Category Archives: Member Stories

Sue Immekus – Wine Tasters of Naples Hospitality Coordinator

by Cyndy Brucato

For a group that by definition is “big on social fun,” the expectations are high for the Wine Tasters hospitality coordinator.  But Sue Immekus brings to her position credentials that explain why the Friday night happy hours are laid back and still full of energy. 

Sue worked in hospitality for most of her 30 years at the Big  Ten Conference – the oldest Division One collegiate athletic conference in the United States.   She learned on the job about venues, ticket sales, food and beverage  “We all wore different hats and changed them frequently,” she said. 

The moves that Sue made within the Big Ten prepared her for a long career. She started in compliance and then advanced to communications where she got her first experience with hospitality, starting with the Big Ten kickoff luncheon in downtown Chicago.

And while Friday night happy hours in Naples may not present the challenge of hosting the Men’s Basketball Tournament at the United Center, there’s a game plan that Sue executes every week.

New members who volunteer for hospitality usually connect first with Wine Tasters president Sherri Weidman who introduces them to Sue.  “Then I’m aware they’re very gung-ho about being involved,” Sue said. 

On the Wednesday before the Friday happy hour, Sue gets a list of attendees and compares it to the names of people who have indicated they would help with hospitality and reaches out to enlist their service.

There’s a full page of protocol that Sue’s team follows to make sure that new members or non-member guests are comfortable in the environment, that no one is sitting alone, and that people are mingling and enjoying the event.

“The biggest challenge is people not mingling and sitting by themselves,” she said.  Also, during her first months as hospitality coordinator, she had to learn to persuade members to want to be hospitality ambassadors.  “But since then I’ve gotten to know people and I feel very comfortable calling up people or contacting them by email and everybody is very anxious to help,” she said.  And it was very helpful to me because I met a lot of people I would have never met if I didn’t have this responsibility.”

Sue moved to Naples less than two years ago after retiring in the Chicago area. The Big Ten Conference commissioner left around the time she was considering retirement.  So, not wanting to start under a new management team, she made a decision – retire and  cross-country move.  “We wanted to move down to Florida and finally we did that,” she said. 

At the suggestion of her daughter, also a Naples resident, Sue went to her first Wine Tasters event a few months after moving here.

She’s had first-hand experience advising other newcomers about what they should know about Wine Tasters.  “You get to see a lot of Naples.  We go to a different restaurant or venue every week,” she said.  “You get a taste of what Naples is all about. And you get to meet people.  It is all about friendships.”

Sue doesn’t like to play favorites on the Wine Tasters locations but she admits she likes “anything on Fifth. I love going down on Fifth, [also] the Hilton and Shula’s.  I enjoy that and Mercato, I enjoy that.”

Wine Tasters members occasionally provide Sue with feedback on locations, as well as their thoughts on food, service, and ambiance.  “They tell me whether the food is up to their expectations, things like that,” she said.  “But usually everyone is just happy, they’re not going to do anything negative. 

“I know when we have limited service, with help being so hard to get, you may not get your own server.  But there are people that just say, ‘We’ll just buy a bottle of wine.  We won’t have to worry about it.’  If the food is delayed, they say, ‘We’re not here for the food.  We’re here for tasting wine and having fun.’”

And what does Sue Immekus drink when she goes to Wine Tasters?  “I drink wine when I go to Wine Tasters,” she says with a grin.  “Chardonnay.”

Don’t Let the Opportunity Slip Away

Written by Alicia Perri

Capt’n Ron Guthrie, a long-time Wine Taster catalyst for leading volunteer opportunities, ignites passion for making a difference in the Naples community.

Ron Guthrie is an original Florida native and identical twin: brothers determined to make a difference, both with illustrious careers as U.S. Customs Special Agents and boat captains running speed boats and dismantling criminal drug smuggling networks in Florida – Ron on the southwest coast of the state and his brother Don on the southeast.  Their cases – encounters with drug smugglers, mistaken identities, near-death experiences, and touching moments — are captured in the manuscript, soon-to-be-published book, and possible movie, “Pedal to the Metal.”

