A few people recognized the potential of Bonita Springs when it was little more than farmhouses and woodlands. As the city became incorporated in 1999, residents banded together to develop a community that could prosper alongside its neighbors, Naples and Fort Myers. And thanks to smart planning and tireless advocacy by those individuals, Bonita Springs has since transformed into a city of entertainment, environmentally conscious development, and more than 45,000 inhabitants.
An Asset to the City
SPEAKERS ASSEMBLY of Southwest Florida members know Executive Director Arden McCurdy as much more than a behind-the-scenes leader of the organization. That’s because she takes the time to know all 375 of them. “Everyone admires her personality, her friendliness, and the fact that she can call [each member] by name,” says Charles Hopkins, immediate past president of the organization. “She is very thoughtful about member relationships.”
People are McCurdy’s passion, and her passion is demonstrated in each of her community endeavors. A member of the Speakers Assembly since 2001, McCurdy works to coordinate luncheons with world-class speakers who can help educate, entertain and enlighten an audience of highlevel professionals and retirees.
When she’s not organizing events, McCurdy supports people in need through her membership with the Bonita Springs Assistance Office, where she has served on the board since 2011.
“We basically give a hand up, not a handout,” McCurdy says. That includes helping a working family pay for their child’s medical bill in the event of an emergency or paying a utility bill for a temporarily struggling resident. The organization also runs a food pantry and helps people find employment. McCurdy’s devotion to Bonita Springs is clear, but the Maryland native would never have moved to the area had it not been for her sister, Jacke, who is 13 years her senior. The sisters purchased a Bonita Bay condo in 1987 and rented it out for the first year as one of the first model homes in the community. But when Jacke decided to permanently relocate to Bonita Bay, Arden had no intention of following her.
“To be honest, I [told Jacke] I’m not going to come down because I don’t like Florida,” McCurdy recalls. But each time McCurdy would visit, the area grew on her more. And, in 1997, the former department store manager retired from her property management and real estate business. By then, she was ready to call Bonita Springs her fulltime home, too.
She soon teamed up with her sister Jacke to help the still-underdeveloped city flourish. For 15 years she served as treasurer of the Maynard Cup, a golf tournament benefiting Guadalupe Center, that took place at the Bonita Bay Club. The events would raise $260,000 to $300,000 each time they were held. McCurdy also served as a board member of the Bonita Springs Community Foundation and assisted in capital campaigns for organizations such as the Bonita Springs YMCA and Hope Hospice. The McCurdy sisters would even host private dinners in their homes to generate funds. When it came time to choose leaders to run the city, McCurdy aided in the political campaigns of retired city councilmember John Joyce in 2004, city councilman Steve McIntosh in 2010, and Bonita Springs Mayor Ben Nelson in both 2008 and 2012. Being involved in the city’s politics is imperative to McCurdy. “It’s important. If you don’t have good people running the city, it’s not going to be a good place to live,” she adds.
These days, McCurdy is often spotted around town with Jacke (she calls her sister her best friend and role model), either mingling at social events or supporting local organizations. “There’s a sign when you come into Bonita Bay that says 'Welcome Home.' And it really does feel like that,” McCurdy says.
Setting the Bar
JACKE McCURDY's NAME has become synonymous with the word “trailblazer.” And for the many firsts in her life and all she has created for the Bonita Springs community, the title is welldeserved. But she never sought this role. She was just doing what she was born to do. Lead. McCurdy grew up with the belief that she could become anything she wanted, so long as she had an education. She was a child in the 1940s and didn’t realize the extent of gender inequality in society. She perceived women as strong and independent. After all, her mother ran the hardware store the pair lived above in Baltimore City.
“She was sort of the leader of all the guys on the block,” McCurdy says. “If there was a problem, they’d ask my mother and she’d come up with a solution. I just thought that was normal.”
Reality of the times hit her hard in 1955 when she became the first woman accepted into the University of Maryland School of Law. Her classmates met her with a collective cold shoulder. “Nobody would talk to me,” she says. She felt ostracized, alone and, at times, ready to quit. But she broke the ice one month in by laughing at a teacher’s joke. McCurdy eventually became so well-liked she was elected a class officer.
