People to Watch
Dr. Kirk Conrad
Dr. Kirk Conrad isn't new to Sarasota (he grew up wind-surfing in Brandon and summered on Casey Key), but the 36-year-old neurointerventional radiologist-one of only 150 in the country-brought new hope to stroke victims when he arrived at Sarasota Memorial Hospital a few months ago.
In the past, many stroke victims weren't diagnosed in time to receive the best treatment, a drug called TPA that could reduce permanent damage if administered within three hours of a stroke. Conrad can hold that window open a few hours longer by using minimally invasive microcatheters to treat aneurysms and tumors that previously required open surgery.
"I've seen people whose entire side has gone limp regain full movement," says Conrad, who completed his residency in diagnostic radiology at the University of Chicago. He followed that with fellowships in endovascular neurosurgery and neurointerventional radiology at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, where he remains a clinical assistant professor.
"It's not a trivial endeavor to get someone like me in here," he admits. Sarasota Memorial helped persuade him by providing a $2 million operating room with about $400,000 of special equipment. Besides, adds the newly engaged and house-hunting Conrad, "I always wanted to come back. Sarasota has always held a special place in my heart."-Pat Haire
As the new executive director of the Florida Gulfcoast AIA, Glenn Braverman, 43, hopes to bring Sarasota's architects together, harmonize its "cacophony of style" and "make people feel strongly about Sarasota being the center of modern architecture," he says.
With his easy charm, good looks and hip sensibility, Braverman may be just the guy to tackle those ambitious goals. He started his professional life as a history teacher in a prep school in his native New England. But when he began marketing overseas programs for MCI in Asia, his career skyrocketed. Soon he was overseeing projects in three countries with a $50 million budget, a "wonderful, but crazed" life that he left after the birth of his first daughter in 1996. After a stint in private consulting and working for Time Warner in Tokyo, Braverman started his own telecommunications business and moved his family to Siesta Key, determined to put down roots outside the corporate world.
His business takes him to Miami and Tokyo often, but he cherishes beach time and home life here with his wife and two young daughters. And he relishes the challenge of helping to increase the AIA's membership, finances and outreach, with more lecture series, exhibits and seminars to interest the public in how architecture defines a city's style. "I want to ensure we don't just put this Mediterranean Revival, Naples blueprint on the city," he says.
ANGELA MASSARO-FAIN AND JOHN FAIN.
She's a fast-talking Italian-American from New Jersey. He's a calm Southerner from Kentucky. With her fine art degree, she started her own marketing company in her 20s; he worked his way up the corporate ladder, marketing products and launching brands. But when Angela Massaro-Fain and John Fain put their business acumen together, sparks flew. The result is a finish-each-other's-sentences marriage and a Sarasota marketing firm, Grapevine Communications, that in less than two years has won 18 awards and 65 clients, including John Cannon Homes, Comcast Cablevision and Westfield Shopping Center, and will soon move into its own 3,500-square-foot office building in Lakewood Ranch.
Massaro-Fain named the company after her grandfather, who made wine every summer from grapevines in his yard. But "I got my business savvy from my mom," she says. "She taught me how to be fair, to treat people well, pay them well, and be tough when you have to be."
She started Grapevine Communications in Montreal but sold it to Interstate Polymer, where Fain worked at the time. In 1998, the pair moved to Sarasota and re-established the company in 2002. Here, they've put down roots, raising their eight-year-old daughter and donating services and expertise to groups such as Florida Winefest & Auction and the Sarasota Young Professionals Group.
` "There was a real need for a full-service agency in this market," says Massaro-Fain. "We had lived here as part of the corporate world, but to own a business was a big change. Sarasota has been wonderful to us."
-By Anu Varma
When Hans Wohlgefahrt, 28, was a child, his father would take him to the movies in the afternoons. "It was his idea of babysitting," jokes Wohlgefahrt. As a Palmetto High school student, he worked in a video store and watched five movies a night, and while attending Manatee Community College, he produced low-budget horror movies. So working as education and outreach coordinator for the Sarasota Film Festival seems like a natural evolution. Under his enthusiastic shepherding, the festival has doubled education and outreach attendance to 8,700 participants, and he's planning to increase that number with future screenwriting competitions and a daylong family street festival.
The son of a tightrope walker and an acrobat, Wohlgefahrt spent his first five years in the circus, until his parents settled down here so he could attend school. As a college student enamored by Eudora Welty and William Faulkner, he moved to Mississippi to study Southern folk art before returning to Florida and earning a degree in art history. He writes scripts in his free time, and also taught screenwriting at Ringling School of Art and Design and film production at MCC.
For a people person with a creative bent, spreading the word about the Sarasota Film Festival and encouraging local filmmakers is a passion. "Film is a uniter; everyone loves film," Wohlgefahrt says.-By Anu Varma
If Islam has a face in Sarasota, it may be that of dapper, courteous Hytham Bakr. After 9-11, the 48-year-old Bakr frequently spoke to community groups to clear misconceptions about his religion. And now that the county has rejected plans for a new mosque for the Islamic Society of Sarasota and Bradenton, Bakr, a member of the society's board, is once again speaking out for his faith and its followers.