Ron has spent his life helping others and continues to do so in his retirement.  Dedicating his time and creative craft skills helping neighbors and volunteering brings joy to everyone involved.  Ron has a knack for connecting with people, bringing out their desire to give back.  Through the years the Wine Tasters volunteer teams have completed an array of projects. His favorite Wine Tasters of Naples project was the Women and Children’s Annex at St. Matthew’s House.  The team and the women living at the facility transformed an area full of weeds into a beautiful and useful leisure area with a backyard deck, landscaping, and night lighting.

Women and Children’s Annex at St. Matthews House

Ron’s charming personality and smiling face inspires hope for both the staff and residences at Youth Haven with which Ron has created a unique bond, positively influencing many lives.

Associate Director of Rob’s Group Home at Youth Haven, Mr. Laquentin Cotton (aka “Q”) has this to say, “I have been working with Captain Ron since I started working with Youth Haven in 2014.  He and his group of volunteers have done everything from grilling for the kids on holidays to painting the all-purpose room.  He has a passion for lending a helping hand to brighten the lives of others.  His passion and dedication to be a positive influence are evident when you speak to him about enriching the lives of the children Youth Haven serves.”

Ron has a passion for lending a helping hand to brighten the lives of others.  His passion and dedication to be a positive influence are evident.”

When not volunteering, Ron enjoys collecting nautical and old-world antiques, which he rotates from his lovely home to his antique shop. Ron is a witty and creative artist, crafting his old-world finds from his treasure hunts into works of art.  When a historic treasure is acquired, he prides himself on bringing it back to life, preserving the time period and story with wood and metals, while maintaining the integrity of the item.  Pictured below is the Fort Sill bronze bell from early 1900. Ron crafted this majestic display piece that now resides in the Western American Art Display housed in the upstate New York Military Exhibit Museum.

Ron attributes his skill for repurposing items to growing up in a blue-collar family of seven and “always fixing everything handed down the line.”  One of his favorite pieces is a remake of a sign he saw fishing as a child along Highway 41 on the canal through the Miccosukee Indian Reservation advertising airboat rides in the sawgrass for $5.

Rounding out Ron’s many interests, Ron is a fisherman at heart, loves boating and being on the water with his dog Geronimo.

Thank you, Capt’n Ron, for your time, talent, and dedication to serving the Naples community and Wine Tasters’ charitable initiatives!  We are very fortunate to have Ron captaining our volunteer team.

Wine Tasters of Naples volunteer opportunities make a difference in the Naples community. Capt’n Ron likes to say, “Happiness is … never letting an opportunity to help someone slip away.”

Meet TC James

Written by Deb VinciT.C. James

TC James was invited by a friend to attend a Friday Wine Taster’s Happy Hour in August 2019.  What she experienced that night was great conversation, good food, dancing, and quality adults who give back to the community. TC, a recent widow, felt welcomed and became a member of Wine Tasters immediately. 

TC’s youth was largely spent in southwest Michigan.  With two older brothers, she wanted to play and excel in every sport they did. Her parents, however, were more selective and introduced TC to golf, water skiing, tennis, card games, and dance. TC was also business-minded. Her parents instilled the value of hard work and an appreciation of money management through a reward system for household chores. At the age of nine, TC learned she could finish her chores as well as the chores her brothers neglected and pocket her own allowance plus her brothers’ allowances. Ever creative, TC also added interest payments to her brothers’ tab.

This sharp mindset was an asset for TC in college and in business. She began college at Western Michigan University and met her husband.  They moved to Tulsa Oklahoma where TC completed her B.S and M.S. degrees from Oklahoma State University.  She enjoyed a very successful career in Human Resource Management and as the only female manager in the Oil Division of Union Carbide in Tulsa, she planned and organized company social and executive functions in addition to her Human Resource duties. She accomplished all of this, as well as work travel to six satellite locations while juggling the responsibility of raising two sons.

