I was born in Cuba. My name “Karelia” has an interesting background. The name is not of Hispanic origin but Russian. There is a region known as the Russian Republic of Karelia, and “Karelia Suite, Op. 11,” was written by Jean Sibelius in 1893.
My family immigrated to the United States when I was 5 years old. We arrived as refugees at the historic Freedom Tower in Miami and were welcomed with food and clothes. We stayed with relatives in Miami until we settled in New York. I was 13 when we moved to Fort Lauderdale, where I graduated from Westminster Academy. After high school, my family moved once again, this time to a 1940s Art Deco gem on De Soto Boulevard in Coral Gables. It was designated historic in the early 2000s. I have lived in Coral Gables ever since — drawn to the panoply of distinct architecture in this city founded by George Merrick 90 years ago.
In 1980, shortly before my family’s move to Coral Gables, I met my future husband, Marino, in Fort Lauderdale at the legendary but now defunct Pete & Lenny’s club. It was at the height of disco fever and Marino was a dancer in a disco contest.
Three years later, on May 29, 1983, we traveled from Coral Gables to New York City for our wedding ceremony at the historic St. Patrick’s Cathedral. On our return to Coral Gables as newlyweds, we rented a quaint coral rock home on Columbus Boulevard. Our son, Brenden Marino, was born there in 1985. In 1986, we bought our first and only home — an Old Spanish beauty with good bones, large French windows, cathedral ceiling, pinewood floors, pecky cypress ceiling in the sitting room, and a coral rock fireplace. The outside facade was painted pink and embellished with tall pines that stood as decorative statuettes. That year, the city of Coral Gables recognized our home with a beautification award.
We have been happily married for 34 years — happily living in Coral Gables.
My husband also came to this country from Cuba as a young boy. Today, no longer a disco dancer, he is a private practitioner, a licensed and certified psychotherapist. His credentials include a doctorate in child and youth studies from Nova Southeastern University’s Fischler Graduate School of Education.
We are proud parents of a handsome son who is “an officer and a gentleman” and the pride of the family. Brenden grew up in Coral Gables attending St. Philip’s Episcopal School and Ransom Everglades School. He majored in ethics, politics, and economics at Yale University and continued his studies at the University of Pennsylvania School of Law. Upon his passing the New York bar, Brenden decided to serve his country as a commissioned U.S. Air Force JAG (judge advocate general).
As for me, I hold a doctorate in public administration with a concentration on nonprofit management from Nova Southeastern University.
For me, it is an honor to have the opportunity to serve my community as a nonprofit professional. I am especially drawn to the smaller charitable organizations trying to do so much good with so little. From facilitating an organization to reach its million-dollar milestone to setting in place the tools and structure for sustainability — I am honored to offer my expertise. Many small nonprofits just need a bit of professional guidance in order to attain financial viability.
At present, I am an independent fundraising and communications consultant after many years employed in the not-for-profit independent school sector. I headed the alumni office at Ransom Everglades School and before that as development director at Carrollton School of the Sacred Heart. As a consultant, I have worked with St. Thomas Episcopal School and St. Stephen’s Episcopal Day School.
I continue to love my City Beautiful and give back as much as possible.
I call myself an “accidental preservationist.” I basically stumbled into serving on the Historic Preservation Association of Coral Gables (HPACG) board back in 2012. Lured to join the organization by long-time preservationist and founding HPACG member Ellen Uguccioni, I find myself gradually becoming more drawn to the protection of historical patrimony and an ardent protector of all things “old” here in the city of Coral Gables and beyond.
One of HPACG’s signature preservation projects has been years in the making and has required perseverance and deep dedication. Our group’s focus has been advocating the historical importance and preservation of the last remaining landmarked streetlights in Coral Gables known as the “1926 White Way Lights.” One of the barriers to the preservation project has been a convoluted contractual relationship between the city of Coral Gables and the Florida Power & Light. The barrier impedes the city in forging ahead with much-needed restoration. Hopefully, a satisfactory outcome will soon pave the way for Coral Gables and HPACG to begin restoring the remaining 45 of the 500 original streetlights.
Beside historic preservation, my other passions include art and travel. I enjoy art in all its forms — from paint to performance to everything in between. The world is our oyster, as the saying goes. As a family we have traveled to more than 30 countries to date. In 2016, my husband and I made several emotionally laden trips that included visiting our native Cuba for the first time since our childhoods; joining parishioners of the Church of Little Flower in Coral Gables on a pilgrimage to Lourdes, Normandy, Liseaux, and Paris in celebration of the church’s 90th anniversary; and traveling with Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski to Rome for a private visit to the Vatican and an audience with Pope Francis.
Yet all roads lead back home. Our sense of place is in Coral Gables. Our historic home is our haven.