Sue Monk Kidd
Sure, Sue Monk Kidd loves a good story. She fell in love with words as a girl, listening to her dad spin tales that became family lore.
As weaver of her own yarns, the best-selling author finds a purpose in storytelling that extends beyond page-turning narratives.
“I think the real purpose of literature may be to create empathy,” says Kidd, a Naples resident whose works include the beloved novel The Secret Life of Bees. “It drops us into the lives of other people so that we see with their eyes and feel with their hearts and understand the world through what they experience. And that is a rare and amazing thing. It is one of the most mysterious things we can experience as human beings—to be able to enter into another person’s realm and see the world and feel the world the way they do.”
On the day after the Charlottesville protests, Kidd tweeted a passage from The Invention of Wings—the moment in which her protagonist, Sarah Grimke, learned to see slavery for what it was. The question Kidd posed to her character: “Are we going to be silent in the face of a gathering evil, or are we going to recognize this and speak?” Her hope: that readers will ask themselves the same.
On her emergence as a writer
At the end of my 20s, I had two toddlers, a brick house, a little fence around it and a station wagon… but I was growing very restless, and I think that restlessness was a longing in me for something true and authentic, this desire to write, and I think that innate part in me was crying out.
I was at the washing machine—I hate this, but there it was—and I was dumping clothes into it. I remember putting the lid down. It was a moment of realization—I am going to be 30 years old tomorrow, and I am not doing what I was put here for, and it’s going to take a great deal of bravery for me to be able to do it.
I walked into the kitchen where my husband was feeding our two toddlers their cereal and I announced it: “I’m going to be a writer.” And they just kind of went right on eating their breakfast, but it was a moment of epiphany and enunciation…From that moment on, I had a different trajectory.
On her early career
I spent the first maybe eight years looking for my voice and finding my truth and my writing voice and what I had to offer. I cut my teeth on Guidepost magazine…(My essays) were labeled later as “spiritual memoir.” I don’t think I could have written my novels without that first writing, particularly, Dance of the Dissident Daughter (a memoir about her feminist awakening and quest to strengthen a woman’s voice in a patriarchal society). I had to explore my life, my spiritual life, and it gave me a lot of experience. It helped me find my authentic voice. When I turned 40, I started writing fiction.
On her daily routine
I work all day long. It’s not that hard for me—I think that’s because I love it so much. I’m an introvert by nature. I love being in the solitude of my study, the contemplative life. It’s always slightly jarring when I come back into the other world. When I finish the book I take time off—months, before the pre-publicity and tour. I don’t write for usually a good year, but I need that time. I let the ground go fallow, as the farmers say, and wait and let the ideas germinate for the next book.
On her relationship with her daughter, author Ann Kidd Taylor
I’m just the proudest mother. I love that she decided to become a writer. This was innate in her, too, and she fought it for a long time… But eventually she came home to the fact that this really was her thing to do, and I think she was very brave to do it. She’s got her own stories, her own voice, her own writing. It’s different than mine, and it’s authentic to her. I love it.
On her next project
I’m in the first phases of a new, historical fiction piece. It’s set in the first century, about a woman who lives at the same time as Jesus. Jesus is a character. I’m writing a lot about women in religion and the inception of a lot of our ideas (about gender) that have come down to us through the Christian religion.
Trait admired most in others: Kindness. Something her readers would find surprising: “That I’m actually kind of funny. I can get really kind of deep and out there with all my profundities, but the truth is I can be very lighthearted.” Person she’d like to dine with: “Mary, the mother of Jesus. I would like to sit down with her and get the real scoop. I think she probably has been the most misunderstood and mythologized woman in the history of the world.” —Jennifer Reed
Emad Salman is a medical doctor, but he treats his work with ministerial devotion—called to it, consumed by it and willing to sacrifice just about anything for it.
Salman established the Golisano Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida’s hematology/oncology program 20 years ago. He was the department’s only physician at the time.
“I was here all the time.,” he says. “It was a contract I had with my patients. I’m gonna give them poisons that are gonna make them sick. I’m going to be there for them when they need to be rescued. I’m not going to desert them just because it’s convenient for me and I need a break myself.”
Eventually the program (and the staff grew), and Salman was able to ease up—for a time, anyway. Promoted to medical director, he was among those charged with constructing the new, seven-story children’s hospital.
