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Honoring the past while preparing for the future

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image Scrapbooks, photographs, postcards and many newspaper articles were part of an historical display that interested most of those who attended the June 5 event. Photo Penny Fletcher

After-hours open house brings out more than 100

Like Auld Lang Syne played at midnight on New Year’s Eve, the South Shore Chamber of Commerce’s June 5 after-hours Open House event was a combination of celebrating the past and looking toward the future.

During the course of the two-hour event many in the crowd used the word “bittersweet” when discussing the June 17th closing of the Ruskin chamber office at 315 U.S. 41 that has been a landmark for many years.

During the event and afterward, interviews were conducted with those who made the chamber what it was, and is today, and with those who will be directing its future.

Because there are so many components to this story, it has been broken into three parts to make it easier for readers to understand.

The Past:

“There wasn’t even a Tampa Chamber of Commerce when the first Ruskin chamber was formed,” said Glenn Dickman, grandson of one of Ruskin’s earliest founders and philanthropist, Paul B. Dickman. “My grandfather came here from Missouri in 1907 when the Commongood Society was operating. This was a Socialist community, you know. He donated the land for the Ruskin Cemetery. And then around 1968, he donated the building for the Ruskin chamber. He did a lot for the community. There were many other donations of land that he made as time went on.”

In an interview June 7, Glenn Dickman explained that the first Dickmans to live in Ruskin sold their farm in Missouri and bought land in Ruskin that now houses developments large and small. They also helped develop Apollo Beach with the Corr family, who were also local founders and visionaries as were the first Dickmans to make the area their home.

Now, the building that was donated for as long as it remained a chamber, will house some sort of business that will be an asset to the community. Glenn Dickman said he is committed to that.

Ruskin residents and past presidents of the chamber Sandy Council and Frances Hereford also have a long history of helping the Ruskin chamber.

“I joined before I even had a business,” said Council, who is still active with the chamber and with many committees that are working to see that future development in the area will consist of things that are needed and will provide jobs, while keeping the natural beauty of the local communities. “I wanted to help build the chamber as an individual because I knew the community needed it,” she added.

Hereford, a Hillsborough County resident all her life, was president of the chamber in 1993.

“My dad was a chamber president well before me — some time in the 1950s,” she said.

Hereford’s family was transferred to Ruskin from their native Tampa when her father was employed by Tampa Electric Company.

“I moved to Ruskin when I was in the seventh grade and we had the electric office in our house for a long time,” she said. “That’s the way the community was back then. Everyone knew everyone else. Many had businesses like that right in their homes.”

As an adult, Hereford joined all the local chambers in the 1970s while she was the human resource manager at U.S. Phosphoric Company (which is no longer in business here).

“They knew after the first (toxic) spill in the ’70s that they had to become a part of the community. Until then, they had just stayed pretty much to themselves. So I joined the Tampa Chamber, the Sun City Center and the Ruskin chambers. I’m not even sure if Apollo Beach had its own chamber yet. For awhile Apollo Beach was included in the Ruskin chamber,” Hereford said.

Hereford worked for the various companies that bought the phosphate plant for 40 years and then operated businesses of her own in Ruskin.

“I was always active in the chamber,” she said.

 Many scrapbooks, postcards, old photographs and newspaper articles were available for people to look at and read at the after-hours event. The table containing the historical materials was busy throughout the evening.

The Future:

A hush filled the room as the current chamber president, Ron Simpson, spoke about the reasons for closing the Ruskin office and talked about the chamber’s future.

“It’s not like we’ll be leaving Ruskin. We’ll still hold the Ruskin Seafood Festival and lots of other Ruskin events. And we’ll continue to have many of our luncheons in Ruskin, at Destiny Church and Little Harbor and other places,” he said.

In an interview prior to the after-hours event, Simpson said maintaining two offices just over three miles apart didn’t make good business sense. “In Apollo Beach we have a lot more parking space, and a large area to hold events with a separate set of glass doors so people who attend don’t have to walk through the chamber office.”

That large room can be used free by members and rented out to any resident to hold seminars, interviewing, training or other type of events, he said.

The turn-out at the event showed that the number of members had outgrown the space. Standing-room-only was really more like a crowded elevator, with everyone having to be careful not to bump into someone else.

The chamber staff said they are looking forward to all working in the same office again. “It’s hard to maintain the same level of camaraderie in your daily work environment going back and forth several times a week,” said Executive Director Melanie Morrison.

“We didn’t want to close the office right after the merger two years ago because we didn’t want it to look like we were abandoning Ruskin. I love Ruskin, and it is with great sadness that I am leaving this building. But we have grown so much, and we need to be more organized.”

The rent at the Apollo Beach office is offset by Hillsborough County’s payment to maintain its Small Business Information Center there.

An unexpected highlight of the event:

The 50/50 Raffle that takes place at all chamber luncheons and after-hours events where 50 percent of the money in the drawing goes towards support of the chamber’s projects for members and 50 percent to the winner of tickets purchased for the raffle.

Gerald Pittman, owner of Pittman Trucking & Tractor Service, generously donated his winnings to the fundraiser in progress for the family of Kelli Kremkau who recently died of cancer.

“Samantha’s (Kremkau) mommy recently lost her battle against cancer,” said Carrie Elwell, owner of the Kids R Kids SouthShore in Kings Lake plaza off Big Bend Road. “Samantha is graduating from VPK this week. It is so sad. The money will go to help her family with medical expenses, food, gas and other needs,” Elwell said.

The fundraiser was started by two teachers at the child care facility, Michelle Guzman and another who has asked to remain anonymous. Another (anonymous) donor has agreed to match the funds raised by the school up to $1,000, she added.

Elwell was visibly touched by Pittman’s generosity as she accepted the roll of tickets he had purchased.

People may still donate to the fund by calling Kids R Kids at (813) 672-0400.

*Both telephone numbers now used for the chamber offices will be kept at the new location. They are (813) 645-1366 and (813) 645-3808. The website is http://southshorechamberofcommerce.org.

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