It was the last time McCurdy let anyone doubt her for her gender. And her confidence, strong will and sense of humor earned her a series of firsts. Following graduation, she became the first woman admitted to the Baltimore County Bar Association, the first female assistant state’s attorney, the first woman vice president at Joseph E. Seagram and Sons, the first female leader of the Maryland Distillers Industry, and the first female chairman of both the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States and of the National Association of Beverage Importers— two positions she is particularly proud of.
“I fought my whole life to be chairman. Nobody called me ‘chairwoman,’ she says. McCurdy’s career required long stretches of travel, and one such business trip led her to the Ritz-Carlton in Naples. She fell in love with Bonita Springs while visiting a friend during her stay, bought a home in Bonita Bay, and permanently relocated in 1994 following retirement. At the time, Bonita Springs comprised little more than secret fishing spots. So, in true McCurdy fashion, she created change. Together with other Bonita Springs residents, McCurdy founded integral organizations such as the Bonita Springs Community Foundation and the Bonita Springs Speakers Assembly. “Anything [Bonita Springs] has is what we started,” McCurdy says.
As the city grew so did her outreach efforts. McCurdy sat on a number of boards, and helped run capital campaigns for then-lesser-known organizations, such as the Guadalupe Center, where she served as chairman for six formative years. She was also a three-time chair for the Centers for the Arts of Bonita Springs and is still very active in that organization.
“She is just anywhere and everywhere you need her,” says Bonita Springs Mayor Ben Nelson, whose political campaigns McCurdy has assisted. “Jacke realizes that having meaningful work is the secret to happiness. Being a part of something bigger than yourself is something everyone can learn from her.”
"AN ABSOLUTE LEGEND. One of the great heroes of our community.” That’s how Cliff Smith, president of the United Way of Lee, Hendry, Glades, and Okeechobee Counties, describes David Lucas. Lucas, 68, founded the local United Way’s Alexis de Tocqueville Society—the agency’s highest level of supporters— some 25 years ago by being the first person to independently donate $10,000. Since then, he’s inspired more than 150 people to join the society, single-handedly raising $29.4 million for the organization, which supports a local network of 85 agencies and 200 programs.
In 2014, among his other philanthropic efforts was a $2 million donation to establish the Lucas Center for Faculty Development at Florida Gulf Coast University. Giving is at the core of Lucas’s existence, as is inspiring others to do the same. Still, he remains humble about his philanthropy, and discusses it as more of a person’s duty than a choice. “If you’re blessed with the resources, you have an obligation to use them for good, not just so you can buy another car or house,” he says. And thanks to decades of diligence, Lucas can consider himself blessed. Lucas has served as chairman of the Bonita Bay Group since 1985. In that time, he led the development of upscale communities such as Bonita Bay, The Brooks, Mediterra, Twin Eagles, Verandah and Sandoval. Lucas had no landdevelopment experience when he joined Bonita Bay Group. The Harvard Business School graduate left the position of president of Margo’s, a chain of 84 women’s specialty stores, to help run the Bonita Bay Group when his father-in-law, who established it, died of an illness.
To this day, Lucas does not consider himself a land developer. “What I did was basically provide the atmosphere of the place and was more involved in just trying to pick good people and letting them do their jobs,” he says. But he did more than let employees do their jobs. He created a strong ethical culture that excited employees to do their jobs. Bonita Bay Group had a system in place that allowed workers to receive bonuses based on a percentage of profit. In 2005, a bulk land sale came through, resulting in compensations five times higher than projected, which would cost the company millions if honored. Lucas decided to pay the bonuses anyway, because “it was the right thing to do,” he says.
His refined moral compass has guided him through other tricky business decisions. Once, the company accepted a financial offer with a simple handshake, only to receive a significantly higher offer the next day. Though no official agreements had been drawn with the first deal, the company still honored it.
Looking back, Lucas doesn’t regret either of those decisions. “You have to have an atmosphere of trust and the only way you’re going to get people to trust you is if you do what you say you’re going to do, even if it hurts you,” he says. In addition to acting on the boards of Bonita Bay Group and the United Way, Lucas serves as board member of FineMark National Bank & Trust, Canterbury School, Reformed Theological Seminary, Westminster Presbyterian, and Covenant College, on the border of Georgia and Tennessee.
He considers himself to be a “servant leader” in all the roles he has ever assumed, “and that means moving barriers and improving atmospheres,” he says, and being a servant to the core values of the organization that he is running.