Patty and Jay Baker
Jay Baker is sitting on a couch in his New York apartment, describing the kind of people he and his wife, Patty, tend to fund. Dynamic, he says, full of excitement, bounding with energy, people who make things happen. Patty glances at him and interjects like it’s dawning on her for the first time: “That sounds like us!”
The couple, perhaps Naples’ best-known philanthropists, laugh in their merry, full-bodied way. But it’s true. Big dreamers and relentlessly hard workers in their own lives, the Bakers gravitate toward people who want to take something small—a regional theater company, a community hospital, an upstart senior center—and turn it into something grand.
Patty is a Broadway producer, taking shows from script to stage. Jay is the retired president of Kohl’s and, together with his partners, morphed the regional department store into a national powerhouse, with sales surpassing $6 billion at his retirement.
As philanthropists, Patty and Jay had defined the causes important to them—healthcare, the arts, seniors, children—well before they arrived in Naples. They didn’t take long to spot ways to advance those interests. Their first local gift went to The Naples Players to build Sugden Theater before they even purchased a house in town.
Today, their names flank numerous institutions: The Baker Museum at Artis—Naples; the NCH Baker Hospital Downtown; the Baker Theatre and Education Center at the under-construction Gulfshore Playhouse complex; the Baker Senior Center Naples; the Jay & Patty Baker Preschool of the Arts; Baker Park; the Kizzie Theater at The Naples Players, named for their beloved dog. Most of these places didn’t exist when we honored the couple as Men & Women of the Year in 2008. Though they were already making waves for their involvement with Naples Museum of Art (now The Baker Museum), The Naples Players and NCH.
The Baker name does not simply signify financial support. If you get a check from Patty and Jay, you get Patty and Jay along with it. The couple serves on various boards where they help local visionaries achieve their goals and solve challenges. Jay most recently rejoined the NCH board following a dispute between the administration and community doctors. He helped lead the search for a new CEO, and fully satisfied with the board’s find, he and Patty pledged a $20 million matching gift to establish a satellite for the renowned orthopedic Hospital for Special Surgery.
The hands-on approach suits them. “It keeps him young,” Patty says, nudging her husband. He’s 89. She’s 77. Both have the energy of kids and, sitting knee-to-knee, fingers occasionally intertwined, the unabashed love of newlyweds.
They could have waited until they were gone to divvy their estate, but that would have taken the joy out of it. “It’s an amazing feeling to walk into a senior center that has just been built, to walk into a hospital that has radically changed, to see a museum come from nowhere,” Jay says. Patty adds: “The gratification for me is seeing people’s reactions and hearing how what they have in Naples is so great and knowing we’re a part of that.”
— Jennifer Reed
Dr. Alise Bartley
Too often, the people who need mental health services the most are the ones who have the least access to care, whether that’s the child living in poverty or the widowed mother struggling to make ends meet. Counselor Dr. Alise Bartley is making it her job to find those people.
Alise founded the nonprofit Counseling for Community Wellness last August to connect licensed mental health counselors like herself and graduate-level students to local nonprofits to provide counseling services on-site for free. In the first year, they provided about 600 sessions to more than 120 children and adults at organizations such as St. Matthew’s House, Boys & Girls Club of Collier County, Better Together, Valerie’s House and The Immokalee Foundation. “There are so many people who aren’t getting mental health services. But they are involved in other organizations. And they have a really positive relationship with those organizations. That’s how we can reach them,” she says.
Alise and her husband, David, moved to Southwest Florida seven years ago after having successful careers in Ohio—David was the chairman of a bar grating manufacturer, and Alise owned a private marriage counseling practice and taught at the University of Akron, where she received her doctorate. They didn’t know much about Southwest Florida but were intrigued by a story about the Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU) men’s basketball team’s ‘Dunk City’ run in the 2013 NCAA Tournament. Once they visited, they were hooked. “We just fell in love with the community, like so many others who come here,” she says. “I had this incredible feeling of home.”
