Thanks to Jerry Beverland, Oldsmar's resident historian, for providing this excellent written history.
A chamber of commerce can be a vital and influencing part of the success of any city. The critical element that a chamber can bring to a city is the establishment of a strong business community; which in turn perpetuates a strong taxing base.
In Oldsmar’s early beginning such a chamber or any other organized business related structure was non-existing. Any progress and future development of a business community in Oldsmar was left up to a few speculating developers and the city fathers. The appearance of any coherent concerns for Oldsmar’s business community wouldn’t emerge for decades after 1916. In fact, a half of century would pass by the little sleepy forgotten town that Ransom E Olds had founded before the first glimmer of a chamber of commerce would be introduced.
By 1960 a small group of Oldsmar’s residents decided to establish a local chamber of commerce. The organizational structure for Oldsmar’s first chamber was loosely formatted and was mostly social. It stands to reason that the social part dominated because Oldsmar did not have that many businesses between its city limits and absolutely no business structures for miles outside of the towns limits.
One of the first things that the fledging chamber established was the “Citizen of the Year” award. The chamber of commerce has continued sponsoring that citizen’s award to this very day. In 1964 under the leadership of its President, Ed Manny, the Oldsmar chamber took over the management of the “Oldsmar Day” parade and celebration. In 1962 and 1963 the Oldsmar “Volunteer Fire Department” had created and sponsored the “Oldsmar Day” parade.
Through out the 1960s the Oldsmar chamber held monthly meetings and a few social events. The chambers biggest endeavor was the Oldsmar day parade. In 1969 chamber president Ed Manny passed the chambers chairman reigns to a new president, Ella Campoli. Ella was a city council member and a community activist. Ella served as the chamber president and also on the city council until 1973.
From 1971 to 1973 the Oldsmar chamber had become an organization that went beyond the founding citizen’s intent. The Oldsmar chamber had become a vocal political apparatus in city politics. This shift in purpose angered many of Oldsmar’s residents that were non-members of the chamber. In 1973 there were no more then thirty five members of the chamber and the majority of them were not active members. The city’s population in the early 1970s was just under 1000 people.
The following article by the chamber is from the “Oldsmar Eagle” newspaper, dated June 21, 1973
CHAMBER MOVES AHEAD
John Nailos, Chamber of Commerce President, has put Oldsmar’s Chamber in the running for growth and strength. John and the chamber have finished an ambitious plan to get everyone in town to join their efforts.
Nailos made it very plain that the chamber WILL NOT be a political motivation organization. “Our only concern” he said, “is the total welfare of Oldsmar,”
A letter has been sent to the resident of Oldsmar by the chamber which begins with: “Citizens of Oldsmar”------- and ends with, “Let’s Unite”.
In an endeavor to promote closer relations between all of the citizens of our community, the Oldsmar Chamber of commerce has set forth certain goals for the coming year. We would like to solicit your support in reaching these goals.
With the potential growth of Oldsmar, both residential and Industrial, we must have a strong and working chamber. To be able to function as a chamber it is essential that we have the backing of all of the people.
Our goals are as follows:
1. 100% membership participation by the citizens of Oldsmar. (As to why we are approaching each person in Oldsmar to join the Chamber of Commerce, Oldsmar, at present, is a small town and the Chamber cannot function as a big city chamber benefiting only business people. Therefore we urge you to help us meet our goal of 100 %)
2. A substantial amount of the funds realized by the chamber will go to help promote a Recreation Center building.
3. We intend to have some up-to-date maps and brochures of Oldsmar made available.
In addition, we hope to acquire additional funds to be added to our building fund for a future chamber building.
Please give this your consideration and we will be calling on you.
In 1973 newly elected chamber president John Nailos tried his best to direct the chamber in a new and more positive direction. But, even with his best efforts and a limited amount of supporters, their efforts failed. Politics and in fighting all but put Oldsmar’s chamber on a back page of Oldsmar’s history never to be heard from.
By 1975 a new dynamic personality had emerged on Oldsmar’s landscape. Vic Sitmer, the first president of Oldsmar’s new and popular 1974 “Bank of Oldsmar” was not a guy to just set still and watch from the sidelines. Vic’s enthusiasm towards his new adopted city of Oldsmar was efficacious and commanded the attention of everyone around him.
Vic was a business man and a very successful business man. He was president of Oldsmar’s new bank and naturally orientated towards the business community. His intent was to build Oldsmar into a banking and business related city. His goals were lofty but certainly attainable.
One of the first challenges that Vic endeavored was to pick up the pieces of an almost dead chamber of commerce and lay the ground work for what eventually would become one of Florida’s strongest Chamber of Commerce.
