There’s so much more to Jann Webster than the extra ‘n’ in her first name; known for Save Siesta Key, the making of key decisions, and fake mac n’ cheese, she’s an undisputed local dynamo
By John Morton
Q: Jann, let’s address the two “n” letters at the end of your first name before I am accused of yet another typo. What gives?
A: My shortened name was caused by a typo. In high school, the art class students were painting names on megaphones for the cheerleaders. Apparently, my artist was overly artistic on the first three letters of Janice and did not have room to paint the final three letters. So, it was quickly decided to shorten my name to four letters — JANN – and it’s become a nickname that has stuck to me ever since!
Q: Can you please share your history with Siesta Key?
A: My parents retired to Cape Coral in the 1980s. We thought that area was delightful, so my husband and I purchased a retirement lot in Cape Coral. Everything was going along smoothly until we visited a friend who lived on Longboat Key. As we drove from Cape Coral to Longboat Key, we toured Siesta Key. We walked the beach and ate in the Village. We looked at each other over a glass of wine and said, “We didn’t know this place existed. We need to re-think retirement!”
A couple months later, we scheduled a real estate trip to Sarasota. We toured three different areas (Longboat Key, Sarasota, and Siesta Key) and decided that the laid-back family vibe of Siesta Key was the perfect location for us. We purchased our Siesta Key property in 2008, 10 years before we planned to rebuild our retirement home. We moved into our retirement home in February 2020, the month that the pandemic started.
We have no regrets and are grateful every day that we landed in Siesta Key.
By the way, the name of our boat is “Key Decision,” representing our decision to retire here.
Q: We understand you are the creator of one highly acclaimed mac n’ cheese recipe. Please dish-up that story for us.
A: My extended Italian family gave me a passion for cooking. I have dabbled in cooking contests for quite some time and won several, but the macaroni-and-cheese winner was a fluke.
I made-up a recipe for “Macaroni and Cheese — International Style” without ever actually making it.
The Kraft rules stipulated adding three ingredients, so my international twist included Canadian bacon, Swiss cheese and French-style green beans. So corny!
But apparently, it was catchy! My recipe won the local contest and 52 weeks’ worth of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese.
Fast-forward a couple more months and I received a second phone call, this time stating that I won the national first prize for the “1-2-3 Recipe” campaign. My prize was a spa vacation, which my husband and I enjoyed at the Marriott Hotel and Spa on Maui.
By the way, my kids wouldn’t even take a bite of “International Style” macaroni and cheese. They said it was horrid!
Q: You are an ambassador with the Save Siesta Key group. Why did you get involved and what has been included in your volunteer duties?
A: I’ve been involved with the Save Siesta Key group since the initial formation meetings in January 2021. I serve as a neighborhood ambassador and a communications specialist.
I’m involved because I’m convinced we need a grass-roots effort to protect Siesta Key from rampant overdevelopment.
In my view, a strong, united community is the only way to counterbalance the fact that Siesta Key represents only 2% of Sarasota County voters. Together, a united community can ensure the future viability of the island. We need our officials to abide by zoning regulations rather than “redefine” zoning. We need to protect the environment from overuse. We need to safely guard pedestrians and bikers.
And we need to take a long-term view of infrastructure before we overburden aging systems.
Q: If you could deliver a few sentences to the Florida Legislature in regard to the incorporation issue, what would you say? (It is considering the bill this month.)
A: I’m most proud of the grass-roots support and overwhelming unity in our community. Despite the fact that many voting residents are often in other states, we came together to demonstrate our unified belief that Siesta Key would benefit from watchful local governance. We want to ensure that Siesta Key continues to be revered for its accessible white beaches, its laid-back friendly vibe, and its family friendliness and safety.
Q: Any other dreams for Siesta Key?
A: I have tried unsuccessfully to convince Sarasota County parks and rec that we need permanent pickleball courts installed on Siesta Key.
People who live on the Key commute off the Key to play, which adds to our traffic problems. The county painted pickleball lines on two tennis courts, but playing there requires people to bring their own nets with them, which is not practical. Nets are expensive and tourists don’t bring nets on the plane!
After watching the huge success of other area pickleball installations (Pompano, GT Bray, Venice, Naples), my proposal is to convert the largely unused tennis courts to permanent pickleball courts, and then install two new tennis courts in the same area. That ratio of space would more accurately reflect usage data.