Six royal decorations bring total since 1954 close to 230

POSTED: 05/2/12 11:59 AM

GREAT BAY – Steel pan virtuoso Isidore York is now a knight in the order of Orange Nassau; five others became members of the order: Asha Stevens-Mohabier, Suzette Moses-Burton, Stella Elstak-Simmons, Duane Richardson-Gumbs and Soraida Ersilia-Isabella. All received their royal decorations on Friday, ahead of the Queen’s birthday-celebration, but the day still had a royal touch, because it was crown prince Willem Alexander’s 45th birthday. Since C.G. Buncamper received the first royal decoration in 1954 (a Medal of Honor in gold), H.M. the Queen has bestowed this honor on 228 St. Maarteners.

Governor drs. Eugène Holiday had chosen Fort Amsterdam as the location for this year’s ceremony.

“The choice of this location is intended to highlight the historic ties with the royal family,” the governor said. “It has been chosen because of its beautiful scenic view, its historic significance and because of what it teaches us about the importance of heritage preservation.”

The governor said that the royal decorations ceremony “underscores Her Majesty’s status as the symbol and personification of unity within the Kingdom. This celebration is an expression of our appreciation for Her Majesty Queen Beatrix.”

The six honorees “have distinguished themselves in fields ranging from music, education, health care, youth development, sports and scouting,” the governor said “There is one common denominator. Through education and sharing their knowledge they all have dedicated a significant part of their life and talents towards working on the improvement and development of the lives of others. Such dedication and selflessness is critical for the development of St. Maarten.”

Wally Havertong, the chairman of the Royal Decoration Advisory Committee Rodac and its secretary Cassandra Janssen took pleasure in announcing the royal honorees academy award-style, much to the delight of the audience.

Isidore York, aka as the Mighty Dow, grew up with steel pan music: his father Chester Alexander’s band The Pott Steelers used to practice in the backyard of his home in Middle Region, He emerged in 1981 at the Carnival calypso competitions as the Mighty Dow, winning eight different titles so far. In 1986 he produced the St. Maarten Rumba, a hit song that was recorded by several Spanish groups and that made him famous also outside the island. But York’s most important contribution to our community is his effort to preserve steel pan music through his Ebony steel foundation, established in 1991. Among the many awards he has won throughout his illustrious career, his induction into the International reggae and world Music Hall of fame in Trinidad in 2011 tops them all.

Asha Stevens-Mohabier established together with her then husband and with other committed Christians the Foundation for Protestant-Christian education in 1968. She became the first principal and a teacher at the St. Peters Hillside School. The school started with 55 students and grew over the decades to a student population of 650. She was involved in countless community service activities over the past twenty years; she was involved in the preparations for the Queen’s visit in 1992, and she also co-founded the St. Maarten Navy League Council, an organization that encouraged American navy and Coast Guard vessels to visit St. Maarten. Over the years, this initiative brought more than $70 million into the island’s economy.

Suzette Moses-Burton is St. Maarten’s HIV/Aids program manager; the Rodac recognized her for her dedication to community support and volunteer work over the past 18 years. “although officially employed in this field (HIV/Aids-prevention – ed.), “Suzette has gone way above and beyond what is humanly expected from a program manager.”  She is the creator of the Red-campaign. Though this is not mentioned in the commemorative booklet, Moses-Burton was for these same efforts named woman of the year in 2008 by both the Today Newspaper and by our colleagues at the Daily Herald.

Stella Elstak-Simmons is a writer of children’s books and also a volunteer reading tutor at elementary schools. Since 2007 she dedicates her Saturday mornings together with another honoree – Duane Richardson-Gumbs, to the Reach Out and Read reading sessions at the Philipsburg Jubilee Library. Currently, Elstak is working on a new children’s book entitled Ties that Bind.

Duane Richardson-Gumbs was already helping her peers with their homework when she was in fourth grade at an elementary school in Aruba. She studied for chemist analyst, and her degree earned her a job at the National Laboratory in Aruba where she tested confiscated narcotics. But her passion was reaching and this she still does today: helping children with their homework. “She strongly believes that if she can help one child, that child is one problem less for society,” the Rodac wrote in her profile. Richardson also participates in the Reach Out and Read program at the library, guided by her love for children: “I will never put down a child; I will always praise them and ask them to do their best. It is the approach that matters.”

Soraida Ersilia-Isabella has been a volunteer for the past fifteen years with swimming lessons for the youths of the St. Maarten Super Splash Swimming Team. She got involved with the foundation behind the team after Hurricane Luis in 1995; since 2003, she is the Foundation’s chairwoman. She is also involved with the Special Olympics Foundation, training mentally and physically challenged athletes. Lastly, she is a scout leader at the Scouting Antiano district St. Maarten where she is known as Bagheera, the black panther who is a superb sneaker and fantastic solver of problems.


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