FIRE UP CITRUS! brings Great Ideas to the Valerie Theatre

By Guest Author Posted on November 9, 2023

by Tom Craig, co-author of Treasures of the Trails

A crowd of people anxiously awaited the 2023 FIRE UP CITRUS!, a Citrus County Chamber of Commerce event produced as part of their October Business Appreciation Month since 2014. Ardath Prendergast, Chamber VP and creator of the Fire Up Citrus! events wore her signature red dress. Where does she find a unique new red dress for every event? Again we weren’t disappointed. We were FIRED UP! to see the 12 creative thinkers make their presentations about what they would like to see happen in Citrus County.

The event is held bi-annually at the Valerie Theater. Josh Wooten, President/CEO of the Chamber, kicked off the event with a video explaining the event rules and highlighting past presentations. Originally scheduled for October 12 FIRE UP CITRUS! was re-scheduled to November 1 due to the tornado that hit Crystal River.

Tom Ryan, Chair of the Chamber Board of Directors. introduced Dale McClellan, principal of M&B Dairy, who is fresh off hosting this year‘s BAM BBQ event with his son, Leon. 

Dale talked about how he moved his dairy farm from Hillsborough County to Citrus County as the best decision he could’ve made. Starting with a dilapidated building “from almost nothing” in his words, with the help of the Chamber and especially Josh Wooten, he built his empire to over nine figures in sales annually! 

While working on financing and getting the building and his milk business up and running, he began by selling orange juice. Tom Ryan, the MC asked, “How do you get orange juice from cows?“ Dale replied, “We feed them orange pulp,“ to big laughs from the audience. Dale said he has never liked speaking to groups. You couldn’t tell by this speech.

The audience was entertained by Dale’s anecdotes about his humble beginnings and his efforts to be the best milk producer he and his family could be. He talked about his new product, A-1 protein milk, created to bring a new kind of milk to those people who mistakenly believe they are lactose intolerant. Dale expressed his thanks to Citrus County, now his favorite place on earth. 

Dale’s message to the FIRE UP CITRUS! presenters and the audience is “Never give up“ when it comes to your dreams and your passion. He told us that if you pursue your dreams and keep going no matter what, you will be rewarded with success. Dale likes the FIRE UP CITRUS! Event, because he likes to be around people who have new ideas and people who inspire him.

As MC for the evening, Tom Ryan spoke with grace and humor. Throughout the evening, he introduced the presenters and recapped the important and interesting points of their concept wishing them well with their passionate presentations about what they believe would be great ideas for the citizens of Citrus County.

Tom outlined the procedure for the night’s event and the first presenter. The rules of the FIRE UP CITRUS! are unique. The rules are as follows: Presenters are required to make a 20-image slide show presentation and present it in 5 minutes. There are no restrictions on the idea just so long as it is positive (no negativity or criticism). Sounds easy? It’s not. Especially if you are passionate about the idea you are presenting. 

The program was divided into three rounds. 

  • Round One: Empowering Our Citizens 
  • Round Two: À Votre Santé (To Your Health)
  • Round Three: Feeding the Entrepreneurial Spirit. 
Elisha Belden presents at Fire Up Citrus! promoting arts funding in Citrus County. Images courtesy of the City of Inverness.

The Twelve Presentations at FIRE UP CITRUS! 2023 Reviewed

The first presentation, A ROAD-WORTHY CITRUS, by Harold Walker Harold discussed how there could be a better way for the County to explain the state of the roads. He thanked County Administrator Howard for addressing the issue. Harold outlined a better way to explain where the money for roads comes from and how much goes to actual paving, encouraging the County to give better notice regarding what roads are being paved and when. Howard explained how the roads that get paved are in direct relation to the percentage of roads in poor condition for each voting district. He suggested that we ask the pavement companies if there is a better way to save money on paving, like a 5-year contract, rather than bidding each road project individually.

The second presentation, THIS IS CITRUS COUNTY JEOPARDY, by Kristen Coble & Katie Lucas, suggests a better forum for getting answers to questions. They suggested that an alternative to the local newspaper’s Sound Off would entertain questions from citizens and then get the real answer from the local person or organization who has the truth. They made a tongue-in-cheek parody of a few choice responses to Sound Offs and offered the citizen’s answers, then compared them with the truth as they know it. Katie Lucas was a former Citrus County Chamber Board Chair.

The third presentation, PORT CITRUS: AQUACULTURE BUSINESS INCUBATOR by Michael Czerwinski brought back his previous presentation with an update. He reiterated that the Port Citrus land is sitting fallow and can be repurposed to be a home for an alternative Agriculture initiative. He highlighted successful aquaculture businesses around the world dedicated to aquaculture for nationally known companies. Mike says that Citrus County and other Florida counties have land spaces close to fresh and saltwater that can support a thriving aquaculture cooperative. He envisions educational institutions like the University of Florida and the Academy of Environmental Science would benefit from having on-site laboratories. A county-sponsored facility could include leasable open land for tenant use for research, education, and a business park.

