Rotary Club of Ponte Vedra heroes receive honor medals


The Rotary Club of Ponte Vedra (Nocatee) presented medals of honor for service during the past year to St. Johns County 2022 Firefighter of the Year Lt. Mike Pepper from Station 18 in Nocatee, and to St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office 2022 Deputy of the Year Senior Deputy Nate Datsko.

The Second Annual Rotary Heroes Awards event was also presented by the Ponte Vedra Rotary Foundation, the club’s charitable arm.

The awards were given in recognition of excellence in vocational service, which is Rotary’s theme for January. In addition to the many Rotarians, family and friends of the honorees who attended the event at the Coastal Oaks Club House in Nocatee, Sheriff Robert Hardwick and his wife Kendell were in attendance, as was St. Johns County Fire Interim Chief R. Scott Bullard.

Members from the command staff of both agencies, fellow co-workers, and the 2021 Rotary Heroes also attended the celebration.

Pepper is a 20-year veteran of SJCFR. He has been a mentor to numerous firefighters throughout his stellar career.

When asked what inspired him to be a firefighter, he said: “To serve the community, and to foster long-term relationships with like-minded individuals.”

Captain Shawn Vitori, who nominated him for the award, said, “Lt. Pepper puts absolutely 100% into everything that he does, and he does so to the highest standard.”

Husband, father and soon-to-be grandfather, Pepper enjoys being with his family and going fishing in his free time.

Datsko has been a deputy with the St. Johns Sheriff’s Office since 2000, but he has been in law enforcement for 32 years. He has received numerous awards for excellence throughout his career.

When asked what inspired him to go into to law enforcement, he said, “Law enforcement chose me; I didn’t choose it.”

Datsko is a DUI enforcement deputy and a homicide reconstructionist, which is a highly specialized area of traffic homicide investigation.

SJSO Sergeant Scott Yeoman, who nominated Datsko for the award said, “He has always gone above and beyond the call of duty, and he has a genuine passion for protecting the citizens in St. Johns County.”

When not on duty, Datsko can be found on a golf course or playing his drums. He is a husband, father and grandfather and mentor to many people.

Kelly Altosino-Sastre, Rotary Club of Ponte Vedra charter president and chair of the Rotary Heroes Awards committee, said, “These men who are exceptional first responders have demonstrated service above self throughout their careers, and since this is Rotary’s motto, it is fitting that they receive the Rotary Heroes Awards. These heroes demonstrate their dedication to the protection and the safety of the citizens of Nocatee and St. Johns County every day.”

In addition to the Rotary International-sanctioned medals presented to them, a donation was made to Mastiff Rescue of Florida in honor of Pepper, and a donation was made to St. Jude Children’s Hospital in honor of Datsko. These are charities close to their hearts.

Sponsors for the event included Nocatee businesses Publix Charities, Starbucks in Nocatee Town Center and Alex Quijano, photographer of Art and Alex.

The Rotary Club of Ponte Vedra, chartered in April of 2018, is one of 67 Rotary Clubs in North Florida that comprise Rotary District 6970. The club meets on Tuesday mornings at 7:15 a.m. at Treylor Park Restaurant in Nocatee Town Center. The Ponte Vedra Rotary Foundation Inc. is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization and is the charitable arm of the club.

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