Frances “Fran” Vancil is originally from Lancaster, California.  A veteran of the U.S. Army, Fran and her family moved to Reno, NV, where she was a stay-at-home mom for 5 years.  She worked as a security officer for Grand Sierra Resort and Washoe County Regional Parks in Reno, NV. When she moved to Florida she naturally sought an opportunity that used her security experience.

A track record in security work was indeed her entree and Fran was hired as a security officer at Plymouth Harbor  in September 2011.  But there was more out there for her and she later transferred to the maintenance department to do something new.  In Maintenance she serves as an e-tech.

Fran has been recognized as a “valuable asset to the department” and is appreciated by her co-workers and supervisor for as a key member of their team.  In addition, residents and her co-workers frequently compliment Fran on her helpfulness and friendly attitude. She’s just good to be around

However, her work at Plymouth Harbor is not the only concern on Fran’s mind.  She keeps busy with her three sons.  Brody,  at 11 years old, is her oldest and next are 9-year old twins, Davon and Aiden.  Together they enjoysagoing to the famous Florida tourist attractions and theme parks.  It’s also not surprising that  they all enjoy physical activities like the beach, biking, trail hiking, zip lining, and camping with grandma.  Special memories are their camping trips in Yosemite National Park!

Congratulations, Fran!


It was like a scene from school days when our art teachers released our creative urges with finger paint and broad expanses on which to play.  On Tuesday, December 10 the entire community was invited to a free for all Paint Party on the ground level hallway outside of the Plymouth Harbor Art Studio.

Resident artists – from the seasoned pro to the rank novice – picked up a brush and palette, pastels or whatnot to create their own design and make their unique mark on the walls that will soon come down to make way for the Wellness Center renovations.

Fran Knight and Maureen Aldrich, two of the Art Studio stalwarts, planned this special event for weeks in advance with some very specific goals in mind.  Of course, this Paint Party was a festive way to celebrate the transition of the old studio – grown tired from almost two decades of constant use and accumulation of old stuff – to the new, which will be available to artists this Spring with the unveiling of the new Wellness Center.

Many of the active studio artists participated on that first day and there were guest painters as well.  Beverly Vernon, one of the bright newer stars of the studio, created the “talk of the show” in her splash painting inspired by the chaotic drips and splashes of the famed expressionist Jackson Pollack.  Bev said she’s always wanted to try throwing paint at a wall and her results were spectacular.

Other artists took their cues from Vasily Kandinsky, the Russian artist credited with the first abstract paintings.  Kandinsky’s abstract circle designs in tightly contained squares inspired a long series of colorful patterns down the southern wall.

Pat Barkoff, a studio regular, aimed for whimsy with a giant rabbit, where on the opposite wall “windows” revealing two imagined, yet realistic worlds, from our artist/organizers Maureen and Fran.  Their trompe l’oeil designs created the illusion that these windows on the interior wall looked out onto Sarasota Bay filled with sailboats, a blue sky with birds and bright cheerful orange geraniums blooming in the window boxes.

A Yellow line, yet another illusion painted right now the center of the hallway floor, served as our yellow brick road ending at the glimmering green Emerald City on the far wall arising from a bright red field of poppies. Thanks to Maureen for that extra touch.

Isabel Pedersen and Celia Catlett were also adding their own fanciful art. Celia created a William Morris design with sidewalk chalk on the wall.  Bill Murtagh painted a cook in homage to the tasty creations of dining services and Jim Myers, our director of Environmental Services and lounge pianist, scratched out a stick man (bless his heart!)

Maureen and Fran smiled and watched as a parade of residents who rarely sought out the art studio came down the hallway to admire the work in progress.  Over the next week days and weeks leading to the holidays, more visitors strolled through the crowd-created exhibit.   That extra bit of attention was all part of the plan, according to Maureen.

“Our primary purpose was to create an event that included and attracted all residents, not just those of us who actively use the art studio,” Fran added.  “The new art studio will not be larger in square footage and it will likely still accommodate up to 11 individual artist work stations. However, the new studio is expected to be organized in such a way to be even more functional space for group workshops and classes.”

There are great expectations for a “renaissance” for this thriving little arts community. Their excitement about the plans was all the more evident when Joanne Hastings, one of their first visiting artists, arrived on the floor accompanied by executive staff Harry Hobson, Tena Wilson, Becky Pazkowski and Gordon Okawa.  It is thanks to the vision and a generous gift from Joanne that the Wellness Center renovations could begin to take form.  Now with construction beginning, it is clearly an exciting time for the entire community.

Joanne, a long-time art aficionado and artist herself in younger years, nonetheless picked up a brush again and proceeded to create a charming vision of a tree. “Frankly, I was impressed with her impressionistic technique,” Maureen later shared.

The nature of some art is that while universal or ageless, only a very small percentage of created art lasts forever.  Some say art is truly in the making and creative process.  When the walls are torn down to make way for the exciting new future of Wellness at Plymouth Harbor, these ephemeral gems (and scribbling) will give way to bright new memories.  Here’s to a Happy and Artful New Year!