The fourth presentation, THE HUB IN CITRUS, by Rhonda Allen, envisioned a 25-acre multi-purpose retail entertainment attraction. Like the Island in Pigeon Forge, Rhonda imagines this should be Citrus County’s next big thing with stores, restaurants, and a hotel surrounding a central park area with water features and amusement rides.

The fifth presentation, A MOVEABLE FEAST TRAIL, by Max Schulman who passionately believes that the Withlacoochee State Trail is the perfect venue for an interpretive museum with 10 or more stations along the way from Dunnellon to Brooksville. Each stop would highlight a unique historical perspective of life in the County. Some of the stops would display our cultural heritage from cattle ranching and the equestrian life to the phosphate and turpentine industry that helped form who we are in Citrus. Not only would the displays educate our citizens, but also entertain tourists as they walk or bike along the trail. Similar to how the display in Pineola is a time capsule of the Great Train Wreck of 1956, other displays would stimulate interest to visit more places in and around the County like Fort Cooper, Floral City, the Tsala Apopkas, or the Cross Florida Barge Canal. Displays could be sponsored by companies or social organizations.

The sixth presentation, CITRUS COMMUNITY / FAMILY + WILDLIFE RESCUE, by Alyssa Clossin proposes transitioning her successful animal rescue business to help support battered women who need a place to shelter and make a living to transition out of an abusive environment.

The seventh presentation, MR. MARK’S GOURMET PUREE, by Kelly Scoville. Kelly was empowered by the loss of her husband, who suffered in his later years from dietary challenges, to create food that tastes great and can be swallowed easily. She has created many pureed recipes that she cans for local retail consumption. She used her presentation to educate people about the needs of aging and ailing populations that are underserved in Citrus County and across America. 

The eighth presentation, DREAM, BELIEVE, ACHIEVE, by Betsy Schwartz. The philosophy espoused by Betsy’s presentation fits in well with the meme of the event. She chronicled her efforts to create a community of like-minded people who want to improve their lives and those of others. Betsy enlightened us with healing modalities that others may not be familiar with. 

The ninth presentation, ACCESS TO THE ARTS: A FUNDAMENTAL RIGHT, by Elisha Belden. Elisha made an eloquent presentation about the importance of The Arts in making a well-rounded individual and community. She talked about art as the right of all people, not just those with means. She also says expanding The Arts in Citrus County brings economic benefits by attracting people outside of the county to see our shows and festivals. Elisha proposes that we need a dedicated Arts Center to encourage young people to pursue viable careers in the arts. A Center for the Arts in Citrus County would also bring the opportunity to engage with professional artists and to contribute or participate in activities that suit their skills and interests.

In the tenth presentation, CORE MAKERSPACE, by Jim Green, Jim wants a maker space for people to make products that require access to large expensive equipment like 3-D modelers. He discussed his progress so far in establishing the CORE business plan and securing financing to seed the facility. CORE is the Citrus One-Stop Resource and Entrepreneurial Business Center. The Makerspace should be the next big thing for Citrus County. The audience liked his proposal, giving him one of the loudest approvals of the night.

The eleventh presentation, CITRUS ACTORS THEATRE, by Charles Niski showed us an updated presentation now highlighting the County’s need for a private theatre to be built to attract theatergoers from a larger drawing area than is currently offered by public venues in our area. He showed us a picture of the logo for the new theatre that would be named CAT, Citrus Actors Theatre. Charles presented a video that showed the time-lapse construction of a theatre house, explaining that smaller shows can be produced while most of the building is under construction to pay for the construction before the building is finished.

Unfortunately, one presenter, Hope Haag, with an idea for a LOCAL GROWTH CO., was unable to be at Fire Up Citrus! that evening, but we understand that the Chamber will allow her to film her presentation so that it may be included on the Chamber’s website with those of the other presenters.

This historic Valerie Theater hosted FireUpCITRUS! where the latest ideas to improve the County were presented to an enthusiastic audience. Image by Diane Bedard.

An Educational and Entertaining Evening at FIRE UP CITRUS! Closes with Encouragement to All

Closing comments were made by Dr. Jim Harvey, the retired President of the College of Central Florida and a member of the Chamber Board of Directors. Jim wrapped up the evening with some wise entertaining advice and an analogy.

He asked the audience what were the three most important developments of mankind as revealed by a questionnaire that reached around the world. The audience would probably unanimously say the SmartPhone, but Jim gave a few clues that were not the answer. He astounded us with visual props of a hammer, a screwdriver, and duct tape! Jim said, ”All of the presentations here tonight carried one common theme which is, ‘No dream is too small to become the Next Big Thing’.” He praised the presenters for their forward-thinking and passion for our community. 

Like Dale McClellan earlier in the evening, Dr. Harvey encouraged the presenters and the entire audience to never give up. You never know when that one good idea will make a difference for so many people.



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