The foundation Salman laid has nothing to do with bricks and mortar. He’s focused on the hospital’s inner self—in cultivating kindness and compassion and a culture that puts a child’s needs above all else.
“Go home every day and ask yourself: Did I make a difference in somebody’s life today? If the answer is ‘no’ several days in a row, you should perhaps reconsider what you want to do.”
On his calling to the medical profession
My parents owned a store, and I saw every one of my older brothers and sisters end up in the store. I was No. 8 out of 10 and I said, “I’m not doing that. I’m going to finish school, and I’m going to go on and I’m going to be a physician. I want to make a difference in people’s lives.”
Salman’s parents emigrated from Lebanon to Sierra Leone. He and his siblings were raised in the English-speaking West African nation.
I stayed on message even when I went to England (for college). I was offered a chance to study biochemistry or to go to law school (there were no seats available for a foreign student wanting to attend government-subsidized medical school in England at the time). I said no. If I can’t get into medical school in England, I will go elsewhere. I enrolled in the American University in Lebanon. Fortunately, because I was a foreign student, Arabic was not a requirement.
On working in underserved communities
Salman completed his medical training in the United States. In order to obtain a visa to stay, he had to agree to work in an underserved community. He chose to practice pediatrics in Crestview, in Florida’s Panhandle, a one-exit town on I-10 where a 24-hour Walmart was the only store.
It taught me a lot of skill sets—how to run an office and a business and a practice, which you don’t get in training. Nobody teaches you the practical stuff. They teach you book stuff—how to diagnose a disease, how to treat a disease, but nobody teaches you how to run an office.
(In a rural community) you figure out whether there are alternatives. It makes you think before you order: Is that just the latest gimmick? Is there a cheaper alternative? You have to think: They have limited resources. How can I get the best outcome using an optimal amount of resources? It also teaches you to be a better physician. In a university setting, you have MRIs, you have CAT scans, you have everything at your disposal. In the private practice setting, you don’t always have that, and your patient population may not be able to afford it. So we rely a lot on history taking and physical exam. A good history and a good physical exam will probably diagnose 90 percent of your patients.
On working with parents
It’s about building trust. In the beginning, they are completely helpless. They just got his with the word “cancer,” and they are in a daze. We have to take care of the whole family so they can pull through. I always tell parents, “I am your child’s doctor, but you are your child’s caregiver. Why? I see your child in little periods of time. You see your child all the time. You are my eyes when you are not here.”
(Parents) have to be part of the solution. They are the ones who examine the child every day, who see them, who observe them. We spend a lot of time teaching them how to take care of their child, how to understand the words we use.
An alternative career: “As a kid, I wanted to be a mailman or work in a movie theater so I could watch movies for free. Why a mailman? In Africa, we used to order comic books. If I worked in the sorting office, I would get to see them first!” Worst habit: “I procrastinate sometimes. … Once, in medical school, I read a whole botany book for the first time—the day before the exam.” Greatest influence: “I admire Gandhi.” —Jennifer Reed
See also Gulfshore Life’s April 2017 profile of Dr. Salman here.
Monte and Usha Ahuja
The names Monte and Usha Ahuja have long been associated with generosity in the Cleveland, Ohio, community—millions upon millions of dollars, not to mention time and expertise, going to University Hospitals, Cleveland State University and other organizations. And the couple are steadily matching that impact in Naples.
The Ahujas came to the United States from India as students in the late ’60s, eventually meeting at Ohio State. Long story short, they worked incredibly hard and went incredibly far—she as a mathematics professor while he grew from the ground up to a titan in the auto transmission replacement part industry. And they have made it a big point to return the good fortune to the country that provided them such opportunity.
Shortly after buying a Naples home in 2005, their influence here began. To date, they have donated more than $5 million to the wide-reaching Naples Children & Education Foundation, of which they are trustees. (At the foundation’s Naples Winter Wine Festival, Monte is known as “the car guy.” His first festival auction, he bought a Bentley GTC for $1.3 million. He since has had the winning bid for four other vehicles.) They plan to stretch their involvement to other organizations, too, focusing on health care, education and individuals in distress. And they were among those donating to their adopted community post-Hurricane Irma, through GO Irma and the American Red Cross Hurricane Relief Fund.
