Who We Are
Laura is a third-generation Floridian, born to a cattle-ranching family and raised on the very land that Heartwood Preserve now occupies. She holds a B.A. in music from Maryville College in Tennessee, an M. A. in Applied Linguistics from USF Tampa. She worked as a community organizer for several years in NC before becoming a teacher of English as a Second Language for immigrant adults in Charlotte. Her love of the international community and connecting to other cultures led her to travel throughout Africa and Latin America. From 1998 to 1999, she lived in the Amazon region of Ecuador where she taught high school English. Upon returning to the U.S., she settled in Tampa’s Seminole Heights.
In 2004, Laura left teaching to work with her father’s eco-tour business, Jay B Starkey’s Flatwoods Adventures, located on the family’s ranch. In 2006, she became Director of Conservation Lands, managing over 1000 acres of woods on Starkey Ranch. During this time, she developed a keen interest in finding ways to conserve natural lands while sharing the beauty of Florida’s woods with the residents and visitors in Florida. It was a workshop at a national land conservation conference that then planted the idea of conservation burial in her mind. Over the next few years, this ‘seed’ sprouted into a business plan. Eventually, the idea of Heartwood Preserve became a reality.
Samantha VanTassel, Content Manager
Samantha was born and raised in Florida, growing up in the New Port Richey area. Wanting to experience life beyond her backyard, she spent her early 20s in a state of wanderlust. Traveling cross-country multiple times, she would learn as much about the local history as she could, which always included a stop at the cemetery. Samantha moved back to New Port Richey in 2017 where she built a family with her partner and 2 step-daughters.
Samantha has been a member of the Heartwood Staff since being hired as the Administrative Assitant in January 2020 and was promoted to Content Manager in 2022.
“I am proud to work at Heartwood Preserve. It is a rewarding blend of knowing I am doing my best to care for this earth that we all come from while also helping our Families navigate extremely vulnerable moments of their life.”
Ryan Blood, Administrative & Hospitality Specialist
A longtime Tampa Bay resident and fourth-generation Floridian, Ryan has previously worked as a manager in the organic and farm-to-table food industry, as a preschool teacher and nanny, as an actress onstage and in short films, and as a writer and musician. Ryan and her high school sweetheart Jack are parents to a bright, silly toddler named Laszlo. At Heartwood Preserve, Ryan is the friendly face at the front desk, where she helps to plan dignified and impactful burial services.
Ryan is a lover of secondhand style and third-wave coffee. She champions sustainability at the personal and professional levels and feels fortunate to learn more about the longleaf pine flatwoods habitat every day.
Family is the center point of Ryan’s life, and she is endlessly grateful for the ability to support families in their time of grief, assisting them in planning for their final needs with Heartwood Preserve.
Gary Reinsma, Grounds Crew
Born and raised on a dairy farm in the Netherlands, Gary has a close relationship with the earth. After moving to the United States, he continued farming in Texas and New York. Having retired in 2021, Gary and his wife moved down to Florida where Lorraine joined Heartwood’s Mindful Meditation group.
When Gary’s mother passed away around that same time, he had his first experience with a natural burial back in the Netherlands. Upon returning to Florida, and with his wife’s urging, Gary joined Heartwood’s Burial Crew. After a few months of volunteering and noticing the need for a new groundskeeper, he offered to fill the position. Gary has been with Heartwood Preserve since 2022 and “has loved it ever since.”
James Fink, Grounds Crew & Burial Crew Leader
Contact us anytime (727) 376-5111