Men & Women of the Year
Meet nine dynamic people we honor for their major contributions to our community.
“I’ve tried a number of things just to show that I can do it, but nothing formal. Just doodling, nothing serious. I’m not a painter.”
Such is the character of one Olga Hirshhorn: strong. The 93-year-old’s walls are covered with artwork fighting for space, and she has been a well-known supporter of the arts in Naples, Martha’s Vineyard and, of course, Washington, D.C., where her late husband’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden resides. Her name has become synonymous with art, and yet it doesn’t define her. Take it all away and you’d still be left with a fascinating woman ready to share the story of a life that left few stones unturned.
Case in point: When she was 65 years old, she entered a tennis tournament in southern Coachella Valley, Calif.—and won.
“I have a pendant of the figure of a woman with a tennis racket. No one knows I have it, but I know I have it,” she says. “I remember walking home with my trophy and showing it to Mr. Hirshhorn and putting it on his dresser and saying, ‘See, I won it!’ He was very surprised. I was very surprised.”
Most gratifying experience: Buying an old, empty house and turning it into a treasure. … I had a wonderful house in Port Royal and sold it for a junky house, and my friends wondered what in the heck I was doing. Different career path: Journalism. I was editor of the school newspaper. … When I worked at the local paper, I got 25 cents an inch for what I wrote. I used to fill it up with names. Quality admired most in others: I like people who like to talk about themselves. That’s the way you get to know them better. People might not know: I used to enter the mile swim in Greenwich (Conn.) and always win it, even giving the other girls a head start. Guilty pleasure: Eating too much. I go out for lunch every day. Greatest regret: That I never went to college. If anyone was college material, I was. But I fell in love and married my English teacher a year out of high school.
PHILANTHROPIST; FOOD MOGUL
“I’m an entrepreneur,” Shelly Stayer says. “Usually, at any given time, I have my hand in five or six businesses. That’s my hobby. I don’t knit. I don’t sew. That’s what I do.”
It’s well known that the Wisconsin transplant and her husband, Ralph, are the sole owners of Johnsonville Sausage—the largest sausage brand by revenue in the United States (as well as 30 other countries). But she is also part owner of Grace & Shelly’s Cupcakes and Sushi Samba, an international sushi restaurant. Pun intended, you’d think her plate was full.
And yet, the 51-year-old wanted to be even busier, so she’s currently working on a book about the relationships between fathers and sons. “All summer I’ve been interviewing famous sons about their fathers,” she says. So far she’s interviewed Cal Ripken Jr. (and Sr.), Alec Baldwin, Willie Davis, Newt Gingrich and Naples’ own Jay Baker, just to name a few. Her excitement about the project is palpable. But then, it’s her unbridled enthusiasm that has made her a favorite on the philanthropic scene, where she’s targeted several needy organizations to support.
It’s a wonderfully eclectic life.
Which is why it shouldn’t surprise too many of us that her top two bucket list items are “Meet the Pope” and “Fish in Alaska.” In that order.
Different career path: I would love to be the person who designs packaging. Sometimes I’ll be in the grocery store for two hours and all I’m doing is looking at packaging. I’m passionate about it. How to improve Southwest Florida: I would have more fun things to do. Maybe movies on the beach? Subject she won’t discuss at cocktail parties: Politics. I’m sick of it. People might not know: My father was one of 17 children. Irish Catholic. A typical wedding in Wisconsin you would have 650 people and most would be relatives. Guilty pleasure: I eat four cupcakes a day—several days a week. We just opened a Grace & Shelly’s in Milwaukee. Greatest regret: I didn’t stay home as much as I’d have liked when my children were young. Greatest success: That my husband, Ralph, and I have raised three amazing children. They are wonderful people.
Terry & Bob Edwards
PHILANTHROPISTS; ARTS PATRONS
Ten years ago, Terry Edwards moved to Naples to work as gallery director for Eckert Fine Art. Bob Edwards was on her list of gallery contacts to touch base with, so she called and asked him to stop by.
“It took about eight minutes,” Bob says. “The normal drive is 10.”
Let’s just say the couple have made as great an impression on the community as Terry made on Bob. The parents of three have wowed us with their extensive fine art collection—plus, Bob serves on the board of Artis—Naples and Venice’s Peggy Guggenheim Collection—and even more so with their contributions to local organizations. Besides chairing the 2013 Naples Winter Wine Festival (Bob: “It was a wonderful thing to have been the wine festival chair, and it’s a wonderful thing to see somebody else be the wine festival chair.”), the two support The Baker Museum and The Shelter for Abused Women & Children, among others.
