AVON PARK — Despite eventual new ownership and name change, its recognition was money in the bank for one Avon Park-area business.
Highlands Independent Bank — which is expected to be sold by Oct. 31 to HCBF Holding Co., parent company of Harbor Community Bank — was chosen as the “Business of the Year” at the Avon Park Chamber of Commerce 2014 Annual Awards Banquet held Thursday night.
The 36th annual banquet evening was a throwback to a bygone era in Avon Park, but the event highlighted those who are continuing to help the city move forward.
“We really appreciate this even as we merge with another community bank,” Highlands Independent Bank President John Shoop said. “It’s really to the people who serve the community, but this award really goes to the ladies who work the Avon Park branch.”
With some guests dressed and decked out in fedora hats, feather scarves, sequined dresses, pleated slacks and suspenders, flapper dresses and Oxford shoes, the Avon Park Chamber of Commerce 2014 Annual Awards Banquet was held Thursday night in the throwback ambiance of the Jacaranda Hotel restaurant and hall.
During the 1920s-era-themed buffet dinner, chamber members and the board of directors acknowledged 35 to 40 individuals and businesses that have done exceptional work promoting economic and social growth in the city.
Highlands Independent Bank opened in Avon Park in 1996 and has been highly proactive in supporting city functions and community events and that’s why the chamber’s seven board members voted it for the title, chamber executive director Tori Trinder said. She said the bank has always asked “What can we do to help?” and staff members are always “the first to volunteer” at city-sponsored activities.
Trinder said the bank has committed to years of service projects and investment while being a long-time supporter of the chamber at events like the Christmas parade and with chamber-affiliated organizations such as Junior Achievement.
“They’ve always been very supportive and we (the board) all picked Highlands except me; I abstained because I used to work there,” she said prior to the banquet.
Beginning around 8 p.m., dressed dapperly in a black tie and tuxedo, Master of Ceremonies David Flowers, a chamber volunteer, emceed the two-hour dinner and awards ceremony. Following a harmonic musical trip down Broadway by the Heart of Highlands Sweet Adelines Show Chorus, Flowers welcomed guests before Trinder joined him to recognize outgoing and incoming directors, who serve three-year terms, and announce the awards.
Leaving their positions as director are Jennifer Rhynes and Kimberly Batty-Herbert and incoming are Allie Sevigny, David Noel, Keri McGrath and Nicky Dilday. Batty-Herbert was also named “Director of the Year.”
The 2013 “Volunteer of the Year” was Marie Krenisky, who Trinder said is the “heart of the chamber.”
“She keeps everything organized there (the chamber). She even keeps me on track,” she said.
As guests finished up baked chicken and beef tip dinners, it was announced the Little Italy restaurant, 825 W. Main St., was the winner of the “Beautification of the Year Award.” Owner Bernardo Fischetti opened the restaurant with an outdoor cafe in March and he was also recognized as the newest member of the Chamber.
According to the 2013 Economic Review for the State of Florida, taxable sales for Highlands County in 2012 was $870,700,671, averaging $72,558,389. In 2013, for January through October, the taxable sales were $750,597,659, averaging $75,059,766.
“I think Avon Park will have a positive 2014. There is interest in downtown Avon Park and we think that interest will continue,” Stephen Weeks said. Weeks, who is executive director of the Highlands County Economic Development Commission, has his office located in the Jacaranda Hotel.
The last award recognized Rodney and Lisa Davis, who won the “Lifetime Achievement Award.” For 45 years, the couple has run the River Greens Golf Course, 47 Lake Damon Drive, and through the company have sponsored and contributed to a variety of community outreach projects. Jeff Williams, citrus harvester, said the Davises have sponsored Habitat for Humanity, Junior Achievement, youth sports, Ridge Area ARC, Mothers Against Drunk Driving and Meals on Wheels.
Through their business, the couple has also worked with the Rotary Club of Avon Park, Florida Hospital and the Highlands County Tourist Development Board. They have also sponsored youth golfing events and established a scholarship awarded annually to students from the Highlands County and Frostproof high schools.
“We’re not big on talking, but we are big on the Avon Park community, so thank you,” Lisa Davis said.
The awards ceremony and $40-a-plate banquet also included a silent auction and door prizes, which generated about $2,000 for Chamber operating funds.