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.

Joan Dowling, Vice President

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.

Joan is a volunteer with Wildlife Education and Rehabilitation (for over 20 years), and is continuing the education and exploration of nature and the Native American culture with her three grandsons who are Powhatan and Cherokee.

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.

Linda Benedict, Treasurer

Linda is a Realtor with Paradise Palms Realty Group. She moved to Bradenton 18 years ago with her husband and son. They love the Florida outdoor life and enjoy fishing, kayaking, hiking and our wonderful Gulf beaches. After graduating from Russell Sage College with a degree in Economics and Accounting, she worked in various capacities in Real Estate Development firms in New York and Florida before becoming a stay at home mom while her son was young. Linda has now been a Realtor for nine years and loves to show clients everything our area has to offer. With her son now in college, you’ll find Linda kayaking or walking around DeSoto National Memorial Park. She is looking forward to working with the Friends of DeSoto.

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.

Bob Milligan, Director

Bob is the owner of Wayward Computers, a web design and development company located in Bradenton Florida. When Bob is not working hard helping local businesses survive on the web and generally making the internet a better place, he can be found lumbering through the trails of the Desoto National Memorial, complaining about his bicycle’s seat on the local roads or kayaking the local waters with a near perfect lack of both grace and style.

Sharry Lueck, Director

Sharry was born at Ramey AFB in Puerto Rico and moved to Randolph AFB in San Antonio, Texas shortly after. When she was 5 she moved to Watertown, WI where she grew up. She graduated from University of Wisconsin-Whitewater with a Bachelor of Education degree and a music minor.

Sharry retired as the Circulation Manager from the Watertown Public Library after a 34-year career. She moved to Bradenton in 2016 when her sister, Donna, invited Sharry to move in with her.

Sharry loves the National Park System and has been visiting and camping in national parks for over 40 years. She was very excited at the opportunity to volunteer at De Soto National Memorial where she staffs the visitor center desk on Wednesday afternoons and helps with other projects.

Sharry played trumpet with the Watertown Municipal Band for over 25 years, was a member and past president of the Watertown Jaycees and a charter member of the Friends of the Watertown Public Library.

Sharry currently volunteers at De Soto National Memorial, Mornings with Mommy at her church, Braden River Branch Library, Manatee Parks and Natural Resources, Inspired Living at Lakewood Ranch and Fox Creek Pet Ranch.

Sharry enjoys reading, playing her trumpet, hiking, camping, visiting the preserves, walking her dog Bullet and most of all her yearly cross-country national park trips which have taken her to all 50 states.

Jean Gallagher, Director

Jean, a business owner originally from Vincennes Indiana has had experience in numerous occupations such as property management, floral and gifts, loan management, tutoring and medical laboratory work. She has two sons , 5 grandchildren and a new puppy named Muffin who enjoys walking around DeSoto National Memorial. Jean has enjoyed living in Bradenton for the past 20 years and looks forward to working with the Friends of De Soto. DeSoto National Memorial reminds her a park named George Rogers
Memorial that was on the river in Indiana.

Carol Heckman, Director

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.