April 20, 2014

Tales of Myra

Myra DanielsMyra Daniels is, and always has been, a force to be reckoned with.

Mention her first name in this community and everyone knows whom you’re talking about: that gracious, well-dressed lady with a backbone of steel, a tremendous work ethic and a talent for inspiring people to donate money to her cause, the Naples Philharmonic Center for the Arts.

This month, on Jan. 14-15, the Phil and the city are celebrating Thank You Myra Days, including performances by Boston Pops conductor Keith Lockhart, Tony winner Brian Stokes Mitchell, three-time Tony nominee Kelli O’Hara and renowned soprano Harolyn Blackwell.

Here, we collect stories and remembrances about her, from good friends, long-time colleagues and leaders in the arts industry in Southwest Florida.
 

"Olga Hirshhorn, art collector and Phil benefactor. As related in the upcoming film Box 23: The Myra Janco Daniels Story, which is scheduled to premiere this month at Thank You Myra Days.

I have it down in my date book because it’s a very important date for me. I made a notation. I met her Feb. 14, 1984. Myra called me up out of the blue. She lived in Marco, she said, and was involved in giving concerts. And Walter Hendl had spent a week, I guess, directing the orchestra or whatever they had. Not into music, I was not involved with it at all or even took notice of it. It was the last week that he was going to be there, and she invited me have to lunch.

I think it was called Versailles, a new restaurant that had just been built opposite the Kelly’s Fish House. It’s no longer there, but it had just been built and it was an elegant restaurant, I remember that. It was there she described what she was planning to do. She felt like we needed to build a cultural philharmonic center. She was into the philharmonic arts.

My suggestion to her, we still often discuss it, was that if she was going to raise money she should get a box number because I didn’t feel people were going to send a lot of money to Marco. She went down and got a box number with a Naples address. The rest is history. We all know how successful she was.

"Mary Ellen Hawkins, former State Representative and longtime friend of Daniels

I met Myra after she called me and asked why the Florida Legislature had not ratified the Equal Rights Amendment. I was elected to the legislature in 1974 when the E.R.A. was a hot topic, so this was 1975 or 1976. I was a Republican, and Myra and her husband were Democrats from Chicago. We decided to have lunch, and, as they say, the rest is history.

Myra is a Republican now. In the mid-1980s, I arranged for her to speak to the local Republican women’s club (which did not permit speakers to be Democrats) about the need for our symphony orchestra to have its own hall, and she had to change political parties to do it.

I have many stories, some of which I shan’t tell. Myra and I have made a number of trips to Europe and Asia, and we are famous shopping buddies.

We saw the sights and we had a lot of tailors in Hong Kong. One time over there, I think the first time we went, we ran out of money and we had to call back to our bank and get a bigger credit allowance so we could buy more clothes. We laughed about that a lot.

She blames me for getting her into all of this because I volunteered her for the job in the first place. In about 1983, Myra asked me to accompany her to a concert being played by this small fly-in orchestra on Marco where Myra lived. The two women who started the orchestra knew of Myra’s advertising background and had been calling her for advice on how to get more money to support its performances. They had given her two tickets and asked her to listen to the orchestra. I was reluctant, but agreed to go if we could sit close to the door in order to leave quietly at intermission if the orchestra turned out to be terrible.

Well, we were impressed and at intermission, instead of leaving, we sought the president of the then Naples-Marco Philharmonic to congratulate him. He told us the orchestra might not exist much longer because it was $16,000 in debt and he was supposed to pay the musicians at intermission. I thought we couldn’t let that happen, so I said I couldn’t do anything about it because I was in the legislature, but Myra was recently widowed and needed something to do and she will help you.

Myra helped them more than anybody’s wildest dreams.

CEO and President: As head of the Phil, Myra Daniels was able to bring in some of the biggest names in the world, including former President Bill Clinton, to speak, perform and inspire."Bill Barnett, mayor, City of Naples

I’ve known Myra, oh my gosh, what year was it?  Well, I started on Naples City Council in 1984, and it was before that.