Although the marriage of her youth didn’t last, TC later met and married the man of her dreams and they enjoyed 28 wonderful years together, moving to Florida upon his retirement.

TC intends to maintain her high activity level with golf, tennis, beach walking, and her true passion, dancing.  She also plans to put her experience as a volunteer for many charities to use and assist Wine Tasters of Naples as Social Coordinator. 


Joseph Badway

by Carolyn Pitt

Joseph Badway brings his knowledge and experience to the treasurer’s position of our organization.  His earned degrees include a BS from Providence College and MBA and MST degrees from Bryant University in Smithfield, Rhode Island.  Professionally, he is Chief Financial Officer for RMC Group headquartered in Bonita Springs.  RNC is a conglomerate of related businesses providing insurance, risk management, retirement, real estate, and actuarial consulting services.  As CFO, Joe is responsible for anything financial within the company.  As a registered CPA in Florida, he personally serves 40 to 50 clients, including Wine Tasters of Naples.  In order to maintain his CPA status, Joe must complete an additional 80 continuing education hours every two years.  He explains with a laugh, not only does law require this, but his son-in-law is a prosecuting attorney for the State of Florida overseeing CPA’s; no room for negligence here!

Life is not all work and no play.  Family is of primary importance, and Joe treasures time spent with his two daughters, granddaughter, and grandson.  He plays tennis, walks and enjoys travel.

What does he see in his future?  Maybe a little more time for tennis and travel.  He would especially like to visit Lebanon, from where his family emigrated.  Meanwhile, members of Wine Tasters will enjoy continuing to get to know Joe on Friday evenings at our various venues.

Suzanne McAlpine – From the Courtroom to the Ballroom

From the Courtroom to the Ballroom

by Carolyn Pitt

Suzanne McAlpine - Social Chair Wine Tasters of NaplesSuzanne McAlpine, Wine Tasters of Naples’ former social chair, has transformed a successful professional life in Connecticut into enjoying retirement in southwest Florida. Ballroom dancing has become a passion. She can also be found at exercise classes, especially water aerobics, playing golf, or watching football and baseball on TV.

Suzy originally hails from Gary, Indiana, and met her husband while in college. His successful career in sales caused the young family to relocate periodically. While living in California, Suzy was able to complete an M.S. degree in psychology at California State University Long Beach. Years later and recently divorced, she obtained a law degree from the Quinnipiac University School of Law, and entered private practice where she was active in criminal defense work for nine years. This led to her decision to join the Psychiatric Defense Unit within the Public Defender’s office. Located on the grounds of the state psychiatric facility, she represented people found not guilty of criminal behavior on terms of having mental disease. Her rationale for this career choice is clear: everyone is entitled to the best defense and it was her role to support the Constitution. She was also an adjunct instructor at Quinnipiac University where she taught Legal Research and Writing. Her involvement with the Board of the Connecticut Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, for whom she organized large events, prepared her for her current responsibility as Social Chair for Wine Tasters of Naples.

Suzy has two sons of whom she is proud. Her older son earned a doctorate in physical chemistry and is now a research professor at the University of Minnesota. His research in nanotechnology has placed him on the cover of the New York Times Magazine and in Time magazine. Currently he is involved with 3D printing. Her younger son is a production manager in the animation department for The Simpsons, America’s longest running animated TV show.

What does Suzy anticipate for her future? More dancing. Traveling, with Ireland and Greece on top of her bucket list. Planning more social activities for Wine Tasters of Naples such as the recent dinner at the Bleu Provence and the dancing lesson at Dancing with Marcia, and other events which include the Holiday Trolley Tour and the Tenth Anniversary Celebration – a sunset cruise aboard the Naples Princess on February 23, 2018.


