Where did you grow up, and where have you spent most of your life? I grew up in the small town of Pekin, Illinois near Peoria, Illinois, but after college at Northwestern University, I married and moved to Buffalo, New York. I lived there nearly all of my adult life.
What best characterizes your life’s work? I would call myself a professional volunteer. For much of my life, I worked with the Junior League, Hospice Buffalo and Leadership Buffalo in Buffalo, NY. I am especially proud of helping to begin Hospice Buffalo in the 1970s. We formed a Speakers Bureau to sell the idea in the city; it took forever to get New York State to allow us to provide services. Ultimately I was on the Hospice Board for 12 years. A few months ago my partner’s sister died in Buffalo, and I was pleased to see her caregivers were women I had trained 39 years ago!
What was the most important factor or experience influencing your character or leadership development in your young life? I have to say life with my mother. She was a committed volunteer always working for the good of others. She died when I was 21, and I continue to try to make her proud of me.
What is the most challenging thing you have ever done? Getting through a divorce was very challenging. However, in terms of accomplishments, I was in the first class of the Chamber of Commerce’s Leadership Buffalo. When the Chamber said there was no longer money for the activity, the first class created and incorporated an independent organization. We especially wanted the organization to be diverse in every way. Ultimately, I became the Executive Director of Leadership Buffalo, Inc. 1988 through 2004.
What do you consider your most significant accomplishment? Adopting ten day old identical twin girls and raising them. Liza and Alex are now 35, one an economist, and one a naval architect; and I have four grandchildren plus Pat’s two.
How long have you lived in Naples? And what is the main reason you moved here? I have been here since 2004 where my sweetheart, Pat Ucci, has had a home for some time. We decided to live here permanently.
What do you believe is the greatest need in Collier County? I think it is jobs for people of all levels of education; and I do not know how this community can make that happen, especially since the real estate meltdown. So many people cannot afford to live here including middle class professionals.
What is an issue you care deeply about? I think it is paralyzing poverty, especially for children. I became involved in Laces of Love, and now I am the de facto Executive Director (officially secretary-treasurer). I met Jeanne Narra Nealon at a workshop for substitute teachers; she was concerned about kids who didn’t have shoes to wear to school. I said I could help begin a 501-c-3 organization to raise money for shoes. Now we are able to provide 5000 pairs of shoes a year in Collier & Lee Counties distributed through school guidance counselors.
What community projects are you currently involved with and what impact have they had on your life? Well, Laces for Love has been my focus, and helping to provide essential shoes to children has meant a great deal to me. In addition I participate in GNL and The League Club.
What has been the greatest outcome for you from being a part of GNL? Definitely it is meeting interesting people with whom I share values. GNL members are accomplished people who also care about the community.
Have you any words of wisdom to share? I would say “be open to opportunities” that come your way. You never know what is going to happen. I hated the substitute teaching; but when I saw kids who sat out of gym class because they didn’t have appropriate shoes, I found a way to make a difference. Do what you can one step at a time.
Photo by Dana Vannoy