The Zoom Issue
Conversations with Our Alumni
Never done or known before.
To Our Leadership Pasco Family,
As president of Leadership Pasco in these
unprecedented times, despite extensive leadership
experience facing difficult challenges,
I was shaken, felt inadequate, and even
scared, at the prospect of being in charge. Feeling uncertain, as to how to proceed
in my leadership role, I felt compelled to share my apprehension with my peers on
the Leadership Pasco Board. The result was a resounding affirmation of my feelings
of apprehension and fear. Hearing others, whom I respect and admire, share the
same feelings gave me comfort I was longing for in these unprecedented times.
As a leader, and an alumnus of Leadership Pasco, I encourage you to reach out to
your classmates and share your fears and concerns in your leadership roles. And, I
assure you, you will find the same support and comradery I discovered amongst our
Board of Directors. The challenges and decisions we face are made surmountable
when we honestly and sincerely share our fears. I am blessed to have a Board of
Directors that chose not to judge, but instead shared their feelings of apprehension.
Welcome to our Zoom issue, and please know our Board has been safely meeting
online since April, and the attendance and participation has been fantastic. On
October 8, we had our very first virtual alumni social and Pasco County trivia game
which was organized by Laura Raposa '19 and Angie Gardner '11. It was a great opportunity
to bring our alumni and even a few applicants for Class of 2022 together
in a safe and comfortable way. In fact we have twelve applicants for the next class
and have begun engagement with other interested leaders. Before the end of the
calendar year, we will really start building an amazing group of diverse applicants
to kick-off the next program year.
Many thanks to Amanda Hart '14 and Angel Cook '18 who have organized an in
person Class of 2020 graduation for December 1. The event is planned to be a safe
and fun event, with use of a large space at Spartan Manor, social distancing, and
other safety measures. Look for an official email about the event around November
Thank you for your patience and encouragement, as we re-group, plan, and continue
to support and expand our mission.
Don Anderson, Class of 2016
President, Leadership Pasco
CEO, Coalition for the Homeless of Pasco County, Inc.
SINCE 1991, THE MISSION OF LEADERSHIP
PASCO is to identify and recruit current or potential
leaders of Pasco County, facilitate the development
and interaction of those leaders, and to foster
an issues-oriented learning environment for these
leaders and the citizens of Pasco County in order to
encourage an exchange of ideas and generate enthusiasm
for community growth and development.
The Leadership Pasco Newsletter is published quarterly.
Please direct correspondence about this publication
to Leadership Pasco, P.O. Box 695, Elfers, FL,
34680. Readers also may reach staff by sending an
email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Amanda Hart '14
Jason Longo '17
J. David Wright '20
(Leadership Pasco class days)
Don Anderson '16, President
Manny Long '16, President Elect
Tara O'Connor '16, Secretary
Chuck Anderson '20
Nichole "Nikki" Alvarez-Sowles '13
Carla Armstrong '14
Stefanie Ambrosio Pontlitz '13
Angel Cook '18
Angie Gardner '11
Brendan Gorman '18
Kim Hamm '15, Immediate Past President
Amanda Hart '14
Crystal Lazar '13
James Mallo '12
Tara O'Connor '16
Thomas O'Connor Bruno '20
Leah Peake '19
Joseph Poblick '14
Laura Raposa '19
Kim Rymanowski '19
James Walters '15
John Willis '15
© Leadership Pasco. All rights reserved.
FALL 2020 NEWSLETTER
2 6 12
Nikki Alvarez-Sowles '13
Thomas O'Connor Bruno '20 and Kera
Craig Laporte '06 and Captain James
Stefanie Pontlitz '13
Kim Rymanowski '19
Kurt Conover '92
Bay to Bay Roofing
Bene's Career Academy
Blackjack Media Group
Clearwater Gas System
Greater Dade City Chamber of Commerce
Greater Pasco Chamber of Commerce
Land O' Lakes High School Culinary Arts Program
Laporte, Mulligan & Werner-Watkins, P.A.
Medical Center of Trinity
O'Connor Law Group, P.A.
Oliver & Fox PA
Pasco County Clerk & Comptroller
Pasco Economic Development Council
Pasco Education Foundation
Pasco County Sheriff's Office
Pasco Hernando State College
Pontlitz Asset Advisors
Ralph the Lawyer
Regional Medical Center Bayonet Point
Saint Leo University
Simpson Environmental Services, Inc.
TECO Energy, Inc.
Time Trap Escape Room
United Way of Pasco County
Catching Up with Nikki Alvarez-Sowles '13, Pasco
County Clerk and Comptroller
By Jason Longo ’17
You mentioned the community aspect. What was your
Our project was helping NAMI, the National Alliance
on Mental Illness. This was right after the Sandy Hook
Elementary School shootings. It was very upsetting, and
it stemmed from a mental illness. My class wanted to
help NAMI and get the word out about the organization
and its local impact.
When you went through the program, what was your
position in the Pasco County Clerk of Courts Office?
I was the Chief Operations Officer.
What stood out for you in your Leadership Pasco experience
when you were a class member?
In Leadership Pasco you learning about Pasco County.
You get to know the industries in Pasco County from
governments to small businesses to big businesses, and
you get a really good lay of the land. That's great. But in
addition to that, what I got out of it was connecting with
the people in my class and creating lifelong relationships.