Ray Rignel, Career Pilot and Volunteer


Written by: Carolyn Pitt

Ray Rignel, an early supporter of Wine Tasters of Naples, experienced a long career as a pilot. After graduating from the Rochester Institute of Technology, he joined the Navy, was one of 14 in a class of 70 to complete Officer’s Candidate School, and graduated from Flight School to become an Advance Jet Flight Instructor at age 22. As a naval pilot, he flew with Top Gun in 1969, and then flew over 100 missions in Vietnam.

Ray became a commercial pilot first flying for Flying Tiger, which in 1989 was bought by FedEx. Ray flew for FedEx worldwide for 16 more years, and resided in Los Angeles, New York, Anchorage, Memphis and Seattle. When he turned 60 in 2004, then regulations forced him to retire as a commercial pilot. However, Ray did not retire. His knowledge of flying took him to Boeing where he was an instructor until he turned 70. The last nine years of his flying career, Ray was the Vice President of the Airline Pilots Association’s Insurance program. Also, while living in Seattle, he completed mediator training and volunteered at the Dispute Mediation Center. He still utilizes this experience to help others.

Ray Rignel

Ray moved to Naples where his parents had maintained a home that he always enjoyed visiting. Incapable of remaining retired for long, he earned a Florida real estate license and is an active real estate professional. Having had a previous association with Hedges Family Estate Wines of Benton City, Washington, it is no surprise he became involved with Wine Tasters of Naples. Ray has assisted with WTN wine tastings, auctions and awards, and made new friends including three other navy pilots: Al Beatrice, Bill Hodges, and Curt Watson.

Other volunteer activities include doing work for PAWS, a service organization that promotes independence for combat wounded veterans and children with life changing disabilities through partnerships with skilled assistance dogs. He is also involved in the rescue of dogs involved as witnesses in legal cases. Ray volunteers Monday afternoons at the Museum of Military Memorabilia, for which he is well prepared having been a docent at the Seattle Museum of Flight. He attends the annual Tailhook Convention. Tailhook is a fraternal organization that supports sea-based aviation where regular membership is open to anyone who has made a carrier landing. He is also an instructor with Florida Animal Rescue and travels throughout the US taking care of animals involved in Federal cases, such as fighting dog rings.

Other annual travels include visiting his two children and their families. Lauren lives in Santa Rosa, California, and is involved with training service dogs, an interest that was sparked when she visited Canine Companions for Independence at a young age. Todd is a special agent with ICE (U.S. Department of Homeland Security Immigration and Customs Enforcement) and teaches at the Federal Training Center in Georgia.

Anything Ray would still like to do? Learn to play an instrument and perform hits of the 50’s and 60’s.


Sherri Weidman – Our President

Written by Rita Sullivan

Sherri Weidman
Sherri Weidman, President, Wine Tasters of Naples 2014 – present

Wine Tasters of Naples is primarily a social club with a focus to contribute to those less fortunate in the community.  It has grown over the years and continues to grow under the leadership of its current president, Sherri Weidman.   She has embraced the mission of the founding members focusing on encouraging its members to help those in need within the Naples community.

Growing up in the Midwest, Sherri’s earliest memories were those of camp.   Whether it was church camp, the 4-H or Girl Scouts, she loved them all.  Accepted at Purdue University, she majored in elementary education with a minor in recreation.  It was the minor as it turned that changed the course of her life.   Through a camp class, she was introduced to the American Camp Association (ACA).  After graduating, she realized her true passion was to continue in camping, which she did as a Day Camp Administrator and Field Director for a northwest Indiana Girl Scout council.  Her enthusiasm and drive elevated her up the ranks to become the Chief Executive Officer of the Girl Scouts in northern Indiana.

