10 Familiar Faces

10 Familiar FacesIt’s the interesting personalities of the people who live and work on the Emerald Coast that make the region sparkle. For 10 years, we’ve put faces to names in dozens of feature profiles. We recently caught up with a few of the people who have graced our pages over the past decade to find out what they are up to now.


Photo by Marcia WrightReynolds/Gulf Reflections Studio
Making Destin Iconic — Peter BosThe enigmatic CEO of Legendary Inc. is known along the Emerald Coast for building projects that the community loves to both compliment and condemn. Whether you are a fan or foe, you have to admit that it is Bos’ vision that has helped to shape the Destin area over the past decade. Bos and his latest coup — the Emerald Grande at HarborWalk Village — are indeed iconic.

Emerald Coast Magazine featured Bos on its cover in 2004. We caught up with him in his Destin Commons office and asked if Emerald Grande was the crown jewel he hoped it would be. Here’s what he said:

“Yes, but I think that surprised a lot of people, because it isn’t what they thought it would be … As the Destin Commons area boomed, the area between Main Street and the Marler Bridge actually declined … We did a survey and found 52 percent didn’t know there was a harbor. So given that, what I theorized is that you had to create something that was fanciful or Disney-esque, so to speak, a building that was unique enough that someone would comment on it, positive and negative.

“This is not the image of Destin Harbor, I understand that. This is not the image of the sleepy little fishing village, but that’s the problem — the sleepy little fishing village had gone to sleep. It’s no different than the opera hall in Sydney, though I’m not in that same league. That’s what you have to do, you have to create an iconic structure to rebuild the area. And it worked.”

Mike StangePhoto by Allison Yii/Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort Hospitality Connection — Mike StangeWhen Emerald Coast Magazine featured hospitality veteran Mike Stange in 2005, he was overseeing the $400 million redevelopment of Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort, growing the resort’s meeting business and making employee morale a top priority.

A year later, Fortress Inc. purchased Intrawest Inc., the parent company of Sandestin. By spring 2007, Stange, the general manager, was catapulted to senior vice president of Intrawest Hospitality Management (IHM).

“I basically did the same things I had been doing for Sandestin, but on a larger scale,” he said. His responsibilities included leading sales and operations for nearly a dozen destination resorts and villages throughout the U.S., as well as in France and Hawaii. Stange’s local duties included the rental management and lodging operations for Sandestin, Seaside and two Marriott brands located at Grand Boulevard — the Courtyard and Residence Inn.

In January 2009, he retired from IHM and soon after began to form his own management company, Monarch Hospitality Management, in partnership with local consultant Rick Severance.

Although he has worked with clients in Florida and South Carolina, Stange’s current focus includes asset management for Edgewater Beach Resort and management consulting for Grand Panama in Panama City Beach. And in addition to his hospitality consulting, he is a business partner in several wine retail stores and is expanding into restaurant franchise management.

“It’s rewarding to work for yourself and to see the results of your input,” Stange said. “I’m busier than ever, but in a good way. I can still fit in baseball games and tennis for my kids … I appreciate the time it allows me to be with my family.”

Amanda WilkersonPhoto by Scott Holstein
Going Wild — Amanda WilkersonWhen Emerald Coast Magazine first caught up with Amanda Wilkerson, president and director of the Emerald Coast Wildlife Animal Refuge, in 2008, we discovered she walked on the wild side every day. What began as a volunteer job had evolved into a “dream job.” The licensed wildlife rehabilitation center, which was formed in 1994, focuses on rescue, rehabilitation and release of injured and orphaned animals, as well as education about and research on the local environment.

The Emerald Coast Wildlife Animal Refuge has partnered with the Nokuse Plantation, a 53,000-acre property where the E.O. Wilson Biophilia Center is located. The partnership allows the refuge to incorporate education and rehabilitation, making it a valuable resource for local schools.

This summer, the refuge plans to relocate its program to a parcel of land on Okaloosa Island in Fort Walton Beach. The goal is to have the entire program operational in the new location by summer 2011.

Sarah SchreiferPhoto by Scott HolsteinGourmet-To-Go Chef — Sarah SchreiferSince being featured on the cover of Emerald Coast Magazine in 2008 as part of the New Establishment of young leaders, Chef Sarah Schreifer has cooked up quite a reputation. Sarah K’s Gourmet, which serves gourmet takeout food that is “ready to heat,” now is known as “home of the world-famous jumbo lump crab cakes” and has garnered two additional “Best of the Emerald Coast” awards, making her a winner four years in a row. In addition, the Northwest Florida Daily News gave her catering service 4.5 stars.

Finally, Schreifer, who was also voted one of Emerald Coast Magazine’s Top Singles in 2009, has launched “Kids in the Kitchen with Sarah K,” a local cable television show featuring children between the ages of 4 and 14 who make healthy recipes alongside the chef.

Craig BarkerPhoto by Heather Forrester
Playing Politics — Craig BarkerDestin Mayor Craig Barker has served the residents of Destin for 14 years. Though he never intended to enter the political arena, Barker’s desire to take action motivated him to run for the Destin City Council. He took a seat in 1996, making him the youngest person ever elected to the board. A strong desire to be involved in planning the city’s future drove him to run for mayor, an office he has now held for eight years. Earlier this year, he reached for another ring: state representative.

Barker campaigned on the promise of being “unwilling to compromise the economic future of Northwest Florida for campaign contributions from Big Oil.” He quoted a Florida Senate report saying that “oil reserves in Florida waters would provide the United States with less than a week’s worth of oil and have no discernible effect on prices at the pump, or U.S. reliance on foreign oil” and asked, “Is it worth the gamble to put all of that economy and our military mission at risk?”

