(published as a two-part story in SCENE June and July 2008)
By Cliff Roles
A Poignant Story of a Mother, her Son, and Their Tragedy
I don’t want to write this article. I’m procrastinating - inventing things to do so as not to write it. I’m pushing the photos, the papers, the commiseration cards, the diaries, the tape recorder and the journals from one side of my desk to the other. God, this is probably the hardest article I’ve ever had to write. My editor’s on the phone. I have a deadline. Now she’s putting pressure on me as well - that’s all I need.
You see, this article is about the death by suicide of a 26-year old depressive. No, correct that — it’s about his LIFE, short though it was, and about how it happened, so that you get a hint of what people suffering from depression (and their caregivers) go through, and how you can spot the telltale signs within your own world. It’s not the death by suicide or the boy’s long history of manic depression that are causing me to continually get up from my desk, turn on the TV, check my email, raid the fridge or annoy my sleeping dog; nope, it’s the fact that Zachary MacLean was the only son of my friend Jeanette LaVoy and that she’s dealing with telling the story far better than I am at writing it. How can she be so cool? So concentrated, almost distant? Denial, you say. Maybe. Maybe she’s had eleven years to come to terms with it. Eleven years of anti-depressants, “uppers and downers”, grief counseling and peer support groups, therapy sessions ... of sifting through his belongings, reading his erratically written diaries, talking to his friends and neighbors, experiencing the subsequent death of his senile alcoholic father, listening to near strangers and so-called friends give her so-called advice about how it could been avoided, and purposely overhearing the whispers that hammer home the fact that even today, death by suicide still carries a stigma with it.
Eleven years on, Jeanette hopes that by telling of her son’s downhill spin into suicide, she can perhaps reach out to the families of other potential victims. Or, as she puts it, “If it brings one person out of their black hole, or gets one to open up and get help, it will be worth it.”
Maybe this article is indeed what Jeanette’s been waiting for, and it’s taken her eleven years to summon up the courage to tell Zac’s story. But as I sit here searching for a way to write it, I’m getting increasingly more frustrated. I keep thinking, “Suicide is selfish and narcissistic. It’s cowardly and a cop-out. OK, you were mentally unbalanced and I’m supposed to feel sorry for you. But I can’t. Your mother is my friend and it kills me to see her like this. Because no matter how you twist and turn it, Zac, you have ripped out the heart of the person who would gladly have given her life for yours, and sentenced her to lifelong anguish and pain. What I’m trying to say, Zac, is: “A MOTHER SHOULD NOT LIVE LONGER THAN HER CHILD.”
I remember that I was in the dressing room of the Golden Apple Dinner Theatre in April 2004 when fellow actor J. Paul Wargo first told me that his friend Jeanette LaVoy was in the audience.
“You have to meet her,” he said. “She’s so European.”
After that evening’s performance, he did indeed introduce me to her, and we spent the next hour chatting about the show, the theatre, the opera, the Arts. She had heard I was a German interpreter, so we conversed in German. Really. She could just as easily have held the conversation in Italian. Or in French. She spoke excitedly, passionately, almost aggressively. She used her whole body to make her point, her hands and arms moving incessantly. She only took pauses in order to catch her breath. And all the time my gaze was drawn magnetically to her thick mane of fiery red hair. Having established that she was multilingual, I discovered that Jeanette was an opera singer, a vocal coach, an actress ... and a mother whose son had taken his life at the age of 26. Much later on she revealed to me that he had stabbed himself 27 times with a 99-cent Exacto knife and, when he felt he wasn’t dying fast enough, threw himself out of a third-story window.
When Jeanette LaVoy met Canadian voice-teacher George Melvin MacLean, just returned from 10 years in Naples, Italy, and known as “the Maestro,” she was a 17-year old first-year voice student at the Detroit Institute of Musical Arts. He was 35 years her senior. As she studied and watched the Maestro and his best students, she knew that she wanted this life; paintings from Italy, fi ne singing, wine, “the old victrola.” By 18, she was his youngest, promising prima donna. Upon graduation, she left New Haven, Michigan for Detroit to live la vie bohème with the Maestro and a delightful cast of characters writers, singers from Europe, and future Hollywood actors.
The Maestro sent the 19-year old girl to New York to try to rent a studio so he could establish his teaching. She got a job and lived there alone in a second-rate hotel. He came into town on rare occasions, always accompanied by a few students of both sexes, as the Maestro was bisexual. No one in NYC was going to rent an expensive apartment to a 19-year old girl representing someone else. Desolate and lonely, she flew back home.
“We were married in Detroit in March 1969 at my parents’ insistence. It was a scandal: this man, who was older than my own father, wore an ascot tie, smoked with a cigarette holder, and hung around with his students. No matter, I decided — I made the move to NYC. I worked all day in the city only to return to our brownstone in Brooklyn to fi nd him still in bed at 4 or 5 in the afternoon, a house full of people who dined together and sang in the evenings. I retired to bed by midnight, but the nightly pontifications about technique, the perfect “tone” sometimes continued until dawn.”
In September of that year, Jeanette discovered she was pregnant.
“I ordered everybody to leave the house. That impressed him — me, a 19-year old girl, taking on all these people, who were for the most part older than me! If he had been willing to play house with me, be my teacher and father to our son, we would have lasted longer.”
Zachary Wilson Bonor Algranati MacLean was born on June 27, 1970 in New York’s University Hospital “Bellevue.”
“It was a lovely hospital and I had a wonderful doctor. But here’s the dichotomy: until the minute the child was born, I was totally wrapped up in myself. The pregnancy had been torment. Suffering morning sickness for 7 months and allergies that choked me all night, I couldn’t breathe. The Maestro would wake me up crying, then boil water to steam open my sinuses. Now, I had given birth. I hurt; I was hungry, and so grouchy. Then I thought to myself: what if the baby doesn’t like me, doesn’t take to me? Or, I don’t take to motherhood? I was alone with my thoughts. When they brought my baby to me that evening, wrapped up in a blue bunting blanket, the nurse handed him to me, and he nuzzled my neck. In that split second motherhood fl ooded through me. I felt passion, I felt protective. Maternal instinct kicked in automatically. I loved this baby — his tiny toes and fingers, the smell of him – perfect. Everything was sterile and white in the hospital, a safe place — until the Maestro showed up, raving drunk, selfish and egotistical, celebrating his fatherhood and the fact that he had created this fabulous child at the age of 57. At his request, my mother had come to be with me for the birth. All was healed between them, and when she held Zachary for the fi rst time, I truly loved my mother, she loved me and we both fell totally in love with this baby.”
“My mother brought flowers to the hospital. It hadn’t occurred to Mel. She found her way around that huge city on two buses and a subway, and sat with Zachie and me for hours. She helped and protected me.”
Doubts about the Maestro’s ability to be a husband and father to this precious child were setting in. An exhausted Jeanette returned home with her newborn baby, only to find her husband holding a party and her home full of strange people who were becoming increasingly more drunk by the minute.
“As the night went on, people kept coming and going through the house and breaking in on me while I was nursing. I was very modest and could not protect the sanctity of these first hours at home. The one thing I’d asked for was quiet – just us. It was horrific. Mel had made a spaghetti dinner and had passed out on the table. At about 4 AM the baby cried and I flew out of bed, not even realizing I was up yet. I’d sterilized all my bottles and placed them neatly on a white towel on the kitchen counter. As I entered the kitchen, I saw nothing but tomato sauce and red wine all over the table, the counter and the sink with cockroaches running through the mess. In that moment, it was clear to me – I had two children and I could only protect one. I divorced my husband mentally in that second.”
It took another 18 months before she could break away. Working full-time in a law firm during the day, and singing concerts and attending opera workshops and drama school at night, left little time with the baby. She took an apartment with a stranger in Staten Island, and hauled the baby out there every weekend until she eventually found a studio, then settled with Zac at the Masters Apartments on 103rd and Riverside Drive. This was to be Zac’s home for the rest of his natural life.
“Zac had a pretty normal childhood for New York City, considering he had an older father and a younger mother. We were very close, probably because I was so young, and we were very similar in our temperaments and personalities. At three, he was forever drawing little houses, where he said, ‘we would all live together happily.’ At age seven, he saw the Maestro and me having a furious argument, and later said, ‘In that moment I knew that I never wanted you two to live together.’ He was loved, normal, cheerful and incredibly bright in art from a young age. By the time he was eight, for example, he had painted a large mural of the famous African-American folk hero John Henry fi ghting his famous battle with the sledge hammer along the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway, which was accepted into the permanent Children’s Art Collection at the Lincoln Center.” “Every weekend Zac and I would do something special together: visit an art or science museum, or walk around Chinatown, or wander from park to park with me joining him on the slides and swings.”
All that Jeanette and the Maestro had invested in her voice was paying off. She won contracts for theatre, summer stock and opera. She spent most summers and occasional winter weeks on tour or out of state, leaving Zachie in Mel’s care. He was good with Zac as a child. He made sure he was fed, bathed, read to; they played like children. With students coming in all day for singing lessons there was no lack of love and stimulation for the little boy. Mel began moving around the city a lot, and Zachary often had to change schools. By nine, Zac was showing the strain of separation from his mother. She had begun studying and singing in Europe. He hated being placed in an Italian school in New York, even though he was soon able to speak better Italian than his mother.
As the Maestro’s alcoholism claimed more of his mind, he was less able to help a pre-pubescent child. Jeanette returned to the States and saw that although their little apartment was cheap and lovely, they had outgrown it. The Maestro was always broke and now living off his students, and office salaries wouldn’t buy them the space they needed. So, at the age of 31, she joined the Navy as a musician stationed in Washington DC, and became part of a support unit that entitled her to sing before the President. Jeanette and Zac moved into a cozy little house in the D.C. area to rekindle everyday life together.
“In 1983 we moved to Alexandria, Virginia, a posh suburb of the city that offered beautiful apartments and good schools. I bought a car, new furniture, started teaching singing and German, began work on my B.A. and ran Zac regularly to guitar lessons. He was acting out some, like any teenager, and I didn’t like some of his friends who seemed to be slackers or worse. Zac and I used to watch movies in his room because he had the bigger television set. I remember a made-for-TV movie called The Day After Tomorrow, about nuclear holocaust and the few remaining survivors. We talked about what we would do in such an event. I said that if I knew death was coming, I’d try to get my family away and be with all those I loved. He was adamant, that he would fi nd a way to stay alive. He’d find abandoned boats and make his way to some far-off destination, safe and saved. He was pretty freaked out. Changes in his personality became apparent soon after, although I didn’t relate it to the movie. He started collecting gallons of water and putting them in his closet, started a morning regimen of 100 push-ups, ate raw foods like carrots and spinach, and slept with the windows wide open during the bitterly cold Virginia winter. That Christmas, he asked for a tent, a “mummy” sleeping bag that would withstand sub-zero temperatures, and a really good knapsack. I bought him everything, naively believing he was working towards becoming an Eagle Scout, totally unaware that I was feeding a burgeoning paranoia.”
“By the age of 14, the smiling, inquisitive boy with pet lizards and rats began skipping school, playing heavy-metal guitar, smoking incessantly — even in his clothes closet — and sneaking out, crossing a dangerous 4-lane highway at midnight for junk food. Carrots and coca-cola, AC/DC, refusal to attend church or art lessons. Aggravations bordering on petty vandalism, like flinging expensive shampoos and creams up to the ceiling, removing all my shoes from the boxes and loading them behind a bookcase, increased isolation — eating in his room, door locked, cordiality abandoned — verbal arguments that got ugly. More than once a truant officer pulled him out of his closet to go to school. Meetings with the principal became commonplace.”
“The change was radical and immediate. By 15, his mind had shifted from trusting that I would be there for him to a growing mistrust of me, dismissal, and rejection of all I had strived to teach him. He was preoccupied with death and terrified of dying. Zac’s new friends were not boys I wanted in my home. Simple requests like ‘make your bed, go to school, do not smoke in the closet, and do not leave the house after 8 PM were interpreted as battle lines. A willowy youth turned muscular, combined with a rage that sprang from an unnamed source, resulted in an angry, taciturn teenager. I thought it was normal — Doctor Spock didn’t offer enough counsel after the terrible two’s.”
“By 16, this once docile, agreeable child had become hardened and communication ceased. With my four-year enlistment with the US Navy over, I wanted to go to Europe for a final shot at an opera career. I sent him to his father who was now living in a house rented for him by a student in Michigan. Leaving Virginia was difficult for Zachary. Since music was very important to him, I thought a new guitar to go with the huge amp the Maestro’s student had bought him would help ease the transition. My mother and I painted the room, put up bookshelves, and hung new curtains to match the quilt. He liked the room and having privacy. The Maestro’s old habits of drinking, chain-smoking and talking about vocal work and golden-age singers continued until morning with anyone who would listen. Was it mischief or despair that caused Zac to tear down the curtains and rods, overturn a bookcase and mattress then climb out the window disappearing for hours on end? I was in Europe 4,000 miles away by then, and via telephone begged my parents, who lived nearby, to take him in. They had a roomy farmhouse where Zachary had spent many summers in leisure and learning.
Now he refused to cooperate with them, or school authorities, we were all held equally in contempt. He spurned his childhood friend, the girl next door, and adopted two misfits from the high school. He called himself “a freak”. It was a designation, like “Goths” or “Preppies”. I think perhaps he was as alien to himself as he was becoming to us."
Contracts came too late and Jeanette finally realized that even moving Zachary to Europe wouldn’t work, as he would not assimilate into European culture. She shortened the rest of the audition tour and headed back to their small NYC apartment to fi gure out the future.
“I could hear the tension in my mother’s voice the day she phoned to say that Zac was missing. Together with his schoolmates, he stole my father’s truck, and ran away. None of the three had licenses, and none had money. They got as far as Indiana before the police picked them up and jailed them. We all met back in Michigan for a hearing. The judge heard my plan to move to Florida, to pursue theatre. I had some family there, my mother wintered there, and I thought we could get back on track. He approved the plan and promised Zac that if he attended school and stayed out of further trouble, there would be no ‘record’.”
Life in Florida brought respite and some truly happy times. Zac was in school and Jeanette was working in theatre or in well-paying jobs. She sang with the Sarasota Opera, and was engaged frequently as a performer. The Maestro had voluntarily entered a VA Hospital in Toronto. He was sinking into senility. He could no longer be a father to his son; however, the Canadian Dept. of Veterans Affairs had awarded a generous monthly stipend for Zachary’s expenses, which allowed them to take an elegant apartment. Zac was ecstatic when Jeanette gave him the master bedroom and bath, which he plastered with posters of rock singers. His friends were a mixed bag of really sweet kids and some hell raisers. As he gravitated towards the hell raisers, old patterns recurred.
Zac would leave for school but never show up. Jeanette would come home from the theatre at night and sometimes find as many as 12 kids in the apartment in sleeping bags in the living room. As senior year wound down, she used to find him at the neighbors’ apartment at 2 a.m. drinking and smoking with twenty-plus year-olds. He and a friend vandalized the nearby college, and were forced to do community service with the fire department. The fire fighters loved Zac and offered him an apprenticeship. He refused — he didn’t like to get his hands dirty and he certainly wouldn’t risk getting burned in a fire. Night classes at Vo-Tech were necessary in order to obtain the number of credits he needed to graduate. Life was becoming intolerable for them both.
“Court-ordered to see a counselor, Zac showed his contempt for the process of talk therapy by punching holes in the walls and spray painting slurs against me. The neighbors beneath us constantly complained of wrestling and screamingly loud guitars the minute I left the apartment. He bought his own food and barricaded himself in his room for days on end.”
The lease would expire in June and Jeanette had no plans to renew. Zac had a wide circle of friends and she had no doubt he would find lodging and work. With a very low GPA, the best he could hope for was community college, but at least he could take core courses. Jeanette paid the tuition. Far from appreciating her contributions, chronic arguments continued and more pranks followed, like cracking her car windshield, denting in the top and damaging the apartment.
“Paying for the damages sealed the deal. I sent him to his friends and drove to Michigan, where I spent a semester at Oakland University in Michigan living with my parents, whose support and love are invaluable to me. I needed resuscitation, but I also missed my son and worried constantly about him. I felt I had abandoned him. And, in fact, I was to learn later that these separations threw him back into his early youth and aroused feelings of abandonment in him. I wanted the best for my son and I wanted back the once-contented “family of two” we had, so I returned to Florida.”
“He’d fl unked out of community college, his only achievement a "C" in tennis. I found him in flip-flops in December, living in a house with three other guys, all of whom were selling newspaper subscriptions door to door in Bradenton. He was making money and drew a couple of ads for his boss, who ran a business selling solar energy panels. He liked Zac’s salesmanship, but paid equally well for his artwork. Not living together eased the strain. We were on friendly terms, and the future looked bright. Which is why I was taken aback when he told me he was in serious trouble and had to talk to me. With the beach crowd, my thoughts ran to drugs, breaking the law, or AIDS, but no — he confided with a choking voice that he was very depressed and had driven his Camaro into a brick wall, with a passenger inside. They both walked away.”
“I absolutely felt that I was part of his earlier problems in that he didn’t always get the best guidance; I didn’t always put him fi rst. But now I did. The answer was simple — Zac should go back to New York and live in the apartment they had once shared. It was affordable, and he knew the neighborhood. He would not need a car and could just float for a while. He was uncertain. Would I go with him, he asked? Yes, I would help him get settled.”
Life was peaceful for the first time since his childhood — this 500 square feet rectangle with 10-foot ceilings, overlooking the Hudson River was home. Zac landed a job at the GAP and took courses at FIT (the Fashion Institute of Technology), the same ones he had failed in Florida. He quickly earned raises at work and drew a design of the store to display more merchandise and induce customers to buy more.