“Our whole family is pretty united in the mission of giving,” Monte says, counting his wife, children and even young grandchildren. “That makes it easy.”
On why they became involved with the Naples Winter Wine Festival
Monte: “We moved to Naples in 2005, and we sort of connected with the wine fest, which we attended first in 2007. And it seemed like a phenomenal concept with a group of people who not only are very giving and very caring for the community but have a lot of fun doing it. I think that was what came out of it—no one is being pushed, nobody put a gun on the head or constantly harassed for giving. A lot of people give and sometimes they stay engaged, sometimes they don't stay engaged. … The concept of wine fest is something unique that I see in not only that it people are largely willing to give, but in the way it’s designed, and they have fun doing it, have fun building relationships with each other, fun getting engaged in its implementation. It's a unique charity program, and the fact that it’s focused on the children is a cause I think anybody—you can’t say, ‘I don't want to do that.’ The mission is to help and grow the children of the community. I think it’s pretty compelling. … We really feel a great call in it.”
On giving as a family
Monte: “When you are trying to be charitable at that (high of a) level, it doesn’t take just one person. I could make all the decisions and everybody in the family will sort of accept it. Instead, the way our family structure is, we are not just our family accepting the decisions, our family is truly thrilled. My wife has always felt whatever I suggested to do she would want to do even more.
“Our children are the same way. Both our daughters are extremely engaged. … Even my grandson who is now 12 years old, it is so thrilling for me to see how charitable this young man is turning out to be. Even going back 3, 4, 5 years. Since 5 years he’s been involved in children’s cancer program.”
Usha: “He is so involved that he shaved his heard every year once a year for this.”
Monte: “I always tell him, ‘When you grow up to be an adult, you’re going to be managing my charitable foundation. He’s thrilled to hear that. The point I was making is these kind of things can work when you are not just one person.”
Alternative career path: Usha: “In high school, I was so fascinated by the lawyers standing in the court and logically arguing their points. … But those days in India it was not considered a lucrative profession. My teachers discouraged me.” Quirks: Monte, on Usha: “She has to be analytical and logical. I think that’s a good idiosyncrasy.” Usha, on Monte: “No patience!” Motto: Usha: “Live your life to the fullest, thinking like this is the last day of your life.” Monte: “If I want to give money for charity, I like to give more when I’m still alive then leave it after death. Because I want to enjoy leaving it there.” Other passion: Monte: “Golf. I’m very, very competitive, whether it's a $5 bet or $5,000 bet.” —Cayla Childs
Sheriff Kevin Rambosk
For someone who addresses a community’s most complex issues, Kevin Rambosk sees things pretty simply. He’s approached his nearly nine years as Collier County sheriff with one philosophy: “Service to others before self.” The community service bug first bit Rambosk as a 14-year-old volunteer living in small-town New Jersey, and has since guided him in a rise from Naples police officer to chief, to city manager, to sheriff, and positions in between. He is active with half a dozen nonprofits, as well.
In his time as sheriff, Rambosk has shifted a historically response-driven law enforcement to a culture of unity and prevention. Surrounding Hurricane Irma, this was never more clear as he headed efforts to ensure safety—ranging from shelter to scam avoidance—communication, resources and restoration.
His fingerprints have been all over other noteworthy initiatives, like bolstering youth-related programming, lowering crime rates, expanding emergency communications technology, tackling identity theft and prioritizing mental health. The latter will be a big focus moving forward, as will addressing Collier’s growth and its wide-ranging impacts.
“The bottom line is we need to respect one another,” he says, in everything we do. “Period.”
On the first steps down his career path
“Well you know it’s kind of strange, because I was involved a lot in electronics, which is kind of where the electrical engineer concepts came from. I built my first binary computer in 1967. And of course as I look back today, I’m thinking that could have turned out to be a very interesting direction, too, when we know what we know today about computers, and I was doing that at a time when some of the biggest designers and creators of computers were also playing with building computers. But I think the interaction with people is more of what I liked. The electronics, the engineering element, the building of—because I used to build radios and electronics—but it just wasn't the same with interacting with people. And providing help when they needed it. I think that was probably the single most motivating point for me.”
