In a little more than a month now, a new honorary mayor for Lehigh Acres will be named and a check will be presented to the Greater Lehigh Acres Chamber of Commerce with other checks given to the mayoral candidates' favorite charities.
To date, two men, both friends, have entered the race for Lehigh's next honorary mayor. It's a tradition that goes was back to Lehigh Community Services when it was under the direction of Liz Eilf and she ran the race. The funding from the honorary mayor contest helped to buy food to hand out to the needy. It was a major funding event.
Later, the Greater Lehigh Acres Chamber of Commerce took on the honorary mayor's contest when Rae Nicely took over Lehigh Community Services.
Today, the two men who say they are good friends, but know that only one of them will win the honorary mayor contest, are battling it out with all types of fundraising events and the one who raises the most money or the one "who buys the most votes" will be declared the winner.
The two are the present incumbent honorary mayor, Ahmed El-Gendy, who was the first to announce that he was going to seek a third term, and his friend, an executive at Lehigh Regional Medical Center. El-Gendy is head of technology for his family's medical practice, Florida Lung and Sleep Associates at 2625 Lee Blvd. Dr. Alla El-Gendy, who was honored two weeks ago at the Greater Lehigh Acres annual gala as the Member of the Year. The medical practice is Ahmed's sponsor.
The other man who is seeking to become Lehigh's next honorary mayor and unseat El-Gendy is Osman Gruhonjic, the chief financial officer (CFO) at Lehigh Regional Medical Center.
"Ahmed and I are good friends," Gruhonjic laughed. The two men are of the same religious faith and often pray together, he said.
But now Osman Gruhonjic, 35, a native of Bosnia, is challenging his friend for the title and both agreed that the better man should win.
Lehigh is unincorporated and has no mayoral form of government. The honorary mayor carries a title and is present at most ceremonial events in Lehigh, such as grand openings and ribbon cuttings.
Osman, as he is called by his friends at LRMC and throughout the community is active in the Rotary Club of Lehigh Acres and believes that it his duty and indeed, his wish, to put back into the community that he says he has come to love.
"I live in Lehigh. I am only 15 minutes or so from the hospital. I enjoy my work at LRMC. We have done some great things here at the hospital and we are a close group of people. The hospital is sponsoring me and many of my friends are donating to my candidacy," he said.
He comes with well qualified credentials in the hospital business and has been a healthcare executive with 12 years of experience in finance, accounting and related hospital operations.
Joanie Jeanette, the CEO of Lehigh Regional Medical Center, noted that Osman brings such areas of expertise to LRMC, including strategic planning, budgeting and financial analysis, coupled with superior technical competence and extensive experience in implementation of electronic health records and numerous additional financial system programs.
As for Osman Gruhonjic's living in Lehigh, he said he had come from Bosnia, a country that was in turmoil. He came to the U.S. for better opportunities. His parents spend their time here and in Bosnia.
Both contenders for the honorary mayor El-Gendy and Gruhonjic are bachelors and both are planning marriage in the not to distant future to two "wonderful women."
"I have lived in many places in the United States but I feel special connection to Lehigh Acres community. I consider this to be my home, a place where I want to raise my children. Unfortunately the community was severely impacted during the economic crisis. I want to help the community to get on its feet and give back to Lehigh by supporting organizations that provide educational, healthcare, social and other services for the people of Lehigh Acres.
"I hope to raise enough money to support efforts of Lehigh Community Services and the American Cancer Society," he said.
Both El-Gendy and Gruhonjic will divide up the money they collect with the Greater Lehigh Acres Chamber of Commerce. While Gruhonjic's charities are the Lehigh Community Services and the American Cancer Society, El-Gendy's favorite charity is the Chest and Lung Institute, which helps those with lung disease.
Half of what they collect goes to the chamber and then the remainder is divided up among their charities. That could be a double whammy for Lehigh Community Services if Osman wins.
While the race is underway, the amount of money that they collect is kept secret and only Inke Baker, the president and CEO of the Greater Lehigh Acres Chamber of Commerce knows who has collected what.
She will make the announcement on either the final Thursday or Friday night of the Lehigh Spring Festival, which this year is from March 14 to 22. The presentation will be made on the outdoors stage at Veterans Park.
In the past, the honorary mayor was named at the beginning of the festival, but contenders discovered they could raise more money during the week-long event, usually selling raffle tickets or asking for donations and that increased the money they had in the bank to win the title.
The winner will receive a sash and the second place winner will become the honorary vice mayor. The winner also will ride in a convertible in the 90-minute parade down Homestead Rd. on the last Saturday of the festival.
Osman has his own blog page on the Internet and expresses his reasons for wanting to become the next honorary mayor. You can find it at: www.gofundme.com/osman-for-lehigh#.
You can also email him at Osman.gruhonjic@hma and offer donations to his campaign. You can offer donations to El-Gendy at the medical practice that is next to the Walmart on Lee Blvd.
In addition to his accomplishments at LRMC, Gruhonjic said he was honored with membership in the Rotary Club, which is a community organization that focuses on building understanding, goodwill, and peace through the improvement of health, the support of education, and the alleviation of poverty in the local community.
"Throughout the year we hoist a several cornerstone projects like a dictionary drive for all third graders in Lehigh, a thesaurus drive for all fourth grade students in Lehigh, a Christmas and Thanksgiving dinner for everyone in the community, those in need and those who just want to come and eat. I also support sporting activities at East Lee County High School," he said.
He believes in physical activities and practices something he calls CrossFit.
"It's a general strength and conditioning program based on functional movement performed at high intensity. For those looking for broad general physical preparedness, this is your program. From endurance exercise, such as rowing or running to single rep max lifts such as the back squat, shoulder press and deadlift; nothing is left out of CrossFit training. One will find strengths and weaknesses with this program and achieve a new level of fitness. No matter what sport you play or what job you do, this is a good fitness program for everyone, regardless of age," he said.
Both El-Gendy and Gruhonjic said their friendship will continue, no matter who wins.
"That's the spirit of the competition," El-Gendy said.