The following is an article from the October 9, 1975 edition of the “Oldsmar Eagle”:
40 ORGANIZE OLDSMAR CHAMBER
More then 60 persons attended the Oldsmar Chamber of Commerce reorganization luncheon Monday and more than 40 of them became members.
“This is the nucleus of a group that will get involved and be an asset to Oldsmar”, said Vic Sitmer, chairman of the organizing committee. Vic was elected president of the new chamber.
“We have a lot of tentative plans and a lot of hopes for the chamber. We are all going to work together to make them happen”, he said.
The paid up member attending the luncheon approved the new by-laws and the elected new officers. In addition to Sitmer as the chambers new president, the newly elected officers included Ed Manny of Tri-Tech Industries, Ella Campoli, a partner in Campoli Investments, Dorothy Lee of Steel Erectors of West Florida, Bill Houman , administrative assistant of the city of Oldsmar, Joel Guinand of General Telephone and Harold Woodall of Tampa Electric.
Two other officers will be selected by the associate (non-voting) members and the board of governors. The post filled by the board eventually will be filled by chamber past presidents.
(At a later date my beautiful wife Wanda was elected Secretary)
The second chamber meeting (also a luncheon) will be November 3 at the Tarpon Wood Country Club.
“After the next luncheon we’ll schedule the meetings to coincide with the members wishes”, Sitmer said. “But, right now until we’re fully organized, the steering committee decided that these luncheon meetings were the best for most of those interested”. “In previous years,” Sitmer continued, “there was a chamber in Oldsmar, but it was nothing more then a social club that had deteriorated into a political mess. The past chamber was never a business oriented organization. That is why it failed and folded. That is why we are reorganizing the chamber with new rules, new people and a new outlook. We hope to be a real force for good and a real sparkplug for progress in Oldsmar. We will be a business building organization”.
With the chambers new energetic board of directors, the leadership of Vic Sitmer and a few dynamic supporters like Bob and Babe Wright, Roger Kumar and in a smaller way, yours truly, the new chamber grew and flourished.
Vic’s enthusiasm was a driving force for the chamber even after the “Bank of Oldsmar” was eventually sold to the “SouthTrust” bank. Part of the 1980s the Oldsmar Chamber lapsed into a sort of a slumbering melancholy mode. The chamber still was active in some city events; mainly the “Citizen of the Year” award and the “Oldsmar Day” parade. But, for the most part the chamber and its board of directors were only a whisper. But again, it was just a whisper away of what it would eventually become. During those lackluster years there was one fantastic lady that continued to keep the chamber a viable and visual entity in the city. That fabulous lady was Jean De Andrea. Jean was a wonderful person who loved her city. She was the only paid employee of the chamber. Even though her salary was small she continued working day in and day out representing and keeping the chamber functioning.
In 1989 our oldest son Robyn was presented the Oldsmar Chamber’s “Citizen Volunteer” yearly award.
By 1990 the city of Oldsmar was beginning to be rediscovered by the business world. At the same time the Oldsmar Chamber was rediscovering its importance to the business community that was relocating to Oldsmar.
A new dynamic membership and enlightened board of directors stirred the vast potentials of this sleeping giant. One of those vibrant new chamber members was the non stoppable Linda Williams who owned “State Farm Insurance”. Linda’s new Oldsmar business was just one of many that were relocating to Oldsmar. Linda, along with other new business owners became chamber members. With their same shared incredible enthusiasm a spark was ignited that eventually grew the Oldsmar chamber to be awarded Florida’s top Chamber Honors in 1998 (?).
The strength of the 1990 chamber board of directors was just a prelude to the incredible chamber boards of the future.
In the early 1990s Tom Bohn was hired as the chambers first paid director. In 1997 a new director was hired to lead the chambers vision towards the future. The new director was Kevin Gartland. Kevin would lead the chamber to heights that couldn’t have been imagined in 1960. This included growing into a truly regional chamber serving the entire Upper Tampa Bay business community. It was also in 1997 the chambers first successful “Oktoberfest” was held. In the prestigious 2010 Tampa Bay Business Journal Book of Lists our Oktoberfest was recognized as one of the top 25 events in the region attracting over 22,000 guests in 2009. In 2006 a new chapter in the chambers success story was written when Jerry Custin became the chambers new director.
The Oldsmar Chamber of Commerce is a tremendous success story. It is a story that had a humble beginning. It is a story where tremulous times almost caused its death. It is a story where neglect almost caused it to fade into nothing. But, the vision of a few, the perseverance of many finally blossomed into the incredible Oldsmar Chamber of Commerce success story of today.