It’s time again to recognize Winter Park Magazine’s Most Influential People. The program, in its eighth year, recognizes those who — sometimes quietly — make a difference through their professions, their volunteerism, their philanthropy, their talents or their community engagement. The selectees are presented in the summer issue and celebrated at an event, the date and venue of which will soon be announced.
On the following pages, please meet the Class of 2023 — which is every bit as deep and impressive as previous classes and, as always, includes some people you may not know as well as some longtime community icons.
They come from all walks of life but share a love for Winter Park — and a desire to keep it as special as the founding visionaries intended.
INFLUENTIALS FROM 2015–2022
Sir David Adjaye, Roy Alan and Heather Alexander, Phil Anderson, Richard O. “Rick” Baldwin, Boris Garbe, Jim Barnes, Dan Bellows, Sabrina Bernat, Justin Birmele, Anna Bond, Rita Bornstein, Jill Hamilton Buss, Jeffrey Blydenburgh, Lauren Bradley, Daniel Butts, Michael Carolan, Sid Cash, Charles Clayton III, Billy Collins, Grant and Peg Cornwell, Linda Costa, Julian Chambliss, Patrick Chapin, Judy Charuhas, Carolyn Cooper, Chris Cortez, Deborah Crown, Jere F. Daniels Jr., Mary Daniels, Robynn Demar, Mary Demetree, Tom Dyer, Betsy Gardner Eckbert, Jeff Eisenbarth, Dykes Everett, Andrea Massey-Farrell, Carolyn Fennell, Bill Finfrock, Allen Finfrock, Meg Fitzgerald, Sue Foreman, Scot and Christine Madrid French, Shawn Garvey, Christy Grieger, Hal George, John Gill, Alan Ginsburg, Steve Goldman, Sarah Grafton, Elizabeth “Betsy” Gwinn, Ralph V. “Terry” Hadley III, Jane Hames, Larry Hames, Frank Hamner, Ena Heller, Debra Hendrickson, Catherine Hinman, Eric and Diane Holm, Herb Holm (deceased), Clarissa Howard, Charlene Hotaling, Jon and Betsy Hughes, Christopher Jaskiewicz, Katrina Jenkins, Susan Johnson, Gary I. and Isis Jones, Phil Kean, Allan Keen, Linda Keen, Tom Klusman, Randy Knight, Debbie Komanski, Steve Kramer, Linda Kulmann, Cindy Bowman LaFronz, Jack C. Lane, Whitney Laney, Mark Leggett, Steve Leary, Marni Jameson, Fairolyn Livingston, Chevalier Lovett, LaShanda Lovette, John (deceased) and Rita Lowndes, Lawrence Lyman, Lambrine Macejewski, Paula Madsen, Robert Mandell, Ted Maines (deceased) and Jeffrey Miller, Jesse Martinez, Brandon McGlammery, Deirdre Macnab, Genean Hawkins McKinnon, Gus and Kristi Malzahn, Joanne McMahon, Micki Meyer, Johnny Miller, Anne Mooney, Ronnie Moore, Patty Maddox, Alex Martins, Marc Middleton, Kristine Miller, Elizabeth Tiedtke Mukherjee, Stephanie Murphy, Tony and Sonja Nicholson, David Odahowski, Betsy Rogers Owens, James and Julie Petrakis, Jim and Alexis Pugh, Jana Ricci, John Rife, John Rivers, Randall B. Robertson, Jack Rogers, Laurence J. “Larry” Ruggiero (deceased), Jason Seeley, Greg Seidel, Peter Schreyer, Polly Seymour, Thaddeus Seymour (deceased), Shawn Shaffer, Jason Siegel, John and Gail Sinclair, Greg Spencer, Sarah Sprinkel, Susan Skolfield, Sam Stark, Chuck and Margery Pabst Steinmetz, Bronce Stephenson, Bruce Stephenson, Dori Stone, Richard Strauss, Michelle Strenth, Julie von Weller, Matthew Swope, Paul Twyford, Mike Vertullo, Bill Walker, Fr. Richard Walsh, Jennifer Wandersleben, Harold A. Ward III, Debbie Watson, Todd Weaver, Bill Weir, Chip Weston, Pete Weldon, John Wettach, Keith Whittingham, Cynthia Wood and Becky Wilson.
