Local News

Coming back to her roots

AVON PARK- When Sebring native Jane Hancock decided to come back home after her "former life in Tampa," her brother, Ned Hancock, warned her: "I think you are going to be bored."

Turns out that didn't happen.

She took her brother's friendly advice as a challenge and has found plenty to do in Highlands County.

"I volunteer for everything," she answered, sitting in her office at the Hotel Jacaranda in Avon Park, while remembering her journey back to her roots eight years ago, after 16 years as a senior assistant attorney general.

Of course, volunteering is not the only thing that keeps the 57-year-old busy.

As director of planned and major giving with the South Florida State College Foundation, it's her job to secure endowments, mainly for scholarships, from donors who want to leave a legacy after their death.

But she also loves mentoring local youth, sits on the boards of civic groups, and has even started doing things she thought were history.

A piano player, Hancock was volunteered, literally, to play the saxophone at First Baptist Church in Sebring even though she had last touched one 40 years ago.

Hancock had played saxophone in the Sebring High School Band and somebody happened to remember that and pass on the information to the church music minister, who needed a sax player for the church's music group.

She was understandably rusty and more inclined to piano playing and classical music, but she's having a "hoot" tooting the sax in the church band, she laughed.

From 1990 to 2006, she was a legal advisor to the Florida New Motor Vehicle Arbitration Board, and covered a territory from Orlando to Tampa to Fort Myers. She helped car owners get help under Florida's consumer protection program for the automobile lemon law and handled grievances of individual car owners against manufacturers.

The job required travel but allowed her to help "the little guy," which she found very rewarding.

When she decided to move back home, she called Clifford Ables, a Sebring attorney who was her father's law partner.

"I think I need a change," she told him. "He said, 'Why don't you come down and talk to me?'"

For five years she worked with the law firm until someone asked her about the SFSC position, which is grant funded and is the first such opening at the community college.

Several of the donors, including those who establish endowments in their estates, are "very passionate about this college," she said.

After being a community college for many years, SFSC recently became a four-year institution, broadening its educational scope while still being committed to the needs of its tri-county service area, she said.

While trying to be a vibrant, well-established institution is important for current students, SFSC has to consolidate its foundation and plan for those who will enroll 20-, 30-, 40-, 50-years later, Hancock tries to remind her donors. It's planning for future students, their needs and the needs of the college down the road that Hancock tries to secure.

As part of SFSC's 50-year milestone in 2015, the college's Foundation is in the early planning stages of launching its largest campaign to raise funds for its endowment, Hancock said.

The mother of two grown boys has set off her children into the world and now helps other kids who may need help.

She sits on the community advisory board of Big Brothers, Big Sisters of Highlands and Hardee counties, a civic group that matches children with adult mentors, and has been a mentor for about 12 years for the Take Stock in Children program, an involvement that is very dear to her.

"I love to meet young children who are excited about their future. They are our future," she said. "It's really fun to have that bond."

As incoming chair of the Greater Sebring Chamber of Commerce board of directors, Hancock's and the board's biggest priority is finding an executive director to replacing outgoing head Steve Nyhan.

They had advertised for the opening during the Christmas holidays but plan to re-advertise so they can get the right pool of candidates, she added.