Before moving to town, the couple made a $1 million donation to FGCU to help establish a community counseling clinic on campus. Once here, Alise stepped in as director. She’s also volunteered in the community, serving on boards for the Golisano Children’s Museum of Naples, Child’s Path, Better Together, and Boys & Girls Club of Collier County.
Alise left the university to start the nonprofit but remains passionate about training the next generation of counselors; two of the organization’s interns received their master’s from FGCU. The program has dual benefits: providing free mental health care for those who need it and allowing young counselors to get hands-on training (ideally, the experience inspires them to stay and work locally).
The goal is to create a model that can be replicated in other communities. The pandemic has brought many mental health issues to the forefront, Alise says, and an organization like Counseling for Community Wellness can help people get the services they need. “We’ve always known that our mental health is fragile,” she says. “During the pandemic, we saw just how fragile we were.”
Claribel Bocanegra didn’t expect to meet Oprah Winfrey when she booked a flight to New York City on a whim to attend the talk show host’s 2020 Vision tour. An impromptu conversation with a stranger at the show about Claribel’s dream to create a haven for young girls in her Southwest Florida community led a woman sitting nearby to offer Claribel her extra VIP ticket and a chance to chat with the television personality. “I shared the vision of Gemstones [in the Making], and [Oprah] just looked at me, and she’s like, ‘They need you,’” she recalls. That was just the push Claribel needed.
Two years ago, Claribel launched Gemstones in the Making, a nonprofit that gives young women a place to congregate and provides emotional support through wellness camps, yoga sessions and access to mental health services while offering education and career development opportunities. “We need strong women, and we have to start now,” she says. “We have to start young so we’re able to have a strong sense of self, step into our power and use our voices to uphold, to protect and to fight.”
Before launching Gemstones in the Making, the Fort Myers resident had partnered with the Foundation for Lee County Public Schools, since 2013, to create LEAD like a Girl, an annual, one-day symposium that brought two girls from every middle and high school in Lee County together to hear female panelists and learn from one another.
Due to her personal experiences dealing with mental health issues, Claribel knew she could offer more consistent support to young women. A Puerto Rican transplant and mother of four, Claribel was raised by a teenage mom. Her family grew up moving from place to place with little stability. She wanted to create the kind of safe space for young girls that she, her mother and her sister never had.
Claribel also started a fund through Florida Gulf Coast University’s Community Counseling Clinic to help teenage girls afford mental health services. She works with the nonprofit community foundation Collaboratory to host fundraising dinners with friends to provide scholarships for girls who don’t qualify for aid due to their immigration statuses. In Fort Myers, she’s on the board of directors for teen mothers’ shelter Our Mother’s Home, where she hosts circles for girls to journal, create vision boards for their futures, and process emotions. Children are at the heart of Claribel’s giving. After Hurricane Ian, she orchestrated to supply donations—diapers, cleaning supplies, clothing items—to two local Head Start centers, which promote school readiness for children from low-income families.
Next up, Claribel launches a yoga and mindfulness conference for middle school and high school girls, at FGCU, entitled Be Bold, Be Brave, Be You. She’ll continue to serve as long as there is a place to do so, and if there’s not, she’ll make one. “Life is not meant to be done alone,” she says. “We have to be actively engaged in creating the community that we want to live in and want to leave behind for our kids.” —Addison Pezoldt
Call it destiny or call it fate, but either way, Naples got lucky when Bob Emfield (the eventual founder of Tommy Bahama) invited Richard D’Amico to visit him throughout the ’80s in Southwest Florida. In 1982, the now-74-year-old Richard had started D’Amico & Partners, a restaurant group that came to dominate Minnesota’s Twin Cities and became synonymous with good taste. “I always thought back then, well, there aren’t enough people in Naples to open a restaurant,” Richard says with a laugh.
