Even at 86, Myra Janco Daniels Is Still Making a Difference in Her Community

After Retiring From Ad Biz With Real-Life Don Draper Husband, Former Exec Founded Naples Center for Arts

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They sure know how to show their appreciation for a job well done down in Naples, Fla.

The good people of Naples threw a gala retirement bash last month for Myra Janco Daniels, who in an earlier life ran an ad agency in Chicago with the man who in part inspired the main character in "Mad Men." After retiring for the first time in 1979 to Marco Island with husband and co-agency owner Draper Daniels, Myra founded the Naples Philharmonic Center for the Arts 10 years later. She is 86 and still going strong.

Myra Janco Daniels
Myra Janco Daniels Credit: Tristan Spinski/Naples Daily News

The weekend-long "Thank You Myra" Days included a big concert on Saturday night and a day of open-house activities at the Philharmonic Center on Sunday.

The Naples Daily News editorialized that Myra "has given the community all her best efforts for the past 30 years." And to show for it, the paper said, the city has a three-story art museum adjacent to a magnificent symphony hall and black-box theater. The mission was to combine all the arts -- performing and visual -- in a single complex under the same management. It's a $100 million-plus nonprofit corporation, debt-free.

Ms. Daniels "has taught us the importance of building a sustainable business plan in advance," The Naples paper said. "She taught us the importance of quality. She taught us the importance of never resting on laurels and always planning the next move."

It seems Myra Janco, from her earliest days growing up in Terre Haute, Ind., always had a plan. She started her first business, Janco Party Favors, with the encouragement of her grandmother. Her grandmother not only backed her financially (lending her rolls of pennies on which she charged interest of two pennies per hundred), but gave her some advice Myra never forgot: "Create something that people want and need, and you'll be successful."

She worked her way through college by holding down two jobs, editing the Indiana State University weekly newspaper and writing ad copy for Meis Department Store (taking over for her boss at the ripe old age of 19). Myra stayed at Meis for six years and then started her own ad agency. She also became an associate professor and taught advertising at Indiana University.

Myra is quite a bundle of energy. My wife, Merrilee, and I were visiting Naples a few years ago and dropped by the Philharmonic Center. Myra proudly pointed out the high-quality acoustics, the courtyard gardens with bronzes by Philip Jackson, the beautiful wood finishes in the theater, the uncluttered galleries. She served as our teacher and tour guide as we moved through the halls and past myriad groups of school children there to learn, as the center explains, "the adventure of the arts." She might be a diminutive presence, but believe me, she is a powerhouse.

Myra moved her agency to Chicago and bought a house on Michigan Avenue in Evanston (a block down from where I was raised). Along the way, she met Draper Daniels.

They met because he wanted to buy her agency. By then, it had been absorbed by Roche, Rickerd, Henri, Hurst, and Myra was exec VP. Draper (she said he liked to be called Dan) had made his name creating the Marlboro Man for Leo Burnett. He left to take a job in the Commerce Department in the Kennedy administration. When he returned to Chicago he joined Compton Advertising, but word got around that he wanted his own company.

A friend of hers told Myra that Draper Daniels might be interested in her agency, and when they first met in her office he said: "Miss Janco, I'm so glad to meet you. Now tell me, what do you think is the best advertising in America right now and why?"

In her book, "Secrets of a Rut Buster," Myra recalls that she "reluctantly answered his questions, only to find out that he had others. Question after question, until it began to feel more like an interrogation than a business meeting."

Draper Daniels said he didn't need to see the agency's financial statements, because Myra had an honest face. "What you want for the business will be fine," she quotes him as saying.

A few days later, he wrote a check for two and a half times' the agency's face value. He was CEO; she was chief operating officer and president. At the press conference the next day, he introduced his new partner as "Myrna Junko." She later learned that his favorite bird was the dark-eyed junk and his favorite actress was Myrna Loy.

"I learned a lot from Draper Daniels" Myra says in her book. "He wasn't a great businessman, but he was a brilliant wordsmith who taught me to state my ideas clearly and concisely, as if I was talking to one person. ... Dan never stopped being a copywriter. That was his true passion."

And he knew how to have fun, sometimes a little too much. During his second week on the job, Dan didn't show up for a meeting and Myra went to his office to get him. Dan was sitting in his chair with his head back, his mouth open, snoring. He'd had a business lunch and drunk four martinis. Myra went down the hall and found a camera. She snapped a picture of Dan snoozing and asked the production director to blow up the photo and paste it on the cover of Time Magazine. Then she wrote the headline "Dynamic Daniels snores through the day!" They put the magazine on his desk the next day. "I will not work for a lush," Myra told him. She said he never again drank during the day.

In 1967, Myra and Draper Daniels got married. He told her he wanted to stop off at the courthouse. She had not wanted to marry for at least another year, but he suggested they get a license anyway. There was an office across the hall where marriages were performed, and Draper Daniels said, "Myra, let's go ahead and do it." And they did.

They retired to Marco Island several years later, and he contracted cancer soon after. He had five operations over the next four years but couldn't beat it.

After Draper Daniels died, Myra started working with people who wanted to form a chamber-music ensemble on Marco Island. From there it grew to a symphony orchestra, then a home for the orchestra, then an art facility.

Myra led the charge. "I used the same principles I learned in advertising to sell this community on the arts," she said. "You have to believe, and then you have to get the community to believe. You have to get them involved to the point that they feel it's theirs. That's what we did."

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