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2017 Winner: Richard Filip

My first encounter with the Keys was in 1982 when a friend and I visited Key west. I was so enamored with the Keys that I bought a 42' Cruiser and docked it at Bud and Mary's in lslamorada and enjoyed many fishing memories. Fast forward to 2007 when my wife, Jeanne and I decided to cruise the Keys in our Hargrave Tri-Deck for a week. Arriving in Key West, we docked at the Conch Republic Marina. The boat docked next to us had a bearded white hair guy on it. Jeanne, thinking it was me, went over to find out why I was on someone else's boat. The guy turned out to be Tom Grizzard, who says to me “Looks like you're here for the Hemingway Look-A-Like Contest!" I replied "what contest?" and the rest is history. That year we decided to be on Tom's team to help him win- (lf I had known this was going to turn into an endurance contest, I would have entered that year.) I missed the next year. Tom was named papa 2008. Tom and Linda continued to email me and encourage me to return for the contest. ln 2011 I decided to put a team together and head back to Sloppy Joes and see what this contest was all about. To my surprise, I made the finals my first year and was hooked! I was determined to keep returning until I was named Papa or died!

In 2013, Jeanne and I attended the Hemingway colloquium in Havana with several wannabes and papas, led by Stephen Terry. It was an incredible experience to visit Finca Vigia (which means 'lookout house) which was Hemingway's home in the 40's and 5O's. In 2O14 l decided to visit Hemingway's birthplace, Oak Park, just outside of Chicago. Another great memory to stand in the bedroom where he took his first breath. In 2015 , I joined Papa Ron Thomas on a trip back to Cuba and Finca Vigia. Ron, an incredible artist, was presenting an Illustrated Christmas book to the local youth baseball team (Hemingway opened his estate to the local youth baseball teams during his time in Cuba). All of the Papas and Wannabes brought baseball equipment and lots of candy and gifts for their Christmas cheer. During this trip, we were invited to go inside the Finca Vigis for a couple of hours, an honor not available to most. One of those definite "WOW" moments!

The old Man and the sea is one of my favorite Hemingway novels! ln 2016 I went to Costa Rica, chartered a fishing boat, and by noon had landed a sailfish, a Blue Marlin, and a Black Marlin -- a record for the boat! This was the sign I needed to win as I had created a special kinship with the Papa himself. I was certain Papa 2016 would be mine! WRONG but I made the Top Five. 

Preparing for the 2017 contest, I was researching Hemingway's boat, The Pilar, on the internet looking for something I could use for my presentation.  Up pops a replica of the Pilar, docked in Miami! Again, was this a sign? What if I could take it from Miami to Key West for Hemingway Days? what a memory to share with all the Papas, Mamas, and wannabes; the impact was overwhelming for the entire community. The Pilar was docked front and center at the Conch Republic Marina and became a major tourist attraction for the time it was there, not to mention an incredible photo opportunity.

I swelter in the heat of Key west and, again, l'm a part of the Top Five finalists anxiously awaiting to hear my name called out. I keep telling myself it's Lucky seven! Hearing "Papa 2017 Richard Filip" announced set off an emotional roller coaster that blocked out my memory for the next hour! lt was an experience that is difficult to put into words - a culmination of seven years of expectations that finally became a reality! The friendships formed and the memories made during Hemingway Days are second to none' Add to that the Scholarship program for the local students. The Hemingway Look-A-Like Society has changed the lives of many young people seeking a higher education, and I urge one and all to support the auction and donate whatever You can. And, last but certainly not least, I will never forget the encouragement from my support team who traveled 1,300 miles every year just to sit in Sloppy Joes and hold a table for the team. Couldn't have done it without them, especially the support of my wife Jeanne.

My advice to contestants: Mingle with the Papas and the Mamas - get to know the.' Always wear a name badge, or better yet have your name and image on a tee shirt. I am honored to be Papa 2017, and will further the goodwill of the Hemingway Look-a-Like Society with 150% effort!

God Bless America and God Bless Our Troops!