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Silhouettes Profiles Bradley Romp

Bradley Romp

This article originally appeared in the March 16, 2018 edition of La Gaceta
By: Tiffany Razzano

Bradley Romp had been healthy his entire life – not just healthy, but athletic, even working as a fitness model at one point – when he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis 13 years ago.
He and his wife, Michelle, were celebrating her 40th birthday in Hawaii with friends. As he prepared for a day on the golf course, he lost his balance and busted his toe. So he spent a spa day with his wife and her friend, instead.
“Having MS, that’s the worst thing you could do for it,” he said. “But I didn’t know I had it at the time. Ice baths, mud baths, salt baths – I was just putting my body in shock.”
When he returned home, the pain didn’t go away. In fact, it crept upward, into his lower back, and he experienced pins and needles in his fingers. At first, his chiropractor thought he had a herniated disc. But when it seemed like something more was going on, Romp was sent for an open MRI.
Because it was open, rather than closed, though, the MRI results were “very sketchy, they couldn’t really tell anything,” he said.
A week after that, his symptoms not getting any better, he made an appointment with Florida Orthopaedic, and he was sent for a closed MRI. His MRI was scheduled for a Friday, and he was sent home with the film to bring to his appointment the following Monday. “But there was no way I was going to wait an entire weekend,” he said.
So Romp called over his neighbor, a doctor, to take a look at the film. They hung the film on his kitchen window so his friend could review them.
His friend knew what he was looking at right away – not only because of his professional experience, but because his sister also has MS ¬– but at first hesitated to make a diagnosis in such an informal setting. Eventually, the words came out – Romp had MS.
Romp’s first reaction was, “MS? What’s MS?”
His friend explained is was a disabling disease to the central nervous system caused by damage to the myelin coating around nerve fibers, disrupting the transmission of signals between the brain, spinal cord and the rest of the body.
“I was like, ‘You’ve got to be effin’ kidding me,’” Romp said. “He left, and I cried like a baby.”
Since then – despite the fatigue, vertigo, pins and needles, and pain – he’s turned his attitude around. “I’m a very positive person,” he said.
He serves as a mentor to others with MS and rides in the two-day 150-mile Bike MS: The Citrus Tour each year, raising thousands of dollars and awareness for the disease. “There is no cure for MS at this point,” he said. “But if I can help one person with the disease, one person less fortunate than me, motivate one person, then I’ve done my job.”
Born in Cleveland, Ohio, Romp moved to Tampa in 1980 after high school to attend the University of South Florida.
His entire life, his family had traveled to Florida on vacations to visit friends. It was on one of these trips that he visited USF while in town to see a Tampa Bay Buccaneers game and fell in love with the university. “I decided I loved the Florida weather, the beaches and the water, and it spoke to me,” he said. “So I decided to come down here, not knowing anyone. I drove my dad’s van down here, filled with my things, and I’ve been here ever since.”