Early on, he brought in his brother Larry and friend Paul Smith as partners, and they styled their corporate culture as a famiglia, treating employees as part of their extended clan. After launching more than seven concepts in the Minneapolis area, they decided the time was right to bring their brand of hospitality to Naples, opening Campiello in 1998. That move forever changed the trajectory of Southwest Florida’s culinary landscape, D’Amico & Partners, and Richard’s life (he made his home here and met the love of his life, his wife Amy). “It was personal for the three of us. It was the biggest thing we ever did. We put all of our experience, knowledge, money and creativity into it, and we still do,” Richard says.
The 295-seat restaurant occupies prime real estate on the picturesque Third Street South and continues to draw elbow-to-elbow crowds 25 years later. In 2020, they added The Club Room, a unique entity off an adjacent courtyard with a separate menu and lounge acts. The Continental, a haute steakhouse, debuted a block away in 2015 and remains one of Naples’ most gorgeous restaurants. Ziggy D’Amico’s Whiskey Bar & Diner is their neighborhood spot in North Naples, and at one point or another, the company has owned places on Fifth (Café & Bar Lurcat) and Mercato (Masa).
Richard is especially proud of his team and how some—such as The Continental’s executive chef Andrew Wicklander—have been with them for decades. “I know how good our places are without being a snob,” Richard says, reflecting on his two Third Street restaurants’ inclusion in The Daily Meal’s and OpenTable’s annual top 100 lists. “What’s also really rewarding is seeing people that have worked for you open their own successful places. That tells you you’re doing something right.” The esteemed bunch includes Barry Larkin (Seventh South), Jeff Mitchell (The Local) and Vincenzo Betulia (Campagna Hospitality Group).
Richard’s influence has touched myriad other aspects of Naples life. He was key in developing the Garden of Hope and Courage, an almost 3-acre oasis on NCH Healthcare System’s downtown campus. He and Amy have pursued passion projects with the restaurants, such as creating Humane Society Naples’ Bow Wow Brunch and partnering with the Naples Winter Wine Festival to host the VIP kickoff for one of the world’s premier epicurean events. The company has also generously given back to the community, hosting free suppers in the wake of Hurricane Irma and feeding first responders during the pandemic.
There is an indelible D’Amico footprint on our shores, and Richard is grateful: “It’s become a pretty great food town compared to other cities our size … It feels good to see that change—I’m excited for what’s to come.” —Dorothea Hunter Sönne
John DeAngelis rolls out of bed at 5:45 a.m. onto his knees, head bowed in prayer. He recites Psalms 143:8: Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you. Show me the way I should go, for to you I entrust my life. He works out, spends time with his youngest daughters—13-year-old Jade, whom he and his wife Kelly adopted 11 years ago, and 9-year-old Zara, adopted 8 years ago—and then drops them off at school. He might talk to one of his three grown children on the phone, and he’s in his office by 7:45 a.m. In everything he does, John lives what he preaches: “We always talk about how modeling generosity is really important because it’s contagious,” he says. “We want to set the pace for those around us—people are watching and they want to see what you are saying, if your values are for real.”
The co-founder of DeAngelis Diamond moved to Naples from West Virginia when he was 14, studied at the University of Florida, then returned home and started DeAngelis Diamond with his partner, David Diamond, nearly three decades ago. For the first six months, the duo met every Friday morning and prayed about their budding company, founded with values bookended by faith and integrity. In 2002, a booklet, The Treasure Principle, gifted to John by a pastor, revolutionized how he thought about his work. The main idea: God doesn’t increase your material wealth to bolster your standard of living, but rather, your standard of giving. “I read it in two hours, and I practically highlighted the whole book,” John says.