Photography by Carlos Amoedo
Industry Influencer, Entrepreneur
THE FOOD PHILANTHROPIST
Brad Blum’s mantra is attributed to Michelangelo: “The greater danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it.” Blum, a native of Cincinnati and a graduate of Denison University and the Northwestern Graduate School of Management, can never be accused of aiming too low. A widely respected food industry brand-builder and turnaround artist, his career began in 1978 as a marketing executive at General Mills, where he featured the first female athlete (Mary Lou Retton) and the first African American athlete (Walter Peyton) on boxes of Wheaties. Blum also invented Cinnamon Toast Crunch, which became the company’s most profitable product. He later became president of Olive Garden, where dramatic improvement elevated the fast-casual chain to a position as the flagship brand of Orlando-based Darden Restaurants. From there, he became global CEO of Burger King — where he upped the food quality (even revamping the iconic Whopper) — and led another extraordinary turnaround. But after two years at the helm of the fast-food giant, he was exhausted emotionally and physically. A multisport athlete in high school, Blum’s own health suffered, he says, from a lifestyle fueled by adrenaline and fast food. His epiphany that poor diets were causing a national health crisis led him to adopt a new mission and a new purpose: “Good Food for the Planet,” the central tenants of which are that food must be exceptionally good tasting; remarkably good for you; a good everyday value; and good for the environment — plus, you should feel good after eating it. As a food-industry influencer, Blum has advocated a “quality up, cost down” recipe for success, and has just completed an autobiography that shares his hard-won knowledge and, with refreshing candor, describes his corporate journey — where his innovative approaches often upended conventional wisdom. Blum has also long embraced another mantra: “Eat more plants. Plant more trees.” An ardent land preservationist whose other passion is endurance auto racing, Blum serves on the Winter Park Land Trust board of trustees and has planted 25 mature oaks on his 2-acre property overlooking Lake Virginia. He has even planted mature trees on the properties of his neighbors, gratis, for this simple (but indisputable) reason: “Winter Park needs more trees, not less.”
THE BOTTOM LINE
Blum is a visionary whose business accomplishments have made him a legendary figure in the food industry. Now, he’s tackling a worsening national problem — the obesity and diabetes epidemics, caused in large part by the food we eat — using insider knowledge and the same passion that he brought to bear as a CEO in the business world.
Alan Manning Chambers
Vice President of Operations, John Craig Clothier
THE BEST-DRESSED BOOSTER
You don’t want to be in the same picture with Alan Manning Chambers, the Secretariat of clothes horses. “My dad was a clothes horse, too,” he says. “We went shopping every Friday and Saturday night at Rutland’s and Ivey’s. He created a monster.” So, it’s no surprise that Chambers would eventually become vice president of operations for award-winning John Craig Clothier, with eight stores across Florida including the mother ship on Park Avenue. In addition, he’s chairman of the Park Avenue Merchants Association — for which he won Chairman of the Year from the Winter Park Chamber of Commerce — and founding vice president of the Park Avenue District, part of the Florida Main Street program. That’s not a problem for Chambers, who says his responsibilities place him squarely at the epicenter of “what’s been my happy place all my life.” He has countless memories of growing up in Winter Park, including art festivals, holiday celebrations, shopping binges, parties on Dog Island and worship at the First Baptist Church. So many homes he passes, it seems, have some personal connection with a friend or family member within what he calls “10.38 square miles of Heaven on Earth.” Chambers, who jokes that he was “brokering deals” with friends when he was a kid, welcomes the challenge of doing the same for the downtown civic organizations that he serves. “I believe there’s a solution to every problem and ‘no’ is just a place to start negotiations,” adds Chambers, who says that listening is more valuable than talking and that saying “I’m sorry” is sadly undervalued. Before joining the retail world, Chambers dabbled in local politics as a campaign manager and was appointed president of Exodus International, an organization that advocated conversion therapy for gay men. During his tenure, however, Chambers had a very public “crisis of faith and politics” and a change of heart. In 2013, he made the decision to shutter Exodus and to disavow its approach. Says Chambers, who has two adopted children with his wife, Leslie: “I love Jesus, have a gay orientation, have been very happily married for over 25 years — and believe that every story has worth and dignity.” His subsequent faith journey, he says, “has changed me — helped me become a better father, a better husband and a better leader.”
THE BOTTOM LINE
Chambers has the savvy, the empathy, the leadership chops and the deep personal connections required to unite the local business community and keep the downtown district thriving and current while maintaining its appealing historical vibe.