He was drawing again and it was clear that his talent was intact, but he worried about his mental state and went to the local clinic for help. He was feeling pretty well that day. The staff counselors said that he wasn’t sick and that there were sick people who really needed help. That pattern of showing his bright self to mental health professionals, only to be rejected for treatment, was to repeat itself. He made friends who, like him, were studying art and animation. He was dating a lovely girl, Hilda. And, best of all, he had been accepted into the highly prestigious School of Visual Arts. Despite a meager portfolio, he was awarded an initial $2,500 merit scholarship. So much for the C in tennis. From a help-wanted ad posted on SVA’s bulletin board, he landed a job at Doremus, a fi nancial advertising firm attached to the Wall Street Journal and Dow Jones. Hired as a temp, he volunteered for every job and was put on salary, began turning out marketable ads, and learned on the job as he studied 3-D animation. His colleagues adored him, his girlfriend loved him, and he was happy, for a while at least.
A living contradiction, he worked out in a gym three times a week, yet he smoked. He ate health food, yet drank with his school chums. Stress gnawed at him. He couldn’t figure out how to manage his schedule for any real downtime. He needed to be at peak performance level on the job and in class. He had to make up for years lost in Florida. He blamed Jeanette. She understood and accepted his anger.
Zac eventually moved into an apartment with Hilda and Jeanette took over the apartment they had shared. By now, he had changed jobs several times and seemed to be on a course leading to ever-greater success and financial rewards. His aim was to graduate from SVA, head to California and work in animation. He’d bought a brand new Firebird, which would be an “upper” for several months, and he had the best computer that $6,000 could buy in 1997. Often working 12-hour days, the fierce demands of school were exacting a harsh price. He accepted Jeanette’s help preparing his research materials for term papers and the truest phase of their adult friendship commenced. They often worked beyond midnight. Those sessions allowed time for other discussions about life, love, the past, hopes, and gradually revelations of sadness and despair. That’s how Jeanette found out he was depressed, his confi dence was eroding and slowly he was being incapacitated. He had broken off with Hilda.
“One night after several hours of work, he rolled out a blanket on the carpet and lay down, exhausted. Tears silently rolled down his face on to the pillow. He admitted to feeling hopeless and voiced a vague desire to die. That was a sleepless night for me. He decided to sell the car. He never drove it anyway, and he was increasingly more agitated about money and having spent his savings to buy it. He sold it to a disreputable dealer in Queens and the check for $11,000 bounced. We eventually got most of the money back, but he felt it was only because of my intervention, which worsened his feelings of inadequacy. Chewing his fingernails down to the quick and chain smoking, he could not relax and began to ask me to fi nd a doctor who might be able to give him something for depression. Appointments made with the head of NYU Psychiatric Division, St. Vincent’s Hospital and the local health care center, were postponed or skipped, often without even a courtesy call. Zac was looking for a quick fix and did not want to endure talk therapy. His fear was that they would discover he was unstable, that he was mentally ill. He’d lose his job, his savings, or be hospitalized against his will.”“I had a theatrical contract and would be spending January and February in Florida. Christmas was sad, almost bleak. He didn’t want a Christmas tree, but was cheered by it. My flight was scheduled for the 27th of December. Zac helped me with my luggage and rode in the taxi with me to the bus that would take me to LaGuardia. The bus was there and ready to leave. We were both sad. I gave him a token for the subway home and we had a quick embrace, our last. We spoke fairly often on the phone. I began to notice his moods shifting, sometimes erratically and very quickly. I hadn’t realized that the downward spiral had already begun and would now escalate.”
THE LAST MONTH
“I didn’t realize the seriousness of Zac’s depression because he seemed so rational and motivated. A Monday night conversation vibrated with excitement — he had a new guitar with six distortion pedals. His first Silicon Graphics class was fantastic: ‘There’s no reason I can’t make a fortune at this kind of work!’ He was high (he was manic, I just didn’t know it). By Friday, he was down and very pessimistic. Suffering eye strain, he’d seen a specialist who informed him he had “floaters”, an inner-eye condition that could cause blindness in extreme cases. ‘How can I have a career?,’ he sneered, ‘Why even finish school?’”
The next week’s conversation shook Jeanette.
“I might as well tell you. But you’ve got to promise not to tell anyone! I had plastic surgery on my nose and they botched it! And you don’t have to worry about me committing suicide either because I tried it and it didn’t work. I went home in the bandages — had food for several days. I let my goatee grow really long and started wearing my glasses so that people wouldn’t notice the nose so much. When I took off the bandages, I looked completely different — like a freak! He didn’t do what I asked for $4,100! It’s not like I went to some back-alley chop shop! So, I swallowed the bottle of Darvoset and five Valium I found here, but I woke up — with a hangover. They’re all a bunch of greedy sharks out there ready to take your money. Do you know how hard I worked for that money? Why can’t anything ever just work out right?”
“I gently suggested that I would come home and we would take on the plastic surgeon together, just as we had the car dealer. He didn’t want that.”
“It’s my problem. I’ve got to handle it. But I’m telling you, I can’t take anymore of this and I’m not long for this world. I’ve just had it. First the car, then the eyes, I’m 26 years old. Why should my body be deteriorating? And now this. I don’t know how to live in this world. I don’t want to live in this world. I ask God to take my life. It means nothing to me. Do you understand I’m not going to call another therapist! Don’t come home on my account because it won’t make any difference.”
He continued his rant. “This world is a mud ball floating around space and we’re material beings — nothing more. There is no God and when you die you die. Do you understand? I just don’t want to live.”
Jeanette spoke her thoughts out loud.
“Zachary, will you be alive when I get home?”
“Yes mom,” he replied, “I’m fine, but I’ve got to go. I’ve got a lot to do. Let me go now. I love you, mom.”
“I love you too.”
Sometime during the night or in the early hours of the morning, Zachary MacLean went into the communal bathroom on his floor and began to puncture his body and slit his wrists with an Exacto blade. Perhaps it stung. Perhaps the process wasn’t quick enough or someone jiggled the door trying to get to use the bathroom. For whatever reason, he left the bathroom and went back to the apartment. A pool of dark red blood lay in the bottom of the tub. The custodian traced blood to Zac’s door. Frightened, he ran to get the super. Stunned by the blood, they didn’t knock on the door; instead, they rushed to the desk and had the duty clerk ring the apartment to ask Zac if he was ok.
“Yes, I’m getting ready for work. I cut myself,” he answered.
“Can Bill the super come in and talk to you for a minute?”
“Yeah, just give me a few minutes. I’ve got to get my pants on.”
Time was running out. In the minute-and-a-half to three minutes that it took to take the elevator back to the 3rd fl oor, Zac had put on his jeans, forced open a window that was continually stuck, jammed a tiny screwdriver into it to keep it open, lifted the screen and dove headfirst out on to the sidewalk below. He caught the back of his head on the concrete canopy, yet landed face up. Paramedics arrived and stuck a tube down his throat. Staring into space, Zac began to breathe.
Jeanette received the phone call in Florida informing her that Zac had jumped out of the window.
“My mother arrived and sank to the floor in horror. I later learned that a team of four doctors had tried to save my son, but at 9:40 a.m. he was pronounced dead from blunt impact to the head. How ironic that after having warned him that I’d be on a plane the next day if he didn’t tell he me he was okay, I was. I was on a plane, going to see my son, whose body now lay in the morgue at NYU Belleview Hospital.”
“I have met many survivors of suicide. My story is like all stories - tragic, mournful and bittersweet. What to do with the pain — the interminable wait between his death and mine. Memories float gently through my mind restoring my once frozen smile masking pain few can comprehend. Where has meaning fled? Do I really think I will survive this? Do I want to?”
“There was little relief during the first three years. I hurt and I felt empty and wasted, useless and betrayed, forgotten, beyond forgiveness.”
“My dearest Zachary, I failed you. I have a taste of your pain now. You were my earthly joy, the one most prized, dearest to me, yet I loved you so haphazardly. Where do I go? Who do I turn to?"
In 2000, Jeanette married Glen, a man she didn’t know well. He was kind and diverted her attention from full-time work and fulltime grieving. Lasting little more than a year, she would later describe her marriage as “an act of desperation.”
“I felt like I had begun the downward spiral myself, and I scarcely cared if someone caught me or not.”
She took a job as a cantor in a R.C. Church in the Bronx.
“Finally somewhere in New York I had not explored with Zachary, a place of my own. I was haunted by the thought I had failed my son in life and that he might be suffering in eternity. A kindly priest assured me that depression is such a deadly disease, it causes one to think right is wrong and wrong is right.”
“I assure you,” he comforted, “Your son is in the arms of a very loving God.”
Jeanette is a survivor of a person who completed suicide. She’s not alone — the numbers are growing. In the US, statistics reveal every 16 minutes someone tries to kill him/herself, and for each suicide there are approximately 45 people in the immediate circle of the deceased who are traumatized and whose lives are forever changed. The clergy has become sensitized to victims and survivors and for the first time government funds are being allocated for suicide research.
“A ‘new normal’ is established. Survivors grapple with guilt and ceaseless scenarios; if only I had, if only, if, if, if...”
"Here I am, 11 years later. So far, I have survived.. There was a time I might easily have lost the battle to stay alive myself. I wanted to follow him. I still crave to be with my Zachary. It’s not my time, but it is my decision, and I have decided to live.”
Thus, LaVoy took to the stage once more. She has starred as a madcap diva in cabaret, has been the featured soloist numerous times with the Sarasota Concert Band, the Pops, the FWCS and has a successful practice as a vocal instructor.
“I’m back,” utters the soprano with certainty. “And it’s because I worked my recovery.”
She paused, wondering if she’s truly convinced of that.
“I did see the therapists, I did take the meds, I have attended hundreds of meetings with other survivors. I am awed by the countless people in the helping professions that minister to those of us who suffer because a loved one could not bear to suffer any longer. There is help for us. We hold our loved ones now in a ‘safe place’ — our hearts and minds — and we go on. Only those who knew little Zachary can appreciate how fantastic that little creature was, so full of fun and inventiveness. As an adult so determined, struggling, heart-torn and wounded, that sweet and funny boy-man. How blessed I was that he came into my life and that for almost 26 years we were a family of two.”
IF YOU NEED HELP
There are many national, state and local organizations available to help. Listed below are some that Jeannette has been in contact with and recommends:
American Foundation For Suicide Prevention
Local Facilitator: Carla Stumpf-Patton, M.A.,
Tidewell Hospice and Palliative Care
5955 Rand Blvd., Sarasota.
Offers many services including nonreligious, spiritual counsel to help you through the most challenging of times.
American Association of Suicidology
AAS promotes research, public awareness programs, public education and training for volunteers. It serves as a national clearinghouse for information on suicide. Books and other helpful publications are available through their website www..suicidology.org
If you’d like to contact Jeanette LaVoy, you can email her at email@example.com.
Listen to Cliff Roles on Talk of the Sun Coast every weekday live from 3 - 4 p.m. on 1220 AM WSRQ. To contact him: tel. 941-685-9017 or visit www.cliffroles.com. Cliff is the recipient of the Sarasota County Arts Council 2007 Arts Leadership Award for Media.
About eight years ago, I was going through one of those “male-menopause-midlife-crisis” phases, where nothing and no one seemed to be right for me. My marriage had gone pear-shaped; I was burnt out from 16 years in the rock ‘n roll business, and my people skills desperately needed honing. I decided to change pace, job, surroundings and attitude. I became a translator and started traveling the world. Greece, Mexico, Italy, Switzerland ... I eventually landed on Florida’s East Coast. In keeping with my mood, I bought a Harley Davidson motorcycle (I mean, who wouldn’t?) and went from the east coast to the gulf coast. On February 17, 2001, my birthday, I rode into Sarasota and parked my bike outside the Columbia Restaurant on St. Armands. I bought myself an ice cream at Scoop Daddy’s, walked slowly around the Circle, and knew instantly that I was home. I met my wife Maria that evening, and within 18 months I had moved out of my flat in Hamburg, Germany and had become a resident of Sarasota.
I have fallen in love with Sarasota, and Sarasota has warmly opened to my embrace. Of course I now regularly sing songs of praise about its beaches, climate, restaurants, arts and culture possibilities and entrepreneurial opportunities, but it’s Sarasota’s underlying feeling of pride and passion that gets me. Visit our Farmer’s Market on a Saturday morning, walk Main Street to Five Points during Sarasota’s Reading Festival or Arts Day, stroll Siesta Key on an Arts and Crafts weekend, and you’ll realize why we are the envy of everyone that doesn’t live here year round. Those wonderful retirees who have moved here from “up North” are Sarasota’s most valuable asset; they help our community to fl ourish, they tend to our parks and gardens, they finance our arts organizations and they keep our restaurants in business. A smile and a thank you on their lips, they are always ready to tell you their story: how long they’ve been here, how they discovered our paradise, where they are from and what they love about living here. Their story, yes. That’s what we are - a plethora, a multitude, a myriad of fabulous, fantastic stories - a collection of big hearts worn on big sleeves. Why I love Sarasota? Because of its people, that’s why. I needed to come here to regain my faith in human nature.
Thank you, people of Sarasota. I think I’ll stick around.
THE NAMES PEOPLE PLAY
Sarasota’s Leading Ladies and their Understudies
By Cliff Roles
They say people come to Sarasota to retire, spend a quiet life, play some golf or tennis, enjoy the culinary delights of our restaurants and occasionally go to the theatre, opera, symphony or ballet. That may be true of a certain cross-section of our community — not that there’s anything wrong with that — but after nearly four years of being on the radio here, interviewing nearly 2,000 people and embracing Sarasota’s multifaceted community on a daily basis, I have learned one very important fact about life in this city.
Sarasota is under female rule.
Simple as that. They control Sarasota’s health, its real-estate market, its foundations; they are the publishers and editors of its daily and weekly newspapers and monthly glossies (including this one); they write the columns to decide “who’s who” and what “who” should wear; they underwrite the city’s arts organizations, finance its institutes, head the committees that determine the social manifesto, chair the boards and organize the fundraisers that bring in the seven-figure sponsorships and donations.
Every lady you’ll read about in this article enjoys a “first-name” status in this community as a role model, a philanthropist, a leader, a mover and a shaker. During this season, these ladies have contributed over and above the call of duty, whether you’re talking about abused women, children or animals, a capital campaign, a symphony or any kind of disease and disorder you can imagine. You may not agree with me, and your favorite may not be among them, but I had to narrow it down. And I’m probably committing social suicide by writing this article, because there are so many wonderful ladies that I haven’t mentioned. But imagine if I ever wrote a piece naming “Sarasota’s Top 100 Best-Dressed Ladies”... I would indubitably have to leave town in the dead of night.
MY LEADING LADIES
So here, in no particular order, are my leading ladies of Sarasota, season 2007/2008: Betty, Teri, Lou-Anne, Marj, Katie, Eva, Eileen, Helene, Nancy, Pauline, Barbara, Caren, Shannon, Nora, Lucy, Flori, Lisa, Debra, Carolyn, Margaret, Graci, Susan, Alex, Mary Ann, Nikki, Judi, Michael, Bea, Jean, Olivia, Myrna, Silke, Jennie, Leslie, Jewel, Gwen, Karin, Julie, Gloria, Diane, Wendy, Dottie, Kim, Cheryl, Nora, Elisabeth, Janet, Lee, Amie, Virginia, Roberta, Chris, Veronica, Sandy, Tana, Debbi, Rita, Elaine, Anne, Renee, Audrey, Ulla, Esther, Pam and Lisl.
You know them all, don’t you? Then have a go at guessing their last names (alright, if you want to cheat, I’ve revealed them all at the end of the article).
Anyway, I was thinking to myself: when these ladies have sent out their very last “Save The Date” card, who are Marjorie, Emily, Chatterbox and I going to write about? Who’s going to get a CVA from Annette, star at Stephania’s luncheon, grace Janice’s podium or help Sally find the “Key to the Cure”? Where are my “understudies?” I decided to ask some Sarasota stalwarts if they knew of any female standouts who have the potential to lead us to the year 2020 ... and beyond!
First I went to Matt Orr, founder of weekly online newsletter “This Week In Sarasota.” He was happy to champion the “first lady” of K&CO Marketing, Jake Keiser. Then I asked Mary Ann Boehm, outgoing Junior League boss, whom she would choose, and she tipped SPARCC’s Jessica Hays. My next choice is dynamic young entrepreneur Dayle Hoffmann. Energizer Chris Pfahler was pleased to mentor Dayle here on the trials, tribulations and pitfalls of event organization. Last, but not least, I’m delighted to feature Jenny Beres, one of our community’s newest and definitely funniest playwrights. And there’s no one better to help Jenny on her way to a Tony award than fellow playwright Jeffery Kin, Artistic Director of The Players Theatre of Sarasota.
“My grandmother always said, ‘It’s a man’s world.’ So, I took the first two letters of my first names, Julie-Ann, and the first two from my last, Keiser, and that’s how I became Jake.”
Jake was born in Louisiana, and raised in Mississippi and the Philippines. She moved to Sarasota three years ago from the St. Pete/Tampa area.
“Originally, I was Director of Sales and Marketing working from home for a publisher out of Boston. Honestly, I couldn’t stand it here at first; I didn’t think this area was very welcoming to people my age. I found it very difficult to get to know people. But when I opened my own marketing, PR and design company about two-and-a-half years ago, I started to change my tune. I started to see this ‘wave’ coming, an influx of younger people. And when I moved downtown six months ago and made the decision to ‘get involved,’ I opened up to all the possibilities Sarasota can provide! Since that time, I’ve rapidly grown to love Sarasota. Matt [Orr] has helped me tremendously to get to know people and give me background. I look at Sarasota with ‘virgin eyes’ – meaning I don’t understand the history of the politics, and I like that. No one’s letting the wind out of my sails. I’m excited that I’m starting to see people of my age getting opportunities that I didn’t see a few years ago.”
Jake is currently on the Board of the local chapter of the Florida Public Relations Association.
