POWER meet the WOMEN
W HETHER SHE'S STRATEGIZING A corporate initiative, managing
volunteers for a nonprofit, raising
money and awareness for charity
or listening and responding to
her constituents, a power woman's work is never done. Just ask any of the CEOs, executive directors, philanthropists and public servants who've been selected as Florida Weekly's 2009 Power Women.
They come from a variety of backgrounds and fill myriad positions of importance. And they pour equal energy, expertise and commitment into whatever task is at hand, whether it's for the betterment of their colleagues, their families or their communities.
At the end of every busy day, they've helped make a difference for everyone who lives and works in Southwest Florida. And lucky for us, they're not done yet.
Myra Janco Daniels is the undisputed cultural diva of Collier County. When Naples was still in its formative stage, it was she who understood the need to create a world-class performing arts center, and later a world-class art museum. And it was she, through sheer conviction, who made both of these ambitious cultural resources, the Philharmonic Center for the Arts and the Naples Museum of Art, reality. Even more, she has built an endowment that will sustain them in perpetuity.
But then, accomplishing the unthinkable has been a repeating theme in Mrs. Daniels' life. She was the first woman in the country to head up a major national advertising firm — as president of the Chicago agency Draper Daniels Inc. — and the youngest person ever honored as National Advertising Woman of the Year by the Advertising Federation of America. She also was executive vice president of the Roche, Rickerd, Henri, Hurst Inc. agency, and ran her own agency, Wabash Advertising, in Terre Haute, Ind.
The recipient of bachelor's and master's degrees in business and communications from Indiana State University, she held a six-year associate professorship at Indiana University while she pursued doctoral studies in marketing management there.
As would be expected, Mrs. Daniels is also the recipient of numerous honors, including a Jefferson Award for community service and the Women of Initiative Award. In addition, both the University of North Carolina-Asheville and Allegheny College have bestowed honorary doctorates upon her.
She attends virtually every Philharmonic event, from her mezzanine box relishing not only in the performance, but also in the enjoyment she has created for so many. As a direct result of her efforts, Naples in now considered a cultural mecca. Her vision and legacy, without question, will continue to benefit and shape our community for years to come.
— Melanie Carol
Lauren Stillwell Bernaldo says she is too introverted to be comfortable working in front of a camera as a television news anchor. But her behindthe scenes work as executive producer of special projects for Waterman Broadcasting, which owns NBC2 and manages ABC7, is crucial to how major local news stories are presented to and perceived by the viewers of those stations.
"I never was that interested in being on-air," she says. "I'm a little introverted… But I do love to write, and I love helping to shape how major news stories are covered." She does that as leader of a team of reporters, producers and photojournalists called into play for significant events — things like hurricanes, elections, investigative pieces and long-term projects.
She did not set out to be a journalist. In fact, it took a failure of sorts to lead her into the news business.
She originally enrolled at DePauw University in Indiana as one of the school's prestigious Management Fellows. Her grades in the required business and economics courses were not high enough to sustain the fellowship, however, and she gravitated to the school's recently opened Media Center, where she quickly found a home.
Following graduation, she worked at the NBC affiliate in Columbus, Ohio, and then moved on to New Jersey and a producer's job with MSNBC. It was at MSNBC that she met her future husband, Matt Bernaldo, who currently oversees the online news content for WBBH and WZVN. The couple has three children, ages 5, 3 and 1.
The Bernaldos moved to Fort Myers 12 years ago after visiting and deciding it was the place they wanted to live and raise a family. Mrs. Bernaldo has no regrets about leaving the national platform that MSNBC provided.
Of course, being in Florida has allowed her to cover stories that not only are significant locally but also national in scope — Hurricane Charley and the state's 2000 presidential vote fiasco being two prominent examples.
Looking back, she says it's ironic that failure as a business student led her to a profession that seems perfectly tailored to her talents and interests.
"I learned that it is OK to fail," she says. "Sometimes failure opens your eyes to things that you otherwise might not see."
Beneath her British reserve, Jane Billings has a fiery determination to make a difference. It started at a very young age, when she dreamed of saving the world. She may not achieve that ambitious goal, but she surely is changing Collier County for the better.
The vice president of marketing and community programs at The Community Foundation of Collier County since 2003, she specializes in collaboration and innovation. Trained as a mediator, she listens, learns and facilitates — carefully and graciously —bringing people together to get the job done.
