It wasn't the weather that drew Gwen MacKenzie, 50, from Detroit to Sarasota this May, she emphasizes. Instead, she came to serve as the new chief executive officer of Sarasota Memorial Health Care System because SMH is known as an outstanding hospital. She cites a U.S. News & World Report article that ranked SMH among the best hospitals in the nation in seven of 17 specialties. But that doesn't mean she doesn't see room for improvement. Two goals: MacKenzie wants to reduce wait times in the emergency room (which "requires us to look at every area of this institution") and to establish more outpatient facilities.
MacKenzie was involved in civic and philanthropic organizations in Detroit for education and women's leadership, and hopes to continue that here. "The face of this organization will be known in the community," she promises.
Soft-spoken and businesslike, MacKenzie holds two master's degrees ("You'll have to excuse me if I lapse into M.B.A.-speak," she apologizes) and spent more than 25 years at Detroit Medical Center, beginning as an advanced practice nurse and ending as executive vice president and chief operating officer. She says because SMH is publicly funded, she'll face different mission and financial pressures than at the much larger DMC, which includes nine hospitals, more than 2,000 beds and a $1.6-billion budget; in contrast, SMH has more than 800 beds and a $400 million-plus budget.
"You may ask why someone fairly young, who still has a lot to accomplish, would come to an institution like this," prompts MacKenzie. "The reason is it's a lot harder to maintain excellence than to achieve it."
Among the recent roles on his resume: Shakespeare's Romeo, a young man tormented by his father's love for a goat, and the preternaturally precocious Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Quite a range, and all the more impressive when you consider that Andrew Foster (call him Drew) is just 17, going into his senior year in Booker High's VPA dance program, and says that offstage he can "belch, burp, fish, bowl and play poker with the best," because his parents raised him to be well-rounded.
Those performances, as well as others at theaters including the Asolo, Florida Studio Theatre and the Manatee Players, have earned the teenager rave reviews and a SARASOTA Magazine Theater Award nomination, a tribute to his years of acting classes at FST along with younger brother, Mike, also a familiar face on local stages. Drew says his family is supportive of both, but has little interest in theater outside of their boys' performances.
A Cubs fan, Drew played baseball for 10 years and enjoys bowling every Saturday morning; but theater is, he says, "what I wish to do for the rest of my life." He's hoping he'll get into Carnegie Mellon's acclaimed theater program after graduation, but you can catch him now perfecting his dance moves in the chorus of the Golden Apple's current production of Footloose. (Hurry, it's only on through July 24.)
Bill and "Butch" Isaac
Bill and Charles "Butch" Isaac want to remake downtown Sarasota into a thriving retail center with a mix of top national chains and local businesses, moderately priced condominiums and plenty of free parking. For the past two years, they've quietly been buying up property along Lemon Avenue between State and First streets to make that plan a reality.
Until recently the Isaacs were secretive about the project. "We're better off getting our ducks in a row, then announcing what we're going to do, instead of announcing grandiose plans and then not being able to deliver," says Bill.
Former chair of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, Bill, 61, has been a full-time Sarasotan (with a summer home in the Hamptons) for more than 10 years. Charles, 65, lives in Bryon, Ohio, home of the Isaac Property Company, which started out 106 years ago in scrap metal and has evolved into commercial real estate development.
Why is downtown Sarasota ready for more retail? First and foremost, the explosion of well-to-do newcomers, Bill says. Second, its many charms. It's easy here, he says, "to get to know people, to get accepted, and there's a lot of cultural activity. From the first time I stayed at the Longboat Key Club I fell in love with the place."
Former Southeast High School standout Adrian McPherson ended a promising FSU football career as a sophomore, ousted from the team in 2002 after allegations of theft and gambling. "I'm strong, but there were times when I wanted to give up," the 6'3" quarterback says of the year he spent in court and off the field. He pled no contest to charges surrounding a stolen check; a gambling trial ended with no verdict. "My parents told me to keep the faith," he says. "Without them, I wouldn't be here."
"Here" is New Orleans and a burgeoning professional career. Stigmatized in the NCAA, McPherson eventually turned to the Arena Football League, where he was named 2004 Rookie of the Year. He also was sure to stay out of trouble, knowing his past lingered in the minds of NFL bigwigs. With respected agent Leigh Steinberg on his side, McPherson was chosen by the New Orleans Saints in the 2005 NFL draft.
"It's a blessing, a dream come true," he says. "I'm going to continue to work hard, to do everything right."
He'll be a Saint off the field as well. In addition to regularly visiting Bradenton-area Boys and Girls Clubs, McPherson is setting up a college scholarship fund and plans to use his new contract with Reebok to supply local teams with uniforms and equipment.
