AMY QUAREMBA ON BECOMING A BONITA SPRINGS COUNCILWOMAN
Bonita Springs District 1 Councilwoman Amy Quaremba has not only brought diver-sity to the council, but also a strong work ethic inherited from her Italian immigrant parents and a passion to personally meet and understand the needs of those she represents.
The desire to properly represent the concerns of residents — in a district that stretches from high-rises at the beach and Lovers Key all the way east to Citrus Park — is what drove this investment advisory firm founder to put aside retirement for politics.
It all began with attending a zoning meeting on behalf of her community of Pelican Landing.
“I think typical of most people that live in a gated community is that we’re asleep,” Quaremba deadpans.
“There was a development project that affected our community. By accident, we saw one of those signs that there was going to be a zoning change. It happened off-season. Somebody noticed it and sent emails around, but nobody was here. Only five of us showed up. I remember vividly because I was sick and planned to find out what was happening, then go back to bed,” said Quaremba.
She learned of a regulation stating that you were required to attend a zoning meeting before presenting your opinion to city council.
“I didn’t think we were treated properly, and I said I’m not going to let that stand.”
True to her word, since taking office, Quaremba has been able to fix the meeting attendance issue, and those with concerns can now go straight to city council.
The campaign to get her there was interesting.
Unhappy with the 2016 council candidates, Quaremba tossed around the idea of being the one to implement change. On the last day to register, she put in her bid.
She laughs, “I had never run for office. What the heck was I doing?’”
Campaigning door to door was an eye-opener, she said.
“I can’t tell you how many women came to the door, and I couldn’t believe how many women said, ‘I’ll vote for you because I always vote for women.’ I believe my credentials are more important than the fact that I’m a woman. I think I won because a lot of people wanted diversity on the council,” said Quaremba.
Quaremba’s qualifications, including her strong background in economics as well as her lifelong resilience, contribute to her service on the council.
Graduating with honors in math from Chestnut Hill College in Philadelphia, she went on to earn her master’s degree from the University of Hartford and doctorate from the University of Connecticut, both in economics. Career stops include the National Security Agency and the Institute for Defense Analyses, as well as teaching as an adjunct professor of economics at Trinity College and co-founding a successful investment advisory firm in Hartford,
Connecticut. A first-generation Italian American growing up in New Jersey, Quaremba saw in her parents how pure hard work and dedication can get you places.
“My mother was a stay-at-home mom with four children and my father developed a business with only one year of high school. He taught himself how to operate machines, then started his own business. He was able to support a family and send us all to college,” Quaremba recalled, adding, “My mother made all the food and she made all our clothes.”
Her mother was only educated through third grade.
“I still can’t believe how she did what she did, having never left her home, then getting married and taking care of her kids. She really showed us that you can do what you want to do if you work really hard and are persistent and brave,” said Quaremba.
Life presented another challenge to Quaremba with the untimely death of her first husband, Dan, at age 42, leaving her as sole supporter of their two young children.
Quaremba described a time of working nearly round-the-clock, running her business and raising two children on her own. She remarried, but lived apart from her second husband for nine years, as he worked in New
York and she worked in Connecticut. She paid her last tuition bill, in the mid-1990s, retired from business life and joined her husband in Albany, New York, she said.
“I relaxed for maybe a year and tried to play golf,” Quaremba said.
“It was such a joy to be outside that I became a gardener. I was president of a garden club and took all these gardening classes. The gardening was compensation for spending 12 hours a day inside!”
She continued, “I had 20 gardens. I personally put down 13 yards of mulch and did it with a wheelbarrow and shovel.”
When that level of gardening became too much work, in her 70s, she became involved as a board member with the League of Women Voters. Taking that charitable spirit southward, Quaremba now supports several organizations locally, most notably the Women’s Giving Circle of Southwest Florida, which supports women and their families through collective philanthropy.
Upon her successful run for Bonita City Council in 2016, Quaremba made bridging the gap between government and community a priority.
“What I did was outreach to individual neighborhoods and the people who were activists in their community. I tried to participate in their meetings but not everybody invited me,” she said.
While there may be people who don’t seem interested in meeting their elected officials, homeowners associations and community groups are formulating plans to create point persons for each community throughout the city for better communication, especially in emergency situations.
Quaremba recalled many hurricane-related meetings leading up to Hurricane Irma and afterward.
“I went to one that was up at Florida SouthWestern State College, where a general who worked on Katrina talked to us. He said, ‘FEMA is not your first line of defense. Neither is the fire or police department. Your neighbor is,’” Quaremba relayed.
She’s proud of the efforts Bonita Springs is putting forth to be ready for extreme weather.
Quaremba’s main efforts are in communications and collaboration throughout all sectors of the community, including police, children, arts and other organizations.
As soon as she was sworn in, Councilwoman Quaremba went to work to reinforce established outreach methods and develop new methods to communicate with residents,” said Lora Taylor, Bonita Springs director of communications.
“[Quaremba] attends neighborhood meetings, drafts informative updates and brainstorms out-of-the-box methods to open lines of communication,” Taylor said.
Three years in and Quaremba is still all-in energetically.
“Whatever I choose to focus on, I do it too intently. I haven’t learned how to do it halfway,” she conceded.
“I feel good that I can still work things out even though I’m a senior citizen now. It’s a whole new world of things to learn and things you don’t anticipate. That part’s good and I’m happy that I did it, but this is my last term. I’m 75 years old and I’ll be 79 when I retire (again),” said Quaremba.
“It was like a miracle when I retired from my own company… The day that I retired, all these things came into my mind, like taking piano lessons, taking a walk, going to the gym and concerts. You just repress it because you’re working,” she said.
Quaremba and her husband Jim also enjoy opera. Back in New York, he belonged to a club at the Metropolitan Opera House where they would host dinners around performances. They’ve replicated the experience utilizing the theater at Pelican Landing, but her Council duties have taken center stage for the moment.
“I think City Council has been very good for me,” Quaremba concluded. “If I hadn’t done anything, I would have stayed in my gated community like everybody else.”