The foundation's emerging Senior Initiative is a prime example. Reviewing data on Collier nonprofits, Mrs. Billings and her committee identified both a dearth of senior services and a disconnect among agencies geared toward seniors. By convening these groups, Mrs. Billings became the catalyst for creating a public-private partnership with Collier County to build a senior center, complete with a 211 hotline that will serve the whole county. Much of the funding is already in place.
Mrs. Billings came to Naples in 1994 from Milwaukee, Wis., where she and her husband Zeb had invented the electronic children's book and then built and sold a publishing company based on the technology. Although she thought she would retire, her service on the foundation board, together with serving as a guardian ad litem, as a member of the Golden Apple committee for the Education Foundation of Collier County, and as a founding board member of the Naples Equestrian Challenge, left her hungry to do more. The transition to a staff position at the Community Foundation was a natural.
The Billings and their daughter Tiffany live in Old Naples amid spectacular English gardens.
— Melanie Carol
Wilma Boyd can make anyone feel like the center of the universe.
The president and CEO of Preferred Travel of Naples extends a warm welcome to all who enter her office in the Sun Trust building, huge digs sporting a fantastic view of the Philharmonic and Waterside Shops. She founded the company in 1984 and now employs 36 people
who handle everything from corporate and family travel to student exchanges abroad.
Her career includes a wide range of travel industry experience. In 1972, while living in Pittsburgh with her husband, Bill, three daughters and a son, she went to work for TWA recruiting flight attendants ("stewardesses" in those days). Soon she was the airline's flight attendant supervisor for the entire East Coast of the United States.
Entering a male-dominated work
environment at the outset of her career
inspired Mrs. Boyd to prepare other women for the experience. After 13 years with TWA, she founded the Wilma Boyd Career School to train students for jobs in hotels, car rentals and airline reservations. More than 1,600 students graduated from the school each year with an 80 percent placement rate. She also authored the textbook that many travel schools still use today: "Travel Agent," published by Simon & Schuster. Working Woman magazine said, "Her vision was always on the future. She was a woman before her time."
A champion of many community causes, she says some of her favorites are Boys & Girls Club of Collier County, Step by Step, Neighborhood Health Clinic, NCH Healthcare System and The Immokalee Foundation. The Philharmonic is dear to her heart, too.
The Naples Daily News named Mrs. Boyd Outstanding Citizen of the Year in 2008, and earlier this year, Mayor Bill Barnett presented her with the key to the city and declared Feb. 10 "Wilma Boyd Day."
Her secret to squeezing every minute out of each day? While giving a good part of the credit to her staff, she concedes that she's driven.
"I'm blessed with energy," she says. "And I don't wait. People who get things done are always busy. If someone says, 'We need to have this...' I'm on it. And why not?"
As executive director of the NCH Healthcare Foundation, the fundraising arm of the NCH Healthcare System, Connie Dillon is inspired every day by those who give so much, whether their time or their treasures.
As a supporter of many organizations herself, Mrs. Dillon is familiar with the monetary and personal commitment that so many make, and yet she never imagined herself being the one to ask for donations. "I couldn't do it for just any organization," she explains. "I have to believe in the cause."
With a bachelor's in history and a master's in business administration, Mrs. Dillon happened into a fundraising career as a matter of chance, when a position in corporate relations opened at the University of Notre Dame in the late '90s. Her path up until that point was literally all over the map, with her husband's career taking her and their two boys from New York City to Tokyo, Taiwan, southern California and Arizona before returning to her Midwestern roots.
Traveling the globe with her family was thrilling. "I was so excited to live in another country," she says. "I figured whatever I was giving up on my career path would be made up for in the living experience."
But after raising her sons and operating a home-based desktop publishing business, the Notre Dame opportunity turned out to be a nice fit with her MBA background. After she had spent six years with the university, her husband was once again relocated — this time to Naples — and in a span of three weeks she said goodbye to Notre Dame and hello to the NCH Foundation.
Today, five years later, she finds fulfillment in helping donors contribute to an area of the hospital that is in need of a gift. And yet, she's still in awe of all those that do it so quietly. "These people really care about something and make it happen," she says.
— Alysia Shivers
As the first two-time female chairman of the Collier Board of County Commissioners, Donna Fiala holds a special place in our community's history. But she's likely to be remembered more for the depth of her commitment than the length of her term.
"Donna is a true public servant who always keeps the best interests of her constituents in the forefront of her mind," comments Marci Seamples, vice president of the East Naples Civic Association, an organization for which Mrs. Fiala has served as president.
Having raised her family here and served as director of community relations for Naples Community Hospital and PBA Airlines, Mrs. Fiala has long been a community activist. Her view of Naples and Collier County is grounded in 35 years of observation, conversation and participation.
