Friends, family celebrate the life of Jill Pedigo

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Jill Pedgio

Community blessings go out to the SKOB’s ‘Mama Bear’

The Siesta Key community came together to bid a fond and all too early farewell to one of its own. On May 20, several hundred people gathered on a sunny Monday morning at the landmark Siesta Key Oyster Bar for a celebration of life and remembrance. They came to pay tribute to Jill Pedigo, SKOB’s co-founder and co-owner.

Jill Pedgio

Pedigo passed away on May 7, at the age of 58, with her family at her side.

Chicago Bears attire or “bright and fun clothes” were encouraged for all attending the event.

Abundant bouquets of orange and white tulips, a nod to Pedigo’s beloved Bears, stood next to smiling photos of the Chicago-area native who came to Siesta Key from suburban Naperville, Illinois and made the island her home. In the place that she so loved, people of all ages came to toast the woman who made such an impact on this island. She was, according to SKOB general manager Samantha Lemmer, a friend, mentor, wife, daughter, sister, grandmother, pure force of nature, and a business and community leader.

Jill Pedgio

Some donned black baseball caps with orange lettering that read “Mama Bear,” a reference to her nickname among her SKOB family. As conversations drifted through the warm summery air on the front porch and inside the restaurant, the words “Mama Bear” were often heard.

“This place was our den, and she was Mama Bear,” said former SKOB employee Amy Lou Madell. She was attending the event with her husband, Jason Madell, who also previously worked at the SKOB. It’s where they met during their 20-plus combined years of employment.

Jill Pedgio

“Jill helped create a lot of relationships here,” Amy Lou Madell said. “People met, fell in love, married, and had babies. Like we did.”

As she spoke, a young woman who held her toddler’s hand walked past. “Another example,” Madell said. As the morning continued, a number of young parents with babies in strollers joined the gathering.

Reflecting on Pedigo’s strength and influence that she and her husband, Geno, had on the SKOB family, Jason Madell said: “We modeled our marriage after theirs. Our son is now a freshman (in high school) and he grew up in this place. It’s because of how family was so important to Jill is what allowed it to happen.”

Added Amy Lou, “Here, everyone is extended family.”

“Family” was a word that Lemmer also used in remembering the Siesta Key entrepreneur.

“Jill was an incredible woman whose very presence embodies what our SKOB family is,” Lemmer said. ““She was always everyone’s coach and friend. She always drove us to be the best and have fun all at the same time. SKOB is a family because of what she created. The SKOB team truly looked up to her as an inspiration along with her infectious smile and strong leadership that will never be forgotten.”

In 2003, Jill and Geno, along with Jill’s sister Beth Owen-Cipielewski and her husband, Keith Cipielewski, took ownership of the bar that sits at 5238 Ocean Blvd. in Siesta Village. They made it into the place known by locals and visitors from around the world simply as “SKOB.”

As they began remodeling, Keith discovered several loose dollar bills that had been left behind. He tacked them to the wall and left them there. Soon, a new tradition was born that harkens back to days of old when fishermen would tack money to the bar as a hedge against the odds, should they return at the end of the day without a successful catch. That tradition is now a big part of SKOB’s identity. Throughout the years, thousands of those dollars have been donated to local and national causes, most recently the victims of Maui’s wildfires and before that the victims of Hurricane Ian. Other recipients include the Salvation Army and the Children’s Hospital of Chicago.

“We’re extremely proud of that,” Ginny Kephart, one of SKOB’s managers, said. “Customers often ask about where it all goes, and we love telling them about it. They often say, ‘Wow! It feels good knowing it goes to a good cause.’ As we take them down, they are putting more dollars right back up.”

Pedigo is survived by her husband, Geno Pedigo, her father Jack Kraus, five children and 11 grandchildren, as well as her beloved cat Azul.

Donations in Pedigo’s memory can be made to Girls Inc. or the Imagination Library of Middle Tennessee.

John Morton contributed to this report

Jane Bartnett
Author: Jane Bartnett

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