Sherri Weidman
Sherri Weidman, former Girl Scout Council CEO

As CEO, she was responsible for the oversight of 50 staff members, 2,000 volunteers, and over 10,000 girl members and nine properties – five of which were camps.  During her tenure as CEO, Sherri and her organization received national recognition as one of the highest performing councils for diverse membership representation and for fundraising success. Her vision and fund raising ability led to the construction of a custom headquarters for the Girl Scouts of Northern Indiana in Fort Wayne, (rendering below). Still devoted to camps for children, Sherri currently serves on the national board of directors of the American Camp Association.

Girl Scout Leadership and Learning Center, Fort Wayne, Indiana
One of Sherri’s former legacies: Girl Scout Leadership and Learning Center, Fort Wayne, Indiana

Recalling her time spent with the Girl Scouts, I asked Sherri if there was one thing in particular she felt affected her most. Without hesitation she recalled an ACA convention she attended in Albuquerque in 1992.   She was invited out to dinner with three Russian delegates who were representing the International Youth Federation. The group was here to set up exchanges between Russian and American teens.  The dinner was a success in more ways than one. In addition to participating in an exchange of Girl Scouts with their Russian counterparts, she wound up marrying the head of the Russian delegation. While the marriage did not last, the friendships and international memories certainly did.

Sherri first visited Naples in 2008.  It took her one fantastic weekend to decide that this is where she wanted to live – Indiana winters or Naples winters – not a difficult choice. In August 2010, she made it happen.  At first she did not know anyone, but she soon became immersed in the many activities around Naples and was invited to join Wine Tasters.  Shortly after meeting Dan Leaman, Sherri was invited to join the board where her marketing skills were instrumental in attracting new members. In 2014, she was asked to be President of Wine Tasters.

As President, she is committed to ensuring that the service component of the mission statement remains the focus of the club.  She encourages members to volunteer their time and efforts for the good of the community. Her marketing efforts continue to attract new members. Sherri has her sights set on a big club event in February 2018 which will be our 10 year anniversary. What better way to mark this milestone than for each of us to volunteer for at least one project. Her vision is for this celebration to be a capstone of a decade of fun and service of Wine Tasters of Naples — another event we will all fondly remember.



Al Beatrice – A Dream Fulfilled

Written by Rita Sullivan

Albert Beatrice Al BeatriceWhether you’re a regular or drop-in to Wine Tasters Friday night Happy Hours, more often than not you are greeted by the man who, since 2014, has not only arranged the event but assiduously works the room to ensure that everyone has a good time. That’s Al Beatrice, who as Vice President of Wine Tasters, scours Naples to identify restaurants that he feels Wine Tasters members would particularly enjoy, then negotiates with the owners to ensure the evening is memorable. He says he’s been forced to sip wine and taste hors d’oeuvres at literally hundreds of local restaurants.

Al grew up in Philadelphia, the oldest son of second generation Italian immigrants, and the first of his family to attend college. He was a normal kid, he says, except that unlike his friends, he didn’t want to play football for the Eagles. No, he had a burning desire to land an airplane on an aircraft carrier — he wanted to become a Navy pilot. And the best route to achieve his dream was to shoot for entry to the Naval Academy. No easy task, but he was an honor graduate of one of the largest parochial high schools in the country, Northeast Catholic High School, and active in student government. This along with laudatory recommendations from teachers led his Congressman to nominate him to Annapolis.

At the Academy Al excelled at math and science and upon graduation passed the entrance tests which allowed him the opportunity to study to become a Navy pilot. One day, after over a year of rigorous flight training, his instructor said, “the plane is all yours Al. Land it on a friendly carrier!” Al took the plane up to 20,000 feet, alone, and, looking down at the aircraft carrier, which seemed the size of a postage stamp, said to himself, “This is what I’ve dreamed all my life.” He pushed the plane’s throttle forward and dove for the bobbing, weaving carrier moving fast in an expansive ocean. And nailed it. In retrospect, he says, it was the scariest moment of his life, and the most satisfying.
Al spent eleven years in the Navy, four in Annapolis and seven as a pilot. Leaving the Navy, Al worked for 25 years in technical sales for Allen-Bradley, which designs and manufactures automated control systems. He settled in Naples in 2001, where today he’s a successful mortgage banker.