Today, a special interest for her is the arts; she's delighted to see that her concept of bringing the arts to the Bayshore area is coming to fruition with the Naples Botanical Garden and the Bayshore Performing and Cultural Arts Center.
In the year 2000, she determined that her next logical step in community service was the position of county commissioner for District 1. Elected that year, she has been twice re-elected; her current term extends to 2012. Her commitment to remain close to the people she serves is as strong as it has ever been, perhaps even stronger.
"I take this job to heart," she says. She has a will to make a difference, and is driven by it. Before each commission meeting, she repeats her mantra: "Every vote you make today affects somebody's life, home, neighborhood, community. Vote carefully."
Humbled by the trust her constituents have placed in her, she has become very protective of that trust. Above all, Donna Fiala always wants to do the right thing.
— Melanie Carol
"Carve your name on hearts, not on marble," reads Dottie Gerrity's e-mail sign-off. And so has she done, with a broad-ranging group of organizations and individuals throughout Collier County.
"She is as selfless, dedicated and hardworking as anyone I know," Mike Ellis, executive director of the Collier Health Services Healthcare Foundation, says about Mrs. Gerrity. "The Naples community has a lot to thank her for."
Having moved 16 times in 32 years as a Ford Motor Company "gypsy," Mrs. Gerrity and her husband Bob moved to Naples from Michigan, where they still summer, 18 years ago. Since that time, she has been involved in numerous organizations and has encouraged numerous
people to become involved with her.
Among her proudest accomplishments are her service as chair of the Community Foundation of Collier County, and her help in bringing the University of Florida's ELLM program to Collier. A graduate of Greater Naples Leadership and the recipient of the community foundation's Women of Initiative Award among others, she currently serves as director and secretary of First Book, and as a founding board member of the CHS Healthcare Foundation.
Children are often a focus of her work, and it's not just her devotion to her own four children and five grandchildren that makes it so. Because of the learning disability she had as a child, Mrs. Gerrity knows what it means to struggle to learn. And so, she is dedicated to helping kids who need it.
What makes this tiny dynamo so successful? In part, it is her business experience as a partner in a Michigan construction company, where she learned the power of positive coalitions. But even more, she says, "It's passion. And I can get passionate about a lot of things." She asserts that she cannot imagine life without her volunteer work. What good luck for Collier County.
— Melanie Carol
Ellin Goetz's life was shaped by her environment from an early age. Growing up in Staten Island, N.Y., she witnessed her hometown change from a pastoral setting into a place of intense development during the 1960s. Little did she know that she would again encounter this extreme change in landscape when she moved to the quiet town of Naples in the early '80s.
When she was a child, her parents were always involved with local issues, helping to stop construction and preserve what is now the greenbelt of Staten Island. As an adult, Ms. Goetz is now the one who fights to preserve land, except her cause is focused on her home of Southwest Florida.
Looking back, she appreciates the fact the Naples' smallness 30 years ago allowed her to become involved in the community almost immediately and with great effect. "I didn't really appreciate it at the time," she says, "but it was a wonderful opportunity that I would know my state senator and the mayor. It was so personal to interact with people and to have an effect on the shape of the community."
She and a group of local volunteers committed to land preservation are responsible for the founding of the Southwest Florida Land Preservation Trust, which today, with the help of an ad valorem tax, allows Collier County to buy lands for conservation. Just this year, 2,500 acres of what Ms. Goetz refers to as "real Florida land" has been purchased. "People can access these lands and enjoy nature," she says.
When she's not consumed with conservation, Ms. Goetz is busy operating her business, Goetz + Stropes Landscape Architects, which has worked on such well-known projects as the Edison-Ford Winter Estates in Fort Myers, the Fifth Avenue South revitalization and, most recently, the site planning and design of the Naples Botanical Garden, which will open in November.
Every day she walks a fine line "keeping a balance between the human use of land and retaining its natural systems," but she knows it will have an enormous impact on future generations.
— Alysia Shivers
She says she's grateful to everyone who has agreed to an interview with her. But in fact, every community in which she has worked has greatly benefited from the talent and perspective of Harriet Heithaus, who considers it her journalistic responsibility to both reflect her readers' reality and to lead them to a more empowered one.
In pursuit of that responsibility, she has suffered through roller-coaster preview rides and tracked FAA flight logs to ferret out corporate merger talks on the sly. She has interviewed famous (Dave Brubeck) and infamous (Alice Cooper) musicians. She has covered nearly every beat in three newsrooms, each time distinguishing herself as she rose through the ranks.