President, Falk Research Associates; Founder, Winter Park Pride Project
THE FLAG WAVER
Thor Falk says he sees the best in others, doesn’t dwell on the past and strives to make a positive difference. “Winter Park is a beautiful city with a rich history,” he says of the place to which he relocated from Minneapolis in 1978. “Its people are more diverse than I had thought.” Falk attended Rollins College, where he majored in business administration and communication, and later earned an MBA from UCF before beginning a career in market research. It was to celebrate his adopted hometown’s spirit of inclusion that in 2021 Falk founded the Winter Park Pride Project, a nonprofit that offered flags featuring whimsical, rainbow-colored images of peacocks to businesses and homeowners in conjunction with Pride Month in June. He enlisted the support of the Winter Park Chamber of Commerce (which named Winter Park Pride its Community Organization of the Year in 2022) and even got the city to install Pride flags on about 300 lamp posts — including those along Park Avenue. Although the effort raised more than $6,000 for organizations that provide programs and activities for LGBTQ+ youth, you won’t see those emblems on city-owned lamp posts again this year. Local attorney Bonnie Jackson, then a Republican candidate for the Florida House of Representatives, complained that the Pride flags were “woke” political speech and argued that the city should instead install flags depicting a pregnant woman, an adult man and two children emblazoned with the words “Choose Life, Celebrate Family.” Consequently, the Pride flags were nixed by the City Commission, which cited a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that the city of Boston had been wrong to prohibit a Christian flag outside City Hall because it had previously (and without much oversight) allowed all sorts of flags to be flown. Commissioners, their supposed wokeness quotients notwithstanding, also rejected the alternate design submitted by Jackson, who ultimately lost her bid to oust Democrat Anna Eskamani. Now, only city events and those sponsored by a handful of longstanding cultural nonprofits will have access to the city’s lamp posts. But you can’t keep the ever-optimistic Falk down. The Winter Park Pride Project has continued and Falk, a graduate of the chamber’s Leadership Winter Park Program, was recently married to Ronel Michael Gutierrez. He continues to spread his message of positivity as a marketing specialist, a Realtor and a trained life coach.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Falk is the most relentlessly positive person you’ll ever meet. Not even a high-profile setback from the city has kept his Winter Park Pride Project from spreading messages of love, acceptance and inclusion.
Developer; Former Chairman, GOAA
Investor; Current Chairman, GOAA
THE AIR FORCES
Orlando International Airport’s 1.8 million-square-foot Terminal C, which opened in September 2022, is a $4 billion marvel of sophisticated design and state-of-the-art technology that emphasizes the region’s natural beauty and neighborly disposition. And key to making it all happen were two Winter Parkers. Carson Good, chairman of the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority (GOAA), was appointed in 2019 by Governor Ron DeSantis and is now serving his second term. During Good’s tenure, the expansion was finally completed after powering through decades of unanticipated hurdles — including most recently the pandemic. Jeff Fuqua was a GOAA member from 1986 to 1994 and again from 1999 to 2010, serving as chairman for 13 years of his 19-year tenure and steering the organization through the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001 and the economic collapse in 2008. That lengthy record of service is why, in 2011, the airport’s official address became One Jeff Fuqua Boulevard. Good, who was raised in Coconut Grove, praises the sense of scale in Winter Park. “You have to know who you are and what you want to be,” he says of cities. Fuqua, an Orlando native, moved to Winter Park in 2004 and says “it’s been a discovery” to learn how peaceful his Lake Osceola home is despite its location near the city’s bustling business district. Good, a commercial real estate investor, is president of Good Capital Group. And Fuqua, a land developer whose career spans six decades, is chairman of Amick Holdings Inc. Good, who earned undergraduate degrees in English literature and business administration from Florida State University and an MBA from the Roy E. Crummer Graduate School of Business at Rollins College, has most recently served on the advisory board of the University of Florida master’s in real estate program and chaired the Orange County Planning and Zoning Commission. Fuqua, who earned undergraduate, master’s and doctoral degrees in mathematics from the University of Miami, can reel off at least 15 past board memberships and still serves as secretary of the Martin Andersen-Gracia Andersen Foundation.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Fuqua and, more recently, Good, deserve credit for steering Orlando International Airport’s governing body through turbulence and delivering a facility that has become the gold standard for airports around the world.
