Beach resident and business owner Bruce Cermak has contributed mightily to just about any and every cause since he moved to Fort Myers Beach in 1986.
The well-known owner of Surf Club understands the "pay it forward" method well. Benefactors such as Bay Oaks Recreational Campus, Beach Elementary School, Matanzas Pass Preserve, Ostego Bay Foundation, New Church of Southwest Florida, Find A Home Give A Home pet rescue organization and Harry Chapin Food Bank (to name a few) have been blessed by his giving nature by way of donations, gift certificates or fundraising events he has put on at the business' two locations over the years.
For all he has done over the years, Cermak was selected as Humanitarian of the Year for 2012 and was honored at the Fort Myers Beach Observer/Beach Bulletin "Best of the Beach" ceremony at Big Game Waterfront Grill Tuesday.
Surf Club owner Bruce Cermak, pictured here in front of his establishment, was selected as Humanitarian of the Year for 2012 and was honored at the Fort Myers Beach Observer/Beach Bulletin “Best of the Beach” ceremony at Big Game Waterfront Grill Tuesday.
"I've always been raised with the more you give, the more you get," he said. "The older I get the more I see and feel the meaning of the old hippie karma of the 70s, 'what comes around, goes around.' It feels good to be part of something, have roots and sink your teeth into."
When told of the "lifetime achievement award of sorts" selection, the reserved, humble man who recently went through a heart surgery that has limited his overall activity became emotional.
"This overwhelms me," he said. "I didn't know what to say. I think I am a lot more emotional then I used to be."
Cermak first came to the island when he was 16 years old and visited frequently. His half-brother and sister-in-law bought Surf Club in 1980, and he first worked as an employee, then took stock in the establishment, became partners in the business and eventually became business owner in 1987.
Cermak was involved in a catering business in his native Chicago area after running a pizza business in high school. He worked in bars and kitchens before moving to the Beach permanently. Once here, he started the Butler Catering Company, ran it for many years and eventually sold it when other enterprising projects came along.
"I've always dabbled in food. I like to cook," he said. "I was raised with a combination of good food, good drinks and a good time."
Cermak still caters for service organizations on the island and many of those clubs sometimes hold meetings at the 1167 Estero Blvd. location. Since moving Surf Club across the street 3-1/2 years ago, he no longer has a liquor store, but he gained 400 square feet of floor space and a kitchen to serve breakfast, lunch and dinner. People have raved about his food.
"By giving once or twice a year to a lot of organizations, I notice they'll come over and eat my food and drink my beer and know that I'm someone who is not corporate-structured or franchise-related," he said.
Cermak deflected personal attention by naming groups and people who give time to volunteer and make the island a better place to live.
"If you looked at all the clubs and volunteers of people who give their time on the Beach, it is more than most people realize," he said. "You need to have a good sense of community. It's all a big wheel where everyone contributes how they can to make it all turn."
Cermak is one of those folks who help spin the island wheel. Whether it was at Surf Club's former location across the street for 13 years as the business owner or at his current spot, he has found time to do 15 years worth of cookout benefits for the Fourth of July fireworks while still contributing annually, host the judges for the same holiday parade in recent years, put on benefits for those who cannot pay their hospital bills, contribute to the yearly Spirit of the Holidays for needy children, wine dinners for Matanzas Pass Preserve, Kids Can Cook auctions, Putt & Pub Crawl benefits, fish fry events for Ostego Bay Foundation or host the annual pre-Thanksgiving Turkey Testicle event with raffles for a charitable cause.
Cermak is also a director of the Times Square Alliance, instrumental in bringing the Fort Myers Beach Film Festival to life and the financial advisor of the former Cardboard Boat Races. If someone is having a benefit or a golf outing on the Beach, they know they can contact Bruce and he will always give a gift certificate or a prize.
While the benefits are diversified, Surf Club has a customer diversity from young and old to low wage workers and lawyers, all in support of the neighborhood bar owner that gives the gift of giving.
"Around the holidays, you can see two or three generations in here," he said. "They know the name Surf Club and keep coming back."
Surf Club, established in 1963, turns 60 years old in October. Expect a fundraiser to come out of that celebration. The new location may not have all of the character of his old business, but the historical respect is still alive and new additions like the open-view stainless kitchen and an outdoor deck over the retention area outside the front door that houses live entertainment and creates "curb appeal" aids in the character-building. The deck also has a "killer" view of Matanzas Bridge and the Back Bay area that could make an award-winning landscape portrait.
"Different things you add to a place monthly or annually builds character by adding different aspects," said Cermak.
Fresh Gulf shrimp by way of local shrimper Henry Gore or Trico Seafood is on his menu - a rarity for Beach restaurants.
"I'm a big supporter of the local industry," he said.
Cermak admits to shopping locally as much as possible, yet another example of giving back to the community. His love of traveling has slowed as well.
"At this point in my life, I feel very content here," he said. "My priorities have changed. Things that were so important and driving me before are no longer that important. It's also nice to drive a half-mile to work."