Dr. Daniel Paris
In the darkness of Alzheimer's disease, Dr. Daniel Paris is a ray of light. Head of a groundbreaking research project at Sarasota's Roskamp Institute, the French-born biologist is shining new light on Alzheimer's as well as potential treatments for cancer.
Paris came to the Roskamp Institute eight years ago from France's CNRS (similar to the U.S. National Institutes of Health). In previous work with Down syndrome patients, he had noticed they're predisposed both to Alzheimer's and to the overproduction of a strange protein called A beta peptide (Aß).
From the Institute's laboratories in southern Manatee County, Paris and his team observed that Aß, which is inexplicably abundant in the brains of Alzheimer's patients, inhibits the growth of new blood vessels. They then demonstrated that the protein can slow and even reverse the growth of tumors. Over the past two years, these breakthroughs have earned significant grants and international attention for the Roskamp Institute.
But breakthroughs are simply part of the job for the 37-year-old, who relaxes by windsurfing and playing the piano. "We're very lucky here, because of the Institute, and Bob and Diane Roskamp," he says, deflecting praise for his own work. "Without their sponsorship, this [research] would be impossible.
"We're trying to help people, even though we are very far from the patient," he adds. "We want them to know there will be more help coming."
J. "Coz" Cozzi
Florida's Gulf coast has a rich maritime history; fortunately for J. "Coz" Cozzi, that history is riddled with holes. The 48-year-old nautical archaeologist is heading Mote Marine Laboratory's new shipwreck research program, which could provide valuable insights into centuries-old indigenous and colonial cultures.
Cozzi will begin with a shipwreck survey of Charlotte Harbor, an area rife with nautical mysteries. In 1539, Hernando DeSoto landed in Florida, but "there's a raging debate right now" as to where he came ashore, says Cozzi. He suspects DeSoto may have scuttled one of his boats that was no longer seaworthy in Charlotte, leaving behind artifacts that could be preserved in the protected harbor water.
Using sidescan sonar and a magnetometer, Cozzi will build a map of likely wreck sites to submit for excavation. The possibilities for discovery are ripe. Native Calusa tribes traveled Charlotte's waterways in wooden canoes, and steamboats smuggled cattle past the Union blockade of the harbor during the Civil War.
Then Cozzi's crew will move on to the Keys, Tampa Bay (where one of John Ringling's yachts blew up in a fueling accident) and Sarasota Bay.
"Florida is growing by leaps and bounds," says Cozzi, "and new people may have no idea what it used to be like here. We could all benefit from learning from the past."
Diane Shelly, 54, had been executive director of the Art League of Manatee County for only a few months when she started making changes last summer. First came the color of the building-an easy-to-overlook beige. Shelly got permission from Bradenton's planning department to crank things up a notch. The building now sports a palette of vivid new colors-purple, neon green, celery and bright blue-that make it hard to miss. She also changed the name to ArtCenter Manatee (the old "league" implied "cliquish and for members only," she says) and expanded its hours to six days a week to make it accessible to people who work. The enthusiastic Shelly is also expanding equipment and opportunities, from new classes to a digital kiln, with more purchases planned.
Always spreading the gospel of art ("Art is so good for your soul. It tells you who you are"), she's boosted membership by 50 percent, to 670, and is dedicated to making art part of the public landscape. Twenty potters recently worked to create a sculpture that stands in front of the center, and she's hoping to help get more public art along the walkways of Bradenton and into Palmetto. Next on her list: bringing top traveling exhibitions to the center's galleries. "We have bigger dreams and we want to take it further," she says.
Henry B. Haitz III
Since Henry B. Haitz III took over as president and publisher of The Bradenton Herald 18 months ago, there have been some changes. The newspaper got a facelift with a new name, The Herald, a new Web site, new local sections and a new advertising office. It's all part of Haitz's goal of "local news dominance" in Manatee County, where The Herald sells more than twice as many papers as its nearest competitor.
Haitz was 24 when he started as assistant business manager at the Pottstown Mercury in Pennsylvania. After receiving his M.B.A., he returned to State College, Pa., where he became publisher of the Centre Daily Times at the age of 37; in 2000, he was named one of the top 20 newspaper executives under the age of 40.
Now 41, Haitz is setting his Herald's sights on northern Sarasota County, where he says "the county line is becoming more and more transparent." Meanwhile, back in Manatee, "We want to continue to come out with niche publications and more online offerings."
Clearly, Haitz relishes challenges. "When I was in my late 20s, I had two goals," says Haitz: to run a marathon and consistently golf under 100. "I found out it was a lot easier to run a marathon."
