HAINES CITY — An annual event was a platform for breaking tradition on Thursday night.
The Haines City Area Chamber of Commerce held the 39th Annual Awards Banquet at the Lake Eva Events Center. Both the Citizen of the Year Award and Volunteer of the Year Award took on a different twist from years past.
Rather than waiting until the end of the banquet, the 2017 Citizen of the Year was the first award announced. This past year’s winner was City Attorney Fred Reilly, who was introduced by 2016 winner, Karen Tiner.
“I’m speechless,” Reilly said. “Most of you who know me know I’m not normally speechless. This took me by surprise. I don’t know what to say other than I’m floored and deeply honored.”
Reilly volunteers with Habitat for Humanity of East Polk County, the chamber, the Heart of Florida Scholarship Foundation and as a cancer survivor himself, Haines City-Davenport Relay for Life. Reilly said as an attorney, it was rare for him to speak without having anything prepared. Thursday was also Reilly’s 57th birthday.
“I’m honored to follow in the footsteps as Citizen of the Year behind someone like Karen Tiner,” Reilly said. “Haines City is a wonderful place with wonderful people and we’re headed in a great direction.”
Rather than one volunteer, the 2017 Volunteer of the Year went to a number of individuals. Tiner said their actions during Hurricane Irma helped keep the community intact.
“The entire cities of Haines City and Davenport were without power for days,” Tiner said. “(U.S.) 27 had no red lights, businesses were shut down and losing money, residents were hot and miserable. Many individuals stepped up to the plate.”
Tiner recognized realtor Debbie Bradbury, former Chamber Executive Director Betsy Cleveland, Tiner's husband Steve, Ann Barnhart with Heart of Florida Regional Medical Center and Mindy Keen and Patrick Barnett of Get Seafood in Eagle Lake for helping supply ice and power generators for the assisted living facility on 10th Street as well as hand out FEMA supplies.
Tiner recognized the Haines City Police, Fire, Public Works and Utilities Departments for working to power the city and keep its stability. One city employee, Edgar Velez, was recognized for helping keep traffic flowing, serving as a translator and keeping everyone upbeat. Daniel Tomlinson of Cooters N Smoke BBQ and Samantha Summerlin of The Hotel Tea Room in Davenport were recognized for providing hot meals to those in need and those having to work through the adverse conditions.
“The people up here represent the essence of true volunteer heroes and the spirit that makes the heart of Florida a wonderful place to work and live,” Tiner said. “Please give them your thanks by a round of applause.”
Although it’s not a traditional award, Tiner was honored with the Outstanding Service Award. Tiner filled in as an interim following the resignation of Cleveland until Miki Weaver was hired to serve as the chamber’s new executive director.
“We really needed someone to step in while we were looking for our director,” said Tim James, outgoing Board of Directors Chair for the chamber. “Karen dedicated hours, days and nights of her time.”
Also recognized on Thursday night were Leadership Haines City Class VIII and the chamber’s officers, directors and staff for 2018.
“I just want to thank all the past presidents and everyone who does so many wonderful things for the chamber,” James said. “I like what I see and I agree with the city attorney that we’re heading in a wonderful direction.”
James and other past presidents of the chamber’s Board of Directors also passed the gavel until it got to Tiner, who will serve as the chair in 2018.
“Karen Tiner’s motivation and passion is helping people,” Weaver said. “Both in her personal and professional endeavors.”
In addition to the chamber, Tiner is a board member for the Heart of Florida Scholarship Foundation and Haines City Rotary. She’s a past president of Habitat for Humanity of East Polk County.
“I love the area and I do love the people. I moved my business from Lakeland for that reason and because I believe this area has the biggest potential for growth in the state,” Tiner said. “I am excited for my business and the Chamber of Commerce. Good things are happening here.”
The theme this year for the chamber, Tiner said, will be “Value”.
“We value our membership,” Tiner said. “We value our large and small businesses and we are going to have a fantastic 2018.”
Mike Ferguson can be reached at Mike.Ferguson@directgates.com or 863-401-6981. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikeWFerguson.