Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays, everyone. It's been awhile since my ridiculously outdated photo appeared in this section of the Sunday Citizen, so thanks for stopping by. (All right, that's enough. Stop judging my photo with your appraising squint and keep reading).
To be honest, I hadn't planned on writing a column for this section this week. I have enough trouble coming up with a topic for the weekly "Tan Lines" ramblings and the thought of filling the same amount of space with the same amount of words about an entirely different subject was somewhat less than appealing.
But then, by some Christmas miracle, a Wednesday lunch gathering provided the perfect topic.
The Key West Chamber of Commerce held its annual awards luncheon at the Marriott Beachside Resort, and honored some pretty deserving people and their projects.
Local attorney Alan Eckstein received a Special Award for being "a tireless advocate for children and families in Monroe County." Six businesses and one basilica received the Chamber's Business for Beauty awards, then two people and two groups of people received a Piece of the Rock award.
If you've never met Ed Block, then you're missing out in this town. The guy is utterly brilliant, but in a way that doesn't make anyone around him feel like an idiot. His resume and list of accomplishments is beyond impressive and Key West is lucky to have him lending his support and expertise to its various projects. Block received the Chamber's Piece of the Rock award on Wednesday, along with the Rev. Deacon Sarah Fowler.
Fowler is one of those rare, unflappable people who exudes calm wherever she goes. And she's usually going to places where people need her help. She sits on more boards than most people care to count and to date has helped coordinate the serving of more than 4,000 meals to hungry Key West residents through St. Paul's Episcopal Church outreach ministry.
The Chamber also gave Piece of the Rock awards to the Friends of Higgs Beach group that has worked tirelessly, and often amid some difficult opposition, to improve the county-owned beach for children, adults, residents and visitors.
A group of linemen from Keys Energy Services also received the award for their efforts to restore power to residents of Long Island, N.Y. in the wake of Superstorm Sandy. Those guys helped restore normalcy after the hurricane, and continued their work through a nor'easter in the area that showed some of them snow for the very first time in their lives.
The Chamber's Business for Beauty award is given for "major capital projects or extensive renovations that add to the beauty and contribute to the overall attractiveness of Key West," according to Chamber documents.
Keys Federal Credit Union turned the vacant, old Boater's World building into a state-of-the-art banking facility in just 96 days.
Kilwin's Chocolate and Ice Cream Shop created the nostalgia of an old-fashioned candy shop in a Duval Street storefront, and The Sheraton Suites finished a multi-million dollar renovation that upgraded its suites, restaurants, meeting rooms and lobby.
Meanwhile, Bobby and Michelle Mongelli were busy on Stock Island, transforming an old office building into the delicious and inviting Roostica restaurant, offering wood-fired pizzas and some seriously good meatball sliders, among many other things.
On Southard Street, Pat Croce breathed new life into the Green Parrot's next-door neighbor and created Charlie Mac's barbecue restaurant. Artfully designed with Key West traditions in mind, the restaurant and bar is quickly making a name for itself in Old Town.
Also this year, we saw the artist Wyland repaint his famed "Whaling Wall" mural on the side of the building we'll always know as "the old Waterfront Market." He volunteered his time and got local kids involved in the rehab that spans two sides of the giant building.
And finally, St. Mary Star of the Sea Roman Catholic Church became South Florida's only basilica, continuing its century-long history in Key West.