Today she serves as arts and entertainment editor — as well as a member of
the editorial board — at the Naples Daily
News, her journalistic home for the last nine years. The Florida Society of Newspaper Editors has awarded her first place for criticism three of the last four years.
"Harriet makes sure that our community's cultural aspects are an integral part of the news landscape," observes Brian Holley, executive director of the Naples Botanical Garden.
Mrs. Heithaus began her career in her native Ohio, becoming the managing editor for the Troy Daily News, winning the William Allen White Prize and the UPI Newspaper of the Year Award. She also was a founder of the Miami (Ohio) Shelter for Abused Women. Then, for a dozen years she worked in Fort Wayne, Ind., at the Journal Gazette, serving as its Living section editor and editing a new Travel and Arts section.
She says she owes a special debt to her husband, Chick, who is her favorite copy editor and critic. In fact, Collier County owes a special debt to Mrs. Heithaus.
— Melanie Carol
Patty Hornbeck is the director of marketing at Lutgert Insurance, but that role pales in comparison to her numerous volunteer efforts.
As she rattles off the time she devotes to various organizations, you realize this is not just something she does in her spare time; it is a serious commitment. To date, she's logged more than 1,000 volunteer hours in Collier County public schools and 750 hours with Naples Community Hospital. She's also spent countless hours helping out at the concession stand for the Greater Naples Little League, served as a Golden Apple Teacher Recognition Award observer since the program's inception, and organized Heart Walks for the local American Heart Association and Relays for Life for the American Cancer Society with her colleagues.
Her devotion to others started when, as a high-school student, she worked with academically challenged students and taught mentally handicapped children to swim. Even though she has a degree in special education, she never taught, and instead dedicated her life to her husband of 35 years, their three children, and to the Naples community, where they've resided since 1985.
She's most proud of her involvement with the Winged Foot Scholarship Foundation, one of the most coveted awards among Collier County high schoolers, and her assistance in starting the kid's club at North Naples United Methodist Church, which started with 33 children and has since grown to more than 300. "Much of what I have done has been behind the scenes, but I would hope that I've helped to make a difference," she says.
Just as her parents inspired her to give back, Mrs. Hornbeck is proud to say that the family tradition is continuing as her two daughters devote their energy to worthy causes. "Our son is still a work in progress," she adds with a laugh, adding that raising children never ends and she continues to guide them with where they need to go in life.
— Alysia Shivers
If you don't want to support the Neighborhood Health Clinic, don't ever come in contact with Nancy Lascheid. That's according to Sara Billings, who says Mrs. Lascheid's warm and sincere manner wins everyone over. "Nobody can say no," she insists, adding, "She's my hero."
Five years ago, Ms. Billings, a registered nurse and executive director of the Southwest Florida Steinway Piano Society, was looking for a cause that would befit the Physicians Talent Show, a fundraiser. She spoke with several hospital administrators and was told that the Neighborhood Health Clinic, which delivers quality medical care to low-income, working but not insured people of Collier County, was the perfect cause.
Since that time, the popular Physicians Talent Show (coming up Oct. 20 at Sugden Community Theater) and the Pastors Talent Show (held for the first time last spring) have raised $80,000 for the clinic.
Mrs. Lascheid is focused on the challenge at hand. On a quiet afternoon in August, she prepares to open the clinic with seven doctors and 11 nurses to handle approximately 80 patients. The need is great. Donations have dropped off at a time when the patient load is spiking. The clinic is seeing 20 percent more patients than usual in the past six months.
Providing a niche service, the clinic does have a significant positive impact on the emergency rooms at Physicians Regional Healthcare System and NCH Healthcare System by treating those who need urgent care but not emergency care. While not receiving money from the hospitals, the clinic receives in-kind service from volunteering physicians.
"We didn't know whether the idea would fly or not, so we were going to give it three years minimum and five years maximum," she explains. "We're now going into our 11th year, and still working as hard as ever."
— George Raab
"With Susan, it's never about Susan or even the Education Foundation. It's about doing the right thing for our children." That's what Alan Horton, an Education Foundation of Collier County board member, says about Susan McManus.
Mrs. McManus serves as president of the foundation, an organization she helped found 20 years ago. It's a passion passed through generations of her family — she was a teacher in her native Canada and in Florida, and so were her grandmother, mother and aunt. Her father was a businessman, and she feels comfortable in both worlds. She describes her job with the foundation as the equivalent of running a small business.
Mrs. McManus, however, stresses the role of the exceptional people who give their expertise, time and funds to the foundation and adds their leadership allows her to continue to learn and to aspire to ever-higher goals.
