When Swanee DiMare began dating her husband Paul DiMare more than 26 years ago, a co-worker in Delta Airlines management department asked her what this new love interest did for a living. “I told him he was a tomato farmer and he said, ‘Oh Swanee!’ He thought this guy was going to pick me up wearing overalls,” she giggles.
Certainly her friend couldn’t have imagined that Swanee’s “farmer” was on his way to becoming the largest tomato grower in the United States. “It’s a family business that started 90 years ago with a pushcart in Boston,” she explains proudly. Paul is not only successful; he’s a leader in the industry, serving as the Chairman of the Florida Tomato Committee and Co-Founder of the advocacy group, Florida Farmers Inc.
The success of their union led to a blended family of five children, and a shared interest in philanthropy that keeps them both busy. The list of their donations, committees, boards, and event chair positions is long—very long. While it might not seem so, the list is cohesive. The unifying theme to their generosity is the advancement of Miami as a city. “Paul and I have been very fortunate to meet some extraordinary people through philanthropy, and the interesting thing is we all seem to have the same goal in mind: to make Miami a world-class destination in terms of education, research, the arts and healthcare,” explains DiMare.
This lofty goal requires broad strokes and her participation across a broad range of causes. They say advancement starts with education, so the DiMares chose the University of Miami to be the biggest benefactor of their generosity. The DiMares have pledged the hefty sum of $12.5 million through the Paul J. DiMare Foundation to the school. Half of the funds are going to the Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine for scholarships, while UM’s Frost School of Music will get $2 million for a new recital hall, with the rest going towards athletics. “It’s mostly for scholarships,” says Swanee from her home in Coral Gables. “So we can attract top talent to the Miller School of Medicine.”
Even closer to the DiMares home is the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, to which they donated funds to create the Paul and Swanee DiMare Science Village. The village opened in 2012 at the garden and serves to further the botanic research done there. “We made sure there were windows, so the 150,000 kids that go to the Fairchild every year could see the scientists in their white lab coats doing their work.” Swanee’s goal isn’t just to add a new diversion for the kids, but to hopefully spark an interest in the next generation of Miami-born biologists, who will hopefully be educated here and work here in years to come.
The Red Cross is another very important cause to the DiMares. “It’s 100 percent privately funded, and it’s the greatest humanitarian organization in the world,” she says. She’s right on both counts. To support the organization, she became a founding and lifetime member of the Miami Chapter of the American Red Cross Tiffany Circle, Society of Women Leaders. “The goal is to get $100,000 from each member, so if you’re a lifetime member, you give $10,000 a year,” says DiMare. “Miami could be hit by a hurricane, and we want to make sure there are funds available for an immediate response.” As is the case of most her causes, Swanee is actively involved in its fundraising events. She has served as The Red Cross Honorary Chairman of the Spectrum Awards for Women and sponsor of The Swanee and Paul DiMare Youth Spectrum Award from 2006 through 2012.
She is also working hard to make sure the Adrienne Arsht Center gets all the funding it deserves. “I thought, if some of these organizations can charge $2,500 for their gala, the Arsht Center can get that too; after all, we’ve been bringing top talent each year.” The roster has included A-list actor Kevin Costner, Harry Connick Jr., and Kevin Spacey, who gave a memorable performance and a master class to 26 aspiring young actors at the center. She has a trophy for her efforts. “The staff gave that to me,” she says with a mischievous smile, pointing to a silver picture frame with a photo of she and Harry Connick and the words “When Harry Met Swanee” engraved on it. In the photo, she’s stealing a kiss from the performer. “I’m a little older, I can get away with it,” she says with a wink. It’s obvious she knows how to make fundraising fun.
In addition to all these organizations, Swanee is also on the board of Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, The Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science, Women of Tomorrow, The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis, and the Miami City Ballet. Advancing an entire city clearly takes a lot of energy. With so many committee meetings, galas, and the like, a break is in order—and boy does she get one. For five months of the year, she and Paul head to their waterfront cottage in Scituate, Massachusetts and simply unplug. Well, at least Swanee does. While Paul works in the mornings, Swanee reads, plays golf and prepares for the next hectic season of philanthropy to help the city they love so dearly.