BY OLIVIA CAMERON – Gasparilla Island Conservation and Improvement Association board member John Edwardson came to Boca Grande as a jack of all trades. The former business leader also volunteers for The Island School’s million-dollar shootout. John spent a majority of his childhood in small Indiana and Southern Illinois towns. In 1971, he received his bachelor of science degree in industrial engineering at Purdue before claiming a master of business administration degree from the University of Chicago. John began his career path by gaining banking experience in the commercial lending division of a Minnesota bank. With the skill derived from his first job, John became Vice President and Chief Financial Officer at Northwest Airlines. “The CFO position was an easy transition,” said John. John went on to work as chief financial officer of Ameritech before he became president and chief operating officer of United Airlines. He found a consistency of excitement in the airline business. His international travel opened his eyes to a vast majority of the world, about 78 countries to be specific. “In Osaka, Japan, I was negotiating with the Japanese employer’s labor union for United Airlines. I am sitting in a conference room speaking through a translator, thinking,‘How did little Johnny Edwardson from the Midwest end up with this opportunity?’ ” It wasn’t long before John took the risk to follow an entrepreneur founder. John landed the position of chairman and chief executive officer of CDW Corporation. His critical leadership skills proved to be a solid foundation for guiding the company through both the aftermath of the dot-com bubble burst in 2001 and the Great Recession in 2008. He led the company for 11 years of significant growth before retiring. Since 1986, John has also been an active supporter for Habitat for Humanity International and commends the Lee and Charlotte county chapters for their roles within the community.
“It’s a charity I’ve loved because of the way it has changed peoples’ lives,” said John.
He praises the positive effect home ownership has for local families and will continue to admire the organization. John attended the inaugural Habitat Hero Award Dinner to be recognized for decades of consistent support of the charity. After working through a divorce, John fell in love with former United Airlines co-worker and widow, Fran. The pair married and then spent some time living in Naples prior to joining the island life. Together, they have three daughters and two sons. Hearing nothing but good things about Boca Grande, the pair felt they could spend retirement in the tight-knit community. In July of 2010, they bought a home on Gasparilla Island. It wasn’t long before John retired his CEO title by December of 2012.
“We were seasonal residents to begin with,” said John, “but now we are Florida residents who spend more time here than in Chicago.”
However, John’s work ethic didn’t stop there. His philanthropic nature brought him to volunteer alongside the GICIA.
“What I love about Boca Grande is the way it relies on what the GICIA has been able to do over the years,” said John. “It really looks like what I would call old Florida.” As an avid biker, John always feared riding beside cars on bustling streets. Now, one part of his volunteer focus revolves around the safety of bikers and walkers on the bike path, which he calls one of the “GICIA jewels.” One of GICIA’s interests is to encourage users to be courteous and safe while on the bike path.
“The traffic on the bike path is a lot higher than it used to be. New signage is going up asking users to respect the usage and show courtesy on the bike path. There’s also a walking path along the bike path that we will be working on within the next year or two.”
John is proud of the GICIA accomplishments and hopes to preserve the old Florida feel, without high-rises and keeping nature intact. With Fran working on the board of the Boca Grande Health Clinic, the pair holds important roles in the community’s safety. Without the clinic, John claims he would have been apprehensive to move.
“Without it, this place would be more remote in the event of a health emergency.”
However, the pair feels lucky to have comfort in paradise. As vice president of The Island School Foundation, John’s financial experience holds importance. With the Foundation’s purpose of raising money to support the school, the board of directors annually holds The Island School Golf Shootout, where golfers tee off for the chance of winning a million dollars. All proceeds benefit The Island School, which gave John’s four-year involvement meaning. “The objective of it is to keep The Island School a tuition-free school,” said John. “We love what the school brings to the island. It gives us much more of a sense of community and keeps families around.”
Without The Island School, parents wouldn’t willingly move here and have their children need to commute to ensure a good education. From CEO to puppy professional, John has also familiarized himself with puppy pageant life as a judge for the 2019 Boca Grande Dog Show, held by the Woman’s Club.
Besides helping keep the island afloat, John and his wife also enjoy walking the beach and playing golf at the Coral Creek Club. John also claims himself to be an ardent paddle boarder.
“I tell people it cleanses my soul.” He enjoys the serenity of the activity and has spent more time in the water than on land the past few weeks. John’s versatile skill set has provided him with opportunities he didn’t see coming but is glad to have taken.