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Making Waves: Six women shaping our region and our world.

Powerful females have been shaping Sarasota for more than a century, and they continue to step up and make our world better. We celebrate six women whose talents and accomplishments are transforming the environment, business, sports and politics here and beyond.

With her buzzed hair and luminous brown eyes, the 19-year-old Parkland shooting survivor, a rising sophomore at New College of Florida, has become the unforgettable face of the gun-control movement. Just three days after the Feb. 14, 2018 shooting, Emma Gonzalez delivered an impassioned speech at a Broward County rally, with a refrain the crowd picked up and chanted back: "We call B.S.!" on lawmakers in thrall to the NRA]. She helped create the March for Our Lives demonstrations in March 2018, which drew more than a million people across the country and was one of the largest American protests ever. She continues to work with the organization, which is holding rallies and registering new young voters across the country.

Why We Love Emma Gonzalez

Because she is more at ease in her own skin than most people decades older will ever be. Two weeks after the shooting, she wrote an essay for Harper's Bazaar that began: "My name is Emma Gonzalez. I'm 18 years old, Cuban and bisexual." She likes to quote Eleanor Roosevelt: "No one can make you feel inferior without your consent."

Because although she's admitted that she's "deathly afraid" of people who threaten "the only way they want to talk is if we're standing on the other end of their ART15s," she continues to stand up and speak out. "Adults like us when we have strong test scores, but they hate us when we have strong opinions," she has said.

Because her voice is so powerful that 10 days after she started a Twitter account (Emma4Change), she had 1 million followers. Now close to 1.7 million-more than twice as many as follow the NRA--engage with her tweets, which mix information about gun violence with shout-outs to her favorite rock bands.

Because despite her instant and enormous fame, she has no interest in being a celebrity, declining most interviews, keeping her personal life private and quietly going about her studies at New College.

Because when her parents objected after she proposed shaving her head-an idea she says was prompted by the Florida heat-she created a PowerPoint presentation that cracked them up and won them over.

Because although she has bouts of terrible sadness and loss, she refuses to give up--on her own life, or on America itself. Everywhere she goes, she says, she sees people deciding to engage with politics and work for change, realizing "we are the checks and balances" on a government that refuses to act.

Because more than anything, her activism is driven by love. As she wrote in The New York Times, "Everything we've done and everything we will do, is for them [the slain students.] It's for ourselves. It's for every person who has gone through anything similar to this, for every person who hasn't yet, for every person who never will."--PAM DANIEL

Christina Unkel Believes in The Power of Sports

Christina Unkel was just 10 and al-ready a veteran soccer player when she got her first paying gig refereeing Under 6 girls' games in her native Cape Coral. ("Fifteen dollars a game and all the free concession food I could eat," she says.)

Now 31 and an attorney with Maglio, Christopher & Toale, P.A. in Sarasota, where she negotiates contracts and sponsorship deals for professional female coaches and athletes across the U.S., Unkel is breaking ground again.

She is one of only three FIFA-licensed female referees who represent the United States Soccer Federation in the U.S., Canada and across South America and the Caribbean, and even as far away as China at the Nanjing Youth Olympic Games. Unkel refs men's and women's games, she's a video referee for Major League Soccer, and this summer she starts a new role at FOX Sports as a TV analyst at the FIFA Women's World Cup in France.

In a busy couple of weeks this spring, Unkel refereed soccer games in Montreal and Kansas City, and traveled to Chicago to speak at a leadership development conference for women in the workplace presented by the nonprofit Abby Wambach Wolfpack Endeavor. (Wambach is the two-time Olympic gold medal soccer player and FIFA World Cup champion who has scored more goals than any player in the world, male or female.) "Let's do this!" Unkel told us. "Women empowering women, on the field and in the corporate world!"

And, as president-elect of its all-volunteer board, she finds time to advocate for the international Women's Sports Museum--the first museum dedicated to women in sports--that she hopes will break ground in the Sarasota area sometime in the next several years.

