Men & Women of the Year
Gulfshore Life celebrates eight distinguished citizens for their contributions to our community.
Photos by Alex Stafford
Tom and Sandi Moran
Tom and Sandi Moran are the quintessential Naples couple. They met at the second annual Taste of Collier, a long-standing Naples tradition, where Tom was volunteering when Sandi approached his booth. They’ve called it home for more than 30 years. And they’ve left their mark on countless local charities and children, thanks to their ongoing extensive philanthropic eff orts throughout the community.
Though their involvement is vast, their focus remains on endeavors involving children and arts education, including Youth Haven, the Naples Children and Education Foundation, the Culinary and Hospitality Education Foundation and the United Arts Council, among others. Their commitment to the community has an added benefit—they believe it also improves their dynamic as a couple. “Even though we’re involved in different roles with different charities, they’re all the same theme,” Tom says. “It’s a shared passion,” Sandi agrees. “That’s something that brings couples closer together.”
People admired most in the Southwest Florida community: Him— Bruce Sherman. He’s a generous philanthropist and a great businessman. Her—Myra Daniels for her enormous contribution to the arts community, and Kathleen van Bergen for her vision as she leads the Naples arts community into the future. Qualities they value most in others: Him—Integrity and perseverance. Her—Responsibility and loyalty. Needed to improve the quality of life here: A greater emphasis on arts education for children, especially those who are at risk. When you expose children to arts, it teaches them to live, not merely to exist. Career paths not taken: Him—A high school guidance counselor. I enjoy learning about colleges and their academics and guiding young adults through the landmines of the college application process. Her— An animal behaviorist working with primates in Africa. A message to their younger selves: Him—I’d tell myself to spend more time with family earlier in my career. Her—You can’t help others who don’t want to help themselves. People would be surprised to know: Him—I spent my early 20s in the jungles of South America collecting bromeliads and opening a research center. Her—I’m a fi fth-generation Floridian. Guilty pleasures: Him—An afternoon nap on weekends. Her—Wine. —Jennifer Freihofer
Kathleen van Bergen
CEO, Philharmonic Center for the Arts
Few people have what it takes to replace an icon. Even fewer make it seem so eff ortless. Ask anyone what they think of the job van Bergen has done in taking the reins of the Phil from Myra Daniels, and you better get comfortable—because once the praise starts it goes on and on. In many ways, van Bergen, 36, has not only been the buoy the Phil needed as it moves on from its founder, but she’s lifted the entirety of the Southwest Florida arts scene. By forming partnerships with everyone from ArtNaples to Opera Naples to the Southwest Florida International Airport, van Bergen is making a case that her title should be amended to include CIC—collaborator-in-chief.
Career path not taken: Architect. I love the blending of functionality and beauty. If it weren’t for the math classes ... Left on her bucket list: Australia. There’s a spirit of adventure. I need to block off a chunk of time and go. Greatest regret: I try to live without regrets. I’ve made a lot of mistakes, but regret is something that holds you back. Way to improve life here: (Get rid of) the humidity. Not the temperature, just the humidity. Guilty pleasure: Where do I start? Chocolate, wine, shopping, the spa. Hardest part of replacing an icon: (Finding a) balance of respecting the past and believing in the future. I believe you have to be your own self, but it isn’t about me. I believe I’ll fail if it becomes about me. Where the Phil will be in five years: Maybe not called the Phil. It could have a completely different identity. But it will definitely be a truly year round organization. —Jonathan Foerster
John L. Jordan
here’s a common, harrowing theme to Jordan’s charitable involvement. The youngest of four, Jordan was just a child when he learned firsthand the heartbreak of domestic violence that his mother, Zuma, endured at the hands of her husband, Jordan’s father. “It was during a time that our society looked down on divorce and so often looked away from family abuse,” he says. “(My mother’s) courage to break the cycle of violence in our family has always been my inspiration to do the right thing.”
As such, the 65-year-old former envelope-manufacturing executive has done his part to aid victims of family abuse for more than 20 years, helping to build shelters and raise awareness in Philadelphia and his home state of Oklahoma. Now, in Naples, he and his wife, Barbara, continue to contribute to the Shelter for Abused Women & Children. His efforts also extend to helping at-risk and impoverished children through the Naples Children and Education Foundation, where he is a member of the board of directors, and the Naples Winter Wine Festival, which he and Barbara were asked to join as trustees in 2007. “There’s a lot of work still to be done,” he says. “Barbara and I hope to make a difference in some way in the communities where we live.”
People he admires most in the Southwest Florida community: Many, but particularly the caregivers for at-risk children in Collier County. One thing he wishes he could change about himself: My golf handicap. His most gratifying experience: My marriage to my wife, Barbara Lee. Nothing comes close. A message to his younger self: Treat life like a marathon, not a sprint. His guilty pleasure: Playing blackjack. Career path not taken: Wall Street. Quality he admires most in others: Real honesty. People would be surprised to know: I pray every day. Still on his bucket list: Watching my two wonderful grandchildren grow into two wonderful adults. —Jennifer Freihofer
President, Ave Maria University
fter working for a saint, almost literally, and a president, Towey came to Southwest Florida to serve two greater masters—God and knowledge. As the head of Ave Maria University, Towey, 56, is challenged with turning billionaire Tom Monaghan’s labor of love into an honest-to-God institution of higher learning, that, oh, happens to operate in the black. And he only has two more years to do it before Monaghan’s promise to fund Ave Maria’s deficits runs out. But he’s on the right track. Under his watch the deficit has shrunk dramatically, enrollment is surging and fundraising is strong. After working with Mother Teresa in the slums of Calcutta and in the George W. Bush White House, big challenges ought to be no problem.
