Board of Directors

Margo Belaga, President

Margo is an entrepreneur, artist and business owner. Having lived in Bradenton for 30 years, she and has owned and operated numerous businesses in Insurance, Restaurant Equipment, and the Arts. As a graduate of University of Miami with a degree in psychology, its Margo’s love of community and nature that has anchored her to Bradenton. Her passion for nonprofit causes has included: VP of the Artist Guild of Manatee, Director of Arts Council of Manatee, VP of the Art League, Community Liaison for Meals on Wheels Plus as well as founding member of The Pottery Group and Networking for Non Profit. She has spent many years visiting DeSoto Memorial and is looking forward to adding her experience to the continuing the great work of the Friends of DeSoto.

Carol Heckman, Vice President

After receiving her degree in social welfare from The Pennsylvania State University, Carol was a maternal-child health worker in Peace Corps Tonga Islands, South Pacific. Following her Peace Corps service, she worked as a medical social worker at National Women’s Hospital, Auckland, New Zealand. After her marriage, Carol chose the job of wife and mother but continued her involvement with volunteer organizations. She was a founding member and four term president of the Celebrity Luncheon Board which raised over $850,000 for the Pennsylvania Visiting Nurses Association and is still on-going in the Lehigh Valley. Carol has always been active in amateur theater and is president of the volunteer support group for the Island Players of Anna Maria Island. She was a founding member and director of Kathy’s Place which provided mentoring for survivors of domestic violence. Carol has worked in several leadership capacities for the Girl Scouts and her church. She served as program coordinator for First Presbyterian Church in Allentown, Pa. and church clothing drive chairman – organizing volunteers and soliciting donations spring and fall for fifteen years. For the past five years Carol has been a proud member of the AMI Turtle Watch. She has completed training and holds a Marine Turtle Permit from the state of Florida authorizing her to locate and report crawls and sea turtle activity.

Mary Hawk, Secretary

Mary is an attorney and partner with the law firm of Porges Hamlin Knowles and Hawk, P.A. She is also a Supreme Court Certified Circuit Civil Mediator and a Certified Arbitrator. She has been in practice since 1998 in the Sarasota/Bradenton area, and is the head of the Firm’s Civil Litigation and Dispute Resolution Department. Mary concentrates her mediation and litigation practice in the areas of commercial litigation, condominium and homeowner association law, probate litigation, landlord/tenant law, and mobile home law. Mary has a Bachelor’s degree from Florida State University (Fine Arts, cum laude), and from Georgia State University (Journalism, with honors), and she received her law degree from Georgia State University College of Law (magna cum laude). She lives in Bradenton with her husband and son. She enjoys the wonderful Gulf Coast climate and outdoor activities with her family.

Scott Bassett, Treasurer

Scott Bassett earned his Juris Doctor degree from the University of Michigan Law School and his Bachelor of Arts degree from Wayne State University. He has authored over 100 published articles and book chapters on various family law, appellate practice, and law office technology topics, and is a frequent lecturer at continuing legal education programs. Scott has been an adjunct professor of law at Wayne State University Law School, a clinical professor at the University of Michigan Law School, and an adjunct professor of law at Stetson University College of Law in Gulfport, FL, teaching family law and law practice management. In 2002, Scott and his family relocated to Bradenton. Since arriving in Bradenton, Scott has served on the board of directors of a local charter school and led efforts to save the Pillsbury Temple Mound located near the DeSoto National Memorial. He served as chairperson of the School Advisory Council (SAC) at Manatee High School for two years.

Elfi Starrett, Director

Elfi Starrett is a retired National Intelligence Officer whose 25-year career assigned her to Asia, the Middle East, Europe and Central America. Born in Switzerland and growing up in England, she is fluent in several European languages as well as Farsi which she studied for a year before serving in Tehran, Iran. She shared her overseas life with her husband, Sam, a retired Career Foreign Service Officer and their two sons. Overseas life was an exciting and enriching experience, but it also made the wonders of our own country so much more vivid and appreciated. Elfi, who began a career as a Realtor upon retirement, enjoys sailing, fishing, bird watching, walking and their adopted greyhound. She and her husband retired to Bradenton 14 years ago.

