Florida Realtors Honors 2023 Award Winners


ORLANDO, Fla. – Aug. 17, 2023 – Florida Realtors® recognized Christina Pappas, 2022 Florida Realtors president, as its 2023 Realtor of the Year. The award – one of several – was presented Thursday during the state association’s annual Convention & Trade Expo at Rosen Shingle Creek in Orlando, Fla.

The Realtor audience applauded as Pappas accepted the award from 2023 President G. Mike McGraw.

Florida Realtors has presented Realtor of the Year and Associate Realtor of the Year awards for 71 years. Winners are honored as the greatest individual lifetime contributors to their local Realtor board, community, state association and the National Association of Realtors® (NAR).

As a third-generation Realtor, Pappas grew up with the real estate profession. She’s dedicated to making a positive impact on the industry and helping her Realtor colleagues. A long-time member and leader of the Miami Association of Realtors®, she currently serves on its Corporate Board.

In 2015, she became the youngest person to ever serve as president of Miami’s Young Professionals Network (YPN) Leadership Board and was honored as the Miami YPN of the Year for her efforts in creating new events and seminars under her leadership. Then in 2017, Pappas became the Miami Realtors’ residential president.

After Hurricane Irma made landfall, Pappas helped lead the way as local association leaders quickly mobilized to help communities hit hard in the lower Florida Keys that September. Miami Realtors and many South Florida brokerages, including Pappas’ firm, The Keyes Company, held donation events to collect items to support those impacted by Irma – and then Miami Realtors and other Realtor groups got a plane to deliver the items to the Florida Keys that next day.

A leader in regional, state and national real estate organizations, Pappas has served or chaired many committees, was the 2016 vice president for District 4 and in every officer position for Florida Realtors, leading to being its 2022 president – the youngest elected president in the state association’s history.

Under her leadership as Florida Realtors president, the state association focused on “Building Up Business,” with the goals of boosting advocacy efforts, encouraging leadership, adopting new technology and encouraging diversity and inclusion. At the national level, she previously was a National Association of Realtors (NAR) director for several years as well as a NAR liaison. Currently, she serves on the Realtor Property Resource (RPR) Board of Directors and the Broker Public Portal.

In the community, Pappas is a Cornell Alumni Admissions ambassador, on the executive committee for the United Way Young Leaders and a former Young President’s/World President’s Organization Next Generation Liaison for Miami. She also is a staunch supporter of the Women’s Council of Realtors, having served WCR in several leadership roles.

Pappas has earned accolades for her leadership and business acumen, including the Swanepoel Power 200 list for the nation’s real estate leaders in 2023; the South Florida Business Journal’s Influential Business Women and 40 Under 40 awards; the 2022 RealTrends Emerging Leaders; and as a RisMedia Real Estate Newsmaker in 2018 and 2021.

Throughout her career, Pappas has demonstrated her service, commitment and dedication to her profession, to her fellow Realtors and to her community.

Associate Realtor of the Year

Florida Realtors honored Mari Colgan of Greater Tampa Realtors as Associate Realtor of the Year for 2022. A real estate professional for over 24 years, Colgan has long supported the real estate industry and her profession, sharing her leadership and experience by serving on countless committees at her local association, Florida Realtors and the National Association of Realtors.

As the Tampa association’s 2018 president, she was pivotal in facilitating the merger between the East Pasco Association of Realtors and Greater Tampa Realtors. Along with that challenge, she helped create the association’s new logo and develop its revamped branding. She also spearheaded the remodeling of the Tampa headquarters, affectionately referring to it as the “members’ house” – which is still the office’s nickname among Tampa Realtors. In 2020, she received the highly regarded District 6 Vernon Taylor Award, which recognizes her outstanding service and contributions to the real estate profession.

Colgan has been a Crystal R and Sterling R major investor in the Realtors Political Action Committee (RPAC), which proves her commitment to investing in the future of the real estate profession. While serving as the key contact for U.S. and state legislative leaders, she has established relationships with influential policymakers, advocating for the voice of Realtors to be heard at the highest levels.