On prioritizing youth-related programming over the past eight years
“We created the youth resource center, and that was to guide both young people and parents into a better direction for the future. Our summer fest programs for young people—we were in fact making contact any given year with about 5,000 young people, which was really pretty good. Bu now, with all of the programming both during the year and during the summer programming, we now make contact with more than 40,000 people in a year. And you know, a part of that was we saw the economic downturn occurring, there weren’t going to be a lot of part-time jobs for people, so we felt that if we could provide avenues that they could have fun, do it safely, we would do it. And with existing staff. And that turned out to be terrific.”
On making community safety service a core function of his agency overall
“That is directly linked back to my volunteer background and community service background. And that has been hugely successful over the last eight years. In fact, we just this past year, the public and business community has held 25 events recognizing and thanking law enforcement and public safety, just here, just in Collier. And I’ve not heard of that many events anywhere that I’ve been. So this integration of members of the Sheriff’s Office with the community, we have really bonded and become a part of the community. And that makes a big difference.”
Alternative career: “Legitimately, electrical engineer. Where I would have liked to go was music. I play the drums. I had a band (in the late ’60s, early ’70s)—it was called the Inner Sanctum.” Favorite musicians: Buddy Rich; Ginger Baker; Crosby, Stills and Nash; The Who. Hobbies: “I’m a licensed Ham radio operator—have the highest license you can get. I love to talk with someone on the other side of the world from my garage. … And then restoring classic cars.” Most gratifying experience: “Having a great family. Everybody’s involved in public service, my entire family.” Most embarrassing moment on the job: “When I was first elected, I went and got a physical. I did a stress test, so I was very tired. I came out of the doctor’s office, made a U-turn to go home and immediately got pulled over by a deputy. There was a sign posted ‘No U-Turn.’ He was somewhat shocked and not very happy when I hopped out of the car.” —Cayla Childs
See also Gulfshore Life's 2015 profile of Sheriff Rambosk here.
Christin Collins’ ever-evolving position for Lee Health—System Health and Wellness Strategic Business Partner—is perfect for a self-described “relationship person” who is constantly seeking “win-win” connections, collaborations, improvements (and who has an acute passion for wellness thanks to her own health journey). “It’s a clearing house for this movement,” she says of her mouthful title. “It’s being a pioneer.”
That “movement” is Lee Health’s major swing from the more common curative approach to one of lifestyle and prevention. (One example: Collins is overseeing three facilities’ transformations from gyms to program-rich epicenters for health and healing.) And she’s making moves on her own time, too, with carefully curated nonprofits. (One example: When co-chairing the 2017 Southwest Florida Wine & Food Fest, she was the catalyst in raising more than $1 million for children’s mental and behavioral health.)
“For whatever reason, I am a rainmaker,” Collins says. “I see things from 30,000 feet. I see how it would be beneficial if things connect. But it’s not for me to drill down and teach the class or do the work. For me, it’s to find the talent who’s amazing at the work and be of service to them. … (Finding out) how you get to ‘yes.’”
On taking on the wellness movement for the new Lee Health
“What is new is that Dr. Sal Lacagnina and I are now the dyad leaders leading the wellness movement for the hospital. So he’s the clinical and I’m more the administrative. Which is a really great dynamic duo, because then you get a layperson’s perspective vs. a clinical, and vice versa. And the whole system’s moving to the dyad approach. I’m like, ‘Whaaat?’ It didn't exist. I was doing work in wellness, Sal was doing work in wellness, other people were doing work in wellness, but it wasn’t necessarily the strategic vision for the system. But now that we’re Lee Health, and now that our mission, vision, values have changed on our 100th anniversary to be national leaders in health and healing, you do have that.”
On why prevention works
“When we take the time to create the awareness and educate the folks, that’s preventive. It’s helping them stay out of our hospitals. When they come to our hospitals, they’re healthier, they’re in a better place, they have better outcomes. They stay with us a shorter amount of time. They are happier, so we get better patient reviews, which is how we get reimbursed, less meds. And the shift on a national level about how we’re going to get reimbursed, how we’re going to get paid. You know, it’s a major medical shift right now, and wellness is the core.”
