mr Hahnel provided assistance in nominating two Medal of Honor nominations for Captain Richard Whan Hopper. Mr. Hahnel, an eyewitness to Captain Hopper’s sacrifice, provided assistance to Congressmen Mica’s team for the medal nomination.
Corporal Mario R. Jenkins, a Police Officer and dog handler with the University of Central Florida Police Department was shot and killed during a football tailgate party in Orlando, FL on September 24,2005. Corporal Jenkins was a Marine reservist and it was his wish to be buried in a Veterans National Cemetery. But Corporal Jenkins Marine reservist time did not count for a VA burial benefit and the Department of Veterans Affairs would not allow it. Frank wrote to then President George W. Bush and offered to give up his own veterans’ burial entitlement at Arlington and give his benefit to Corporal Jenkins. The VA said NO. Frank received a letter, and Certificate of Appreciation, from the then UCF Police Chief Richard Beary and Corporal Jenkins’ good friend Detective Dale Dennany for his effort.
LT. COL. George Hardy, at age 95, is a motivational speaker and historical educator representing the World War II, African-American pilots, known as the Tuskegee Airmen.
For over 75 years, Lt. Col. Hardy has proven his worthiness. He is grateful for being given the opportunity to serve and fight for the United States of America. In his distinguished, more than 28-year military career, Hardy flew 136 combat missions in three wars: World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.
On a weekly basis, Lt. Col. Hardy is invited to speak to veterans, reservists and ROTC cadets at military bases, Veteran of Foreign War and American Legion Posts and universities. He is invited to speak on major service holidays: Memorial Day, Independence Day and Veterans Day. Hardy is interviewed regularly by local, statewide and national newspapers and radio and television stations to discuss, promote and advocate for veteran issues.
Lt. Col. Hardy is an active member and provides support to both the 19th Bombardment Group Association and the AC 119 Gunship Association and Tuskegee Airmen, Inc. In addition, he actively participates in the VFW organization in Florida and nationally. He counsels and provides guidance individually to veterans and their families and participates in memorial services at the National Cemeteries.
In January 2020, Lt. Col. Hardy helped a student develop a display for the Red Tail Squadron’s P- 51 Mustang Exhibit. This award-winning display is scheduled to be at the July 2020 Air Venture Red Tail Exhibit in Dallas and will be on permanent display in the National Air Base Rise Above Red Tail Traveling Exhibit mobile theater
COL Joe is a staunch Veteran and military personnel advocate. As such, he is frequently requested to speak at events and always incorporates Veterans in his comments. He challenges audiences, stating known truths that America can and must do better regarding taking care of its Veterans, particularly in the areas of homelessness, education, services, and mental health. He notes that Veterans from the Vietnam and Korea era are increasing in age and should have the proper resources to care for them.
Additionally, his biography is frequently featured in books, projects, and programs which promote Veterans, to include the 2018 Tallahassee Community College Black History Calendar honoring Veterans and the FAMU Alumni Spotlight Report (Veteran’s Day Edition) in 2015. COL Joe was also featured in the Department of Defense journal, Black Americans in Defense of Our Country, serving as a role model for countless soldiers. He is truly recognized as a trailblazer who represents Veterans exceptionally.
Due to his extensive civilian service, COL Joe has earned accolades including the FAMU Distinguished Alumni Award, FAMU President’s Service Award and recognition as one of FAMU’s 125 Distinguished Alumni.
Ms. Espeut-Jones served in the United States Army from 1982 until 2004, rising to the rank of First Sergeant. Ms. Espeut-Jones’ intense interest in military and community affairs is reflected in her service as President of the Association of the United States Army Sunshine Chapter (“AUSA”). In that role, she co-hosted monthly networking socials with community partners, hosted the Army Birthday Ball, hosted an annual Military Appreciation Night (where elected officials, military personnel and business owners have the opportunity to meet and learn from each other) and arranged a diverse group of speakers to address the Chapter on topics of interest.
She works closely with military units stationed in the central Florida region, recently attending the change of command ceremony for the 143rd Sustainment Command (Expeditionary). Through her years of service in AUSA, she’s developed meaningful relationships with industry leaders as well, including Brigadier General Michael E. Slone, former Program Executive Officer for Simulation, Training and Instrumentation in Orlando, Florida.
As a member of VFW Post 4287 and Semper Fidelis of America, she has helped plan and host an annual benefit for a multiple amputee soldier, marine, sailor or airman. As part of her service in Semper Fidelis of America and Buffalo Soldiers Motorcycle Club Orlando, she visits the shut-in at the Orlando VA Community Living Center for bingo, football games, Thanksgiving and other occasions. Ms. Espeut-Jones serves on the City of Orlando and Orange County Mayor’s Veterans Advisory Councils and organizes the annual Veterans Day Parade, Memorial Day Commemoration, and Gold Star Mother’s Day. In that role, she maintains indispensable relationships with local elected officials.
