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Leaders honor giving couple

The Clearwater Regional Chamber of Commerce picks Mr. and Ms. Clearwater for 2006.

By EILEEN SCHULTE
Published January 7, 2006


CLEARWATER - When the Cheeks got dressed and left their house Friday, they thought they were going to just another annual meeting of the Clearwater Regional Chamber of Commerce.

But when Carroll and Mabel Cheek arrived at the Sheraton Sand Key Resort, they were escorted to one of the finest tables in the room, front and center.

And when it began to fill up with VIPs, Carroll Cheek began to grow suspicious.

"I said, someone is going to bestow on me an honor I don't deserve," he said.

By the end of the evening, the Cheeks were named Mr. and Ms. Clearwater at the 84th annual meeting. As a surprise, their son Michael and daughter Kathleen Cheek-Milby were invited and stayed hidden until the award was announced.

"Obviously, when it comes to philanthropy, dollars are nice, but the Cheeks have done more than (donate money). They've taken on leadership roles. They've initiated new ways of giving," said Kurt Kraus, vice president of public relations and marketing at the chamber, before the announcement.

Fred Fisher, who was on the selection committee, called Mr. Cheek "remarkable."

"He epitomizes the selection criteria," Fisher said. "Whatever he does, he does it from his heart, totally for community support."

The couple was honored for their time and monetary contributions to Ruth Eckerd Hall, the Florida Orchestra, the Hunter Blood Bank, the United Way, the Long Center, the Upper Pinellas Association for Retarded Citizens, Morton Plant Mease Hospital Foundation and the Florida Geriatric Research Foundation, among others.

Their gifts led to the creation of the Cheek-Powell Heart & Vascular Pavilion at Morton Plant Mease Hospital, and the benefactors' "Wall of Stars" at Ruth Eckerd Hall.

One of the largest chambers in the area, the Clearwater Regional Chamber of Commerce has more than 1,700 members; 370 attended the awards banquet on Friday.

The chamber has named a Mr./Ms. Clearwater every year since 1958.

In his speech, Fisher praised the Cheeks and their efforts to help others.

But Mr. Cheek, a retired CPA, was humble.

"We've been blessed to have accumulated a dollar or two," Mr. Cheek told the audience. "You're only a custodian of wealth - and I see a lot of wealth in this room. It's your purpose to give back and be a custodian of that wealth, not an owner."