WHERE THE HEART IS

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Whether working to meet a deadline, traversing a mountain in India, or running interference between her children and the opossum that wanders into their yard, Alisa Kinsaul knows life is good. For the Bay County resident, she is home, the place where her heart is and always was.

Her father served in the military and the family lived many places. The summer trips home to Bay County were important to her parents who were Bay High School sweethearts, Class of 1954. Kinsaul recalls beach outings and fun-filled summer days with great affection. “I remember the crunch of oyster shells beneath my feet, the glow of the neon lights from my grandparents’ motel. I was happy; I was where I felt was home,” she says. No matter what the future held, those summer memories represented a sensibility and a dreamscape the young girl was determined to have as part of her adult life.

Bill, her husband of eleven years, was born and raised in Lynn Haven, Florida. They met at Panama City Beach the summer after she graduated from high school. "I am so blessed that our paths crossed when they did—I can't imagine building a life with anyone else,” Kinsaul shares. To grow up with deep family connections in a place she describes as paradise is what she wants for their children. They are raising their children, Grant and Grace, with a connection to the past and a commitment to the future. Her mother and Bill’s parents reside in Bay County. “Thankfully, our children have the benefit of being close to their grandparents,” she says.

In 1993 Kinsaul began her job at Florida State University Panama City (FSU PC). As the publicity chair of the student government council, she developed a genuine affinity for the bayside campus. Her creativity and work ethic did not go unnoticed. The Dean suggested she apply for a new public relations position. The position was part-time, at a desk with a telephone and a typewriter. Since then FSU PC has experienced many changes and tremendous growth. As the Director of Communications at the Florida State University, Panama City campus, Kinsaul's dedication to campus' mission has grown along with it.

She believes the strong sense of community and unique spirit of giving and caring distinguishes the area. Kinsaul thinks the success of the college is inextricably connected to the civic mindedness of the residents. “People have rallied behind this campus to ensure that it had the support needed to grow,” she says. “Thanks in part to local leadership and influence; the campus received legislative funding to add fulltime, daytime bachelor's degree programs that were not here three years ago.” Kinsaul has also been involved with a number of nonprofits and has seen “ Bay County’s generosity over and over.”

The college remains in growth mode and she is still excited when she tells the FSU Panama City story. “Students here have the rare benefits of both a small college atmosphere and the resources and reputation of a major Research I University,” she says. Kinsaul is a tireless advocate for higher education; she has witnessed the powerful changes it produces in graduates' lives.

Dr. Edward Wright, Dean of FSU, says Kinsaul “provides beneficial advice for community action; her insights and skills have shaped what we are doing here in order to be successful. She possesses natural skills and a natural intuitiveness in regard to the community. She is also a remarkable example of how to juggle a professional life, family and community life.”

Of the many opportunities available during her tenure at FSU PC, the Rotary International Group Study Exchange Program was the most life altering. She was one of five team members sponsored by Northside Rotary in Panama City. The focus of her 1999 trip to India was to build a dialogue between the two countries through professional and personal interactions.

As the team traveled up the mountain navigating the careening traffic, she knew her studies had not fully prepared her for what she would encounter in one of the poorest districts in India. For more than three weeks, the team was immersed in the day-to-day realities of a culture far from her home.

“One stark difference I observed in our cultures is that in India they seemed to live in the moment — not in anticipation of what was around the bend. As Americans, we tend to take for granted the comforts we enjoy and operate under the premise that we will be happy once we get that raise, buy that boat, go on that dream vacation, etc. The twenty-six days I spent in India made me vow to alter that cultural mindset and teach my kids to appreciate each and every moment,” she says. The experience galvanized her values and brought clarity to the path she would pursue.

She has come to appreciate preserving, building and contributing to the area she calls home. The Bay County lifestyle offers the balance she believes is vital, “I can step back from the hectic pace, the demands of the job and focus on family in the midst of a gorgeous environment.”

The predicted growth trend for North Florida is above the national average. Kinsaul supports a proactive vision that focuses on the infrastructure to preserve and enhance the area’s beauty and quality of life. “There are some things happening right now that are positive in relation to planning ahead. We can plan or react.” She has confidence in the community leaders’ visioning to meet the challenges.

She and Bill want what all good parents want for their children: a great education, great jobs and joyful lives. She wants her children to have the opportunities and quality of life she has found. She loves the saying, “Our most creative act is writing our own life story.” She thinks she has found the perfect environment from which to write hers. Alisa Kinsaul is happy to call Bay County home, the place where her heart was, is—and always will be.

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