■ BY SUE ERWIN – Known for her smiling face and pleasant manner, Karen Kelley wears many hats at The Island School, where she has been employed since the school started back in 1999. Karen worked in the office that first school year, eventually leading her to other positions as a paraprofessional, creative arts and drama teacher, as the school grew larger each year. The school was kindergarten through third grade back then, and there were only 20 children and two full-time teachers at the school that first year. The Island School now has 60 students and a waiting list for new students.
Karen recalls when The Island School was just one classroom with a really great reading loft in the Community Center, and an administrative office located where the Boca Grande Historical Society is now. “I worked in the office and loved meeting all kinds of new people and troubleshooting the woes of being the first Lee County Public Charter school,” Karen said. “It was a learning process.”
At the time, Karen worked for Sue Sligar as a nanny for her son. Sue, along with some others on the island, had children who were starting school. The discussion of bringing a school back to the island was started. Sue invited Karen to work in The Island School’s office, and Karen has been an integral part of the school ever since.
Karen’s many roles at The Island School include manning the front desk, assisting in classrooms, keeping track of attendance and acting as the school’s historian. Karen takes and organizes photos of the students and helps put together the school’s annual yearbook. Photos of classes, students and school events decorate the walls of the school, and many of Karen’s art projects with students are proudly displayed.
Karen came to Boca Grande by way of North Carolina. After graduating from high school and attending a community college for a few years, she was unsure of what she wanted for a career. After working as a full-time caretaker and traveling with several families, she knew she wanted to work with children. Karen was a nanny for several families that led her to Florida.
“I remember crossing the bridge to Boca Grande that first time, knowing I wanted to work and live here!” Karen recalls.
After working for one family for six years and living in Boca Grande on Damifiwill Street, Karen met Sue Sligar, and the rest fell into place.
Working on the island has led Karen to become the secretary of the Boca Grand Chamber, and she has participated in the Christmas Walk, Ladies Day Tournament Party, and the World’s Richest Tarpon Tournament.
At home, Karen loves to spend time with her boyfriend, Dan Nuzzi, and his grandson. Karen and Dan live in Englewood with their rescued cat, Silvy. Gardening is one of Karen’s favorite pastimes, and she loves growing orchids. Karen and Dan also do catering on the side for a variety of events. Dan’s Italian heritage comes through in his superb, authentic food. Karen and Dan have catered weddings, birthdays, and baby showers. If you would like to have them help with one of your events, just let them know.
Karen loves to travel with Dan or her sister, Kim, who lives in North Carolina. Whether Karen is taking day trips throughout Florida or hopping on a plane, she enjoys the adventure. Some of Karen’s excursions include trout fishing in Taneycomo, Missouri, visiting Florence, Rome, and Tuscany in Italy, and touring the Guinness storehouse in Dublin, Ireland. She has seen the USS Arizona Memorial in Hawaii and snorkeled in Puerto Rico. Karen has plans for more travel in the future. Thailand and Paris are on her short list. Working at The Island School allows for more time in the summers for travel, and Karen hopes to continue to take advantage of this.
Some of Karen’s more memorable moments at The Island School are when Neil Armstrong came to visit and when Laura Bush came and read to the children. One school volunteer Karen enjoyed spending time with was Suzanne M. Low.
“She was an amazing woman, and she did so much for the school,” Karen said.
A plaque hanging in the school remembers Suzanne’s devotion to the study of the natural sciences and mathematics. Suzanne helped start the science program at The Island School, and she loved working with the children. Karen and Suzanne enjoyed a common interest in the Audubon Society, orchids, and the history of the island. Karen continues to enjoy working with board members, community members, and volunteers at the school.