Furek puts business experience to use

Bob Furek has presided over corporate board meetings where major decisions were made in a civilized environment. He also has been in school board meetings where people were throwing pitchers of water at each other.

It's been all in a day's work, so to speak, for this Marco Islander whose career has taken him from the tallest towers of American business to the meanest streets of our urban ugliness.

Bob and his wife Susan built a home here in 2000 and now live here full-time. That's not very long in a community where Marco "seniority" is akin to knighthood in Britain.

"Some people would have us believe they came here with the Calusa Indians," Furek says laughingly. But he has little time to compare resumes or residential credentials.

Bob retains an active portfolio of business and volunteer work, from corporate and education-related boards to mentoring disadvantaged school children here in Collier County.

His business resume would fill a formidable file cabinet — President and CEO of Heublein Corp., aboard member of an eye-catching array of business, educational and charitable organizations, on and on. He was named Businessman of the Year in 1992 by Connecticut's major newspaper, the Hartford Courant. And the Boy Scouts' statewide organization in Connecticut chose him for its Distinguished Citizen Award.

He is, as are many Marco residents, a self-made man, starting as a creative, hard-working kid whose family instilled in him a love of education that carries over to this day.

Education is Bob Furek's passion. He is by nature an easy-going man, but he lights up when asked about how we are teaching or reaching our children, or in some cases doing neither.

"Education to me has always been at the very core of why America is successful for the vast majority of its people. Yet education, especially in urban areas, is the greatest crisis facing us right now.

"The dropout rate for black and Hispanic kids is so bad compared with the majority that they're just not prepared for today's fast-paced global competition. And there are fewer and fewer manual labor jobs for them to do.

"Hundreds of thousands of kids are dropping out of school at age 16. Black children who graduate do so an average of three grades below white kids."

Furek doesn't just talk about these problems; he's working on them by tutoring middle school students, mostly minority children, through a church program in Golden Gate.

Bob Furek tutors middle school students, mostly minority children, through a church program in Golden Gate.

Photo by CHRIS CURLE, Marco Eagle

Bob Furek tutors middle school students, mostly minority children, through a church program in Golden Gate.

"I help them with reading, writing and math, whatever they need," he says. "These kids just don't know that the average annual income of a high school dropout is $18,000. The average college graduate makes $50,000 and people with graduate level college average $70,000."

Furek's experience in education has convinced him of the value of charter schools.

"They're public schools of course, but an alternative that's doing better than many regular schools. People should be asking why."

Furek has academic credentials in education, but he also learned a lot in a hurry, when he agreed to administer the state takeover of the Hartford, Conn., public schools. He served for more than three years, free of charge, trying to improve a school system in disarray, its 24,000 students in crisis.

"I got a real lesson in the difficulties that some public officials face — the personal attacks, politics of personal destruction, the media clamoring for comments, wanting to come to my home.

"At one point we had to get a police patrol in our neighborhood. I had to have escorts as I left the school office building because of personal threats.

"People were storming the school board and everything was on TV."

With that as prologue, Furek watches with concern the increasingly uncivil tone in public conflicts on Marco Island.

"It's hard to debate the issues here now, because we're getting far more strident than we should be. There's a loss of civility. The venom gets transferred to individuals so people can't just disagree with someone's policies; they make it personal, calling them stupid, corrupt, whatever. It's tipping that way."

Still, this is Marco Island and Bob Furek enjoys the relative tranquility. He knows that while we may argue about issues such as sewers and water, at least nobody's throwing it at each other. Yet.

© 2006 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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