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Holly Stenger, Walt Disney World Parks & Resorts

Not long ago, Holly Stenger was in Miami at the American Institute of Architects’ national convention when talk turned to the association’s 2017 get-together, already on the books for Orlando.

“Everyone was like, ‘Who’s going to be the chapter president when the convention is here?!’ Stenger recalls. “And I thought about it for a second – all the people you’d meet, all the exposure to the industry – and said, ‘I wanna do that!’”

Friends and colleagues urged her to get board experience – stat. It was advice she took to heart, taking on the two-year position of state director before winning in a landslide election for Orlando chapter president.

She laughs. “I ran unopposed…! So I can’t really brag, but winning was the goal and so here I am, excited about the convention coming in April. This will bring between 15- and 20,000 architects to Orlando from all over the world – it’s a huge convention! And we hear all the time, ‘Oh, there’s no architecture in Orlando!’ Well, that is absolutely not true!”

Stenger and her chapter brethren have planned some 60 tours in myriad disciplines to give professionals in her sphere an in-depth look at Central Florida – including Florida Southern’s architectural jewel out in Lakeland.

“People don’t realize that here in Central Florida is the largest collection of Frank Lloyd Wright buildings in the nation!”

It’s a lot of excitement for the Danville, Ill. native, whose triple-threat love of math, science and art seemed to create a destiny for her in her chosen field. She danced as a kid – mostly ballet – while her father, a former golf pro, instilled in her a love of the game that’s endured in her adulthood, though she doesn’t play nearly as often as she’d like.

“My grandmother was a very big influence on me,” she says. “She was a fashion design illustrator, a freelancer who did the weekly newspaper ad drawings for the big department stores. It was very cool. She was very artistic, always took me to the art museums, very into historic preservation.”

The latter love came in handy during Stenger’s junior year at the University of Illinois, when she did a two-semester stint studying architecture in France.

“It was awesome,” she notes, admitting her French went from horrible to decent during her time overseas. “The experience ticked up my interest in urban design, the pedestrian-friendly and habitability of the older parts of the cities and how modern materials and design can blend into its fabric. It’s something that carried over to my graduate studies at the University of Texas in Austin.”

Stenger has been an Orlando resident since 2002 and five years ago, lived a dream when she and husband Kristopher, also an architect, bought some property in a neighborhood south of Downtown and went about designing and building their home – which is LEED Gold certified.

When not working the pair enjoy time with their kids – Karmann, 8, and Maxwell, 5. Stenger has been a Disney employee for just over a year now and of course, that doesn’t hurt their family-fun options.

“We definitely take advantage of visiting the parks – all of them – on a pretty regular basis,” she says. “It’s so nice to be able to go out there on a nice day.”

Work-wise, her group handles maintaining anything that’s existing – parks or resorts.

“Basically a full blown architecture services that support everything on property. We help with coordination of the different disciplines and oversee to make sure that all standards and codes are being met. I love it.”

Orlando, she says, is an amazing place to live for its year-round outdoor lifestyle, something her family enjoys regularly.

As for AIA, April’s convention is first and foremost on Madame President’s mind.

“So we have a lot we have going on here with architecture in Central Florida that we really want to showcase,” she says with pride and excitement. “We want to show people the exciting things in entertainment, education, healthcare, historic preservation and more, and that even if they’ve been here, they should come see it again – from a different perspective.”

A.D. Thompson
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