Darryle L. Kouns is a U.S. Army Colonel (retired). As a West Point graduate, he served many U.S. and overseas tours in his 29 years of active duty.
Colonel Kouns has been an active supporter of the 15,000 Indian River County Veterans and their families for 13 years. Active as a member of the Vero Beach chapter of the military Officers Association of America for 10 years and has served the last 5 years as a Director. The purpose of MOAA is to aid active and retired military personnel and their families and survivors in every proper and legitimate manner. In 2013 he was a founder of the Upward American Veterans (UAV} Program. The mission of UAV is to respond to requests for immediate financial assistance from qualified US veterans and families’. He served as the Officer Representative of the UAV committee for 8 years and managed the expenditure of more than $200.000 for 159 needy veterans and their families.
Colonel Kouns has served 3 years on Congressman Bill Posey’s Military Advisory Committee. He and his wife volunteered 4 years delivering Meals on Wheels to Indian River County home bound citizens. They have supported Dogs for Life by fostering new puppies to be trained and donated to military veterans as service and hearing dogs.
Cliff Leonard served in the United States Marine Corp from 1966-1968. Cliff has spent the past twelve years sculpting 45 life-size busts of fallen Marines and Navy Corpsmen from Florida killed in action in the Middle East, and of fellow 3rd Recon company members that were killed in Vietnam. Once he completes the remaining four Marines he will have completed all the Marines and Corpsmen from Florida that were killed in action. He is a member of the Semper Fidelis Society that supports the military community in Jacksonville, Florida as well as a life-time member of the Montford Point Marines that supports and honors the first black Americans in the Marine Corps.
Cliff researches the circumstances surrounding these killed in action (Florida Marines and Navy Corpsmen), and then reaches out to their families to offer his unique gift of a life size, uniformed bust, always without cost. While gathering pictures and personal information from the families about each of the service members, Cliff is always reminded how difficult this process is for most. When the finished bust is presented to the surviving families, whether at a formal public ceremony, a church service or quietly at Cliff’s home, there are always tears of gratitude.
Mr. Mason enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1970 and served as a Combat Medic in the Republic of Vietnam. He was wounded on Sept. 28th, 1971 at Fire Base Pace on the Cambodian border in a heroic action, which earned him the Bronze Star with Valor. After the military, served as Senior Vice Commander of the VFW of Rock Falls, IL, assisted Veterans in need and supported countless Veteran functions throughout Polk County, as DVOP, in Winter Haven, FL, worked to help Veterans attain employment, providing resume updates, mock interviews, and provided proper clothing. He succeeded in acquiring back to back $30,000 Labor Department grants based on his work as the DVOP Due to Mike developing a “Soft Exit” report Polk County rose from 67th place in the state of Florida to 9th place. Mike was recognized in 2011 by the American Legion as the Outstanding DVOP presenting him with the “Annual National Employment Service Award”.
He was recognized by the American Legion for “Outstanding Support for the Children and Youth” programs. Mr. Mason received the Outstanding Service and Assistance Award for American Legion Programs. Mr. Mason was awarded the “National Commander’s Award” for 2013 for MOPH and was instrumental in declaring all 17 municipalities in Polk County as “Purple Heart” cities and the county as a “Purple Heart” county.
As the County Director of Veteran Services, Mr. Mason took an office consisting of two Veteran Service Officers bringing in $90M per year to four Officers bringing in over $450M of VA benefits. lbis was due to a phenomenal feat of assisting over 60,000 Veterans in Polk County
Michelle Poitier served in the United States Navy from 1990 until 2003. She has served her Nation and the State of Florida honorably.
Ms. Poitier was nominated and selected to attend Former First Lady Michelle Obama’s United State of Women’s Initiative 2016 for her work in the Jacksonville, FL community; recipient of a letter of recognition from the Governor Rick Scott (Sept 23rd, 2016) of Florida, Rick Scott for her Jacksonville, FL community contributions. Additionally, Ms. Poitier received a letter from The White House (March 16, 2016) for selection/participation in the Mission Continue (Women’s Veteran’s Leadership Summit).
For nearly 6 years Michelle Poitier has utilized her talents for public speaking, her unique life experiences and her ability to craft messages that resonate with people of all backgrounds for the betterment of others. A respected Navy disabled veteran, successful entrepreneur, and powerful advocate for victims of military sexual trauma and other forms of abuse she is known for her transparency, authenticity, and ability to turn one’s suffering into surviving and thriving. Michelle Speakz has provided the means to expand her global vision for healing and strengthening women into a multi-tiered platform of change and action through events, focused content & speaking.Ms. Poitier also founded and operates Future Impressions LLC, Founded in 2014, is a veteran-owned small business.
