“In the Thick of it All”
“I had such a nice quiet life,” laughs Jacki Liszak, the new president of the Greater Fort Myers Beach Chamber of Commerce. “Now I am in the thick of it all on the beach!”
This beach life is a far cry from her Northeast Ohio birthplace, just east of Cleveland, but Jacki knew at a young age that Florida was her future. “While I love Cleveland, I hate snow. As a 17-year-old, I had an epiphany! I was driving to school in the morning and needed gas. I tried to fill up but it was so cold it froze my gas lock. There I was, standing outside shivering, with a Bic lighter trying to defrost the lock, and I said to myself: ‘Self, we are not doing this for the rest of our life!’ I came home and told my Mom I was going to college in Florida, and she cried!”
Jacki attended the University of Florida, where she earned her degree in Recreational Tourism. “I was in the first UF group to attain that degree; once I discovered that program, everything clicked. I am most proud that I worked through school and paid my own way. The irony is, by being at the Chamber, I came back to my roots.” She is not only a Gator Family member, but raised one as well. “My son James has a degree from there, and my youngest, Shawn, attends UF right now.”
It was her parents who introduced Jacki to Fort Myers Beach. “They had a time share at the Kahlua Beach Club, and home-schooled me while here. I was so lucky – I basically grew up on the beach. While sadly my Mom is no longer with us, Dad lives here and turns 99 on New Year’s Day.”
Fort Myers Beach became a lifelong focal point: “I was here during school, then after I graduated and got married, and walked the beach while pregnant. Ultimately, my first husband and I looked for a second home in Florida and shopped all over the state, but could not find anything we could afford. Finally in 2003 I suggested Fort Myers Beach but we still did not locate a home in our price range.”
Under My Foot!
Discouraged, they drove down Estero Boulevard when a man walked out and staked a “For Sale by Owner” sign in his front yard. “We pulled over and, even though the house needed a lot of love, we could afford it. I said ‘this is it – I can see it! This is the one!’ We drove away, but I said to turn around so I could make an offer. He thought I was crazy but I said I was going to open the door and jump out! He was in real estate so he had contracts in the car. I grabbed one and the check book and we bought the house!”
While doing this, the owner had hung a “For Sale” sign in the window. “Just as I was signing my check, the tape on the sign let loose, and it dangled for a minute, then fell and slid across the floor, coming to rest under my foot! I looked up and said, ‘I told you this was my house!’”
Professionally, Jacki first worked out of a school in Tampa as a special programs liaison for the recreation department. “My sister, who is my wise sage, told me if I wanted to make real cash, I better get in sales.” She shifted to a copier company before doing corporate sales for cardiology and radiology medical devices, as well as burn dressings and embolic, that are tiny particles that shoot through catheters to plug tumors – “that is super cool!” She eventually shifted gears and became a bank branch manager.
A career highlight was selling wireless AT&T cell phones when they first hit the market. “It was a blast, and I had a wonderful boss. We sold them out of the trunk of my car, as fast as we could program them. My boss was Charlie, so we were ‘Charlie’s Angels!’”
In 2012, Jacki looked for a second income and saw the Sea Gypsy Inn listing. “I wasn’t sure if I should buy it, as the place was a hot mess. I was sitting at the Key Estero Shops, where I could see the Inn, when I looked down on the bench and the memorial plaque read “In loving memory of Joseph Liszak” and that is my grandfather’s name! How much more of a sign do you need than that? So I bought it and now I own a hotel – people thought I lost my mind!”
Jacki first became involved with the Chamber when it looked like the Town would cancel its 4th of July fireworks. “That is a tradition in our family,” she relates. “We have about 60 people attend, and do a house party, cookout and Pirate Pub Crawl. It horrified me the show might not occur, so a few of us raised funds to save it.”
Around this time, Jacki got the urge to get back in the game, so she asked recently retired Chamber president Bud Nocera “to keep his ears open. He was thinking about retiring and thought ‘hmmm!’ When he approached me about the presidency, I knew this is a place where I can make a positive difference.”
Laundry & Spaghetti
In addition to being the new Chamber president, Jacki is also a new bride, marrying Scott on October 1, then enjoying a 37-day shipboard honeymoon sailing around the horn of South America. “The highlights were Machu Picchu or the penguins on the Falkland Islands; it was the trip of a lifetime. In addition to being the Sea Gypsy Inn general manager, Scott has his Masters in International Business, is a great laundress and makes fantastic spaghetti! We actually dated in 1985, but he dumped me, before we reconnected 11 years ago. His three children love Fort Myers Beach, and we have three rescue labradoodles that are our ‘furry kids.’”
She brings a unique perspective to the Chamber. “I wear all the hats – I began as a tourist, and am now a resident and business owner. These form the 3-legged stool of Fort Myers Beach, and we need all three to be successful for the beach to survive. It is a delicate balance, as each of those do not always get what they want, but it shifts around enough to equal out everything.”
As its new president, Jacki looks forward to “building the Chamber and contributing to the community I love. It is all about enhancing relationships and taking the organization to the next level. When everyone works as one, in a true community spirit, we achieve amazing things!”
- Jacki Liszak, the new president of the Greater Fort Myers Beach Chamber of Commerce.