Phase 1, a traveling pop-up museum exhibit, debuted at the NCAA Women's Final Four tourney in Tampa this spring; Phase 2, a preview center, is set to open by summer 2020; and a Phase 3 capital campaign has a timeline of three to five years.

Unkel and her husband, Ted, a professional FIFA referee, have a 3-year-old daughter who's already out on the soccer field. ("The only way we do it is my parents, our rock and our foundation," she says.)

"I want my story told so other people can see it and believe it," says Unkel. "I believe in the power of sports. At the end of the day it's taught me so many intangible skills."--ILENE DENTON


Women outnumber men
in Sarasota and Manatee

52.3   Percentage of Sarasota County
       population that is female

51.7   Percentage of Manatee County
       population that is female

Florida ranks high for number of
women-owned businesses

No. 1   Florida's 2019 rank in the U.S. in growth
        of number of women-owned firms
        since 1998

No. 5   Florida's rank in the U.S. for number of
        women-owned businesses

In Sarasota, 32.2 % of businesses are women-owned.
In Manatee, 37.1 % of businesses are women-owned.
In Florida, 38.5 % of businesses are women-owned.

Cynthia Heil Came to Town to Tackle Red Tide

As director of Mote Marine Laboratory's new Red Tide Institute, Cynthia Heil will be tackling one of the region's highest-profile issues. Heil, who came from a laboratory in Maine where she was studying harmful algal blooms, says she realized how much Sarasotans care about red tide when her landlady's reaction to learning about her job was, "Yes! You're going to be the one to get rid of it!" A noted researcher, Heil, who often speaks to scientists and the public, has a knack for making complex science understandable.--PAM DANIEL

"I am the product of an engineer and an artist. My three siblings are engineers. I am the radical in the family. We moved around a lot, but there was one constant. For generations, my mother's family has summered in Maine, and we spent four months every year on an island, playing in tidal pools, fishing and enjoying all things marine. I got introduced to red tide there. There's red tide in all coastal areas; each one is a different species of algae.

"I went to Purdue University and was pre-vet. In my senior year, I found out I was allergic to cats and decided to become a biologist. My 10-year-old son knows we can't have a cat; he's been trying to guilt me into getting a hedgehog.

"I went to graduate school in marine sciences at USF in St. Petersburg in the mid-1980s. The program had just started, and it was a wonderful time to be there. I had a great adviser. At a time when there was discrimination against women, he had all female graduate students in the lab and his wife was a Ph.D. scientist. Discrimination isn't as prevalent now. But it exists. It's subtle--who gets funding, who gets support in the lab, or ship time.

"Back then, there wasn't a lot of interest in red tide and there certainly wasn't funding support, or even a monitoring program. But in the '90s, outbreaks became more frequent and lasted longer. Red tide can be a huge drain on the economic and social fabric of coastal communities. And unfortunately, people forget about it after it goes away. That makes it hard to sustain interest--and funding.

"Many factors contribute to blooms. People often blame pollution, and it can be a contributing factor, but the evidence does not suggest that near-shore pollution is a major factor. It's human nature to want easy answers. But with red tide, there is no one thing to blame and there are no easy answers.

"I like to discover things. It's fun to learn something through the scientific process that no one else knows. For example, in graduate school, I studied the behavior of Karenia brevis. Every other marine species we looked at went up to the sunlight in the day and down to feed on nutrients at night. But I figured out that Karenia brevis swims on the surface day and night. That was exciting.

"In a year we hope to have found and begin testing a compound that can mitigate red tide. It's fairly easy to kill red tide cells. But when they die, they release toxins. You have to find something that kills the cells and eliminates the toxins. And we have to be careful. We can't do more harm than good. We are looking at a toolbox of compounds and techniques that may be suitable for different conditions. For example, a compound that would repress aerosol formation, which causes human respiratory problems. You could spray that outside a waterfront restaurant.