On a drive down I-75 or Tamiami Trail, you’ll find business after business with DeAngelis Diamond’s fingerprints. Naples’ The Collective, Arthrex’s headquarters and the upcoming Margaritaville Beach Resort Fort Myers Beach all flaunt the company’s handiwork. While John’s more hands-off now with the builds, he still focuses on creating bonds in the community. “We’re going to build a relationship,” John says—and if a building does come out of that, great. “But if not, we’re really in it for the relationship.” The firm often works with nonprofits, spearheading projects like the Naples Children and Education Foundation headquarters, Neighborhood Health Clinic’s 2018 expansion and Ride Nature, a faith-based adventure sports group in Fort Myers. DeAngelis Diamond’s nonprofit contracts guarantee 100 percent of savings—from quicker turnaround times or lower material costs—go back to the nonprofit. They also commit 2 percent of annual earnings to charity, contribute to 50 nonprofits and give employees paid time off to volunteer.
Giving saturates every element of John’s life. Ten years ago, he and Kelly started the Ephesians 3:20 Foundation, a Naples-based nonprofit that assists those who want to adopt. The foundation has helped more than 320 kids find their families. John says adopting their two daughters was the best and hardest thing the couple has done. The experience opened their eyes to the 153 million orphaned children worldwide. “Adopting one child won’t change the world, “ John says. “But for that one child, the world will change, and your world will change.” It also taught the DeAngelises that modeling generosity is infectious, as some of the family’s friends went on to adopt, too. “Our greatest accomplishment won’t be what,” he says. “It’s who.”
Jay Hartington’s family store, Marissa Collections, has represented the crème de la crème of Naples society since 1975. The iconic light pink edifice spans half a square city block in Old Naples.
Even though he’s the only child of founders Burt and Marissa Hartington, it wasn’t preordained Jay would assume his current role as co-owner and CEO. A natural risk taker, Jay cultivated a hyper-growth mindset, studying business at Emory University and working in New York in investment banking and later in corporate Saks Fifth Avenue’s executive program.
He acknowledges it was easy joining Marissa’s—it was already high-performing and there was nothing to fix—but his drive for growth on a professional and personal level wouldn’t let him rest on their laurels. When his parents asked him to come on board in 2007, “I said, ‘I’m good with this, but I’m not just going to take over and run this how we’ve done forever,’” Jay, who was nearing 30 then, recalls. “‘If that’s your expectation, I love you, but I’m not doing that.’”
Fast forward to 2023, and the changes he’s introduced have quadrupled revenues, partly by diving head-first into e-commerce, beauty, menswear and, most importantly, jewelry. With 123 fine jewelry lines, the program has rocketed to the top of the industry, winning the 2022 GEM Award for Retail Excellence (the Oscar for Best Picture in that world).
He’s also initiated tangible expansions, such as purchasing their Marissa building on Third Street South, opening a second location in Palm Beach in 2021 (“When everyone was on the defense in the pandemic, we went on the offense,” he says), and now debuting a capsule collection boutique in the newly renovated The Ritz-Carlton, Naples.
Aside from carrying the mantle of company visionary, Jay is a consummate entrepreneur who seems like he won’t rest until he’s changed the face of the fashion industry or Naples—or both. Beyond the store, he’s partnered with friends to launch several brands, including Ballast (rugged nautical men’s timepieces), MakeupDrop (silicone cosmetic sponges) and RumbaTime (chic, affordable watches). He’s on the retailer advisory council for COUTURE—the nation’s preeminent fine jewelry trade show—and locally, he sits on the Naples Zoo at Caribbean Gardens board, where Jay spearheaded the $25 million capital campaign to fund a new visitor center.
Amidst all that, he married television personality and executive producer Courtney Hansen, and they share a 9-year-old daughter, Holland. “Every minute of my life is planned for the next nine months,” Jay says, thinking about juggling managing the stores, researching and developing Naples real estate projects, and having family time (much is spent at soccer prodigy Holland’s games).
Friends endearingly call him the “Mayor of Young Naples”—he can effortlessly canvas a room no matter a gala or a sports bar, and is a natural at pulling people together and lifting them up. “I say this to my friends a lot. We’re at the age now that we have the capital resources and know-how to bring things we want to Naples,” Jay reflects. “It’s our responsibility to open the restaurants, entertainment or whatever we feel is missing. We’ve been good at philanthropy and involved in our children’s schools. Now we need to put our stamp on the community.” —D.H.S.
