By Richard Burnett
Throughout her long and varied career, Marlene O’Toole’s name has shown up in a wide range of industry, advocacy, and public service. A former Florida state representative, IBM executive, nonprofit leader, and education advocate, O’Toole has prioritized people, causes, programs, and legislation.
Now, her name takes top billing in the title of a new industrial park proposed for central Sumter County.
The Marlene O’Toole Industrial Park is planned for 404 acres south of the city of Coleman — land that has been used for ranching and sod farming for decades, according to the permit application filed by the Villages Land Operating Co. with the Southwest Florida Water Management District. The site is just northeast of the Gov. Rick Scott Industrial Park, another VLOC development.
It is the latest honor for O’Toole, who has been head of Beacon College’s collegiate transitions work for student career development since early 2018.
During her career as a GOP lawmaker from 2009 to 2016, she received a number of honors such as Legislator of the Year from the Associated Industries of Florida IT Council, Distinguished Advocate from the Florida Chamber of Commerce, and the Public Service Award from the Florida Network of Children’s Advocacy Centers. In her second term, she was chair of the House Education Committee.
O’Toole said she was notified in early June that the new industrial park would be named after her. The proposal was reported in the June 11 edition of The Villages Daily Sun, which included a congratulatory comment from now-Sen. Rick Scott, who applauded her dedicated support and leadership in education and economic development.
“I feel very honored and humbled by this gesture,” she said. “But that’s not the most important thing about this industrial park. The most important thing is the jobs it will create for the people of that area. I had an office there when I was a state representative and I learned a lot about that area. There’s a lot of poverty there and people in need of good paying jobs. This will make a big difference in their lives.”
Dr. George Hagerty, Beacon’s president, said O’Toole has become an integral part of the college community since joining the faculty.
“The Beacon community is understandably proud of this honor memorializing her investment in the arena of workforce development for our region and state,” he said. “Her tireless advocacy, both on this campus and in Central Florida, has made a true difference in the daily lives of many. Kudos to Marlene and those responsible for bestowing this recognition.”
Since Hagerty recruited her to Beacon — the nonprofit liberal arts school and America’s first accredited baccalaureate institution dedicated to educating students who learn differently — more than three years ago, O’Toole has thrown herself into the job, with her characteristic energy.
“My role and the role of my staff is to focus on career development for the students from the minute they get here and every step of the way,” O’Toole said. “They always have the opportunity to talk with us about the line of work they want to go into and how they can make that happen with their major. Along the way, we help them decipher what they really want to go and how to chart their course.”