In 2021, as chair of the state Convention Committee during a year when pandemic fears and lockdown issues were easing, she helped ensure the success of a new hybrid online and in-person convention format for Florida Realtors’ members.

Colgan served as a NAR director for six years. She also participated in Florida Realtors’ NAR Director Mentee/Mentor program as one of the “Elite Eight” in 2019, thus gaining the opportunity to work with national leaders for the real estate industry and valuable insight into how NAR operates.

Her involvement in her community spans numerous years and organizations, including the Student Advisory Council of McDonald Elementary, The Salvation Army Rehabilitation Advisory Council and her church. A dedicated Realtor, Colgan leads by example and demonstrates her commitment to her profession and her community.

Realtor Achievement Award

Fernando Arencibia Jr., a member of the Miami Association of Realtors, was named the winner of Florida Realtors 2023 Realtor Achievement Award, which recognizes a Realtor who serves as manager, broker of record or officer in his or her company. The award acknowledges the winner’s previous three years’ contributions to the community, local, state and national Realtor associations.

Arencibia’s many contributions to his local association include being part of the Miami Commercial leadership team in 2019 that launched South Florida’s only commercial multiple listing service (MLS) and consumer portal. Then as 2020 president of the Miami Commercial division, he helped form new commercial partnerships with products and services that continue to benefit local members. He currently serves on the Miami Realtors Building Advisory Board, which is overseeing construction of the association’s new global headquarters.

Arencibia is a member of the board of directors for Florida Realtors and the National Association of Realtors; and has served on multiple professional committees at the state, national and local levels. Currently, he is the 2023 chair of the Florida Realtors Commercial Committee and serves on the NAR Commercial Real Estate Research Advisory Board.

As the state association’s commercial chair, he has helped create quarterly meetings between Florida Realtors Commercial and the Florida chapter presidents and presidents-elect of commercial institutes and partners, such as the Certified Commercial Institute Member (CCIM), and the Specialist in Industrial and Office Real Estate (SIOR), and other key commercial leaders.

A Crystal R major investor in the Realtors Political Action Committee (RPAC), Arencibia believes in investing in his profession and supporting advocacy efforts.

In service to his local community, he volunteers his time and talents to several organizations. Arencibia is a founding member and the current vice president of the Miami High School Alumni Professional Society (MHS Maps) since 2011. A member of the board of trustees for the D. Rafael Penalver Clinic in Little Havana since 2018, he currently serves as its treasurer.

Commercial Realtor Achievement Award

In a first for Florida Realtors, Fernando Arencibia Jr. was honored with a second award during the same year – he has also received the state association’s 2023 Commercial Realtor Achievement Award, which honors a Realtor’s lifetime of contributions to commercial activities at the local, state and national levels.

Arencibia has long supported and advocated for commercial real estate and commercial Realtors during a 20-plus career of specializing in commercial and high-end investment real estate. In 2020, he served as the Miami association’s commercial president and was named its 2020 Commercial Realtor of the Year; he was also honored in 2018 as its Commercial Leader of the Year.

Miami Commercial is the commercial division of the Miami Association of Realtors. One of the largest commercial boards in the country, it currently has 3,200 commercial members.

Arencibia was lauded by his local board for his “forward-thinking ideas and contributions that have helped revolutionize Miami Commercial into one of the most innovative boards in the nation. Miami Commercial recently achieved the National Association of Realtors’ (NAR) highest commercial distinction – a 2022-2023 Diamond Level Commercial Services Accreditation – and Fernando laid the groundwork for such a prestigious accreditation.”

For example, in 2019, he was part of the Miami Commercial leadership team that launched what is South Florida’s only commercial multiple listing service (MLS) and commercial public portal, SouthFloridaCommericalPropertySearch.com.

At the state level, he has been an active member of numerous Florida Realtors’ committees, currently chairs Florida Realtors Commercial Committee and serves as vice chair of the Public Policy Committee.

