Serving the Venice Area
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Meet Our Staff

Russ Gifford,

President, was raised in Sarasota; father was a General Contractor that built many of the homes in South Gate and surrounding areas. Attended Southside Elementary and Sarasota High School. Graduated from Florida State University and moved to California to begin his carrier as California State Workers Compensation Agent. After a few years moved back to hometown and started Russ Gifford Insurance which has expanded from 1 employee to 15. Purchased Heiden Insurance Agency in Venice in 1992 and combined the Sarasota location to our current location on the Island in Venice. Over the years Russ participated in Sarasota Ski-A-Rees, Sarasota Jaycees, Rotary, Sportsman Club, Sarasota Y Sharks, Miss Sarasota Softball, Sarasota Chamber of Commerce, Venice Chamber of Commerce, and many other community organizations. Russ has a strong sense of Ethics and is well known for his hard ball personality of doing what is right and going to battle for what he believes in.

Nikki Gifford, CIC,

Licensed Agent, Operations Manager, was raised in Sarasota and grew up in the insurance agency. From the time she was 10-11 years old she could be found in the office filing or doing the mail. Nikki graduated from Florida State University and while she originally intended to go into retail sales, marketing and merchandising she attended a sales elite course in Chicago, IL through CNA Insurance that propelled her into insurance. After many years of learning the ropes in every position within the agency she is now part owner and the Operations Manager. In 1998 she furthered her insurance education by earning her Certified Insurance Councilor designation which she continues to hold today. Married to Victor Garraus she has 2 children, Austin attends Florida State University and Madison is a junior at Riverview High School. Outside of the agency she spends many days on the tennis court and the weekends boating. She has been involved in many community organizations some of which have included Rotary, Coach for Sarasota United Soccer League, FC Sarasota Soccer, Pine View, as well as others.

Victor Garraus,

Licensed Sales Agent, grew up in Sarasota attending Tuttle Elementary, Brookside and Riverview High School. Victor comes from a family of restaurateurs that emigrated from Spain through Cuba. Chez Med restaurant, their family restaurant, a long standing restaurant on Siesta Key was the location of many weddings and community functions. After years in the family business Victor became head chef at Sarasota Memorial Hospital but as his family was growing his sales personality led him to join the agency. Victor graduated from Johnson & Wales Culinary Institute and while restaurants will always be in his blood he found a way to use this passion for helping those in the hospitality industry as well as many other clients with their insurance concerns. Victor is very involved with his family and community, he has coached recreational soccer, been a longstanding member of Sertoma of Venice, active member within his church, First Presbyterian in Sarasota, and the go to person for many events when an extra helping hand is needed.

Personal Lines Team Members

Keeley Garris, AIAM

Licensed Agent, has been with our agency since 1988. Even after all these years in insurance she continues to further her knowledge. She recently received her AIAM (Associate in Insurance Account Management) designation. Keeley strives to provide Super Outstanding Service to all her clients. Keeley is married and has 2 children. She enjoys spending time with her family as they keep her very active attending school functions and sporting events.

Sandy Walls,

Licensed Agent, has been with our agency since 1990. Sandy has seen the changes in Venice as her children grew up and started families of their own, but loves the small town community she lives in. As the industry continually changes Sandy takes pride in taking continuing education classes to keep her abreast of the changes. Sandy is married with two grown children and enjoys spending as much time as possible with her granddaughter.

Ilsa Garcia,

Licensed Agent, joined the agency in 2005.  Ilsa began her insurance career in 1999 in Westchester County, New York before relocating to Florida. Ilsa is our homeowner's customer service specialist, responding to inquiries and assisting the other agents with special customer policy needs.  Ilsa is very active with the Venice Chamber of Commerce and the Venice Young Professionals organization.



Lou DeRiseis, personal lines assistant, joined our agency in 2010.  Lou and her husband enjoy golf, biking, and walking their dog Sweetie.  They volunteer in the community at various locations; she may even be your usher one evening at the Venice Theatre.  She loves to cook Italian family favorites on the weekends for friends and family.  She is originally from Minnesota and relocated to the area in 2002.

Commercial Lines Team Members

Ruth Arona,

licensed commercial account manager, joined our agency in 2005.  Ruth has an extensive background in risk management for commercial insurance, and lived in Ohio until 1998.  She and her husband, after wanting to get out of the cold, moved to Florida and RV'd for about 5 years.  The RV took them all over the country where Ruth worked as an agent for a specialty RV Insurance Company selling insurance to fellow Rver's.  She is instrumental in our agencies' automation processes, and enjoys the complexities and challenges of each commercial account and provides excellent customer service.  Ruth enjoys growing orchids, beach, swimming and has recently begun agility training with her dog, Casey.

Karen Chambers,

licensed commercial account manager, joined our agency in 2010.  Karen's background included the handling of commercial accounts in the Virginia/DC area specializing in transportation, restaurants, and commercial properties.  Karen's customer service and experience in commercial insurance provide our clients with knowledge and creative suggestions to their insurance requirements.  Family circumstances required Karen and her husband to move to Florida, and the children and grandchildren have since relocated to Florida.  The warm waters and beaches of our area have provided Karen and her family with many hours of relaxation and joy! 


Sandy Piercy, licensed commercial account assistant, joined our agency in 2005, however in 2007 family matters called her back to Ohio.  She and her husband missed our Gulf Coast sunshine, beaches and shell collecting.  Fortunately for us they returned to the area in 2009.  Sandy came back to GHI as a licensed customer serivce representative and became our commercial department support person.  Having worked in retail accounting for 14 years, then for Cincinnati Insurance Company for 5 years, her customer service skills enhance our service to our clients.  They miss their children and grandchildren, but are glad to be back to the Gulf Coast area. 



Donna Cooper,

otherwise known as “Super Cooper” has been with our agency since 1985. Donna is the backbone of our agency in accounting. Donna is not all numbers though; she helps us keep our technology up to date as well as keeps the rest of us in line. Donna enjoys reading and spending time with her family in Missouri and Tennessee.

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Gifford-Heiden Insurance

Gifford-Heiden Insurance Agency
111 East Venice Avenue
Venice, Florida 34285
Phone: (941) 484-0681
Phone:(941) 366-0500
Fax: (941) 485-3835
Office Hours: Mon-Fri 8:30am-5:00pm

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