“I’m learning fast what this community has to offer and where my background works. I’ve also joined the Downtown Partnership, which is a phenomenal group. I’m still in the process of looking to see where I can make a difference.”
Can Sarasota keep you busy?
"Absolutely. I have so much business competition here, but it doesn’t matter. People are collaborative, and there are just neverending business opportunities. Sarasota welcomes the creative community — it’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen in other cities.”
Jake’s favorite haunts? “Breakfast at Café Americano or C’est la Vie. And I love Ceviche’s and Selva Grill.”
To contact Jake: jake@KeiserandCo.com.
MENTOR MATT ORR: Dear Friend,
It takes a Village. Keep those words in mind. We live in one community and we each do our part to make the community a success. Never be afraid to ask for help with anything you do. Sarasota is a growing “small town” with good people who want to see you succeed. Ask their advice, call city matrons like Margaret Wise and ask her opinion. Get to know people and network. One of the best lessons I learned was avoiding the politics of organizations because it will slow you down. You are a working girl and you don’t need to be bothered with minutia. Share your vision with others and those who “get it” will move forward with you. Those who don’t will be left behind arguing about which shade of blue the tablecloths should be. If the journey stops being fun, simply complete the project you are working on and move on. If you are not having fun it will reflect on your project. Plus, if it’s not fun, why bother? Lastly, get to know Marjorie North. Marjorie has the most powerful pen in the city, plus she is a genuine lady with lots of experience. Ask her opinions and follow her advice. She knows what she’s talking about.
“Living and working in Sarasota is paradise. Such a variety of experiences and so many opportunities in such a small area.”
Jessica Hays was born in Tallahassee, is 27 years old, and has been living in Sarasota now with husband Nathan for five years. She’s just been appointed Director of Community Awareness at SPARCC, where her boss, Executive Director Olivia Thomas, made my job a lot easier by sending me a glowing testimonial about her new protégé.
“I was ecstatic when I heard that Jessica had inquired about the opening I had at SPARCC. I contacted her within the hour, had an interview with her the next day and hired her on the spot! In speaking with her grandmother, Bettye Banks, I’ve learned that she has always held herself to the highest standards – she comes from a family of high achievers, who instilled her core
values at an early age. As an side, her grandmother was a long time schoolteacher in Sarasota and her grandfather was the principal at Sarasota High School. Her aunt is acclaimed photographer Barbara Banks.”
Jessica: “I’m overjoyed to be working with Olivia, and I really love working with non-profit organizations. I feel it’s the most rewarding experience, and I can be at my most passionate with them. I decided that climbing the corporate ladder wasn’t the most important thing. My heart is in community work, and I wanted to do something where I could go home and feel really satisfied with what I was doing with my life every day, and not just on weekends.”
Where’s she going?
“I always have goals. And when I’ve achieved those goals, I always have new ones. I’m a ‘busybody' — I always like to be moving forward. One day, I’d like to be the director of a non-profit in Sarasota, one that I truly believe in. Maybe one that’s focused on women and children.”
Hobbies: photography, reading, blogging & skydiving.
To contact Jessica: (941) 365-0208 ext.106 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
MENTOR MARYANN BOEHM: Greetings Jessica!
The most important words of wisdom for someone moving up in Sarasota are: “Build or maintain an effective network based on your existing friendships.” When you need to get something done, tap those committee members you worked with years ago or the members of an organization that you are involved with. Don’t be afraid to seek the aid of someone has already moved “up the ladder” for assistance. Belong to groups that you truly believe in. Research the organization and its mission to determine if it strikes your heartstring. If not, move on. Once you agree to serve on a Board, be fully committed and dedicated to making that group succeed. Attend all of the events, participate and enjoy! Your networking and leadership skills will grow through your articipation. Lastly, make sure to save some personal time. Family, friends, hobbies, entertainment, exercise and spiritual pursuits are very fulfilling! Keeping time for yourself each day will keep you happy. I am a firm believer that things trickle down from the top. A happy leader makes the work of an organization a pleasure for all. Promote the Positive! “
I truly appreciate having people who believe in me! The more people who believe in you, the more the universe will be on your side to help you accomplish your goals.”
Dayle Hoffmann is the epitome of a multitasker. The native Long Islander arrived in Sarasota three years ago and has never looked back. She’s an actor, a model and a spokesperson, flying all over the States to work in film, commercials, infomercials and trade shows. She hosts the successful “Classic Ladies Book Club” and runs “TeeTimeFriends.com,” a golf network/website that helps golfers find partners around the world. Not enough? She markets “Dayle Joan Jewelry,” glass-beaded and semi-precious pieces sold in boutiques, and also specializes in Personal Management Consulting, which includes PR, event planning and concierge services. Together with her co-chair Erin Lazo and a fabulous committee, Dayle recently produced one of this season’s standout galas, “Casablanca at the Crosley,” with all the proceeds going to All Children’s Hospital.
“Helping others is not an option for me. It’s in my blood. We were a very good team, and that really paid off. Something like ‘Casablanca’ can’t happen without being really well-organized. You have to be able to make decisions quickly and efficiently. If people see that you’re sincere about what you do, it’s a lot easier to ask them to donate. If you don’t ask, you don’t get - I love to negotiate.”
“I have a passion to lift others up and help them to achieve a new level. I was born to make a difference in the life of others, especially those that cannot help themselves. I have not peaked, but I’m certain that I’m on the right track. Whether it’s helping through volunteering, business or personal, just being able to know that I put a smile on someone’s face means everything to me.”
Hobbies: tennis, golf, running, reading, cooking, wine-tastings.
To contact Dayle: 941.387.4458 or email@example.com
MENTOR CHRIS PFAHLER: Dear Dayle,
A Tale of Two Cities — so goes fundraising in Sarasota. While Sarasota is blessed with an abundance of wealth and philanthropy on the one hand, there are also a record number of not-for-profi ts competing for the same dollar on the other. I’ve found that the abundance of 501(c)3s in our area presents a diverse pool of opportunities from which to choose a favored few whose missions “speak to me”. You must believe in the mission in order to generate the passion necessary to spread the tale and make “the ask.” Whether you’re fundraising in a small group setting or at an 850-person gala at the Ritz, I’m all about evoking emotion and connecting people to the mission. I joke that my goal, besides making tons of money, is to make people cry because once they cry, they have connected and most of the time, they get out their checkbook. In these changing economic times, rare are the days when someone writes you a check “simply because.” You have to connect the right person with the right organization at the right time. When you can make that magic happen, you’ve probably just made that organization a longtime donor and filled yourself with immense satisfaction.
When Jenny Beres first introduced herself to Jeff Kin as a playwright, he quipped “What are you — twelve?” The perky 25-year old will probably always look younger than she is, but more importantly she’ll retain a razor-sharp sense of humor. Audiences will soon be able to see two of her plays performed on Sarasota stages: Misery Loves Children will open at Home Resource on May 20, and the hilariously funny If The Devil Could Fall In Love, which won last year’s “The Play’s The Thing” festival, will be performed on The Players stage in mid-July.
Jenny and her husband Brian moved to Nokomis three years ago from Cleveland; when she’s not writing plays, she’s galloping cross-country on her horse, Final Agenda.
Where’s she going?
Jenny: “Neil Simon once wrote, ‘There is a stimulating sense of joy when you create characters who never existed before in anyone’s mind but your own, when you give them a history, a philosophy, a destiny.’ Like any playwright, I want to see my work produced in New York or in London’s West End, but my proudest moment, the only piece that I think Simon’s quote is missing, is the fi rst time I heard my audience laugh. What a relief! Could there be anything worse than two hundred people listening to the writer cackle (alone) at her own jokes?”
“The theater community here in Sarasota has been my lifeline. They have nurtured my talent and given me the opportunity to grow, without a dog-eat-dog or political environment. I’d say that the two playwrights that I admire and that have embraced me warmly since the day we met are Jeffery Kin and Jack Gilhooley. Both men have impressed me with their talent and willingness to encourage and assist me. I am blessed to have not one, but two writers of that caliber in my corner.”
To contact Jenny: firstname.lastname@example.org.
MENTOR JEFFERY KIN: Thank you Jenny!
There are an infinite number of variables in writing a successful script ... so many that the task often seems insurmountable. Like I tell my playwriting students, “If it were easy, everyone would do it!” Jenny, at her young age, is naturally able to do what so many strive for! She has a clear idea of what she wants and finds humorous ways to communicate it. Jenny’s writing is concise and smart and most of all ... she shares a piece of her heart and soul with the audience. Kudos to Jenny and anyone who wants to devote a year or two to getting all those thoughts and ideas on to the page!
Well, did you guess correctly? Here, in alphabetical order by first name, are my leading ladies:
Alex Quarles, Amie Swan, Anne Chauvet, Annette Sherman, Audrey Coleman, Barbara Zdravecky, Bea Friedman, Betty Schoenbaum, Caren Lobo, Carolyn Michel, Cheryl Frampton, Chris Pfahler, Debbi Benedict, Debra Jacobs, Diane McFarlin, Diane Roskamp, Dottie Baer-Garner, Eileen Curd, Elaine Keating, Elisabeth Waters, Emily Walsh-Parry, Esther Mertz, Eva Slane, Flori Roberts, Gloria Moss, Graci McGillicuddy, Gwen McKenzie, Helene Noble, Janet Hunter, Janet Kane, Janice Zarro, Jean Weidner, Jennie Famiglio, Jewel Ash, Judi Gallagher, Julie Milton, Karin Gustafson, Katie Klauber, Kim Githler, Lee Peterson, Leslie Glass, Lisa Walsh, Lisl Liang, Lou-Anne Palmer, Lucy Nicandri, Margaret Callihan, Margaret Wise, Marj Baldwin, Marjorie North, Mary Ann Robinson, Michael Saunders, Molly Schechter, Myrna Band, Nancy Roucher, Nikki Nilon, Nikki Sedacca, Nikki Taylor, Nora Johnson, Nora Patterson, Olivia Thomas, Pam Daniel, Pauline Joerger, Renee Hamad, Rita Greenbaum, Roberta MacDonald, Sally Schule, Sandy Loevner, Shannon Staub, Silke Rible, Stephania Feltz, Susan Danis, Susan Terry, Tana Sandefur, Teri Hansen, Ulla Searing, Veronica Brady, Virginia Toulmin, Wendy Resnick.
Listen to Cliff Roles on Talk of the Sun Coast every weekday live from 4:00 to 5:00 p.m. on 1220 AM WSRQ. To contact him: tel. 941-685-9017 or visit www.cliffroles.com. Cliff is the recipient of the Sarasota County Arts Council 2007 Arts Leadership Award for Media.
SCENE Magazine, April 2008
The Real Story of Marjorie North
By Cliff Roles
Her name is synonymous with society and philanthropy. I remember when I arrived in Sarasota and started to read her column regularly. I was fascinated by the names and photos of those people without whom the cogs would not turn in the wheel of overwhelming generosity that keeps this town ticking. So this story is long overdue. And it is written with love and a deep respect for the woman who, as a single mother of three girls, worked her way up the newspaper ladder to become one of the best-known columnists in Florida today.
When I invited Marjorie North to come on my radio show for the first time just over three years ago, I’ll never forget how nervous I was when she entered my studio. I must not waste her time, I kept saying
to myself, If you screw this up she’ll write bad things about you and you may as well just leave town. Shows you how little I knew about Margie back then. You see, if you annoy Marjorie North in any way (and she does have a few pet peeves, which I’ll mention later), she won’t write badly about you - she just won’t write about you. Well, fortunately I didn’t have to worry - a love affair was born that day and we’ve been best buddies ever since. Margie’s my mentor and my conscience, she’s kept my two feet planted firmly on the ground, and she plays a huge role in any accolades I receive in this community.
Marjorie Wright was born in the small tourist town of Algonac in Michigan. She was one of five children, and came out of a mixed marriage, she jokes: her father was a republican, her mother a democrat.
“My roots are English, Irish, Scot, Welsh, German, French, Spanish and Dutch. Family names are LaPointe, Beecher, Rice, Willard, Clark, and my family tree includes Harriet Beecher Stowe, Julia Ward Howe, and Henry Ward Beecher, the Wallace and the MacGregor clans, and I expect, a ne’er-do-well or two. Sort of your typical American.”
Coming from such roots and such a big family, it’s not surprising that Marjorie was a people-person from the get-go.
“I was always considered the kid sister; I wasn’t flirtatious, but I did have a lot of friends. We lived on the water and I’d have ice-skating and swimming parties on Lake Saint Clair. I didn’t particularly like studying: my teachers probably thought I was a nice girl, but kind of ditzy. I let them think that for
as long as they would give me “A’s” for effort! I didn’t like algebra, chemistry and geometry, but I loved English and history, college composition - and I was a great speller! My favorite time, though, was as editor and columnist of my High School newspaper. I also wrote a column about High School happenings in our town’s weekly newspaper. When I started college, I didn’t realize that you could actually earn a living by doing something you loved! I didn’t want to be a teacher or a nurse. I didn’t
want to be a social worker either, although I majored in sociology. Now I realize what I loved was writing
papers and interviewing people ... whether it was on urban renewal or the leadership paradigm of student
She went to Monteith College at Wayne State in Detroit, her first time living away from home.
“I loved it. I’m not a city girl, but I learned that any city can be as big as you make it. It can be your
neighborhood, your community, or the entire town. You make the choice.”
It was in Detroit that Marjorie again met the late Tom North, her first husband and the father of her three girls. Tom, also originally from Algonac, was an FAA air traffi c controller and the two moved to Elizabeth City, N.C., where Marjorie became women’s editor of the local paper at the ripe old age of 22. As the only person in the women’s department, she interviewed people, wrote the stories, shot and printed the pictures, and loved every minute of it.
Four years later, the Norths moved to Aurora, Ill., where Tom was at the O’Hare Center and Margie had her first child, Laura.
“I didn’t have a clue about being a mom. I had no family around me, didn’t know anyone, and I had this brand-new baby. I didn’t know what to do! But that’s when I learned that she didn’t know any more about it than I did. I remember that I didn’t know how you could hold a baby with both hands and still wash
it! But of course you learn quickly.”
The family then moved to Lansing, Mich., where Christina came into the world. Margie was a full-time mother and housewife for eight years.
“It was the hardest work I’d ever done,” she says.
Youngest daughter Angela was born shortly after they transferred to Indianapolis. It was there that Tom suffered a heart attack, retired from the FAA, and returned to school to get his degree in sociology. When he finished, the family moved down to the Tampa area, living first in Brandon and then in Leesburg. Margie went back to journalism, starting as a part-timer and moved up to managing editor before leaving the Brandon News to become City Editor of The Leesburg Commercial.
“We spent one weekend in Sarasota on vacation, and I fell in love with it. I knew that
this town had everything I wanted. I remember telling my girls that if I could get a job here,
we’d never move again.”
A Dream Come True
Marjorie got her wish; she started working nights at the Sarasota Herald Tribune as a metro editor under Ed Pierce, now Managing Editor Emeritus.
Unfortunately, Marjorie and Tom’s home-life was no longer working. They eventually divorced, but remained friends until he died about 10 years ago. Back at the paper, Marjorie was promoted to Women’s Editor, which became Florida West. She spent fi ve years at that desk. After working through the transition of the paper from David Lindsay to the New York Times, Marjorie decided to get back to her real love, meeting people, listening to their stories, and trying to recognize their efforts in a column.
“Diane McFarlin was assistant M.E. at the time and she gave me the go-ahead,” Marjorie said, “with Helen Griffith writing about the older group in town, and me looking at younger Sarasotans and the people moving to town and making a mark. I remember the very first fundraiser in this town given by someone under 50 - a Heart Ball that Sandy Snyder chaired at the former St. George Restaurant. I was amazed!”
Marjorie fondly remembers her early years as a columnist, and the people
who helped to shape her life.
“I’ve observed people come in and out. I’ve watched Sandy Loevner be absolutely stalwart in this town over the years, for example; I remember when Margaret Wise first came into town, and I watched her going at a frantic pace, wondering who is this person? What does she want, what’s running her?
“A lot of times I ask myself about a person: what rules them? What’s their intention, what do they really want? Because if you assume that everyone’s working for a cause for the same reason, you’re dead wrong. Me? I was working to make a living and support my three girls, but I also
loved newspaper work.”
“My mother retired and came down here to stay with me for several years and look after the girls while I worked. But what not many people know is that between Tom, my first husband, and Bill Hirons, my now
husband of 12 years, there was a hiccup. I doubted myself constantly and wondered how I was going to bring my three kids through. There was a man in my life at that time who loved me and wanted to take care of the kids. So I married him, and it lasted about a year. It wasn’t a match. We
divorced, and I then remained single for nine years before I met Bill.”
The Loves of My Life
Marjorie met Bill Hirons, a retired DuPont executive, in March 1995 at a black-tie dinner for the New College Gems.
“I knew by the end of the evening that he had potential. He turned to me at one point and said, ‘Marjorie North? Don’t you do something with the paper?’ And I thought, Oh, good! I can be just be myself. ``Occasionally,’’ I replied.
And that’s who Bill is for me: I can just be me. We married that August, and it was the happiest day of my life. We are so respectful of each other. But nowadays he does want more of my time. And that’s fair. He doesn’t want to go to the big events any more. (For 10 years, he went with me to at least five events a week, two of which were black-tie.) Now we do private parties or enjoy dinner together, just by ourselves.
All three of Marjorie’s daughters live in Sarasota.
“The best thing about this town for my three girls is they all went to very good schools and had a good education. Because of the local clubs in town, they each became softball players. I attended every game I could. I even had to go to a couple in ball gowns because I had to attend an event straight after! Laura was fi rst baseman, Chris was on second base, and Angie was shortstop. And they were fabulous!"
These days Marjorie needs help covering the hundreds of galas, fundraisers and meetings that are held every season in Sarasota. She also deploys Laura, together with young Sarasotans Heather Dunhill and Jackie Massey, to report on and photograph the events.