That is priceless. My class was very small. I think
'13 had 26 people all together, but we bonded very well,
and we will remember this experience for the rest of our
lives, which really means a lot to me. And as a group,
we worked on something that helped our community. It
was a lot of work, and through overcoming challenges
together, we formed great relationships while giving back
to our community. And it's giving- back that meant a great
deal to me. I did not want the experience to end. I wanted
more. So, I joined the Leadership Pasco Board and have
been a board member ever since.
You had worked closely with your predecessor Paula
O’Neill. I’m sure she was a wonderful model for the
job, but did her success make you feel even more under
the lens? If so, how long did that last?
I was hired by Jed Pittman in 2007, and then Paula
became Clerk in 2009. After she became Clerk, she
promoted me to the criminal director position. Not long
after, in 2010, she promoted me to Chief Operations Officer,
which I held until I became Clerk last summer. As
COO, I oversaw every aspect of the Office. Since 2010, I
had the opportunity to gain experience about everything
this Office does. That prepared me to take over and lead
the Office. On day one, I never felt under the lens; I felt
prepared. I think part of Paula's plan was to make sure
she had someone able and willing to hand the reins over
to. I believe that's what ended up happening.
Did she give you any memorable advice, or what did
you observe that you also model?
When I think about Paula, I think about grace under pressure.
I think about connecting with the community and I
think about service with compassion. Paula and I worked
very well together because I try to live my life by those
tenets and she was just a great example of that.
When I began practicing law -- this was in the early
2000s -- I was good at what I was doing, but it wasn't
making me happy. It didn't fill my cup up. I felt like there
was so much more that I could do rather than litigate
cases. Something was missing. I really thought long and
hard, about, "How can I use my law degree to fill my
2 FALL 2020 NEWSLETTER
cup in a way that feels more satisfying?" The law firm was
great in that I could do a lot of community work. Through
that work, I found that I like to help make things better
in my community. I realized in local government you can
have an impact in your community. So that's what I did. I
got into local government in 2006, then I was hired in 2007
here, and every day I get to make an impact on our community.
I feel so privileged to be able to do that. Our Office
provides public safety and human services to our community.
It's very important. I get to touch people's lives every
day utilizing my education and my experience. Being able
to have grace under pressure and serving with compassion
and connecting with community -- that's where it is for me.
Tell us about your family.
They're amazing. The kids are the loves of our lives. I love
my family. My husband, Kevin, and I met when I was 19.
We dated for a long time and got married when I was 26.
We celebrated 20 years this year. It's been so great, and I
gave away my age here! That's okay.
Who is in your former position?
Another Leadership Pasco alumna, Kim Thompson. Kim
has a lot of experience in the clerk's world. She came
from the Palm Beach Clerk's Office, and I think she's has
close to 20-years of experience in the clerk's office. She's
What is the philosophy of how the Leadership Pasco
program is important to employees of the clerk's office?
That's a great question. It's the kind of the thing that everybody
wants to do in my office. Every year we figure out
who's been here the longest now and try to give everyone
an opportunity to be in Leadership Pasco. The connections
you get from each class are amazing. It expands our network
to reach the people we serve. Learning about Pasco
County from the ground up and from the Green Swamp
to the Gulf Coast -- that's invaluable. It's also important to
involve yourself in something bigger than yourself. The
class project was so rewarding in that capacity.
How has your office changed since COVID?
Our office never closed during the pandemic. The courts
did close for a bit, but not our office. Gov. DeSantis declared
Clerk's offices to be providers of essential services,
and our team totally agreed. We must remain open for
public safety and human services, but we also had to make
sure our team was safe. We had several needs to address.
Those with compromised immune systems or who were
taking care of someone with a compromised immune
system needed to work outside the office. The second thing
was allowing the parents who had school-aged children
to be able to telework so that they could take care of their
children and attend to their schooling. Third, we needed to
get as many people out of the office so that we could properly
social distance. We worked to have overall 50% of the
office teleworking so we could social distance our team in
the office. Even if you're not in your usual area, you can
work from a desk nearby, and everyone is safe.
The early days were hectic. For our teammates coming in,
we had to acquire PPEs, develop a mask protocol, set up
Plexiglas screens at our customer windows, and make sure
we had plenty of no-touch thermometers so teammates
could check for fevers. We weren't prepared with any sort
of platform or any sort of connectivity for remote work
Within two weeks, we had to figure all that out. In addition
to staying on top of everything we do -- which is about a
thousand duties assigned by statute, regulation, and court
order -- we had to sort out what can be done virtually and
what absolutely must happen in our six Pasco locations.
Then we had to figure out, for every employee, how much
of what they do can be done virtually, and how much
has to be done in the office. It was a big feat. Lots of late
nights. Lots of no sleep trying to plan it out, but we got all
of that accomplished and still today we are teleworking.
We wanted to make sure our customers knew that they
wouldn't see a blip in our service.
Is there anything that we didn't talk about that you
want to share?
I just want you to know that it's a blessing to be able to
lead the clerk's office and to be trusted to provide our services
to the community. It's just a great feeling to be able
to give back to the community and to know that the community
feels that I'm the right person for the job. I do not
take it for granted. I am honored to be able to be a public
servant and to give back to the people of Pasco, expanding
on the lessons of Leadership Pasco.
I thank you for this opportunity to have a great conversation
Nikki Alvarez-Sowles '13 with Pasco government leadership and
the Class of 2019 at Government Day.