Al has always been community minded, even winning election as Class Treasurer at Annapolis. Locally he held positions as Co-chair of the Naples Board of Realty Charity Golf Outing and as Treasurer of Collier County Honor Flight, which raises money to fly veterans to Washington DC for the day to see their war memorials. He was also a past president of the charity board of the Military Officers Association of SW Florida. Not everyone can say they achieved their childhood goal. Al can. Next Happy Hour, see if you can say hello to him before he warmly welcomes you.

Daniel Leaman – Life of 7’s

Author: Carolyn Pitt

Dan Leaman, Founder Wine Tasters of NaplesDaniel L. Leaman, founder of Wine Tasters of Naples, has led a life of sevens.  His eyes crinkle and he laughs openly as he explains he was born the seventh hour of the seventh day of the seventh month, weighing seven pounds ten ounces, the seventh son and the seventeenth grandson.  His wife of 40 years, Naomi was also born in the seventh month as were both his daughters, and even the dog. The expectation that the number “seven” connotes good fortune has followed Dan beyond the mere coincidences he enjoys sharing.

Dan’s smiling eyes and welcoming personality have guaranteed him a life full of successes.  He began his professional career in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, selling kitchens, and as a high school junior sold his first kitchen, an unheard of accomplishment.  Muhammad Ali’s training camp was in his territory, and he would occasionally go to watch the fighter practice. Stopping one day in 1972, he found a notice that Muhammad Ali was not there.  Going back down the drive, Dan passed two limousines entering the property.  He said to himself, “Oh ho, Ali is there, and something is happening.”  He turned his car around, followed the limousines, parked between them, got out with his yellow legal pad in hand, and walked with the other men to meet Muhammad Ali. The writers, one from the New York Daily News and the other from the Philadelphia Enquirer, each thought Dan was with the other.  He then spent the next three hours watching old films of the great athlete’s fights, and later watching him dance around the room saying, “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee!”  Finally, Ali said he had to spar and the interview was over.    Dan considers this personal encounter with Muhammad Ali in the prime of his career to be a highlight of his life.

Knowledge of construction led Dan to a 20-year career with a development company of which he became Vice President and General Manager.  During this time, Dan and his wife belonged to a charismatic Christian church that found itself in 1990 without a minister.  Members of the congregation suggested him as a candidate for the new pastor.  With no training he accepted the position as a volunteer.  Employing his organizational and managerial skills, he recruited seven other members to share pastoral duties and in the seven years, the church doubled in size.  Dan retired from the development company in 1995.  In 1997 he resigned as pastor and eventually moved to Naples in 2000.

From 2000 through 2008, Dan experienced seven surgeries.  Fortunately, his health issues were not life threatening, but they did precipitate a change in his lifestyle.

Retired, Dan along with his wife started to go to wine tastings in wine shops, where they met people with whom they exchanged cards.  January 2008, with 17 cards on his desk, Dan sent an email asking if each were interested in a party where couples would bring a favorite food and a favorite wine.  Everyone invited came to this first gathering at Charmin Davis’ home!  They gathered around the table and told their stories.  There was agreement to do it again next month and the seed for Wine Tasters of Naples was planted. Over his seven years of presidency, there were many parties and rapid growth for the club. A five-year run of Cheers for Charity raised over $400,000, the genesis of our Club’s charitable component.

After seven years, Dan Leaman decided it was time to make another life change, and in 2014 gave up official leadership of Wine Tasters of Naples.  Does he still drink wine?  He loves wine and is always looking for the best $30 bottle.  Dan’s wife also enjoys wine and together they have made three trips to Napa.  Their interest in the welfare of others took them to 25 charitable events in the last few years.  However, Dan still finds time to be involved with the organization he was instrumental in founding.  Recently honoring him with the first lifetime membership to Wine Tasters of Naples, our Club is indeed proud of our founder.