64th Annual Chamber Dinner Recognizes Achievements

HENDRY COUNTY—A torrential downpour threatened the city of Clewiston on Tuesday night, with traffic lights at the major intersections going out, and folks braving the rain as they rushed inside the Clewiston Inn. Inside, however, the atmosphere was warm and inviting, the perfect introduction to yet another successful Chamber Dinner.

Residents came out to honor the achievements of a few worthy citizens, recognizing this year’s outstanding community service award winner, business of the year, and lifetime chamber membership award recipients.

To start off the event, guests listened to the work in progress by the Active Citizens for Children group, based in Clewiston. The group is continuing to advance its goal of rebuilding Woodworks Park featuring an all-new design. Having been torn down as a result of its deteriorating state, the new park will feature much more durable material, and was designed using sketches that local children drew.

“The kids are really excited. They feel they played a part in building it,” said ACFC President Brenda Holcomb. Later that night, one of the door prize winners, having won a cash prize, donated it to the group to help in the fundraising effort.

The first award of the night went to Doc Bill Watson. Clewiston Mayor Rick Miller presented the award to the man he called “one of Clewiston’s finest goodwill ambassadors.” Doc Watson’s “deep and genuine love for America’s Sweetest Town” sees him volunteering countless hours mowing Cane Field, collecting aluminum cans for local organizations and more, going about it in his own quiet way, the mayor said.

In accepting the award from the city of Clewiston, Doc Watson elicited a response from the audience when he said, smiling, “They got the right house, but the wrong spouse.”

The next award went to a surprised Mary Ann Martin, who just recently celebrated 30 years of operating her family’s marina business in Clewiston. Ms. Martin walked up to the podium, asking Chamber Director Jillian Sparks, “What is this award again?”

It was the Lifetime Membership Award.

The crowd laughed.

“I am so flattered, so honored, so moved,” said Ms. Martin. “I’m a foreigner. I’m from the Midwest, but I think I love this town more than anyone. I love this town, but more than that, I love you people.”
The night culminated with the presentation of the Chamber of Commerce’s Business of the Year Award, which was given to Discovery Day Academy.

Ms. Paula Pittman had this to say about them: “They have worked tirelessly to provide Clewiston with a state of the art, day care and learning facility. In just a few short years, they established what every small business strives for: success, sustainability and smart growth.”
Elizabeth McDaniel Garcia and Kristy Bristol started the business in Clewiston, and have since expanded to Bonita Springs.

“How are you so busy in everything that you do that you have no idea that you were even nominated? That your mother bought you tickets to the dinner and you didn’t accept because you were working in your classroom?” said Ms. Bristol, accepting the award on behalf of her partner, Ms. Garcia.

“We started here in Clewiston because this is where we grew up. This is the place that we love. We both moved away and started our families in other places and came back here to bring something to Clewiston that we knew probably wouldn’t be here otherwise,” said Ms. Bristol.

“We are so blessed,” she said.

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