Thomas O'Connor Bruno '20 and Kera Arnone '20
- Exceptional Fundraising During Difficult Times
By Jason Longo ’17
tive director because the idea was to make that space
decorated and more kid-friendly as a part of our sweat
equity project. When we saw the shower situation, we
decided that we would make that our priority.
[Kera] Then we started talking about what happens with
the clothes that come in and the towels; and that's when
we decided to pursue a washer and dryer for the location
as well. Because our class has a lot of contacts, we felt
that we could get a discounted renovation for the shower
and the appliances donated.
[Thomas] Basically the day that everything started shutting
down was the day that I had electricians and plumbers
going out there to start to start pricing what the project
was going to be. And that's when a lot of companies
said "we're not comfortable going into places." So it all
went on hold. We have been in contact with Andrew, and
Kera saw him last week. That's when we got the award.
Tell us about your Class of 2020 project?
[Thomas] For our project, we are supporting Suncoast
Voices for Children. They help to bring children out of
bad home situations where there is abuse or neglect.
Sometimes they house them overnight on location until a
family member or other caregiver can take care of them.
Suncoast Voices provides the equipment needed for those
caregivers or extended family who may not have beds,
cribs, or car seats or anything like that, so that they can
transport and house the children. They are on location in
the Pasco Sheriff's Office on Little Road; the Child Protection
[Kera] They have an intake room that wasn't the most
comfy. It was very industrial. There are toys there, a
couch, but not a lot of organization to it. It's tough to stay
there overnight. So our project was to redesign that area
and to add a shower in their unit at the CP office. They do
have access to a male and female bathroom.
[Thomas] As they didn't have access to a shower, they
would use the sinks to help wash the children who may
have come with lice or who needed to be cleaned up. So
when we went on a tour with Andrew Maurin, their execu-
[Kera, showing the award on Zoom] It says the Suncoast
Voices for Children awarded the Voice of the Year to the
Leadership Pasco Class of 2020.
[Thomas] For part of our sweat equity, we knew that
they had some deliveries from some other donations. So,
some of us came down to Pinellas to help load a trailer of
diapers and wipes that was stored at the Salvation Army
here. And, Kera, I think you were on that end right?
We loaded here in Pinellas and then Carol, one of our
classmates, drove it up to Pasco and dropped it off so that
they would have access to it. It was, again, a great cause,
and I'm just happy to be even a part of a group that could
raise this much money in this kind of situation.
So you raised about $20,000 for Suncoast Voices for
Children, and without a Taste of Pasco. How?
[Thomas] Yeah. Our goal was $20,000. Originally I had
met with Chuck Anderson and Tim Hanavan and we
looked at budgeting and how much we thought we could
bring in with the event. We had ideas that we were going
to shatter everybody's donation record. I mean, we were
going to pit class against class to see who could donate
the most money. We had all these grand schemes of
4 FALL 2020 NEWSLETTER
inging in funds. We got sponsors. We got vendors and
we started to book everything and then business day we
had to have a very frank conversation about if we could
host Taste of Pasco in May. Now it looks silly to even have
considered it, but we had a conversation with the whole
class and decided to pull everything. We didn't know.
[Kera] At that point, we had about $7,000. Maybe $10,000
through sponsors. The issue there was once the marketing
for their agencies went away, several of them did pull out
completely. Some were still able to support us in part and it
dropped us down to five or six thousand.
[Thomas] But then the Rotary Clubs really stepped up. The
Rotary Club of Seven Springs usually has several charities
they support annually, but this year they dedicated the
entire amount to us and so that was a huge boost at $7,500.
Rotary Club of New Port Richey donated over $5,000. So
between those two Rotary Clubs we had over $12,000. We
sold six or seven tickets to Taste of Pasco and everyone
that bought a ticket told us to keep the money. So this may
be the least amount of tickets ever sold by a class.
Thomas, how has COVID-19 affected your work at
Coalition for the Homeless?
[Thomas] It's been good and bad. The bad was that we
had to close down because we had offered showers to the
homeless and couldn't figure out the way to provide emergency
services while keeping everyone safe. Because we
are not the lead agency and many of our staff are an older
population, it was easy and necessary to make the switch
to working from home. Luckily in Pasco, COVID has not
affected the homeless population as much as in other areas.
We've only known three or four cases of homeless persons
who have tested positive. The other good news is that
there are overwhelming amounts of funding coming down
through the federal government, the CARES Act Provider
Relief Fund. There's a lot of funds for homeless services
and through the emergency solutions grant, which is a
federal funding stream through the county and through the
Department of Children and Families. So much funding,
but it's so tied up in government regulations and such that
we're just now getting access to it. This was funding that
we knew about in May and we're just now getting to it.
Kera, how has real estate changed since COVID-19?
[Kera] Real Estate changed a little bit when COVID hit,
people are afraid to allow people in their homes for showings,
so we've had to get better at wearing masks and better
with sanitation. People leave lights and stuff on for us
before we show the home, which is fine. The good thing
is that the market is so hot. We can't find homes to sell
and they're selling for top dollar and it's mind blowing at
how fast they are selling. Another thing is that people have
realized they don't need to be in the city where they work,
everyone is leaving those dreary cities and are moving to
our happy Sunshine State. So it's good. There is a lot of out
of state buyers.
What brought each of you to apply for the Class of
[Thomas] I had heard about it when I was with the County.