To fans of artist Mary Engelbreit (and they are legion), the news that she's put down roots in Sarasota County may be something of a surprise. Although the prolific entrepreneur is friendly and engaging in person, she's kept a low profile here so far, continuing to run her illustration empire (6,500 different items including cards, calendars, dinnerware, fabric, an award-winning magazine and book titles) from her hometown of St. Louis, Mo., where it all started when an 11-year-old girl began drawing in her first "studio," a hastily vacated linen closet.
Since that humble beginning, Engelbreit's enterprises have sold more than $1 billion worth of products featuring her immediately distinguishable, nostalgic style, one honed from childhood days spent studying classic children's illustrators such as Johnny Gruelle (Raggedy Ann and Andy) and Jessie Wilcox Smith (Little Women, Heidi). Engelbreit had no formal art school training and doesn't regret it. Nor does she mind if some people think her artwork is too sweet or cutesy.
"What I draw is taken from my life," she once told an interviewer. "I had a fantastic time as a kid. So, to people who say, 'You're drawing an idealized world where you'd like to live,' I say, 'Of course I am. What's wrong with that? Don't you wish you lived there, too?'"
Her latest project, Mary Engelbreit's Mother Goose, debuts in October and is published by HarperCollins.
Take one part folk and one part roots rock, add a dash of funk and bluegrass, jam vigorously and you'd have a taste of Stone Soup's recipe. The genre-bending band of New College students has been together less than two years and they've already booked gigs from Tampa to Miami and independently released their first album, Dancin' Shoes.
Heather Normandale, 23, who plays guitar and mandolin, says the New College community formed an instant fan base that's helped them grow, packing local venues like Fly and the Fogartyville Café. The band also features Anna Perlmutter, 22, on violin; Silas Durocher, 20, on lead guitar; Andrew "Furry" Noune, 24, on drums; and Jag Davies, 23, on bass. With the exception of Durocher, they've all finished their studies and are now devoting more time to Stone Soup's funky musical brew.
All five members write songs, and they all take turns on lead vocals, resulting in a quirky balance of eclectic tastes. "It's a lot about spreading a good message and having a good time," says Durocher. But Stone Soup is serious about their laid-back jams. "We have five band managers right now," says Perlmutter, since each member actively promotes the group and books gigs. Explains Noune, "We want to play good music as often as possible, and get it out there as much as possible."
In the fourth grade, Ron Turner began recording political speeches and debates from C-SPAN so he could replay them for pointers. "I was just always interested in public service," says the 36-year-old vice president of the Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce. "I guess I'm a bit of a policy wonk."
At the chamber, he oversees governmental issues, economic development and the YPG, which he co-founded. "The greatest challenge facing business growth now is the perception that growth is bad," says Turner. "But it doesn't have to be, if you plan it right and grow smarter."
The boyish administrator first ran for elected office in DeSoto County, serving on the Arcadia city council at the age of 22, where he clashed with the mayor after Turner suggested moving meetings to the evening so more citizens could attend. Turner won re-election over that; the mayor didn't, and Turner became vice mayor in 1994. He was appointed supervisor of elections that same year, and served through the storm of the 2000 presidential election; he's been with the Sarasota chamber since 2001.
Turner is spending this summer attending a program on affordable housing at Harvard's JFK school of government. What's next? Well, when he was about 15 he wrote a letter to Rosalynn Carter complimenting her new book, First Lady From Plains. Carter responded: "Some day you can be President, too."
North Port economic development manager Bob Tunis is guiding the growth of one of Florida's largest and fastest-growing cities. How large? 120 square miles. How fast? This year, 1.5 million square feet of retail and office space are under construction. And beyond the 3,000-plus single-family residential building permits issued in the first half of 2005 alone-more than all the rest of Sarasota County-plans for the 15,000-home Isles of Athena have just been announced for the city's northeast corridor.
With self-deprecating wit and an eye to big-picture issues like workforce housing, Tunis, 51, says his job is to "translate this massive residential growth into something positive: a high-value, diversified, export-oriented economy." That means attracting the kinds of businesses that will put North Port's young population to work, along with better amenities and services. (Right now, "There's nowhere to get a coffee in North Port except Abbe's Donuts," he says.)
It's not such a stretch from his former job as a foreign service officer for the Canadian government; in his last posting in Bonn, Germany, Tunis recruited German investors to move their businesses to Canada.
North Port in 10 years? "I expect it to be the business center of Sarasota County," Tunis predicts. "We have the land, and we have the workforce. And the workforce is the key factor related to residential growth."