Chair, Rollins College Board of Trustees
THE EMPOWERMENT ADVOCATE
For Rick Goings, facilitating the empowerment of women is priority No. 1. That shouldn’t be too surprising, when you consider that the native of Wheaton, Illinois, previously ran two companies in which women formed the backbone of the workforce and the customer base: Avon USA and Tupperware Worldwide. He joined Avon, where he eventually became president, after selling a company — which he founded at age 24 — that pioneered the direct sale of home-security systems. At Tupperware, where he spent more than two decades, Goings expanded overseas operations with a special emphasis on Asia and Latin America, where more than 3 million women with otherwise limited opportunities became entrepreneurs, earning an income and bolstering their self-esteem in the process. These days, a family foundation run by Goings and his wife, Susan Porcaro Goings — a former major-market news anchor and now a partner in the foundation’s various philanthropic activities — have continued the empowerment mission through the Global Links Initiative (TGLI) at Rollins College. TGLI began in 2011, after Goings — currently chairman of the college’s board of trustees — was asked by the U.S. Department of Defense to evaluate whether business opportunities for women could be sustained in Iraq. The answer, under the circumstances, was no. So TGLI was formed to bring female business professors from other countries (so far including Iraq, Brazil and India) to the Roy E. Crummer Graduate School of Business at Rollins for an immersive, six-month program that teaches entrepreneurship. The newly trained academicians then return to their home countries and pair student volunteers with women who want to start businesses or grow the businesses they already operate. Later, top-performing students attend weeklong training sessions at Rollins, further sharpening their skills and becoming Global Links Initiative Changemakers. Goings was also twice chair of the board of governors for the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, where he led the initiative to open clubs outside the U.S. In 2019, he and Susan formed the World Federation of Youth Clubs, which has affiliates in more than 35 countries. Although he has lived around the world, Goings — who was knighted in the French Legion of Honour for his commitment to women and children in developing countries — says that Winter Park offers “the greatest concentration of bright, interested and engaged people.”
THE BOTTOM LINE
Goings, truly a citizen of the world, is an internationally respected businessperson who — along with his wife, Susan — has always taken social responsibility seriously, and ranks among the most important changemakers among global business leaders.
Administrative Coordinator, City of Winter Park
THE JOYFUL AMBASSADOR
Juanita Grant-Ford possesses a kind of influence that money, celebrity and high office can’t buy. There’s no visible salute on a building or fountain to her role in civic life — but her contributions live in the hearts and minds of all who cross her path. Elected officials and administrators come and go, but over the past four decades the one constant has been Grant-Ford’s smiling, nurturing presence at City Hall. Her official title is “Administrative Coordinator IV.” But ask most residents and they’ll tell you that a more appropriate title would be “The Face of Winter Park.” She assists residents with questions about city services, of course, but also serves as an unofficial ambassador and tour guide for visitors. “They come from all around the world,” says Grant-Ford, who’s a human Wikipedia regarding all things Winter Park. “They want to know where to go, what to see, good places to eat.” Sometimes, she serves as steam valve for residents who have been angered by bureaucratic snafus. But they usually don’t stay mad for long: Says Grant-Ford: “My attitude is, if you have a question, I have an answer; if you have a problem, let me help find a solution.” Born in Atlanta and raised in St. Augustine in the ’60s, Grant-Ford endured her share of racist taunts while growing up. “Rise above them,” her mother said. “Do not allow them to steal your joy; do not stoop to their level.” Every day at City Hall, Grant-Ford shares her joy and follows another bit of maternal wisdom: “It’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice.” Legions of Winter Parkers can attest to that. Grant-Ford has been recognized twice for her service — in 2017 (her 35th year) and 2022 (her 40th year) — by City Manager Randy Knight. “He [Knight] told me he would never want to be honored at the same party with me because nobody would pay attention to him,” she says with a laugh. The honors are gratifying, adds Grant-Ford, who was married to another local icon, Edwin “Coach” Ford, before being widowed in 2021. But those kudos take second place behind her proudest accomplishment: Raising her daughter Jadeian, now 39 and a nurse, as a single mom. Says Grant-Ford: “Jadeian is loving, compassionate and caring. She’s amazing!” Just like her mom.
THE BOTTOM LINE
With four decades of institutional knowledge and a genuine love for the community that radiates from her smile and demeanor, Grant-Ford makes the kind of first impression on residents and visitors that such a special city warrants. And she follows up with super service when you need it.