Never pursued it, but then Don Anderson came onboard
and really pushed me to do it. I had applied for Class
of 2019 and was accepted, but I was not available to do
the bus tour due to a previously scheduled vacation to
Sonoma, California. I had talked to Don and Stefanie [Pontlitz]
about it, and they said that I really would miss out, if
I couldn't do bus tour. So I applied for the Class of 2020
and was re-accepted.
[Kera] I only moved here in July of 2018 and in 2019
Stefanie [Pontlitz] came and spoke about Leadership Pasco
to my Rotary Club meeting and everyone in my club said,
"Kera, you should do this. It would be a great thing for you
to do." Julie Rockwell and Tara O'Connor are also in my
Rotary Club, so there was a lot of suggestions to apply.
2020 Class Project Sponsors
Cornelison Engineering & Design, Inc.
Gulfside Healthcare Services
Pasco County Schools - Jeans Day Fundraiser
People Places, LLC
Rotary Club of New Port Richey
Rotary Club of Seven Springs
The Bank of Tampa
Time Trap Escape Room
Withlacoochie River Electric
A Conversation with Craig Laporte '06 and
Captain James Mallo '12 - The Team Behind
Criminal Justice Day
By Jason Longo ’17
enced that as well. So then I got Brian Mulligan to do it,
and then of course Franny (Frances Werner-Watkins), and
then Brendan (Gorman) being in the latest iteration of our
group. Pasco Sheriff's Office does it too. HCA, Progress
Energy, the Clerk's office - there are a lot of organizations
that make it a point to have an applicant every year.
James, what was your inspiration to continue on from
the Class of 2012 to the Leadership Pasco board?
[James] I enjoyed my time as a classmember and liked
meeting and working with groups of people from different
parts of the county and with different backgrounds.
The common ground was Leadership Pasco. I got
involved with Criminal Justice Day even before joining
the Class of 2012 and to this day, my goal is to continue
to make Criminal Justice Day the best day that it can be.
There are very few days where, as Craig said, the Sheriff
sets aside a full day, and I'm happy to be a part of that.
Nick Walsh '20, Craig Laporte '06, and Captain James Mallo '12 at
Criminal Justice Day - October 2019.
Craig, do you remember how you came to be a member
of the class of 2006?
[Craig] I don't remember who it was who first told me
about Leadership Pasco. It was a long time ago. Captain
Joe Frontz was in the Sheriff's Office and was actually
running Criminal Justice Day. There were a number of
people that I knew and, being involved in the community
and doing a lot of different charity work, I learned
about it. I thought it would be beneficial. Even though I
worked the whole county as a deputy, I thought it would
be helpful to learn more about the county and, of course I
was practicing law. I'd been practicing law at that point in
2006 for 23 years. I wanted to get out there and meet more
people, so that's what prompted me to join.
Craig, all of your colleagues at Laporte, Mulligan and
Werner-Watkins, P.A. have also gone through the program.
How did that become a tradition?
[Craig] I thought it was such a great experience that I felt
it was important that all the lawyers in my office experi-
Criminal Justice Day gets very high marks on all
Leadership Pasco class evaluations. How do you keep
improving the program?
[Craig] Well, I can tell you that Criminal Justice Day has
evolved since I went through it. At that time, the big deal
was to take a walking tour through the jail and then a lot
of other classroom stuff which was interesting. It was
good, but what it needed was a boost. When Bob White
was Sheriff, he supported the day but not to the extent
that Chris Nocco, when he became Sheriff. I will never
forget that got a phone call from Chris and he said "Hey,
I want to set a meeting and talk to you about Criminal
Justice Day." He said "I want to meet with you to brainstorm
to make the day better." I've never had a Sheriff do
that for us. I went to his office and was shocked when I
went into the conference room and the entire command
staff was there. He set aside an hour just to discuss Criminal
Justice Day for us and basically pledged his support
to anything we wanted to do to make it a success. He
thought it was very important and every year since then
he calls me three to five months in advance and says,
"Alright, let's get together." And again, his entire command
staff is a part of that meeting, and as you've seen
they are all dedicated to being a part of our day. The two
6 FALL 2020 NEWSLETTER
things that have carried on from the past have been the
panel discussion with the judges, state attorney, the public
defender, some law enforcement, and the Sheriff; and the
walking tour of the jail. But everything else has changed.
It's far more interactive and exciting.
Do you remember your project from 2006?
[Craig] Our project was and it's still out there is the Missing
and Abducted Children's Command Center for the
Sheriff's Office. It started out as a community project.
That was when Bob White decided he did not want to go
through the bid process to use government money for that
command center, so he went out to the community and
started raising money that way. Also, he could keep the
construction with a local company and not have to bid
it out over a large statewide area. So our class decided
we were going to raise money, which we did. We raised
money through fundraising and then we were able to get a
matching grant. We raised about $20,000 with the help of
that. Our ongoing commitment was that our class would be
on call in the event of a missing child and that the Sheriff's
Office had our numbers and would call us out to assist in
the ground search.
What are some innovations at Pasco County Sheriff's
Office that the Class of 2021 would have learned about,
if we didn't have to postpone?
[Craig] I do know that for years they planned on a jail
expansion because of overcrowding. They're adding either
another wing or another floor. I'm not sure. The other thing
they're doing is building basically a school there and it was
going to involve a great deal of forensics, but it was going
to be a national academy with people coming from all over
the country and it was related to the rubble pile that this
last year's class got to see.
[James] We now have two, and are building one more
rubble pile which are all helpful to training first responders
on dealing with a mass casualty event such as a terrorist
attack. We will also have more drone technology to share.