Different career path: Her—Our interest in the arts and also my interest in travel are going to be combined in something I’m planning on doing next, which is a floral importing business and design. Him—I think I would have liked to have been an artist or an art dealer in an alternate life. How to improve Southwest Florida: Her—More activities for kids outside of school that will help them learn and keep them safe. Him—Summer air-conditioning outdoors. Subject they won’t discuss at cocktail parties: Her—Religion. I enjoy politics. Him—The goodbyes. I hate the goodbyes. People might not know: Her—I’m a serial reader of mysteries and crime novels. I read probably five a week. Him—Many of them (she reads) are dark whodunits, murder-related, so I’ve been very concerned. If anything ever happens to me, I want a full autopsy. Best advice for balance: Her—Give up sleep. Him—I’m not sure balance is perfect. It seems like people do wonderful things when they get very concentrated on something in life. Favorite piece of art they own: Her—I would say the Jim Dine heart we got married in front of. Him—The most recent one.
VICE PRESIDENT OF DEVELOPMENT AND COMMUNICATION, SOUTHWEST FLORIDA COMMUNITY FOUNDATION; CO-FOUNDER, SOUTHWEST FLORIDA WINE & FOOD FEST
Helping people is what Carolyn Rogers does. Whether it’s directly, by tracking down a new refrigerator for someone in need, or on a bigger scale as a fundraiser, that’s been her calling since she can remember. “When I was a kid, I used to bake cookies and take them down to the local nursing home,” she says. “It’s a selfish thing. I get so much joy from it.”
Which makes it sort of surprising that the Fort Myers nonprofit executive is taken aback when people express the same level of care and kindness to her. When asked what she most admires in another person, Rogers, 50, says “kindness” and then starts crying, remembering the many people who came to her side when she went through a battle with cancer a few years ago. “There were legions of people who came forward to support me,” she says, choking back the tears. When you’ve helped build a children’s hospital, grow a school and start a wildly successful fundraising festival from scratch, you are bound to have a few fans.
Most gratifying professional experience: Going to work at the (Golisano Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida), back when it was just an idea. Different career path: Something creative. A graphic designer or photographer. I’m envious of their talents. How to improve Southwest Florida: More access to child care. I know it’s difficult for new mothers to find care for young children. People might not know: I have three older brothers and I’m the only girl. I’m pretty tough as a result. Guilty pleasure: A night at home with my family. Still on her bucket list: I’ve done the most amazing things and met the most amazing people. I can’t imagine it gets better. Though I would like to go to Napa some day.
ROCK STAR; PHILANTHROPIST
You’d be hard-pressed to find someone more content with life than Cliff Williams. And with good reason; the 63-year-old has a beautiful wife of more than 30 years (Georganne), two successful children (Erin and Luke), and the finest head of hair of any man in all of Florida (although Jimmy Johnson may argue that point). And, oh yes, he happens to be the bass player and backing vocalist for the hardest rocking band in the world, AC/DC (Back in Black, For Those About To Rock We Salute You). The group is one of the highest-grossing bands of all time, with more than 200 million albums sold.
Best of all, since 1986, Williams has called Fort Myers home. And with it, he has made a point of giving back. He and Georganne are fixtures at the Southwest Florida Wine & Food Fest, where they’ve donated huge sums of money toward the Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida, and are vigorous supporters of The Heights Foundation.
Most gratifying experience: We were lucky enough to get a few accolades, such as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Grammys, but just being able to play for so many people and see those reactions… Different career path: I left school at 16 and was an apprentice toolmaker for a year—that’s how my father’s career went—and hated it. What drew him to the bass: Well, there was a job opening in the school band for a bass player. People might be surprised to know: We did that horrible thing that when the kids went to college we followed them. One went to Savannah, Ga., and the other to New York City. We’re out of that now. Thank God. Still on his bucket list: Grandkids. A typical day: Just busy work. You get up, take the dog for a run, then come back—I’ve got the cleanest garage you’d ever want to see—we might fiddle around on the water, get a bite to eat. A lot of social, “Come on over, we’ll throw a couple of burgers on the grill…” In his garage: A 1954 Chevy pickup truck in North Carolina. And in Fort Myers? I did have a little indulgence and got an Audi R8. It’s a beast. I love it.
It’s easy to spot Sonya Sawyer in a crowded ballroom—she’ll be the one all eyes are focused on. While those eyes might be looking at the 39-yearold’s spectacular fashion sense, she’s there with a mission in mind: to build the philanthropic presence of Home-Tech, the business her father founded in 1981. She has grown the company’s philanthropic footprint immensely in her 14 years as CFO. Last season, she co-chaired the American Heart Association’s Heart Ball with her husband, who lost his mother to heart disease in her early 50s.
