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Althea Council, right, reacts to hearing the news Friday morning that she has been named the 2020 School Related Employee of the Year for the state of Florida. Citrus County School District Superintendent Sandra "Sam" Himmel visits Council as she works handing out school lunches to children in the Copeland Park area.

Althea Council sat quietly at a picnic table under a small oak tree in Copeland Park Friday morning waiting for students to stop by and pick up food provided by the school district. Unbeknownst to her, good news was about to arrive.

Shortly after 11 a.m. Superintendent of Citrus County Schools Sandra "Sam" Himmel popped out of her vehicle, balloon and flowers in tow, to announce that Council, 59, has been selected as Florida's 2020 School Related Employee of the Year. "What an honor to have you in the district," Himmel said.

The superintendent said school-related employees are those workers who are non-instructional or non-administrative employees within the school system.

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Council, the Citrus Springs Middle School food services manager, has been an employee with the Citrus County School District for 25 years. She is a native of Citrus County and graduated from Crystal River High School in 1978.

"Last night when I was called by the Department of Education I was so excited that Althea had been chosen," Himmel said. "It's all about he kids with her. She is a true example of someone who loves kids and wants to make a difference in the world."

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2020 Superintendent of the Year for the state of Florida, Sandra "Sam" Himmel, left, stands Friday, May 15, 2020, with newly announced 2020 School Related Employee of the Year, Althea Council, at Copeland Park in Crystal River.

Earlier this school year, Superintendent Himmel was selected the 2020 Superintendent of the Year for the state of Florida.

Council stood modestly at the edge of Copeland Park reflecting on the recognition, "It is really hard to believe. I don't deserve the award but the more I am blessed the more humble I am because I know that I am not doing this on my own."

When asked where she gets her drive to continue with the passion for which she is know she said, "The spirit that I have for my county, the students, the school is a love that is unconditional. And that comes from the spiritual side of me. My purpose in life is to serve others — I am a servant."

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Keeping social distancing in mind Superintendent of Citrus County Schools Sandra "Sam" Himmel elbow bumps an excited Althea Council who Himmel just informed was the 2020 School Related Employee of the Year for the state of Florida.

Seventy-four other finalists were nominated by various school districts around the state and recently Ms. Council was informed she made the short list of top-five finalists. Knowing Friday was the day the winner would be announced she said several colleagues advised her Thursday to do her best get a good night sleep and they would do the worrying for her. "That worked out real well, I got to go to sleep last night," she said.

"I think it's an honor to have the Florida School Related Employee of the Year to be chosen out of 74 other finalists," Himmel said as she walked from Copeland Park. "She rose to the top."

Contact Chronicle Photo Editor Matthew Beck at 352-564-2919 or mbeck@chronicleonline.com.