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Local Entertainer Advocates For Stroke Awareness, Raises Funds For Neighborhood Cashier’s Recovery

By Nick Georgoudiou | on January 27, 2022


Community means a lot to Martin Fugate. His business, Ritzy Rags Wigs & More, has been part of the Mills 50 and College Park scene for more than 30 years. He has performed at the Church Street Hamburger Mary’s as Leigh Shannon for over a decade. And he recently ran for Orlando City Commissioner in District 3.


"I felt so passionate about running,” Fugate said. “I was really worried about where we’re headed, especially about too much growth too quickly. Commercial rents are through the roof. Regular rents are through the roof. We’re not embracing and encouraging homeownership.”


While Fugate was confident that he could balance performing, his business and the responsibilities of being a commissioner, he ultimately had to pull out of the race because of a health issue, which he chose to not disclose at the time.


“At first I thought, I’ll never let anyone know I had a stroke, ever,” Fugate said. “People think you’re broken. They may not say it, but I know they think that.”


Fugate said that like many people, he didn’t go to the hospital immediately after the initial symptoms of his stroke. On an ordinary evening at the beginning of October, his knee went out, causing him to collapse, and he felt some vertigo. At the hospital the next day, the MRI test showed that he had a small stroke.


“I couldn’t write my name for four days,” Fugate said. “But I was still able to move and talk. I did physical therapy every day for two weeks. I also got on the microphone in the guest house to practice performing.”


His showbiz skills, honed over 46 years, came back immediately. But the ordeal and the anxiety of returning to everyday life led to him feeling depressed, even after successfully returning to the stage two weeks after the stroke with no one the wiser.


“I’m happy to say [that since the last week of December], I’ve really gotten back to myself,” Fugate said. “There’s still some anxiety, but I decided, why not share what happened, and maybe it will help someone to go to the hospital sooner.”


Another reason Fugate decided to go public with his health journey is to help a College Park Publix cashier who suffered a stroke last summer. Cherylann Murphy Ponziano is a well-known employee at the grocery store and has connected with many regulars over the years.


"Cherylann always has a smile and a kind word,” College Park resident Ashley Bedell said. “I have laughed with her and admired her festive seasonal jewelry and also stood in her line and cried as I was preparing to send my first child to college.”


Ponziano is back at Publix in a part-time capacity, and Fugate has set up a GoFundMe page to help her family cover medical care costs. Fugate’s alter ego, Leigh Shannon, will also help with the fundraising efforts.


“I thought, I’ve got a 46-year anniversary coming up, and I’m going to share my story,” Fugate said. “Why not raise a little bit of money for her?”


On Jan. 29, Shannon will host an anniversary show at Hamburger Mary’s to celebrate 46 years in show business. A portion of the proceeds will be donated to Ponziano. You can help by attending the show or contributing to the Cherylann Murphy Ponziano Stroke Fund on GoFundMe.com.


Fugate plans to continue performing, and the future may hold another run at the city commission.


“If I’m in good health, whether I’m in showbiz or not, I might still run,” Fugate said. “I believe in this community. I love this district. I love College Park.”

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