For decades, Murray Hendel had the ear of political and community leaders in Collier County.
He had an undeniable influence and impact on the county as it grew, with no goal except to make Naples – and the rest of the county – a better place to live.
For this, he will be remembered for a long time.
Hendel, 93, died Aug. 4 after a long illness.
“I’m so sad. He was a great, great civic leader,” said Michael Reagen, former president and CEO of the Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce.
Hendel argued for smart growth.
“He was concerned about the air, the water, and the trees — and the honesty of government,” Reagen said.
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Hendel championed a one-cent increase in the county resort tax to bolster tourism marketing and restoring or rebuilding beaches.
“He didn’t represent any particular interest, other than the citizens who lived here,” Reagen said.
Close friend Bob Raymond, a longtime civic leader in Naples, couldn’t agree more.
Having moved here decades ago, Hendel, he said, just wanted others to love Naples like he and his wife Pauline did.
“He didn’t want to lose the small-town charm or beauty or flavor,” Raymond said.
Co-founder of the Collier Citizens Council
To tackle local issues, Raymond and Hendel, along with a few others, co-founded the Collier Citizens Council, an influential coalition of civic and community leaders from across the county with varying backgrounds and experience.
Among other successes, the Citizens’ Council lobbied for the controversial increase in the county’s tourist tax, levied on overnight stays.
Hoteliers and tourism promoters have opposed the tax increase, saying a hike to 5% would put them at a competitive disadvantage – especially for group companies – because of the additional charges.
“We wouldn’t have that extra penny without Murray. He put in 200% effort to get that extra penny,” Raymond said.
This effort included serving on the county’s Tourism Development Board and Coastal Advisory Committee, where he advocated for the levy, while working to protect local beaches and responsibly develop tourism.
“I can’t say it enough. He loved Napoli,” Raymond said.
Although the effort ultimately failed, Hendel fought to bring the Chicago Cubs to the county for spring training to boost tourism from 2009 to 2010.
Hendel helped raise the funds needed to complete the Freedom Memorial off Golden Gate Parkway, which honors local veterans like him. He served in the Air Force for four years during the Korean War.
Murray Hendel moves to Napoli
He moved to Napoli after a brilliant career.
After military service, Hendel worked for 10 years as a CPA, or Certified Public Accountant, for the Internal Revenue Service in Hartford, Connecticut, and Washington, DC. In this role, he received numerous awards and accolades, including recognition as an outstanding agent in his class.
He joined Feld Leasing Co. in Kansas City in 1967 as chief financial officer and moved to Minneapolis in 1974 when the company was acquired by Gelco Corporation, where he served as senior vice president.
In Minneapolis, he joined the Rotary Club, served on the Governor’s Task Force on Energy, led the Bob Dole Committee for President, and served as President of American Friends of Hebrew University.
After his “retirement” to Naples in 1988, Hendel held a myriad of leadership positions with local organizations, including as president of the Holocaust Museum of Southwest Florida, the Collier County Presidents Council and the Gulf Shore Association of Condominiums.
Hendel’s community service in Southwest Florida has not gone unnoticed.
“He received so many awards that I can’t remember all of them. But I was always there taking his picture,” Raymond said.
Among its many prizes and distinctions? In 2018, the Jewish Historical Society of Southwest Florida named him “Man of the Year.”
A section of the shore walk at Park Shore – where he lived in a high-rise condo for many years – is named after him.
In 2015, a sign with his smiling face was erected along the concrete path of Gulf Shore Boulevard, designating it as “Murray’s Mile”.
The Gulf Shore Association of Condominiums has signed on to recognize Hendel’s 13 years of leadership with the organization while “watching” the boardwalk on the beach. The association represents condominiums on both sides of Gulf Shore Boulevard, south to Admiralty Point and east to Crayton Road, and counts the closure of the north end of the boulevard among its successes. Hendel, one of the group’s founders, served as its chairman for seven years.
For many years he walked the private beach on foot almost every morning, usually rain or shine, covering thousands of miles. He also talked a lot, inviting a Who’s Who list of local leaders to join him for a walk, including two Naples mayors, former and current county commissioners and heads of state.
Politicians knew that if they wanted to win the votes of condo residents along Gulf Shore Bouelvard, they had to walk with Hendel. They often took the opportunity to interrogate his brain on local issues.
Although she crossed paths with Hendel several times during their shared days of civic activism, Janet Vasey said she got to know him well over the past year as a resident of Bentley Village. north of Naples.
“We were weekly bridge partners. He got to know the game quickly, loved
win and still have fun. His smile was contagious. Many people go
I miss him,” she said.
In 2017, the Collier Citizens Council established the Murray Hendel Achievement Award, given annually in his honor.
Hendel founded the group known as Romeo (Retired Old Men Eating Out).
“I don’t know how many there were in his group, but he told me I couldn’t join because I wasn’t Jewish,” Raymond said with a laugh.
He added: “Everyone he met was his friend.”
Murray is survived by his wife Pauline, his brother David, his children Diane, Ron and Jayne and eight grandchildren.
Speaking of his dad, Ron said he was the happiest in Naples.
He was particularly proud of “Murray’s Mile”.
“Every time we visited we made a pilgrimage to ‘Murray’s Mile,'” Ron said.
“He has always been involved in local politics,” he added. “When he came to Napoli he got involved full time and he loved it. I was surprised he never raced for something himself.”