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Life Lessons Learned from the 40 Under 40 Luncheon

Photo taken by Ryan Downs from Citrus County Live.

“I try to live my life such that in the hour of my death, I would feel joy rather than fear.”

I considered this quote when asked for my favorite while filling out a profile in acceptance of a 40 under 40 award from the Citrus County Chamber of Commerce. Before you make your joke about there not even being 40 people under 40 in the county, just know we heard all of them at the event and I’m sure yours is just as funny.

The man who said it you might not have heard of but his life deserves a movie. Witold Pilecki spent nearly his entire life fighting for a free Poland. As a teenager, he scouted during World War I. He fought in the Polish-Soviet War during the early 1920s. This combat prepared him for his wildest idea.

During World War II, he volunteered to go to a concentration camp in an attempt to overthrow it from the inside. Not just any camp. He gave himself up to go to Auschwitz..

And though his uprising plan was unsuccessful, he did personally escape and get information back to the Allies that helped enlighten the West about the atrocities being committed.

His loyalty to Poland against post-WWII communist influences led to his early death at age 47, though as his quote said, he undoubtedly met that moment with joy.

The 39 other award winners on Friday may not have been thrust into back-to-back world wars, but they all were uniquely impressive in their own ways. It was someone who wasn’t in the room, though, that made the luncheon particularly memorable.

Late Wednesday night, news broke of the sudden passing of Chris Delgado. Ms. Delgado devoted countless hours to the chamber and was usually among the first faces greeting new businesses to the area or a friendly face welcoming people back to annual events like the Manatee Festival.

I didn’t know her well, but every interaction I had with her was positive.

One of the reasons I didn’t know her better was because I’ve never wanted to be too involved with the chamber. This casual indifference toward the chamber turned to outright anger after the 2020 election cycle when the organization’s leadership actively worked against Sheriff Mike Prendergast in a way that I felt overstepped appropriate bounds.

That opinion hasn’t changed. The feelings toward the chamber have though.

The luncheon began with a moment of silence in remembrance of Chris and concluded with a 50/50 drawing in which the chamber announced it would donate its half to the Delgado family to help with expenses. What happened next was simply remarkable.

Every ticket they had, three wheels worth, sold (and someone in the crowd joked Chris would have been able to sell six rolls) thanks largely to a large purchase from the Barco/Sundberg family of Lollygaggers among other businesses. While checking their tickets, they also pledged to match the 50/50 amount.

This triggered a string of pledges from others as well. Theressa Foster West of West Central Solutions, Dr. Doug Alexander from the New Church without Walls, Josh Hicks of Handy Hicks and many others who were incredibly generous but unfortunately I can’t remember pushed the total to around $4,000 within minutes. The representative from Citrus Mobile Welding, who won the 50/50, donated his $315 portion to the cause.

That wouldn’t have happened without the value the chamber brings to the county. The organization can be infuriating, cringy and self-congratulatory. It can also be inspiring, celebratory and the best reflection of our community.

I expect to be on the opposite side of campaigns from chamber CEO Josh Wooten more times than not and passionately so. I used to think this meant any relationship between him or the organization was irreconcilable.

Friday demonstrated how wrong I was. I’m not going to become some chamber groupie but I do have a renewed appreciation for the role it plays.

Pilecki lived a life in service of his mission, but his quote about death is focused on himself.. What I learned this week is how much even the most everyday friendly faces of life can impact other people.

I have no idea what Chris felt in the final hour of her life, but I do know she left behind a legacy of joy over fear that filled an entire room of those who miss her.


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