My daughers are all different — “An actress who has found a niche as my assistant, a lawyer who also loves to cook, and an earth-mother intent on becoming an elementary school teacher. And as the mother to my 3 year-old granddaughter, Bella, one of the best things about her is that she takes Bella on adventures throughout town, and is teaching her to have such confidence in herself. Angie has enrolled her in the Julie Rohr Academy, and Bella has now been promoted from Grasshopper to Bumble
Bee... an obviously brilliant child!”
What’s it like to be Marjorie North in Sarasota?
“When people recognize me, and come up and speak to me, I am flattered and humbled. The last thing that I’ve ever sought is recognition for myself. All I’ve ever wanted to do is recognize Sarasota’s ‘everydayness’, the striving and the achievements. I just want to tell people: while you’re doing your 9-to-5 thing, let me tell you what Mary Smith is doing. Or: you may not have known Ernie Rice, but let me tell you why this city is going to miss him, and I do.”
“I think people are hungry to read about other people, their neighbors, friends, and people who run their worlds. I made a decision years ago: I don’t do dirt. I don’t put anything in my column that I wouldn’t want said about me. For years I did five columns a week; now I’ve cut it down to three, although occasionally I do four and five (the town’s gotten so big!). After all, there are over a thousand non-profit organizations in this town.”
Although the girls are grown and on their own, Marjorie is still conscious of the times she lived alone in Sarasota with them.
“I remember sleeping with a butcher’s knife between my mattress and box-springs. I had three little girls to protect, and if anyone had broken into my house I would have killed them.”
As I wrote at the beginning, Margie has a few pet peeves.
“My biggest pet peeve in public is when there’s a speaker at an event and the audience insists on talking. It’s rude, inconsiderate, and I will hush a table. I don’t like to be called Marge, either, especially by people I don’t know. For many years I insisted on being called Marjorie because I was so short. I had to work with a lot of men, and I’d wear very high heels to look taller. Then, one day, I realized that I didn’t have to be Marjorie. Margie is fi ne too, and that is who I am. Another thing I learned is that if you really want to know what people think of you, ask 10 people you know to tell you what you bring to the table. And while they’re telling you, keep your mouth shut; you’ll learn a lot.”
When I asked Marjorie if she could see herself doing this job for the next 10 or 15 years, she shook her head.
“I’ve written two plays that were produced at FST, and I wrote a coffee-table book with beautiful illustrations called Sarasota - A City For All Seasons. I’ve got more things to write. Like the play stored away in my computer that’s almost finished. I want to spend more time with friends like Margaret Wise, Karin Gustafson, Sandy Loevner and Kim Githler, and with my tennis pals. Thanks to Ron White, who replaced my knee two years ago, I now play tennis three mornings a week with my friends here in the Oaks. I wish I could say I play for the exercise, but actually I’m quite competitive.
“But first and foremost, I have a sweetheart of a husband, three wonderful daughters and a darling granddaughter. I’ve still got so much to give them.”
If you’d like to say hi to Marjorie North, you can email her at email@example.com. I know she’d love to hear from you. Heck, you can even call her Margie - she won’t mind, she’s walking tall these days.
Listen to Cliff Roles on Talk of the Sun Coast every weekday live from 4:00 to 5:00 p.m. on 1220 AM WSRQ.
Contact Cliff Roles: 941-685-9017 or visit www.cliffroles.com
SCENE Magazine, March 2008
By Cliff Roles
"The leading cause of death in children aged four and under is abuse and neglect.” That’s how Graci McGillicuddy and I began our chat recently in my radio studio. Graci always comes straight to the point.
Graci McGillicuddy is one of Sarasota’s best known, most recognizable and most energetic power women. Although she and her husband Dennis use their wealth to support many organizations and causes here, none is more important to Graci than combating child abuse. Her weapon of choice is Sarasota’s Child Protection Center, which recently outgrew its space at the Human Services Centre on 17th Street. Largely through the efforts of Graci and the Center’s CEO Dr. Hal Hedley, the Sarasota County Commissioners generously donated land downtown, behind what used to be the Dairy Queen, to the Child Protection Center. Now Graci is spearheading a major capital campaign to raise $6.6 million to build a new state-of-the-art Child Advocacy Center there.
“If there’s anything I can do to accelerate the hope and healing of abused children, promote education throughout the community and expand the ability of the Child Protection Center to provide vital care to those who need it most, I won’t hesitate for a second.”
Graci is also a founding member and chairperson of the All-Star Children’s Foundation, formerly known as the Sarasota Sports Foundation, whose mission is to break the cycle of child abuse and neglect by having two annual events: Serving Up a Grand Slam Celebrity Tennis Classic in March and a Celebrity Golf Gala & Classic in the Fall. She’s also just been appointed to the Governor’s Child Abuse Prevention and Permanency Advisory Council, which will guide the policy for the Governor’s Office of Adoption and Child Protection.
Graci first became actively involved with the prevention of child abuse about 18 years ago.
“It was around the time of my birthday in November. Every day the newspapers were filled with stories about this 18-month old child named Nicole Shannon who had been violently beaten to death. Every bone in her body had been broken; she’d been burned and lacerated. She’d even been used as a punching bag. It was horrible. I would read about her and just sob.
So when Dennis asked me what I’d like for my birthday, we decided that we’d take the money he was going to spend on a present and give it to an organization working to prevent child abuse. That’s how I found Dr. Hal Hedley, and the rest is history.”
When I asked Dr. Hal Hedley for a quote about Graci, he couldn’t write back fast enough. “Graci is a super board member at the Child Protection Center. She’s helped elevate our mission to a whole new level. Graci works tirelessly to prevent child abuse, neglect and abandonment of Florida’s children. This community is indeed lucky to have Graci McGillicuddy.”
Graci was born in Bogotá, Colombia. When Graci was five years old, she started to learn English in the kindergarten of the American school there. Home life in Colombia was always a language salad: Graci would practice her English, while her parents, who are German, would speak in their native tongue, and her nanny and house staff would converse in Spanish. Just before her 10th birthday, her parents traded their very comfortable life in Colombia for a far more modest one in the USA, when they brought Graci and her younger sister to Miami in order for them to be educated in the United States.
Graci went on to attend the University of Florida. “I ultimately ended up majoring in Spanish and German, because I wanted to work in Foreign Services. Then, at the beginning of my junior year, I met Dennis, the light of my life.”
“I was dating one of his fraternity brothers,” she giggles. “Dennis was an SAE and I was a Delta Gamma, and I would fix him up with my sorority sisters, so we became really good friends. Then my boyfriend and I broke up, and Dennis asked me out the very next day. That first night we absolutely fell in love; 18 days later we were pinned and we married 8 months later.”
“I jumped into the College of Education and interned in Spanish in Gainesville. I was all set to get my graduate degree, and Dennis had started law school. We’d bought a house, but as the sale contract stipulated that one of us had to work, I had to get a job. There were only two Spanish teachers in Gainesville, and they weren’t leaving, so I went to the Department of Education and they got me a job teaching 5th and 6th graders in Brooker, a tiny 300-soul town in Bradford County, Florida. It was definitely one of the best years of my life, and I really felt that I made a difference in the lives of my students. By my second year of teaching I earned my elementary teaching certification, became pregnant and etired from teaching.”
Graci and Dennis celebrated 45 years of marriage last August. They have two children and six grandchildren. Graci is ecstatically proud of her children’s achievements.
“Our son Dennis is a senior scientist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and has just been named recipient of the 2008 Rosenstiel Award, an award targeted for researchers who, in their early to midcareer stages, are already making outstanding scientific contributions. I “googled” him the other day and discovered around 19 pages of accomplishments and published papers!
I’m dazzled! And our daughter Alyson is a fantastic stay-at-home mother of four amazing children. Our grandchildren are philanthropic, bright, kind, great tennis players - just happy, wonderful children.”
How do the McGillicuddys decide on which organizations to support?
“Dennis and I don’t necessarily donate to organizations as much as we donate to people who are doing what we believe in. We try to put our money where it is going to make a difference and where it touches our heart.”
Which brings us back to the Child Protection Center and Graci’s passionate plea for donations to finance the capital campaign for the new building. She and Dennis have already put up a 7 figure sum to start the ball rolling.
“We have the best child protection team in encompass all aspects of this serious problem: prevention, intervention and treatment. When visitors to our Center see the severity of what child abuse means, they will understand why there is a need for the CPC. Child-abuse is 100% preventable - we just have to educate and break the cycle. The mere fact that the Center exists is gut-wrenching.”
If you’d like to support Graci and the CPC’s capital campaign, contact Campaign Director Gillian Eagan at (941) 365-1277, ext. 105, or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Child Protection Centre Help-Line for emergencies is 1-800 96-ABUSE.
For additional information, go to www.childprotectioncenter.com.
Listen to Cliff Roles on Talk of the Sun Coast every weekday live from 4:00 to 5:00 p.m. on 1220 AM WSRQ.
Contact Cliff Roles: 941-685-9017 or visit www.cliffroles.com
SCENE Magazine, March 2008
The Beauty, Culture & Fun of Sarasota/Bradenton
THESE ARE A FEW OF THEIR FAVORITE THINGS.
CLIFF ROLES’ FAVORITE THINGS:
Yes, I know you’re going to need a car while you’re discovering Sarasota County, but if you’re visiting us from far and wide, why fly to Tampa and Fort Myers when we’ve got a great international airport on our doorstep? Sarasota Bradenton International Airport will soon no longer be one of our best-kept secrets, so enjoy it while the check-in lines, baggage carousels and car-rental counters don’t make you want to tell the guy in front of you to get a deodorant or the woman behind you to tie up her kid.
Sarasota is the arts’ capital of Florida, and visitors looking to stimulate their intellectual senses will never be bored or disappointed. We boast our own opera, symphony, ballet and circus, the finest art and sculpture museums and galleries, such as Ringling, Towles Court and Burns Court, and of course theatre, theatre, theatre - in no other city in Florida will you find so many top-quality theatre companies offering you the best in drama, comedy, musical and alternative programs. Don’t leave without having visited the Players, the Golden Apple Dinner Theatre, Venice Little Theatre and the Asolo Repertory Theatre.
Eat and Drink:
The County has about one thousand restaurants and bars, so I’m not even going to try and list any. Oh, alright, twist my arm. Mentioning my locals: Sam Snead’s Tavern, Patrick’s and Shakespeare’s Pub might get me a free beer or three.
Need an afternoon nap? Listen to my daily radio show Talk of the Sun Coast on 1220 AM, live at 4 pm. Still can’t doze off? Watch local TV station SNN6 - I guarantee you’ll be fast asleep in three minutes.
It’s a special year for Asolo Repertory Theatre - a mammoth gala for 600 guests at the end of March to be held on the grounds of the Ringling Museum of Art and to benefit the FSU/Asolo Conservatory will be the kick-off for months of terrific events and memorable festivities to celebrate Asolo Rep’s 50th anniversary. Time to reflect about its history, its highs and lows, the people who have made Asolo Repertory Theatre what it is today, and the people who will accompany it on the next phase of a theatre that continues to flourish 50 years after it began as a fledgling acting company performing a summer theatre festival in Sarasota.
50 Years of History
It’s midday on a Saturday and I’m visiting with Margaret Wise, Chairwoman of the Asolo Repertory Theatre Board, to chat about the Asolo Rep’s 50-year history. I’ve walked in on her and Bill, her husband of 27 years, as they take down Christmas trees and decorations after a hectic holiday season welcoming friends and hosting receptions in their magnificent Sarasota bayfront home, while at the same time tirelessly attending meetings and galas and fulfi lling countless other social obligations. This is Margaret’s second year as President, but she’s been involved with the theatre since the mid-90s, that dark period when it was on the verge of bankruptcy.
“I was Board President of the Opera at that time, and my friend and fellow Board member Stanley Kane had always been so helpful to me. One day he called me and said, ‘Margaret, I’m calling in all my chips. Do you want to help save the Asolo?’
He continued: ‘I’m not asking you for your money - we’re going to bring Howard Millman back, and I think we can save it. I just want you to come up with a program that will make the Asolo $50,000 this year.’
Well, I told him I could do that, and he then called 25 of his friends and asked for exactly the same thing. Everyone came up with a plan. Dinner clubs, galas, even a cruise that made $400,000, so by the end of the year the Asolo was saved. Esther Mertz, for instance, who donated the money for the original theatre, said, ‘You get the money, and I’ll match it.’ In the meantime, she’s given us a fortune and has always been there for us. We have three Crystal Ladies, each of whom has given us over one million dollars: Esther, Lee Peterson, and Ulla Searing. But there’s no doubt about it: Asolo Rep’s doors would have closed without Stanley Kane.”
What’s In A Name?
So how did Asolo Rep progress from its beginnings? Well, for this lazy columnist it was an easy click to Asolo Rep’s website www.asolo.org, which offers very comprehensive information on its history, mission and evolution. The word Asolo comes from Asolo, Italy, where a lovely 18th century theatre was acquired by the State of Florida for the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art and moved to Sarasota in the 1950s. This theatre became home to a summer theatre company founded by faculty of Florida State University in 1960. Known as the Asolo Theatre Festival, the company was
warmly embraced by the Sarasota community and in 1966 became a year-round, professional rep LORT Theatre (League of Resident Theatres). In 1968, The Florida State University (FSU) School of Theatre began sending acting students on a regular basis for internships. In
December 1989, after 30 years in the Historic Asolo Theater at the Ringling Museum, the LORT acting company moved into a new performing arts center. Originally dedicated as the Asolo Performing Arts Center, the facility became the Florida State University Center for the Performing Arts in 1991.
In 2006, the Asolo Theatre Company was renamed Asolo Repertory Theatre. This new name was chosen to more accurately refl ect its status as one of the only rotating repertory theatres in the country. Currently, Asolo Repertory Theatre and the FSU/Asolo Conservatory perform in the FSU Center on two stages - the Mertz and the Cook Theatres. Asolo Rep and the Conservatory are proud to have come full circle as they each now perform one show per season in the Historic Asolo Theater, located in the Ringling Museum’s Visitors Pavilion.
The acclaimed Asolo Rep performs primarily in the beautiful Mertz Theatre, an elegant 500-seat facility that was originally built as an opera house in 1903 in Dunfermline, Scotland. The Dunfermline Opera House building was demolished in the 1980s, but the interior was rescued, shipped to Sarasota and painstakingly restored to its original splendor within the FSU Center.
It is here that from November to June, Asolo Rep presents a unique rotating repertory ranging from classics to new works, providing theatergoers with the opportunity to enjoy up to four different plays in a single weekend. Each season, more than 100,000 people attend Asolo Rep’s productions. The second stage within the Center is the Cook Theatre. Built in 1994, the Cook is an intimate 161-seat space designed to create a close relationship between audience and stage. It’s here that students of the Conservatory perform their season of plays. The Conservatory season provides a varied repertoire of classic and cutting-edge plays, selected to offer wonderful challenges for performers and exciting theatre for audiences. Students
also present a series of original works known as the “LateNight” series, and the FSU School of Theatre presents a variety of other special events and performances. Asolo Repertory Theatre also performs one or two plays in the Cook each year as part of its regular season.
Whether in the Historic Asolo Theater, the elegant Mertz Theatre, or the Cook Theatre, local residents and visitors alike have enjoyed Asolo Rep’s outstanding professional live theatrical productions for generations.
On The Board
Asolo Rep. Board President
Back to Sarasota’s ultimate hostess, Margaret Wise. I ask about the current make-up of the Asolo Rep Board.
“I think we have one of the best boards in town. And it’s our responsibility to make sure that an endowment always exists in order to maintain the theatre’s stability. You can always have a bad year, or a recession, and if you haven’t got an endowment you’ve got nothing to fall back on. We’ve been setting this up now for the last two years. And I just love working with Michael Edwards, one of the most creative people I know. We’re in a really good place now - we’re doing a lot more new works, and if just one or two of those become hits on Broadway, we can really make some money. There’s a terrific collaboration between Asolo Rep and the Historic Asolo; I personally would like to see the whole area named ‘The Ringling Center,’ reminiscent of the big centers in the world like the ‘Lincoln Center.’”
Asolo Rep’s 50th anniversary celebrations will kick off on March 29, 2008 with a Gala, A Star Is Born, which is being chaired by Kim Githler and Nora Johnson for around 600 guests in the glorious grounds of the Ringling Museum of Art. This will be followed through the 2008-2009 season by various other major events, including a luncheon with a fashion show displaying 50 years of costumes. Margaret: “And we’re starting next season with another big Broadway show. I can’t tell you which one, though - it’s still under wraps.”
If you’d like tickets for the Gala, email Karen_Misantone@Asolo.org or call 941-351- 9010, ext. 4706. The website www.asolo.org, contains details of the current seasons of both the Asolo Rep and the FSU/Asolo Conservatory, how to purchase subscriptions and how to get involved with the education and outreach programs.
Asolo Repertory Theatre, 5555 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, FL 34243 | 941-351-8000 or 800-361-8388.
Michael Donald Edwards
Producing Artistic Director, Asolo Repertory Theatre
There aren’t many theatres in the United States that have this kind of longevity. It’s remarkable to find a theatre that is valued at this high level, and I am so proud that I have come in and taken over an institution that is supported by so many fantastic members of the community. Wherever I go, I
am given the feeling that the Asolo Rep matters to people, and that in turn fills me with a huge sense of responsibility, pride and obligation to do my job right.
Managing Director, Asolo Repertory Theatre
Asolo Rep was founded almost fifty years ago, near the beginning of the regional theatre movement in America. Today, there are still fewer than 100
professional not-for-profit regional theatres and most are located in major metropolitan centers. Asolo Rep has been most fortunate to be embraced by a community that passionately loves and supports the arts. This commitment has nurtured the theatre during its early years, the difficult times and the wonderful periods of growth and achievement.