Career path not taken: College basketball coach. That was something I thought I would be. I was a graduate assistant at Florida State while in law school. Least favorite dinner conversation: Money. Unfortunately, as a university president, I am constantly talking about it. Left on his bucket list: I don’t really have one. The lord keeps knocking over my buckets. Biggest regret: Regrets are the sins of your life. But those sins don’t have the last word. Favorite achievement: My marriage and fi ve kids. Period. Exclamation point. I’ve had a lot of different experiences and opportunities. But those are all great memories. My vocation is my family. Guilty pleasures: A nice chardonnay. Golf, because it’s time-consuming. Cheetos. They are like their own art form. And sneaking away for a matinee movie. Why religious education? I love young people who are hungry for the truth. How to create an image of Ave Maria past Tom Monaghan: There wouldn’t been a university without him. But there is a necessary transition from the founder stage to the standing-on-your- own-two-feet stage. That’s why I’m here. Tougher boss—George W. Bush or Mother Teresa: Mother used better language. —Jonathan Foerster
Fort Myers Matriarch
Berne Davis Fort Myers matriarch ife is short.” Coming from the mouth of a 97-year old, the phrase sounds somewhat disingenuous. And yet, if there was one person in Southwest Florida whose opinion we’d trust, it would be Berne Davis. The Fort Myers matriarch is as indelibly linked to the City of Palms as the Edisons and spring training and spent her life loving and giving to the city. She arrived as an eighth grader in 1928 and watched as the majestic United States Post Office was built along First Street. In a way, Davis and the Post Office grew up together, and are forever linked. It opened the year she graduated from high school (1933), was converted to a courthouse in 1960, and was abandoned in 1998 when a new courthouse was built. In 2007, she donated $1 million to save what is now known as the Sidney & Berne Davis Art Center.
“I grew up loving that building, loving Fort Myers, loving everybody,” says the gracious Davis. “I was just so afraid they were going to tear it down and put up some condo or something. It is just something that needs to be here … I think downtown would be lost without it.”
Something people are surprised to know about her: I’ve lived all over the state of Florida—from Tallahassee down. But I moved here in the eighth grade and I’ve stayed here ever since. Guilty pleasures: I love going out to French restaurants. Left on her bucket list: I have been so fortunate that I have been on so many wonderful, wonderful trips. I have been every place that I ever wanted to go. I guess I would like to go back to some of the places I’ve been because they were all so much fun. Quality she most admires in others: I love honestly, trustworthiness and sincerity in others. Least favorite dinner conversation: Politics. I don’t give a poop about politics. I don’t get excited about it. —Michael Korb
Chef/owner, Ridgway Bar and Grill, Tony’s Off Third and Bayside Seafood Grill and Bar
In the midst of his fifth decade running restaurants in Naples, Ridgway has hit his stride. With two successful restaurants, a massive catering business and one of the best bakeries/wine shops anywhere, he’s come a long way from The Wurst Place—a Naples restaurant specializing in sausages run out of an old gas station. Along the way, Ridgway, 68, was a force in the development of Community School of Naples and in helping build a strong bond among restaurateurs and business owners in the Third Street South area, transforming one into the top prep school in the region and making the other a top tourist destination.
Career path not taken: Farmer. I would still go back to what I love, which is feeding people. Least favorite dinner conversation: Politics. With the right people it could be OK. But it’s not fun to discuss anymore. Left on his bucket list: Learning to speak Spanish and taking dance lessons. (My wife) Wynn and I have talked about doing that. Greatest regret: Closing (previous Naples restaurants) Chefs Garden and Truffles. I closed them for the wrong reasons. We closed two of Naples best restaurants to open one of Naples worst restaurants (the now-closed Terra). Favorite achievement: My involvement with Community School of Naples. From 1985 to ’96 (when I was chairman of the board) it was a very satisfying period of growth. Way to improve life here: Double the business in the summer. Summer doesn't need to be like season. But it would be nice to not have to worry about making it through the summer. Secret to great food: You have to really understand what cooking does to the food. Once you understand (the technical part of cooking), you can do just about anything. —Jonathan Foerster
CEO, Southwest Florida Community Foundation
The call that changed Sarah Owen’s life came in the middle of the night. A man she hardly knew was dead. As executive director of the Fort Myer’s Meals on Wheels program, Owen had contracted with Community Cooperative Ministries Incorporated (CCMI) to cook their daily meals in order to help both organizations. But when CCMI’s chef died suddenly, a caller awoke Owen at 1 a.m. with a simple question: “What are you going to do?” “I took a few minutes to process the information, then got out of bed and drove to the CCMI building on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. (in Fort Myers) and broke in.” For the next several months she got up and cooked in the middle of the night, not just for Meals on Wheels, but for the Soup Kitchen at CCMI. Within months she merged the two organizations and grew them to the point where, when she left late last year to become president and CEO of Southwest Florida Community Foundation, they had more than 1,600 volunteers.
Way to improve life here: If every single person discovered what inspired them to give and then gave their time or their resources, we could all be change agents for good. People are surprised to know: I am an extreme introvert who works hard to be an extreme extrovert, and I used to be to a magician’s assistant. Guilty pleasures: I love to watch reality TV. Dance Moms, Teen Mom, The Voice. I watch them all but am embarrassed to admit it. Greatest regret: That I can’t experience my children growing up twice. Every minute I was not with them I now wish I had back, but other than that I just don’t have regrets. Qualities she most admires: Loyalty, authenticity, and an attitude of “we can make this happen.” Least favorite dinner conversation: I try to listen … It’s amazing what you can learn at a cocktail party when you listen and don’t talk. —Michael Korb