Today, she finds herself amid one of the most rewarding and fascinating experiences of her career — the foundation's Connect Now Initiative. This twoyear process is giving the community a common voice on education, teaching the schools what the community wants and expects from them, and building a trusted relationship between the community and the schools.
The initiative has been so successful that the Collier County District School Board has committed to using the same process to guide its strategic planning.
The next step, Mrs. McManus believes, will be integrating the Connect Now program with the Economic Development Council of Collier County's Project Innovation initiative, assuring education's critical role in the overall business model.
"Societies are founded on good education," she says. "That is my core belief." Fortunately, she has found just the right vehicle to exercise that core belief for the betterment of Collier County.
— Melanie Carol
These 2008 State Champs are not just power women because of how they perform on the field, but also because of their attitude and camaraderie off the field. Coach Robert Iamurri, who has coached the Naples High School girls varsity softball team since 1986, says it's this combination that makes a good team great.
"When the pressure is on, those who bond together are more successful," he says. "It's not always the most talented team that is successful."
Throughout his 23 years as coach, Mr. Iamurri has seen a lot of girls come and go, and he believes their time spent in team sports has prepared each and every one for life, work and family. Senior Erika Parry, the team's catcher, agrees. "I've learned many life lessons, including you have to work hard for what you want," she says.
What's nice about the team is that by the time they've reached the high school field, most of the girls have played together since their Little League or even T-ball days. The five returning seniors on this year's team — Jaclyn Traina, Ryan Iamurri, Ms. Parry, Hilary Brown and Ragan Ball — have been playing together since they were 9 years old. "They be come your family," says second baseman Ms. Iamurri.
Looking ahead to the upcoming season, the team's goal is always to win state, but Mr. Iamurri and fellow coaches Steve Weigle and Mike Morris instill in each of the girls that they are champions whether they win or lose. "We always try to keep our class and poise," he says.
Plus, the girls know academics come first. Mr. Iamurri is proud to say that four of the five seniors are in the top 25 of their class and the team as a whole has always boasted a 3.0 or higher grade point average.
"We work so hard and we all get along. That's what makes it so enjoyable," Ms. Parry says.
— Alysia Shivers
The e-mails sent at 3:20 a.m. and 4:50 a.m. are telling: Tammie Nemecek is a woman driven to succeed. And as president and CEO of the Economic Development Council of Collier County, she is doing just that.
She's called Naples her home since she was 4. A graduate of Barron Collier High School and International College (now Hodges University), she ahs spent her entire career at the EDC, working her way to from a self-described "jack of all trades" to the top position in 10 years.
Tenacity, focus and adaptability are the traits to which she attributes her success. To her, power is all about getting the job done, which is precisely what she is doing now with Project Innovation. To combat an economic downturn of unprecedented proportion, Ms. Nemecek and the EDC board determined to redouble their efforts at broadening Collier's business base and creating economic stability. Mounting a highly ambitious program of speakers and community input and convening a group of more than 70 endorser organizations, the EDC now stands ready to introduce
an action plan to the community this fall.
Two-time EDC chairman and community leader John Passidomo sums it up: "Tammie's energy and enthusiasm are extraordinary, and her accomplishments prove it."
In addition to her local responsibilities, she's making her mark on statewide. She is the current chair for the Florida Economic Development Council and serves on the Stakeholder's Council for Enterprise Florida, among many others.
She is the recipient of the Hodges
University Founders Award, the AAUW Women of Achievement Award and several other major recognitions.
A graduate of Leadership Collier and Leadership Florida, she is also mom to Zachary (who will enter her alma mater Barron Collier this year), Blake and Lyndi.
— Melanie Carol
Quietly and without fanfare, Katie Sproul is bringing her family's legacy into its second century. As vice president of real estate and director of strategic planning and special projects for the Barron Collier Companies, she represents the fourth generation of the family to do business — and good works — in the county that bears its name.
A graduate of Cornell University who earned her MBA from the Yale School of Management, she earlier served in management positions for Citibank's Global Consumer Bank, American Express Financial Direct and Chase Manhattan Bank in New York.
She returned to Naples, where she spent much of her childhood, in 1999 and in the ensuing 10 years has woven herself into the fabric of her company and her community.
As a director and an officer of Barron Collier, she helps manage one of Southwest Florida's largest diversified companies, which encompasses real estate development, agriculture and mineral management. Barron Collier Companies is also managing partner of the development company for the new Town of Ave Maria. The company, which has donated countless acres of land to community uses and has supported countless community organizations, proudly sustains its founder's commitment to philanthropy as a core principle.