"Politics are part of the equation. Some people feel we shouldn't be manipulating the environment; others want to reduce nutrients but argue about which nutrients--or which industries--are involved. What I can do is put the best, most current, peer-reviewed science out there.

"My mentor ran Florida's Fish and Wildlife red tide program for years.

I took over her job when she retired. She taught me everything from how to do science to how to treat people. Her name was Karen Steidinger, and most of what we know about red tide is based on her work. They renamed the organism after her.

"The offer to come to this institute was incredible. Mote has a great red tide program and tremendous expertise, and it's in the perfect spot to study red tide. And working on mitigation offers an immediate benefit for society. As scientists, we don't often get to experience that. Our goal is to make this institution the hub of mitigation not just for red tide but for all harmful algal blooms."

The pay gap is
smaller for Florida

80 Cents   The average
           amount U.S.
           women are paid
           for every dollar
           paid to U.S.
           men, amounting
           to an annual
           gender wage
           gap of $10,086

87 Cents   The average
           amount Florida
           women are paid
           for every dollar
           paid to U.S. men

63 Cents   The pay gap for
           black women in
           the U.S.

54 Cents   The pay gap for
           Hispanic women
           in the U.S.

Women's Median Annual Earnings. ...

U.S. $40,000

Florida $35,000 (ranked 38th among U.S. states for women's earnings)

Sarasota $36,327

Manatee $36,269

Stevie Freeman-Mortes is Determined To help Sarasota Face Climate Change

In 2005, when Stevie Freeman-Montes joined the Peace Corps, she was initially assigned to Haiti. But political conflict there squashed those plans, and the Corps instead sent Freeman-Montes to Yap, a collection of Micronesian islands on the opposite side of the globe. The last-minute assignment changed Freeman-Montes' life.

"I saw firsthand how disproportionately this indigenous community was being affected by bleaching sea coral and rising sea levels," says Freeman-Montes. Even more troubling: Yap's residents had done almost nothing to contribute to the climate change threatening their very existence.

Freeman-Montes, who studied zoology as an undergraduate and earned a master's degree in sustainable development, later launched a career working on sustainability projects in Beaverton, Oregon, a small city outside of Portland. But her experience in Yap, coupled with a love of the beach and the sea born during childhood trips to the Gulf coast in Texas, inspired her to apply for a job with the City of Sarasota in 2015. The city was looking for a sustainability manager to help the city become greener and adapt to climate change, and the chance to work in a place so clearly threatened by rising sea levels appealed to Freeman-Montes.

Now four years into her role with the city, Freeman-Montes, 36, has helmed a major study examining the city infrastructure most vulnerable to the effects of climate change, and has worked to increase recycling and compost programs and to ban the use of Styrofoam on public property. And thanks to a grassroots push by a coalition of local environmental activists, she's also become the point person for the city's Ready for 100 project. The goal of that initiative is to make all city operations run on renewable energy by 2030, and to transition the entire city to 100 percent renewable energy by 2045.

The push has occurred with little of the political blowback that greets many climate change efforts, in part because of Freeman-Montes' openness and transparency. No one has all the answers, and you never know where good ideas are going to come from, she says: "I'm trying to facilitate a process of figuring this out together."-COOPER LEVEY-BAKER

Elizabeth Moore Protects Florida Lands

Elizabeth Moore grew up in Massachusetts in an environmentally attuned family, spending days in a backyard world of butterflies, birds and trees. Now the conservationist and philanthropist (who moved here in 2007 so her children could play tennis at IMG Academy while attending Saint Stephen's Episcopal School) works to ensure that children today, and in the future, can experience nature the way she did.

Moore travels the world seeking to educate and explore, as she's done with trips to Madagascar to see the native habitat of the endangered lemur (she's involved with Myakka's own Lemur Conservation Foundation), or the Gobi Desert and the Badlands of South Dakota, where she's participated in dinosaur bone digs. Closer to home, she's contributed to helping our environment in ways big and small.