Deloris Quarnata served in the United States Air Force from 1978 to 1998. She has served her Nation and the State of Florida honorably.
In 2011, Ms Quaranta began forming Northeast Florida Women Veterans, Inc, in response to a need in the community. She first acquired a grant from the Women’s Giving Alliance. She partnered with University of Florida and the Emergency Services and Homeless Coalition to do research in NE Florida to assess the needs of women Veterans. Project “RestorHER” was completed in 2016. The final report resulted in the creation of “HerTOT AL Wellness” which is a 6-week program designed to empower women veterans on their path to self-sufficiency by addressing their holistic needs. HerTOTALWellness is focused on three primary domains of wellness: Body, Mind, and Economic Empowerment. Now in chart 14, this program has been proven to be impactful, even preventing suicide.
She is a sought after expert on the status of women veterans. She has traveled to the state capital as well as Washington DC to advocate on behalf of women veterans. As CEO of a non-profit, Ms Quaranta has worked without pay for 8 years (1 paid). This contribution in itself, is noteworthy. She serves on the Duval County Veterans Council, currently serving on the VyStar Veteran’s Trust fund committee that determines recipients of grants. She is member of the Community & Veterans Engagement Board as Chair of Women Veterans initiatives. She serves on the Homeless Veterans Standdown committee and started an initiative to provide items for women veterans through the Disabled Veterans National Foundation. She serves on the mayor’s MLK committee
Chief Warrant Officer 4 (USA) – Retired Dean Resch served from 1965 until 1986. Served as co-chair of the Interagency Committee for Aviation Policy (ICAP), Safety, Standards, and Training subcommittee for organizations with federal aircraft assigned and composed on-site evaluation criteria for federal agencies with aviation resources and accident investigations. Appointed Air as oversight representative and flight inspector assuring compliance with the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty and transported the Soviet and American on-site inspectors 1988-1990. Co-authored Operation Heli-Star summary, an overview and major findings from 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympics using Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) and GPS Technology, volume 1 thru 9, 1997
After the military, Mr. Resch counseled PTSD veterans at the Emerald Coast Behavioral Hospital from 2004 to 2005. He currently is a volunteer for Covenant Care Hospice at the Clifford J. Sims State Veterans Home. Panama City Beach volunteer at the FL Military Welcome Center at the Northwest Beaches International Airport (ECP). Military liaison member for the Panama City Beach Rotary Club and Member Soldiers Angels of Northwest Florida
Colonel Claude W. Shipley served in the United States Army 1975 to 2001.
He is an active member of the Leon County Veterans Organization Leaders Council coordinating all Veteran related events or pertinent information throughout the year and effecting planning, participation and execution. His hard work culminated in successful service and benefit to all County Veterans. Enhanced awareness of Veteran population and services to the public, allowing provisions to serve the Veterans
Currently, Mr. Shipley is the President of the Tallahassee Military Officers Association Chapter, building the program to include all services and increasing the membership to an all-time high while expanding programs to serve members through greater support, while enhancing the strength of the legislative arm for Veteran benefits
He currently serves as the President of the Tallahassee Military Officers Scholarship Fund that dispenses $8,000 annually to graduating Seniors at FAMU and FSU; $500 per selected student in the Air Force, Army, Marines and Naval ROTC programs
Mr. Shipley also serves as the Volunteer Project Manager the Florida Veterans Foundation’s 2014 and 2015 Homeless Veterans Stand Down. As Project Manager in Stand Downs assisted with significantly reducing the numbers of homeless Veterans in Leon County and improving the Quality of Life for many others. This was achieved with the recruitment of over 400 volunteers to support over 200 Homeless/ At Risk Veterans. Due to its efforts and the year-round organizations assisting homeless, by the end of 2015 there were less than 100 homeless Veterans in the Leon County area. The success of this program has never been equaled by others’ follow-on leadership.
Donald Slesnick II
Donald Slesnick served in the United States Army for over 20 years and retired as a Lt. Colonel after serving in Vietnam and Europe. He commanded our local Army Reserve Civil Affairs unit and after retirement, he became an Army Reserve Ambassador. He continues to serve with Army Reserve Ambassador Emeritus status. Mr. Slesnick had a stellar career as an attorney and as an elected official including serving as Mayor of the City of Coral Gables.
