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Myra Janco Daniels

Myra Janco Daniels, the legendary founder and longtime CEO of the Naples Philharmonic Center for the Arts, died Wednesday morning at her North Naples home, three days before her 97th birthday. 

The Philharmonic Center, popularly known as The Phil and eventually renamed Artis—Naples, is the cornerstone of Daniels’ legacy. The Pelican Bay campus includes another one of her significant creations, the Naples Museum of Art, now the Baker Museum. These cultural destinations pioneered by Daniels put Naples on the international map for world-class art, music and theater. They also gave Myra Daniels instant name recognition. Although short in stature at only 5 feet, Daniels’ noteworthy accomplishments put her head and shoulders above the rest. 

Born Myra Janco in Gary, Indiana, Daniels was raised during the Great Depression by parents who encouraged her interest in the arts. She earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Indiana State and became the first woman named an associate professor of marketing at Indiana University. 

At the age of 24, Daniels created her own successful advertising agency in Terra Haute, Indiana. Then, in Chicago, she became one of the first women to head a national advertising firm and she was named the national Advertising Woman of the Year in 1965. It was then she met her husband, Draper Daniels, the ad man who created the Marlboro Man and was the inspiration for the Don Draper character on the TV show “Mad Men.”  

The couple retired to Marco Island in 1979. After Draper died of cancer in 1983, Daniels spearheaded a fundraising drive for a small classical music ensemble on Marco. The ensemble later became the Naples Philharmonic orchestra. The Phil, which she operated until about a decade ago, became a permanent home for the orchestra and an arts center.

“You have to believe in what you’re doing and then you have to get people involved to the point that they feel it’s theirs. That’s what we did,” Daniels was quoted in a news release. 

Daniels served as CEO of the Philharmonic Center from its inception in the 1980s to her retirement in 2011, building the Phil into a $100 million corporation. During that time, the Naples Philharmonic became a nationally recognized orchestra and the Naples Museum of Art developed an international reputation. 

The Philharmonic Center immersed the arts in the local community’s culture, providing free concerts, public school programs and adult and children’s education classes and workshops. After Daniels’ retirement, the street connecting Pelican Bay Boulevard with Seagate Drive in front of Artis—Naples was renamed Myra Janco Daniels Boulevard. 

In recent years, Daniels was a force behind capital campaigns for the Mother Teresa Project at Ave Maria University and the Salvation Army Youth Center for Latchkey Kids in Collier County. She consulted on arts projects at Florida Gulf Coast University, where the building housing the WGCU broadcasting studios is known as the Myra Janco Daniels Public Media Center. 

Daniels gleaned inspiration from her grandmother, Sophie, who ran her own real estate business. Sophie told her, “Create something that people want and need and you’ll be successful.” “I always remembered that,” Daniels said. 

A memorial celebration of Daniels’ life will be held on a later date to be announced. 

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