Asolo Rep’s celebration of its 50th Anniversary will also be a celebration of this amazing community and all of the steadfast supporters who have made it possible for this theatre, and numerous other cultural organizations, to flourish.
Director, FSU/Asolo Conservatory
“What does 50 years of Asolo Rep mean to me?”
It means that for 50 years, Sarasota has been one of the communities in this country where the high quality of life is due in part to the influence of
imagination and spirit that you fi nd in live theatre. Where people are inspired to live life brightly, energetically and fully because of their relationships with resident theatre artists, those who are seasoned and those who are just starting out. Where people have been inspired to think and laugh and cry
and love and embrace the world because they have embraced live, professional theatre. It means that for 50 years Sarasota has been a thrilling place to live. Here’s to another 50 thrilling years.
Howard J. Millman
Producing Artistic Director, Retired
WHAT THE ASOLO THEATRE MEANS TO ME
I was a Doctoral student at FSU in 1959 when the Speech Department (we were not even a Theatre Department in those days) was asked to bring a play to Sarasota for Arts Week. The play was to be performed at the Historic Asolo theatre. The play was Clifford Odet’s THE COUNTRY GIRL, and it starred Eberle Thomas, Isa Thomas and myself in the three leads. It was directed by Richard Fallon, our Professor. The following summer Arthur
Dorlag, Eb Thomas and Robert Strane started a rotating repertory Theatre. In 1963 Richard Fallon took over the leadership of the theatre with Eb and Bob as co-artistic Directors. I was asked to join the company as Managing Director. I managed the company and directed about 14 productions in the historic Asolo. I left in 1980.
When the Asolo got into financial trouble in 1995, I was asked to come back to the Asolo. This place is and always was home. The Asolo has a magic magnetic aura about it. There are not many theatres in the country that can boast the dedication and love for a theatre and a company and a place.
When you ask what the Asolo means to me, it has much of my life and all of my heart.
Anne and David S. Howard
Asolo Theatre Guild, Retired
Associate Artist, Asolo Repertory Theatre
Anne: “Coming home to the Asolo twelve years ago was like coming home to family. Since then we’ve had the joy of watching the family grow
in a marriage of community and company.”
David: “To paraphrase Yogi Berra talking about the old Yankees: “At the old Asolo, we were like a family. I know that sounds cornball, but you can ask any of the Old-Timers still livin’ and they’ll tell you it’s true.” After a show, we’d come spilling out of the Stage Door of the (now Historic) Asolo
and the audience out of the Theatre Door, about fifty feet away, and it was Party Time. Those were the best of times.”
Listen to Cliff Roles on Talk of the Sun Coast every weekday live from 4:00 to 5:00 p.m. on 1220 AM WSRQ.
Contact Cliff Roles: 941-685-9017 or visit www.cliffroles.com.
LIKE A CIRCLE IN A SPIRAL, LIKE A WHEEL WITHIN A WHEEL . . .
Around Venice Little Theatre
- Where Images Unwind
By Cliff Roles
When I’m not hosting my radio show, translating, emceeing, writing my column or walking my dog Sam, I’m a stage actor. As I write this, I’m spending every evening down in Venice at the third-biggest community theatre in the country, Venice Little Theatre, rehearsing “Run For Your Wife,” a hilarious bedroom door-slamming farce in which I play a South London
taxi-driver with two wives who live five minutes from each other. And as you’re reading this, my fellow cast members and I are hopefully hearing the audience’s laughter and enjoying the fruits of our labors.
Although I’ve seen dozens of plays at VLT since I came to Florida, I’d never acted there or been backstage. On the first day of rehearsals I was greeted by Murray Chase, VLT’s Artistic and Managing Director, who gave me “the tour”. They’re a very close-knit bunch, the “VLTers”:
Allan & Kim, Moe, Linda, Sandy, Clair, Rhonda, Brad, Cara, Nick, Jeanette, Steve ... too many to mention all by name, unfortunately. But they welcome you into their “home” like an old friend. Discovering VLT behind the scenes is like wandering through a maze, but one thing
stuck in my mind the whole time: geez, the floors are so clean you could eat your dinner off them. And they’re a proud lot at VLT, and rightfully so. Proud of what they’ve achieved, proud to show it off to the outside world, proud of being “around VLT.”
Which brings me to my real story. At the beginning of last year, VLT Business Manager & stellar actress Sara Trembly invited me to a VLT fundraising breakfast, where I was to hear about VLT’s Education and Outreach programs, its dedicated 1,500 volunteers and how they
invest a large proportion of their 165,000 volunteer hours every year. Listening to representatives of the various VLT programs recounting how VLT has changed their lives brought tears to my eyes, and as I drove back to Sarasota, the seed for a radio show - and unknowingly back then this article - planted itself in my mind. Highlighting two of these programs - the Loveland Partnership and the Silver Foxes - as examples for all the others, I invited Murray and his Senior Outreach Director Joseph Cole Simmons to come on “Talk of the Sun Coast” a short time later and talk about the other side of Venice Little Theatre.
Murray Chase on VLT and The Loveland Center
“The Loveland Partnership was actually a marvelous idea that was hatched from meetings with Dr. Bob Perkins when he was head of the Selby Foundation, as well as representatives from various human services organizations and arts groups down in South County.
Bob’s idea was what could happen if these institutions got together and what benefit could they bring to the community? That was fifteen years ago, and the Loveland program has been in operation full bore since January 1995. It’s a partnership that I cannot imagine VLT being without, and I don’t think Loveland can either.”
What is Loveland?
“The Loveland Center, similar to ‘Kaleidoscope’ in the type of service that it offers, is the Southwest Florida Center for the Handicapped. It deals with adult students who have a disability of some sort - many of them quite profound - and a need for special training. The partnership itself uses the arts to build basic life skills and confidence so that a lot of these students can be mainstreamed into the workforce.
Those who cannot, go on to become volunteers in other arts and services groups around the county. It’s not just an annual thing: we’re talking here about students that we’ve seen over ten or twelve years who have now grown into wonderfully independent human beings.”
How many students are involved at one time, and are trained staff on hand to oversee everything?
“About 70 students are currently involved, a number that has steadily increased over the last thirteen years. The range of the students’ disabilities is quite large: Down syndrome, blindness, severe learning disabilities, difficulties in walking, etc. So while VLT has at least two employees fully trained to deal with this, Loveland staff also helps in planning the various projects and at least one is on hand at all times when we’re working with the students.”
Has Loveland’s collaboration with VLT helped to make people aware of its existence?
“The public’s awareness of the existence of the Loveland Center is a good ancillary effect - but the absolute focus is on the students at all times. Performances are built based on the challenges issued to the students in terms of what we would like them to overcome in one particular year. The use of music and dance increases the students’ confidence - this is not a theory, it’s been proven many times - and to do that with students who have developmental disabilities was a challenge for us. As a matter of fact, we’ve learned as much along the way as the students themselves. Now, there’s a lot of music-based training within the structure, as well as dance training and therapy work.
The real trick is the consistency with which it happens: the students are in our theatre once a week working on a specific project, which they perform once a year. And when you talk to a lot of these students, they’ll go back five or six years and talk about their favorite show, their favorite moment, their favorite role ... and that might have been the role that put them over the top to where they could walk in and interview for a job.”
How do you see VLT’s partnership with the Loveland Center developing over the next couple of years?
“This past year we were issued a challenge by George Cooper, a very generous donor, who promised us $50,000 if we could match it. We did, and an endowment fund is being established to take Loveland’s work into perpetuity. Our hope is to build it up so we can continue to add to the program with more therapists, more activities, more opportunities for more of the students throughout the year. I really do believe that the program is, if not in its infancy, only in its teenage years at this point.”
Joe Simmons on VLT and The Silver Foxes
“It started when some senior theatre people decided that they would get together and put on some plays for senior citizens. When tap dancers got involved, a company of performers was created. We’ve just finished our 15th annual production, where we played to 94.4% capacity. The Foxes are extremely popular. Their productions are musical reviews à la Sugar Babies, so we have singing, dancing, comedy sketches, fast blackouts and the like. We’ve developed into quite a talented group in the meantime - you can’t just walk in and hop on the end of the dance line - it takes some experience. Occasionally, we audition for dancers and singers. Choreographer and teacher Shirley Gawne is a lady who has just celebrated her 87th birthday. I challenge anybody to keep up with her, or any of the dancers for that matter. They rehearse three times a week, and if you think you’re in shape, go and watch one of their rehearsals when they do a four-minute number three times in a row. They’re all in great shape!
The Foxes (60% female, 40% male, by the way) play to about 2,000 people at home in their annual showcase, but from November to April the Silver Foxes travel all over the county, performing to about 7,000 out on the road in nursing homes, retirement communities and senior friendship centers, to people who can’t or won’t get out to see theatre. Not only is that good for the performers, but of course it’s a real service to the community, which has been the primary purpose of the Foxes for the past thirteen years.”
The list of VLT’s education and outreach programs and achievements goes on and on and would fill this magazine: among others, there’s “Troupe in a Trunk,” a company of adult volunteer actors performing this year to around 9,300 young people through an annual touring show to Sarasota and Charlotte County Schools. And “Bringing History to Life,” VLT’s partnership with Venice Middle School with the purpose of bringing social studies “off the written page” and mounting its lessons dramatically. Or “ECS at VLT” - as one of the focal points in Epiphany Cathedral School’s multidisciplinary programming, their theatre arts electives are taught at VLT. The program provides for comprehensive year round theatre generalists curriculum.
If you’re interested in learning more about or participating in any of Venice Little Theatre’s Outreach programs, contact Sandy Davisson or Clair Lockeyear, Education and Outreach Department, at (941) 486-8679. And to purchase tickets, inquire about subscriptions, take a tour of the theatre or get information on VLT’s current Mainstage and Stage II seasons, phone (941) 488-1115 or go online to www.venicestage.com. Incidentally, “Run For Your Wife”, the play that I’m in, runs January 15th through February 3rd. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to slam some more bedroom doors and learn my lines ... see you in the theatre!
Listen to Cliff Roles on Talk of the Sun Coast every weekday live from 4:00 to 5:00 p.m. on 1220 AM WSRQ. Contact Cliff Roles: 941-685-9017 or visit www.cliffroles.com
SCENE Magazine, December 2007
Express Yourself - Arts Weekend Sarasota 2008
by Cliff Roles
Arts Night's Silke Rible & Wendy Bowen, Arts Weekend's Martine Collier & Nicole Brown
What used to be "just" Arts Night and Arts Day has blossomed into an entire weekend, courtesy of the Sarasota County Arts Council. From Friday, January 11 to Sunday, January 13, downtown Sarasota will transform itself into an Arts Mecca. I spoke with four of the organizers: the Arts Council's Martine Meredith Collier and Nicole Sherbert Brown, as well as our ladies of the Arts Night, Wendy Bowen and Silke Rible.
I could have danced …: Arts Night, Friday, January 11
Wendy and Silke plan to uphold predecessor Amie Swan's legacy in grand style - and entertain their guests with food, libations and general merriment at "Medium One Eleven, Sarasota's mysterious new nightclub at a yet-to-be-disclosed location".
"If we tell you where it is, we'll have to kill you", they cautioned as we sat in Metro Cafe chatting about where they’ll be holding Arts Night. A lesser chatterbox would have fled or followed them around for a day. But I pressed on, unfazed.
Come on ladies, what is Medium111?
Silke: "It's a new club, the perfect location for encompassing everything we want. It's big and bold with no limitations. A large number of local performers will blend seamlessly with the chic lounge setting. It's about not bringing in artists from the outside, but highlighting all the exceptional talent that we have here in town."
Wendy: "It's actually so big that we'll even have Cirque du Soleil-style performers descending from the ceiling. We've put together a fantastic committee: Matt Orr is in charge of entertainment, Sheryl Viera is our marketing chair, and Megan Kulisich will be responsible for all the decorations. The proceeds from Arts Night will benefit the Arts Council to help offset production costs of Arts Weekend Sarasota. We're expecting 500 guests, but we'll take more!"
Apart from the new venue, what are you going to do differently this season?
Wendy: "The art of Arts Night and the pattern that Amie has established is to do something that has never been done before. That gave us a completely blank canvas - no pun intended - to do whatever we wanted that was fun, original, hip, chic and urban."
What are your expectations?
Silke: "We're going to deliver a moment and an atmosphere where people are going to walk in and their mouths are going to drop. They're going to see things that they've never seen before. It's about not doing anything traditional and doing everything outside of the box. Showing people art and arts in a completely new way. We want Arts Night to be presented in a way that is mind-blowing and awe-inspiring."
Wendy: "Arts Night is the largest fundraiser of the year for the Sarasota County Arts Council. I like to describe the Arts Council as the Chamber of Commerce for arts organizations in Sarasota County. So if you follow along that line, we're going to be drawing from all of the artistic talent that is already in Sarasota, pull it into a night-club setting and blend it fluently into the evening. So there'll be artistic things happening all around you - you can either watch what's happening, or continue to sip your Martini and just enjoy the evening!"
Clang, clang, clang …: Art in the City, Saturday, January 12
This year the Sarasota County Arts Council is working together with downtown merchants, galleries, and community historical and architectural organizations to highlight downtown Sarasota.
Martine: "We're hoping that folks will come in for the whole weekend, so this year for the first time we're offering visitors something really special - we're bridging our Arts Friday and Sunday with Saturday's Art in the City. We're working with the Downtown Merchants Association to carry through our "Express Yourself" theme any way they'd like. We're giving visitors the opportunity for a self-directed art experience by providing a trolley service that will transport them to all the different art-gallery districts. It will start downtown at the Farmer's Market area, then run non-stop around Towles Court, Burns Court, the Rosemary District, Palm Avenue and back to downtown. There'll also be another trolley doing architectural and historical tours. Patrons can spend a wonderful day browsing the galleries, discovering the wearable art boutiques, or simply taking in the festivities from a sidewalk café. Art in the City will close at around 4 pm so that we can start setting up for Sunday, but on Saturday night we're encouraging everyone to go to an arts venue - we want this weekend to be seamlessly about the art and culture in our community."
Putting it together …: Arts Day, Sunday, January 13
Around 25,000 visitors from across the globe and nearly 250 arts organizations from Sarasota and the surrounding counties will come together on Sunday from 10 am to celebrate a veritable feast of sensory delights.
Nicole: "The Arts Day Committee, working with Arts Day Director Georgann Nugent, has added a Teen Stage and a Contemporary Stage and other new innovations. Also this year, Arts Day will feature the Willis A. Smith Construction, Inc. Juried Art Show and Sale, designed to attract the very best visual artists by offering cash prizes for the winners. This will raise the bar even further. We've received entries from all over the county, so we'd especially like to encourage our friends in Venice, Englewood and North Port to come and enjoy Arts Weekend with us. We've also re-designed the festival map to help people find their way around."
Martine: "Oh yes, the whole layout has been mixed up quite a bit - you'll definitely need your Arts Day map! This year it's going to be published in the Observer on January 3 and also available on the day of the festival. Delicious food and drinks are going to be available on Arts Day from the Originals, a consortium of Sarasota's own local restaurateurs at the Originals Gourmet Food Pavilion, and as always there'll be multiple performance stages and hundreds of artists and craftsmen."
If you'd like to participate in and support Arts Weekend Sarasota, or you simply require more information, or you still don't know where the Arts Night party is being held, call the Arts Council at (941) 365-5118 ext. 300, or go to www.sarasotaarts.org.
SCENE Magazine, November 2007
4th Sarasota Season of Sculpture
By Cliff Roles
How do you write an article about visual art without showing pictures of it? Well, I suppose it’s like a restaurant critic enticing people to try a tasty pasta dish or cut into a succulent steak; you tap into their imagination and get their juices flowing. By the time you read this, you’ll be able to walk Sarasota’s bayfront and admire this season’s 26 large sculptures, which were officially unveiled on November 11.
Brenda Terris and Jill Kaplan
Even as I write, Executive Director Brenda Terris and Artistic Director Jill Kaplan are doing a good job of keeping their prize beauties under wraps, to make sure our curiosity is heightened and, like their sculptors, put the finishing touches to their baby, the “Fourth Exhibition of Monumental Works of Art”.
Since last season’s “Unconditional Surrender” (you know the one—the sailor kissing the girl—but of course you know...) became a popular attraction for residents and tourists, everyone’s wondering what sculptor Seward Johnson will do next. You loved it, you hated it ... if nothing else, it heightened awareness and turned rival marketing managers green with envy that it wasn’t their idea. But that’s enough about that—let’s irect our attention to the next seven months worth of art work and accompanying activities that our two ladies and their creative team have prepared for Sarasota, in order to fortify the county’s reputation of being the arts capital of Florida.
Smooth talker that I am (hmm!), I did manage to prise photos of two new entries out of Brenda and Jill’s hands: “Star Pointer,” a 70-foot tall monumental work of art by sculptor John Henry, and “Dances,” a grouping of twelve life-size cars by sculptor Dustin Schuler. Further, more than half this season’s artists will be making their debut appearances, and several favorites will be returning, including Christine Desiree, Bruce White, Dennis Kowal and Leonardo Nierman.
“A lot of people are not aware that all the sculptures are for sale,” stresses Jill Kaplan. “Now that Brenda’s on board, I’m able to focus a lot of my attention to getting that message out.”
Terris’ responsibilities are primarily fundraising, grant-writing, hosting and planning events and being “an ambassador” for the Sarasota Season of Sculpture.
She gushes, “This year we’re getting tremendous support—we’ve teamed up with the Sarasota Herald Tribune and there’ll be a corporate sponsorship program for example, not to mention individuals like Ulla Searing, Elaine Keating, Michael Saunders and Stanley and Janet Kane, who have again stepped up to the plate and helped to make the Sarasota Season of Sculpture one of the country’s most important sculpture exhibitions. It’s the icon of what the arts in this community are all about—it can really promote tourism in the region.”
