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Chamber celebrates the brightest stars of the community

February 6, 2019
By CHUCK BALLARO ( , Lehigh Acres Citizen

You don't have to be a celebrity or rich to be a star. You can be a first responder, a business person who gives back, or a schoolteacher working to make the stars of the future.

On Saturday, at the Heritage Palms Country Club in Fort Myers, the Greater Lehigh Acres Chamber of Commerce honored those stars (which on their program said night is when the stars shine the brightest) at its 27th annual Awards Gala.

The best teachers, law enforcement officers and firefighters were honored at this black-tie event as were those who served the chamber with aplomb during the past year.

Article Photos

Sgt. Steve Gehle receives his Law Enforcement Officer of the Year award from Capt. Brian Jackala at the Lehigh Acres Chamber of Commerce annual gala at Heritage Palms Country Club.


New officers were also sworn in by State Rep. Spencer Roach.

"We're celebrating our town and the people in it. These are the people who are out and about in our town every day, saving lives, protecting our community and educating our children," said Katy Hoover, vice chairperson of the chamber said. "Our businesses get together as well and network."

"We're celebrating the people and recognizing those who really make a difference on a daily basis," said outgoing chairperson Ed Moore. "It's a very nice community event."

"The awards given this evening are a representation of our greatest resource, which is our people and their talents and gifts they have to offer," said new chairperson Michael Welch in his speech following his swearing in. "We're going to remember our teachers and staff who guide our young, and all those who tend to the neediest in our community."

NBC-2 morning anchor Clay Miller again served as master of ceremony, and students from Lehigh Senior and East Lee County high schools provided the entertainment.

County Commissioner Frank Mann called an auction on items for where the proceeds would go to the Chamber, and there was a Chinese auction and raffle to raise further funds.

But the real stars were the award winners. Each school in Lehigh Acres had one award winner, a total of 13.

Angela McStravic, who teaches K-5 Robotics at Lehigh Elementary, said she was excited about being honored.

"I feel appreciated doing what I do. Even if I wasn't winning something, it's always nice to be recognized," McStravic said. "I was just told by the principal that I was named and I was so proud to be representing Lehigh."

Susanna Wingenroth, art teacher at G. Weaver Hipps Elementary, said is was an honor for her, seeing as arts tend to be placed on the back burner.

"I couldn't believe it at first because there are so many teachers who deserve the honor. I have such a great team," Wingenroth said. "It's wonderful to have an arts teacher named because they are so important and often by other schools put into the background. Kids need that self-expression."

Among the most deserving was Tony Overbee, who was named Firefighter of the Year and is a 32-year veteran of the occupation in Fort Myers and Lehigh Acres.

"It's outstanding to be nominated by my department. It's one of the milestones of my career," said Overbee, who is also a three-time Phoenix Award winner. "Lehigh is my home. I've grown up here, went to its schools, it's my home."

The Chamber also recognized its own members. Alorica, which has only been in town for a few months, was named Member of the Year.

"We try to be involved as we possibly can. We've only been here since April. Every time there's a Lehigh outing, we have lots of people we can send to be a face in the community," said Phil Taylor of Alorica, which does call center work.

Dave Deetscreek was given the Heart of Lehigh Acres for his lifetime work for the chamber and the community, sort of like being named to the Hall of Fame.

"This isn't about me. This is about those who supported me for years. Could I afford what I did today (referring to the auction items he bought) without those who helped me, No. But could I afford to invest in Lehigh? Yes," an emotional Deetscreek said.

The award winners were:

Teachers of the Year: Wykeisha Fikes: Harns Marsh Elementary; Suzanna Wingenroth, G. Weaver Hipps Elementary; Angela McStravic, Lehigh Elementary; Kaitlin Vera, Mirror Lakes Elementary; Margaret Page White, Sunshine Elementary; Na'Shara Tyson, Tortuga Elementary; Steven McGinley, Harns Marsh Middle; Megan Barrett, Lehigh Acres Middle; Mary Fine, Varsity Lakes Middle, Bibiana Juilin, Veterans Academy for the Arts; Sylvia Escoto, East Lee County High School; Judith Cintron, Lehigh Senior High School, Linda Carlsen, Palm Acres Charter High School.

Law Enforcement Officer of the Year: Steve Gehle.

Firefighters of the Year: Oreste Borrego, Tony Overbee.

Volunteer of the Year: Helen Endres

Employee of the Year: Melissa Barry.

Member of the Year: Alorica.

Heart of Lehigh Acres: Dave Deetscreek.



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