Jenna Dianne Persons (’04): Youngest Fort Myers mayor candidate
March 3, 2010
From the first moment Jenna Persons stepped foot on the Evangel University campus, she knew this was the place where she belonged for the next four years. “I followed my intuition,” Persons said.
She had graduated from Fort Myers High School in 2001 with an International Baccalaureate Degree and a flawless GPA. She was offered a full tennis scholarship to attend Evangel.
In three years she attained degrees in Journalism and Government. She graduated summa cum laude in 2004 and received the Communication Department Academic Excellence Award.
“First, I chose journalism because I liked learning the world’s stories,” Persons said. “Then, I transitioned into government, because I wanted to be a part of shaping those stories.” While at Evangel, Persons played an active role in the campus newspaper, community, government and athletics. She led the Evangel tennis team as an NAIA All-American Scholar Athlete in the top singles and doubles position for four seasons.
An avid proponent of community service, Persons took her tennis team home to Fort Myers during two spring breaks to provide the community free multicultural tennis clinics.
Persons spoke publicly on campus for various issues and wrote numerous front-page articles for the campus newspaper, The Lance. These experiences provided her with the opportunity to enrich the level of her communication skills.
Persons was also involved in campus politics as the Communication Department Senator and Policy Review Committee Chair. She learned about local policy while interning two semesters for U.S. Rep. Roy Blunt, R-Mo. She became heavily involved in the fall 2004 political campaign season in Missouri, coordinating volunteer canvassing efforts for the area and working as a field representative for a state representative.
During her fourth year, Persons took graduate courses in Organizational Leadership and continued to play with the tennis team, while also serving as head coach.
“My time at Evangel helped shape my perspective on life, which is to take each day as it comes with firm footing, faith, and fearlessness,” Persons said. “My faith was enriched by the family and community.”
In 2005, Persons left Springfield, Mo., for Washington, D.C., to study law at the George Washington University Law School. Attending law school in D.C. gave Persons numerous academic and service opportunities. She attended lectures by some of the greatest legal and political minds, chaired the University’s chapter of the Republican National Lawyers Association, and learned about national policy while interning with U.S. Congressman Jim Ryun in the District of Columbia. She was admitted to the Bar in 2008.
After obtaining what she thought was the right job to lead her on a great career path, Persons was laid off after working at Roetzel & Andress law firm for less than a year. Instead of seeing this obstacle as an end, she saw it as a new beginning.
Persons took the opportunity to reassess what she wanted to do and decided to pursue her first passion, serving her community and creating beneficial public policy. Within a month after being laid off, she jumped into the mayoral race of Fort Myers, a city of approximately 70,000 in southwest Florida. She is a sixth-generation resident of Fort Myers — her great-great-great grandfather, third settler John Powell, settled in the area in the 1860s.
At the age of 26, Persons was the youngest on the ballot by almost two decades and the only woman in the race. The election was held on September 15, 2009, where Persons came in second, with 33 percent of the vote in a three-person race.
“The foundation I received from Evangel has allowed me to take calculated risks that have constantly enriched my life, like running for Mayor of Fort Myers,” Persons said.
Persons is still actively involved as a player in local policy. She has returned to private legal practice and has spoken at local schools and colleges regarding local public policy and youth in politics. In December, she joined with Bruce Strayhorn, a well-established key attorney in Fort Myers, to open a new practice. Their firm, Strayhorn & Persons P.L., specializes in the areas of administrative, governmental, and land use.
Persons currently resides in Fort Myers, where she attends Faith Assembly of God church. She serves on the Foundation and City Advisory Boards for the Southwest Florida Historical Museum. She also serves as secretary for the Young Lawyers Division of the Lee County Bar, treasurer for the Edison Kiwanis Club, and as an assistant treasurer for the Lee Republican Women’s Club.
“I ran for mayor to share my young, fresh perspective with a city that is struggling like so many others,” said Persons. “It was an amazing experience of meeting people and learning about others and myself. I won’t ever stop being involved; I don’t know if I can.”