Hi friends! Reef the fox here with your weekly “Reef’s Report.” I have quite the treat for you this week. 

Monroe County Tax Collector Sam Steele visited over the weekend to sit down for an interview. He’s a pretty cool guy and I even let him take some photos with me.

Reef: I have to be honest, I wasn’t quite sure who you were. You know, I don’t pay taxes or anything, but I saw your face pop up when I was scrolling my social media pages. I did a bit of research and the first article I came across mentioned that you were the youngest tax collector ever elected in Monroe County’s history and I must be blunt here: without that beard, you don’t even look old enough to pay taxes, let alone collect them. So, my first question is what moisturizer do you use? I’m sure both men and women would be interested in obtaining that youthful glow. 

Sam: I have had this beard for at least 10 years now because if I shave it, I probably couldn’t purchase a bottle of NyQuil without getting carded. And as far as what moisturizer I use, this is all natural, Reef. The youthful glow is just a benefit from paying $49.99 per year for an iPhone app.

Reef: Thankfully I don’t need to pay for an app, I am just plain adorable and people should be paying me for my photos! Next up, were you born and raised here in the Keys? 

Sam: I was born in Milwaukee, but my family moved to Miami when I was a year old, which is where I lived until I left for college. My family has always had ties to the Keys. My parents lived in Tavernier for a few years in the 1980s, and ever since my two sisters and I were kids, my dad would drive his boat from Miami to Islamorada every summer for a week for a family trip. While I was attending Florida State University, I met my wife, Lauren, who is a sixth-generation Conch. I still have no idea what they were doing here six generations ago, so I can only assume they were pirates. Lauren introduced me to Key West, and I fell in love with it. We told each other that one day we would get married and start a family here. Fast forward 15 years, we achieved that goal and have been blessed with three beautiful, healthy, saltwater Conchs; Carter, 5, Audrey 3, and Jax, 10 months.

Reef: Since you’re a numbers guy, would it shock you if I told you that according to the 2017 economic census that Florida was No. 8 in the country for fur sales? Were you aware that the industrial farming (killing) of animals for their fur was still happening (legally) in the U.S. and do you think that that practice needs to stop?

Sam: I find that very shocking and I do not support the killing of any animal for their fur. I did not even realize fur coats were still a “thing.” It’s an even bigger surprise to me that this has not been banned in Florida, let alone the U.S. I have always found it difficult to trust someone who does not like animals, and killing them solely for the use of wearing their fur is cruel and evil.

Reef: Do you have any pets? If so, what are their names?

Sam: Sadly, only one of our four pets are still with us today, and that is our cat we rescued in Tallahassee about 11 years ago. Her name is Shady, and she definitely lives up to her name. We recently lost our three dogs, who all had long, amazing lives. We had a pit bull/chow, chow/Shar Pei mix who we also rescued in Tallahassee. Her name was Boo and despite the stigma and reputation of her specific mix of breeds, she was the world’s biggest sweetheart. She had the head of a pit bull, the wrinkled face and short, curly tail of a Shar Pei, and the blue-black tongue of a chow chow. Tila was an applehead teacup chihuahua that weighed less than four pounds. That dog had more lives than a cat and she even got kidnapped by a housekeeper once at a hotel in Miami – that story is for another time, but for the record, she was safely rescued after an intense investigation conducted by Lauren. Ares was our American bulldog. He was 110 pounds, but thought he was the size of our chihuahua. At first, we were a little concerned about how he was going to act towards the kids, but he turned out to be the most protective and gentle with them.

Reef: What is your favorite yearly event to attend in Monroe County?

Sam: It’s difficult to narrow it down to just one since there are so many amazing events and fundraisers in Monroe County. I would say my two favorite events are The Rotary Club of Key West and Sunset Key West Rotary Club’s Kicking for a Cause kickball tournament, and the Keys Weekly’s Bubba Awards.

Reef: I see you were honored as one of the “Men of Valor” this year. First of all, congratulations. I whipped out my handy-dandy pocket dictionary to see what valor meant and it said, “great courage in the face of danger, especially in battle.” How have you exhibited great courage in the face of danger serving the citizens of Monroe County?

Sam: Thank you, Reef. I am not sure how you managed to do that without opposable thumbs, but that’s what makes you so unique. I was caught off guard when I received the phone call informing me that I was receiving the prestigious award for public service and community involvement. I became speechless when Tara from Samuel’s House told me the news because there are so many other people that are much more deserving of this award than me, and I can’t describe how honored I am that my name was even brought into the conversation.

Like many young adults, I found myself lost after graduating from college and didn’t know what I wanted to do in life. My dad would always tell me, “Son, one day you will find that fire inside, and you will excel at what ever it is you decide to do.” I discovered that the “fire” inside me was my passion for helping others. It is not something I do for acknowledgement or a pat on the back, I do it because nothing brings me more pleasure than making others smile and laugh. Every single one of us is fighting a battle, and you will never truly know what it feels like to walk in someone else’s shoes. We all have our own problems, but in the bigger picture, many of them are minute. There is always someone out there who has it much worse. One of the most important life lessons my dad taught me before he passed, is that we have the moral obligation to step up and make a positive impact on the lives of others. We are not in competition with anyone, and the only person that you should try to be better than is the person that you were yesterday.

Reef was born on a fur farm on or around March 28, 2021. He was able to be rescued when his mother and siblings started to reject him. Reef is missing toes on his front, right paw and the tip of his tail is missing due to injuries sustained in his short time on the fur farm. Reef arrived at Key Largo on May 6, 2021 by Nicole Navarro, of Pawsitive Beginnings Inc.