Jill Kaplan created the Season of Sculpture in 1998 together with cofounder Bruce White. “All along, Bruce’s and my vision was a show that happened to take place in Sarasota, but would certainly have an impact on the entire Tampa Bay area, as well as nationally and internationally. Because we now live in such a global world, the channel of information is so immediate and far-reaching that this show obviously has incredible unlimited potential. Our mission is to highlight Sarasota as a wonderful art destination and to build on its current reputation. But we also want to bring about dialogue on public art.”
Brenda Terris is immediately on hand with statistics: “40,000 cars pass by the site every day; that’s more than 2 million cars over the seven months of the exhibition. This season we expect around 150,000 people to view the exhibits on foot. So we’re all the more excited that the Roberta Leventhal Sudakoff Foundation has given us a $67,000 grant to install kiosks along the bayfront, so when you’re taking a walk to look at the sculptures, you’ll be able to get a free map by tapping in the answers to a few simple questions. The kiosk is not only able to provide important information about a specific sculpture, but even more importantly it allows credit card donations directly at the site.”
Jill Kaplan called upon an illustrious selection committee for this season’s exhibits.
“We were extremely fortunate to obtain the services of E. John Bullard, Director of the New Orleans Museum of Art; Valerie Fletcher, Chief Curator of Modern Sculpture and Painting, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden; Smithsonian Institution’s Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Washington, D.C.; Jeffrey Grove, Wieland Family Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, High Museum of Art, Atlanta, GA; and Charles Kuykendall, Past Director and President, Gulf Coast Chapter of the A.I.A. We all corresponded via the Internet and phone and came up with these pieces.”
Terris is currently busy coordinating and organizing events around the exhibition. “The Sarasota County Arts Council has generously provided us with a grant focused on marketing during the "shoulder season", and the Gulf Coast Community Foundation has given us a grant to fund transportation from South County during the International Sculpture Symposium on March 7, 8 and 9. We’ve also got a fantastic young professionals event being hosted by a “who’s who” of YP’s in the community on February 29, 2008—Leap Day.”
Terris and Kaplan are particularly proud of their collaboration with the four Boys and Girls Clubs in the area.
“Twice a year, at Christmas and at Spring break, they have the kids for a whole week. Every child will have a curriculum during that period where he or she gets to go down to the bayfront and participate. There’ll be some advance training with their teachers, where they will be able to access Internet programming showing photos of the exhibits beforehand. This season will see a great deal more interaction within the community than in the past.”
Last word from Jill Kaplan: “Did I mention that all the sculptures are for sale?”
If you’d like to learn more about the Sarasota Season of Sculpture, log on to www.seasonofsculpture.com. s
Listen to Cliff Roles on Talk of the Sun Coast every weekday live from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. on 96.5 FM WSLR.
Contact Cliff Roles: 941-685-9017, www.cliffroles.com
Virginia Toulmin - A Symphony of Generosity
By Cliff Roles
Virginia Toulmin is one of Sarasota’s most generous philanthropists. She is a patron, among others, of the Sarasota Opera, the Asolo Repertory Theatre, the Artist Series and the Sarasota Ballet, but her first love is the Florida West Coast Symphony, where she chairs the Board with the aim of soon being able to give the orchestra a new home in the cultural district.
Virginia Toulmin has a knockout smile that is mischievous and disarming. She suavely enters my radio studio and holds court, eloquently and loquaciously. You cannot but hang on her every word.
She was born Virginia Edna Bernthal in St. Louis, Missouri. "I had two wonderful parents who were devoted to each other and to my brother and myself. We grew up very normally. I attended elementary school and high school in St. Louis (I was 9th in a class of 420), then Washington University. One summer I took a job in Fort Sill, Oklahoma, as a nurse’s aid. That was my first introduction to nursing and I liked it. So I enrolled in a 5-year program that involved 2 years on the college campus and three years nurses’ training. I graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in nursing."
Her first job after nurses’ training was as a public-health nurse visiting newborn babies and teaching parenting skills to young mothers. It was during this time that her life took an abrupt change: she applied to become a stewardess nurse on the Baltimore-Ohio railroad. Here she met her future husband, Colonel Harry Aubrey Toulmin, a patent lawyer who had an office in Dayton, Ohio and one in Washington DC. He rode the railroad every week, and as he was a "VIP," Virginia was instructed to take good care of him. They became good friends, and he finally invited her to have lunch with him. They started seeing each other regularly and eventually married. Afterwards he confessed to Virginia that he had timed his trips to Washington to catch her runs. He told her that it had taken a lot of courage for him to ask her on a date as he was so taken with her striking appearance.
Harry’s father was an attorney in Dayton, Ohio who had received the patent for the Wright Brothers’ airplane. He defended that patent in 30-some lawsuits and won every one of them, giving the Wright Brothers credit for the invention against many others who claimed they "had invented flight". Harry and his father worked together in the law firm of Toulmin & Toulmin, but tragically Harry died of cardiovascular disease only 7 years into their marriage.
Shortly after Harry’s death, Virginia concentrated on her volunteer work. She became President of the Board of Directors of the 1700-member strong Dayton Woman’s Club and was on the Board of the Planned Parenthood Association. During their marriage, Harry, a very clever businessman, had also placed Virginia on the Board of the Central Pharmaceutical Company, a small firm in Seymour, Indiana that he had saved from bankruptcy.
"He said to me, ‘This will be invaluable to you someday—you’re a nurse, you speak the language of the pharmaceuticals industry.’ My, those were prophetic words. I learned a lot about the company and got to know all the people there. Harry would sit on our porch in the evenings mentoring me, so when he died there were no financial secrets — I knew everything."
Virginia would become President of the Board of Directors and through the years the company grew by leaps and bounds. Her husband had acquired most of the stock in this company for $20-30 per share. When Virginia sold the company in 1995, she received $13,675 per share. "This is the basis of my philanthropy here in Sarasota. That company was the goose that laid the golden egg."
Virginia met Bob, the second "love of her life," in Dayton seven years after Harry’s death. They were about to be married when he died of a cerebral aneurism two weeks before the wedding. Virginia felt the need to get away. She became a snowbird for almost twenty years traveling between Dayton and Florida. One weekend, after a particularly stressful pharmaceuticals meeting in Boca Raton, Virginia decided to visit Florida’s west coast and landed in Sarasota. She fell in love with it and eventually moved here for good.
Her patronage of the Sarasota arts is born of natural enthusiasm. She remembers fondly how her love for the arts developed.
"I studied piano when I was young, and when I was in High School I was also an usherette at the St. Louis Symphony and heard all the programs twice every week. That enhanced my love of symphony music."
Her generosity is not just restricted to arts organizations. Virginia was the recipient of this year’s NARSAD Luminary Award. "After graduating from nursing school, I spent some time as a student nurse working with psychiatric patients. I so admire what Lee Peterson and her husband Bob have done—NARSAD is a national organization, but they brought t here and it is growing extremely fast. I really wanted to help support this."
Virginia Toulmin has helped our community flourish and become a better place; and not just because of her pecuniary gifts. An astute businesswoman with a heart of gold—she is one lady I’d always want on my team. Thank you, Virginia!
Listen to Cliff Roles on Talk of the Sun Coast every weekday live from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. on 96.5 FM WSLR
After last January’s executive upheaval at Sarasota’s oldest community theatre, the Board of the Players Theatre recently held extensive auditions to find its new Artistic Director. The Chorus Line soon dwindled, and one clear leading man emerged: Jeffery Kin. So: house lights to half, overture, curtain up . Jeffery Jerome Kin was born on July 5, 1964 in Upper Sandusky, Ohio, to parents Bob and Margaret Ann. His first stage experience was at the town’s Star Theatre—he was 13 years old and played Knight #2 in the musical Once Upon A Mattress. “My mother took me to the audition,” he recalls, “and said that the minute I walked on to the stage, she knew that I belonged in theatre. I was raised on a 500-acre farm. I was the kid driving tractor out in the field singing show tunes. Everyone just accepted my being a little different. My senior class even voted me “Most Theatrical,” and there wasn’t even a category for it!”
His mother wanted him to be an accountant, but Jeffery wanted to be an archaeologist: “I actually went through all the college prep courses like Latin and the sciences, because I’m a huge ancient history buff. But I have no patience, and I don’t think archaeology and a lack of patience mix well.”
So the young man who never had a dance or voice lesson in his life found himself with a scholarship to the Fine Arts Department at Otterbein College, Westerville, Ohio. One of the benefits of that program was contact with casting directors in New York where students would spend part of their senior year. Jeffery interned at Hughes-Moss Casting and after graduation was hired as a casting associate. He found it to be a double-edged sword.
“I learned a great deal—but I really let New York get to me. I became very jaded, arrogant, and everything I saw I hated. I totally bought into the negativity that was rife there in the late Eighties. I was in a very bad place personally, and I think that at that point in my life, New York City was the loneliest place in the world.” He was nonetheless lucky enough to work with extremely talented people like Tommy Tune, Bill Cosby and took master classes with Patrick Tucker and the Shakespeare Festival. All great opportunities, but they didn’t improve his mood.
Thankfully, a vacation in Key West was the turning point. He absolutely fell in love with Florida.
“I went back to New York and within months I had packed up all my stuff, borrowed my dad’s pickup truck and left. I’d gotten a call from my good friend Catherine Randazzo asking me to come and audition with her for the Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at Theaterworks in Sarasota. I stayed with her and her mother in St. Pete and I’ve been in Sarasota ever since.”
Fifteen years later, there’s no doubt in Jeff’s mind that he is meant to be in Sarasota and influencing the mindset of community actors at the Players.
“I’ve always felt that theatre is vital, that it is important. For me, theatre can be a life-altering positive experience and should be taken seriously. There’s no reason why everyone at the Players shouldn’t consider themselves to be professionals. I feel that being a professional has nothing to do with the money you make—it’s in your attitude. It’s the idea that you are part of a family, a team, and that you are all working together to accomplish something important. It’s all in how you see yourself in the world, and on the stage.”
Jeffery has firmly established himself as part of 21st-century Sarasota theatre life like virtually no other. He is an actor, director and award-winning playwright. He teaches acting at The Players, as well as being a playwriting instructor for The Asolo’s Adult Education Program. He’s on the Board of Theatre Odyssey, a creative supporter of The Backlot and for four years has coordinated the play readings for “The Play’s The Thing.”
About two years ago he founded the Eclectic Theatre Company, which he lovingly nurtures together with his partners Annette Breazeale, Bob Trisolini, Pam Wiley and yours truly. When his mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, he created Got A Minute?, the 60-second Play Festival, which raised more than $11,000 for the Susan G. Komen Foundation in 2006 and twice that amount this past summer for the American Cancer Society.
And now he has taken over the artistic helm of the 78-year old Players of Sarasota. He is working closely with Michelle Pingel, his Director of Operations, on this season’s productions, is writing and conceiving shows and will even direct the operetta Candide in February 2008.
“The great thing is that no matter how overwhelmed I feel, I absolutely love being here. There’s so much going on and people who didn’t feel they had a place to come before or didn’t feel appreciated are suddenly approaching me. I’m very good at wrapping my arms around people, finding out what they like to do, and giving them wonderful challenges at the same time. I feel I need to take my 30 years of stage experience and focus it in a way that I can create a really positive theatrical vortex at the Players Theatre. I am going to be very hands-on in making sure that everyone gets what they need, that people feel respected and that we are putting on the best shows possible. That is my job and my duty, and I’m driven to do it. I’m getting the motion going in the right direction.”
If you’d like to welcome Jeffery Kin to the Players, you can email him at: email@example.com.
To view the forthcoming season, go to www.theplayers.org.
Soft-spoken, gentile, elegantly dressed, unblemished make-up — when Audrey Coleman enters the room, her presence demands your attention. When you read her resumé of professional achievements, you know why: an educator for 34 years in Boston public schools, Audrey is now putting her charisma to good use heading the local chapter of The Society, Incorporated, a not-for-profit organization committed to promoting and exposing young fine-arts and performing arts students, with a special emphasis on African-American youth. The 22 exclusively female members also enhance and bond themselves as “sisters.”
Audrey Coleman was born in the small, blue-collar, steel-mill town of Duquesne, PA. “There were two
of us, an older sister and myself,” she recalls. “We had wonderful parents: my father was a steel worker and my mother a homemaker. My parents taught me that you didn’t ask for anything — you worked hard for everything. My mother decided early on that one daughter was going to be a nurse, and the other was going to be a musician—which is what I ended up becoming. We were the only African-American family in the neighborhood, but it didn’t matter what color you were; we lived among Poles, Italians, Irish, you name it. I grew up in a multicultural community where I learned how to dance the polka, make pigs in a blanket and eat sauerkraut.”
When Audrey was four, her parents built a home in Christy Park, McKeesport, PA. It was here that she went to elementary school, then junior high, and eventually graduated from high school. She dreamed of being an international organist: she played organ for the choirs in the local church, or at local weddings and funerals, took private lessons, and at 15 years of age she started giving organ recitals around the Pittsburgh area.
“I was fairly popular, especially with the boys, but that was at a time where you had good, clean fun. We didn’t do anything that would get us into trouble. I came from a family with values, and our religion — the Baptist faith — played an important role. I was able to save a certain amount of money by playing the organ at functions, or by working as a coat-check girl in a restaurant, so that helped me a lot.”
When it was time for her to go to college, Audrey and her parents decided on the Dana School of Music at Youngstown State University, Ohio.
“The university at that time was small; it only had about 6,000 students. There weren’t many people of color on the campus, but I’ve always felt comfortable being in the minority. I would always think of my parents’ maxim: You’re just as good or better, but you’re a female and a woman of color, so you have to work twice as hard. Those words gave me confidence to do anything I wanted.”
Audrey’s dreams of becoming a star organist were put on hold in her junior year, when her parents told her that the money was running out and she needed to look for a job to support herself after graduating. Her astute college advisor steered her towards education courses, which turned out to be the best advice.
“I became certified in education in Ohio, and went into a classroom. I never went back to music. There are people who have known me for forty years and don’t know that I majored in organ.”
It was love at first sight for Audrey when she met her husband Bill at Youngstown University. They married
in the Tabernacle Baptist Church in Youngstown, Ohio and have now been together for over fifty-one years. They have one son, Bill Jr., who is married and lives in Dallas, Texas. When her husband’s job took them to Boston, Audrey went into the education field there. They loved Boston, but when she lived through the infamous “Bussing” period in the mid-Seventies, she saw the ugly side of the city. Children of different races were transported across huge distances to force them to go to schools attended predominantly by other races. The bussing system caused a great many racial clashes and violence.
“Because of my background, I was able to deal with a lot of things that were very challenging. I was in administration at the time, setting policy for things that would help the integration run smoothly. But I had to be more cognizant of who I was when I would go out and visit schools in some areas that were not safe, so I would take one of my male associates with me as an escort.”
Tired of the cold weather in Boston, the Colemans moved to Sarasota 6 years ago. It was here that Audrey was able to re-kindle her passion for the arts. She was invited to join several boards, including that of the Florida Westcoast Symphony and the Asolo Repertory Theatre, and when the idea came up to form a chapter of The Society, she jumped at the chance.
In order to find students eligible for The Society’s sponsorship, chapter members work through the Fine Arts Directors of the Sarasota and Manatee school districts, who give them the names of young people that have exhibited fine arts in many directions, e.g. singing, piano, visual arts, etc. The chapter entertains a close relationship with the Ringling School (now College) of Art and Design, for example, where young people are given the opportunity to experience people like themselves that they can someday emulate. The Society then helps them monetarily to pursue their careers. It draws from various sources: the Rising Stars recitals set the venue for the chosen students to audition and then perform publicly. Students are also “discovered” at the West Coast Academy, the Out-of-Door Academy, as well as Booker Middle and High Schools.
Audrey is currently on the newly formed Diversity Committee at the Asolo Theatre, whose mission is to bring more people of color to the Asolo to perform. To this end Audrey was able to get the Florida Suncoast Chapter of The Society together with the Asolo for a “joint venture” that allowed students from the West Coast Academy and Booker High School to attend a performance of Amadeus and a master-series seminar given by pianist Lillette Jenkins-Wisner.
“We feel very blessed to be here,” sums up Audrey Coleman. “We live in paradise and are enjoying the fruits of our labor. I feel that it’s important to give back, try to make a difference in every way I can, and share our experiences with the young people of the community.
I would like my legacy to be that more and more young “unsung heroes” receive the opportunity to show that they are talented. Recently one young lady that we sponsored sent us a letter that was read at our meeting; she wrote: “You ladies are angels of the arts. At that point I had to shed a few tears.”
Do you know what a Demi-Pointe is? Or a Fouetté, Pas de Chat, even a Rond de Jambe? Well, if you don’t, you’re just like me. Because before I came to Sarasota and chatted with our ballet royals, retiring maestro Robert deWarren and former prima ballerina Jean Weidner, ballet had never interested me. Now it does, and Sarasota Ballet’s new Artistic Director Iain Webb will make sure that my interest doesn’t wane and that this art form will become even more hands-on for the man in the street.
Are we lucky or what? Sarasota boasts the best theatre in the state, its very own symphony, its very own circus, its very own opera . . . and its very own ballet company.
By the time Iain Webb receives the applause from the stage of the Van Wezel at his official season debut on November 30 of this year, the Yorkshireman will have circled the world twice since the announcement in January that he will be taking over the artistic helm of the Sarasota Ballet of Florida. He’s on a mission, you see. To tell everyone about his new job, tap the ballet world’s resources for possible future imports, and occasionally pop into London to spend time with Maggie, the love of his life, and their 19-year old son Jason.
We meet at the Hyatt Boathouse for a “natter” over a crab cake between Board meetings and photo shoots. He’s only in town for a few days, and Executive Director Ann Logan has got him on a tight schedule. Hectic becomes him, though: he’s 48 but looks ten years younger, and always has a cheeky grin on his face.
