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Big Macs and Carson lured her back here

She flew out of Istanbul with her family on Pan American World Airways in 1968, and she brought with her only the things she could fit into one piece of luggage. She arrived in the United States dreaming of a Hollywood life her mother had shown her in magazines. She and her two sisters wore Shirley Temple outfits, but quickly discovered that Farmington, Mo., was a long way from Hollywood.

Deg'er Saner was born in Turkey and, after moving to Missouri as a child, has returned to her native country five times. Still, her love of America kept drawing her back to her new home. She eventually landed in Brandon in 1995 and now owns a successful advertising and public relations business.

Over entrees at Johnny Carino's, I talked to Deg'er (pronounced Dee-Air) about coming to America, raising her two daughters and starting her own business.

Pull up a chair and join us. Tell me about your childhood in Turkey.

I was born in Istanbul. When I was little, we lived right by the Marmara Sea, which connects the Black Sea to the Aegean Sea. My house was about 10 feet from the ocean. That's why my favorite food is seafood. When I see the ocean or any kind of water, I love it. I'm so in my element when I'm by the ocean. I'm a beach nut.

How did you end up going from Turkey to the United States?

My dad is a physician. In 1968, believe it or not, there was a shortage of doctors in the United States. Three or four different states offered him a position. He took a position in Farmington, Mo., at the V.A. Medical Center when I was 9.

How tough was it for you to learn English?

I knew about four words in English. I knew "chair." I knew "ceiling." I knew "fish" and I knew "thank you." When we started school, they didn't really teach us English. They just put us in there. I guess being a kid, you don't really think of learning a different language. You just start hearing it every day and it just starts coming to you.

Were you upset?

No, I was really looking forward to it. My mom was a teacher in Turkey and she used to read a lot about Hollywood movie stars. She grew up with Judy Garland and she loved their outfits. She would show us the pictures.

You got married when you were 19 and returned to Turkey, but you eventually ended up back in the States. What happened?

When we went to Turkey, I got a job at the American consulate because I wanted to use my English. I came back to the United States because I just thought I'm so much a part of this country. Even though I was at the consulate general and I had a lot of diplomat friends and had a good time, I just missed it here. I missed Johnny Carson, and I used to eat McDonald's back then. I missed Big Macs. Now Big Macs are all over Turkey. Isn't that funny?

You went back to college in your mid 30s to get a public relations degree from the University of Tennessee. How did you balance the demands of motherhood and college?

My mom helped me a lot. She came over, and I took, at one point, 21 hours to finish quicker. I was the kind of person young people in college were afraid of. I got all A's, so I ruined their grading curve. But I was so happy I did that. That was a turning point in my life.

After college, you landed a PR job for Koc Bank in Turkey. But again, you came back to the States. Why?

What brought me back were my kids. I wanted a really good education for them and education is really hard overseas. After two years, I actually gave up my job. I didn't want to, but I told my husband we needed to sacrifice. Though my husband opposed it, we moved to Florida. And then we got divorced.

Tell me about On Dee-Air Productions.

I feel like I'm one of a kind in town. I'm able to combine my education, experience and expertise in public relations, marketing and communications with broadcast and video productions. My clients really appreciate the fact that I have the ability to not only produce the commercials or the print ads but I am also involved in media buying to make sure their ads bring results. My business is my baby. It gives me goose bumps just to talk about it.

You talk a lot about honesty and kindness, but I wouldn't say those traits usually rise to the top in the business world. Don't you have to be ruthless?

I don't know how to be ruthless. That's why I'm not a millionaire. If I don't get to stay at the Waldorf-Astoria, that's okay - the Marriott is fine, too. I have a conscience. But, believe me, even though I am kind and pleasant, I am a very strong and confident person.

DESSERT: A postscript from Ernest.

How much does Deg'er love the ocean? Her older daughter, a science teacher at Rogers Middle School, is named Deniz, which is Turkish for ocean. Her younger daughter, Aylin, is a freshman at the University of Tampa. Aylin, by the way, means "moonbeam."