Don Eslick Leaves a Legacy of Service and Dedication to the Community
Don Eslick was a community advocate and leader whose ingenuity and roll-up-your-sleeves spirit was the driving force behind Estero’s motto, “A Village with a Vision.” As founding chairman of the Estero Council of Community Leaders (ECCL), Eslick’s leadership, conviction and ability to inspire a collective vision have made a profound impact on Estero’s way of life. His tenacity to get the job done, combined with his modest demeanor and willingness to put the people’s words into action, earned him the beloved title “Mr. Estero.” He passed on March 16, 2023, and is survived by his wife, Suzie.
A Chicago native, Eslick served in the Air Force, earned a bachelor’s degree in economics from Purdue, and a master’s in business administration from the University of Chicago. His diverse and impressive career – 10 years as a college professor, 10 years working with Congress and nearly 20 years in investment banking – proved invaluable to a community just coming into the radar of developers. After retiring to Florida in 1999, Eslick wasted no time getting involved.
Eslick accepted Estero’s challenges with the singular goal of preserving the community’s standard of living. He had the foresight to envision Estero’s needs during its development stages in the early 2000s and looked over the horizon toward the future. He took to task the management of Estero’s evolving landscape to ensure its expansion was planned with the residents’ needs first.
Bob Lienesch, former chief financial officer of the ECCL, spent a decade working alongside Eslick.
“His vision was a community united that coalesced behind their shared vision of Estero’s future,” said Lienesch. “Without doubt, he was hugely successful.”
Village leaders agree one of the community’s greatest assets was Eslick himself. From airplane noise to traffic concerns, protecting natural resources to improving healthcare access, if it affected life in Estero, Eslick had it in his sights — and a committee behind it.
His role in the incorporation of Estero in 2014 was vital in preventing Bonita Springs from annexing sections of Estero. Nick Batos, Estero’s first mayor, met Eslick in 2002 and served alongside him for many years in various roles within the ECCL.
“Don Eslick was a man who recognized the importance of community involvement with local government to manage the explosive growth and development which he could see coming to Southwest Florida,” said Batos. “He was a man who could find and inspire people to work together to make Estero and the region a better place for us all.”
During his leadership of the ECCL, Eslick served Lee County as chairman of its Charter Review Committee and as a member of the Smart Growth and Density Reduction/Groundwater Resource Advisory committees. His expertise and ardor, combined with a calm manner, also helped county officials manage the divided interests of developers, agriculture and mining in east Estero. In 2006, the Lee County Board of Commissioners named Eslick Lee County Citizen of the Year.
Jim Shields, a board member of Engage Estero (formerly ECCL), spent years working with Eslick and forming a bond beyond steadfast community service.
“Don Eslick was a man of absolute honesty, trustworthiness and determination,” Shields said. “Much more than an exceptionally good friend, for me, he was like a brother. Don was a very good listener with sage advice. Truly a visionary.”
Marilyn Edwards, communications specialist with the Village of Estero, remembers her interactions with Eslick fondly.
“I first met Don in 2005 when I served on the ECCL board as communications director,” she recalled. “He was an unassuming man who was really a mover and shaker. He was able to meet people, discover their talents and inspire them to use those talents to help build the beautiful community Estero is today. He was my hero.”
Even as his health declined, his positive outlook never waned, Lienesch said.
“Like so many of us who worked with him for years, I consider Don a truly inspirational man who was my mentor and my friend,” he said. “Current and future residents of Estero owe Don a huge debt of gratitude.”