Profiles in Leadership: Natalia Armstrong

Lisa Conley
Marco Eagle

Just because Natalia Armstrong is retired doesn’t mean she’s slowing down. In fact, she’s busier than ever running the Rotary Club of Marco Island Sunrise, volunteering with the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) and working with the Guadalupe Center.

Still, apparently she doesn’t think she’s busy enough because she decided to add one more thing to her plate: Leadership Marco.

Natalia Armstrong, Leadership Marco Class of 2017

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In some ways, Leadership Marco isn’t much different than the rotary club; according to its website, the Rotary Club of Marco Island Sunrise is a leadership organization made up of local business, professional and civic leaders that meet regularly to get to know each other, form friendships, and through that, get things done in the community.

Throw in some history lessons and hands on learning experiences and that's pretty much the definition of the Marco Island Area Chamber of Commerce's Leadership Marco program, so it's not surprising that Armstrong found herself drawn to the program.

"I learned about (Leadership Marco) through Rotary members who have attended," she said. "I joined to accelerate my learning and knowledge of Marco Island civic life so I could connect with others doing community service in the area. I'm also looking forward to building long lasting networking relationships."

Armstrong moved to Southwest Florida with her husband, Steven Cohen, two years ago. Prior to that, she served as director of global transportation for Bristol Myers Squibb, a global biopharmaceutical company whose mission is to "discover, develop and deliver innovative medicines that help patients prevail over serious diseases."

She also served in the U.S. Army for 20 years, enlisting as a private E1 in 1976 and working her way up to major. So although she definitely already knows a thing or two about leadership, she also knows the importance of programs like Leadership Marco.

"Island knowledge and meeting civic leaders is imperative to being able to understanding community need and executing valuable community service projects needed," she said.

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 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's next regularly-scheduled session was its Culture/Real Estate Day on Oct. 18. The leaders visited and heard presentations from the Marco Island Area Association of Realtors, Marco Players and the Marco Island Center for the Arts.

A few lucky members of the group also got the opportunity to act out a scene from the Island Theater Company's next production "Nana's Naughty Knickers," a show about two elderly women running an illegal lingerie business out of their apartment. Armstrong good-heartedly read the part of Sylvia, Nana's aged accomplice equipped with two hearing aids and a collapsible walker.

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