Iain Webb was born on March 30, 1959 in Scarborough, a seaside town on England’s northeast coast. While mum Oris tended the family— Iain, his brother Kevin and sister Lorraine —father Eric was a fireman in the local fire brigade. His mother ran a keep-fit class for the locals, who one day asked her if she would start a ballet school for their kids. During a school show shortly thereafter, the one sole boy student refused to go on alone, so Oris promised to increase Iain’s pocket money if he would also take part. Once there, he started mimicking the girls, throwing his legs up in the air, only to be “discovered” as a natural talent by one of the teachers.
Despite his father’s total lack of enthusiasm for what he then considered to be an effeminate pastime, 14 year-old Iain began to take lessons with that teacher every Saturday. Shades of Billy Elliot?
“When I watch that movie I get really choked,” laughs Iain. “There are so many similarities.”
It was at a ballet seminar in North Yorkshire that he got the encouragement he needed. The head of the seminar gave him regular lessons for free, as Iain’s family couldn’t afford tuition fees, and he was eventually awarded a scholarship. Iain’s father had meanwhile recognized his son’s potential, though, and took the major life-step of relocating the entire family to the city of York, about an hour’s drive from Scarborough, in order that Iain could take two ballet lessons a week there. Iain attended the then rough and tough Joseph Roundtree School, which was mostly composed of farmers’ children and the children of the soldiers at the nearby armybase. Revealing his love of ballet was out of the question. So that they wouldn’t find out, Iain would wrap up his ballet kit in a parcel once a week on his way to ballet lessons and address it as if he was sending his mother a parcel! He even told the school’s Careers Officer that on leaving school he intended to return to Scarborough to repair vacuum cleaners and washing machines!
When he was 16, the parents of one of his ballet classmates took the boys down to London for an audition at the Royal Ballet School. While his friend was accepted to the school, Iain was turned down due to lack of experience with the remark, “The boy has no talent whatsoever.” Iain then went round to try out for the more modern Rambert School of Ballet, which was located in nearby Notting Hill Gate. Students there were older, but more on Iain’s level. Completing this audition with ease, he gained a place at the school and moved to London.
In the early Seventies the Stuttgart Ballet Company came over to England to do some guest appearances. Iain found the company to be one of the most amazing he had ever seen, and asked the leading dancer, Richard Cragun, how he could get into the company. “Just turn up,” was his reply.
Iain took him at his word; he saved enough money to get the train to Stuttgart, went to the theatre and waited for Cragun to arrive. Impressed by his assertiveness, Cragun helped Iain gain a scholarship. But still determined to make an impression with the Royal Ballet School, Iain returned to London with this German scholarship under his arm. This time he was not only accepted, but was also underwritten by the British government for living fees and tuition. He ended up spending 18 years with The Royal Ballet Organization.
Happy to be a member of the “corps de ballet,” the self-critical 20 year-old Iain never took much notice of the “hierarchy” within the company, until the day he saw and fell in love with the principal ballerina, “the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen.” He would take every opportunity to watch her perform, and even bribe his fellow dancers to go out to dinner with her so he could join them and be at the same table. They became really good friends; eventually his feelings were reciprocated, and that’s how Margaret Barbieri became Iain’s wife. They’ll be celebrating their silver wedding anniversary in July of this year. Maggie is currently heading the classical program at the London Studio Centre in the UK.
Iain’s big break came when Sir Frederick Ashton put his name down as principal dancer for the extremely difficult leading role in “Oberon.” Since then he has performed every leading part. The company continued to tour the world (in 1986 they even performed in Sarasota, where Maggie performed “Aurora” at the Van Wezel), but in 1997 Iain made the transition into management as rehearsal director for Matthew Bourne’s Adventures in Motion Pictures, and before coming to Sarasota he was Assistant Director at K-Ballet Company in Japan, among other things.
Iain naturally has big plans for the Sarasota Ballet when it comes to choosing his first season.
“Looking at the dancers we have here, there’s some great talent. I’m going to increase the company in size so as to be able to perform bigger productions, and audiences here will be seeing productions on a level tantamount to those in New York or San Francisco. Sure, I may bring in a couple of friends as guest performers, but my main object is to develop really good local dancers. I’ll be directing some of the productions, coaching the dancers, and will oversee all aspects of every performance. It will be difficult from a financial point of view to use live music every time, but I would like to make the November opening at the Van Wezel a completely live performance. Over the next few years I’d like to introduce pieces where maybe just a piano is onstage, or a quartet, in order to financially ensure live music. I’m looking at various venues, too; I’m going to be bringing some wonderful productions to Sarasota, so I will then want to tour with them, take the company out around Florida. I hope that by choosing high-end productions, it will also introduce us to some of the big dance festivals throughout America and build a profile for us. I’m going to bring ballets to Sarasota that will appeal to a wide variety of audiences. And I want to urge Sarasotans to come and see the different things I’m going to do and get to know our dancers.”
If you want to welcome Iain Webb to Sarasota, you can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org; and you can find the full 2007/2008 schedule of the Sarasota Ballet at www.sarasotaballet.org.
So, please excuse me: I’m now going to “pas de deux” off for a coffee . . .
One of the best things about living in Sarasota is that you’re lucky enough to enjoy your life in a place where millions of people pay lots of money to spend a mere couple of weeks or months a year. One person who exudes that kind of contentment is skin-care specialist Sandra Day, a woman who loves her Sarasota
life, her work—and her Warren.
“I’m a card-carrying grandmother,” the charismatic blonde tells me when I go to her office on Hyde Park for our chat. As she shows me the photographs of the family that fills her life with happiness and pride, I learn the story of the soft-spoken, 5’9”-tall businesswoman.
Sandra was born on February 18, 1948 in the tiny community of Lambert in the Mississippi Delta, the only child of her father, James Melton, who died at a very young age, and her lovely mother, Catherine Ellison Pape, who now lives here in Sarasota.
“I was actually quite a nerd growing up”, she remembers. “I wore glasses, had a gap between my two front teeth, and being an only child I was very studious. I loved books and learning, so I was a straight-A student, but I was also fairly shy, tall and gangly!”
She’s been happily married to husband Warren Day for almost 30 years. They met shortly after Sandra moved to Sarasota in 1975 following the divorce from her first husband; her two daughters from that marriage were very young when Sandra and Warren married, so when it came to deciding whether to start their own family, he told her, “Sandy, I really have no desire to propagate myself. I have the joy of being a father to Amanda and Loren, and I’d rather have more of you when they’re grown.” Their only child is a furry Pembroke Welsh Corgi named Bruno.
It was a doctor-friend, Dr. Michael Bryant, who offered her the chance to move here from Jackson, Mississippi and become his office manager.
“It gave me the opportunity to re-establish my own identity in a beautiful new community,” she recalls. “My friends and family thought I was a little erratic, moving to a place where I only knew the physician who had hired me and his wife, but my gut instinct told me it was the right thing to do.”
Sarasota was a bit different in 1975 than it is today, Sandra remembers. “I met Warren three months after moving here, and I accused him of falling in love with me because we were the only two people in Sarasota under 30!”
The two met when Sandra was purchasing office equipment for the doctor’s practice. Warren worked for a business systems company and came by to advise her. “He walked in, we connected, and since that first Friday night date” she smiles, “we’ve been together practically ever since.”
Sandra has two daughters: the elder is Amanda, a pharmaceutical representative who lives in Connecticut and has two children, Alexander (10) and Shannon (8). Her other daughter Loren lives in California with her four children Carys (7 months), Isabella (4), Ryan (6) and Austin (8).
So what happened to the “nerdiness”?
“I was the administrator for Sarasota Plastic Surgery, which Dr. Michael Bryant started, and was able to draw my positive energy from the two strong relationships in my life: my husband Warren and Dr. Bryant. I’ve always been a “girly-girl”: I got my teeth and eyes fixed, and gained confidence in myself and my abilities. Skin care and cosmetics have always interested me—I probably spent my first allowance on a jar of Noxema and lipstick!”
“In 1991, when Dr. Bryant and his wife were recuperating from a serious car accident, I focused on overcoming my shyness toward public speaking by accepting an invitation to give a 45-minute presentation in Los Angeles. While looking at a couple of companies in the exhibit hall touting corrective skin-care products, a light-bulb inside my head went on—to introduce aesthetic skin care to Sarasota. I returned home, put together a business plan and approached Dr. Bryant with the idea. Before NeoDerm, women and men either went to dermatologists or had salon-type facials. I saw a niche that would bridge that gap. I went to night school and had soon collected the 260 hours required in Florida to become a facial specialist. We opened “NeoDerm —the
ultimate skin care center” in 1992.”
Since then, Sandra has been active in the national Society of Plastic Surgical Skin Care Specialists and will soon assume the position of Vice President this April in New York City. Sandra and Warren have a multitude of shared interests. They love going to flea markets and antique shops, decorating their house, and cooking gourmet meals.
“Warren has almost as many cookbooks as I do, and he creates the best outdoor grilled food I’ve ever tasted.” Sandra also makes jewelry, a lifestyle hobby that originated a few years ago as a stress-reliever when Warren’s father fell seriously ill:
“This past Christmas I made quartz and silver necklaces and bracelets for all my daughters and granddaughters.”
Not surprisingly, Sandra loves to give back to the community she adores so much. Whether it’s donating gift certificates to non-profit fundraisers, public speaking at women’s luncheons or modeling on the runway for Designing Women Boutique, Sandra never tires of showing how happy she is to be alive, how grateful she is to be surrounded by her loving family and friends, and how much she cares about Sarasota.
Nothing “nerdish” about that, is there?
Listen to Cliff Roles on Talk of the Sun Coast every weekday live from 2 to 3 p.m. on 1220 AM WIBQ.
Contact Cliff Roles: Tel.: (941) 685-9017 Email: RoCli17@aol.com Website: www.cliffroles.com
The heart of the Contemporaries left to right:
Rodger deRose, Chris Pfahler, Matt Orr
By Cliff Roles
Coming soon to a purple building near you: a new group of players aims to make an impression on how Sarasota’s Gen-X spends its time.
That’s what I like about Sarasota — it’s a melting pot of the most diverse talents that find each other to put interesting projects into practice. Three such protagonists are Van Wezel Foundation President & CEO Rodger DeRose (55), fearless fundraising femme fatale Chris Pfahler (36) and “Mr. Downtown” Matt Orr (30). They form the nucleus of the Van Wezel Contemporaries, a group committed, among other things, to encouraging young professionals to become patrons of and leaders in the performing arts and the community.
Why is there a need for the Van Wezel Contemporaries in Sarasota—why was the group brought into existence in the first place?
Chris: In November 2005, the then Van Wezel Director of Development called a meeting of about 30 prominent young Sarasotans, including Nikki Taylor, Emily Walsh-Parry, Amie Swan, Tara Feather, Matt and myself, to throw out the idea of a young professionals group being associated with the Van Wezel. It was a lively meeting that produced lots of ideas, and a while later Dottie Baer-Garner, the Foundation Board Co-Chair, also expressed the Board’s interest in pursuing the project and asked that I bring everyone together again. That’s how the VWC was born. Our vision is a fun venue where young professionals can go for entertainment and networking that isn’t terribly expensive. We also want to have an input into the type of performers that are brought to the Van Wezel. If you want the younger generation to frequent the hall, you have to bring acts that appeal to that age group.
What were your expectations going into the start-up committee, and what do you expect it to bring?
Matt: It made me extremely proud that the Foundation recognized that there is a need, so my expectations were really high. After all, it is one of the most prominent halls in Southwest Florida. On a national level, every community is in competition for young, creative talent. We have the potential to be the strongest in Florida. I think that the Arts scene has hit a real renaissance over the past year: with the Asolo changing the weight of its marketing, Sarasota Ballet recognizing that the young talent needs to help select the new Artistic Director, Venice Little Theatre and Manatee Players doing “black box” and experimental theatre, FST completely doing experimental theatre now with the Gompertz Theatre’s Stage III . . . I think all that is creating a nice buzz and makes for good imaging in marketing.
What are some of the problems that the VWC has to overcome in order to achieve their mission? How has Sarasota existed without it?
Chris: Arts communities all over the country are jumping on the bandwagon. Carnegie Hall has a young professionals group associated with it, for example, and the Kravis Centre in West Palm has its “Young Friends.” All of these arts institutions are doing this kind of thing; they see the benefit of engaging the young professionals and bringing them “into the fold” of their organization. Some of it is of course to get them “in the door,” but they also see that it is important to engage young people now in the hope that down the line they will become donors: it’s a multi-layered process.
How does the VWC intend to market itself in such a way that notice will be taken by Generation X?
Rodger: The Van Wezel Contemporaries is a dynamic group of young professional patrons committed to supporting the VW as the preeminent arts hall in our region. In return for their support, members of the Contemporaries are guaranteed exclusive access to some of the Van Wezel’s special benefits and the performing arts scene of Sarasota. The Founding Committee is made up of very astute marketers with a good idea of the needs of Generation X and will bring ideas to the group for evaluation and inclusion in the offerings. Also, this group will have input into the future programming of the hall with the intention of bringing artists that appeal to a range of patrons.
Is the Van Wezel flexible enough to be able to meet VWC expectations in successfully organizing these marketing activities?
Rodger: It’s a new market demographic for the Van Wezel Hall, but there is no better time to start than now with this group emerging in importance in the 4-county area that the VW serves. It’s our hope that as their needs grow, we can find a way to incorporate their suggestions and ideas into the hall plans, since the VW Contemporaries will be the next generation of visionaries for the community, whether it’s in the arts, healthcare, education, the environment or the infrastructure of services that our city will require for its future success.
If you’d like to join the Van Wezel Contemporaries or require additional information, contact the Van Wezel Foundation (941) 366-5578 or email email@example.com.
Listen to Cliff Roles on Talk of the Sun Coast every weekday live from 2 to 3 p.m. on 1220 AM WIBQ.
Contact Cliff Roles: Tel.: (941) 685-9017 Email: RoCli17@aol.com Website: www.cliffroles.com
SCENE Magazine, January 2007
“I’m an Arts Groupie”... A Profile of Martine Meredith Collier
By Cliff Roles
Allow me to introduce you to Martine Meredith Collier, the new Executive Director of the Sarasota County Arts Council. Just a couple of months into her new job, she has set up shop in the office on N. Tamiami recently vacated by Patricia Caswell, her predecessor of 17 years, to quickly familiarize herself with Florida’s arts capital.
She is petite and pretty, wears her dark-blonde hair long, and when she smiles her gray saucer eyes narrow in obvious pleasure. To look at her, you wouldn’t believe that she is the mother of three grown-up sons. And when she speaks, her soft Nashville drawl beckons you to listen. Maybe that’s the secret of her success.
What were your first encounters with the arts?
“I started doing theater from about the age of seven at the Nashville Children’s Theatre, the Theatre Nashville and Circle Theatre. My father was an attorney, “very old Southern” and not very sure about me acting, but my mother was very supportive and was my biggest fan. I took dance, acting and singing lessons, and performed a lot in community theatre and TV commercials.”
What kind of a student were you?
“I was too busy doing theatre to be as good a student as I should have been. At that time I wanted to become a professional actor, but I changed my mind along the way. Doing theatre taught me a lot of what I now utilize in arts administration about organization and teamwork; the skills that they teach you are lifelong skills, whether you become a practicing artist or not.”
Before coming to Sarasota, Martine was the Community Arts Development Manager at the Georgia Council for the Arts in Atlanta. She applied for the Executive Director position in Sarasota as one of 150 applicants.
Why did the Arts Council choose you for the job?
“Well, I think it was due to the fact that I talk so much about the arts serving the community and making connections between the arts and the non-arts entities. But I don’t know for sure—you’d have to ask the search committee.”
So I did.
Larry Thompson, President of the Sarasota County Arts Council: “Martine is a real leader, a visionary, a community-minded individual, and a listener who will help take the Sarasota Arts Council to the next level of its development.”
Nancy Roucher, Arts Education chair and board member: “Martine relates so well to people and is so enthusiastic about coming to Sarasota. We are delighted and fortunate to have her!”
How do you feel about taking over a position from someone who has tended it so well for so long?
“It’s a real gift. And in addition to following Patricia Caswell, who is so highly respected, Nancy Roucher has been the interim director and knows everybody there is to know and everything about the community—a kind of organizational memory—so I am doubly blessed. It has been a very smooth transition—but I have very big shoes to fill, and I am aware of that.”
How would you describe your new job?
“It’s very difficult to describe what an Arts Council does. I always say that an Arts Council is to the arts what a Chamber of Commerce is to business. It thinks and plans further out for the community than an individual organization. It looks at changing demographics, and tries to make a climate for the arts in the community. My personal feel about community arts is that its goal should be to build a good community through the arts, and not just to build an arts community.”
What are your personal arts preferences?
“My background is in performing arts, so I’ve come a little bit late to the visual arts. But I love them and have become more oriented towards them, having worked at the Georgia Council for the Arts. With the Ringling Museum of Art and the Ringling School of Art and Design, not to mention all the wonderful galleries, I can’t imagine a better place to continue my visual arts education than Sarasota.”
Since arriving in Sarasota, Martine has been out and about discovering the delights of our arts community. Among other things, she’s been to an Artist Series event, heard the Key Chorale, seen Amadeus at the Asolo, visited the Backlot for the Got A Minute? Play Festival, and viewed a new art gallery.
“I’m an arts groupie. But having now looked behind the scenes, I think I’m a way better arts administrator than I was an actress. You’ve got to go with your skills.”
As soon as they have sold their house in Georgia, Martine’s husband David will also move down here with her. They met in 2002 when Martine was playing Mrs. Prentice in the Joe Orton play What the Butler Saw. Martine’s three sons, Blake, Drew and Alex, have long since left the nest. But the house will probably get pretty full on holidays: David also has three children. So it looks like the Collier household will soon be brimming over with community spirit of its own!