Last year, Arencibia was instrumental in the creation of a dedicated webpage for commercial real estate on floridarealtors.org, Florida Realtors’ member website. Among other accomplishments, in 2023, he led the initiative for Florida Realtors to partner with NAR’s Realtor Property Resource (RPR) to create a co-branded, stand-alone webpage of all Florida commercial listings that is now live on floridarealtors.org.

Nationally, he has served as an NAR director since 2019 and was a member of the NAR Commercial Committee from 2019-2022. He is a current member of NAR’s Commercial Real Estate Research Advisory Board. Since 2021 when NAR launched the C5 Summit, its annual commercial real estate conference, Arencibia has been a trusted advisor for the event. In 2019, he was honored with NAR’s Commercial Award and was again recognized with the national (NAR) Commercial Award in 2021.

Newcomer of the Year Award

Winning Florida Realtors Newcomer Award for 2023 was Spencer Rigsby, a member of the Naples Area Board of Realtors (NABOR). The Newcomer Award recognizes someone who entered the Realtor profession within the past three years, and, during that time, made notable contributions to the local and state associations, as well as to his or her community.

Since she joined NABOR in 2021, Rigsby seeks involvement and growth within her local association. She has invested in her profession through the Realtors Political Action Committee (RPAC). A member of NABOR’s Community Involvement Committee for the past two years, Rigsby currently serves as the committee vice chair. She was the 2022 subcommittee chair for NABOR’s annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade; that year she also received the Member Spotlight Award for outstanding contributions to the Community Involvement Committee.

A graduate of NABOR’s Leadership Academy in 2022, Rigsby completed a community service project for a local charity, Project HELP, as part of her leadership training. Project HELP is a nonprofit staffed by professional counselors and advocates who work with those affected by sexual violence, sudden death and other crimes to offer counseling, empowerment and healing for their recovery. In the Naples community, Rigsby volunteers her time and talents to numerous causes, including helping local schools, organizing school supply drives and holiday drives, as well as serving as vice president of the board for local charity Beverly’s Angels.

Rigsby received NABOR’s Realtor Rising Star Award in 2022.

Humanitarian of the Year

Proving that Realtors make a difference, Robert Thomson, a member of the Palm Beach Board of Realtors, was named the 2023 Humanitarian of the Year by Florida Realtors. He has long supported Big Dog Ranch Rescue, which helps dogs and military veterans.

Thomson was instrumental in helping Big Dog Ranch start training to pair service dogs with veterans to help with post-traumatic shock disorder (PTSD). He serves as vice president of the board and kickstarted a massive fundraising effort that raised $100,000 to improve the training facility, which means the ranch can now handle nearly 800 dogs.

Thomson was inspired by Big Dog Ranch Rescue because he personally understands the positive impact – the comfort and love – having a pet in the home brings to a family. A lifelong dog lover, he despises animal abuse. Through this program, veterans are paired with a four-legged companion, which greatly improves the quality of life for those who have served our country as well as saving many dogs’ lives.

Every year, Big Dog Ranch Rescue matches about 5,000 canines with veterans; since the program’s inception in 2008, about 50,000 dogs have found their loving homes and veteran partners.

While passionate about Big Dog Ranch, Thomson also supports many other causes that help and strengthen his community, including the Hanley Foundation, which is committed to helping to prevent and resolve youth substance abuse, and the Place of Hope’s Shade Tree Outreach Foundation.

Spirit of Advocacy Award

Cathy Whatley, the 1996 president of Florida Realtors and the 2003 president of the National Association of Realtors (NAR) was recognized as the 2023 winner of the Spirit of Advocacy Award.

This award honors a member of Florida Realtors who has demonstrated excellence in advocacy within the governmental or political arena at all levels – the local Realtor board, state association, national association and community – over their lifetime. Monetary donations are not a consideration for the award.

A member of the Northeast Florida Association of Realtors and a third-generation Realtor, Whatley has invested more than 54 years in the real estate profession as a Realtor Emeritus. She has long been committed to advocacy and volunteers her time and effort to support her profession. She has spent decades inspiring and educating others on key industry issues and asking for their support, as well as mentoring future real estate leaders.

