Islander Keith Dameron: A history of turning setbacks into opportunities
He also turned the phrases ‘Shred Party,’ ‘In the Round’ and ‘Health Plus Lecture Series’ into well-known and regular community events
During his business career, said Keith Dameron, he never got involved in civic affairs or volunteering. Obviously, something changed.
“When I was with Mass Mutual – my first real job – my focus was on doing my best, and advancing through the organization. We were never part of the community – we moved every four or five years,” he said.
During his time on Marco Island, Dameron spearheads initiatives on fraud prevention and the dangers of falling, has hosted scores of community events, served on 10 nonprofit boards, taken the lead in and emceed patriotic events including the Big Flag Committee, Memorial Day and Veterans Day commemorations, and was honored as the island’s Volunteer of the Year in 2009.
In 2000, Dameron and his wife Barbara moved to Marco Island to retire. He had spent 33 years in the insurance business with Mass Mutual, rising to manage operations in 33 states. A Realtor friend took him to a Rotary meeting, and he joined the club.
“I had been so inwardly focused. Now,” said Dameron,” I realized it’s time to give back.”
He also went back to work. One year of inactivity was all Keith could take before he felt the need to do something to stay busy.
“I applied for a part time job renting Wave Runners, but the company owner wouldn’t approve it,” said Dameron. “He said ‘you won’t stay – this won’t be enough to keep you satisfied.’ I was so mad.”
So Dameron went into banking.
“A guy I knew suggested I come to work in his bank. I said I don’t know anything about banking, but I tried it, and started at Citizens Community Bank as a customer service rep. I found out that banking is just like insurance – people give you their money and you give them a piece of paper. Both businesses are built on trust and integrity.”
Citizens Community was acquired by First National Bank, and then Dameron was given the chance to open a new bank branch for Royal Palm Bank on Marco.
Dameron’s mentor at Royal Palm died before the building was complete, and Dameron left to try his hand in real estate with Coldwell-Banker. Then in December ’05, he jumped back into banking, heading up the first Marco Island branch for Orion Bank. Iberia Bank, headquartered in Louisiana, took over when Orion failed.
After serving as vice president and branch manager, he transitioned to a part-time position as VP and business development officer for Iberia throughout Collier County.
“I guess I just can’t hold a job,” said Dameron with a laugh. He announced to his extensive network of email connections at the end of December that as part of a business review at the bank, his position with Iberia was being eliminated effective Jan. 3.
“Let me assure you, this is the right action for this bank in Collier County. My time with Iberia Bank has been a wonderful experience,” he wrote. In fact, Dameron is still working out of an office at the Marco Island Iberia branch, focusing on Step Smart Collier, where he is CEO of the senior fall prevention coalition, and the Collier ID Fraud Task Force, where he is a founding member.
Dameron is perhaps best-known on Marco Island for the “In the Round” series of community events that put the bank, and him, on the map on the island. Starting in April, 2006, he has since hosted 78 In the Rounds, with topics as varied as testosterone supplements, utility rates, the Smokehouse Bay Bridge, community redevelopment, and an evening with musician JRobert.
Eventually, the medical-related topics were so popular that a separate companion series, the “Health Plus” medical lecture series was spun off, with 46 presentations. After Keith took on his wider business development role with Iberia, the after-hours sessions were expanded to other branches in the Naples area.
“It was the space we have here that made me think of doing these get-togethers. Most banks on the island don’t have this space. They have little, cut-up offices, but here we have this rotunda,” he said, gesturing up at the lofty ceiling in the bank’s lobby.
The In the Round gatherings became a “town hall” of sorts, and have made the Iberia Bank branch, on Bald Eagle Drive just south of Collier Blvd., something of a focal point on Marco Island.
Timely topics, scheduled with a finger on the pulse of the local community’s concerns, led to the success of the In the Round series. The open bar, with beer, wine and snacks provided by the bank, certainly didn’t hurt attendance.
Another Dameron initiative, the bank’s “shred parties,” became a home run, with one planned event mushrooming to 25, and something over 100 tons of islanders’ old financial documents shredded, to help avoid identity theft or fraud. Each shred event also raised approximately $1,500, contributed to local charities including Avow Hospice, the Marco Police Foundation, the Friends of Tigertail Beach, and the Veterans’ Memorial at Veterans’ Community Park.
Why did Keith Dameron jump into volunteering for the community so hard?
“Someone asked me that, and I had to think hard. I just needed something to do, other than lie on the beach or play golf, neither of which I do,” he said. “With the Health Plus series, we’ve had two different people come to us and say without that information, I would not be alive today.”
“Keith has never met a charity he wouldn’t help,” said Bill Morris, Marco Island attorney, longtime Dameron friend and past recipient of the chamber of commerce’s Lifetime Achievement Award. “He’s someone I can always count on. He does what he says he’ll do, and that’s a rare quality.”
Dameron said that since word of his newfound freedom has gotten out, he has been presented numerous volunteering opportunities, “but I’m taking 90 days to think about it,” and sort through his next steps.