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Jax Daily Record Tuesday, Aug. 7, 200712:00 PM EST

Tritt elected to FHBA Hall of Fame

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by: David Chapman

By David Chapman

Staff Writer

Arnold Tritt has a mountain of pictures that could fill dozens of scrapbooks, and each photo is a piece of personal history during his time at the Northeast Florida Builders Association.

Faded, dated, black and white, glossy, color– they’re all there, boxes worth. And they all have a story to tell. Now, he’ll get more: all from his induction into the Florida Housing Hall of Fame.

There’s one photo with Tritt and former President Jimmy Carter during the record-breaking 101-home Habitat for Humanity build. Another one of Tritt sharing a laugh and a handshake with former President George H. W. Bush and first lady Barbara Bush. In some pictures, Tritt sports a beard, in others clean shaven. Tritt holds up one photo of a group of four including the late ABC news anchor Peter Jennings and himself.

“He was a great guy,” said Tritt about Jennings.

Then a picture of former President Gerald Ford and Tritt smiling for the camera.

“You know,” said Tritt. “I’d have to say he was one of the most interesting people I’ve met. We had some talks when I met him and he’s an interesting guy.”

During a 34-year tenure as executive director of NEFBA, Tritt made many acquaintances, led numerous fund-raising activities and spearheaded community service projects.

For those years of service, industry members unanimously voted and elected him to the Florida Housing Hall of Fame during the recent Florida Home Builders Association board meeting at the Southeastern Building Conference. He will be inducted as the 51st member during an October event at the Ritz-Carlton on Amelia Island.

“To see 500 people stand and applaud,” said Tritt, in reaction to the vote, “I don’t want to say I got teary-eyed, but I couldn’t talk.”

Tritt’s received other honors over the years, as well. He was awarded the 2006 Dick Baker Memorial Award, given annually to an industry member that “personifies the spirit of the industry,” and he also has the Arnold Tritt Scholarship Fund, used to assist students in the Building Construction Management program at the University of North Florida.

Tritt has had some moments and programs he’s been especially proud of over the years. Leading the way are the community projects, such as Builders Care.

“What Builders Care does in the community,” said Tritt, “I don’t think can have a a value placed on it. I am so proud to be a part of it.”

He cites projects such as the Trinity Rescue Mission Women and Children’s Center and NEFBA’s involvement in numerous Habitat for Humanity projects that have made a difference within the community.

“We probably do more community service than any other (builder’s) association in the country,” he said.

Tritt helped NEFBA grow to one of the 10 largest builders associations in the country and the largest in Florida. Doing so required new members, from the 200 or so when he started to the over 2,000 today, and one of the members Tritt recruited and personally signed up was Bill Ding – a giant stuffed panda. A light-hearted move, Tritt occasionally uses the signature of Mr. Ding for documents such as sponsoring new members and internal memos.

“Bill’s been around a while,” said Tritt with big smile. “We’re just glad he’s a valued member.”

With the good times, though, were a couple blunders. One of his more embarrassing accomplishments, he said, happened in 1989. He was asked to build some shelving for Trinity Rescue Mission, a simple task that didn’t even need nails or a hammer. He admits it wasn’t an especially difficult task, but when he walked out and saw local media outlets reporting on its unveiling, he was redfaced.

“I walk out and all three of the media stations are there,” he said. “Here I am, just finished a little ol’ job, and I’m no builder. I didn’t know it was that much of a big deal.”

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