It was an evening that left the 20-year veteran of the Collier County Commission breathless with delight. For Donna Fiala, she was home amongst friends up at the Ritz Carlton’s elegant Tiburon Golf Club. Friends gathered from near and far to join ranks to honor the woman who gave her life to representing District 1 as their Collier County Commissioner for the last two decades.
In politics, two decades can be a lifetime, but for Fiala and her indefatigable personality, it was a walk in the park so to speak. She would always place people, above politics and would be willing to go anywhere at any time on the request of a constituent to listen to their concerns or their ideas.
As the microphone was passed around the room, one gentleman spoke about how he cornered Fiala and lobbied her for support regarding pickleball and the important role it could play within Collier County. He spoke of her genuine interest in the subject and promised she’d meet with him again. As she and her assistant walked away, she inquired, “What exactly is pickleball?” bringing laughter from attendees. After a bit of research, she shortly mastered the necessary knowledge to become not only a supporter of pickleball but eventually grow to become an ardent supporter of the county’s plans to embrace a sports facility just beyond the I-75 interchange at Exit 101, which will be an economic boom for the county when finalized.
The event itself was organized by Marco resident Jose Granda and Naples resident Richard Klass. They both took the time to welcome the guest of honor and the invitees for the event, but it was Fiala who kept guests transfixed on her every word which quickly turned into a story about one or another of the attendees, leaving everyone with a smile on their faces.
It was the personable and outgoing Deputy County Manager Nick Casalanguida who enjoyed reminding guests that behind closed doors it would be an all–business professional that would hold the staff to the highest standards. She would also fiercely lobby for projects when a need had been demonstrated in District One.
In speaking about his relationship with Fiala, Granda mused that although she lived in the Lakewood area of East Naples, Fiala felt as much at home in Marco. “I am proud of the work which her advisory committee did in conjunction with her which helped to make Marco a better place to live. We love you, Donna,” said Granda.
County Manager Leo Ochs confirmed the comments made by his deputy. “We are going to greatly miss Donna. Her integrity and ethical standards are something everyone in elected office should strive to set as their gold standard,” said Ochs.
Collier County Commission Chairman Burt Saunders, as well as Commissioner William McDaniel, were also in attendance and praised the work ethic and accomplishments of Fiala as the microphone passed around the room.
One of her crowning achievements which she is rightfully proud of lies on the East Trail and bears her name. The Donna Fiala Community Center at Eagle Lakes Park—located at 11565 Tamiami Trail East. The park includes its own community center, bike and walking paths, an Aquatic Center, soccer fields, tennis courts, basketball courts, a playground and restrooms. As Fiala put it best, “This was long overdue, and I am proud we were able to build it.”
As the affair came to an end, it was Fiala who concluded the event by praising the county staff, the residents of Collier County and her friends who had come out to say thank you for her 20 years of service.
Fiala will attend her last two meetings in October as Commissioners meet on the second and fourth Tuesday of each month.