She’s often asked, “What does the “Z” stand for?” She was born Nancy Zarza, on June 23, 1953 on Long Island, New York. The “Z” is in remembrance of her father. When she was 10 years old he died of lung cancer, leaving a wife and three young children. Her mom had to get a job in an era when all of her friends had stay-at-home moms. She delivered newspapers and babysat through junior high, and got her first part-time job at age 16 as a sales girl in a department store.
Throughout her years in high school and college, she worked two jobs at a time, selling shoes, waiting tables or driving a delivery car for a medical lab. She graduated from SUNY at Stony Brook in 1975 with a B.A. in English. She enrolled in the Boston University School of Public Communications in a graduate program. She completed the twelve credit course, but was advised to get experience in the field before receiving a Masters Degree.
For the next 2 years, she managed the Klondike Restaurant. She used the profits it generated to renovate the building, and it was sold for a huge profit. She used the commission she was paid to visit Cypress Gardens and fulfill a lifelong dream. She auditioned for the ski show, and after a few weeks of practice she was offered a job as a Cypress Gardens Water Skier.
From 1978 until 2003, she skied in shows, traveled the world with the ski team, met her husband of 28 years (a boat driver) and they had a daughter. She worked my way through management levels as supervisor of the Female Skiers, Wardrobe Supervisor and finally Supervisor of Park Operations. In this capacity she managed the employees and budget for five large departments in the park.
Saving Cypress Gardens
When Cypress Gardens closed the first time on April 13, 2003, she and her husband both lost their jobs after 25 and 30 years with three days notice. She helped organized the employees and joined forces with former Florida Senator Rick Dantzler and Dick Pope Jr. to lobby Governor Jeb Bush to help save the historic tourist attraction. There was a huge public outcry, and after several trips to Tallahassee, they were successful in convincing them to create a solution to save Cypress Gardens. From 2003 until 2011 she worked for Kiteman Productions as Operations Manager where my responsibilities included administration and show producer for Kiteman Shows at Sea World Orlando where she managed the production budget for 53 employees.
In 2001, she became aware of a proposal for a large new housing development in Lake Alfred that was not designed in the best interest of the town. She organized a citizens’ initiative and after many contentious town meetings, the plan was about to pass. The final meeting was scheduled to take place on September 11, 2001, but had to be canceled because of the events that took place in New York City that day. Before the meeting could be rescheduled, one commissioner resigned and the subdivision plan had to be put on hold. She ran for the Lake Alfred City Commission and won a seat. At the following commission meeting, the developer withdrew his rezoning request.
She contacted the Trust for Public Land and they helped her to write a grant. In 2004, the most sensitive 112 acre parcel of the land was purchased by the City of Lake Alfred for $2.6 million with Florida Forever funds. The initial grant for the Mackay Gardens and Lakeside Preserve ranked number seven in importance out of 76 state applications that year. She went on to write a $335,000.00 grant to renovate the historic home on the property for a community center, and a $150,000 recreation grant. She helped to organize a team of volunteers to build nature trails, a fishing pier, a playground, restrooms, a gazebo, a fitness trail and a picnic pavilion.
She has served on the Lake Alfred City Commission for 10 years including four terms as mayor and three terms as vice mayor. When she joined the commission, the city was in dismal financial shape. The citizens had voted for a state audit that revealed 64 findings of need for improvement. Over the course of my time serving, we reorganized the city management and finances, and have had near perfect audits for the past three years.
As Mayor of Lake Alfred she became involved in the Ridge League of Cities, serving a term as president. She graduated from Polk County Citizen’s Academy and Water School. She was also appointed to the Congress of Regional Leaders, a board created by the My Region.Org initiative. It opened her eyes to the importance of regional planning so she briefly left the Lake Alfred Commission to run for Polk County Commission. She was less than 1500 votes short of winning the county commission seat. She has continued to attend land use and DRI meetings throughout the county.
One of her greatest accomplishments as former Mayor of Lake Alfred involved convincing the FDOT to reinstate a road widening project through town. When they deleted the item from the 5-year work plan, she joined the Florida League of Cities Home Rule Administrative Council and became chair of the Transportation Committee. They crafted a bill to require FDOT to get legislative approval before canceling projects and had it introduced in the State House and Senate. The bill went through some revisions and was eventually vetoed by the governor, but the widening project was reinstated and accomplished. They had made it clear that they weren’t going to give up.