Richard LeBer, with his orange Harry Chapin Food Bank ballcap, is a beacon during my visit to the Fort Myers hunger-relief site that’s already fed more than 2.3 million Southwest Floridians this year. Volunteers and staff know his name, and he theirs. It takes us some time to get through the tour, but I’m grateful for lulls in the conversation and the opportunity to let the full scale of the 55,000-square-foot warehouse sink in. Richard points to cardboard-clad meal kits sorted on shelves towering up to the ceiling, ready to ship. He shows me the freezers and fridges stocked with produce, juices, and meats from local grocery stores.
Overhead, the roof still shows signs of Hurricane Ian peeling it back like the lid of a sardine can. The storm, which more than doubled the group’s work, has been one of Richard’s biggest challenges since taking over as president and CEO in 2016. And, that’s considering his team navigated the onslaught of need from Hurricane Irma and COVID-19. But Richard just focuses on meeting the need. “You do what you have to do because there are people out there who need you,” he says. The Harvard Business School graduate preceded his time in Southwest Florida as interim executive director of the Florida Association of Food Banks and vice president at the Atlanta Community Food Bank. Feeding people wasn’t something he sought out; it’s more like the work found him. “I learned how prevalent hunger is and became more and more appalled that in the United States, in the 21st century, that could possibly be the case. Why should anybody ever have to go hungry?” he says.
After weathering Hurricane Irma in 2017, Richard adjusted the organization to be more proactive ahead of major storms. When Ian hit, Harry Chapin had the mechanisms in place to act fast. The food bank entered a complex dance of coordination. Most of their distributions occur through about 170 partner organizations across five counties. About half of those organizations came online in the first week. Harry Chapin swiftly routed 15 to 20 tractor-trailers of supplies daily where needed.
That’s thanks, at least in part, to Richard. In those fraught days after Ian’s devastation, when Richard wasn’t stationed at one of the distribution sites, he drove around. He wanted to see for himself where the damage was, who was hurting, who had a need and how his team could meet it. In the week before the storm, Harry Chapin distributed 400,000 pounds of food. The week after: 1.4 million pounds, totaling more than a million mouths fed. Richard is preparing for their food distribution to nearly double to 50 million pounds annually in the coming years. With an expanding population comes an expanding need, he explains.
Talking about the food bank’s success in recent years, Richard almost always defers to his team of 80 staffers and about 4,000 volunteers—some of whom surround us, motoring forklifts and sorting canned goods as we walk through the warehouse. But Richard is the figurehead, making community connections, doing TV interviews to generate interest and new partnerships, talking with emergency management centers, and pinpointing gaps in the system that Harry Chapin can backfill. “Everybody, everybody, everybody has an occasional lousy Monday morning,” Richard says. “But I never have a day where I don’t know in my soul that I’m doing work that’s worthwhile.” — A.A.
To talk about our region’s growing opera scene without mentioning the soprano who started it all, the pioneering creative behind both Opera Naples and Gulfshore Opera—Steffanie Pearce—would be a big misstep.
In the early 2000s, Steffanie was one of a few dynamic transplants who brought their international experience and New York-honed repertoires to Southwest Florida, fueling some of today’s most popular arts organizations: Kristen Coury’s Gulfshore Playhouse, Karen and Mark Danni’s TheatreZone, and Steffanie Pearce’s first brainchild, Opera Naples. “It’s part of the cultural growth process to go from a vacation-fishing village to a metropolitan area,” she says. “It’s another jewel in the crown for why people would live here.” Before moving to Southwest Florida, Steffanie traveled the world, performing with the historic French company Opéra de Marseille and Opera Philadelphia. She’s belted arias on stage at Carnegie Hall, New York City’s Lincoln Center and at The BuxtonInternational Festival in England.
