Gift of Life presents Tim Sudela inaugural Joe Tortorice Servant Leadership Award

Published 12:42 pm Wednesday, February 15, 2023

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BEAUMONT — Gift of Life has presented American Valve & Hydrant President Tim Sudela with the first Joe Tortorice Servant Leadership Award at a surprise gathering at its Dowlen Road location in recognition of his dedication to selfless service and community activism.

The newly established award pays tribute to Tortorice, Jason’s Deli founder, and his legacy of compassionate, purpose-driven efforts to nurture others — his friends, family, employees, underserved Southeast Texans and incarcerated individuals whose lives were changed by his consistent, benevolent prison ministry.

“Joe lived a life measured by the blessings he bestowed on others,” said Gift of Life Founder and Chair Regina Rogers. “Genuine, humble, loyal, principled and a man of deep integrity and strong faith, he believed in the power of believing in others. His heart was his greatest strength.”

Rogers met Tortorice in 1976, when her father Ben Rogers, manager and developer with his brothers of Gateway Shopping Center, was seeking a tenant to open a delicatessen. Tortorice, a recent graduate of Texas A&M, was working for the state and had a small sandwich shop in his father’s grocery store.

It was Joe’s wife and soulmate Shelley who suggested the phrase “servant leadership” as the foundation for the Jason Deli’s corporate culture that helped propel it to phenomenal success and enabled them to provide significant philanthropic support for a wide range of causes, including Gift of Life’s health and cancer prevention initiatives.

Embodying the late Tortorice’s values, Tim Sudela similarly governs American Valve & Hydrant by the “Golden Rule.”

The company has flourished under his leadership, and employees have felt loved and cared for during overwhelming obstacles, such as natural disasters that directly impacted 60 percent of the staff. He also has served as former president of the Beaumont Rotary Club and the Symphony of Southeast Texas, while simultaneously giving of his time, talents and resources to many local non-profits.

Dr. James Fuller, retired senior pastor of Calder Baptist Church, said in his opening prayer and comments, “I have watched Tim in our community and have been touched by his manner of leadership. He not only knows our names, but he knows who we are and he has led us by example to a deeper understanding of what true humanity looks like: this calling to serve one another.”

“Tim is a diligent public servant involved in numerous organizations that provide aid to the neediest,” Beaumont Rotary Club President Joanne Brown said. “Whether teaching religion classes to the children at church, volunteering for carpentry projects, or sharing his photography skills, Tim always is eager to provide generous assistance and support.”

Gift of Life Executive Director Norma Sampson added, “Our organization has benefited immensely from Tim’s endorsement of our lifesaving initiatives, particularly the Men’s Health & Prostate Cancer Program.

He has been a longtime advocate of our mission to offer prostate cancer screenings and other primary care services to local men who are unable to afford health insurance. This care is funded, in part, by Gift of Life’s Champagne & Ribs fundraiser, an event that has been enhanced by Sudela’s abiding support. In 2019, he was an honoree and this year is serving as a co-chair.”

Sampson presented the award to Sudela and expressed gratitude for his many years of extraordinary efforts and tireless commitment, “Together, with his wife, Lisa, Tim has made a tremendous difference throughout the region. He is more than deserving of this meaningful distinction that bears the name of the exceptionally kind Joe Tortorice.”

Included among the distinguished guests were Tortorice’s cherished wife, Shelley, their son Jay, for whom the deli was named, and other family members who attended the ceremony to celebrate the heartwarming occasion that paid tribute to the memory of a beloved trailblazer.

“How touched I am by this award that was established in loving memory of my wonderful late husband, and how proud I am that you are the first recipient,” Shelley Tortorice told Sudela. “You are a walking, living example of Joe’s servant leadership, and a light for all to see.”

Bishop David Toups and Bishop Emeritus Curtis Guillory, who were unable to attend, provided inspirational messages and shared their high praises of both Tortorice and Sudela.

Msgr. Michael Jamail, recently retired St. Anne parish priest who served for 42 years, expressed his gratitude for Sudela in a letter that Brown read: “I trust Tim Sudela without reservation. He is amazingly available for others even as he has major professional and family responsibilities. He speaks modestly, serves generously, and empowers others. Joe Tortorice, servant leader, is rejoicing as you give this award to Tim!”

Msgr. Salvador Culotta and Father Rodel Faller, Beaumont diocese faith leaders, also were in attendance and spoke briefly about the honoree and Tortorice family. Culotta was in the same graduating class at St. Anthony’s as Tortorice’s late father.

Talented vocalist Angela Pickering added immeasurably to the occasion with her poignant musical selections, “Legacy” and “Count on Me.”

For nearly 30 years, Gift of Life has been committed to providing underserved Southeast Texans with critical cancer screenings and cancer prevention education.  For more information about the organization or its upcoming Champagne & Ribs event on March 9, please visit or call 409.833.3663.