Just the other day we helped locate a missing person on
the trails with a drone and the fire department assisted with
ATVs. Another great thing that we would have presented is
The Future Operations Division and the Behavioral Health
Intervention Team (BHIT). [From the Pasco Sheriff's Office]
"The mission of the Future Operations Division is to
help the Sheriff’s Office strategically meet the law enforcement
related needs of our rapidly changing community.
Comprised of both civilian and law enforcement members,
the division works to provide comprehensive assessments
and recommendations to improve department efficiencies
by focusing on strategic planning, forward thinking, and
innovative ideas. The division will also track the future development
of Pasco County and the impact this will have
on law enforcement and its capacity to meet the needs of
our growing county." The BHIT make contact with people
suffering from mental health, and try to get those people
help before a crime is committed.
How can citizens be more supportive to Pasco County
Sheriff's Office and Law Enforcement at this time?
[Craig] Well, you know, one of the things that I've been
involved for the last seven or eight years is trying to get a
permanent memorial built for our fallen, law enforcement
officers. We're the only county in Florida, that doesn't have
a memorial. This year was tough, because due to COVID
we ended up canceling our Law Enforcement Family
Fun day this year, so we lost a lot of fundraising for the
memorial. We were very fortunate that our county commissioners
went out there and started helping us raise money.
We are now hoping that by March of next year, we're
actually going to have a permanent memorial built over at
the historic courthouse in Dade City. There's about eight
of us on board that started this project. It is going to cost
upwards of $300,000 and we've actually got the statue not
only ordered, but I think it's already been cast. It's waiting
in Minneapolis for us to be able to actually build the base
to put the statue on. It's a statue of a fallen Pasco County
Sheriff's deputy who is being lifted skyward by an angel
under the arms. We're excited about finally getting that
done and honoring our fallen officers. Learn More.
[James] Saying hello and "thank you for what you do" to a
law enforcement officer is something that means so much
and helps us to feel positive the entire day.
Monica Anderson '20, Sheriff Chris Nocco, and Patricia Howard
'20 at Criminal Justice Day - October 2019.
Stefanie Pontlitz '13, our 2020 Judith Rochelle
Award Winner and Program Day Chair
By Jason Longo ’17
I'll say it again; the best part of Leadership Pasco is that
everyone who's involved is so dedicated. To be "the most
dedicated" and put that in quotation marks, is crazy to
me, because it's such a high bar. It's an incredible honor
for leaders to consider me worthy of that, and I'm super
appreciative of that. What I've been involved in up to
the point of joining Leadership Pasco has really led me
to that, but Leadership Pasco has probably been what
has allowed me to take my leadership skills to the next
level. If you're not doing what you say you are going to
do and hitting all your points and deadlines – this board
knows because you're the only one not doing it. So to be
involved with a board and group like Leadership Pasco
definitely challenges you to be the best you can be.
You’ve been a class member, an alumnus, a board
member, board president. But you also have the distinction
of being the Judith Rochelle Award winner for
2020. That is Leadership Pasco’s highest honor. I think
you hit the mark in every area of the award criteria,
but most visibly there is a lot of dedication and leadership.
You seem to be involved in more causes than I’m
even aware of. Let’s talk about that.
Over the years, I've had the opportunity to be involved in
a lot of great groups, including being a Past President of
Leadership Pasco, Rotary Club of Trinity, Junior Service
League and a few others. What I try to do as a leader is
just be kind and be fair and open-minded and I think that
is a lot of what helps people understand me and for me to
understand them. My leadership style is non-aggressive.
I like to have other people's input. I've said it before, but
Congratulations. Tell us about your non-traditional
Judith Rochelle Award surprise “ceremony”?
With COVID, we haven’t had graduation yet, which
is where we traditionally present this award. I knew
that I was nominated because I'm on the Past President
Council, and they are the ones who make the decision. I
didn't go to the meeting because I was nominated. I have
been nominated in the past, and I knew others who were
nominated before, and they were probably re-nominated
too. They are all incredible people. So I didn't think
much about it at that point. Well Lisa Shippy-Gonzalez
scheduled a couple's dinner with us, but we had to cancel
as my mother-in-law had broken her wrist that evening.
It took six to eight weeks to reschedule, but now I know
that she was trying to work around the schedules of a
bunch of people. At board meetings it would come up
and someone would ask how the award presentation was
going, and Angel would say "we're working on it." So
I kind of had it in my head that maybe something is up.
But when we finally did meet for dinner, I was surprised.
Angel [Cook] did a great job and it was nice to have
Tina [Shelton] come back and present the award. She
had trained me to be Program Chair and had pretty much
trained me to do everything that I had done. And of
course Lisa was there, and also Evie Parks who has really
been a big part of Leadership Pasco. So it was really, really
nice and super sweet. So I was surprised but I had an
inkling by the time we got around to round two.
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Congratulations on your new position. Tell us about
your career move.
I'm very excited to be the next Executive Director for The
Lighthouse for the Visually Impaired and Blind (LVIB) of
Pasco, Hernando, and Citrus Counties. The mission of the
Lighthouse is to educate, empower, and employ people
who are visually impaired and blind.
How did you hear about Leadership Pasco before you
I actually heard about Leadership Jacksonville from a coworker
so when I moved back to Pasco, I knew I wanted to
be in it. I knew it was a great networking group and organization
to be a part of, but honestly I couldn't afford it, and
the company I was working with wasn't willing to support
me. So I had to wait and Derek [Pontlitz] ended up going
before I did and I was so upset because I was the one who
wanted to go and he got to do it two years before I did.
