PLANT CITY – Bob Eukovich says he isn’t surprised that George Banning, a member of his regular exercise group, has been singled out for the Plant City Family YMCA’s top award.
Banning does more than go through his routine and leave, Eukovich said. He makes it a point to inspire others and make them feel welcome, he said.
The 72-year-old businessman, who has been active at the Y for more than a decade, was recently named the organization’s Strong Leader of the Year.
“To me, he’s not just a strong leader, he’s a wise leader. He’s a mentor to all of us with his hard work and dedication,” Eukovich said.
Banning will be presented with the award at an Aug. 26 banquet, joining the ranks of such community leaders and previous winners as Cindy Churchill, who helped troubled teenage girls turn their lives around at Steppin’ Stone Farm, and longtime city commissioner and former mayor Mike Sparkman. Banning, who has served on the Y’s board, is the 12th annual recipient of the prestigious honor.
Plant City Family YMCA membership director Reagan Thomas said Banning has been eager to learn and help since he joined the local Y in 2001.
“There’s no job too small or too insignificant for George Banning,” she said.
Banning was an easy choice for this year’s award, Executive Director Rick Gould said.
“His experience and knowledge and his way with people make him the perfect person for the honor,” he said.
Longtime YMCA board member Jim Scott said Banning, who owns several Wendy’s restaurants in Central Florida, has led the way with many civic clubs and charities. The YMCA is no exception, Scott said.
“It wasn’t a question of if George would receive the (Strong Leader) award, it was a question of when,” Scott said. “This year the timing seemed right. This was his year.”
Banning starts his weekdays – never later than 6:15 a.m. – at the Y at 1507 YMCA Place. He has about a half dozen friends he joins for coffee before vigorous workouts that include such activities as riding a stationary bike and playing pickleball. “We solve all the world’s problems before we get started,” said Bruce Rodwell, a regular member of the coffee klatch.
One of his favorite activities is pickleball, a sport similar to tennis where players use paddles and a plastic ball. Banning convinced the Y to establish the sport, which has quickly become one of the members’ favorites.
“That’s the way he is,” Y board chairman Jason Jones said. “Whatever he can do to help out and make things better, he’s going to do.”
Banning, a native of Columbus, Ohio, once wanted to be a farmer and graduated with an agriculture-related degree from Michigan State University. After college, he served five years active duty with the U.S. Air Force, rising to captain over aircraft maintenance. He served a total of 20 years, including 15 years with the Air Force Reserve.
After he left active duty in the late 1960s, he went into commercial real estate development. In 1980, he partnered with Wendy’s founder Dave Thomas’ daughter and son-in-law to develop fast food restaurants for the chain.
Along the way, he helped raise money for a new YMCA in the Columbus, Ohio area.
He and his wife of 22 years, Cassandra, moved to Plant City in 1994 but he didn’t join the local Y until it moved to a new location near their Walden Lake home in 2001. Cassandra, who has two sons from a prior marriage, Greg Flinn of Lakeland and Marc Flinn of Columbus, often joins him for his workouts.
Besides the Y, Banning’s community service has included leadership positions with the United Food Bank of Plant City and Plant City Rotary Club.
He received the Meritorious Award for Service from the Rotary Foundation and Service Above Self Award from Rotary International. He’s also helped out with fundraising for the Boy Scouts, and the Plant City Veterans’ Monument and Park, among many other worthy causes.
He recently served as chairman of the annual YMCA fundraising campaign. The effort reached its goal, $60,000.
“I can’t recall any other year that we met our goal, and it’s all thanks to George and his leadership,” Scott said.
Fellow YMCA member Jennifer Closshey said Banning “walks the talk,” and always has time for a kind word for others. She has worked with Banning on a number or projects, including the veterans’ monument project, which Closshey helped found.
“George talks with everyone, encouraging them in not only their workouts but their lives as well,” Closshey said. “George brings value to our community in how he lives his life every day.”
If you go
What: Plant City Family YMCA Strong Leader of the Year award dinner honoring George Banning
When: Aug. 26; cocktails, 6:30 p.m.; dinner, 7 p.m.; program, 8 p.m.
Where: John R. Trinkle Center, Hillsborough Community College’s Plant City campus, 1206 N. Park Road
Tickets: $75 per person; table sponsorships available for $1,000 and include a table of eight.
Previous Strong Leader of the Year winners
2003: Mike Sparkman
2004: Betty Chambers
2005: Randy Larson
2006: Cindy Churchill
2007: Rick and Di Lott
2008: Sherrie Mueller
2009: Tommy Warnock
2010: Fred Johnson
2011: B.M. “Mac” Smith Jr.
2012: David Miller
2013: Dave Robbins