Between reminiscences and music, friends, patrons and colleagues recalled the formidable Myra Janco Daniels, founder of Artis—Naples, during a performance and reception on Saturday evening. More than 1,100 people filled Hayes Hall to pay tribute to the woman who transformed Naples into an artistic destination.
It was a heartfelt, sometimes emotional concert featuring the Naples Philharmonic Orchestra which Daniels championed, and two of his favorite guest singers, Brian Stokes Mitchell and Harolyn Blackwell.
Myra Milestones:Gary’s daughter becomes queen of the arts in Naples
Daniels died in Naples on June 22, aged 96. But her legacy lives on at Artis—Napes, which opened in 1989 as the Philharmonic Center for the Arts. Eleven years later, Daniels christened the adjacent Baker Museum, which she also directed.
Myra Daniels took charge of every situation
Speakers like Byron Koste, retired president of Westinghouse Communities — now WCI — recalled Daniels’ precision in securing donations.
He and three other high profile executives met with her in 1985 to discuss her performing arts center plans. Before they could really talk, Daniels drew up plans ranging from getting a setback to allow for an administration building to what stores should be in the nearby new shopping area, Waterside Shops. Then she decamped for another meeting, leaving the men, “or what was left of us”, he joked, to marvel at her skill.
The Naples visionary:Myra Daniels, founder and leader of Artis—Naples, dies at 96
His friend John Sorey, a former mayor of Naples, recalled Daniels as a “pleasure collector” as well as a fundraiser who loved to regale him and his wife, Delores, with stories from his advertising career. One involved Myra the pilot.
Unbeknownst to most people, the efficient Myra Janco had acquired both a pilot’s license and an airplane. She took one of her company executives to visit a client, but had to land the plane in a cornfield – possibly with a terrified passenger – to dodge a passing storm.
When the storm cleared, the two flew out to visit the client. But his mode of transport angered his new boss, who ordered his young star not to use it on company business anymore.
“And you know what ‘no’ meant to Myra,” Sorey told the audience, whose laughter indicated yes, they did. The furious boss – advertising legend Draper Daniels – finally proposed to her.
Employees remember both the toughness and tenderness of Myra
Many of Saturday’s tributes came from its own employees. Jim Cochran, retired founding director of the Naples Philharmonic Chorus, remembers inviting Daniels to audition him informally while attending a concert at his church, Vanderbilt Presbyterian.
During the slow movement of a concerto, Cochran looked at Daniels and his concert companion, Frances Pew Hayes. Both were sleeping on the bench. To grab their attention, Cochran poured extra power into the opening of the last movement: cymbals and a thundering drum.
“I looked outside and saw them both getting out of their seats,” he recalled with a mischievous smile. She hired him, but, Cochran recalled, “she was like, ‘If you ever scare me like that again, I’ll fire you. “”
Daniels fired people. But she also understood the value of criticism, said facility manager Alex Peña. It took courage, he said, “to stand up to the mighty 5-foot-2 Myra Janco Daniels. But when you had something you were willing to do, she listened to what you had. to say.”
Peña, who serves as facilities manager 35 years after Daniels hired him, said most people only saw “his nail-hard exterior,” but inside there was a ” teddy bear as big as life”. He recalled his own apprehension about taking his current job when his supervisor retired, until Daniels told him, “You can do it. I believe in you. I’ll help you.”
Help after Ian:Artis—Naples makes music, film and dance free with post-storm initiatives
Kristen Sonneborn, principal bassoonist of the Naples Philharmonic Orchestra for almost as long as he has performed at Artis—Naples, also recalled this primitive teddy bear.
“She was known to pick up her phone and call banks and other lenders to help her musicians buy their own homes,” Sonneborn said. She recalled Daniels putting another musician in his own Chicago apartment for a summer so the musician’s wife could get needed cancer treatment. Daniels even had another musician flown to the Mayo Clinic on a private jet for medical tests.
“She came to our weddings, to our showers and, unfortunately, even to the funerals of some of our families,” she said. Daniels, a lifelong classical music advocate, also attended almost every performance of the Naples Philharmonic Orchestra, “sometimes up to seven a week,” Sonneborn said.
“She is in our hearts forever,” she said.
Favorite terms blessed Daniels as ‘visionary’, ‘supporter’
Sonneborn’s message preceded the performance of a work written by one of the Philharmonic’s former musicians, James M. Stephenson. Daniels encouraged him to pursue the field of composition, and he has since made a career out of it. His up-tempo, ragtime-ish “Myraculous!” opened with a tambourine solo, about Daniels’ triumphant messages to the orchestra after she scored a major don: “I shook my tambourine for you!”
Conductor Stuart Chafetz embellished it with a salute of 20 tambourines at the end of the work.
Elaine Newton, for 33 years, resident book and film critic for Artis-Naples, called the cultural settings Daniels founded “the work of a visionary.”
Bruce Rogers, a 40-year-old Naples resident who attended the tribute, agreed. He saw the buildings rising and the growing range of arts offered here: “Everything they said about it is true,” he said.
Richard Rosen, a local ceramic artist whose work appeared in the collectors’ corner Daniels had at Artis-Naples, remembered her as a supporter of local arts, a side of her he thought he didn’t have. not always known: “I couldn’t have been in this without Myra’s blessing.”
Still others, who had come, knew Daniels well as a person. Judy Costanza, who worked at a cosmetics counter she frequented, had come simply to honor Daniels.
“She always had a kind word for us girls,” Costanza said. “She was nice. She never acted like she was better than anyone.”
Harriet Howard Heithaus covers arts and entertainment for the Naples Daily News/naplesnews.com. Contact her at 239-213-6091.