Profiles in Leadership: Sue Olszak

Lisa Conley
Marco Eagle

The Marco Island American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life team is No. 1 in the state of Florida, having raised $345,000. The team’s success is no doubt thanks to the leadership of Sue Olszak, the society’s senior development manager of distinguished events.

Sue Olszak, Leadership Marco Class of 2017

Having already proven herself a leader and an invested member of the community, it's only natural that Olszak wanted to join Leadership Marco, the Marco Island Area Chamber of Commerce's program designed to bring leaders together to learn about their community.

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Olszak said she learned about the program from past participants, and decided to see what all the hype is about. 

"Past members talked about it and it was always something I wanted to do," she said. "I'm looking forward to building the relationships and learning the inside facets of the island."

Olszak was born and raised in Crete, Ill., a small town about an hour south of Chicago. She attended Prairie State College where she earned a degree in finance and management. 

She moved to Marco Island six years ago and became involved with the American Cancer Society shortly after. As the society's senior development manager of distinguished events, Olszak is in charge of Relay for Life and the Imagination Ball, two of the society's biggest fundraisers.

"My favorite part of my job is working with the volunteers. They are the heart of our organization and I learn so much from them," she said. "They truly inspire me and the time that they choose out of their day to give back and raise money to end this dreaded disease."

Olszak and the society were honored at a recent Marco Island City Council meeting for being the No. 1 Relay for Life team.

“We just want to thank everybody who participated, who came and walked with us, and who came to spend the day with us and help raise money," Olszak said at the meeting. "Thank you for your support.”

In addition to Relay for Life, Olszak is also involved with Meals of Hope and Marco Island Academy. She lives on the island with her husband Kevin, and together the two have three children: John, Matthew and Emily.

She said she's looking forward to learning more about the place she calls home, and making some new friends in the process.

"I feel that it's important to me to learn about Marco," she said, "and to meet other like-minded community people."

The Leadership Marco program consists of 10 bi-weekly sessions, and gives its members insight into the following aspects of the island: history/museum; media; education/parks and recreation; hospitality/economics; law enforcement; culture/real estate; health care/fire-rescue; agriculture/environment; and government/transportation/infrastructure.

The group's first educational session was History Day on Aug. 9. The day began with a look at the Calusa exhibit at the Marco Island Historical Museum, and then continued with a historical tour of the island, narrated by local historian Craig Woodward. Tour stops included Captain Horr's house, Old Marco and Snook Inn, where the group stopped for lunch.

A brief overview of the Deltona years, which many consider to be the beginning of modern Marco, wrapped up the day.

Media Day was Leadership Marco Class of 2017's next adventure, and provided an inside look at how journalists in the area do their jobs.

The group's Education Day, which included stops at Lorenzo Walker Institute of Technology, Lely High School, Marco Island Academy, Marco Island Charter Middle School and Tommie Barfield Elementary, was supposed to be Wednesday, Sept. 6, but was canceled in preparation of Hurricane Irma.

The following two sessions, one of which was supposed to Law Enforcement Day with the Marco Island Police Department, were also canceled and will be rescheduled for a later date. It's the first time since the program's inception 15 years ago that a hurricane has impacted the schedule, according to Donna Niemczyk, the Chamber of Commerce’s administrative coordinator.

Leadership Marco Class of 2017 will meet every other Wednesday through November before its graduation ceremony on Jan. 27 at the Marco Island Yacht Club.