at Lake Eva Park
A conversation with Commissioner, Dr. Martha Santiago, who will soon be the Chair of the Board of the Polk County Commissioners.
Viva: Many of us have heard about our Hispanic commissioner, your trajectory, leadership, and influence in education. Today, we proudly ask you a couple of personal questions, so that we can get to know the person who represents us in government.
Viva: Who is the Martha Santiago your family and friends know?
Dr. Santiago: First and foremost, thank you for this opportunity. I consider myself a humble Christian, dedicated to my family and to this community, where I have lived for over four decades with my husband, children, grandchildren, my parents and sisters.
I can say that being with my family is my greatest joy in life. Also with my close friends, who are the family that the Lord allowed me to choose.
I have worked tirelessly to be a good example for my children and to reach my personal
aspirations and goals. This determination has helped me achieve my positions as teacher,
school principal, District School Director, Florida Southern College professor, Member of the District Board of Trustees for Polk State College, later Dean of Academic Affairs and Provost of several campuses until my retirement. As a volunteer, I have had the honor of serving in several boards as United Way of Central Florida, Boys and Girls Clubs, Central Florida Development Council, Tourism Development Council and Polk Vision, where I
have represented the Hispanic community and our concerns.
I have always felt the need for Hispanics to have a voice in the government of our area. This is one of the reasons that I ran for the commission. Thanks to my constituents, I am now the first Hispanic to hold one of the five seats in our County Commission.
Viva: During your lifetime, which notable experiences influenced your professional carreer?
Dr. Santiago: I remember as a child, I already exhibited leadership skills. My church held a children’s church every Monday. It was a very organized program. For years, the children voted me as president until finally, an adult leader stepped in to say that other children needed the opportunity, or I would have proudly continued with my grand title and responsibility.
In retrospect, I don’t remember specifically what inspired me to be an educator, a civic servant service nor politician politics. I can only attribute my decisions to the love I have in serving others. I have always sought opportunities to serve others since I was taught to do so as a child. I observed my parents, especially my mother, do this consistently, without hesitation and with lots of love. Unknowingly, from an early age, I connected with Mother Teresa’s motto… Life is not worth living if not lived for others (paraphrased).
I wholeheartedly believe that to whom much is given, much is expected. I have been blessed all of my life…I have a great responsibility toward my fellow man.
Viva: What can you tells us about yourself that most of your constituents don’t know?
Dr. Santiago: I try to be an open book, so there isn’t much people don’t know about me.
I like the simple things in life. I love dogs, the new member of our family is named Chewy, a Maltipoo who is on the cover with me. He is my baby!
I like all genres of music, but classical music is my favorite. I took piano lessons and played the violin in both Junior and High School orchestras – I was first violinist, which strengthened my commitment and leadership levels! It is a shame I did not continue in this musical path, if nothing else, for my personal enjoyment.
I love camping. It is the perfect time to “let my hair down” and slows me down to enjoy nature and to also reflect on God’s mercies and grace in our lives. Above all, it is a perfect time to spend with family without interruptions.
Also, like a good woman, I love going shopping with my friends. I just love to find great
Viva: In 10 years from now, how would you like to be remembered?
Dr. Santiago: Leaving a legacy is important, and I believe we leave a legacy to different groups of people, depending on what we do. First and foremost, I want my family and friends to say that everything I did was focused on my love for Jesus Christ.
In education, I want people to remember my words of encouragement: to focus on the tremendous impact we have on the learner and that education is the only thing that can change the cycle of poverty for a family.
In politics, for Polk County citizens recognize that my decisions helped create a better Polk County for future generations to live, work, play, and raise a family. For the Hispanic community, because of my stepping forward to run for County Commissioner, others are stepping out also.
Viva: Your term in the commission ends in 2022. We are proud that you are now Chair of the Board. Will you run again in 2022?
Dr. Santiago: Absolutely! We have already started working on the next campaign for the 2022 elections. There is so much to do for Polk County. As the only woman, and Hispanic at that, I must bring that perspective to the Board discussions when making life-long decisions that impact citizens.