by Chuck Seaver, South Lake Tablet
We, at the South Lake Tablet (SLT), have found that our community is the home of people with blended backgrounds, possessing an assortment of talents, interests, and experiences. Many of these unique people go far beyond their normal routines to make life better for their families, neighbors, and friends.
Each month, the South Lake Tablet will place a “spotlight” on one of these residents who selflessly devote time and efforts to make a positive impact on his/her community.
This month’s community spotlight shines on Kay Simpson. Kay has been a member of the South Lake County community since 1976, when she and her husband, Ray, relocated to a warmer climate from the grips of icy winters in Michigan. Kay quickly became a part of the community with her quick wit and sense of humor, ease of meeting new people, and caring personality for others.
In 1985, Kay and Ray thought out a business plan for a local mom-and-pop style restaurant that would eventually become a reality with the opening of Papa’s Diner, 626 East SR-50, Clermont. This was a time when Clermont had limited restaurant opportunities, especially with home-cooking-style menu options. The citrus industry was still alive and well in the area and loyal patrons to the diner would carry Kay through the next thirty-two years of restaurant ownership.
In 2005, while juggling the hectic schedule of business ownership, Kay became involved in an organization that would eventually become the “first love” of her community volunteer life. The Greater Clermont Cancer Foundation (GCCF), founded in 2004, would touch Kay’s heart in a way that would lead her to chair, with passion, the organization’s board of directors for the next ten years. Kay has also served on the GCCF’s treasury board and has helped coordinate the annual “Bra’s For a Cause and Boxer’s Too” fashion show fundraising event. “We have protected our image while balancing the need for awareness in the community,” says Kay. The GCCF’s mission is to provide financial assistance, support, and comfort to persons fighting cancer who live in South Lake County. “We are a 100% volunteer organization with no paid positions at all. 100% of funds raised or donated go to the patients who are fighting cancer,” says Kay.
Kay, who quickly declares that “life experiences have been my greatest education,” admits that her dad is likely the source of her caring heart for others. While living in Michigan as a child, she remembers her dad clearing snow from the driveways of neighbors or friends without them asking him to. After her dad’s passing, Kay learned many stories about her dad from other community members such as her dad helping young men fix their cars free of charge and volunteering for a local food pantry where he helped build shelves and distribute food. Footsteps that have led Kay herself to volunteer at several food pantries, including New Jacob’s Chapel, South Lake Presbyterian Church, both in Clermont, Dorcas’ Way in Minneola, Lov Extension in Tavares, The Neighborhood Center of South Lake in Groveland and Hands of Hope in the Four-Corners area. Kay has also helped with the South Lake Food Providers, an organization in Clermont that helps coordinate the efforts of area food providers to come together in community food provision events. “People who run out of money and food at the end of the month are plentiful in our community right now. Rising costs of everything from groceries to rent to insurance and gas has led many families and seniors on fixed incomes to make tough decisions regarding their food budgets,” says Kay.
In 2017, Kay made the tough decision to make way for a new chapter in her life by selling Papa’s Diner, a diner that remains in business to this day. Although the couple looked forward to traveling after retirement, Kay, also affectionately known as Miss Kay or Mama Kay to her community family, never lost sight of her desire to help others in the community. A community that Kay loves so much that she now considers Clermont as her hometown. The South Lake Community loves Kay also and showed her that appreciation in 2023 by nominating and awarding her the coveted “Citizen of the Year” award sponsored by the South Lake Chamber of Commerce.
Kay hasn’t stopped at helping with food needs or her busy schedule with the GCCF. Instead, she also volunteers as a Key Club Advisor for Lake Minneola High School, sponsored by the Kiwanis Club of South Lake. Key Club is a Kiwanis-based, student-led, high school organization that focuses on community service and leadership development. She also serves as the Vice-President of the Kiwanis Club of South Lake.
When asked, if there was one thing in the community that you could do and have not yet done, what would it be? Kay replied with a need that many in our community realize every day and that is affordable housing. A problem that is magnified by those who are suffering catastrophic health issues, such as cancer. “Many cancer patients have to sell their home or have other huge financial hardships that make keeping their homes nearly impossible,” says Kay. The Neighborhood Scout reports the current median home value in the Clermont area as $425,062.00.
Although, when asked, Kay reports 65-75 hours a month of her time being utilized as volunteer time to the community and her willingness to help others and her infectious, bright smile are irreplaceable to those who know her. Kay’s actions and motives have no boundaries when it relates to helping those in need. If she can help, she will and for that, we are grateful to have Mama Kay in our South Lake Community!
Visit www.gccf.us to learn more about the services and donation opportunities at the Greater Clermont Cancer Foundation.