How time flies when you're having fun, Joe Alpine says.
The former president of West Pasco Chamber of Commerce recently retired after 15 years at the helm, and Chip Wichmanowski assumed the mantle as its top executive.
But Alpine will return Jan. 11 for a "Roast and Toast" party planned to celebrate his long tenure.
"After 15 years of dedicated service, … we will honor, roast and toast Joe Alpine for all of his hard work and commitment to the chamber," an invitation reads.
Festivities will start with cocktails at 6 p.m. and dinner at 6:45 p.m. at the Spartan Manor, 6121 Massachusetts Ave.
Chamber members Cami Austin, Wendy Brenner, Tom Castriota, Kurt Conover and Craig McCart will make presentations.
Alpine became the chamber's top executive July 14, 1997. After celebrating his 70th birthday last fall, he thought it was a good time to retire.
Among his favorite accomplishments was helping keep the chamber on an even keel through the recession, he said during a September interview.
The organization boasts 860 members, down from a pre-recession peak of about 1,000. Many chamber programs started during the past few years aimed to help members survive the downturn.
"I've always had great chairmen of the board," Alpine has said.
Wayne Coulter led the chamber board when Alpine was hired. Car dealership owner Tom Castriota, hospital executive Kurt Conover and many other leaders followed.
Alpine is "absolutely" bullish that West Pasco will enjoy an economic upswing during the next few years. Small businesses provide the spark for the local economy, he said.
By next year, though, Alpine is looking forward to more time with the "best thing that ever happened to me," his wife of 45 years, Barbara.
Alpine plans to attend every basketball game his grandson, Justin, plays for Florida Christian College in Kissimmee, a perennial contender for the league title. He can watch grandson Ayden, 9, grow up.
Every night, Alpine still indulges in a bowl of ice cream. The habit stems from Alpine's youth. His dad worked many years for an ice cream company in Cleveland.
Alpine was drafted into the armed forces and served in Vietnam in 1965 and 1966 as a gunner on a helicopter and then a military policeman. He and Barbara married in 1967 and raised two daughters.
Alpine tried his hand in several fields after moving to Florida in 1971. "I was one of the little elves," Alpine chuckled about his eight-year stint with Keebler cookies. Eventually, he formed his own Priority Management business about 1992.
In 1997, Alpine was serving as co-chair of the annual Business Development Week the chamber sponsors. It got him noticed when the chamber began searching for a president that year. Networking works, Alpine said.
An evangelical tone perhaps stems from Alpine's strong religious beliefs. He has attended Generations Christian Church the past four years.
The same guiding principles can apply in business dealings, Alpine said. "If you put others before yourself, it turns out pretty well. Try to do what you think is best."
He said goodbye to chamber staff members, including office manager Shirley J. Kleinhans, a 30-year chamber veteran; Dan Sullivan, the events and marketing coordinator and Bike Fest coordinator; Maria Johnson, membership director; Beth Bray, data services; and Kristen King, Chasco Fiesta executive director.
But Alpine promised to stay involved in chamber affairs and Chasco Fiesta preparations.
Friends are compiling a keepsake album to give Alpine at the dinner. Send cards and letters to be included in the album to Becky Bennett at 14120 Old Dixie Highway, Hudson, FL 34667.
Tickets for the Jan. 11 "Roast and Toast" party cost $75 apiece. Discounts for reserved tables are available. Proceeds will benefit the West Pasco Chamber of Commerce.
Reservations are due by Monday. Contact Kleinhans at (727) 842-7651.