Moore donated $1 million to Mote Marine for the building of its international coral reef research facility in the Florida Keys, and she now owns and stewards the Triangle Ranch, 1,143 acres near Myakka River State Park crucial to protecting the watershed, the wetlands and the animals that live there. With that $3 million purchase, she joined the Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast and other entities to restore the land to its "optimum natural function." She's also a founding director of the new Climate Adaptation & Mitigation Center (CAC), which focuses on sea level rise, hurricanes and climate-induced health issues.

Moore's financial wherewithal comes from her marriage to Stuart Moore and the multibillion-dollar sale of his digital consulting and marketing firm, Sapient, to advertising conglomerate Publicis five years ago. At the time, Forbes reported Stuart's holdings in Sapient worth $259 million.

Near her home in Manatee County, Moore acquired two extra, unbuilt lots to keep as a back yard like the one she grew up with, so that neighborhood children can wander outside spotting animals and even sampling fruit from the trees growing there.

She hopes they will grow up loving nature as much as her own five kids have. Her eldest, William, is a farmer in North Carolina using regenerative practices that enrich the soil; daughter Merry is studying to be a marine biologist; and daughter Grace is an NYU student involved in a "Life After Carbon" project that Moore supports, recently hosting an event at Sarasota's Florida House (another cause to which she's tied) to rouse community involvement.

Energetic and driven, Moore says, "I get involved by just showing up. I like to talk to leadership, to encourage them to care about our natural world, to raise money and awareness. I have to do this by my actions, and I've been blessed to have some money to gift for the land."--KAY KIPLING


Florida ranks low in women's labor force participation rate, 2016


Women: 53.7% (Ranked 48th in the nation)


Women: 44.9% Men: 53.4%


Women: 49.7% Men: 58.3%

Florida is the worst state in the nation for health insurance coverage for women


Women 18-64 with health insurance: 85.4%

Florida 78.3% Sarasota 77% Manatee 75%

Florida also ranks low for percentage of women with a bachelor's degree or higher, aged 25+


Women: 26.7% (Ranked 38th in the nation)


Women: 28.5% Men: 34.2%


Women: 26.1% Men 29.1%

Heather Kasten Brings Change To The Chamber

It took almost 100 years, but The Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce finally has a woman as president and CEO. Heather Kasten earned that distinction this year, and she raises her eyebrows a little when the milestone is mentioned. "Yes, 100 years," she acknowledges. "The chamber turns 100 in 2020. I've heard from other women that this is a game-changer."

Kasten is up to the challenge. She worked three jobs to put herself through college and spent the first 10 years of her working life in corporate America, first with commercial sales in hotels, then convention sales at theme parks and finally in pharmaceutical sales, often working 80-hour weeks. She helped her husband, entrepreneur and real estate investor Clint Kasten, with his ventures. Even when she decided to take five years off to raise their three children, she dove into volunteer work. "Vacuuming doesn't bring me satisfaction," she says. She spent so much time volunteering that her husband joked all she did was trade her full-time paid position for a full-time unpaid volunteer position.

As a businesswoman, Kasten understands the need to make payroll, keep employees happy and keep costs down--"the pain points," she says. When she and her husband moved to Sarasota in 2010, her first job was the Sarasota Chamber's vice president of memberships. Then she was tapped to head up the Lakewood Ranch Business Alliance. In five years, she grew the alliance from fewer than 300 members to 700.

Today, at the Sarasota Chamber, she's fixated on value. "I don't want more business events and networking," she says. Businesses want to know how to grow, want education, want to protect their assets, and find and retain skilled workers. They need resources, and Kasten wants to deliver and put the Sarasota Chamber in the national spotlight.

"Everything," she says, "is going under the microscope. I don't do a C-grade type of thing. It's not about [asking for] money. This chamber has done a lot of asks. If you do something with intention and excellence, you don't need to ask for money."

Kasten says all of this with her trademark big smile and a reputation for openness, collaboration and compassion. But no one, she says, should ever confuse kindness with weakness. Colleagues say she'll ask the tough questions to move the chamber forward. "I have the desire to do something worthy," she says.--SUSAN BURNS


The women who've helped lo shape Sarasota over the past century.