On people initially doubting her sincerity
“I’d like to be remembered as someone who genuinely was interested in helping people. … I think that's becoming more regular, but it hasn't always been that—there’ve been major periods where I’e been very misunderstood. Possibly judged before or assuming I’m going to be a certain way. I think in the beginning maybe it wasn't trusted. Like, ‘There’s no way she’s that simple, there’s gotta be something for her.’ … Enough people have maybe experienced something with me and so now it’s almost like the reputations ahead, which is helpful. But there were years when some people didn't understand it, and some people still don't understand me. But it’s so simple. It’s not rocket science, guys. How can we make the day better? How can we make this a better community? How can more people be happy? because I’m pretty darn happy.”
Quality admired most in others: “I am so blessed right now with my key tribe. It is so full of joy. And it’s not because life is easy or they’re always getting their way or anything like that. I think it’s that gratitude piece.” Guilty pleasure: “I do love my wine.” Worst habit: “I get so darn excited about things that I just go full speed into something without necessarily vetting it. That’s not a great habit to have. Whether that’s a purchase—because I was thinking I have a shopping habit—or a commitment or a project. … I go with my instinct and I go hard. It usually works out, but it can also be a really bad habit. Especially if money’s involved! My husband’s like, ‘Really?’ And I’m like, ‘What? It seemed brilliant to fly to Las Vegas to go see Bruno Mars.’” On her bucket list: “Definitely I have a dire draw to get to Barcelona. I don’t know why. (And when the time comes) experiencing being a grandma. I love my stepkids so much.” Home away from home: Useppa Island. —Cayla Childs
See also Gulfshore Life's profile of Christin Collins here.
Just a few years ago, Brian Roland was an up-and-coming chef at M Waterfront Grille, Chops and other local restaurants. He started his catering service, Crave Culinaire, in 2013, then landed a spot on the reality show Restaurant Startup—and he arrived. Roland’s businesses have only grown since then. He’s started Venue Naples, an event space in North Naples that hosts everything from weddings to pop-up dinner nights with some of the area’s best chefs. He calls it his “restaurant without walls,” providing a top culinary experience outside of a set location. While his stint on TV and the resulting publicity sent his star soaring, it’s his commitment to the community that’s grounded him in Southwest Florida. He estimates he’s worked with more than 150 organizations, providing his time for private dinners or cooking classes for auctions (some of which bring in $30,000-40,000). He’s worked closely with the Naples Children & Education Foundation, Golisano Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida and Friends of Foster Children, where he’s co-emceed their annual Boosts and Boogie bash for the past four years. After Hurricane Irma hit, he got cooking—teaming up with the nonprofit Mercy Chefs to create meals for victims, first responders and volunteers. “It’s what I love about the area,” he says. “We have such a diverse group of people willing to give back.” Count him as one.
On his love of cheese
We’ve worked with a woman named Caroline Hostettler. She developed this program called Adopt-An-Alp that we signed up for. We invested in an actual dairy farm, essentially. Now that we’re in with them, every season they send us wheels of cheese. That has been an inspiring thing for us. We just got our first shipment. Pretty soon, we’d like to do an event with cheese. Cheese is a huge thing for me. I love it. I’m big into the softer cheeses like triple-cream brie. Saenkanter—it’s delicious. Caroline turned me on to it.
Why he loves Southwest Florida
We have such a diverse group of people. They're well traveled. They're affluent, and they like to give back. They like to participate in community-involved events, whether that’s in the arts or community focused. It’s just a good community of like-minded people. We love it here.
Craziest thing he’s done: Put life savings into Crave Culinaire. Then put life savings into Venue Naples. Hobbies: Golf, motorcycle riding, stock market trading, exercising. Top travel spots: Napa Valley. “They’re so welcoming when someone from the industry comes out. It’s like the royal treatment.” Best restaurants he’s been to: The Restaurant at Meadowood in Napa, Saison in San Francisco, Alinea in Chicago, Grace in Chicago. Favorite local spots: True Food Kitchen, Tulia, The French, Masa (RIP). Guilty pleasure: Cheese. —Justin Paprocki
See also Gulfshore Life's editorial on Brian Roland here
Dr. Kamela Patton has spent about three decades in education, most of the time in Miami and the last six years as the superintendent of the Collier County School District. But two years as a young college graduate ended up having a great impact on her accomplished career. And it came from an unlikely person: Barry Gibb. She got a job as the Bee Gees brother’s personal assistant soon after graduating Messiah College in Michigan. With her outgoing, vibrant personality, she was a perfect fit for the role. Touring the world, she learned the management and organizational skills she uses today. That time even led her to Gibb’s adopted hometown of Miami. “If it wasn’t for the Bee Gees, I wouldn’t be here,” she says. Her destiny was education, though, not so much show biz. All these years later, Collier is better for it. The district is now one of 11 to receive an “A” ranking from the state. Those touring days are long gone but memorialized in her office in the form of a metal Bee Gees lunchbox—the perfect confluence of her two careers.
