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Chamber’s awards gala celebrates Lehigh

January 31, 2018
By ERIC DeVAUX ( , Lehigh Acres Citizen

The Chamber of Commerce's annual Awards Gala Saturday was a night of celebration and congratulations, built around the theme, "A Magical Night on Broadway."

And a magical night it was for those honored and those attending alike.

The most coveted award is the Heart of Lehigh Acres award.

Article Photos

Several teachers received awards due to their extra commitment to teaching.

Eric DeVaux

It is only awarded in years when a member makes exceptional contributions to the Chamber and to the community.

This year it was presented to Tami Baker.

Katie Huber, Lehigh Acres Municipal Improvement District commissioner, presented the award with much emotion.

"This person developed a love for the world," Huber said. "Protecting the residents of Lehigh Acres was always a very high priority for this person. Choosing this person as our 2018 Heart of Lehigh Acres was easy because of all the community groups this individual is invoiced in or was. This clearly shows that this person's heart beats for Lehigh Acres.

"It is my honor to present the Heart of Lehigh Acres award to my mentor, my motivator, my business partner and my best friend Tami Baker," Huber added tearfully.

Awards were also handed out to first responders from the Lee County Sheriff's Office and the Lehigh Acres Fire Department for bravery, not only through Hurricane Irma - which hit Lehigh hard - but for dealing with brush fires and house calls throughout the year.

The Sheriff's Office is a major presence in Lehigh Acres. Captain Todd Garrison from the east district presented the award for Law Enforcement Officer of the Year which went to Lt. Mark Shelby.

"This award means many, many things," Garrison said. "Mark has been the No. 2 guy in Lehigh Acres for the last two years and recently he is taking on a new venture and is leaving the Lehigh Acres community. There is one person who comes to mind that has been the glue that's kept this district together and that's Mark Shelby."

"It's been an honor and privilege to serve this community," Shelby said. "During the hurricane, it really showed what kind of people we have out in the community of Lehigh. You guys came together and helped us, assisted us when we were in need as well. Everyone chipped in. Everyone held together. Maybe I'll be back one day."

Lehigh Acres Fire Chief Robert Diallo had a hard time picking out just one Firefighter of the Year.

"We work in groups," Diallo said. "We never have one individual that will stand out. We always work in teams."

He ultimately awarded engineer Tanner Mack the Firefighter of the Year designation.

"He has been an unbelievable asset to the district," Diallo said.

Several teachers received awards for their extra commitment to teaching. The awards were handed out by Pamela LaRiviere who is a retired elementary and middle school teacher in the Lee County School District.

"I feel blessed to honor the teachers of Lehigh," LaRiviere said.

These teachers were: Harns Marsh Elementary School's Elaine Ponzio, G. Weaver Hipps Elementary School's Kathryn Reid, Lehigh Elementary School's Jared Wallace, Mirror Lakes Elementary School's Judy Simpson, Sunshine Elementary School's Carla Wheeler, Tortuga Preserve Elementary School's Christina Sterrett, Harns Marsh Middle School's Stacey Anderson, Lehigh Acres Middle School's Tina Werderman, Varsity Lakes Middle School's Ruth Albright, Veterans Academy for the Arts Middle's Luke Funkhouser, East Lee County High School's Fred Bland, Lehigh Senior High School's Becky Joliff and Palm Acres Charter High School's Robin Perkins.

Other winners include Charlie Jones as Volunteer of the Year, Barbara Gonzalez as Employee of the Year and owner of Lehigh Showcase Properties as Member of the Year.

The night also included cocktails, a dinner and a silent auction.



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