About The Foundation
Ralph A. Santillo
Founder, CEO and President
Ralph Santillo is the CEO and Chairman of the Board of Directors, and the founder of the Foundation and the Southwest Florida Military Museum. In his role, Mr. Santillo oversees all operations of the organization, providing thousands of Veterans and their families access to social support service programs, special post-military education and counseling services, and affordable housing.
Originally from New Jersey, Mr. Santillo served as a Field Medic, enlisting at the age of 15, in the National Guard’s 50th Armored Division. After his discharge from the military, Mr. Santillo spent the next 50 years leading numerous retail, wholesale, manufacturing, and real estate businesses. A true entrepreneur, he owned and operated two dry cleaning plants, a family operated convenience store and delicatessen, an Italian Restaurant, two retail fabric stores, a ladies sportwear clothing line, and four clothing stores.
In addition to running his business interests, Mr. Santillo has served as the Managing Partner for Real Estate Sales of Pennsylvania, the Managing Partner at Preferred Builders Showcase, and the National Training Director for Real Estate Discounters Corp., located in Cape Coral, FL.
Mr. Santillo is the recipient of the Rotary Foundation’s Paul Harris Fellow Award and was appointed as an Honorable Kentucky Colonel by the mayor. He is a proud graduate of Clifton High School in New Jersey.
Mr. Santillo’s goals are to rejoin Veterans from WWII, the Korean, Vietnam, Iraqi & Afghan Wars, and all other American conflicts, effectively and carefully assimilating them into society and helping them grow to their full potential. In his role leading the Foundation and Museum, he takes seriously the motto: “No one left behind.”
Cheryl A. Lau, ESQ.
Director and Board Chair
Cheryl Lau has served the country and her state in several impactful roles, including as General Counsel to the U.S. House of Representatives, Nevada’s Secretary of State, and Deputy Attorney General for Nevada. She also was a Republican candidate for the U.S. Congress in Nevada’s second district. Among her many affiliations, Ms. Lau served as Vice Chair of the Republican National Platform Committee, Secretary of the Republican National Convention, and Chair for the National Commission for the Renewal of American Democracy. Prior to her notable political and legal career, Ms. Lau spent 12 years as an educator before she became Nevada’s first Asian American woman to hold an elected office at the executive level.
Ms. Lau previously served on the Nevada Commission on Professional Standards in Education (2009-2013) and currently serves as the Chairman for the Nevada Commission on Ethics, a Judge Pro Tempore in the Carson City Municipal Court system. In her spare time, she manages a small business in Carson City, NV with her husband, Garth.
Ms. Lau received a Bachelor of Music Education from Indiana University, a Master of Arts in Teaching from Smith College, a Doctor of Music Arts from The University of Oregon, and a Doctor of Jurisprudence (JD) from The University of San Francisco.
Maj. General James L. Dozier, USA (RET)
James Dozier is a retired Major General (USA) who currently serves as an anti-terrorism consultant to various government and private agencies, as well as a board member on various civic, political, and charitable organizations. General Dozier served in the United States Army for 35 years where he spent two tours with the Pentagon specializing in Current Operations and Resource Management, NATO in the American, European, and Asian theaters, and the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment in the Vietnam War, before retiring in 1985. General Dozier was kidnapped by the Italian Red Brigades terrorists in Italy in 1981 and held captive for more than 40 days, the only American flag officer to have ever been captured by a violent non-state organization. Due to his outstanding military leadership, General Dozier was awarded the Silver Star for heroism, the Purple Heart for sustained wounds in Vietnam, the Distinguished Service Medal, the Defense Superior Service Medal, the Legion of Merit, and was a 3-time recipient of the Bronze Star.
In addition to his impressive military career, General Dozier was appointed by Governor Jeb Bush to the Florida Commission on Veterans Affairs, served as one of Florida’s 27 Electors during the 2004 Presidential Elections, and was inducted into the Florida Veterans Hall of Fame by Governor Rick Scott for service both while on active duty and in retirement. General Dozier graduated from the U.S. Military Academy, West Point, with a Bachelor of Science in Engineering and later earned a Master of Science in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Arizona. He also attended the Army Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, and the Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.
Christopher A. Walker
Director and Secretary
Christopher Walker is an attorney with Lippes Mathias Wexler Friedman LLP where he serves as the partner-in-charge for Northeast Florida. His practices focuses primarily in Real Estate and Corporate Law where he works and assists organizations across the United States with complex real estate transactions and corporate matters, including formations, contracts, governance and sophisticated mergers and acquisitions.
In addition to his business activities, Mr. Walker is actively involved in the North Florida community, having served as a board member of various charitable organizations such as The Child Guidance Center and The Florida Ballet. He was awarded the Chairman’s Award from the Literacy New York Buffalo-Niagara, Inc. in 2013. He was recognized as a member of the inaugural class of 40 under 40 – Saint Augustine in 2019. Mr. Walker is a member of the New York, Florida, Jacksonville, and Saint John’s County Bar Associations, as well an an active member of the Northeast Florida Association of Realtors. Mr. Walker received a Bachelor of Arts (summa cum laude) from The Washington and Jefferson College, and a Doctor of Jurisprudence (JD, cum laude) from The Dickinson School of Law at Pennsylvania State University.
