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Ruskin Seafood Festival carries on without two of its favorite sons

RUSKIN — Steven "Steve" Fagen and Ron Simpson cherished their families, their friends and living life in the South Shore community, bordering the picturesque waters of Tampa Bay.

Fagen, of Ruskin, an avid fisherman along with his close buddy and son, Steven, Jr.; and Simpson, a retired CIA agent and Apollo Beach resident, loved nothing more than immersing themselves in the community. They took part in many of the sights and sounds the burgeoning area has to offer.

Their favorite event has always been the annual Ruskin Seafood Festival, a two-day affair hosted by the SouthShore Chamber of Commerce that will be held Saturday and Sunday (Nov. 4-5) at E.G. Simmons Park, 2401 19th Ave., NW.

But, sadly, neither of the men will be there.

Fagen — more commonly known in the community as the Mullet Man, who peddled his hand-caught and self-smoked mullet and his homemade mullet spread for close to two decades at the event — died suddenly of a heart attack on April 9.

"He always looked forward to seeing his old friends and meeting new ones at the festival," said his wife, Bridget. "And he was such a gentleman. If an elderly woman would come up and place an order he would always offer to take it to where she was seated or to her car."

Simpson, an active chamber member who for many years volunteered his time at the festival by delivering water throughout the site to fellow volunteers via the "hydration cart," succumbed to cancer on July 14.

"He was just the best person to have fun with," said fellow volunteer Jim Johnson, who partnered with Simpson in the cart. "But, he'll be up there laughing with us and cheering us on."

During this year's event a large banner in Fagen's honor will grace the site where his red-and-white Mullet Shack would have stood, and festival volunteers will don tie-dyed T-shirts, mimicking Simpson's favorite mode of dress.

"He loved people, he loved being involved and he felt strongly about the chamber," said Simpson's wife, Phyllis Gannon.

Melanie Rimes, the chamber's executive director, described the two as "very special people" who will be greatly missed.

"But, they would be "furious," she added, if the festival didn't move forward as planned.

More than 100 vendors touting seafood specialties, barbecue, salty snacks, sweet treats, art, crafts, businesses and organizations of all kinds will participate in this year's event. It got its start in 1988 as a small expo on the waterfront with a couple of seafood vendors and a few boats and last year attracted more than 25,000 attendees.

The kids' area featuring bounce houses, pony rides, reverse bungee jumping, a rock wall, hamster ball, mechanical shark, a petting zoo and more is also a main attraction, according to the longtime kids' area chairman Carrie Elwell, owner of Kids R Kids childcare center, with two locations in the South Shore area.

In addition, attendees can participate in arts and crafts projects, take in a boat show, and enjoy live musical entertainment throughout the festival, purposely fashioned to appeal to people of all ages.

Among this year's lineup is Kozmic Pearl, a classic rock and R&B band that will perform on the main stage from 3:30 to 5 p.m. on Saturday. And the Soul Circus Cowboys, one of the area's best country-rock bands, will close out the evening on Saturday.

There also will be three beer and wine stations positioned at key sites on the grounds, organized and overseen by chamber board member Jay Fredricks.

All the alcoholic beverages are provided by Pepin Distributing in Tampa, a company Fredricks contends does a great job.

He also gives kudos to the Krewe of South Shore Marauders, whose members pour and serve the drinks and use the tips they receive to support local charities.

Chamber president Deb Adams encourages people from throughout the greater South Shore community and beyond to attend the festival, alluding to all its offerings of food and fun amid a beachfront setting from which the Tampa and St. Petersburg skylines can be seen.

"It's almost a year-round effort to pull it all together and it's an event that nobody in this area wants to miss," Rimes said.

She expressed her thanks of to the myriad volunteers — including her husband, her daughters, her parents, students from the area's schools, and the many others – who for years have played a key role toward its success.

Contact Joyce McKenzie at hillsnews@tampabay.com.

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