provided to The Santiva Chronicle
In a nudge toward a return to normalcy, the Sanibel & Captiva Islands Chamber of Commerce held its annual meeting on April 7 in an outdoor venue at the Dunes Golf & Tennis Club with a limited number of attendees.
“In a normal, pre-pandemic year, we could have been hosting nearly 180 people indoors,” said John Lai, chamber president and chief executive officer. “Last year, we skipped the meeting altogether. This year, we invited fewer than 50 board members and the winners of the 2021 annual awards, which we honored that evening.”
Before presenting the awards, Lai welcomed Mark Blust of Timbers Restaurant as the 2021-2022 chair of the chamber board of directors. He thanked immediate past chair Brian Kautz of the Dunes, and the 2019-2020 outgoing chair, Mary Bondurant.
Blust and Kautz presented four annual awards, with the prestigious Citizen of the Year Award going to former Sanibel mayor Mick Denham.
“Our Citizen of the Year was chosen for his commitment to our city, the water quality fight, and his 16 years served on the Sanibel City Council,” Blust told those congregated.
“I want to thank the chamber for being a good partner,” Denham concluded his acceptance speech. “They are a true partner.”
This year’s Sue Rosica Gray Volunteer of the Year Award went to Josh Stewart, whose Facebook live “Drinks with Josh” feature has become a much-anticipated weekly event among chamber members.
“In a year where the members business community was doing their very best to keep their businesses alive, this member was doing his very best to keep every other small business alive as well,” said Kautz. “It’s quite rare that we award a member for being famous for drinking adult beverages, but in this case not only is it very well deserved, but it also truly meets the mission of our organization.”
Blust presented the New Business of the Year Award to Paper Fig Kitchen, a Sanibel catering and fresh food to-go operation.
“Everyone who knows the proprietors, knows that they are a formidable team,” Blust said of Jeramie and Debra Campana. “They have made their dream to live on Sanibel Island come true, and we are so happy that they did.”
For its dedicated work supporting so many island businesses with the PPP business pandemic recovery program, the chamber thanked the Sanibel-Captiva Community Bank with the presentation of the Business of the Year Award.
“Team members agreed to take on massive, unfamiliar workloads in addition to their current roles working 12- to 13-hour days and weekends for weeks to process as many applications as possible for their customers,” said Kautz, adding that the bank also granted 284 loan deferments for more than $214 million to keep families and businesses afloat during the financial crisis.
“It’s so nice to see people’s legs again, instead of just faces in a Zoom box,” Lai joked with the assembled meeting attendees. “I realized after that first Zoom meeting, this community has no ‘quit’ in it. You understand we’re all stronger together.”
Lai also recognized his staff, the current executive committee, and 2021-2022 board of directors. JR Ramirez of Casa Ybel Resort joins the executive committee as secretary-treasurer. Calli Johnson of Bailey’s General Store moves into the position of chair-elect.
He also welcomed new board member Michael Nachef of Lee Health, who joins Michele Berger, ‘Tween Waters Island Resort; Ron Clayton, Advanced Disposal; Katy Forret, Doc Ford’s Raw Bar & Grille; Joel Goodman, VIP Realty; Willy Ocasio, Bank of the Islands; Aaron Pruss, Becker Law Firm; Melissa Rice, Community Housing and Resources; Evelyn Stewart, Adventures in Paradise; Daniel Thompson, Suncatchers’ Dream; and Jeremy Walsh, RS Walsh Landscaping.