Senior Associate Vice President, Governmental Affairs, UCF
THE GOLDEN KNIGHT
As a junior at Winter Park High School, Fred Kittinger found his first real job mopping, stripping and waxing floors at the old Winter Park Memorial Hospital, now AdventHealth Winter Park. “We were the floor crew,” Kittinger recalls. “It’s the first job where I had to actually clock in and clock out. There were a lot of wonderful lessons there.” Hard work. Showing up on time. Being part of a team. Those are attributes that Kittinger still values today as senior associate vice president of government and community relations at the University of Central Florida — the second-largest public university in the country — where he earned a criminal justice degree. “I get paid to advocate for my alma mater,” he says. “No day, no month, no year is the same.” It wasn’t, however, the way he thought his career would unfold. Initially, Kittinger — no relation to Colonel Joe Kittinger, the late pilot and hot-air balloon daredevil — wanted to go into law enforcement. But an internship with a state agency during the legislative session in Tallahassee changed his mind. “I totally fell in love with the process, the people and the players,” he recalls. So Kittinger began a career in government and politics, including roles as chief of staff for former Orlando Mayor Glenda Hood, a lobbyist for the Greater Orlando Chamber of Commerce and a legislative aide for former state Senator George Stuart Jr. For the last 20 years, Kittinger — who with his wife of 40 years, Sandra, has an adult daughter — is helping to grow the next generation of government and policy experts with the nonpartisan UCF Legislative Scholars Program, which places students in full-time internships with state legislative offices or lobbying groups. There are 20 students involved in the two-semester program this year. Watching the students develop and go on to careers ignited by the program has been a very rewarding part of his job, says Kittinger, whose lengthy civic resumé includes stints as a board member for Junior Achievement of Central Florida, the Central Florida Council for the Boy Scouts of America and the Orlando After School All-Stars. He is an elder at Winter Park Presbyterian Church. He describes Winter Park as “a welcoming city of friendly neighbors and civic-minded people that would — and did — make Fred Rogers smile.”
THE BOTTOM LINE
In addition to his advocacy for UCF, Kittinger’s fingerprints can be found on some of the region’s most important growth initiatives of the past several decades. He says: “I’ve been so lucky and blessed to have hit the jackpot when it comes to great bosses. That’s who you learn and grow from.”
Owner, Frank; Chair, Winter Park Chamber of Commerce
THE FRANK FOREPERSON
Tracy Klingler, who grew up in Cincinnati, learned to love Park Avenue with her late father, Bob Klingler, a bank executive who in 1980 had moved to Winter Park. They would have dinner and stroll the Avenue, wandering in and out of shops, delighting in merchandise that they hadn’t seen offered anywhere else. Now, following a 25-year legal career, Klingler owns such a shop, the boutique Frank at 112 South Park Avenue. She’s also chair of the Winter Park Chamber of Commerce in 2023, which marks the organization’s FunHundred” centennial celebration. Klingler, a graduate of the Vanderbilt University School of Law, provides a powerful voice for downtown’s shopping and dining district as well as the problem-solving savvy gleaned through a successful practice in commercial litigation, during which she handled an array of complex cases and defended clients before state and federal agencies. (She was later appointed a U.S. Magistrate Judge in the Southern District of Texas.) She lauds the local chamber for programs that help small businesses like hers thrive and for its proactive leadership during the pandemic. “I’m convinced that without the chamber, we would have lost many more businesses and our recovery wouldn’t have been as strong,” says Klingler, who is quite adaptable herself. Following her judgeship, she reentered private practice in Atlanta — but moved to Winter Park to be closer to her ill father in 2011. For six years, she commuted to the Big Peach every other week. Long-distance lawyering, however, required too much time away from her daughter, Frankie (officially Mary Francis), now a junior at Winter Park High School. In 2015, Klingler bought Interiors on Morse Boulevard and renamed the shop in Frankie’s honor. Then, last year, she moved the operation to the prime Park Avenue location formerly occupied by Origins. At Frank, you can browse everything from dinnerware to cookbooks, greeting cards to cocktail napkins, and tea towels to throw rugs. Diffusers envelop this highly curated space in a heavenly fragrance. Klingler isn’t working less, she admits, but at least it’s near home. Plus, she enjoys surprising browsers — just like she and her dad once were — with new finds. Winter Park remains special, Klingler adds, because of “the energy of those who live and work here to see that it reaches its full potential.”
THE BOTTOM LINE
An optimistic problem solver with a strong work ethic, Klingler’s background in law and her reinvention as a retailer makes her the perfect candidate to lead the chamber’s board during the organization’s centennial — and as the business community regains its footing following COVID-19.