We have certainly had some laughs over the years. I would tell her, ‘Let me annex the Phil into the City, we can give you a good deal.’ ‘Well, if you can figure out how to do that we can do that,’ she’d say, ‘But you know there are people in Pelican Bay who would get upset.’

And then I remember one day years ago I called her up. Little Richard was going to be at the Phil. I wanted to buy some tickets and I figured that if anyone knew how to get them it would be her. She asked if I wanted to sit in her box and go backstage. I did, and I presented Little Richard with a key to the City of Naples.

If you’re asked to sit in Myra’s box, it’s very prestigious. But, problem is, you need binoculars to see the stage. It’s very far away.

"Steffanie Pearce, Opera Naples founder and artistic director

She called me four days after the premiere of Opera Naples, which was in April of 2006, and she called me to come into her office and meet with her about possibly working together, bringing the opera company to work under the umbrella of the Philharmonic.

That meeting, well, it was very long. She was very nice, talked a lot about her childhood and her moving to Naples and how the Philharmonic got started. She was very friendly, but in the end she had some very strong points from her business perspective on how it could work for Opera Naples to perform in the Phil. They really weren’t in keeping with my instincts and advice I had gotten from industry professionals on how an opera company should be run.

She had very strong ideas on how she was going to run things, she was nationally recognized as a successful
business operator of the Phil, so my hat’s off to her for that.

I think the first time I performed at the Philharmonic was as Violetta in La Traviata, and she came back stage with her group and was obviously very impressed with the performance. She asked me, "What would you like to do at the Phil next year?" And now I’m laughing as I remember because it was probably about a year or two years later that we started Opera Naples.

"John Evans, principal timpanist with the Naples Philharmonic Orchestra

This is my 23rd year with the orchestra, so I’ve known her a long time.

It was very easy to get caught up in her vision of what this could become. It was very clear that she saw what she wanted to happen with the arts community in Naples and the momentum she was creating. It was very exciting to see an arts organization that was up and coming but having the success that they were having at that time.

Over the years, I got to know her very well because I served on several committees with the orchestra where we would work with her directly.

How would I describe her personality? Well, I guess she’s not my boss anymore. I’m joking. Well, oh boy, she is very committed, committed to seeing her vision put into place. She was in the office early in the morning and one of the last ones to leave. The amount of time that she put in was amazing.

It was great when she saw the need to bring in the best conductors that she could at the beginning to build up both the best classical and pops concerts. Also she saw the need to build the orchestra with full-time musicians. It started with 25, and now we have 49 musicians on staff.

A town of this size should not have an orchestra of this quality. You can’t name anywhere else in the United States with this size of a community that has anything like this.

The memory that I hope stays with me is just watching how she built things and ... how her enthusiasm spilled over to other people and we were able to build what we have today. There was the time when we had shingles at the same time, which was an amusing coincidence. We both continued working through it, but we were able to commiserate together.

“The House Myra Built”: Daniels created an arts campus combining the performing arts with the visual, something no one was doing at the time."Joel Kessler, executive director and CEO of The von Liebig Naples Art Association

I met Myra 35 years ago or more in Chicago when she headed her ad agency, and then we reconnected here.

Naples wouldn’t be Naples today if it wasn’t for Myra Daniels.

She made it possible for people to live here, because living without culture is kind of not living, and Myra brought the Phil here to Naples and forever changed the city. It allowed all the other institutions, the cultural institutions, to be here, and it brought all of the the upscale type people because the town had such culture that it was like living back home somewhere. And so the people of Naples owe Myra a debt of gratitude that they probably could never repay.

Could she have done more to work with other institutions? Probably, but she was Myra, and I will forever be grateful to her. She’s quite a dynamo and quite a woman.

I had lunch with her about a month ago and she was talking about taking another job. She doesn’t know how to stop. I just thought it was incredible that here she is 80-something years old and she’s now looking for something else.
 


This article appears in the January 2012 issue of Gulfshore Life.

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