“Las Vegas was big and hot and over-populated,” said Melissa. “There was always something to do. It’s such a busy place. Vegas is incredibly diverse, with all of the good and bad that comes with that.”
Melissa was born in Oregon, but the family moved to Nevada when she was still young.
“I was three or four when we moved to Nevada,” said Melissa.
Melissa’s father was a computer programmer. Her mother stayed at home to raise Melissa and her two younger brothers.
“Having my two smaller brothers, I was Miss Bossy Boss,” she laughed. “I mothered them a lot and helped to raise them. Even today I am very protective of the boys. I think that it helped to teach me to be a mom to my own two children when they came along.”
The family of five spent about a decade in the booming desert of Nevada before moving to Tampa when Melissa was 15.
“I was used to the heat from living in Las Vegas, but the humidity in Tampa was suffocating,” Melissa said. “It took a while to get used to it.”
The humidity was not the only change that Melissa found.
“In Vegas, you are surrounded by mountains,” she explained. “Florida, well, Florida is flat. It’s also amazingly green, which was odd to me after living in a desert.”
After Melissa’s graduation from high school, she began studying accounting at a local college.
“I was going for an Associates in Science in Accounting, but I ended up switching over to an Associates in Arts so that I had more options,” she said. “If I want to go for my bachelor’s degree later, an A.A. leaves a lot more avenues available.”
Melissa met her husband, Michael, when the two were working together in a bookstore in Tampa. “Our first date was to the movies,” said Melissa. “I don’t actually remember what we saw, but I had a good time.”
After a whirlwind romance, the two were married in 2000.
“The wedding was in St. Pete, at Sunken Gardens,” she said. “It was beautiful. Everything happened so quickly, but everything was right. It was the right time, we were the right people and we were both ready.”
Melissa and Michael eventually left Tampa for the Charlotte Harbor area with his job working in computer-aided design.
“Michael works in Sarasota,” explained Melissa. “We have a home in North Port, and we both commute, him to Sarasota and me to Boca Grande.”
The couple has two children, a boy and a girl. Their son Frank is 11, and their daughter Elizabeth is 7.
“The most exciting part of having children so far has actually been having the children,” laughed Melissa. “Really, though, it is so fascinating to see them change and grow. They start out so small and helpless, and then they turn into their own people with their own personalities. It is a wonderful process to watch.”
Melissa is sharing a part of her own childhood with her daughter. She was a Girl Scout when she was younger, and is now a co-leader for her daughter’s troop.
“I remember being in Girl Scouts,” said Melissa. “Girl Scouts has such a positive message that I want to share with my daughter. It teaches Scouts to be confident, kind and selfless. I think those are very important qualities to have in life.”
Girl Scouts were not the only influence in Melissa’s life.
“My grandfather, Bill Duncan, had a tremendous influence on me,” she explained. “He was a veteran, a great writer and journalist and a volunteer in the community. He touched many lives through his words and selfless volunteer efforts. He was always supportive of me even from a long distance. His influence reached through thousands of miles. He taught me to never give up, and to always believe in myself. He always made time for me, out of the many grandchildren he had. I miss him very much.”
Her grandfather passed his love of writing to Melissa. In fact, she is a published writer.
Melissa writes short stories, like her story that was recently published in “Chicken Soup for the Soul: My Cat’s Life.” She has also been published in several magazines.
“I’ve always been into art and books,” said Melissa. “Even when I was in school, I was very studious. I kept my head down and just hung out with my friends. Writing is something that I love. I will write forever.”
Melissa has been working at the Boca Grande branch of Englewood Bank and Trust for the last two years.
“When I started with the bank, Boca Grande was my first assignment,” she said. “When I moved to North Port, I went to work at another bank. While I was there, I worked with Amy Prestia, who is a vice president at Englewood Bank now. When she moved over, she recruited me, and I haven’t looked back.”
Of course, working at the island bank is more than just handling money.
“I love Boca Grande,” said Melissa. “It’s got this quaint, different atmosphere. There is so much character. It’s such a pretty little village.”
It is not only the town that has won her over.
“The people that I meet out here, I learn so much about them,” she said. “Not just work-related stuff, but about their families and their lives. You really get a chance to get to know people out here, whether they are seasonal and only here a few months or here year-round.”
One more perk of the job is the grand entrance to Gasparilla Island that she gets to make every workday.
“Coming over that bridge, the view out over the water is incredible,” she laughed. “I love it. It puts a smile on my face and is a great way to start my morning.”
A classic part of Boca Grande is the Ladies Day Tarpon Tournament. Melissa is a member of the committee that helps to plan the annual event.
“Larissa Wells was the head of the committee last year, and I was a member and got really involved in the planning,” she explained. “This year, I am the co-chair with Larissa. It has been a fun experience.”
The promotion to co-chair gives Melissa plenty to do.
“I do a lot of the outreach to local businesses, getting sponsors and organizing that part of the tournament,” she said. “This year, we are reaching out to the guides and anglers that were part of last year’s tournament, to get them preregistered. That way we aren’t taking so much time signing boats up on the day of the event. We just want to make it easier for everyone.”
The biggest change to the tournament this year is the timing. Traditionally, Ladies Day was held on Mother’s Day and was the unofficial opening of tournament season in the Pass, but for the last few years there has been a push to move it later on the calendar.
“Immediately after the tournament last year, we made the decision to have this year’s later in tarpon season,” said Melissa. “Between the weather and the timing, the ladies just weren’t catching anything.”
Hopefully this year will see an end to the two-year streak of tarpon-free Ladies Days.
“We all just want the whole experience to go smoothly and for everyone to be happy,” said Melissa. “It’s a fun event anyway, and we want everyone to be able to focus on that.”
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