When I finally got to a position and organization where
they would let me go - United Way of Pasco - I applied
and got in. Cami Austin and Cindy Ewald were my two
supporters along with Tina Shelton and I was really excited
when I got into the class. I met Lisa [Shippy-Gonzalez]
on bus tour day. She's now one of my best friends, but we
didn't meet until the class. She sat next to me and said “we
have a ton of friends in common, how have we not met
before?” We've been super close ever since.
Did you meet your husband, Derek in Pasco?
We did not meet exactly in Pasco. I was President of the
West Pasco Young Professionals and two of his close
friends saw a picture of the Immediate Past President in
the paper and thought she was good looking, so decided
they were going to come check out the meeting. In true
style of them, it took them quite some time to actually get
around to attending. By that time I was President but in
talking with them, we decided that we should be friends.
We hung out a few times and at one of their birthday parties,
I met Derek. We technically met through networking.
You and Derek are both Rotary Club presidents. What
does it mean to be a Rotarian?
We are now Immediate Past Presidents. I'm with Trinity
Rotary, and Derek is New Port Richey. Being a Rotarian is
one of the greatest honors. It is an organization of people
who purely want to give back to their community and
never ask for anything for themselves. It is the most selfless
giving family you could be a part of. And each group
has its own personality. Each Club has something that
makes them individually special and so I enjoy visiting
other clubs because they are so much different then mine.
But Trinity is my home and those members are my family.
How did you spend your socially distancing time?
We moved. We had been renovating a house for almost
two years, and so it gave us the time on the weekends that
we hadn't had before. We actually finished the renovations,
and so my time was packing boxes, unpacking
boxes, and moving. We are officially out of the other
house and we'll get it up on the market soon. But yeah,
that's pretty much been my COVID project.
As Leadership Pasco Program chair for a number of
years, can you provide a statement to inspire applicants
for the Class of 2022?
I think it's important for people to encourage their coworkers
and their friends who are looking to get more
involved to become part of Leadership Pasco. It builds
friendships and connections that if I needed anything from
the County, from the city, or from another nonprofit there's
someone in Leadership Pasco that I can call and say, "Can
you help me out with this or do you know who can help
me with this?" I'm probably only one or two phone calls
away from getting the information that I need. We think
we're a small town, but we're really 600,000 people and it
does take a village. I think Leadership Pasco helps make it
smaller. It's very important that people share that opportunity
with their family and friends. Unfortunately we can't
do it this year; but, when we do come back, as Program
Day Chair we are working on some new and exciting stuff
and we will be bigger, better, and stronger.
Tina Shelton '09, Angel Cook '18, Stefanie Pontlitz '13, and Evie
Parks '00 at a surprise dinner in honor of our 2020 Judith Rochelle
Award winner, Stefanie.
Kim Rymanowski '19, New Board Member and
Entrepreneur in the Uncertain Times of COVID-19
By Jason Longo ’17
Tell me about your family. Are they involved in the
businesses as well?
My husband Mitch (pictured) and I relocated to Florida
from Connecticut. In 2012, we bought our house here in
New Port Richey and by 2014 after we both retired, we
moved here full-time, which is how I was able to take
on a business and not have it affect my day-to-day work.
My husband is trying really hard to stay retired, but he's
kind of a silent partner. He does a lot of the maintenance
work for us and technology if we are having trouble with
internet and things. I do all the office work, the accounting,
the hard labor. We have about six jump ropes at each
location, and it's amazing how often they break. I come
home about once a week with a jump rope that needs
repair, and he fixes it, so I can bring it back the next day.
Kim, you are one of our new board members, and a
business owner that expanded your business during
COVID. Let's talk about your business first.
We bought 9Round Chelsea Place in New Port Richey
on November 1st, 2016. The gym had been two years old
when we bought it. During the pandemic, I bought two
more 9Round gyms that were at risk of closing permanently.
Those are in Pinellas County, but our primary business
is here in Pasco County. Because we're individually
owned, even though it's a franchise, we operate independently
as if we're small business owners. So I purchased
two more licenses and bought those two locations (Dunedin)
and (Safety Harbor). I know what these gyms are
capable of doing and I love the brand and concept.
Why we bought two more during the pandemic when I
was forced closure by the government is beyond me.
COVID effected the fitness industry in a huge way.
Tell us about that, including what innovations you
added to keep customers safe.
Owning any business is challenging during COVID, but
owning a gym is even more challenging. We had a lot of
frustrations early on, you know we were closed for two
months. That was hard because around Saint Patrick's
Day we had to decide if we were going to close. That's
when I started seeing all the gyms in the area start voluntarily
closing and we were faced with a decision. We
were having our house painted at the time, and the windows
were all covered up, with us inside. We ended that
day with a beautiful newly painted house and made the
decision to close up. As soon as we sent that notification,
the government also had a mandate. I had five employees
at the time, and I still had rent to pay. We had 175 members,
and what we decided to do was to continue charging
our members. We asked them to please stick it out with
us, and we in turn continued to pay the trainers and the
rent. It was a really hard hole to dig out of, and we're still
working on it. When we finally did open up, we offered
our members two months of credit, spread out across the
rest of the calendar year. So we were able to maintain
salary for five people, one of which is full-time and has
benefits, pay rent, and keep as much afloat as possible.
