On June 18, 1999, Dawn Jantsch, President of the Naples Area Chamber of Commerce, wrote a letter to each member of Class III explaining that the Chamber had decided to consolidate the Masters Program with its regular Leadership Collier class. We would later learn that only four applicants of the Masters category would be accepted and they would only participate in only three of the sessions. In the letter Ms. Jantsch also apologized for the time and effort that members of Class III had put forth to completely plan all of the sessions for the following Masters Class (47 applicants were being considered, speakers had been engaged, and locations had been confirmed).

The Chamber Cancels the Program

Before we actually had a chance to read the letter, the merger was announced in the Naples Daily News on the morning of June 19. With lightening-speed efficiency, Carl Bontemps, who had been designated as the leader of Class IV, and Tucky Ramsey, participant of Class III, contacted members of Class III who were in Naples at the time and asked them to come to a meeting that afternoon at Carl’s home to discuss this development. All available members attended this meeting. We reviewed a fax that Dean Van Nest had sent to Ms. Jantsch earlier that day stating our extreme disappointment and protesting the cancellation of the Masters Program. He indicated that the Chamber’s objective was being met by stating,

“Without question I think we were just getting underway on a program which could make more significant contributions to the betterment of Collier County than any other effort in the past. We were addressing the huge pool of talent out there who had made significant community contributions in other areas of the country. The program focused the attention and interest of these men and women on our local problems and issues so that they hopefully could become involved in Collier County.”

At that same meeting on June 19, following Carl Bontemps’ pronouncement “this will not stand,” we decided to commit to carry on the Masters Program, and attendees were given assignments to begin exploring ways to carry out this commitment. In the meantime, we would make one last appeal to the Chamber to rescind its decision to merge the Masters Program into the Leadership Collier program. They declined.

Class III Decides to Rebuild

We met again on June 21 and with great enthusiasm and passion decided to forge ahead to continue the Masters Program in its original format. We developed the following mission statement:

“To introduce and inform individuals with proven career success to the issues and needs in Collier County, to strengthen their commitment to this area and to encourage the use of their skills in bettering the community.”

This mission statement would later be revised as follows:

“To provide proven leaders with a unique opportunity to learn firsthand about the issues and needs in Collier County and to encourage the use of their skills in bettering the community.”

Carl Bontemps informed the Chairman of the Naples Area Chamber of Commerce, J. Michael Coleman, of our decision by letter, asking the Chamber to assist us in a cooperative spirit in finding an appropriate sponsor, to release to us the forty-seven applications for Masters Class IV, and to bestow their blessing on our mission.

The Chamber Declines Help

On June 24, Carl received a very disappointing reply from Mr. Coleman, who insisted that the cancellation of the Masters Program was nothing more than a series of changes they had been planning since its inception. Coleman urged Class III participants to give that change the time it needed to see whether it would be effective. He went on to state:

“The Chamber of Commerce has plans for the Leadership Collier Masters Program next year. For that reason, we cannot and will not agree to allow anyone else to use the name Leadership Masters in any way. We feel that the creation of a new program such as Leadership Masters would be a detriment to the existing Leadership Collier Program. For that reason, we would not be willing to allow the Leadership Collier Masters Program to be sponsored by another organization. In addition, we are not willing to release any of the applications which have been received for what would have been Leadership Collier Masters Class IV. We have already combined the two programs and some of the applicants for the Leadership Collier Masters Class IV have been invited to be members of the next Leadership Collier class. We would ask that you, your classmates, and fellow Masters Alumni to refrain from taking any action regarding the creation of a new Leadership Masters type program until we have the ability to determine whether the merger of the two programs will be successful.”

GNL is Formed

Members of Class III ignored this roadblock and got busy to perform the various functions involving the birth of a new entity. A series of meetings arranged by Tucky Ramsey in the home of Carl Bontemps (which we dubbed “The Clubhouse”), where we enjoyed cookies, coffee and camaraderie. Dean Van Nest, who had been leader of Class III, remained involved via fax, conference calls, and discussions with the Chamber of Commerce. As a result of the efforts of those three great leaders and classmates of Class III, Greater Naples Leadership, Inc. (GNL) was incorporated on July 6, 1999 under the auspices of the National Association for Community Leadership. Ned Sachs used his legal expertise to write new by-laws to qualify GNL for not-for- profit 501(c)3 status. Lacey King used her writing skills to become editor of the first GNL newsletter, assisted by Daphne Pfaff’s computer skills. Kathleen Slebodnik volunteered to be the interim treasurer, Tucky Ramsey formed the Alumni Association, and Daphne began producing the first directory.

A Board of Directors was appointed from Class III members as follows:
Carl W. Bontemps, President
Ned R. Sachs, Vice President
Daphne Pfaff, Secretary
Thomas G. Schneider, Treasurer
Directors Jeannette Boucher, Rollie Comstock, Claire V. Hansen, Lacey King, Peggy Lane, William R. MacIlvaine, Peter L. Manion, Tucky P. Ramsey, George J. Schroll, Kathleen Slebodnik, and Joanne Wyss.

An Advisory Board was also formed, which included community leaders and members of Masters Classes I and II, as follows: Kim Anderson, Fay Biles, Frank Blanchard, Robert Chartrand, Lu Drackett, Jackie Frank, Michael McComas, Michael Minozzi, Edwin J. Putzell, Jr., Dean Van Nest, Henry Watkins III, Parke Wright III, and Corbin Wyant.

GNL Launches

By August 10, we were up and running and the first President of Greater Naples Leadership, Carl Bontemps, wrote a letter to alumna on GNL stationery asking for their support of our new organization. Thirty-three participants were selected for Class IV. Jerri Stanley, who had previously worked for the Chamber of Commerce, was hired as Program Coordinator. Lacey King, Peter Manion and Peggy Lane volunteered to act as observers and critics of the sessions to ensure they maintained the quality of previous years.

It is with great pride that these leaders now recognize that Greater Naples Leadership has become the organization they envisioned, one that seeks to maximize the diverse talents of those coming into the community quickly and seamlessly for the benefit of the community. Over the past few years, with the assistance of a GNL sub-committee, the Chamber of Commerce and GNL have been working together on several joint initiatives. GNL is now an associate member of the Chamber and numerous GNL graduates serve on both the Chamber and Chamber Foundation boards working together for a better community.  [contributed by Lacey King, Class III]