Common themes emerged during the Greater Dade City Chamber of Commerce’s “Business Connects: A celebration of partnerships” event — held April 22 at the Dade City Women’s Club.
As chamber members moved about the room, mingling and chatting, the value of human connection was on full display.
Then, as the chamber’s annual awards were announced — the power of community connection became abundantly clear.
The awards, in the order presented that evening, honored The Laker/Lutz News, as Area Business of the Year; Larry Guilford, as Chamber Member of the Year; and, Cliff Martin as the recipient of the Richard Tombrink Lifetime Achievement Award.
Jason Sasser, chamber president, read the criteria used to choose the recipients, followed by additional commentary.
The Area Business of the Year, he said, was selected for making an “outstanding contribution to the betterment of the Greater Dade City area and business community through commitment of time, talent and resources.”
The winning company, Sasser added, “demonstrates community support, civic participation, charitable contributions — that are not always financial in nature.”
Plus, he said, the business is considered to be “an asset to the greater Dade City business community.
Sasser then offered details about the newspaper’s history and contributions.
“You provided outstanding news coverage of Dade City and Pasco County, particularly important in this past year of COVID.”
The newspaper, he said, is the only weekly publication “committed to reporting on Dade City news, events, sports, pets, health and education, Foodie Friday and people.
“You publish over 47,000 free papers every week — free papers, every week,” he added, noting that 85% of those papers are delivered to homes and the rest are distributed at more than 350 businesses and newspaper boxes.
The Laker/Lutz News, which is independently owned and publishes on Wednesdays, provides coverage of the local communities of Dade City, San Antonio, Zephyrhills, Wesley Chapel, Land O’ Lakes, Odessa and Lutz.
In accepting the award, Publisher Diane Kortus, told the crowd: “This is such an honor.
“We have a dynamic team,” she said, addressing how the newspaper has responded to the challenges posed by COVID-19.
“Instead of being in despair, we really took charge of our destiny, and the destiny of our communities.
“We invested in our people.
“We never dropped our circulation, like some publishers did.
“We believed in our communities, even though it was tough — we knew that we would all rebound, if we did it together,” she said.
Kortus was obviously touched by the honor.
“I can’t tell you how important this is, to me.
“We have worked hard. I’ve owned the paper for 20 years. To be here today, it makes me tear up. What can I say? Thank you very much,” the newspaper executive said.
Next up, Larry Guilford was named Chamber Member of the Year.
The criteria for that award includes being a member in good standing, playing an active and visible role in chamber functions and events, plus demonstrating enthusiasm and effort.
This year’s selection was easy, Sasser said.
He detailed Guilford’s many contributions to the entire Dade City community, as well as to the business community.
During COVID-19, Guilford has “almost single-handedly” organized the Mega Pantry Food Distribution program, which has helped to feed thousands of struggling families, Sasser said.
“You spent your own time and secured many different locations, when needed, in order for it to continue to happen, week after week,” Sasser said. “You make sure each location is on the public bus route, so everyone is able to get food.
“You’re not shy about drawing public awareness to the ever-present need in our community.
“You continue to invite people to volunteer in our community, in a variety of services, which helps the community, and provides an outlet for people’s desires to be of service,” Sasser said.
He also cited Guilford’s nonprofit, Make A Difference Inc. That organization, Sasser said, aims “to help people pull themselves up by their own bootstraps, by helping them acquire the most basic needs of food, housing, encouragement and opportunity.”
Sasser said Guilford, who is in commercial real estate, has personally invested his resources, time and determination to promote business and the advancement of Dade City.
“I have no problem plugging your latest project, The Block, which is a restored auto dealership on the north end of town. It used to be Pasco Motors. I think that project is going to be the catalyst for things to come for Dade City,” Sasser said.
Guilford, too, was moved by the honor.
“Our community is a very, very tight community. There’s so many needs and there are so many people in here that do so many amazing things,” he said.
In presenting Martin the Richard Tombrink Lifetime Achievement Award, Sasser said the honor “exemplifies the meaning of selflessness, and goes above and beyond the call of duty to support the needs of the local community in personal involvement and/or finances.
“Without personal gain, this person shows a genuine desire to make our community a better place to live,” Sasser said, and “graciously dedicates hours of service to various organizations.”
Sasser then addressed Martin: “Cliff, you have contributed countless hours, volunteer hours, to the chamber and other community organizations in our area. You served on the chamber board since 2005, in various positions, board member, president, past president, as well as multiple chairs and co-chairs of chamber committees.
“You financially supported the chamber and other organizations every single year. You helped mentor other leaders in our community,” he said.
He also brought the Ford Drive 4UR Community and Ford Drive 4UR School Community to Dade City, to benefit Pasco and Zephyrhills high schools, Sasser noted.
“You’re also a member of multiple philanthropic organizations,” Sasser added.
Martin and his wife, Joan, relocated to Port Charlotte in December, after Jarrett Automotive Group added another Ford dealership there. Sid Jarrett — grandson of original founder Dick Jarrett — took over Jarrett Ford Inc., at 38300 Dick Jarrett Way.
Sasser said the community was sad to see Martin go.
But, the chamber president added: “We really thank you for all of your years of hard work and involvement with the chamber.”
Martin, accompanied by his wife, traveled from Port Charlotte to receive the award.
He expressed his gratitude for the recognition.
“This is a great community,” Martin said. “I never thought I’d be receiving the award after 16 years of voting on who was getting it.”
Published April 28, 2021