Eileen Connolly-Keesler and her husband already own a condominium in Pelican Bay, where they plan to retire.
But retirement is still far from her mind as she's about to step into a new job as leader of the Community Foundation of Collier County.
Connolly-Keesler formerly led the Oshkosh Area Community Foundation in Wisconsin, which she built into an organization with nearly $80 million to support community needs.
Community foundations, which are in cities and towns across the country, pool money from charitable givers to support community projects and nonprofit organizations. The foundations invest the donor dollars to grow the pot of money available to fund ongoing and future needs — and to create a lasting legacy for the donors.
When Connolly-Keesler heard about the job in Naples, she saw it as a rare opportunity in a place where she eventually planned to live.
"It seemed like the stars aligned," she said. "It's a great foundation and there's a good opportunity to take it to the next level. My gut says this was the plan and this is where I need to be."
The search committee agreed this is where she needs to be, unanimously choosing her as the new president and CEO after a national search drew about 200 candidates. The candidates were whittled down to six finalists, but Connolly-Keesler rose to the top.
The local foundation's board also gave her a unanimous thumbs-up after she took the time to meet with staff before hurrying back to Wisconsin for an important meeting a little over a week ago.
"The staff was blown away by not only her candor, but the enthusiasm she had," said Alan Horton, the foundation's chairman-elect.
In fact, he said, staff is already working on some of Connolly-Keesler's ideas, though she won't officially start her new job until Jan. 1.
When Connolly-Keesler, now 54, joined the community foundation in Oshkosh in 1999, it had $22 million and 200 donors. She'll leave the organization with $77 million and 4,300 donors. Under her leadership, the number of donor funds grew from 80 to more than 650 and the foundation broadened its reach by funding a multitude of community projects, including a new water park and a renovation of the Oshkosh Convention Center.
In an editorial about her departure, the Oshkosh Northwestern newspaper praised her ability to get people to work together for a common goal, saying: "The end result is Connolly-Keesler's reputation of being someone, often the only one, who could get things done in town, a leader who would not take no for an answer."
In 2000, she led an effort to create a downtown Oshkosh master plan, which spawned many initiatives that she helped lead. She'll have to hand off her latest initiative, a visioning process that will help lay the groundwork for a major education project in public schools.
Connolly-Keesler was born and raised in Wisconsin and she never left, earning a bachelor's degree in social work and a master's degree in public administration from the University of Wisconsin. Leaving her job and her home state, she said, isn't easy. But who wouldn't love living in Naples, she said.
Thomas McCann, chairman of the Community Foundation of Collier County, said Connolly-Keesler's resume was impressive, but she also wowed the board with her observations about the foundation's new strategic plan, which is focused on endowment building and partnering with donors to better identify and fill community needs.
"There are not any aspects of foundation business that she has not encountered and managed well," McCann said in a statement.
The Community Foundation of Collier County, established in 1985, manages more than 445 funds established by charitable givers and organizations. It has about $63 million in funds.
Mary George, who has been acting president of Collier's community foundation since May, will return to her job as the organization's vice president for community investment.
George was CEO and president of the foundation from 2004 to 2010, but she said her passion is really community investment, which more directly involves deciding how to distribute grant money and working with donors to identify and fill community needs.
Under George's leadership, the foundation this year launched the 211 information and referral service in Collier County, through which operators, cross-trained as crisis counselors, answer calls around the clock and direct callers to social service programs that can help them.
George, who joined the foundation in 1995 as a grant-maker and program officer, said she's impressed by Connolly-Keesler's many accomplishments in Wisconsin.
"She brings that to the table — and lots of energy and lots of field experience," George said.
_Connect with Laura Layden at www.naplesnews.com/staff/laura_layden