■ BY SUE ERWIN
Kelly Emery is a great person to know when you need to cool down, especially during the steamy days of September in Southwest Florida.
Kelly is the change-out coordinator at Grande Aire in Boca Grande. If your air conditioning unit breaks and you call for help, your name and paperwork will most likely end up on her desk.
Working in a cozy little office on Railroad Avenue on the island, she sorts through stacks of work orders, invoices and other paperwork to ensure that each customer gets the highest level of customer service.
Kelly is originally from Elyria, Ohio, in the northeastern part of the state.
After graduating from high school, she worked for the clerk of the court for several years. Her father was a county judge and encouraged her to enter the legal field.
She worked there for a few years, and one winter she came to Florida to visit a friend who was staying in Sarasota.
“We had so much fun in Siesta Key and Casey Key – I knew right then I wanted to move here,” she said. “So I went back up north, quit my job, and moved to Osprey three weeks later.”
When Kelly first moved to Florida, she worked for what is now Region’s Bank in the mortgage-lending department. She worked there for several years.
After that, she worked for an eye doctor at the Center for Sight in Englewood.
“It was such a cutting-edge job, and I was one of their first employees,” she said. “I worked almost every position except surgical assistant.”
In 1989 she met Garry, who would become her future husband.
She was shopping for a used car and he caught her eye. He was driving a company truck that had the same last name as a girl she worked with. So she did some research.
“Her husband owned the company, and I asked her to help me track him down, and I eventually met him and we started dating,” she said.
A couple of years later, she became pregnant with her son, Stephen, who is now 25.
Later she returned to the legal field and worked as a family law secretary in Venice.
“I did all the billing, and I prepared for and went to several trials,” Kelly said. “It was very interesting work.”
Kelly’s parents moved to Florida in 2004, just before Hurricane Charley hit. As they aged, Kelly was the caretaker for both of them.
Then when the economy took a bad hit in 2008, Kelly found herself searching for work.
An acquaintance was opening an air conditioning company in North Port, and he offered her a job in the office. That’s how she landed in the air conditioning industry.
She work for Total Air Solutions for a while and eventually found her current position at Grande Aire.
Some of her daily duties as the change-out coordinator include pulling permits and doing paperwork to coordinate when and who will be installing the new air conditioning units when one breaks. She helps customers on the island and throughout Englewood, North Port and Port Charlotte. She also does the billing and follow-up if there are any problems or questions about each job.
“Basically I deal with each customer from start to finish,” she said.
She said many of the houses on the island have more than one air conditioning system, making Boca Grande customers require a more unique, specialized service.
And many of them are not in town when their caretakers notice that the air conditioning unit in the house has broken.
“Being that we are such a small facility, there is a lot of thought that goes into planning when the equipment is ordered and where it’s going to be stored,” she said.
Other challenges occur when a customer is calling from Little Gasparilla Island. The new unit has to be shipped across via a water taxi from Eldred’s marina to get delivered to the home on the island, which requires the help and coordination of several people.
And the permitting process varies from county to county. The city of Venice has certain rules, as does the city of North Port.
She also deals with a lot of property management companies that have staff caring for homes and condos that seasonal residents rent, or with owners who rent them to others for most of the year.
Kelly has been with the company for more than two years.
“This is a very busy place – we stay busy all year long,” she said.
Kelly and Garry currently live in North Port.
Their son Stephen is an active thespian and is currently working on a television show called the “NED show.”
“He lives in Charlotte, North Carolina, but he travels all the time for work,” Kelly said. “He was very active at the Performing Arts Center while he attended North Port High School, and he has a bachelor of fine arts degree from Florida Southern University.”
The “NED Show” actors travel to various schools and put on shows that help inspire kids to do the right thing. NED stands for “Never give up, Encourage others, and Do your best.” It’s an educational program to promote positive behavior and character development.
“In the summertime they go to schools in England and Australia, because the American schools are closed,” Kelly said. “I’m very proud of him; he already has a very interesting resume.”
Kelly said she met some of her best friends during her son’s theater experiences.
“As parents we would have to chaperone the marathon rehearsals and field trips they went on, so we all became really good friends,” she said. “One of the kids that Stephen went to school with is now the new theater director at North Port High School.”
Kelly is already looking forward to Christmas because Stephen is coming home to visit.
She has one sister, Stephanie, who lives in Chicago and is a vice president at Sears Holdings.
When Kelly is not working, she and Garry enjoy boating, fishing and spending time with friends.
She said the best part about her job is the great people she works with and the wonderful opportunity she has to work on the island.
“Bobby (owner of Grande Aire) treats us every year to a day of tarpon fishing,” Kelly said. “He hires a bunch of local captains, and we go after work in groups of five at a time.”
Last year she caught a tarpon that was an estimated 190 pounds. She remembers that her arm was sore for three days.
She also enjoys shelling and has decorated her home and yard with local shells.
The next time you’re having an issue with your air conditioning, trust that you’ll be in good hands with the friendly staff at Grande Aire.