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'Mr. Wess' Wins Tommy Star Award of Excellence

Nov. 7, 2004 – The message from the winners at the third annual V.I. Hotel and Tourism Association's Tommy Star Awards and Gala was that to be the best, you have to have heart. And despite competing events around the island Saturday night – a fund-raiser for the Charlotte Kimelman Cancer Institute at which Patti LaBelle headlined, and the Miss UVI pageant – a well-dressed crowd of more than 200, including Gov. Charles W. Turnbull and other dignitaries, turned up at the Estate St. Peter Greathouse event.
The night's most prestigious honor, the Tommy Star Award of Excellence, went to former Charlotte Amalie High School instructor, Ecedro Wesselhoft. Wesselhoft, a teacher at CAHS for 17 years and the namesake of the school's hotel training unit, was humble in his acceptance, saying that his real joy was in seeing many of his former students go on to successful careers in the hospitality industry.
His pride in the accomplishments of those he has mentored over the years was such that instead of enjoying the spotlight by himself, he called three of them – Mia Felix, Emmet Prevost and Leslie Gumbs – onto the stage with him to share in his moment.
Gumbs spoke of the important role "Mr. Wess" had played in his life and the lives of others. "He was our instructor, our mentor, a father figure who treated us as his own children," he proudly told the crowd.
Prevost said he went on from Wesselhoft's class to graduate from the American Culinary Federation. Only 29 years old, his kitchen accomplishments have already led him far. Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter has twice sampled Prevost's culinary delights, and more than one Hollywood star has dined on his fare. He was the executive chef at Morehouse College, and returned to the territory to oversee the reopening of Pilgrim Terrace. Always looking for the next gastronomic challenge, Prevost is now executive chef at Mafolie Hotel and credits Wesselhoft with helping to guide him toward his life's path.
Beverly Nicholson, president of the association, described the black-tie ceremony as "our Academy Awards," and said the evening's honorees were the very "best of the best" in the life of the territory's tourism industry.
The "best" of the islands' tourism industry workers were recognized in nine different categories, and Nicholson said it wasn't easy for any of them to make it onto the stage.
She described a three-tiered process by which Saturday's winners were selected.
After a nomination from their peers, managers or co-workers, they had to write a brief essay describing their own feelings about the work they do. A panel of judges reviewed the essays and chose finalists who went through an interview process. Only then were the winners selected.
Applause and cheers flowed from the crowd as each name was called out, but what flowed back from the winners on stage was the kind of practical wisdom that a territory dependent upon tourism would do well to heed.
Jason Forbes of Diamonds International, who took home the award for Retail Associate of the Year, drew shouts of agreement when he said, "It's not place that makes the Virgin Islands, it's all of us."
David Corbett, an executive steward at the Ritz-Carlton and 2004 Hotel Supervisor of the Year, gave perhaps the night's most eloquent acceptance speech when he said, "You have to have it in your heart to take care of visitors. The road to perfection may not be reachable, but the road to excellence is achievable."
And Viola Merchant, who has spent eight years as a server and trainer at the Ritz-Carlton and who won this year's award for Hotel Associate of the Year, looked out from the podium at a room full of her colleagues in the tourism industry and, no doubt, a number of past and future restaurant guests, and said, simply, "My heart is full."
Other awards given at the ceremony, an important fund-raiser for the Hotel and Tourism Association, included:
-Activities and Attractions Associate of the Year, Vanessa Herbert.
-Hospitality Support Service Associate of the Year, Carmen Matthew.
-Public Service Associate of the Year, John Hodge.
-Restaurant Associate of the Year, John Gabelhausen.
-Taxi Operator of the Year, Judy Wheatley.

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