by Chris Kridler
Far From Conventional
From ballet dancer to law school grad, from real estate executive to director of development at Brevard Zoo, Karen Davis’ career has been far from conventional.
“People can be very multidimensional,” she says, citing a lesson she learned from her father. Her husband, Tom, of Christopher Burton Homes, is also multitalented, she says, and their five grown children have learned they can pursue their dreams at any age.
Karen Davis joined the Washington School of Ballet at 14. After earning a law degree and briefly dancing with another company, she worked in real estate in Washington. A chance visit convinced her family to move to Viera, where she and Tom live with two beloved Chihauhaus.
She became chief operating officer for the real estate operation at The Viera Company. A get-acquainted meeting at Brevard Zoo became an all-day visit. “I was just dumbstruck by this zoo,” she says. She got on the development committee, chaired the first Jazzoo and became further involved before taking the development job in August.
Brevard County has what Davis calls “one degree of separation.”
“It feels like home for everybody,” she says. “It’s an inclusive place, not an exclusive place, and I guess that’s what I love about it.”
A Passion For Everything
DELORES AND GUY SPEARMAN
Busy volunteer Delores Spearman of Rockledge says she’s not about ideas: “There are those that come up with great ideas, which I would be glad to carry out,” she says with a chuckle.
She and husband Guy, a lobbyist, support several causes and groups, including Project Hunger, the Children’s Advocacy Center, Brevard School Foundation, Cocoa Village Playhouse, Florida Tech and the Florida Historical Society. “I love history, so that’s a natural for me,” Delores says.
They also sponsor the Happy Smiles program at Brevard Community College in Cocoa; Delores was once a dental hygienist. “These are kids who wouldn’t see a dentist,” Guy says. “Their families can’t support it.”
Guy has an adult son, and they have a “cherished” Siamese cat named Max, Delores says. Though they’re dedicated Florida State fans and regularly attend games, Delores says her real hobby is doing community service.
“It’s my wife that deserves the credit,” says Guy, who’s originally from Pensacola. “I just get involved with her on local issues because she has a passion for everything. Delores is a native Brevardian.”
Says Delores: “There’s no prettier place on the eastern seaboard than Brevard County. I love it.”
Paving a Path to the Future
Jeff Kiel takes his commitment to the community so seriously as president and publisher at Florida Today, the University of Florida grad and Gator fanatic wore a Seminoles shirt one day so Guy Spearman would give $1,000 to the paper’s United Way campaign.
“It’s for the right cause,” he says. The avid sports fan also follows the San Francisco Giants and ’49ers and Miami’s Heat and Dolphins (“That’s not easy,” he admits).
Originally from Brooklyn, he grew up in Miami, audited Knight Ridder as an accountant, then was hired at that company’s Miami Herald newspaper, where he became chief financial officer. Eventually, he became publisher of the San Jose Mercury News, before leaving newspapers to work for Westinghouse Solar.
He took the Florida Today job in April not just so he and wife Gayle could return to Florida, where they have family, but because he believes his company, Gannett, is “paving the path to the future.”
For fun, “I like practicing at the game of golf,” he jokes, and the Kiels, who have two grown children and a new home in Viera, enjoy taking their two Maltipoo dogs to play at Wickham Park’s dog park.
“It’s just a fabulous community,” Kiel says.
Make the World a Better Place
As a teenager, the last thing Gabrielle Ford thought she’d be was a nationally known speaker against bullying. Before she got her dog Izzy, “I secluded myself,” she said. “I didn’t really socialize with anybody, really, other than my family.”
Kids in her Michigan school bullied Ford, who suffers from Friedreich’s Ataxia, a genetic disease that affects speech and movement. An appearance on Animal Planet with Izzy led her to a teacher who wanted to know more. Ford spoke to one class about bullying, then more classes, then entire schools, in engagements around the country.
“It took me a long time to get comfortable with it, but I did,” she said, “and I realized there are lots of people out there who want to know how to make the world a better place.” Kids write her letters about how the program has changed them; her honors include USA Network’s Characters Unite Award; and she is booking more engagements via gabeandizzy.com.
Now 32, Ford lives with her family in Melbourne. Izzy has passed away, but they have two cats and three dogs, including French bulldog Dominik (named for Red Wings player Dominik Hasek), who rarely leaves her side. She’ll soon follow up her book “Still Dancing” with a children’s book, to be published by Penguin.
“The very simple thing that everybody has,” Ford says, “but they might not realize it, is making the choice.”