Whatley served as the 1990 president of the Jacksonville Association of Realtors (now known as the Northeast Florida Association of Realtors). She was named NEFAR’s Realtor of the Year twice – in 1986 and 1993 – and received the Presidential Lifetime Service Award, its highest honor, in 2003. She led NEFAR to create programs that encouraged homeownership opportunities and helped promote homeownership education in the community, such as HOME (Home Ownership Made Easy).

Whatley also has served on the board of directors for JEA (formerly the Jacksonville Electric Authority), the eighth largest municipal utility in the U.S.

At the state level, Whatley has not only held every officer position at Florida Realtors but has served on 274 committees and task forces for the state association. She’s been a Florida Realtors Honor Society member every year since 2008 and was named its Realtor of the Year in 1998. Whatley often has testified before the Florida Legislature and was instrumental in the creation of the state’s Sadowski Trust Fund for affordable housing. She also served several years as a member of Florida’s Commission on Ethics.

Nationally, as president of NAR, she oversaw the deployment of the HOPE Awards, a program for increasing minority homeownership, and hosted the first National Summit for Housing Opportunities. Whatley has testified numerous times before the U.S. Congress on real estate issues. Her work for the Realtors Political Action Committee (RPAC) has been key in ensuring the preservation of the divide between banking and commerce, along with fair reform of the settlement services regulations.

Whatley is a dedicated advocate for private property rights, a strong voice for Realtor engagement and investment, and represents the real estate profession at its best.

Education Volunteer of the Year

The Education Volunteer of the Year Award recognizes members who volunteered their time and energy to advance professional development for Realtors. This year’s Education Volunteer of the Year winner is Annette Haber, Esq., from the Royal Palm Coast Association of Realtors.

Previously a member of the former Cape Coral Association of Realtors, Haber received its 2011 Affiliate of the Year Award and was honored with its President’s Award for Excellence in Realtor Education in 2015. The president’s award recognized her as a “volunteer instructor who worked tirelessly teaching real estate law and contract, giving brand-new to experienced Realtors new understandings and new ideas to protect their clients and their own real estate careers.”

A lifelong learner, Haber passionately believes in the value and importance of education. She attended the University of Central Florida and holds a bachelor’s degree of business administration in management information systems with a minor in computer science. She continued her education at Barry University School of Law. Haber is an approved instructor for Florida Realtors, and a member of The Florida Bar, the Cape Coral Bar Association, Women’s Council of Realtors and the Real Estate Investment Society.

Helping fellow Realtors grow their knowledge is how Haber gives back to her industry.

Educator of the Year

This year’s Florida Realtors Educator of the Year is Sal DiStefano, a member of the Royal Palm Coast Association of Realtors. A long-time real estate investor, DiStefano has been buying and selling real estate in Cape Coral since 1984. In 2013, he earned his real estate license, then opened a brokerage with his daughter in 2015. From 2017 through 2022, their real estate business was voted “best brokerage” by a local community readers’ poll.

Prior to becoming a broker, DiStefano served as a national training director in the advertising industry for more than 20 years. He continues to believe in helping new agents gain confidence through education and example. A Graduate of the Realtor Institute (GRI), DiStefano is an approved Florida Realtors’ instructor for GRI classes from levels 1 to 3, including taxes, investments, sales and marketing, brokerage management and international real estate.

He also teaches numerous CE (Continuing Education) courses, such as Communications Skills for Realtors, So You Want to Be a Broker, and Newly Licensed? Now What?.

Florida Realtor magazine awards

Best Article: Kara Wisely, Realtors of Lake and Sumter Counties, for the article, “Master Your Market,” May 2023, Florida Realtor magazine

Honorable Mention: Angela Grannan, Pinellas Suncoast Association of Realtors, for the article, “Planting Trees for a Better Tomorrow,” May 2023, Florida Realtor magazine

© 2023 Florida Realtors®

©Florida Realtors®

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