When we did open back up, we didn't get a lot of cancellations;
but what we did get was a lot of "I'm not ready to
10 FALL 2020 NEWSLETTER
come back." Maintaining social distancing is really hard to
do in the gym, especially when you're doing kickboxing in
your personal training. Our stations are normally six feet
apart by design. So now we keep one station in between
them. They have ten to twelve feet between each person
in there. Our employees are all wearing masks while
they're working. When you're exercising, and that was a an
exception to the mask rule, so the members don't have to
wear masks. Some of them do, but they don't have to. Just
gathering all the PPE supplies just to open, you know my
husband was at Sam's Club every morning at 6 a.m. bless
his heart. That was probably our biggest challenge, just
gathering the cleaning supplies to open up; because they
were nowhere to be found.
Where did you relocate to when you moved to Pasco?
We originally bought our house on the water in Gulf Harbors.
We recently sold it and have since moved to Odessa
to be closer to all three of the gyms.
What was your experience in Pasco that lead you to
become a part of the Class of 2019?
When we bought our business in 2016 we immediately
joined the West Pasco Chamber of Commerce. and started
networking. It was through networking that we met a lot of
people, and how I heard about Leadership Pasco. So, you
know, word-of-mouth, and seeing people that have gone
through the program, and being new to the area - I thought
it was a great opportunity for me to get to know more
about Pasco, be a part of the community, and to network as
You know there's a lot of rivalry among the Program
Day organizers. What class was your favorite?
I had a lot of favorites because there is so much to take in,
but I think my favorite because I love dogs was Criminal
Justice Day. I own two German Shepherds, so that was
So, besides opening two more businesses; what did you
do during the days when we had to socially distance?
Did you do any binge Netflix watching?
No we didn't get into any new TV shows during the
shutdown. For two months I took advantage of cooking.
I love to cook, and my husband loves to cook, so around
the holidays that's what we do together. We took advantage
of that time to just cook everything from scratch. We
were making pasta from scratch, different sauces, and just
getting creative and learning new recipes. Because my
employees were still working, and I wanted to keep our
members engaged, I had each employee make a 60 second
video every day, so that I could post it on social media to
create content. It was nice and members appreciated that
so that they could see their trainers and see what they were
doing. We were all still working but from home.
If you open up two more businesses during COVID
that becomes your hobby, right?
Exactly, and I do have a nice little home gym, so I spent a
lot of time keeping up with my workouts. I actually lost six
pounds while we were closed, so that's good.
I saw a Tweet about you having a connection to Art For
Hope. Can you tell me more about that?
I like to get involved with different things that are near and
dear to my heart. I was the presenting sponsor for Art For
Hope during September, which is a fundraiser for suicide
awareness - The Bobby White Foundation. I am very
involved in that.
In 2020, you became a Leadership Pasco Board Member.
What inspired you to continue to be involved?
Well, after going through the program and enjoying it as
much as I did, I wanted to be involved in a higher capacity
and hopefully influence others to also be involved in
Leadership Pasco and go through the program because it
was very beneficial for me. I learned so much about the
County. Living on the west side. I wasn't very familiar
with the rest of Pasco, so I really got to know the community
in my county and I'm hoping that this program stays
alive. The only way it will, is to keep talking about it and
Angel Cook '18 and Kim Rymanowski '19 at an event in 2018.
Interviewing a Legendary Leader & Beloved Pasco
County Resident, Kurt Conover '92
By Jason Longo ’17
Do you remember how you heard about Leadership
I do. At the time, I was the Land O' Lakes District Manager
for Florida Power and worked with Bob Creson, who
happened to be one of the founding board members of
Leadership Pasco. Bob wanted me to get involved right
away, so we started hosting the board meetings at the
brand new Land O' Lakes Florida Power District Office.
So I became a class member the year after that.
I feel like your career has been about reinventing yourself.
Can you tell us about that, and your early work
Early on, when I was a very young man, I was fortunate
enough to be working for the City of New Port Richey and
it's interesting because at that time I was starting college.
I was right out of high school and going to St. Petersburg
Junior College; there was no Pasco/Hernando Community
College. One summer day, I went to the Recreation
Center in New Port Richey and there was a Recreation
Leader there by the name of John Gallagher and he was
a friend of the family. My brother and him hung around
a lot together, and so I said "Hey do you know anybody
that's hiring for the summer?" And John said, "Oh yeah,
Lana (Goluba) Howe is running a summer playground
program. You might want to go over and apply." So I
got hired, and then I got hired as a custodial person.
Then I worked my way up to a Recreation Leader, then
Assistant Parks and Recreation Director and then at the
ripe age of 22, I was appointed as Director of Parks and
Recreation. My bosses always look at me with dissapointment
when I say that's the best job I ever had.
But it truly was. It was a wonderful job. And at that
time, the City of New Port Richey had everything. They
had that brand new Recreation Center had a new Olympic-sized
swimming pool, we had the tennis courts, golf
tournaments, and golf leagues. We had bowling leagues,
we had Southwestern United States qualifiers for horseshoe
tournaments. We had roller skating, record hops,
and teen dances. We had so many things out there and
always exciting stuff going on and I still see people to
this day that remember when I was at the Recreation
Center. They bring their grandchildren and sometimes
great grandchildren and say "That's the guy that used to
work the Rec Center when I was little." The Rec Center
obviously looks a lot different today than what it did
back then but that was a was a was a great job. I did get
to be really good friends with Chuck Nelson who was
Pasco County's first Parks and Recreation Director. I
also became good good friends with co-workers Steve
Luikart (he worked as our Athletic Supervisor) and
Chuck Bellerose '92 (he worked as Assistant Director)
who later became a Leadership Pasco Alumni and was
also later awarded the Judith Rochelle Excellence in
Leadership Award (2003).
