As SanCap Chamber president and CEO John Lai and Board Chair Calli Johnson noted several times, the 30th Annual Islands Night, held during a cool spring evening on May 3, was not a typical event. For one, it combined the longstanding island tradition with the chamber’s annual meeting by presenting business awards pre-game at Hammond Stadium in Fort Myers.


Typically, the chamber awards recipients in four categories. Although the categories remained the same this year, the chamber awarded two recipients instead of just one for New Business of the Year award.  For its community support immediately following Hurricane Ian and her bright and giving spirit, the awards went to The Shack of Sanibel and Rachel Pierce Art Gallery.


The Shack began cooking food in its parking lot and offering islanders comfort in other ways before the causeway even opened. Pierce set up a marketplace outside her gutted gallery and invited local businesses and organizations to participate. She also designed special jerseys for Islands Night.


Johnson and chamber Chair-elect JR Ramirez made the presentations at field’s edge following the traditional Islands Night parade of businesses, representing a robust sampling of island businesses and organizations and potent demonstration of island unity and pride. The 4,086 who came out for the game nearly doubled last year’s record attendance.


Ramirez started the presentations with the Sue Rosica Gray Volunteer of the Year. It went to Bill and Laurie Harkey, who moved permanently to Sanibel in 2019 after 17 years of visiting the island.


“Laurie, a retired medical social worker, immediately became involved in the community, primarily volunteering at Ding Darling and supporting CROW,” Ramirez said. “Bill is active in the Sanibel-Captiva Rotary Club and is vice president of the ‘Ding’ Darling Wildlife Society.”


The Business of the Year and Citizen of the Year awards both related to community service in the wake of September’s hurricane. Jerry’s Food, which led island businesses toward recovery when it reopened with a chamber ribbon-cutting on Oct. 25, accepted the business award.


The chamber honored the selfless generosity of Billy and Sally Kirkland, owners of Billy’s Bike, with the citizen award. Billy Kirkland not only opened their bike inventory for free use following the storm, but helped islanders and businesses in countless ways in the weeks to come, Johnson reported.


“In a normal year, we would announce new board officers and members at our annual meeting,” Lai said. “But, again, this not being a normal year, I have asked the board to remain static to provide needed stability as 2023-2024 continues in full-blown recovery mode. We thank the board and executive committee for its steadfast yet flexible leadership in the months since Ian.”


The chamber also recognized the role of the Sanibel City Council in supporting island businesses and residents as recovery progresses. Council members, too, accepted special awards that evening.


The Minor League Baseball game of the Florida State League Fort Myers Mighty Mussels versus the Dunedin Blue Jays followed the awards presentation. The home team wore the Rachel Pierce jerseys featuring the island’s iconic lighthouse – in its three-legged, post-hurricane stance – against a colorful swirl of sunrise sky. The Mighty Mussels club is auctioning off the jerseys to benefit the chamber and other island organizations. To bid, visit


“A huge thanks to Rachel and the Mighty Mussels for their support, and to all of our sponsors who helped make this feel-good event truly feel as good as it gets when it comes to island camaraderie and hope for the future,” said Lai.


Major sponsors include Sanibel Captiva Community Bank at the Homerun level; Bailey’s (The Island Store) and Ted Ney Drywall and Stucco at Triple sponsors level; and, at Double sponsors level: Adventures in Paradise, Ashton Kircher Group, Bank of the Islands, Doc Ford’s Rum Bar & Grille, Fort Myers Brewing Company, Heidrick & Co. Insurance, J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge and Tarpon Bay Explorers, Sanibel Captiva Beach Resorts, The Sanibel Captiva Trust Company, and Servpro of North Naples, Sanibel, Captiva, and Fort Myers, and Simple Social.



The Sanibel & Captiva Islands Chamber of Commerce is dedicated to promoting the prosperity of its members and preserving the quality of life of our community. The Chamber plays a key role in facilitating communication and cooperation between business, residents, and government to enhance the economic health of the islands. The Chamber website receives more than 1.3 million website visits per year. For more information about the chamber, visit or contact John Lai, president and CEO, at 239-472-2348 or [email protected].