Philanthropy is a trade that Laurilee Thompson learned from her parents, Rodney and Mary Jean. Thompson says, “they’re the ones who started Dixie Crossroads in 1983, and they were always generous to the community while I was out running the commercial fishing boat, catching grouper for the restaurant.” Early on, her parents raised money to buy an ATV for the Canaveral National Seashore Rangers. They were walking the beach every morning to count the new sea turtle nests, and they needed an ATV to ride instead. Her father picked a dinner on their menu, took two dollars from every one of those dinners sold, and raised enough money to buy the ATV. A couple years later, the Titusville High School band was raising money for a trip to Paris. He did the same thing and donated much of the money for the trip. “He also raised money for the YMCA so that Titusville could have its own,” Thompson added.
“We give out about $60,000 a year, every year, in gift certificates. We also donate food and hold fundraisers at the restaurant for the SPCA and the Florida Wildlife Hospital.” Thompson proudly says. Last year, they held the first Florida Seafood Boil, a fundraiser at the Wild Ocean Seafood Market. It was held on the docks at the Market. “With the shrimp boat in the background, we set up Cajun cookers and grills right there on the dock, and served people right there on the waterfront at Port Canaveral. We did that for the Florida Wildlife Hospital,” Thompson said.
When Thompson got off the fishing boat and started working at the restaurant, she was asked to be on the board of the Space Coast Audubon Society. “That was unusual because the perception is that commercial fishermen are bad people who overfish and don’t care about the environment. I went to the first meeting not knowing what to expect and I found an incredibly nice group of people who were as upset about the state of the Indian River Lagoon as I was,” she said. That was when she started the Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival. “That was 1997, and it is now one of the largest birding and wildlife festivals in the world.”
Thompson adds, “I also do a tremendous amount of public speaking about the lagoon. I’ve opened a lot of people’s eyes to the past beauty, majesty and productivity of it. You can’t expect people to try to save something if they don’t understand what it is that they’re trying to save and restore. So, my little talk tries to educate people on the goal of the restoration. You know, this is what it used to be like and this is what it needs to get back to.”
Thompson has also been on the Tourist Development Council for 17 years as the voice for eco-tourism in