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.
Susan Johnson, Secretary
Susan L. Johnson became a DeSoto Friends member in 2016 soon after she retired to Bradenton in June 2014 from Silver Spring, Maryland, where she and her husband Carl had lived for much of their adult lives.
Susan was born in Rugby, England and grew up in Greenock on the West Coast of Scotland, a wonderful place for bike rides along the River Clyde. She remembers waving at the people on the Cunard liners from America coming up the Clyde River to dock. When she was thirteen her father took a scientific job in Washington, D. C. at the British Embassy. Her parents decided she should attend boarding school at the Brighton & Hove High School in the South of England. She completed high school there and came to the Washington, D. C. area to live in 1959. She married Carl in 1964, and became involved in church and civic affairs, which included chairing the Scout Committee of her son’s Troop, and leading the Citizen’s Association in her neighborhood for a number of years.
Susan has always enjoyed outdoor activities: hiking, swimming, youth hostelling in Britain, camping, travelling to the National Parks in the West, Yosemite especially, and to New Zealand and the South Pacific. It was a natural thing for her to join the DeSoto National Memorial Friends Group with her love of the outdoors and the Parks. She is currently serving as Secretary of the Friends Board of Directors.
Teresa Cunningham, Treasurer
bio coming soon.
Mary Hawk, Director
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.
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.
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 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.