Still, Ms. Sproul's influence extends far beyond her profession.
"Katie's intelligence and perspective make her an exceptional community leader," comments CJ Hueston, current chair of the Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce board of directors. Ms. Sproul is chair-elect of that same board and also serves or has served as a director of the Junior Achievement Hall of Fame, the Florida Chamber of Commerce and the Estuary Conservation Association. She is a graduate of both Leadership Collier and Leadership Florida.
She and her husband, Richard Molloy, have two young sons.
— Melanie Carol
Abuse leaves entire families with permanent scars. An unlucky spouse is often too scared or beaten down to leave. Children who witness emotional or physical abuse are likely to experience abuse in the same home. Left with low self-esteem, they struggle in school and in life. In adulthood, they often have problems with drugs and alcohol and are more likely to be suicidal. Many recreate the chaos they've grown up with because it's what they know.
Others recognize the signs and reach out to help.
Mrs. Oberhaus is empathetic to the plight of the abused; her mother is a survivor.
"Oftentimes when you're leading a mission-driven organization like this, I think the passion has to come from somewhere, and so probably what my mother went through is why I ended up doing the work that I do today," the executive director of the Shelter for Abused Women & Children reasons.
She has worked in the social service arena for the past 20 years, beginning at age 18 when she was caring for developmentally disabled adults at a community mental health center. While earning bachelor's and master's degrees in social work at the University of South Florida, she was in the same field on the side.
She worked for 12 years at The Spring in Tampa, Florida's largest certified domestic violence shelter, and was executive director there when Collier County recruited her in 2007. She and her husband had vacationed in Southwest Florida and were intrigued with the idea of moving to a familiar vacation destination. They live here with their daughter and have a son who is in the U.S. Army in Afghanistan.
The 60-bed Shelter, a 30,000-squarefoot facility with 60 beds, is rated among the top domestic abuse programs in the nation. Charity Navigator gives it four stars, a rating bestowed on only 25 percent of the charities the independent evaluator examines.
"Our goal is to shelter less, educate more and eliminate domestic violence," Mrs. Oberhaus explains. "So far we have not seen the numbers go down, but hopefully they will someday when society is ready to embrace change and address root causes. We realize that we can't do it alone. It really takes a community to step up and make a decision that violence is not going to be tolerated."
— George Raab
Brenda O'Connor's dance card is full for the next year at least. As senior vice president of the Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce, she oversees everything to do with at least 120 programs throughout the year, many attended by hundreds of enthusiastic people who, like her, love to network and support the community. In her seven years with the chamber, she's helped to push membership to 1,700 and has had a role in expanding the number of programs offered.
Mrs. O'Connor is most proud of the chamber's Distinguished Public Service awards. In its seventh year, the program singles one person each from law enforcement, fire and emergency medical service who have gone above and beyond the call of duty (the 2009 awards ceremony will be held at the Hilton Naples on Oct. 7).
Her role at the chamber seems to fit with her positive attitude and incredible energy. "I have a wonderful job," she says.
She's known for a high level of involvement in community causes, including the Naples Junior Women's Club, Naples Botanical Gardens, the Heart Walk for the American Heart Association and the Cattle Barons Ball for the American Cancer Society. She's currently on the citizens advisory board for the Shelter for Abused Women & Children.
Her extensive background in retail management was an excellent launching pad for a career in the public eye. After seven years of volunteer work with one of the area's most public fundraisers, the Hospital Ball for the NCH Healthcare Foundation, she's one of three vice chairs for the 2009 gala ("Venetian Voyage" takes place at the Naples Grand Beach Resort on Nov. 14).
The night before the ball, Mrs. O'Connor will dance the foxtrot with her husband Patrick in "Dancing with the Stars for Literacy," a fundraiser for Literacy Volunteers of Collier County. Husband and wife had both had to juggle their calendars to make room for lessons at Fred Astaire Dance Studio. "November is a busy month," Mrs. O'Connor exclaims.
She laughs when asked how she finds the time. "I don't know," she says. "If I didn't have my husband, I'm sure I couldn't do all this. He's very involved in the community as well, and we just find
— George Raab
How is it possible, one wonders, to be a successful attorney, a devoted wife and mother and a community volunteer of epic proportion? For Kathleen Passidomo, the key is a sense of humor. "I don't take myself too seriously, and that makes everything I do more enjoyable," she says.
More enjoyable, and quite clearly, extremely effective.