Born in Alexandria, Egypt, Bakr has degrees in architecture and civil engineering and spent eight years with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers before starting his own construction consulting company. In the office of Bakr Group, LLC., he keeps the architectural drawings for the mosque the society had hoped for, which called for two 80-foot minarets and a 62-foot dome. The commission asked the group to instead design something that does not top 40 feet and probably will not have minarets at all.
"We're still in shock," says Bakr, especially since the county has never before limited the height of any house of worship. But he says he's heartened by letters of support, including donations, which have flooded in from the community. And for a man who has put down roots here-he and his wife, Diane, support a number of local causes and have two young children-it's important to take a stand. "When you have kids, you want them to be educated [in their faith]," says Bakr. "We hope to have a full-time school in the future."-By Anu Varma
Dr. Kevan Main
"The ocean is the most important protein source in the world," says Kevan Main, 51-year-old director of Mote Marine Laboratory's Center for Aquaculture Research and Development. But, she adds, "It's not limitless." The California-born marine biologist, who has organized nearly a dozen international conferences on the subject, warns that we're already depleting fish populations in the world's oceans.
Main originally planned a career as a museum biologist, but her heart lay undersea. "There are just so many neat animals that live in the ocean," she explains. With 15 years' experience in the aquaculture of Asia, the Pacific Islands, the Gulf of Mexico, California and Hawaii (she admits to dragging her two children all over the world), Main is overseeing an ambitious project to breed fish at twice their normal rate so they can be farmed for human consumption.
Farming seafood is fairly common; Main's husband, Kenneth Leber, has run Mote's Center for Fisheries Enhancement for years. But altering growth patterns is new science. It's also complex, requiring "from 5 to 15 years to develop a method to grow a single species of fish in a cost-effective manner," says Main.
Mote is moving the technology 20 miles inland to its new aquaculture center on Fruitville Road. "Florida has the perfect temperature and environmental regime for aquaculture," Main says. And although land-based fish farming is still a decade away, she insists, "This is going to be the way people receive a lot of their seafood, and Sarasota will be where this technology gets developed."-Pat Haire
In February, when nearby construction forced the move of Sarasota's Farmers Market from its longstanding location on Lemon Avenue to Pineapple, 29-year-old Kindra Koeck managed to quickly find and coordinate enough space to accommodate 40 vendors and parking for a few thousand shoppers.
During the transition, Koeck and Matt Orr, who helped manage the move, showed up at 4 a.m. to help quell the fears of vendors-many had opposed the new location-and the market became a resounding success. Now she's pushing for year-round commitments from vendors so the market stays full during Sarasota's off-season, and says she'll step in again if another move becomes necessary.
But managing the farmer's market is only one of Koeck's jobs; she's also a real estate agent and co-founder of Movies and Shakers, a not-for-profit aimed at young film fans looking for social activities during Sarasota's slow summer season. The funds raised through local movie screenings at area restaurants support grants to aspiring filmmakers.
"I guess it's a good thing I started so early," says Koeck, a communications major who earned her real estate license at 19 and sold the first million-dollar home in Palmetto last year. The New Jersey native is a member of the Young Professionals Group; and as co-chair of the Committee for Economic Development's cultural cluster, is working to promote and attract creative workers and businesses here.
"I've decided to plant myself here and make an impact on this community," she says.-Pat Haire
When North Port city manager Mark Roath entered public service, someone told him, "Get yourself a bowl of marbles. Every time you make a decision, take one marble out. When you get to the bottom of the bowl, start sending out resumés."
Roath, a 55-year-old Midwesterner who came from the quiet college community of Oxford, Ohio, in 2000, is the city's fourth city manager in 12 years. And since a manager's average job span is only three to five years, he may not have a lot of time to use those marbles. What makes the job so stormy? North Port's rapid growth is forcing change, as younger, more ethnically diverse newcomers join its conservative, older working-class retirees. And developers are eyeing its 55,000 undeveloped lots the way a cat stalks a plump mouse.
"Growth along the Florida coast is saturated," explains Roath, a laid-back Peace Corp veteran who holds degrees in political science and law. "So there's a trend toward moving inland where land prices are significantly lower, but still near coastal waters and big urban centers." To answer demand (the city issued more than 600 building permits in March alone), the city has annexed much nearby land for five years, prompting concerns over whether its infrastructure can support so much growth.