Executive Director, Winter Park Library
THE LIBRARY LEADER
As an undergraduate at Rollins College, Melissa Schneider would cross Fairbanks Avenue from campus to work nights and weekends reshelving books at the old Winter Park Library. Today, 15 years later, she’s presiding over the new library, part of the $42 million Winter Park Library & Events Center designed by renowned architect Sir David Adjaye. How’s it going? Last year, the number of active cardholders increased to 20,000 — double the number from five years ago and a 30 percent increase during the first year headquartered in what Adjaye described as “a cultural micro-village.” It’s a place where visitors can check out a paperback, learn to play the ukulele (those are available for checkout, too) or reserve studio time to record a podcast. “I’m just hugely passionate about our community and our concierge-type services while keeping that small-town feel,” says Schneider, a third-generation Central Floridian who hails from a family of librarians (her grandmother was the first librarian at Oviedo High School). “I’m proud the community now has the world-class library that it’s so deserving of — a place where residents can come together to grow and learn.” After she graduated from Rollins, Schneider went on to earn a master’s degree in library and information studies from the University of South Florida. She’s excited about how the community has embraced the library’s enhanced offerings, with 33,000 people attending more than 1,700 classes and events in 2022. But preserving the past is just as important to Schneider, who’s overseeing an expansion of the library’s archives — which are now the repository for the official papers of U.S. Representative John Mica, who represented the region in Congress for 24 years, along with those of U.S. Sen. Paula Hawkins, the only woman to ever be elected to the U.S. Senate from Florida. Schneider — a graduate of Leadership Winter Park, a program of the Winter Park Chamber of Commerce — is an avid runner and a violinist who volunteers to play at her church and community events. She says one of her favorite settings in Winter Park — aside from the library, of course — is her running route through the neighborhoods that border the Winter Park Chain of Lakes. She adds: “I love to just get out and explore and lose track of time and mileage.”
THE BOTTOM LINE
During the debate over building a new library, a vocal minority insisted that libraries were obsolete in the digital age. Schneider and her team, however, continue to prove that an evolved library is as relevant today, if not more so, than ever.
Founder and Executive Director, Central Florida Vocal Arts and Opera del Sol
The Supportive Soprano
On the road to success with the nonprofit she founded a decade ago, Theresa Smith-Levin ran into the reality that the arts aren’t as accessible as they should be and thought: “That needs to change.” Her Central Florida Vocal Arts (CFVA), a plucky upstart among the area’s venerable performing arts institutions, boldly claims that it is “re-imagining the future of vocal arts.” That means, Smith-Levin says, thinking about who’s on stage, who’s in the audience and how both groups might better reflect the community’s diversity. Smith-Levin is driven — and fearless. In 2012, the young soprano, who had just earned a master’s degree in vocal performance from the University of Miami, was set to star in a local production of Amahl and the Night Visitors. Whenthe show was abruptly canceled for lack of funding, she decided to produce it herself. By the following day, she had applied for 501(c)(3) status for CFVA — and, on a wing and a prayer, the holiday classic was successfully staged. The following year, she launched her weeklong Summer Institute, which remains a CFVA flagship, to immerse young people ages 6 to 18 in all aspects of musical theater. This year the organization will have an operating budget of about $500,000, bolstered by grants from such major arts funders as United Arts of Central Florida and Orange County Arts and Cultural Affairs. These funds will help CFVA produce three mainstage musicals, with students performing alongside (and learning from) preprofessional or professional adult artists. In addition, CFVA programs — in partnership with Orange County Public Schools — offer 150 underserved students private voice lessons. Smith-Levin, a native of Winter Park, is a graduate of Leadership Winter Park — a program of the Winter Park Chamber of Commerce — and board secretary for the Park Avenue District among other civic activities. When she was growing up, says Smith-Levin — who is married with two young children — she had parents and teachers who convinced her that she could do anything. She wants CFVA — which absorbed another nonprofit, Opera del Sol, in 2018 — to be there for those who aren’t so lucky. Says Smith-Levin: “Every person deserves to have a rich life with meaningful art experiences.”
THE BOTTOM LINE
CFVA was meant to be a place where “students would be celebrated for all they could do, rather than what they couldn’t,” says Smith-Levin. And the organization is living its mission. “I can’t wait to see how these young people change our community for the better,” she adds.