In her 30 years in Naples, Mrs. Passidomo has served in more than 60 leadership and membership roles in professional and community organizations. Included are such distinguished appointments as trustee and executive committee member of Hodges University; director of The Moorings, Inc.; vice chairman of the Education Foundation of Collier County's Connect Now Initiative; founding member of the 20th Circuit Juvenile Justice Board; and chairman of the Florida Commission on the Status of Women.
A graduate of both Leadership Collier and Leadership Florida, her contributions have been recognized with countless awards; the Leadership Collier Distinguished Alumni Award and the Collier County Citizen of the Year Award, which she won together with her husband John, are just two examples.
Her profession, too, has acknowledged her excellence. Currently a partner in the firm of Kelly, Passidomo & Alba LLP, she received both the 1990 Attorney of the Year Award from the Florida Law Related Education Association of the Florida Bar and the Attorney of the Year Award from the Collier County Women's Bar Association.
At the same time, Mrs. Passidomo's dedication to her family remains preeminent. She takes inspiration from her husband, whose professional and community commitment equals her own, and her three accomplished daughters. They help focus her objective: to make this the very best place to live.
As Mary George, president and CEO of the Community Foundation of Collier County, comments, "Kathleen Passidomo's service to our community simply
knows no bounds."
— Melanie Carol
Nancy Payton is right. For many, a job is just a job. But Ms. Payton is one of those rare people who actually loves what she does. In fact, she insists if she were to win a million dollars tomorrow, she would continue her work.
As the sole field representative for the Florida Wildlife Federation's Southwest Florida office, Ms. Payton promotes land conservation and protects wildlife habitat. "As long as I've been working in Southwest Florida, there's been an appreciation for the natural world," she said. "In most cases, it's what draws people here."
Her early roles working up north for the SPCA and the Society for Animal Rights, lobbying for animals and influencing legislation, resulted in some worthwhile and creative efforts on behalf of animals. But after moving to Naples, she decided to discontinue her domestic animal advocacy work and focus her skills on the environment and wildlife conservation.
Her career has been anything but easy.
As an advocate, she's used to being ignored and even ridiculed, but eventually, she says, people start listening and take you seriously.
She's most proud of Collier County's Rural Land Stewardship Program, an innovative approach to accommodating growth in a responsible manner, the Florida Panther Protection program and Conservation Collier.
And while her biggest challenge is elected officials who are not sensitive to the environment, she's honored that the Collier County Commission named a 65-acre parcel of land after her in 2006. "Most of my focus has been on local government and keeping them accountable for their actions regarding the environment," she says.
In the midst of her continued conservation efforts, Ms. Payton spends time with her homebound furry friends, who include Moses, a spaniel/bearded collie mix she adopted from the county shelter; and three cats, Josie, a stray; Charlie, who appeared at her door after Hurricane Charley; and Blue, who she adopted from Friends of Gummi.
"I'm very fortunate to do something I enjoy and that gives me great satisfaction, plus it's a benefit to our community," she says.
— Alysia Shivers
Selling beautiful jewelry and philanthropic giving seem to be a winning combination for Yamron Jewelers. Ursula Pfahl, Ph.D., will attest that her employment also involves a fortunate combination.
She came to Naples 14 years ago following a career in education and administration at Rockhurst University in Kansas City, Mo. As chief operating officer of Yamron for 12 years, she's been able to use her business acumen in the realm of fine jewelry and community involvement.
"When I started with Yamron Jewelers, Bruce Yamron (president) asked me how I felt with being involved with the community," she remembers. "When I told him that this was a passion of mine, he not only allowed it, he encouraged it. He said, 'Take Yamron Jewelers into the community and do it on my time and do it as much as you can.'"
One of the company's core values, contributing with a generous heart, is usually mentioned together with its business success. The company gives to a broad range of causes, and not all of its giving is in the form of jewelry or checks.
Over the years, Dr. Pfahl and others on the Yamron team have been involved in charitable and civic causes and organizations that improve lives. A member of the advisory board of the Guadalupe Center of Immokalee, she has rolled up her sleeves to help with the marketing and public relations for its signature event, "A Taste of Africa," to be held on Jan. 25, 2010, at the Club at Pelican Bay.
Born and raised in Germany, she came to this country as a bride. She's learned over time that she prefers the challenge of specific projects with measurable goals. In that regard, she's fine-tuning her approach.
"While we have given our assistance with board development or organizational types of issues, I've personally made a strategic switch," she explains. "Earlier I was a member of many different boards, but I found that my time would be more helpful to take on projects rather than participate in board meetings. I just like to do things that are tangible and concrete.
"I like to offer a finished product which may address an organization's specific need."
