TRINITY — Harry Serfes, master of ceremonies, praised the Greek lemon chicken soup, remembered neighbors who had died and reminded everyone about an upcoming veterans event.
Then he turned to the guests of honor at Monday's Memorial Day luncheon: a local mechanic and his wife.
Jerry and Judy Mendik, owners of Automotivation garage at West Pasco Industrial Park, were honored by residents of Country Place, a senior community off State Road 54.
The Mendiks, both 42, have acted as much like social workers as mechanics, tangling with insurance companies and others on their elderly customers' behalf.
"You've taken very good care of our cars — and us," Serfes told the Mendiks.
There were examples.
Earlier this year, Jerry Mendik thought something didn't sound right when one of his customers, a widow in Country Place, told him she'd paid nearly $1,500 for five smoke alarms in her 864-square-foot home. Mendik checked out the alarms and started making phone calls. The woman got a refund after Mendik took her story to the St. Petersburg Times.
Another time, Mendik fought with a car dealership until it gave a refund to one of his customers. And there was the time he wrangled with an insurance company until it agreed to pay for the repairs on a customer's car.
"He takes care of everyone in here," said resident Rick Long. "He's not just a mechanic. He's a caring neighbor."
Jerry Mendik had no idea about the honor; he thought he and his family had just been invited to eat.
"Gosh, I'm kind of choked up," he said afterwards, his eyes turning red.
His parents, Jerry and Elizabeth, also attended the luncheon. Jerry Sr., a Czech Republic native who moved his family to the United States when Jerry Jr. was about 2 years old, owns a machine shop at the industrial park. He got his son working with his hands from an early age.
"He ask for a new bike, and I say, 'You have to work for it,' " his father recalled.
Country Place residents said Monday that they aren't the only customers — or species — that the Mendiks have helped. Every day, two Muscovy ducks they rescued as abandoned babies — Lucky and Sparky — ride with them in the minivan to work.
And the couple have made it a mission to control the feral cat population at the industrial park: They take older female cats wandering the park to the veterinarian to get them spayed. When they are too late, and kittens have already arrived, the couple try to find homes for them.
Mendik thought a little longer about why he tries to take an extra step with his human customers.
"To do nice things for nice people, you can't buy that feeling," he said. "The payoff is just great."
Times researcher Shirl Kennedy contributed to this report. Jodie Tillman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6247.