When Rebecca Weiss Sjouwerman and her husband, tech entrepreneur Stu Sjouwerman, recently visited the Gladys Douglas-Hackworth Preserve, they made a bold decision to try to help save the 44 acres of undeveloped land in Dunedin.
They made a $2 million donation, through the Pinellas Community Foundation, which has become the lead gift in a fundraising effort to buy the land and preserve it so it cannot be developed.
The property is part of the estate of the late Gladys Douglas-Hackworth, who reportedly wanted to see it preserved. Despite that, is was under contract to Pulte Homes for $14.5 million until Pulte dropped out of the deal in October amid mounting public pressure.
The Pinellas Community Foundation, Sierra Club Florida and others ramped up the fundraising initiative Wednesday, hoping to raise about $2 million more to meet the $10 million needed to purchase the land. The city of Dunedin and Pinellas County together have committed $5.5 million, enough to cover the appraised value of the property. The Sjouwermans’ gift, along with other donations, means there’s currently about $8 million available for the acquisition, city and county officials said during a online press conference Wednesday. Private donations are needed to close the funding gap, they said.
The Sjouwerman gift initially was made anonymously and announced by Dunedin Mayor Julie Ward Bujalski on Nov. 17. During the Wednesday press conference, the donor was introduced as “Rebecca” and the St. Pete Catalyst later confirmed the donors were Rebecca and Stu Sjouwerman.
Stu Sjouwerman is founder and CEO of KnowBe4, a Clearwater cybersecurity training firm with a simulated phishing platform. KnowBe4 is one of the largest and fastest-growing technology companies in the Tampa-St. Petersburg area, valued at more than $1 billion.
Rebecca Sjouwerman, who is an artist and author, talked about her decision to make the donation in an email to the Catalyst.
“I have been an animal- and nature lover all my life, and am involved in many organizations to help them. Both pets, farm animals, wildlife and environmental groups.
“In recent years I have seen several wildlife habitats in Pinellas destroyed by developers. And when I first read about Pulte bulldozing through the Gladys Douglas preserve, it totally broke my heart.
“It was a relief to hear they pulled out of the project, and that the City of Dunedin and the County are getting another chance.
“Stu and I visited the property recently, and decided it must be saved at all cost. It is a beautiful place, home to so many species of animals and vegetation.
“We donated $2 million (through the Pinellas Community Foundation), hoping that would make a difference.
“The earth does not only belong to humans. It belongs to wildlife as well, and we have no right to keep destroying their habitat.
“Anyone who cares about wildlife, nature, clean air and our future, should do what they can to help Dunedin buy the property and preserve it. Fundraising is already in progress and we ask everyone to please help!,” her email said.
It’s not the first time Rebecca and Stu Sjouwerman have made seven-figure donations to local organizations. The couple donated $4 million in 2019 to the Humane Society of Pinellas to finance construction of a new building, with groundbreaking about to begin.
Today, the Humane Society of Pinellas is here to say a huge thank you to Stu and Rebecca Sjouwerman for donating $4…
In 2020, the couple also made large donations to The Humane Society of Tampa, the Suncoast Sierra Club, IFAW, and the Farm Sanctuary in upstate New York.
“It makes me incredibly happy to be in a position where I can help like this. And it would never have been possible without Stu’s backup,” Rebecca Sjouwerman said.