"We have growing pains," Roath acknowledges, "and I don't see that changing any time soon. But I believe that North Port has a great future." He just may need a bigger bowl of marbles to get it there.-Pat Haire
As a 34-year-old of Cuban and Puerto Rican heritage whose office is decorated with Buddha figures, Chicago's "Cows on Parade" collectibles and a bead curtain rendition of Gustav Klimt's The Kiss, Maureen Avila may not seem like the typical Sarasota attorney. But in many ways this feisty family law practitioner (she did so well by one Longboat Key woman during her divorce that the ex-husband's new wife called Avila when she decided to divorce him) is an example of a new kind of Sarasota professional: young, Hispanic, educated and eager to stir the political stew.
Avila studied law in Delaware and decided early that family law was her avenue of choice. "Dealing with people's money and children-those are the most important things. It's rewarding to help people through the most difficult period in their lives."
That belief has driven the spirited Avila to also serve on the United Way's board of directors, sponsor her nephew's basketball team and serve as former chair of the Latin Chamber of Commerce and on the steering committee for Focus on Leadership. She's also campaigning for C.J. Czaia, Democratic candidate for the 13th Congressional District.
Meanwhile, Avila herself is running for the board of the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, with intentions to focus more of that organization's attentions on the smaller local chambers such as Sarasota. She doesn't expect that will be easy, but, she says, "I'm not shy about a good fight."-By Anu Varma
At 17, Paula Creamer is sure of her goal: "I want to be the number one player in the world," says the David Leadbetter Golf Academy student. "And if I turn pro, I want to win my first year out there. Those are lofty goals, but I mean what I say, and I'm going to do everything I can do to get there."
Like many future sports stars who train at Bradenton's famed IMG Academies, this California native has the chops to back her claim. The American Junior Golf Association's Heather Farr Classic Champion, she qualified for the U.S. Women's Open in 2003; and Golfweek Magazine described her 2003 record as perhaps the greatest year by any junior golfer ever, male or female.
Creamer first hit the greens when she was 10 with her father, an American Airlines pilot, and by the time she was 13, had quit gymnastics and dance to devote herself to golf. She visited IMG Academies for a week in eighth grade, and when she returned to California, "I went into withdrawal," she says. So the family moved to Bradenton, where Creamer attends class (she's a junior), trains every afternoon, plays tournaments and finds time to catch a movie and plan prom night with friends.
Though she's intensely focused and competitive, traits she says she imbibed from her Annapolis-trained father, what stands out are her poise and affection for her parents.
"They hold me up," she says. "They're my biggest fans. As long as we stay together, we can live anywhere. They've done so much for me, the least I can do is play good golf."-By Anu Varma
When Teresa Stanley was nine years old, she stood inside a Panama City, Fla., church and sang Give Me a Clean Heart. She was startled by the audience's enthusiastic response. "It was so strange because I was giving to the people and the people gave back so much," she recalls. "I just burst into tears."
Five years later, after she and her mother had moved to Sarasota, Stanley stood in front of local theater legend Nate Jacobs, trying to win the plum role of Luttiebelle Gussimae Jenkins in Jacobs' production of Purlie. "I was a nervous wreck," she says. "Paper shaking, hands shaking."
But Jacobs saw something and sent her home with the play's soundtrack; a week later, she won the role with her rendition of I Got Love. After her debut performance, Sarasota Herald-Tribune theater critic Jay Handelman asked Jacobs, "Who is this girl?"
Stanley has since performed in local productions of Showboat, Ain't Misbehavin' and The Cotton Club Cabaret, her velvet voice crooning melodies with the whisper of a saxophone one moment, then blaring it like Gideon's trumpet the next. "There are very few female singers in town who can compete with her," says Jacobs. Now 22, Stanley has already impressed one Hollywood producer and a casting director in New York who declared that she was destined for success. "Right now, Sarasota has her," Jacobs says. "But I don't expect her to be around for very long."-Pat Haire
Barely three months into his job as executive editor at the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Mike Connelly is already talking about suing the state. The newspaper's investigation into whether all local students receive the same quality of education hit a wall when legislators passed a law denying access to teachers' Social Security numbers, the only way to track such information.
"Look for a court battle," warns the feisty 46-year-old Iowan, who cut his teeth in journalism at the Wall Street Journal and spent six years at the Congressional Quarterly. With 22 years in the business, he's ready to take on the Herald-Tribune's Web site, TV station (SNN6) and seven daily print editions, including a bureau in Manatee County where it battles the Bradenton Herald.
With a circulation of more than 106,000, the Herald-Tribune ranks among the nation's top 100 daily newspapers. "In the face of nationally falling circulations, they have actually increased this newsroom," says Connelly, a workaholic whose 12-hour days ceased only after his wife and two daughters arrived this summer from Maryland.
He adds that in the future, successful newspapers "will spend less time telling you what happened yesterday and more time diving into things that change the community." He's also determined to address the shift in Sarasota's population from one of affluence to more working class.
"So much coverage grows out of meetings and agendas, police reports," says Connelly. "But a lot of things that affect people's lives happen outside public buildings. This is a vibrant, exciting place, and it deserves vigorous coverage."-Pat Haire