Sebring Chamber Annual Banquet sees community give back

SEBRING — The Greater Sebring Chamber of Commerce celebrated its annual banquet and award ceremony Thursday and raised $7,500 for the families of the victims involved in the SunTrust shooting.

Approximately 200 business and community leaders were dressed in their finest cocktail or black tie attire as they mingled with each other and learned about the different organizations that make an impact in Highlands County. The festive night began with cocktails, appetizers and Lotela Gold singing classic rock hits such as “You Don’t Own Me” and “When a Man Loves a Woman.”

The Sebring chamber presented new awards this year to the heads of local law enforcement agencies. Sebring Police Chief Karl Hoglund and Highlands County Sheriff Paul Blackman were recognized for their service in protecting the citizens of Sebring and received plaques as a reminder of the chamber’s support. In the aftermath of the Jan. 23 Suntrust shooting, the chamber wanted to express its appreciation for people who were dedicating their lives to keep citizens safe.

In addition, Highlands County Commissioner Don Elwell, who served as auctioneer for the night’s live auction, encouraged the crowd to show their support for the families of the SunTrust victims. Alan Jay Automotive Network donated six meals and transportation to the Melting Pot in Sarasota in exchange for donations to a verified SunTrust fund for families. A member of the crowd gave $1,000 for the tickets, two people gave $1,000 donations, one person gave a $500 donation and 40 people pledged $100 each to be added to the fund. The entire amount raised for families of Suntrust victims totaled $7,500, according to chamber President and CEO Liz Barber.

Before enjoying delectable prime rib, chicken or vegan entrees, people viewed the silent auction items and placed their bids. Businesses and organizations competed in a contest for the best table decorations.

Chamber of Commerce Chair Tenille Drury-Smith was unable to attend the banquet because her daughter was participating in a out-of-town cheer competition, so Secretary Kristie Vazquez presented 

the awards at the banquet.

However, Drury-Smith spoke to the crowd through a pre-recorded video speech that appeared on television screens in the venue. She told attendees that one of the goals during the previous year had been to provide more educational opportunities for members. Drury-Smith also told the crowd that chamber luncheons were growing in attendance.

Past Chair Rob Bullock received a plaque to show the chamber’s appreciation for his years of service as a director.

Vazquez described Marie Krenisky, who won the Thelma Pyle Volunteer award, as a person who deeply loves the chamber and never shies away from helping.

Dave Springsteen received the Ambassador of the Year award for promoting the chamber, volunteering and recruiting many new businesses into the chamber. Vazquez said he takes new ambassadors under his wing and rarely misses an ambassador meeting.

J.C. Shoop was not present to receive the Director of the Year award. During Hurricane Irma and other chamber events, Shoop provided support to chamber members.

The Humane Society of Highlands County received the Business of the Year Award.

President Judy Speigel accepted the award on behalf of the organization. During the previous year, the Humane Society made many improvements to its facility, including a 40run kennel, a zero entry pool and huge fans to keep mosquitoes away from dogs.

The George Hensley Citizen of the Year award went to Mike Souther, who Vazquez described as a person who always helped others in need. She said, “He excels at bringing people together.” In addition, Souther has made significant community service efforts, including helping with recovery after Hurricanes Irma and Michael.


Main, Melissa. (2019, February 2). Highlands News Sun. Retrieved from