Though she’s since parted ways with Opera Naples, Steffanie has achieved her goal tenfold, creating a diverse and robust operatic community that spans from Marco Island to Port Charlotte. “We’ve built this network of people across county lines,” Steffanie says. Now, as she celebrates Gulfshore Opera’s 10th anniversary, she’s planning her swan song: to build a community theater space where several performing arts nonprofit groups can collaborate, sharing costs and resources. “A medium-size theater—about half the size of Artis—Naples and Barbara B. Mann, right in between the two—that focuses more on regional production companies, rather than just bringing down the New York shows, is what’s going to make the most impact from this point forward,” Steffanie says. Her sights are set on Estero, the opera troupe’s headquarters town.
Since 2014, Gulfshore Opera has grown to include a flourishing youth Harmony Choir in partnership with local nonprofits such as Youth Haven and after-school programs throughout the tri-county area. She also created the all-female, traveling GO Divas group, with performances at local parks and restaurants to bring opera to new audiences. And, she’s forged collaborations with arts groups, including Marco Island Center for the Arts’ Latin Infusion events and annual concerts with Naples Philharmonic. “My superpower is bringing people together for the greater good,” Steffanie says. “From the beginning of Gulfshore Opera, so many really genuine, goodhearted people came on board and helped to create this very collaborative organization that embraces at-risk kids as much as we do the top 2 percent.”
This season, to mark Gulfshore Opera’s 10th, Steffanie is eager for the return of acclaimed tenor Michael Fabiano (who’s currently in demand at such venues as the Metropolitan Opera), a riveting rendition of Puccini’s classic Turandot and a Beatles-inspired Magical Musical Tour gala at First Presbyterian Church in Bonita Springs. We call for an encore.
About 20 years ago, Michael Wynn was spending most of his days in his office, pouring over spreadsheets for his family’s Sunshine Ace Hardware business. No one in the family got preferential treatment and all had to work their way up the ranks. They were also all subject to the same annual reviews. One year, Michael got some criticism during his review—he needed to get out of the office and into the community more.
The Wynn family has been integral in the development of the city ever since Michael’s great-grandfather Peter Parley Wynn bought the Bayview Inn in 1938. Peter’s son Don Wynn started the city’s first modern supermarket in 1948 and a full-service hardware store a decade later, providing the needed essentials for the growing town. Meanwhile, Don served on the city council and volunteered in numerous organizations. His ethos lives on in the business. As the family expanded their operation, they developed their 10 core values at Sunshine Ace. One is “Care for Your Neighbors.” So, while Michael was obsessing over financial statements, he was not doing his job in full. “A community that grows and prospers is essential to a business that grows and prospers,” Michael now says.
He took the constructive feedback to heart and started volunteering with the YMCA. Over the years, he has served on the boards of Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce, NCH Healthcare System and Florida Gulf Coast University, among others. In 2005, Michael was named president of Sunshine Ace, which now has 13 locations. He’s made generosity part of Sunshine Ace’s business practices—the company provides grants to employees in times of need, and they’ve donated almost $300,000 to their primary charity partner, Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals, since joining with the organization in 2020.
He’s invested in the city’s growth, too. Three years ago, Michael started the East of 41 Coalition, a collective of local leaders aiming to enhance the downtown area near the new Gulfshore Playhouse and Naples Design District. Earlier this year, East of 41 got the city to commit to building a four-level parking garage for Gulfshore Playhouse on land partially donated by the Wynn family. “For years, there’s been a divide downtown between east of 41 and west of 41,” Michael says. “Gulfshore Playhouse and (the parking garage) will connect that divide. It will transform downtown.”
In March, the Wynn Family Foundation made another sizable donation, when they gave $1 million to NCH’s new cardiac care and stroke facility in Downtown Naples—the largest single gift the family has ever made. “This might also be the most significant donation that we’ll make as a family,” Michael says. “The (cardiac care unit) will literally save lives.”
Michael doesn’t see philanthropy as a work obligation so much as a necessity to ensure that Naples remains a great place to live. “We must never take our quality of life in Naples for granted,” he says. “Great communities don’t happen by accident.” —J.P.