He studied business management, following in his family’s footsteps. Back home, his family owned a variety of businesses – Danny Boy Farm Markets, Dairy Queen franchises, A&P franchises and tractor companies, to name a few.
After graduating from USF in 1984, he took a job as a trainer for Frank Calta’s health clubs. He was also hired as a fitness model for the Nautilus home workout machine, which was based in DeLand.
Romp decided he wanted to take his life more seriously, though. “I thought, ‘This is fun, but I need to get in the real world,’” he said.
He took a job with Cellular One in 1987, which eventually became AT&T. He worked for the company for more than 18 years. In his most recent role, he worked as the company’s government account manager, handling accounts for various municipalities, including the City of Tampa, as well as the Secret Service, MacDill Air Force Base, the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office and USF’s athletic department.
He left AT&T in 2005, when it was bought out by Cingular. Romp decided it was time to do something different. So he took a job selling franchises of Mark Lucas’ Club Z Education, an in-home tutoring company, and Acti-Kare, an in-home medical care company. Romp went on to become the owner of the Acti-Kare franchises in the Tampa Bay area.
This career change came 13 years ago, just before he was diagnosed with MS. Both the job and the diagnosis were pivotal for Romp.
“Before that, I had a shield up in me that I was this person who could do no wrong,” he said. “But when I got the news that I was stricken with MS, I had to bring that shield down. Now I look at people and view people in a completely different way.”
He added, “What I do now for a living, I’m very grateful. It’s very gratifying and very rewarding to help people out. I feel like I’m giving back with the business I’m in right now.”
He’s as passionate about working with the MS community as he is about Acti-Kare. He knows firsthand how devastating the initial diagnosis of MS can be. He coached his two sons on a variety of sports teams – football, baseball, soccer – in the New Tampa area before he was diagnosed. He loved this role but was forced to step down when he continued to lose his balance on the field.
Initially weakened by the MS, at first he could barely hold a 1.5-lb. weight above his head, and the equilibrium issues affected his balance when he tried to ride a bike. “And I’d always been an avid bike rider,” he said. “I couldn’t zip up my pants. I couldn’t button my own shirt. I couldn’t function.”
The turning point came when he was unable to play in a charity golf tournament in which regularly participated because he couldn’t hold the club in his left hand. He vowed he would return the following year.
So he got to work, training to strengthen his body and mind. This is his 10th year riding in the Bike MS: The Citrus Tour, a benefit for the National MS Society. Many people are surprised he’s able to make the two-day 150-mile ride with his MS symptoms, but he’s worked hard to get to that point. “I’m probably in better shape than I’ve ever been,” he said. “I’ve kind of taken a negative and turned it into a positive.”
Romp has become known as a top fundraiser for the ride. Last year, he raised more than $17,000 he said.
He hopes his story inspires others living with the disease. “Life doesn’t have to stop with a diagnosis,” he said.
He added, “It’s not about Brad Romp. It’s about making a difference for people living with MS. When I’m training, I’m training for all those who suffer worse than me.”