“Chairing the Heart Ball this year with my husband was the most gratifying thing because we broke all goals,” Sawyer says. “That was huge for me.”
If you can do good, great. If you can give back and look and feel great doing it, even better.
Different career path: A stylist to the stars! I love fashion and wanted to be a fashion designer. Quality admired most in others: Loyalty, absolutely. Authenticity. Sincerity. I don’t like fake people or duplicity. How to improve Southwest Florida: Probably the school system. Having young children, it seems that the focus is standardized testing, and I hate that. Subject she won’t discuss at cocktail parties: Work. I hate to talk shop. Hate it! People might not know: I am a huge introvert. It takes a lot for me to be in public. I have to gear up for it. Guilty pleasure: I have many. But I’d say red wine and designer handbags. I couldn’t do without either of them. Still on her bucket list: I would love to attend Fashion Week in New York. And the Kentucky Derby. And go on a Mediterranean cruise and visit Greece and Italy. Maybe when the kids get older. Whose style she admires: Victoria Beckham, Carrie Underwood, Halle Berry.
Randy Wayne White grew up landlocked in Ashland, Ohio. So it might seem strange that water is where he’s mostly made his living. Either he’s been on it—as a charter boat captain in the 1970s and ’80s, guiding anglers through the flats around Sanibel and Captiva—or he’s been writing about it—via his character Doc Ford, who is about to appear in the 21st book in White’s mystery series.
In between landing in coastal Lee County in 1972 and now, White, 63, has become a bestselling writer, adventurer of record for magazines such as Men’s Journal and Outside, and a restaurateur—with Doc Ford’s Rum Bar & Grille on his home base of Sanibel and on Fort Myers Beach. He’s also been a humanitarian, environmentalist and, if truth be told, an all-around nice guy—despite his “stocky and bald” appearance. “People are terrified” by the look, though, he says.
Most gratifying experience: Most recently, it’s been the fight to ban snagging rigs in tarpon fishing off Boca Grande. The (Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Committee) just voted them down. Different career path: Law enforcement. You are actually doing some good. How to improve Southwest Florida: More consistent surf. I love standup paddleboard surfing. We are just lacking that one attribute (waves). More seriously, do something about the runoff from Big Sugar into Lake O and the Everglades. Guilty pleasure: Doc Ford’s carrot cake. I didn’t come up with the recipe. But I named it the Drunken Parrot Carrot Cake. Still on his bucket list: Nothing left to do for the first time. But I’ve got to go back to Cuba, and I’ve got to go back to Colombia. Greatest success: My sons are doing very well. And I’ve been very blessed in my writing career. I work hard at it. Two books a year, and doing very well with each.
PRODUCING ARTISTIC DIRECTOR, GULFSHORE PLAYHOUSE
After 9/11, Kristen Coury no longer could ignore her desire to leave New York City. But she worked in theater—where to go?
“I had this thought, ‘OK. I’m going to move to Florida, I’m going to move to London, or I’m going to join the Peace Corps.’ So I moved to Florida.”
She thought she would base out of Naples as a freelance theater director, but quickly realized the town had no professional theater company. So she decided to start one. The best advice she received? “Don’t do it. You’re a director and you’re not going to have any time to direct.”
“That would be exactly the thing that would cause my soul to shrivel up and die,” says Coury, 44. So she poured all her energies into making sure that didn’t happen. Now, Gulfshore Playhouse is celebrating its 10th season and its first world premiere.
She sees it as her responsibility to produce plays that enable people “to allow,” whether it be joy, a new concept or a different point of view. And she has made time not only to direct every production, but also to deliver each pre-show speech and always shake the hands of patrons as they leave the theater.
“I love this community so much,” she says. “If I wasn’t running a theater company, I’d run for mayor.”
Most gratifying experience: We were doing a production of Master Class, and Mr. Cohen [of corporate partner Cohen & Grigsby law firm] walked up to me at the end of the show on opening night and said, ‘You make my life better.’ Different career path: I would be a photographer for National Geographic. People might not know: I teach something called Nia, which is like a mixture of yoga and dance and martial arts. Guilty pleasure: Well, besides chocolate, ballroom dancing. … I take lessons every week and I dance at competitions. Still on her bucket list: I want to go to Macchu Picchu. Where she sees Gulfshore Playhouse in another 10 years: We’re going to have a new building, all our own. … And we’re going to win a Tony Award.