Emma E. Booker. This leader in education for the African-American community was tireless in trying to ensure access to learning for black children during the long years of segregation. In the 1920s, she established Sarasota Grammar School and served as principal for many years; Booker Elementary, Booker Middle and Booker High are named in her honor.

Eugenie Clark. The "Shark Lady" was a pioneer in marine biology and scuba diving for research purposes; she was an author and the leader of the Cape Haze Marine Laboratory, the forerunner of today's Mote Marine, where Clark also worked for years.

Katherine and Daisy McClellan. These sisters were early developers in Sarasota, designing the McClellan Park subdivision in 1915-1916 with paved sidewalks, shade trees and flowering shrubs framing the residential areas. (Telephones and electricity were standard, too.) The neighborhood's clubhouse eventually became McClellan Park School.

Bertha Honore Palmer. Already a wealthy widow at the time of her first visit to Sarasota in 1910 (she was married to Chicago merchant Potter Palmer), Bertha's Palmer eye for business led her to purchase thousands of acres of land here--eventually amounting to at least one-fourth of present-day Sarasota County. She got involved in ranching and farming, too.

Mable Ringling. The wife of circus king John, Mable played her own role here, supervising the design of the couple's mansion, Ca'd'Zan, collaborating on acquisitions for their museum, and setting the tone for social life as a hostess of lavish parties in the Roaring '20s. She was also active in the early years of the Garden Club and the Woman's Club.

Marie Selby. An outdoorswoman who lived modestly with her husband, oil and gas millionaire Bill, Marie had enough adventurous spirit to become the first woman to cross the country by car. Thanks to her will creating a botanical gardens on their bay-front property, we have today's Selby Garden.

Eliza Webb. With her husband John, Eliza built a family homestead at Osprey's Spanish Point in the 19th century, along the way developing a sugar mill, a packing house shipping vegetables and citrus up North, and the first real winter resort for tourists.

Mary Jane Wyatt Whitaker. Of hardy pioneer stock, Mary Jane, born in 1831, could ride horseback, herd cattle, paddle a dugout canoe and shoot a wild turkey at a hundred yards--all skills that came in handy as she and husband William built their home and family along Yellow Bluffs (near today's Whitaker Park) despite Indian raids and the Civil War.

Rose Wilson. As the publisher (at first with husband C.V.S. and, from 1910 to 1923, on her own) of the area's first newspaper, the Sarasota Times, Rose holds a special place in the hearts of us media types. An advocate for children and founding member of the Town Improvement Society, she was also one of the first two women in Sarasota to register to vote in 1920.--KAY KIPLING

Births to unwed
mothers is high


2,930   Average annual
        number of births in
        Sarasota County

44.7%   Of all births are to
        unwed mothers

Manatee County

3,486   Average annual
        number of births in
        Manatee County

50.7%   Of births are to unwed


47.2%   Of births are to unwed



Women make up 52.16% of Sarasota County registered voters

Men make up 44.60%

*3.24% of voters are registered as other gender

Party affiliation*

18%, or 57,434 women are registered Democrats

16%, or 36,652 men are registered Democrats

21%, or 67,714 women are registered Republicans

20%, or 64,887 men, are registered Republicans

*These percentages do not include no party or other party affiliations. The total number of registered voters in Sarasota County is 317,814. Numbers are from April 2019.

Sources: Census.Gov; "The Status of Women in Florida by County," published April 2018; Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections

Caption: Emma Gonzalez, far right, after her March 2018 speech at March for Our Lives in Washington, D.C.

Caption: Emma E. Booker, left, and Eugenie Mitchell.
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Author:Daniel, Pam; Denton, Ilene; Levey-Baker, Cooper; Kipling, Kay; Burns, Susan
Publication:Sarasota Magazine
Geographic Code:30SOU
Date:Jul 1, 2019
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