Sanibel Chamber Celebrates 60th Anniversary

provided to The Santiva Chronicle

Outgoing chamber board chair Mark Blust welcomes Calli Johnson to the position.

The Sanibel & Captiva Islands Chamber of Commerce held its annual meeting on April 20 at Sundial Beach Resort & Spa on Sanibel Island, the first full-membership annual meeting since April 2019 and celebrating the chamber’s 60th anniversary.  Chamber board of director members and president-CEO John Lai announced Citizen of the Year James Evans and other award winners and reviewed the year’s achievements.

Outgoing board chair Mark Blust highlighted the chamber’s Government Affairs committee actions. “Our legislative priorities were almost all based on water quality,” he said. “We collaborated on both local and state levels to be relevant.”

He introduced Lai, who presented a Year in Review summary of 2021, highlighting noteworthy events, accomplishments, and growth statistics. Welcome center numbers show a 17 percent increase in 2021 over 2020, while the website sanibel-captiva.orgsaw nearly 837,000 new visitors last year. Social media reach surpassed 3 million overall, with more than 72,400 Facebook and 15,500 Instagram followers.

In 2021, chamber representatives supported initiatives statewide, including the Everglades Conference in Southwest Florida and Tourism Day in Tallahassee. At the latter, the chamber was instrumental in successful lobbying efforts for long-term funding and reauthorization for Visit Florida. Water-quality efforts included SWFL Days to lobby at the state level for project funding, and hosting and participating in local round table discussions with Gov. Ron DeSantis and Congressman Byron Donalds.

Monthly luncheon business meetings also brought water-quality awareness to the forefront, featuring prominent speakers from South Florida Water Management District, SCCF (Sanibel & Captiva Conservation Foundation), and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

“As we celebrate our 60-year anniversary, I am honored to say that we have stayed true to our mission and done our job well.,” Lai told the nearly 150 members gathered for the meeting. “Perhaps the area that sets us apart from most organizations like ours has really been made a priority by our board and our membership over the past five years, and that is our willingness to and ability to collaborate with strategic partners to better champion the causes that we deem top priorities to our business community.”

Before the awards presentation, Blust highlighted some of the chamber’s 60 years of history, then welcomed Calli Johnson as the 2022-2023 chair of the chamber board of directors.

Building on a family tradition of chamber support that began with her grandfather, Francis Bailey, Jr., and continued with her father, Richard Johnson, who served as board chair 2010-2011, Johnson told the crowd: “They are the people I think about when I think how I want our islands to stay for future generations.”

“What can I offer you?” Johnson concluded. “A fresh perspective. I want to make 2022 the best year yet. Support each other, appreciate one another…. Let’s connect. Involve yourself in greater Southwest Florida.”

She then introduced other members of the upcoming year’s executive board and recognized new, outgoing, and other board members. JR Ramirez with Casa Ybel Resort will serve as chair-elect and Ron Clayton with Waste Management as secretary-treasurer for 2021-2022.

Johnson welcomed new board members David Lowden of Bank of the Islands, Robert Monk of the Law Office of Robert Monk, Patience Rodriguez of Select Vacation Properties, and Samantha Wilson of Toys Ahoy. They join Michele Berger, ‘Tween Waters Island Resort; Clayton; Katy Forret, Doc Ford’s Raw Bar & Grille; Joel Goodman, VIP Realty; Ramirez, Melissa Rice, Community Housing and Resources; and Jeremy Walsh, RS Walsh Landscaping.

Johnson and Ramirez presented four annual awards. This year’s Sue Rosica Gray Volunteer of the Year Award went to Roger Grogman, a full-time Sanibel resident for more than 15 years, during which time he served on a number of community boards and currently chairs the Sanibel Planning Commission.

“As his close friend, John Henshaw, says, ‘Roger Grogman is one of the most energetic, thoughtful, and giving men I have ever known,’” said Johnson.

Ramirez presented the New Business of the Year Award to Savoury Spoon, an eat-in and take-out restaurant on Sanibel. He told the gathering how Richard and Amanda Estes started their Sanibel connection at local farmer’s markets “making waffle-everything from scratch alongside fresh juices and health elixirs…. Their motto is ‘Love people and feed them.’”

For its 11 years in business on Sanibel Island and philanthropic sponsorship of several community fundraisers, the chamber thanked Cielo restaurant with the presentation of the Business of the Year Award. Johnson recognized the restaurant’s major 2019 makeover including a total redesign and new food and craft cocktail menus.

Board chair Calli Johnson and chair-elect JR Ramirez award SCCF CEO James Evans (center) with the Citizen of the Year award.

“This year’s Citizen of the Year is someone who has dedicated his professional life to protecting our islands from unfettered development, to keeping our nature intact – making sure that our islands stayed the course and didn’t become like so many others in our state,” Ramirez said as he announced Evans’ award. He quoted former SCCF CEO Ryan Orgera, who called Evans “the single most important voice in the fight for West Coast water quality.’”

“It’s an honor to work for this community,” Evans concluded his acceptance speech. “You’ve absolutely done an amazing job and have moved the needle where water quality is concerned. You deserve the credit.”

Water quality was a recurring theme during the 75-minute meeting. Co-sponsor Captains for Clean Water showed a video on the topic showcasing local key players such as Lai, Evans, and Sanibel Mayor Holly Smith.

Michael Nachef, chamber board member and representative of sponsor Lee Health also gave a short presentation reviewing the impact of COVID-19. Other annual meeting sponsors included Goede, DeBoest & Cross; Island Inn; SCCF; Valerie Tutor, Kingfisher Real Estate; Doc Ford’s Rum Bar & Grille; Rapid Response Team; and Charitable Foundation of the Islands.

A ticketed dinner followed the annual meeting, which was admission- free for chambers members.

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