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Comic Gallagher Coming to Ybor

By: Mike Merino
Published Aug. 4, 2017

The Tampa Bay area has raised its share of topflight entertainers over the years. Superstar wrestler Hulk Hogan, baseball great Lou Piniella and actor Channing Tatum are just some who got their start on the streets of Tampa Bay.
But on August 12, Tampa`s most famous funnyman will be performing his outrageous act in historic Ybor City.
Gallagher`s reputation as a cottage-cheese-and-watermelon-smashing comedian was forged in the ’80s on the strength of his many TV cable specials and highly interactive performances.
Few may know that this internationally known melon-slayer grew up in the Cigar City, and that his rise to fame and fortune was developed as a youth in a local roller-skating rink.
Now a ripe 70 years old, Gallagher is coming for a free outdoor performance at the historic Centro Asturiano. Robby Steinhardt, a Tampa native, rock violinist and former singer with the rock group Kansas, will be singing his hits with Tampa Bay`s own Stormbringer. Other musicians and a variety of vendors and food trucks will participate at this daylong event.
Leo Gallagher was born in 1946 in North Carolina. When he was nine, his entrepreneur father, always searching for a reason to move to Florida, packed up the entire family and moved to the Sunshine State. While Gallagher, whose nickname is Butch, was enrolled at Tampa`s Oak Grove Junior High, his father opened the “Roll-A-Rink Skating Center” on North Armenia Avenue, located just on the outskirts of West Tampa. His family of six lived behind the rink in a three-bedroom mobile home. “I became an excellent speed and figure skater, which helped my confidence,” said Gallagher, who added “I was also an Eagle Scout.”
An intelligent student, Gallagher went to Plant High School. “I was quite mischievous in those days, hanging out with my buddies and pranking folks at the Steak ‘n Shake across the street.”
Despite his youthful antics, Gallagher went on to college and graduated from the University of South Florida with a degree in chemical engineering. “I minored in English literature, which comes in handy when I mock language in my skits,” said Gallagher. “I often laugh to myself over the fact that I really wanted to be a scientist.”
After college, and still his outrageous and boisterous self, Gallagher decided to be a comedian. “I looked up my first talent agents in the Tampa Yellow Pages and found two,” said Gallagher. “One agent got me my first melon-smashing act in a bowling alley. The other agent introduced me to nationally known, comic/musician Jim Stafford. I began working as his road manager.”
Gallagher and Stafford hit it off. They traveled to California together in 1969. Soon he decided it was time to start performing by himself. He began honing his own act while frequenting many comedy clubs in the Los Angeles area. He was repeatedly denied appearances on the “Tonight Show” in the 1970s and 1980s because Johnny Carson disliked prop comedy. However, he was admired by a few of Carson’s staff. Gallagher eventually performed several times on the “Tonight Show” when guest hosts were filling in for Carson. Gallagher attributes the success of his career to his beginning appearances on Carson’s show.
As a child, Gallagher`s mother knew he despised fruit, particularly melons. She tried to force them on him to help reverse his recurrent constipation. He eventually thanked his mom for being fruit-pushy because it resulted in him earning millions.
Gallagher is most recognized for his finale when he smashes fresh fruit all over the front row with the audience, loving every juicy piece flying aimlessly over their entire bodies. However, a clear plastic cover is draped in front to protect their clothing.
This portion of the act is a parody of ads for the Ronco Veg-O-Matic, a kitchen appliance made popular from the mid-1960s through the 1970s. He wrote the routine for the “Sledge-O-Matic” and sent it to George Carlin and Albert Brooks so he could say that he had written a script for some well-known comics. “I`m glad they didn`t take it, I might have ended up as that scientist,” Gallagher said.
Throughout his comedy career, Gallagher has always cherished his upbringing in Tampa. His memories of the area are strong and he has many friends and family still in the vicinity.
However, with over four decades on the road, his health has taken its toll. He has suffered four heart attacks, replaced two coronary stents and made numerous trips to the E.R.
“Despite my health challenges, as long as I can breathe and move I`ll keep performing and tearing down the house with my personal brand of outrageous thinking-man’s comedy,” said Gallagher. “Just show up in Ybor and be ready to get smashed.”
The Ybor City Melonfest Featuring Gallagher and Artie Fletcher is scheduled to take place:
When: Saturday, Aug. 12, 1 to 8 p.m.
Where: Centro Asturiano, 1913 N. Nebraska Ave., Tampa
Admission: Free. Vendors, food trucks, live music.
Info: (813) 229-2214