Mr. Slesnick was instrumental in lobbying to bring SOUTHCOM to South Florida. He worked tirelessly to generate both political and community support to bring that geographic combatant command to our community. Several years ago, SOUTHCOM commander General Doug Fraser recognized him for his great work in support of SOUTHCOM by presenting him with the Army’s Outstanding Civilian Service Award.
Morris Steen, Jr.
Captain Steen is a highly decorated veteran of the Vietnam War where he served two tours of combat duty and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his heroism. His awards also include the Legion of Merit for exceptional meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding service to this country and 43 Air Medals while conducting 721 air combat strike/ air combat support missions against an armed enemy in Vietnam. It should be noted that Captain Steen was very active in assisting his fellow veterans after retiring from the Navy with 27 years of active service.
He was a vital member of the American Legion, where he helped build a better life for l00’s of his fellow veterans. He also assisted both active duty and retired veterans in the Jacksonville area as a Board Member of the Jacksonville United Services Organization (USO). He was active in providing assistance to many retired military families while serving as a member of the Board of Directors at the Fleet Landing Continuing Care Retirement Community in Atlantic Beach, FL and for many years he has been a supporter of the Wounded Warrior Program in Jacksonville, FL.
Dr. Norman Earl Thagard is an honorably discharged Captain of the United States Marine Corps serving from 1966 to 1971. He was designated a Naval Aviator in 1968 and was subsequently assigned to duty flying F-4 Phantom IIs with VMFA-333 at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, South Carolina. He flew 163 combat missions in Vietnam while assigned to VMFA-115 from January 1969 to 1970. Dr. Thagard pursued his studies in Electrical Engineering, and a degree in medicine. He is a licensed physician.
Thagard was selected as an astronaut candidate by NASA in January 1978. In August 1979, he completed a one-year training and evaluation period, making him eligible for assignment as a mission specialist on future Space Shuttle flights. A veteran of five space flights, he logged over 140 days in space. In 1995, Thagard was the first American astronaut to blast off in a Soyuz spacecraft from Russia’s Baikonur Cosmodrome for a flight to the Mir space station. He also has been inducted in the Astronaut Hall of Fame in 2004.
A native Floridian, Thagard received degrees from Florida State and also earned a degree from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School.
Dr. Thagard served his fellow veterans for close to 50 years, and then later as someone with the knowledge and expertise to navigate through bureaucratic processes for much needed and much deserved benefits. Through the years, his selfless efforts brought recognition from elected officials and senior leadership as well as the respect of his neighbors, family, and friends. A case in point was his nose-to-the-grindstone work ethic in making the Challenger Learning Center and IMAX Theater a reality for the countless numbers of students that would have their eyes opened to learning about science and technology.
Colonel Alton Yates served from 1955 until 1996 in the United States Air Force, dedicating 31 years of his life to service to this nation and the state.
Colonel Yates’s civilian career path includes the U.S. Postal Service, Executive Director of Greater Jacksonville Economic Organization (GJEO) Inc., Jacksonville’s Anti-Poverty Agency, and Administrative Aide to Mayor’s Tanzler, Godbold, and Hazouri. He’s a former member of St. Vincent’s Health System Advisory Board. In every role, Yates raised the banner for veterans’ issues, ensuring a seat that the table was carved out for his military brothers and sisters. During his work with Starbase, a Department of Defense program that immerses at-risk youth in an engaging Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) environment. Classes were taught at the 125th Fighter Wing, Jacksonville, where nearly 21,000 students have been educated during the 21 years of existence.
Alton Yates enlisted in the U.S. Air Force on June 16, 1955, and would become the first African American from Jacksonville to be a test pilot. His devotion to duty would lead to national and international acclaim while serving in the U.S. Air Force at the Aeromedical Field Laboratory where he rode high-speed Rocket Sleds and participated in numerous Aerospace Research experiments during the initial days of America’s Space Program.
On his way home to Jacksonville after being released from active duty in 1959, he recounted in a 20 IO interview with the Jacksonville Times-Union. He saw Ku Klux Klan billboards in Mississippi showing black people hanging from trees. Businesses would let him buy gas, but wouldn’t seat him for a meal or let him use the restroom. To avoid further hateful encounters, he decided to buy peanut butter and jelly and ate sandwiches the whole way home. Because of what he experienced on this faithful road trip and recalling all the skills and experiences he learned while in the Air Force, Yates went on to become vice president of NAACP’s Youth Council. He helped organize civil rights demonstrations, and in August 1960, ended up in the middle of a civil rights clash that pitted white men with ax handles and baseball bats against unarmed black youths. Yet, another time Yates risked his life – standing up for humans and how they live on Earth.
Disabled veteran Yates never stopped working for his community and fellow veterans. Appointed to the Florida Education Council by Governor Askew.