Q: How long have you lived in Hernando County, and where do you live? Where did you live previously?
A: I was born on Long Island, N.Y., and raised in Syosset, Long Island. In the mid 1970s, I moved to Manhattan, where I lived and worked for 13 years before moving to Florida in December 1987. Married at the time, we settled in Weeki Wachee. Today I live in Hernando Beach.
Q: Who are the members of your family?
A: I have two sisters. Valerie lives on the west coast of Washington state with her husband, and Diane lives on Long Island with her husband and family. We lost our only brother, Jim, in 2011.
Q: Tell us about your career.
A: I began working in retail management and moved to hospitality management while living in New York — primarily working in smaller restaurants, but I worked in a few corporate restaurants as well.
We moved to Florida to go into business with my husband's family. They owned a retail janitorial supply business at the time. Even after we formed the partnership, I continued to work part time in the hospitality industry to help make ends meet. When the marriage ended, so did our business partnership. After that, I continued on with my career, managing in the hospitality industry.
In March of 2000, I was hired by the Greater Hernando County Chamber of Commerce as its membership representative. I held the position for four or five years until I was named director/president and chief executive officer.
Q: Tell me more about that.
A: Originally, my job at the chamber encompassed membership development, branding/marketing the chamber to Hernando County business community and assisting small business owners and entrepreneurs through the maze of resources offered by the state, county and numerous business organizations.
When word came that executive director Jacqueline Morris would be retiring in November 2004, I decided to apply for the open position. I was one of 20 candidates that interviewed with the board-appointed search committee. As a resident, business owner and business manager in Hernando County since 1987, I was fortunate to have the knowledge of both the business community and the chamber membership, so it seemed like a natural fit. I must have interviewed well; I was hired and started Jan. 2, 2005.
Seven years later, a lot has changed. The good news is the chamber, like many organizations, has survived the recession and is still the only chamber in Hernando County. Over the years, membership has fluctuated — as high as 1,450 members and down to 950 members.
In 2008, the chamber purchased a building in the Airport Industrial Park. We celebrated in March of 2010 with a grand opening as we moved into our newly renovated headquarters. Throughout the years, we have formed strong partnerships with both county and business organizations to support economic development and foster entrepreneurship in Hernando County.
The chamber offers education, networking and marketing opportunities while building valuable relationships. For information about becoming a member and taking advantage of the many benefits chamber membership offers, visit hernandochamber.com or call (352) 796-0697. And don't forget to ask about the member-to-member discount program.
Q: What kinds of activities are you involved in now?
A: The chamber keeps me pretty busy, but I make time to serve on the board of several other organizations, including Oak Hill Hospital, the Nature Coast Healthy Living magazine and the Chamber Education Training Association. I'm an advisory board member of the Small Business Development Center at the University of South Florida, and I am incoming president of the Kiwanis Club of Brooksville.
Q: Do you have any special hobbies?
A: I love gardening. In 1995, after completing the class requirements, I became a certified Master Gardener. I also love anything to do with water, especially boating, swimming and kayaking. I enjoy bike riding and reading (mostly business periodicals) as well.
Q: What are your favorite things to do in Hernando County?
A: I'm blessed to have some really great friends who enjoy exploring new local restaurants and small eateries with me. I also like to prepare dinner in my home for close friends. I'm lucky to live in a great neighborhood; it's peaceful — very quiet and relaxing. Most weekends I can wave to neighbors barbecuing in their back yards. They're all very friendly.
But my favorite thing to do, the time when I'm at my happiest, is when I'm out on the water.
Q: What do you think would make Hernando County a better place to live?
A: I believe we, as a community, need to change our message or the story of Hernando County. We need to portray to outsiders, the more positive aspects of our community.
Hernando County has great leaders. We have great teachers, passionate residents who volunteer, and nonprofit organizations and groups making a difference in our community every day. That's what we need to share to outsiders. And it starts with each one of us.
Developing a positive foundation in order to change the direction of our county is essential for the betterment of residents and businesses. People want to live in a place that has a positive image.
Q: Tell us something about yourself that most people don't know.
A: I think I was destined to work in a chamber of commerce. As children, my mother always told us kids if we didn't shop in and support our own town — Syosset, N.Y. — the businesses would close and we would have to go to another town to do our shopping. She would always tell us to "shop locally," and now, 40-plus years later, I am saying the same thing.
Hernando Neighbors is an occasional feature of the Hernando Times. Do you know someone who would make a good profile? We'd like to hear from you. Contact Jean Hayes, community news coordinator, at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1438.