Two different groups of people told me this, and I think it’s right. It takes 3-5 years to build the right team around you. You can clearly see by the end of five years the team develop and then you start seeing the successes. What we’ve done collectively as a group to move up in the state rankings has been great.
On getting the job
I had worked in the (Miami-Dade) district 25 years. So many people kept telling me I should be a superintendent. For a lot of people, they knew that’s what they wanted to be. They knew they wanted to be a superintendent. Not me. I don’t look around too much. I just focused on my job. … It’s unusual to apply for a job like this and actually get it. The other issue is that many of the superintendent positions in Florida are elected. Once Collier opened, I thought, “Why not. Let’s try it.”
On work habits
I can choose to invest more in a job because I don’t have kids. My average hours are probably 18 hours a day. It’s my choice to do that. But it allows me to spend time at community events, in schools, in classrooms. You can see first-hand what’s working and what’s great. It’s different to see it yourself rather than just hearing about it.
Hobbies: Movies. “The only thing that absolutely stops me.” (Favorites: For the Love of the Game, American President) What she loves about Southwest Florida: “Our weather is great. You can’t deny that. But, really, it’s a unique community. People support our education to no end. Everyone comes together for the collective good.” On her bucket list: “Visit the oval office. I don’t care if it’s to vacuum the oval office. … What a spot in history.” Ideal dinner party guests: Abraham Lincoln, Steve Jobs, Kevin Costner, astronaut Scott Kelly. Dream job (outside of education): Today Show anchor. —Justin Paprocki
Sharon Isern and Scott Michael
Sharon Isern and Scott Michael weren’t too familiar with the Zika virus when it started to spread across the Americas a year ago. Their specialty was dengue, but, as it turned out, the two diseases were similar. Suddenly, they became experts. The husband-and-wife virologists shut themselves in their lab at Florida Gulf Coast University and started studying the mosquito-borne virus. Their hard work has yielded valuable results. They collaborated with dozens of experts worldwide and co-authored a study tracing the roots of the disease that made the cover of science journal Nature. The research will prove valuable if another outbreak ever occurs. In the meantime, the couple is figuring out what to study next. “Science in general is the type of thing where you figure something out, you share your knowledge and then you turn your attention to something else—that you probably don’t know a lot about,” Scott says with a laugh.
First impressions of Southwest Florida
Sharon: We came to interview separately for our jobs. I was at the hotel and got a call. There was a forest fire on campus and they had to postpone the interview. So I rented a car and went down to the Naples beach. I’m from the Caribbean so I know a good beach when I see it. When Scott called, I said, "Don’t mess this up. I love it here." I felt at home in Southwest Florida. I don’t like being landlocked. I need to know there’s a body of water close by.
Sharon: I was good at math, and when you’re young, people always encourage you to go into medicine or engineering or science. I did consider going to art school. But I wasn’t encouraged by my parents. You know, they were worried about how I’d get a job, make any money. I still do a lot of art in my free time, and I tend to incorporate that into the sciences. … One of my images was considered for the cover of Nature. But they ended up going with something of their own.
Hobbies: Sharon: Practicing Taekwondo with a first-degree black belt and avid running. Scott: Playing video games with son. Both: Following the FGCU women’s basketball team. On their bucket list: Travel to Bora Bora and stay in an overwater bungalow. Dining indulgences: Hole-in-the-wall taco stands. Guilty pleasures: Scott: Norman Love ice cream. Sharon: Dutch licorice. Role models: Scott: Two-time Nobel Prize winner Linus Pauling. Sharon: Former colleague and University of Oklahoma professor Gillian Air. Books on their nightstand: Zombie novels, such as Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey. —Justin Paprocki
See also Gulfshore Life's Game Changers, featuring Scott Michael and Sharon Isern, here
Photography by Alex Stafford