By Diana Colson
Siesta Key Island resident Karen Koblenz was raised in Green Bay, Wisconsin, born to parents who showed great love and commitment. Her dad worked for the City of Green Bay. Her mom was diagnosed with MS in her early twenties while still shepherding 3 pre-school children. In spite of enormous difficulties, her mother maintained a happy frame of mind and never complained. Both parents kept a positive, can-do attitude, which served as Karen’s lifelong inspiration. Eventually, the illness went into remission. Today, Karen’s 78 year old mother still lives at home with her loving husband.
Karen says: “I am so proud of them! Talk about strength of character.” At a recent family wedding, Karen’s cousins told her when they thought of true sweethearts, they thought of her parents. The couple has so much mutual respect!
Karen was a cheerleader in High School, and played the Ann Margaret role of Kim MacAfee in their production of Bye Bye Birdie. Karen also tried out for the football team because she wanted to write an article about football from a girl’s perspective. She was awarded a THE GOLDEN KEY award for that story. In spite of this impressive start, her journalism skills would remain dormant for a number of years.
Karen married at the age of 19, and soon gave birth to a son (Michael) and daughter (Danielle). Her then-husband was in the service, and they lived on several posts. Karen worked, but only at the kinds of jobs that enabled her to stay at home most of the time. She took a weekend position at a major hospital where she was in charge of the entire housekeeping staff – a position of enormous responsibility for such a young woman. Later, she held a position managing more than 120 HUD properties, because it meant she could work from home. Finally, when Danielle was ready to enter Kindergarten, Karen’s youthful interest in journalism reemerged. She began to work for a series of publications.
She started off at a daily newspaper in Cadillac, Michigan, and became involved with advertising and sales. From this position Karen moved to Beaver Dam, Wisconsin where her primary job was New Business Development for a group of newspapers. She learned on-the-job skills to generate new business and bring in new revenue, making a big impact on the organization. These self-developed skills soon enabled her to qualify as Ad Director for the Daily Mining Gazette and Copper Nugget in Houghton, Michigan. Having built an impressive résumé, Karen moved up to become General Manager of a shopper publication. From there she was asked to take a position in Sarasota as General Manager at Pelican Press.
Pelican had just been sold to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, and they were looking for someone to run the paper. It was a great opportunity, but at first, Karen turned it down: the family was settled in Steven’s Point, Wisconsin with Danielle in 9th grade, and Michael a senior in high school. Pelican came back 6 months later and offered Karen the position again. As a diehard Disney Fan, Michael was becoming interested in attending Ringling College of Art & Design as an illustration major, and his interest in art inspired Karen to take the job. She moved to Sarasota in the late 90’s, six months ahead of her family. Bob Ardren was to give Michael a personal recommendation to Ringling, and the lad was accepted.
Karen worked at Pelican Press for close to a decade. During that time, her marriage dissolved. Before long, she was to meet her own personal Prince Charming, a wonderful man by the name of Michael Koblenz. A dashing airline pilot, he wined her dined her and swept her off her feet. Soon they were married. One day Karen got a call from US AIR. The voice on the phone informed her that her husband was flying overhead and that he would be tipping a wing to her. She ran outside, and sure enough— it happened. What a thrilling, romantic moment!
Karen’s next position was with NRS in Atlanta as a corporate sales trainer for media companies nationwide. The couple kept their place on Siesta, and went back and forth to Atlanta, a city where Capt. Michael often met his flights. Before long, however, they found themselves missing our beautiful beaches. They returned to Sarasota and Karen found a job at SCENE MAGAZINE as VP of Sales and Marketing.
Soon a position came open at the Women’s Exchange which sounded like a great opportunity. Karen applied, got the job, and became CEO of the Women’s Exchange. She has been there for four years now, and loves every day of it. Michael recently retired from US AIR, and the couple keeps their adorable grandson, Tristan, at their home for a sleepover three nights a week. Their only wish is that their other grandchild, Cash, lived closer!
The Women’s Exchange is an amazing organization. It is not your typical non-profit. It is an organization that earns money to give it away. Under the stewardship of Karen Koblenz, they awarded a quarter of a million in grants and scholarships last year alone. They also gave back over two million dollars to their consigners, further benefiting the community. Furthermore, they are completely self-funding their new building project, reason being that they don’t want to compete with organizations they are dedicated to supporting. The Women’s Exchange is a debt-free organization.
The Women’s Exchange has an outstanding Vision Statement. It is to touch the heart and stimulate the creative mind of every adult and child in Sarasota and Manatee Counties, through its financial support of a large and artistically diverse group of organizations, as well as students who aspire to be the world’s next generation of cultural influence.
Their 2 0 1 5/2 0 1 6 Gr ant Recipients are: Anna Maria Is. Concert Chorus & Orchestra, Arts and Culture Alliance, Asolo Theatre, Inc., Banyan Theater Company, Coexistence, Inc., Exsultate, Florida Studio Theatre, Fuzion Dance Artists, Inc., Gloria Musicae, Hermitage Artist Retreat, La Musica di Asolo, Perlman Music Program, Players Theatre, The John and Mable Ringling Museum & Art Foundation, Sarasota Film Festival, Sarasota Opera, Sarasota Orchestra, Sarasota Pops, Selby Garden, Urbanite Theatre, Van Wezel Foundation, Inc., Venice Symphony, and Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe.
Their 2015/2016 Scholarship Recipients are: Amber Cross, Anthony DeNiro, Alyssa Dinka, Matthew Falgowski, Abbey- Michelle Graham, Elizabeth Granowicz, Hannah Gregory, Victoria Miller, Douglas Ortner, Rachel Querreveld, Casey Rich, Claudia Rightmire, Jonathan Sams, Haley Simmons, Jillian Smith, Alina Timshina, Anna Jane Trinci, Reed Tucker, Christine Wozniak, Sydnie Battie, Linnet Berna, Marie Dull, Zoe Ezechiels, Joshua Galindo, Anneliese Hardman, Luis Javier, David Klos, Rachel Maul, Shelby Walker
Karen Koblenz was born into a family that maintained a giving, positive, can-do attitude. This attitude is reflected in the fine community service work she does today.