As Jacki Dezelski packs up the Manatee Chamber office for a temporary move, she’s reminded of the history of the institution where she spent most of her professional life. “We are finding old position papers from who knows when,” she says. Of course, a year into her newest role as president and CEO of the chamber, Dezelski’s primary focus remains the Bradenton-Palmetto area’s future, which includes a Riverwalk expansion and continued economic growth within The Friendly City. We talked to Dezelski about what guided her path here. 

Bob Bartz  He was and will always be the most influential mentor I’ve had in my professional career. I worked for Bob almost 21 years, and I can’t begin to tell you how much I learned on how to work collaboratively, how to encourage other leaders to get behind a common goal and to never forget that keeping members at the heart of your mission will never serve you wrong. It’s only been a year since his passing. This was my second job after graduating from my undergrad education, so, the majority of my adult life, Bob was a personal influence on me. His integrity is one of the first things people think about when they remember Bob. He was a tireless advocate of the business community as a whole.

Fine Arts   I entered the University of Florida as a pre-engineering major, but I enrolled in a drawing class in the College of the Arts and my sophomore year I changed direction to fine arts. I graduated with a major in graphic design. It was a better conversation to say I had a graphic design degree than a drawing degree. My parents could wrap their mind around a career path there a little better. But my poor college roommate. The projects I would work on, our room in the sorority house was covered in art supplies and sand and scraps. We had charcoal dust here and acrylic paint there. My mom has a couple drawings she still has up. One sits by the kitchen table in her house, a still life of a floral arrangement, and recently one of my children seemed astounded mama drew that picture on the wall. 

Delta Delta Delta  Make your joke now. The whole Saturday Night Live “Delta Delta Delta, can I help ya, help ya, help ya” thing took off at just the time I joined the sorority, and we lived and breathed it. When I went to UF, I didn’t go room with a friend from Manatee High, I just got a randomly assigned  roommate. The initial appeal was to find a network right off the bat, but to me, it grew to more than that, and the people I met are still a strong network in my life. I maintain friendships with my sorority sisters. We did community service in Gainesville. It was a way for me to play sports. I was captain of the softball team and played soccer and tennis in the pan-hellenic intramural leagues. One conversation lost in the negative coverage of Greek life is the leadership development.

Networking Home Run  I credit the Pittsburgh Pirates with introducing me to my husband, Mike Kennedy. He worked for the team in Pittsburgh and then they brought him to Bradenton as the director of Florida operations. I met him his third day here at a Manatee Chamber of Commerce networking event. We were friends for a year and half before we started dating. If he had not transferred here, certainly my personal life could have taken a different track. He did leave the Pirates shortly before we ended up engaged,
but he’s still an avid fan and it’s obviously my favorite team. I can’t go to all the games, but we have season tickets to spring training with the Pirates and also go to Rays games and to see the Marauders as well.

My Kids, Lucy and Micah   I have six-year-old Lucy and eight-year-old Micah. Lucy loves to play T-ball, so Saturdays are spent cheering on the T-ball team; Mike is the coach. Micah is into science and Minecraft right now, so we spent part of Saturday also playing Minecraft with our son. It’s often just him showing us what new thing he can build. On my desk, my masterpieces include these clay sculptures from my children: “Bunny” by Lucy, age 4, and “Racecar” by Micah, age 6.

Anna Maria Sands   We keep our weekends focused on family time. We love the beach, and the kids love swimming. We live where people vacation, and it’s important to live like a tourist every now and them. We go out on Anna Maria. It’s the beach I went to growing up in Bradenton and the kids loving riding the trolley
on Anna Maria Island. We usually park several blocks away or hit Bean Point. 

Sister Light  I cherish a lantern on the corner of my desk. My sister Christi spent two years in South Korea— her husband is a dentist in the army—and she sent me a number of personal items including this. I look at it and think of my sister every day. The four panels are the four seasons: Spring, Winter, Summer and Fall. She got it for no reason other than it being an example of Korean craftsmanship. She’s now in Virginia Beach. It’s the first time in five years we’ve been on the same continent, much less the same time zone, so it’s nice to be able to call her at appropriate times of the day.

Sam Walton Wisdom  I was recently reminded of some of Jim Collins work. There are a number of great reminders in rereading Jim Collins’ Good to Great, starting with how you have to make sure to have the right people on the bus. And he has this quote from Sam Walton that I still have flagged in the book: “Somehow over the years people have gotten the impression Walmart . . .was just this great idea that turned into an overnight success . . . Like most other overnight successes, it was about 20 years in the making.” It reminds me, working for an organization in existence since 1889, that there’s foundational work that carried us for over 100 years and is critical in helping us take the next step in
where we want to go.

PBS Kids  Outside of kids’ shows, I don’t watch much TV. The Wild Kratts is a favorite. Those Kratts brothers travel the world and teach you how to be good stewards of the environment. I learn a lot I didn’t know about animals around the world. They have a pretty good gig going.

Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport  SRQ Airport is important to me because Delta Airlines is what brought my family to the area. My dad worked in Los Angeles, where I was born, but he put his name in the hat to be one of the Delta employees who moved to Sarasota to open up that station. We moved from L.A. to Bradenton, Florida, over Christmas in 1979, so SRQ and Delta Airlines will always have an importance to me. I fly out of SRQ whenever I can.

Tennis  I was a pretty avid tennis player prior to my children’s births, and my goal is to pick the tennis racquet back up. I’ve played a few times in recent years, but I once played in two weekly tennis leagues, a women’s league and a mixed doubles league. I miss the court. For me, tennis is an escape. When I’m playing, I don’t think about anything other than playing tennis. I don’t have other hobbies that give me that.

Cello  A goal of mine is to start playing cello again. In middle school, I fell in love with the sound of the cello, and I stayed with it up until high school. To me, it’s one of the most beautiful sounds. I took private lessons as well as being in the school orchestra. I wasn’t half bad.


Pyramid Point Farms  My family has a
farm outside of Traverse City, Michigan. My grandfather Jack Barratt ran the farm. It’s right on Lake Michigan, and to have that juxtaposition of the big red barn, the beautiful fields and the rolling hills. We would spend summer on the farm with my grandparents and would help bale hay, pick vegetables, shuck peas, and we’d ride horses and collect eggs from the chicken coup. We would feed the pigs, and we would pick berries and make jam. It was just a wonderful way to spend summer. I hope to get to where my children can spend more time on the farm. My mom now spends half the year up on the farm. It’s not a commercial farm any longer, but they put in a large personal garden and have 20 trees in the orchard. It was 850 acres when we were kids, and now it’s just close to 10. The rest is now part of Sleeping Bear National Park. It’s a priority now for Mike and I to spend a couple weeks of the summer there.