You have been so involved with Pasco County. Can
you take us back to the beginning?
I was very young when I moved to New Port Richey.
My dad was a retired military officer and my mom was
a registered nurse. When we first came down from up
12 FALL 2020 NEWSLETTER
New York, my father drove down Grand Boulevard. He
happened to see the water and the houses right on the
water and he said, "That's where we've got to live." So
we moved into a house off of Sunset Point, which is now
Manatee Drive and there were only like six houses on the
whole peninsula, because it is a peninsula. It's right in
between the City of New Port Richey and the City of Port
Richey. It was a big three-story house that had a boathouse,
literally right down from the living room. It was
really neat growing up there as a kid. I had two brothers
and two sisters and our grandfather moved in with us.
It was really a small town and everybody kind of knew
each other. The activities were wonderful and, as we had
the water right there, you could fish and we used to do
things that you shouldn't do, like feed the alligator. There
were lots of fish, lots of crabs and we enjoyed boating
and scalloping. Just a great place to grow up.
We were sorry to hear about your wife's passing. Can
you tell us about her life and about your children?
I had actually married my next door neighbor. I had built
a new house on Louisiana Avenue when I was in my late
20s and my future bride, when she came down from New
York. She rented one of the duplexes next door. We fell
in love and got married and have two beautiful children.
Unfortunately, I lost my wife, it will be five years ago
this December, to a very unexpected aneurysm and then
a stroke. She was a very active, energetic, and vibrant
person. She had been a dance instructor. So it was a challenging
time and I have a lot of empathy for people who
lose loved ones after so many years.
I have always wondered when you met Harold Sample,
your friend and Bus Tour Days' colleague?
So Harold and I go way back. I had an older brother that
knew Harold. Harold's dad used to work for the Pasco
County Sheriff's Office. That's not how I got to meet
Harold, but I did know him. His mom used to work at
the Florida Power Office in New Port Richey when I first
started there and he had a sister that worked there too.
Harold has been all over the County. More recently, he's
lived in the east side, but he grew up on the west side.
Like I said, it's a small knit community so mainly through
his activity in West Pasco is where I got to know Harold
real well. I have to say this about Harold and I echo
it whenever I can; I am totally amazed at his ability to
remember things about the whole county. I've been doing
tours with him for 10 years, 15 years... I don't even know
how long. We will go through a new area that we don't
normally cover and he says something significant about
that area and things that happened in that area. I've never
heard of anybody say that they haven't learned something
new while on tour with Harold, no matter how long
they've lived here.
How did you make the transition to a hospital marketing
The thing that was similar to all of those jobs, whether
it was with the City or the power company, is that it was
a lot of public relations. That's my favorite thing. I love
people and I know a lot of people. At the time, I was the
Chairman of Chasco and I had met a man by the name of
Alan Levine, who who has since held several impressive
executive positions in healthcare. In working with him,
Alan became a really good advocate for me and he was
the one that encouraged Dan Miller, who was President &
CEO at Regional Medical Center Bayonet Point, to hire
me. That was just under 25 years ago.
COVID has greatly effected the new normal, but tell us
about the effect to service and safety at the hospital.
So they have implimented precautions. We get screened
every day and we have to wear masks. With COVID hitting
the hospital, we had to go about redesigning everything.
We went from five different entrances to one for
patients and one for employees.
Can you tell us about any hidden talents or hobbies
that you picked up this year?
I do play some online poker. Texas hold 'em with some
buddies who are soccer coaches from Land O Lakes,
because I used to be really involved in the Central Pasco
Youth Soccer Association (CPUSA) and made some
lifelong friends. The in-person stuff is out, but now we
just do the online playing. I've also remodeled my kitchen,
installed new windows and doors, installed Bermuda
Shutters, and have done a lot of painting and gardening.
Kurt Connover '92, Richard Jenkins '20, and Thomas O'Conner
Bruno '20 at Bus Tour Day (West).
Don Anderson '16 is now President of the
Leadership Pasco Board of Directors.
Tom Celotto '11 is now a Director Emeritus of the
Leadership Pasco Board of Directors.
Heather Grimes '11 is now a Director Emerita of
the Leadership Pasco Board of Directors.
Manny Long '16 is now President Elect of the
Leadership Pasco Board of Directors.
Tara O'Connor '16 is now Secretary of the
Leadership Pasco Board of Directors.
Stefanie Pontlitz '13 is the 2020 Judith Rochelle
Award winner and hired as Executive Director for The
Lighthouse for the Visually Impaired and Blind (LVIB)
of Pasco, Hernando, and Citrus Counties.
Kim Rymanowski '19 opened two additional
9Round Fitness franchises this year.
John Willis '15 is now Treasurer of the Leadership
Pasco Board of Directors and was named Employee
of the Year 2020 by the Florida West Coast Credit
Candace Glewen '14
to submit accomplishments, marriages,
engagements, births, and memoriam
information. We will continue to share in this
Class of 2020 Graduation
Save the Date
Tuesday, December 1, 2020
Spartan Manor - New Port Richey
We appreciate our sponsors
14 FALL 2020 NEWSLETTER