— George Raab
Dolly Roberts doesn't tout herself as an influential woman, yet the many who know her and the brilliance she's capable
of would no doubt disagree. She, however, sees herself as more of a behind-thescenes woman, counseling and partnering with organizations and individuals in a valuable and meaningful way.
As founder and president of DBR Marketing, Mrs. Roberts prefers the spotlight to be on her clients — and rightly so, considering she's responsible for the public relations and advertising campaigns that bring them business. But throughout her 22 years here in Naples, she's made quite an impact and an impression herself, especially when it
comes to her community involvement.
She has sat on numerous boards and committees influencing the future direction of the county. Currently, her role as chair-elect for the Community Foundation of Collier County has provided her with an increasing understanding of the dynamics associated with the entire nonprofit community.
Winner of numerous awards for her creative savvy, it is not industry or public recognition that motivates her. Instead, her greatest satisfaction and accomplishment come from her involvement in significant issues that will affect the community, including Ave Maria, Project Innovation and the Naples Botanical Garden. She's also been involved in the political campaigns of State Reps. Tom Brady, Garret Richter and Dudley Goodlette and former Collier County Sheriff Don Hunter, individuals who she felt were crucial to Naples' future. "This is what motivates me," she said. "I can actually be engaged in something that will make a noticeable difference."
As an entrepreneur, she counts herself lucky to have built a roster of clients that includes some of the area's most prominent institutions. "I have the best client list in the universe," she says. From a community standpoint, she chooses to be involved in high-profile initiatives that will make all the difference to future generations.
— Alysia Shivers
The managing partner of the Southwest Florida offices of Hahn Loeser didn't know if she'd want to leave her secure legal practice in Little Rock, Ark., to move to Naples 10 years ago. Her husband, who had just sold his business and taken early retirement, talked her into it. She laughs when remembering her reluctance to leave Little Rock, saying that she loves her life here, maybe even more than her husband loves it.
Early on, Mrs. Seewald became involved with the Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce and starting working with nonprofits. She's a member of the chamber's board of directors and one of its officers. A 2004 graduate of Leadership Collier, she found that experience rewarding. "We still get together every month," she reports. She also on the advisory board for the United Arts Council of Collier County.
She serves on the board of the Collier County Bar Association and is secretary of its Collier County Bar Foundation, a nonprofit that, among other things, promotes careers in the legal field. Her legal work — anything that relates to buying, selling or running a business, including Internet-based businesses — evolves with the economy. Although 60 percent of her work is local, as one of 185 attorneys who are board-certified in intellectual property in a state with 85,000 lawyers, she's also tracked down for that specialty. Mrs. Seewald's dream for the area is growth of higher-paying, technology-based business. Whenever possible, she refers people to advanced training in programs like Florida Gulf Coast University's Lutgert College of Business entrepreneurship concentration, or guides them to seek advice from groups like the Southwest Florida Regional Technology Partnership.
"During the boom times of the real estate era, there were soft voices out there saying that we really need to diversify our economy, but not a lot of attention was paid," she reasons.
While she does pro bono work for nonprofits around town that need a hand with anything from corporate organization and bylaws to trademark issues, she keeps the nature of the relationships confidential.
"When you live in a community, I think you want to make that community as good as possible," she says. "You can meet people anywhere, but when you serve on committees and work on fundraisers, you forge lasting relationships."
— George Raab
Change doesn't scare Penny Taylor. In fact, her creed is "Change is inevitable, so embrace it." As vice mayor of the Naples City Council, Ms. Taylor has been urging her constituents to do just that.
Yes, Naples is changing, but even as growth knocks at residents' doors, she believes it is possible to save the quality of life and preserve the charm that makes Naples what it is.
Mayor Bill Barnett, who has known Ms. Taylor for many, many years, says, "When she is very committed to something she believes is the right thing, she won't let it go."
Since she was first elected in 2000, Ms. Taylor says, voters have become much more aware of the precarious balance that lawmakers have to maintain the fine line between growth and quality of life. And while she finds it empowering to be able to reach out and affect change in her community, there was a time when politics took a back seat to her other priorities: her daughter, who she raised as a single parent, and her photography passion, a love which she discovered while living in New York City as a young woman in her 20s.
These days, though, Ms. Taylor is able to concentrate on her political career and some other ambitions close to her heart, one of which is being a foster parent. She's been a foster parent now for about six years and currently is caring for three teenagers and a 6-year-old.
Whether in her business, as a parent, or in her role as a public figure, Ms. Taylor believes she sets an example —"not by what you say, but by what you do."
— Alysia Shivers