Valerie Jackson Bell

Ms. Jackson Bell has a Masters degree in Anthropology and Museum Studies. She has worked on pre-historic and historic archaeological projects in Arizona, France, Turkey, Spain, New York, and Florida. Over the last 45 years she has been associated in both staff and volunteer positions with the Arizona State Museum, Chicago’s Field Museum and the Oriental Institute, St. Augustine Historical Society and St. Augustine Preservation Board, Onondaga County Office of Museums, Tampa’s MOSI, South Florida Museum, GWIZ and Sarasota History Center.

Art Dursheimer

Art is a native Floridian who has lived in Manatee County for about 25 years. He is a former journalist who is in his 9th year of teaching English and journalism at Bayshore High School. This is Art’s first year as a Friends of DeSoto board member, but his connection to the park is strong. He became actively involved with De Soto National Memorial several years ago through the park service’s Teacher-Ranger-Teacher program. During his years of service Art has assisted former De Soto Superintendent Scott Pardue in forming the Youth Advisory Council, worked with the Junior Ranger program and participated in many of the park’s living history events/programs. Art is married to Meg (20 years), and has 3 children and 3 grandchildren.

Joan Dowling

Joan Dowling is a third generation Floridian and a Powhatan American Indian. She grew up across the St. John’s River from Hontoon Island, a 1,600 acre archeological site that years later became Hontoon Island State Park. These early years gave Joan an appreciation of nature, wildlife, and the culture of the Florida Native Americans.

Joan attended the University of Florida and the University of Texas at Dallas, earning degrees in Literary Analysis, Linguistics and English as a Second Language. She taught Middle School and High School in the Dallas area before starting a company that created, wrote and edited technological patents. This resulted in over 20 patents and numerous litigation settlements.

At the present time Joan is the Vice President and founding member of the West Coast Woman’s Club and a volunteer (for over 15 years) with Wildlife Inc. She is continuing the education and exploration of nature and the Native American culture with her three grandsons who are Powhatan and Cherokee.

Bill Johnston, Director Emeritus

Bill Johnston was President and Chief Operating officer of the New York Stock Exchange from 1996 to the end of 2001. Prior to that he had been Senior Managing Director of LaBranche and Company from 1990 and Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Agora Securities, a firm he founded in 1980. He was a Director of the NYSE for nearly 10 years and spent his entire working career of 41 years at the Exchange. He is currently President of Omicron Delta Kappa Foundation, a national leadership organization, a trustee of Hollins University from which his wife graduated and a trustee of Plymouth Harbor in Sarasota. He is a past trustee of Washington & Lee University, his alma mater, Cancer Research and Treatment in NYC and numerous business school advisory boards.
He has recently retired to Bradenton with his wife. They have 2 children and 2 grandchildren.

Charles T. McCullough, Jr., Director Emeritus

As a physician and orthopaedic reconstructive joint surgeon, for some 40 + years, Charlie has taken pleasure and enjoyed the natural world and the living things within. For decades he has been committed to their conservation and preservation. An active member and frequently board chair of numerous environmental, conservation. philanthropic, and medical organizations, he has degrees, and or fellowships, from several universities including Kentucky, Vanderbilt, Walter Reed, Duke, and post graduate training with Britsher, Sir John Charnley, inventor and developer of the first conventional, successful total hip replacement. Currently Dr. McCullough enjoys membership on the National Council of NPCA, (the National Parks & Conservation Association-of the 393 National Parks he and his spouse of 47 years, Shirley Anne, have visited about 75 %), the Ringling Foundation and Museum: the Ringling College of Art and Design: SILL, (Sarasota Institute of Lifelong Learning), honorary membership in the West Bradenton Rotorary: and volunteering with the South Florida Museum, as a Manatee Care team member. He also enjoys fly-fishing, kayaking Florida’s bayous, bays and rivers, and most of all (most of the time) his two grandchildren, Ellie, 6 and Will 9. Enabling and encouraging them to find their own sense of wonder is both a challenge and delightful. I think it’s happening.