Shane Cormier, CPA, MACC
Shane Cormier is the Chief Financial Officer for Jacksonville based AutoQuotes, Inc., the industry leading software company for the Foodservice Equipment and Supplies industry. Mr. Cormier has extensive experience with non-profit entities, most recently having served as a contract executive for Step Up for Students, the largest non-profit provider of education assistance programs to children K-12.
Mr. Cormier has over 20 years’ experience in leadership roles involving planning and directing companies and business segments as controller, COO and CFO with revenues ranging from $500 thousand to $3.9 billion. He has served as COO for Team JAS, V.P. of finance and controller for Compass Consulting Group and CFO for All Weather Contractors. He specializes in profitability improvement and organizational, accounting, and finance leadership across a diverse platform of industries.
Mr. Cormier is a current member of the Florida Institute of CPAs and the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA), and previously served as the Treasurer for the Aeronautical Repair Station Association (ARSA) and the Aviation Alliance Insurance Risk Retention Group (AAIRRG). There he served as one of the 17 founding members and helped establish the first Captive Insurance company for Aviation Repair Stations in the United States. Mr. Cormier received a Bachelor of Science in Finance from McNeese State University, a Master of Accountancy (President’s List) from Grand Canyon University and is a Certified Public Accountant licensed in the state of Florida.
Nicholas A. Napolitano
Director and Treasurer
Nicholas Napolitano is treasurer and a director for the foundation and serves as a senior Veteran’s service officer and the director of Veteran’s services delivered from our headquarters located at the Southwest Florida Military Museum in Cape Coral, Fla. As senior VSO, Mr. Napolitano acts as works with numerous Veteran Service Organizations throughout the United States, is responsible for the foundation’s VSO Training and Certification program and its Records Recovery Program.
Mr. Napolitano also serves as the foundation’s representative to the museum and Cape Coral properties. Originally from upstate New York, Mr. Napolitano volunteered during the Korean War and served as an airman 1st class with the United States Air Force. After eight years of active duty service, Mr. Napolitano flourished in the private sector as an A&R administrator for Buddha Kama Sutra Records and spent more than 20 years as the director of energy programs for The City of New York before joining the foundation in 2010.
Mr. Napolitano previously served as the president of the Korean War Vet’s and an AMVETS commander-in charge. He is currently a member of The Order Sons of Italy in America (OSIA), the largest and oldest national organization for men and women of Italian heritage in the United States.
Capt. Christopher J. Dennis, USN (RET)
Christopher Dennis retired from the U.S. Navy at the rank of Captain in June 2018. Highlighting nearly three decades of afloat and ashore service, were Chris’s tours as Commanding Officer of Naval Air Station Sigonella, Sicily, Italy; Helicopter Anti-Submarine Squadron Light FOUR SIX; and the University of Michigan Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps. Partnering with Sailors in their growth and our nation’s defense, and successfully leading his Sigonella team in key roles in the 2014 evacuation of U.S. Embassy-Libya personnel and in overcoming the anti-US “NoMUOS” protest movement are his most cherished memories.
Chris is from New Smyrna Beach, Fla, is a graduate of Auburn University, has Master of Arts in National Security and Strategic Studies from the U.S. Naval War College and an Executive Business Leadership certificate from the Naval Post Graduate School. In 2017, Chris was inducted into his high school Hall of Fame.
Chris is devoted to human dignity, social justice, and working for a better world for everyone.
Chris is now an Operations Manager for Amazon and lives and works in the New York metropolitan area. Chris joined Amazon as part of their Military Pathways program which seeks innovators and leaders to make history as influencers in Amazon’s business lines the world over.
Chief Financial Officer
Michelle began her own successful outsource CFO business in 2014, serving as chief financial officer and consultant for several small businesses in the Jacksonville area, providing financial leadership and implementing processes and cash flow strategies to improve business performance. She has 15 years of experience in various executive level leadership roles, most recently serving as vice president of finance at One Call Care Management, where she was responsible for financial planning and analysis, operations, profit-and-loss leadership, and mergers and acquisitions. Her focus is on instilling the financial processes and disciplines to support the high-performance and long-range growth goals of the organization and its clients.
Michelle began her career in finance with an entrepreneurial business in the healthcare industry. Through a series of highly successful mergers and acquisitions, she held the roles of CFO, executive director and vice president of finance. Michelle holds a Bachelor of Science in Health Information Management and Systems, from The Ohio State University.
Frederick E. Wheat, Jr.
V.P. of Housing Operations & Veteran Placement
Rick Wheat is the vice president of housing operations and directs all operations for the foundation’s multifamily housing portfolio, presently consisting of seven properties and over 2,100 units across five states. He is also responsible for underwriting and recommendations for all proposed property acquisitions and their long-term preservation.
As a second-generation investor, Rick has over 35 years of experience in real estate and construction, having been a licensed broker, general contractor, property manager and a mortgage broker in Florida. He has served as an equity participant in over $225 million in real estate and development transactions and is a recognized expert in the HUDVASH program, a collaborative effort involving the Dept. of Housing and Urban Development and the Dept. of Veteran’s Affairs.
Before joining the foundation, Mr. Wheat served as the director of operations for Apartment Asset Advisors, the director of acquisitions for Just Multifamily, and the CEO and director of Heritage Development Group where, during his tenure, was directly responsible for an estimated $200 million in accumulated completed value. Mr. Wheat received his Bachelor of Science in Business from The University of Tennessee and a Bachelor of Technology with a minor in Real Estate from the University of North Florida.