OKEECHOBEE — The second annual Community Hero Business Exchange Luncheon, hosted by the Chamber of Commerce of Okeechobee, was held on Wednesday, July 10, at Indian River State College, and it was a resounding success. “We will definitely do it again next year,” said Paulette Wise, Executive Director of the Chamber of Commerce.
The purpose of the luncheon was to honor Okeechobee’s community heroes — the first responders who are there when anyone has an emergency and the many veterans in our community. In the invitation for the luncheon, it was expressed like this: “In a crisis you pick up the phone and dial the familiar numbers you learned as early as kindergarten and help is on the way. Maybe it’s an accident in town or on the highway or a fall. Who will be there to lend a helping hand? In the next five minutes as you answer questions and relay information, a team of highly trained professionals are working together to get to you and be prepared to help you overcome your obstacle.”
This year the chamber, in partnership with CenterState Bank, added a Community Heroes award ceremony to the annual luncheon. Local agencies were asked to nominate members of their teams — corrections, law enforcement and rescue services — and to describe why they felt these people were hometown heroes.
In the law enforcement category, Detective Bettye Taylor of the Okeechobee City Police Department (OCPD)was the winner and honorable mention went to Okeechobee County Sheriff’s Office (OCSO) Deputies Steven Pollock and Brian Cross. In the rescue services category, the winner was Okeechobee City Firefighter Josh Sanders, and in the corrections category, the winner was OCSO Deputy Richard Long.
They also incorporated into the ceremony recognition of our veterans and a local veteran’s organization was chosen. The Community Hero Organization of the Year was American Legion Post #64, who were also celebrating the 100th year of American Legion which was chartered by Congress on Sept. 16, 1919.
The overall winner was Detective Bettye Taylor, and she won a stay at the Gloria Estefan Resort. Detective Taylor said she knew nothing about it until she was told she needed to be at the luncheon. Then she was told she had been entered into a contest and she better have a speech prepared just in case.
“I told them that wasn’t going to happen,” she said. She was very happy they did not actually ask her to make a speech. “I was honored and humbled, but a little embarrassed too, and speeches are not my thing.”
There were three speakers at the luncheon. OCSO Detention Deputy John Rhoden spoke about the county jail and some of the different programs they offer, including outreach to the community and rehabilitation for the inmates. Mary Royce Lookabill talked about dispatchers and explained they are always there when you need them during an emergency. Although many don’t realize it, they are first responders too. Normally, they are the first ones called.
Retired Army Lt. Col. Bobbie L. Williams came specifically to speak to the many veterans who attended, and according to Mrs. Wise, he was an excellent speaker. Mrs. Wise said veterans’ services provided the statistic that there are 2,876 veterans being served in Okeechobee County.
“They all deserve our thanks whether they are serving our community, our nation or overseas, and thank you is never enough.”