Once chasing adrenaline as a professional water skier at Sea World, Merriman is now looking for ways to take the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall to greater heights.
Shaun Merriman believes a good businessman needs to be well-rounded and engaged with his community. And as president and CEO of Gateway Bank of Southwest Florida, he sticks to his motto. The former professional skier is just as comfortable in a board meeting as he is on the water or mingling at a Chamber of Commerce social. The Wisconsin native has spent the last 30 years developing his career as a community banker and serving on a variety of area nonprofit boards. Now, he’s taking the helm as chairman of the board of the Van Wezel Foundation.
We have to be an extension of the community. I try to stay in key leadership positions, because it helps me personally and professionally. I get to meet more people.
You have to be involved. The boss I had in DeLand had been a part of that community forever. He was the youngest bank president in the state of Florida at 19. He was a kid. And he was Mr. DeLand. He was involved with everything: the chamber, the hospital and the community college. Working for him, I saw the impact that he had and the joy that he got from being on these boards. It kept him alive.
I liked the focus and mission at the Van Wezel Foundation on the children’s programs. We provide a lot of funding to get kids bused here and pay for those performances. The schools can’t pay for it. They don’t have it in their budgets for the performances or busing. We try to make sure kids can be exposed to the arts.
One of the biggest projects we’re helping with right now, along with the Sarasota Orchestra, is Bayfront 20/20. We’re working side by side to make sure that we’re part of that overall planning. We need to make sure the Van Wezel will be here for another 45 years.
When I wasn’t skiing or working, I spent a lot of time with music. I love the performing arts and dance. At Sea World (where he led the male ski team for three years), all the shows are performing arts, whether they realize that or not. The ski show at Sea World is completely theatrical. It’s acting. It’s dancing. It’s singing. It’s everything. I’ve always had an incredible respect for performers and what they have to do to focus on mind over matter and deal with the audience.