Central Pinellas Chamber President Tom Morrissette, left, presents Joe Bugeja with the 2012 Citizen of the Year Award at the chamber’s annual meeting Sept. 13 at the Sheraton Sand Key Resort.
CLEARWATER – A World War II veteran who has been active in the Largo chamber and community for decades is the Central Pinellas Chamber of Commerce’s Citizen of the Year.
Joe Bugeja “is a story of the greatest generation,” said chamber President Tom Morrissette, at the chamber’s annual meeting Sept. 13 at the Sheraton Sand Key Resort.
Bugeja was a radio operator on a fleet mine sweeper in the Pacific from 1943 to 1945.
A former director of the chamber, Bugeja, 87, remains active in the organization.
“I often refer to Joe as our chamber historian,” Morrissette said.
Bugeja came to Pinellas in 1970. Soon after, he became active in many business and community organizations, including the Estate Planning Council, the Tampa Chapter of the International Financial Planning Council, the Pinellas County Committee of One Hundred, and Clearwater Association of Underwriters.
“He and his wife, Bea, have been a regular fixture at many civic and philanthropic organizations for decades,” Morrissette said.
He also was president of the Belleair Bluffs Business and Professional Association, through which he was instrumental in advancing the construction of the Bluffs’ City Hall Community Center. He also has served as a member of the Pinellas County Board of Adjustment.
Bugeja is a member of the Largo Rotary Club and was recognized a year ago for his longtime support of the Suncoast Performing Arts Foundation at the Largo Cultural Center.
“And his donation of NFL sports jackets and specialty guitars to area nonprofit organizations, including the chamber, is legendary,” Morrissette said.
A native of Brooklyn, N.Y., Bugeja was raised in an environment of “doing for the community,” Morrissette said.
Bugeja worked in the financial sector all his life, representing firms such as Dean Witter, E.E. Hutton and Raymond James & Associates.
Bugeja said when he first came to Largo it was a little town.
“In fact, people didn’t know where Largo was, they knew where Key Largo was,” he said. “When we came here there was no Central Park, there was no big library.”
Much has changed and the chamber helped bring on the growth and improvements.
“I think Largo is the best place to live in the whole world,” Bugeja said.
Other community awards
• The Silver Hammer Award, established by the chamber in 2005 “to recognize bricks and mortar projects that have a positive impact on our regional economy and our quality of life.”
The award was presented to Largo Medical Center for its Bilgore Conference Center. Largo Medical Center invested more than $2.1 million in the new education and meeting facilities to accommodate the growth of the hospitals’ graduate medical education program and its capacity for employee and community education.
The project includes a conference center, resident resource room on patient care floors, the on-call rooms, a resident dining room and renovation of the current medical staff dining area, the chamber said.
The conference center, which seats 200 people, assists in the education of more than 100 resident physicians who are a part of the graduate medical educational programs at Largo Medical Center.
• The Mac Norcross Small Business Leader of the Year Award. The 18th annual award recognizes an individual who has shown outstanding achievement in both business and community efforts.
This year’s recipient is Melody Hunter, a local Realtor who the chamber said “embodies the spirit of this award through her longstanding commitment to her family, business, our chamber and our community.”
Hunter was elected to the chamber board of directors in 2010 and serves the executive committee as chairman of the membership division. She has served the past two years as the board of directors’ liaison for the chamber’s leads network.
“Her leadership in this capacity has seen this program grow to one of the most successful in the chamber’s recent history,” the chamber said.
Hunter is a native of Pinellas County, is married and has two children. She has been featured on the television show House Hunters International. Her community activities include being a sponsor of the leukemia/lymphoma society, and she serves as a deacon at Faith Presbyterian Church.
• The Business Member of the Year Award was established in 2007 to honor a business or association that has risen above and beyond its support of the organization.
This year’s recipient is the Palms of Largo. The Palms has been a host of the chamber’s monthly chamber president’s luncheons and contributes to chamber events with gift baskets. Its many amenities, such as its theater at the Royal Palms Complex, are the scene of many chamber breakfast and lunches. A new addition to the Palms complex, called “The Plaza,” will celebrate its grand opening next month, the chamber said.
• Committee Chairman of the Year Award – Sue Osborne, Pinecrest Place Retirement Center.
• Ambassador of the Year Award – Scott Lake, the financial planning firm of R.S. Williams and Associates.
• President’s Award – Kathy Pabst Robshaw, Spectrum Strategy Resources.