Executive Director, Global Peace Film Festival
THE MOVIE MISSIONARY
Back in 2003, Nina Streich hadn’t Heard of Winter Park and knew so little about Central Florida that she figured Walt Disney World was the region’s defining feature. “I didn’t even know that Walt Disney World wasn’t in Orlando proper,” she says. “I knew nothing about the area.” Now, 20 years later, Streich is a leading expert on the region’s activists and changemakers as founder and executive director of the Global Peace Film Festival — slated this year from September 18 to 24 — which has become a force on the local arts and culture scene. Streich, who spent most of her childhood in England and makes her home in New York, has devoted much of her two decades at the festival’s helm to putting Winter Park on the film festival map with screenings (and even a class devoted to the event) at Rollins College, the Winter Park Library & Events Center and Mead Botanical Garden. What makes her work powerful is that she has held firm to her belief that the real purpose of the festival isn’t just showcasing films, but also highlighting changes that can come about because of their being seen. “For most film festivals, the excitement starts when the lights go down,” says Streich, a graduate of the University of Sussex in the U.K. “For us, it’s when the lights come back up and people are sitting a little taller in their seats and thinking, ‘I wish I could do something like that.’” Some do more than wish. For example, notes Streich, a former Rollins student started a nonprofit organization in Tanzania thanks to a connection made at the festival, while another changed her career path from music to social work. Even the Winter Park Land Trust, a nonprofit that advocates for preservation and creation of green space in the city, can trace its roots to a film and panel discussion facilitated at the festival. Streich’s extensive industry connections have contributed to the festival’s success and panache. Her career includes cutting trailers for major studio films along with serving as former deputy commissioner of the NYC Mayor’s Office of Film, Theatre and Broadcasting. Adds Streich: “As much as we love a sold-out audience, it’s what people are inspired to do that’s really most important.”
THE BOTTOM LINE
Streich has tapped into the sense of social responsibility shared by many Winter Parkers — who want to make their community (and the world) a better place — and has given a platform to creators through what one industry magazine described as among the nation’s “Coolest Film Festivals.”
Jennifer Perry Thalheimer
Director and Chief Curator, Morse Museum
THE TIFFANY TORCHBEARER
Jennifer Perry Thalheimer, who in March succeeded the late Laurence Ruggiero as director and chief curator of the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art, can trace her exposure to the world of Louis Comfort Tiffany — whose astonishing stained-glass masterpieces are displayed in the museum — to her childhood on the North Shore of Long Island. Thalheimer was given free rein by her parents to gallivant on horseback and explore the nearby Gold Coast Mansions, some of which were by then moldering or abandoned. “The understanding among neighbors was ‘hoof prints yes, footprints no,’” recalls Thalheimer. “The estate closest to me was what was left of Louis Comfort Tiffany’s Laurelton Hall.” Although the main house had burned in 1957, the lower section and a portion of the gardens remained — and the youngster was inextricably drawn to the ruins. Ultimately, Thalheimer dropped her goal of becoming a veterinarian for a date with destiny at the Morse, founded by Hugh F. McKean and Jeannette Genius McKean. Coming full circle, as the museum’s collection manager and curator she helped open a 12,000-square-foot wing in 2011 to house a permanent installation of materials salvaged from the once-grand estate that she had explored as a youngster. Thalheimer — who earned a master’s degree in the history of decorative arts from the Parsons School of Design/Cooper-Hewitt Graduate Program in New York City — is an internationally recognized expert on Tiffany’s art and life with more than 30 publications, including the catalog for a 2006 exhibition held in collaboration with the Morse at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. In addition, the hoof-print girl’s fingerprints are on 27 exhibitions curated since she joined the one-of-a-kind institution — still the city’s most high-profile cultural attraction — in 1999. And her ongoing project, the Louis Comfort Tiffany Chronology, has become the premier online resource for scholars of Tiffany. Moving forward, Thalheimer — who with her husband, Joe, has three children (one grown and 12-year-old twins) — says she is “genuinely passionate about the museum’s collection” and is pondering new ways to present it. For Thalheimer and her family, the Morse already serves as a home away from home. “The kids look forward to hurricane days because we come to the museum,” she says. “It’s our shelter. We bring pajamas and sleeping bags and watch Night at the Museum.”
THE BOTTOM LINE
The Morse is in good hands with Thalheimer, who is perhaps uniquely qualified to follow the incomparable Laurence Ruggiero because of her long association with the museum and her academic expertise on Tiffany.
