Nothing But Polished Diamonds Among Gala Award Winners

It’s a wonderful thing when a community can come together to shine the light on the people and organizations that help to make it tick — that help to make it thrive and prosper, to make it go and grow

A whole lot of “wonderful” happened in mid-May when the Lake Wales Area Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Council held its Second Annual Awards Gala to recognize and honor champion citizens, public servants, business leaders, businesses, and service organizations.

The Gala had a James Bond “Diamond Are Forever” theme to it — James Bond-type attire for attendees was encouraged — but there certainly weren’t any diamonds in the rough among the award winners. From this vantage point, there was nothing but polish, professionalism, and philanthropy.

The Gala also served as a celebration of “100 Years of the Crown Jewel” — the centennial (100th anniversary) of the city of Lake Wales’ incorporation in 1917.

The Gala happened the evening of May 11 at the Lake Ashton Golf Club clubhouse in northwest Lake Wales. This column, here and now, presents another great opportunity to look back on a very special time for the community and do some additional name-dropping in regards to an extra-fine group of honored individuals and organizations. The Lake Wales Chamber-EDC released the names of most of the award winners prior to the Gala, saving only the highly prestigious 2017 Citizen of the Year Award for the big event suspense and surprise.

Community Leadership Award — David Price, president of Bok Tower Gardens. Nominees for this award have demonstrated significant leadership skills, bringing groups of residents and/or businesses together to complete projects or create and conduct new programs specifically that have benefited those who live and/or work in greater Lake Wales area.

Public Servant of the Year Award — Jennifer Nanek, special projects manager and Interim City Clerk, city of Lake Wales. Nominees for this award are public employees who have provided significant service to the city of Lake Wales, demonstrating efforts above and beyond their official duties to benefit its residents and businesses.

Community Service Organization of the Year Award — American Legion Memorial Post 71. Considered for this award are organizations that have demonstrated significant community service, innovation, and programs benefiting the residents and/or businesses of greater Lake Wales.

Carl F. Durso Award for Excellence in Business — Village Kitchen Shop and Patton Tire. Award selection criteria include a company’s length of time in the community, number of employees, growth or expansion over time, capital investment, community involvement and contributions, business and civic leadership by key management, and unique qualities. The award is named for the late Carl F. Durso, a well-respected former executive director of the Lake Wales Area Chamber of Commerce.

Lifetime Excellence in Business Carl F. Durso Award — Mike and Lori Draper for Lori Draper’s Furniture.

Citizen of the Year Award — Eugene Fultz, mayor, city of Lake Wales. Nominees are individuals who live in greater Lake Wales and whose service to the community in the prior year — whether civic or otherwise — has been outstanding. Mayor Fultz easily fits the bill for this award. Anyone who knows the mayor or anything about him understands why he’s considered to be Lake Wales’ top cheerleader. A minister, retired educator, 21-year employee with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, and military veteran of the Vietnam War, the mayor is all about service, which he used as his theme in accepting the award. He emphasized service to family, individuals, community, and his Lord. In a bit of a ruse, the Chamber-EDC had the mayor listed as winner of the Gala’s Community Service Award for an individual — to ensure he would attend the Gala. The ruse likely wasn’t necessary. Given the mayor’s community involvement and interest in all that is good about the Lake Wales, I doubt he ever would have missed the Gala.

Making the Gala possible …

A lot of hard work went into the planning and staging of the 2017 edition of the Lake Wales Chamber-EDC Awards Gala. The Chamber-EDC staff and volunteers get a lot of credit for putting on this exciting and memorable event, but so should the Gala’s 2017 President’s Circle Sponsors.

The Chamber-EDC sends a big “Thank you!” again to Bunting Tripp & Ingley, LLP; CenterState Bank; Citizens Bank & Trust; Florida’s Natural; GrowHealthy; Joseph F. Miranda, Inc.; Lake Wales Medical Center; Pat Cain Wealth Solutions-Raymond James; Polk State College; and many other contributing sponsors.