After her family moved from Cuba to the United States when she was 8, Maruchi Azorin-Blanco loved the Girl Scouts.
She joined Troop 47 while at Bryan Elementary School in Plant City and loved the activities, the friendships and the chance to carry the American flag in any parade where the Scouts could march.
Scouting "gave me an opportunity to explore things that I never even knew existed," Azorin-Blanco said this week. "Without a doubt, it was a wonderful way to make friends, and for me, it was a wonderful way to learn English."
Now the Girl Scouts of West Central Florida are loving Azorin-Blanco right back, naming her one of four Women of Distinction for 2010.
The others are Lutz philanthropist Carol DeWitt Morsani, 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.
Azorin-Blanco, who gives her age as "50ish," grew up in Plant City and earned a bachelor's degree and MBA from the University of Florida.
Out of college, she went to work as a research analyst for the Jim Walter Corp., focusing on international marketing and economic forecasting. Twenty-five years ago, she opened Villa Rosa Distinctive Linens in South Tampa. She and her husband, oncologist Dr. Rafael Blanco, have a son, JuanCarlos Blanco, a freshman at Loyola University in New Orleans.
Azorin-Blanco also has held a string of leadership positions on community organizations.
She has been a member of the board of directors of Tampa Hispanic Heritage Inc., was the first Hispanic woman to serve on the board of governors and the executive committee of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce, is the first Hispanic and the second woman to serve as chairman of the board of the Museum of Science & Industry, and was chairwoman of the city of Tampa Mayor's Hispanic Advisory Council.
At MOSI, she started the National Hispanic Scientist of the Year recognition, now in its 10th year, to help get students with Latin backgrounds interested in science.
As chairwoman of the Mayor's Hispanic Advisory Council, she launched the annual Latinos Unidos luncheon to support scholarships for financially needy Hispanic students at the University of South Florida, University of Tampa and Hillsborough Community College.
The diversity of her achievements, including her firsts and near-firsts, set Azorin-Blanco apart, Hulse said.
It "was one of those recommendations that we read over and it was like, 'Wow,' " she said. "She has done so much so well."
Richard Danielson can be reached at Danielson@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3403.