Though the vote did not go his way, Barker surely won’t need a political title to continue to advocate for Destin for many years to come.

Donna BurgessPhoto by Nikki Ritcher
An Emerald Coast Original — Donna BurgessFor artist Donna Burgess, the Northwest Florida coast has been her inspiration for more than 25 years. After all, the Panama City native has spent most of her adult life capturing on canvas the beach lifestyle she is immersed in.

Burgess opened her first gallery in The Market Shops at Sandestin in 1999. Since then, her business has expanded from creating works of art to purchasing equipment that enables her to offer custom framing. Known for her endearing pet portraits, Burgess offers private and group art classes to adults and children and hosts workshops for special groups or events. She even sells specialty items such as customized gift wrap.

Emerald Coast Magazine profiled Burgess in January 2007. She was named Walton County Artist of the Year for 2008. In March 2010, she relocated her gallery to Grand Boulevard at Sandestin.

Melissa WitekPhoto courtesy Miss USA
A Crowning Achievement — Melissa WitekMelissa Witek’s first crown was for Miss Florida Gator in February 2002. The Rockledge, Fla., native went on to compete for Miss Florida 2002 (in the Miss America system) but did not place. Her first Miss USA title was Miss Florida Panhandle USA in March 2004. Two months later, she competed against 47 contestants in the Miss Florida USA pageant and won the crown. The following year, Witek represented Florida in Miss USA 2005, earning fourth runner-up.

Months before her state pageant win, Witek had made the semifinals of the reality television show “The Bachelor” but was cut because of the possibility she might know the bachelor, former University of Florida football star Jesse Palmer. She joined the cast of NBC’s “Treasure Hunters,” which aired in June 2006.

Witek now lives in the Orlando area and works as a model, actor, spokeswoman and television host. She dreams of one day becoming a premier entertainment and/or sports reporter on a major network.

Tracy LouthainPhoto by Scott Holstein
Walking the Talk — Tracy LouthainIn 2008, Emerald Coast Magazine reported that Tracy Louthain wasn’t afraid to speak up. Just two years later, the passionate PR pro stepped up. Louthain recently served as acting executive director for the Beaches of South Walton Tourist Development Council until Dawn Moliterno was named as the new executive director.

Louthain isn’t all talk. The capable communicator earned an Accredited in Public Relations (APR) designation as well as induction into the Society of American Travel Writers (SATW), a select group of national travel writers, editors and journalists who are active in the industry.

“That was a biggie on my To Do list for the past five years,” she said.

Hosting national media, promoting the destination’s distinctive offerings through newly designed collateral, re-launching a robust website, elevating beach safety awareness, forming partnerships that cross county lines such as with the Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport and laying the groundwork to make the Beaches of South Walton an international destination are the key initiatives that fill Louthain’s day.

How does she do it all?

“I have amazing life support at home spelled K-E-V-I-N,” she said with a smile.

Her work life isn’t the only area in which Louthain has grown. She and her husband welcomed a second child, Dylan, who joins 6-year-old Reese. The couple also built a new home in Freeport last year.

In 2008, Louthain said “I can’t rest on my laurels.” Most would say this big-thinking brand builder has earned at least a cat nap. But if Louthain’s stride is any sign, she’s already fast-forwarded to the next thing on her checklist.

Don GaetzPhoto by Marcia WrightReynolds/Gulf Reflections Studio
The Great Motivator — Don Gaetz

When Don Gaetz was elected superintendent of the Okaloosa County School District in a landslide victory in 2000, no school in the 28,000-student district had rated better than a C in the most recent statewide assessment. Three years later, 94 percent of the county’s schools — the highest percentage in Florida — earned A’s based on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT).

Gaetz was elected to the Florida Senate in 2006, becoming the first non-legislator in more than 50 years elected without opposition. He sponsored the “Jobs for Florida” bill, which was passed unanimously by the Senate in March. The purpose of the bill is to give employers tax credits in exchange for creating jobs to stimulate the economy and make the state and region more competitive.

“In my view, Northwest Florida is the last frontier and the best frontier in the state,” Gaetz said.

Beyond its natural advantages — beaches, bays and waterways — the region is attracting businesses offering high-paying careers in aerospace, biotechnology and manufacturing.  

“With the physicists, mathematicians and engineers, we’re sitting on a mother lode of exquisite human talent which will allow Northwest Florida to emerge as a mid-tech and high-tech leader in the southeastern United States,” he said. “Northwest Florida can have a wider and deeper economy built on the human assets which have been brought to our area by our military bases and the defense industries that surround our bases.”

Gaetz is expected to become Senate president after the 2012 elections. But he says he is concentrating on his current job, which is to help improve the competitiveness of the area.

“I’m not focused on being Senate president now,” he said. “I’m focused on being the best senator I can for Northwest Florida right now.”

Wayne RogersPhoto by Scott Holstein
The Rich and Famous — Wayne Rogers

Apparently turtles and tourists aren’t the only ones attracted to the sugar-white sand beaches along the Emerald Coast. And, according to locals, who regularly report on sightings of all kinds, the sand isn’t the only thing on the beach that’s famous around here. Celebrity sightings are as common as a sunny day in summer.

Actor Wayne Rogers, who played Capt. Trapper John McIntyre on the hit TV series “M*A*S*H,” shared his story with Emerald Coast Magazine in 2003 and graced the cover again in 2010.

As predictable as a celebrity tabloid, the story for many A-listers is not a novel one. It usually goes something like this: They work hard to reach the top. When they get there, they realize it’s not a walk on the beach (which actually sounds like a good idea). They escape the fast-paced, crowded, high-rise lifestyle of the big city to bask in the beautiful beaches, great golf courses and laid-back way of life the Emerald Coast is famous for.