Silhouettes presents Shelby Bender

Silhouettes: by Tiffany Razzano
published 2/10/2017

An eighth-generation Plant City resident, Shelby Bender remembers the exact moment she recognized the importance of community.
As an elementary school student, one of the teachers would enlist the help of local children to collect money for the American Heart Fund. Bender and her sister were selected one year and helped that teacher for as long as she can remember. Dressed in their Sunday finest, the group of students went door to door, asking their neighbors to donate to the cause. Afterward, they’d meet at the TECO community center for refreshments and to discuss how much they collected. “That was probably the start of my being active in the community,” said Bender, executive director and president of the East Hillsborough Historical Society. “I’ve always been passionate about giving back.”
Aside from spending a few years in Gainesville while her husband attended college, Bender has spent her entire life in Plant City. “Some people have real strong roots somewhere and they’re well established,” she said. “I’m one of those people.”
When she and her husband returned to their hometown, they took over the dry-blend fertilizer manufacturing company his family had owned and operated for decades in Plant City. Though she went on to earn her associate degree from Hillsborough Community College while her children were little, she decided not to pursue a bachelor’s degree at the time. “I had my full-time job with the family business. I was happy with what I was doing and the family was comfortable,” she said.
Then, after running the business for 30 years, Bender and her husband decided to shut down the manufacturing plant. The company had been in existence for 81 years. “At one point in time, Hillsborough County was a very large agricultural community,” she said. “But things change.” Forty years ago, there were “eight or nine dry-blend fertilizer companies” in the county, she added. “Now there are none.” Her family’s company at one time had been located in the heart of the city, near the railroad tracks, but Plant City’s midtown expansion forced them out.
Bender was 56 years old when the company closed down. “We had to reinvent ourselves and start over,” she said. “Sometimes in life you just have to write a new chapter.”
She decided to go back to school and complete her degree, earning a bachelor’s degree in general studies from St. Leo University and, later, a certificate in nonprofit management from the University of South Florida. She also worked for a year as finance secretary for Mulberry High School.
Even while running the company with her husband, she was always heavily involved with community activities, spending much of her time volunteering for the East Hillsborough Historical Society. Running her own business gave her the flexibility to spend a significant amount of time with the historical society. In fact, for years she was in charge of many of the duties she takes on today as executive director and president of the group. “When you own your own business, you can make your own hours,” Bender explained. “But I no longer had that flexibility while working for the school.”
So she and the historical society decided to get creative. The group always had an administrative person working part-time in the office. When that role opened up, they decided to revamp it, creating the executive director position for Bender. “I wanted to do this and I knew I could do this,” she said. “We just had to approach the role a little differently.”
As executive director, she works out of the historic 1914 Plant City High School Community Center – her former junior high school – which houses the EHHS office, Pioneer Museum and Quintilla Geer Bruton Archives Center.
Bender has always been interested in local history, as well as genealogy. She remembers as a young girl her grandmother telling her about their family history. “She was very influential. My own interest in our family history just kind of went from there,” she said.
Learning about her family, “who they were in reality, what they did, what kind of people they were,” connected her to her roots and strengthened her sense of self.
She’s traced her family lineage as far back as the 1600s, to England, Scotland, Germany and Russia. “As you keep going back, you develop an interest not just in local history, but in history throughout time,” she said.
She added, “It’s really interesting to see how they existed. A person might think we’re in hard times now, but no, we’re not in hard times.”
She’s also built up a roster of private clients, especially in the realm of adoption research. For nearly 25 years, Bender has worked with adoptees and birth families to make connections.
Bender has also co-authored four books on Plant City history and Tampa cemeteries. In fact, in addition to genealogy and family histories, her other specialties include historic preservation, the history and care of cemeteries and funerary art. “A cemetery is a true history of a community,” she said.
She serves on several other local organizations as well. She is chair of the Plant City Historic Resources Board. The board oversees three local and national register historic districts. She also serves on the Hillsborough County Historic Preservation Grant Panel and the Plant City Main Street Board of Directors, and is secretary of the Florida State Genealogical Society. And as a nearly nine-year member of the Hillsborough County Historic Advisory Council – and recently member emeritus – she’s helped establish numerous historic markers throughout the county by recommending and finding sites with historical importance to the community. Some of these locations include the Hillsborough County Cemetery, which served as a pauper’s cemetery, and Florida College in Temple Terrace.
The EHHS also hosts numerous events throughout the year in an effort to reach out to the community. They organize Pioneer Heritage Day each November, holding an open house at the 1914 Plant City High School Community Center. The organization is also gearing up for their upcoming fundraiser, one of their biggest of the year, Bender said, running a strawberry shortcake booth at the Florida Strawberry Festival.
In addition, the group sponsors and runs a number of workshops for the community, from genealogy to cemetery care and preservation. The next workshop is “Copyright Workshop for Authors, Artists and Musicians,” to be held Saturday, Feb. 4, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., at the 1914 Plant City High School Community Center. The workshop is free and preregistration is required.
Then, on Saturday, Feb. 11, 7 to 10 p.m., the center will host the Florida Opry’s Country to Pop tribute show to country music legend Patsy Cline.
The organization tries to reach the community any way that it can, Bender remarked. “It’s important that we all remember where we came from,” she added.

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