To send Martine a welcome greeting, you can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org and you can learn more about the Sarasota Arts Council by visiting their website at www.sarasotaarts.org.
Listen to Cliff Roles on Talk of the Sun Coast every weekday live from 2 to 3 p.m. on 1220 AM WIBQ.
Contact Cliff Roles: Tel.: (941) 685-9017 Email: RoCli17@aol.com Website: www.cliffroles.com
This fall, Sarasota is mourning the sudden death of one of its finest. Stephanie Woods served SPARCC, Sarasota’s Safe Place and Rape Crisis Center, for over 20 years. She was hired as its Assistant Director in 1985 and became Executive Director in 2000. She passed away on October 3 at the age of 62 after a brief illness. Last December I had the pleasure of interviewing Stephanie in the studio about her life and career. With the following extracts from our conversation, still timeless in their content today as ever, I would like to offer the readers of Scene Magazine my tribute to one classy lady. Thank you, Stephanie.
How do you deal with such dark subjects every day of your life and still remain such an upbeat person?
I think of it as a profession. My pleasure, my satisfaction, comes from doing a good job, not from the outcome that a person selects for their life. If someone comes in for help, we do the best we can. We offer them wonderful services - the services in Sarasota are as good as they get. Whether the woman takes advantage of what we have to offer, that’s her decision, not mine. If she does, I’m glad for her, and if she doesn’t, I’m sorry for her. But my satisfaction comes from offering her the best that I can. So I feel good every day if I’ve done a good job.
Do you take your work home with you?
Never. This field needs good people; if we took it home every night we’d burn out in a year, and we wouldn’t have anybody working in the kind of place where I work. So it’s imperative that we learn to separate our work from our emotional inner world.
Did you see yourself 30 years ago as one day being the Executive Director of SPARCC in Sarasota? You grew up on Hawaii...
I never dreamed I’d end up either in Florida or even in the Continental United States. And although I always worked with women, I don’t think I ever saw how it would end up. Hawaii is paradise. I absolutely loved it. My father was an Army officer and we traveled for years, so Hawaii was the first place I ever really lived for more than one year straight. Going to school and growing up there, I was privy to a lot of cultural experiences unique to Hawaii; I still think of it as home.
Was there a “SPARCC situation” while you were growing up?
No, actually there wasn’t. As a child I was very sheltered, and somehow I never really came across any instances. If my father knew of any, he kept that information from me and my brother. My first real experience was when I was in a small finishing school and was working part-time to help put myself through college. One of my students came to me with a broken arm, which I queried. She told me that her father had been sexually molesting her for years. She hadn’t said anything, but he had then started molesting her younger sister, so she confided in her mother, who accused her of lying. The mother chased her round the house with a piece of pipe, beat her and broke her arm.
What’s a typical SPARCC case?
It doesn’t necessarily have to have reached the physical violence stage. We offer support, counseling and all kinds of help before it gets to that point. So women shouldn’t hesitate to call the 24-hour hotline (365-1976, or toll-free 1 800 500-1119). If a woman has had to call 911, Florida law enforcement will then step in and encourage that woman to place a phone call to us, or call us on her behalf. We’ll immediately offer to put her and her children in shelter at no cost. Perhaps she’ll come to us in the middle of the night; we’ll put her up in her own private furnished room, complete with toiletries, diapers for the children, three meals a day, bus tickets, transportation. In the morning we’ll meet with her to try and decide what she needs and wants in her individual circumstances. If she has children with her, we need to get them to their school, or put them in the school near the shelter, depending on the degree of safety. Namely, until we secure a court order giving Mom custody of the children, there’s nothing to stop Dad going down to the school that day, taking the kids and getting on an airplane for Guam. It would be very hard to get them back. So we might advise her not to take the kids to school until we have that court order, which we will help her to get. We’ll then steadily work through the system with her, opening up all the options that are available and giving her the emotional support to take advantage of those options.
Rape within the marriage?
That’s a really tough one. A husband used to be able to deny allegations that he raped his wife. But now, with the discovery of DNA, the only possible defense open to him is to say that it was consensual. This is very difficult for victims; they don’t want to come forward because they know it’s going to come down to that. They’re not going to be believed. The law is very gray in that area. We do have statutes against marital rape, but it’s so tough to prove. And very often it’s part of a continuum of domestic violence. Let me give you an example. I know a very beautiful Italian woman with a very violent Italian husband. He beat her up all the time. He would rape her, then tie her up with fishing line and throw her into a closet overnight. Once he raped her and then threw her out, naked, on one of the coldest nights of the year. She was eight-and-ahalf months’ pregnant at the time. At one point she did everything the system would allow; she got an injunction against him and started divorce proceedings. But one time when he came by to pick up one of their children, he stabbed her 2 or 3 times with the bread knife before she even realized she was bleeding. He continued stabbing, cutting off one of her fingers in the process and eventually penetrating every vital organ in her body; he then killed her roommate, who tried to intervene. The husband’s in prison for 27 years, but the woman lives in perpetual fear of the day he’s released.
So my advice is: women should observe their partners closely for various lethal levels of domestic violence, most especially a history of pathological obsession or jealousy. If they find it, they should definitely seek professional help. That woman was in two of our shelters for a total of 60 days. It was when she left that she wasn’t safe.
So what’s the solution?
The solution is stronger laws and tight accountability for offenders. The system’s not as tight as we need it to be, and one of the things the Domestic Violence Task Force is working on in Sarasota County is to make that system absolutely inescapable. Once you’re in that system, you should be totally accountable. You should be forced to go to batterer’s classes, and if you don’t show up one day or you show up drunk, for example, Bingo!, you’re right back in jail. For some people that will prove to be a deterrent. Typically, it works best on a man who’s married and has a job - who has something left to lose. For those people who have nothing left to lose, it’s maybe not as effective. And if you’re a woman in that situation, where it maybe hasn’t yet reached the violent stage but things just don’t feel right, call us.
If you’d like to hear my complete conversation with Stephanie Woods, please go to http://www.cliffroles.com or www.sparcc.net. And the 24-hour hotline at SPARCC is 365-1976, or toll-free 1-800 500-1119.
A fund has been established in Stephanie’s name to honor her work in perpetuity.
Donations to this fund may be made to
Stephanie Woods Memorial Fund
2139 Main Street
Sarasota, Florida 34237
Listen to Cliff Roles on Talk of the Sun Coast every weekday live from 2 to 3 p.m. on 1220 AM WIBQ.
Contact Cliff Roles: Tel.: (941) 685-9017 Email: RoCli17@aol.com Website: www.cliffroles.com
Some of the stories of my radio-show guests are informative, topical or entertaining. Others, like the one you’re about to read, are simply very touching, and demonstrate the courage and kindness of our fellow humans in a time when I sometimes wonder if anyone cares any more.
"We celebrated Riley’s third birthday here,” said Kelly Saba, gazing over to the children’s playground at Island Park. We were sitting at O’Leary’s chatting about Riley Saba, Kelly and Ron Saba’s daughter who was diagnosed with a brain tumor in June 2001 and died just six months later at the age of seven. After she was diagnosed, Riley made sure that other children with brain tumors would receive gifts during their treatment by motivating her parents to create the Life of Riley Foundation. Her vision also enables them to live in the hope that a cure will be found one day.
Riley Janet Saba was six years old and had just finished kindergarten at Phillipi Shores Elementary when she told her parents that she was seeing double. They took her first to an eye doctor, then after a week or so to All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg. An MRI revealed that she had an inoperable brain stem glioma, which could not even be biopsied due to its location and diffused nature. She needed to begin radiation right away to try to decrease the size of the tumor.
A child life-therapist at All Children’s helped Kelly and Ron explain to Riley what was wrong.
“It was all new to us. Up to that point cancer had not touched our family—I didn’t even know what an oncologist was until Riley was diagnosed. The therapist told Riley that tumors were bad cells in the body that grew and could not be stopped. It was hard to explain it to her—by that point she wasn’t thinking reasonably. She became very upset and confused. Over the next 2 1⁄2 months she gained over half of her body weight due to the heavy steroid dosage, and her face became very big and round. Thank God appearances never mattered to Riley; she always believed that it was more important to be beautiful inside.”
Because her behavior was so unusual, she was not able to lay still for radiation, so she had to be put to sleep every morning for 6 weeks so they could give her the radiation treatment. Kelly and Ron took turns with a family member making the 2-hour round trip with Riley to All Children’s every day.
“She wasn’t happy during those 6 weeks and it was very hard on her, but she kept going. She went through 3 rounds of chemotherapy at a time. As she started to wean off the steroids, her incredible personality started to shine through again and she started to lose the puffiness. She started to feel a little better and I was even able to take her to school occasionally. The first MRI was great news—the tumor had shrunk more than the doctors ever imagined it would. We were very happy and positive. Riley had a pretty good six weeks, but then another MRI revealed that the tumor had spread to two other areas in her brain and down her spine. A very low percentage of brain stem gliomas spread that way, so it was a big surprise. Her back began to hurt and she stopped eating. By mid-November Riley’s health had worsened, so we returned to the hospital for a short visit to hydrate her and hook her up to a morphine pump. We went home with the help of Hospice and kept our baby girl comfortable. She passed away on December 10, 2001. Our strong, beautiful, smart and caring little girl was gone in six months. The pain is unimaginable.”
The ultimate goal of the Life of Riley Foundation is to find a cure for pediatric brain tumors. To this end it donates a significant portion of its proceeds to research. It started in May 2002 with a 5 K & 1-mile walk/run on Siesta Key Beach, a place where Riley had loved to play; almost 1,000 people came out on that Saturday morning. They raised over $50,000 dollars in the first year. It is now in its fifth year and Kelly, her board and her hard-working team of volunteers have raised more than $300,000. The run/walk on Memorial Day is their grassroots event, and they have now also started a Children’s Ball, “Riley’s Royal Gala,” the only black-tie event in town planned and attended by elementary school children and their families. Next year it will be held on April 21 at Temple Sinai with a Wild West theme (for tickets call 941-923-3093 or go through www.lifeofrileyfoundation.org).
“Ninety percent of the monies raised are put into an endowment fund with the Community Foundation. We keep about 10% of it to support local families who have a child with a brain tumor. In the last five years we’ve helped 8 families in the Sarasota/Bradenton area.”
Five years after Riley’s passing, Kelly, a CPA and Ron, a commercial real-estate appraiser, are trying to make something positive come out of Riley’s life. They have two other children, daughter Ansley (9) and son Ronnie (7), who are also actively involved with the Foundation.
Is there ever a day when she doesn’t think of Riley?
“No. I did once try to see the Foundation as purely business, but it was no use—I can never do it without her in my mind. Brain tumors are the leading cause of cancer death in children under the age of 20 and more than 185,000 people in the United States will be diagnosed this year with a primary or metastic brain tumor. We are determined to continue Riley’s vision of making the Foundation a success. And we won’t give up until a cure for brain tumors has been found.”
To make a donation to the research endowment fund, contact:
The Life of Riley Foundation
2050 Proctor Road, Suite A
Sarasota, Florida 34231
You can also e-mail for information at email@example.com
Listen to Cliff Roles on Talk of the Sun Coast every weekday live from 2 to 3 p.m. on 1220 AM WIBQ.
Contact Cliff Roles: Tel.: (941) 685-9017 Email: RoCli17@aol.com Website: www.cliffroles.com
SCENE Magazine, October 2006
Taking the Cloth – Judge-Elect Debra Johnes Riva
By Cliff Roles
When Joseph Smith was sentenced to death on March 15 of this year for the abduction, rape and murder of 11-yearold Carlie Brucia in 2004, Debra Johnes Riva, the then state attorney’s top prosecutor responsible for securing the verdict, went home to have a quiet dinner with her husband Vincent and reflect on yet another capital murder trial that had catapulted her name and face into the national headlines. From January 2007, however, the public will be seeing the attractive Sarasotan from a different perspective: namely, as one of the new 12th Circuit judges.
Debra Johnes Riva was born on December 18, 1964 in Sarasota Memorial Hospital. Her father Dale, her strongest role model, had been a deputy while Debra was growing up, then he moved into the cash-register business. He passed away 12 years ago from cancer. Her mother Caroline stayed home with the children until the economy worsened, then went to work in retail; she currently works at Reason’s Shoes on St. Armand’s Circle.
Debra’s upbringing was very strict, very conservative. She was raised Presbyterian and her family was very active in church functions. She has two siblings: an older brother, Bob, who is in the computer business and now lives in Fort Lauderdale, and a younger sister, Michelle, housewife and mother of four children.
“Michelle is probably my biggest fan. She supports me in everything I do, and was a great help to me in my campaign to become a circuit court judge. When I’ve been involved in big trials she is always in court watching and lending her support.”
Debra knew at a very early age that she wanted to practice law.
“I was always fascinated by the law, by the Constitution, by history. I also really enjoyed debate. I got that from my father, who was very opinionated and very argumentative. I didn’t know back then whether I wanted to be a defense or a prosecuting attorney, though. I just knew that I wanted to be a trial lawyer.”
She studied at MCC, USF and finally Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale.
“My college days were difficult in that I was living on my own and working several jobs. In order to pay for college and save money for law school, I worked part time as a nanny and housekeeper, a hostess at a local restaurant, and I delivered papers for the Sarasota Herald Tribune. My full time job for many years was as a lifeguard at Forest Lakes Country Club, where I had a wonderful boss in Doug Erb, one of the owners. He took me under his wing: in the summer I worked out by the pool giving swimming lessons and lifeguarding, and in the winter I worked in the golf pro shop. Any free time I had I spent at the beach — studying for class and relaxing.”
Living and studying in Fort Lauderdale was not something that homebody Debra was accustomed to.
“That was my first taste of college life, so to speak, because I did not experience it here in Sarasota, where I mainly went to night school. It was challenging and very interesting. By taking additional courses I was able to get through law school in two-and-a-half years, with my last semester spent as a certified legal intern at the State Attorney’s office. I remember my first trials: I was encouraged by Judge Brownell and Judge LoGalbo, both of whom served as mentors to me in my early years as an attorney. Standing up in front of people to argue a case did come somewhat naturally; I enjoyed and looked forward to it, and it’s always easier when you know your subject matter. But I still have a healthy fear that keeps me motivated. It’s different in my private life. I like to take a back seat in a social setting; I don’t ask or seek to be the center of attention.”
Debra has been married to Vincent Riva, a detective at the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office, for nine years. They met “on the job.”
“I was interviewing him about a drug case; in fact, I was breaking the news to him that I would not be filing his case because of the insufficiency of the evidence! Nonetheless, many months and cases later he asked me out and we have been inseparable ever since.”
They love anything associated with the water, especially going to and walking the beach. They have season tickets to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays (Vincent played college ball and then briefly for the White Sox), and they spend a lot of time with both their families.
Another of Debra’s biggest supporters is her boss, State Attorney Earl Moreland. Himself a Nova graduate, he appreciates Nova students because he knows of the University’s very strong trial advocacy programs.
“Earl has been so good to me in my career. He is my rock. He has always given me the promotions that I’ve sought, and allowed me to do my job. I eventually became Chief Homicide Prosecutor, so any first-degree murder case that came in was my case. Before the Joseph Smith trial I had been involved in other capital murder cases that had attracted national attention and been on Court TV. Dominic Culpepper, for example, had been accused of first-degree murder; he had killed another young person with a baseball bat. Because of his age and that of the co-defendants, and the fact that we were prosecuting them as adults, the case received national coverage and debate. I was also co-counsel with former prosecutor (now Judge) Charlie Roberts in the Ralf Panitz case, which also received national attention. So the experience of having tried these cases certainly helped me in the Carlie Brucia murder trial. Not only with regards to the media, but also the pressure. In such a case the publicity aspect goes away once the trial begins. You completely forget that the press is there and that others are watching. You become so focused on getting the task done and the message out that everything else fades into the background.”
The first time Debra actually saw Carlie’s murderer Joseph Smith, she again began to envision the video clip of the abduction, satisfying herself in her mind that it was indeed the same person. Smith’s attorney was Assistant Public Defender Adam Terbrugge.
“I’ve often had trials with Adam, and it’s always as pleasant an experience as it can be under the circumstances. He is very professional and courteous, and although
he often has a different philosophy and point of view about the case, I feel that we have a good working relationship.”
Was there ever any doubt she would ask for the death penalty?
“I can tell you this: it’s the weightiest decision we make at the State Attorney’s Office. It’s a tremendous responsibility. In our office the decision is made by a group of people, not any one individual. For me, the Joseph Smith verdict was not a reason to celebrate; I felt a sense of relief that my role in it was done, but also a tremendous sense of sadness for both the family and friends of the victim and the defendant.”
Debra had dreamed about becoming a circuit court judge for many years.
“I have seen judges have such a positive impact on individual lives and I hope to have that same impact. I know that I have quite a bit to learn to prepare for the civil or family law bench and I have already begun studying in preparation for next year. I’ve taught at Manatee Community College pretty much since I’ve been an attorney, so that has helped to keep me up-to-date with regard to civil and criminal procedure. Teaching has been one of the most rewarding aspects of my career as the energy of the students reminds me of why I love the law!”
This past July Debra ran unopposed in her race to become a judge of the 12th circuit.
“I kept pinching myself — I couldn’t believe that no-one had run against me. I felt extremely appreciative and fortunate; through this whole campaign I have had a tremendous outpouring of support.”
Support that will no doubt continue to be offered next January, when Debra will stand among her peers at her investiture and take the cloth to become a judge of the 12th Judicial Circuit. I wish Judge-Elect Riva every success for the future.
Listen to Cliff Roles on Talk of the Sun Coast every weekday live from 2 to 3 p.m. on 1220 AM WIBQ.
Contact Cliff Roles: Tel.: (941) 685-9017 Email: RoCli17@aol.com Website: www.cliffroles.com