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The East Lee County Chamber of Commerce holds Award Gala 2021

By JANA MACKIN - | Jun 22, 2021

An evening of steak dinners and crystal stars highlighted the East Lee County Chamber of Commerce Annual Awards Gala Saturday at the Plantation Golf and Country Club, marking the chambers 58th anniversary and honoring teachers and public servants for their community contributions during last year’s pandemic. The gala also recognized the chamber’s success as it works to realize a post-pandemic future as a South West Florida presence.

What began as the sprawling Lucky Lee Cattle ranch of the 1950s has now developed into a viable civic, social and economic gateway to the area’s future, officials said.

“This year’s award,” said Michael Welch, Chamber chairman of the board, takes the “shape of a crystal star.”

“That is what every teacher here is,” Welch said, “a crystal star.”

About 130 people attended the 19th annual Gala that included a silent auction, dinner, entertainment and the awards presentations honoring area teachers and others such as firefighters, deputies, municipal, community and chamber members whose contributions have helped to realize the gala’s theme, “The Future is Here.”

“The future is here,” said Nancy Williamson, gala chair. “We’re so over the whole COVID thing.”

“We’re ready to start over and start moving forward.” she said.

During his remarks, Welch said teachers were honored for their outstanding contributions to their students, schools and community. What stood out during their nomination process, Welch said, was the re-occurrence of words such as inspiration, leadership, wisdom, friendship and love.

“What came to us was that our teachers, public servants (and others), all practiced something called the little way,” Welch said, based upon the practice of the late 19th century nun.St. Thérèse of Lisieux.

“The little way,” Welch said, “is that the value of life does not depend upon the place we occupy. It depends upon the way we occupy that life in that place.”

At the gala, the 14 teachers and their respective schools displayed the range, depth and academic outreach of East Lee County education whether Harnes Marsh Elementary, Lehigh Senior High School, Donna J. Beasley Technical Academy or Veterans Park Academy for the Arts.

“I love my students,” said Samantha Stafford, Harnes Marsh Elementary teacher.

“I feel very honored they would choose our school and support our students,” she said. “After all, it takes a village to raise a child and we need all the love we can get.”

Formerly known as the Greater Lehigh Acres Chamber of Commerce, the organization was founded in 1962, and became a non profit in 1980. Almost two years ago, the name and logo was changed to reflect its regional growth with about 200 members as it has expanded into the Gateway Community and more of East Fort Myers, officials said.

“What makes a great chamber of commerce, is to get more involved with the community, the people,” said Robert Lambert, a Donna J. Beasley Technical Academy teacher and former chamber member.

“Business is good. It brings money in but you’ve got to get the people together,” he said. “People make community. People make business. People is where it is at.”

Reflecting the areas’ changes and growth, the chamber installed at the gala three new board members: Lee County Commissioner Cecil Pendergrass, Collier County Commissioner Burt Saunders, and Ruth Anglickis, community leader and pioneer in the development of Lehigh Acres. The three were selected for the knowledge and expertise in helping realize the chambers mission to “promote and advance the economic, civic, and social growth of East Lee County.”

“I hope everyone here tonight will join me in an I Care Program,” said Anglickis, president of Landex Resorts International. “I care about East Lee County. I care about the schools and the children and community. I care about the people who make Lehigh a place where a handshake is a lasting friendship.”

Honorees are:

TEACHERS OF THE YEAR

1. TEACHER OF THE YEAR

Samantha Stafford

Harnes Marsh Elementary School

2021

2. TEACHER OF THE YEAR

Robert Lambert

Donna J. Beasley Technical Academy

2021

3. TEACHER OF THE YEAR

Erin Roberts

Sunshine Elementary School

2021

4. TEACHER OF THE YEAR

Brian Adams

Harnes Marsh Middle School

2021

5. TEACHER OF THE YEAR

Arthur Phillips

East Lee High School

2021

6. TEACHER OF THE YEAR

Miguel Cintron

Lehigh Senior High School

2021

7. TEACHER OF THE YEAR

Laura Robinson

Alva School

2021

8. TEACHER OF THE YEAR

Mary Fine

Lehigh Acres Middle School

2021

9. TEACHER OF THE YEAR

Christine Coleman

Mirror Lakes Elementary School

2021

10. TEACHER OF THE YEAR

Karyna Sandin

Lehigh Acres Elementary School

2021

11. TEACHER OF THE YEAR

Debby McLemore

Tortuga Preserve Elementary School

2021

12. TEACHER OF THE YEAR

Melissa Zeiher

G. Weaver Hipps Elementary School

2021

13 TEACHER OF THE YEAR

Anselmo Solorzano

Varsity Lakes Middle School

2021

14. TEACHER OF THE YEAR

Deborah Henry

Veterans Park Academy for the Arts

2021

15. LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICER OF THE YEAR

Deputy Alexandria Davis

Lee County Sheriff’s Office

2021

16. FIRE FIGHTER OF THE YEAR

Javier Bermudez

Lehigh Acres Fire Control & Rescue District

2021

17. EMPLOYEE PERFORMANCE AWARD

Larry Arfmann

Lehigh Acres Fire Control & Rescue District

2021

18. MEMBER OF THE YEAR

Michael Jacobs

Go Small Biz/LegalSheild

2021

19. CHAIRMAN’S AWARD

Susan Kostyk

Kostyk Insurance Agency

2021