LUTZ — Both as a girl and a troop-leading mom, Carol DeWitt Morsani loved the Girl Scouts. She loved the camping, the crafts, the badges and the chance to make new friends.
"I was a little bit shy back then, and this was a good opportunity to kind of come out of myself," she said of her experience as a Scout. "It's great fun. I think it's a good experience for girls all the way around."
Now the Girl Scouts of West Central Florida are loving Morsani right back, naming her one of four Women of Distinction for 2010.
The others are Tampa entrepreneur and Museum of Science & Industry board chairwoman Maruchi Azorin Blanco, attorney Susan Churuti of St. Petersburg and Winter Haven restaurateur Seretha Tinsley, who co-founded a nonprofit organization to help tutor children.
The Girl Scouts picked the four from more than 300 women nominated by friends, co-workers, families or others.
"First of all, we want women who will be outstanding role models to girls," said Lora Hulse, chairwoman of the selection committee. "We want women who have a real dedication to serving their communities, women who are committed to volunteerism, and also, it's always wonderful to find women who would like to be mentors to girls."
Past honorees have come from a wide variety of backgrounds, from doctors, lawyers, scientists, even a harbor pilot, to stay-at-home moms active in their communities.
"There are no restrictions as to what you have to do as long as the person exemplifies courage, confidence and character," Hulse said.
The Women of Distinction will be recognized at a March 23 fundraising luncheon with keynote speaker Ariane de Bonvoisin, author of The First 30 Days: Your Guide to Making Any Change Easier.
One of the Tampa Bay area's most prominent philanthropists, Morsani, 78, lives in Lutz just north of the Pasco-Hillsborough county line. She has served on the boards of the Tampa Museum of Art and the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute, directed the Frank and Carol Morsani Foundation, and been a key supporter of the University of South Florida and her alma mater, Oklahoma State University.
With her husband, Frank Morsani, who made his fortune as a car dealer, she has made a series of key philanthropic gifts over the years:
• $3 million to the new Tampa Museum of Art in 2008. In honor of the gift, the three-story atrium inside the entrance will be named the Frank and Carol Morsani Lobby.
• $10 million to USF in 2006. Of the total, $7 million was for the Carol and Frank Morsani Center for Advanced Health Care. The rest was for a women's softball stadium and a football practice complex.
• $5 million to the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center in 1996. The largest of the three theaters at the center was renamed Carol Morsani Hall.
• $3 million to the Community Foundation of Tampa Bay in 1996. The donation was earmarked for local charities such as the Spring, Hospice, the Home Association, and art and music education in public schools.
But Morsani's contributions to Tampa Bay have gone beyond financial support for big projects and good causes.
In 2005, USF president Judy Genshaft tapped Morsani to help identify a group of female donors to endow academic scholarships and faculty grants. In response, Morsani and 30 others founded USF Women in Leadership & Philanthropy.
Morsani's work at USF and in the community, including the mentoring she has offered young people, set her apart, Hulse said.
"She's such a leader," she said. The Scouts often consider nominations of women who have stood by and supported their husbands in various community-minded endeavors, she said, but Morsani's work goes beyond that. "Carol Morsani is a woman in her own right who is a leader and a role model."
Richard Danielson can be reached at Danielson@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3403.