Philip and Sigrid Tiedtke
Entrepreneurs, Patrons of the Arts
THE FAMILY PHILANTHROPISTS
Philip Tiedtke wasn’t a fan of the proposed Winter Park Library & Events Center. He thought the celebritect-designed complex was too costly for a small city — even an affluent one. However, the bond issue to fund construction was narrowly approved in 2016. Then, as the much-debated project neared completion in 2021, news broke that the city had fallen $750,000 short on philanthropy needed to build an amphitheater on the site. Tiedtke — although initially a skeptic — called City Manager Randy Knight and offered to cover the entire tab through his family’s Florida Charities Foundation. “The only thing that matters now is, do you care about the future of Winter Park?” says Tiedtke, whose generosity resulted in the Tiedtke Amphitheater. “If you do, then you need to get behind this beautiful project.” Also in 2021, Philip and his wife, Sigrid, came to the rescue when the rickety Fred Stone Theatre at Rollins College was demolished over safety concerns, forcing students in the college’s Department of Theatre and Dance to use makeshift spaces while funds were raised — slowly, because of the pandemic — to replace “the Fred.” The Tiedtkes again stepped up, contributing $5 million toward construction of a 16,165-square foot performing arts facility that debuted in early 2023 as the Tiedtke Theatre & Dance Centre. (The complex also encompasses the 1,900-square-foot Sally K. Albrecht Studio Theatre, named for another donor.) “It was time to give the theater project a nudge forward,” says Philip. Many Central Floridians know the Tiedtke name through Enzian, the region’s only art-house cinema and home to the Florida Film Festival. Named for a showy blue flower found in the Alps, Enzian was originally funded by Philip’s father, the late John M. Tiedtke, a sugar-cane magnate and patron of the arts whose name graces the John M. Tiedtke Concert Hall at Rollins. The nonprofit was first run by Philip’s sister, Tina, then by Philip and Sigrid. Today the beloved institution’s managing director is their daughter, Elizabeth Mukherjee. Philip, who holds an MBA from Columbia University, enjoys operating the sprawling assortment of family enterprises while Sigird, who holds a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from UCF, concentrates her attention on Enzian, which she rightly describes as “an outstanding cultural institution and a lively community gathering spot.”
THE BOTTOM LINE
Philip and Sigrid in many ways exemplify Winter Park. Their philanthropy is important, of course, but plenty of people have money. The Tiedtkes are also intriguing people with a wide and varied array of interests who’ve helped the city maintain its unique creative and intellectual vibe.
Chair, Board of Directors, Dr. Phillips Center
THE SERVICE CHAMPION
The decades-long process of completing Orlando’s Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts was a monumental feat that required overcoming plenty of hurdles — most of them outside anyone’s control. At crucial junctures during the process, the City of Winter Park — and individual Winter Parkers — stepped up to the plate. Ed Timberlake, who last year was named chair of the arts center’s board of directors, has been a member of the governing body for 18 years, including stints as treasurer and head of the finance and audit committees. He has also been a member of the executive, strategic planning and building committees. As chair, Timberlake succeeded another Winter Parker, Jim Pugh, who had been at the helm for the previous 19 years. (Two of the arts center’s three venues are named for Winter Parkers: the Alexis & Jim Pugh Theater and Steinmetz Hall, named for Chuck and Margery Pabst Steinmetz.) In 2007, Timberlake — then president of Bank of America for Central Florida — orchestrated a $1 million gift from the bank to the as-yet unbuilt downtown complex. The project would be completed seven years later, justifying Timberlake’s early support. Now, he has become chair at yet another inflection point, as the arts center reimagines the master plan to complete the 9-acre campus between Rosalind and Orange avenues to the east and west and South and Anderson streets to the north and south. “Since construction is mostly done, it will be about integrating the expansion plans, growing the business and curating new content for our growing and new audiences,” he notes. The Yakima, Washington, native and Adelphi University graduate has a civic resumé that would fill a book, including chairmanships of Heart of Florida United Way, the Central Florida Commission on Homelessness and the Community Foundation of Central Florida. He has served on boards of numerous other nonprofits and earned such honors as the Tree of Life Award from the Jewish National Fund, the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Association of Fundraising Professionals and the Champion of Service Award from Volunteer Florida. “I’m a good listener and quiet when I need to be,” says Timberlake. “However, I hold honesty and integrity above all else.” Timberlake and his wife of 30 years, Cheryl, share their home with their golden retriever — “the boss,” as Timberlake calls him — and are members of the Interlachen Country Club.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Timberlake demonstrates that it’s possible to be a successful businessperson, a force for good in the community and a genuinely kind person whose quiet determination and obvious commitment rallies others.