National Philanthropy Day is celebrated across the country on November 15 as a means to recognize and pay tribute to the great contributions that philanthropy—and those people active in the philanthropic community—have made to our lives, our communities and our world. This official day of recognition is formally supported by the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) and hundreds of other nonprofit and for-profit organizations throughout North America. In fact, more than 100 communities and 50,000 people around the world participated in NPD events and celebrations.

This year, The Plymouth Harbor Foundation chose two separate occasions to thank the many recent and historical donors who have generously supported the mission of Plymouth Harbor to nurture a compassionate, caring community filled with that zest for life.

National Philanthropy Day Luncheon

The first event we participated in was the Association of Fundraising Professionals’ (AFP) 28th annual luncheon at Michael’s on East, where over 500 people gathered to celebrate the philanthropists in the county who give of themselves and their treasures to make our county the best it can be.

This year, the Plymouth Harbor Foundation sponsored a table to recognize our resident Joanne Hastings and her gift to the Foundation to support the Wellness Center Renovation.  Mrs. Hastings was among a small group of seven notable philanthropists well known in our community who were each nominated for the honor of Outstanding Individual Philanthropist.

Among them was Charlie Huisking, whose mother resided at Plymouth Harbor until her passing.  Others were Graci and Dennis McGillicudy, Drs Bob and Patricia Gussin, Alfred and Jean Weidner Goldstein, and Dr. Philip and Nancy Kotler.

Celebrating the Spirit of Philanthropy

The second big event was our own first Spirit of Philanthropy Celebration on November 14 held at Plymouth Harbor in the Mayflower Dining Room and Plymouth Rock Café. Over 175 guests came together to help celebrate the impact philanthropy has had on life at Plymouth Harbor over the years.

Our dining services amazed us once again with a spectacular dinner buffet with carving stations.  The bar staff was kept busy while live music drew dancers to our beautiful and portable dance floor in the Plymouth Rock Café. We can thank our dancing Starrs, resident philanthropists Phil and Barry, for the dance floor!

The centerpiece of the evening was the premiere of the first Plymouth Harbor Foundation video to honor the rich heritage of philanthropy at Plymouth Harbor.

It was truly an amazing celebration sponsored by our local Northern Trust, for which we are sincerely grateful.

Top right: Joanne Hastings

Middle right: L to R: Gene Heide, Nancy Hobson, Janey & Jon Swift, Celia Catlett & Harry Hobson

Right: L to R: Glenn Shipley, Barbara Lane, Diane Muir, Phil Delaney, President, Mary Pat McNally, Lori Sutton & Rick Gomez.


By Becky Pazkowski

On September 17, several of our local experts came together in Pilgrim Hall to share with us the importance of our bay area and why what we are doing on the peninsula is critical to the preservation of Sarasota Bay.  Those experts, Sara Kane from the Sarasota Bay Estuary Program, Damon Moore from the Ecological Resources Program in Manatee County, and Jeanne Dubi of the Sarasota Audubon Society educated us on the characteristics of Sarasota Bay and some of the critical issues around our local habitat and bird rookery.  Below is a summary of why those experts called us (and I use their word) AWESOME.

First, a little education . . . a watershed is the area of land that provides water flow from higher elevation to larger water bodies at the bottom of a drainage basin.  Our Sarasota Bay Watershed covers 250 square miles and is the home to 500,000 people.  Estuaries are semi-enclosed areas, such as bays and lagoons, where freshwater mixes with salt water from the sea.  Estuaries are an important resource because they create more food per acre than the richest farmland.  Sarasota Bay Estuary is the home to more than 1400 native species of diverse plants and animals.

What has been happening to our Bay to get our attention?  Well, several things, including storm water pollution, loss of habitat, loss of wetlands, diminished sea grass, and diminished hard bottom.  The reason that we are called “awesome” by the local experts has to do with the second point—loss of habitat—and here’s why.  Our peninsula was once considered a natural habitat to native Florida plants and birds.  Over the years, plantings, development, erosion, droughts, and major storms have affected the balance of this natural habitat.  Plants have ceased to grow because of the proliferation of invasive trees, which decrease the insect, bird, and animal population, all of which throws off the balance.  The goal of our peninsula restoration is to remove invasive plantings and replace them with natural and native plants as part of a long-term effort to restore its natural ecosystem.

Is it working?  Yes, but it takes time.  The removal of a significant amount of Australian pines has been a large part of the project.  A-pines are not native to Florida, provide no growth under their canopy, and have very shallow root systems that break or uproot under storm pressure.  They are good for shade and bird nesting, but that is about all.  The Florida Department of Environmental Protection has prohibited the importation or cultivation of these trees in an effort to eradicate them.  By removing the A-pines, new growth is developing.

What about the birds?  There are only three rookeries in Sarasota County: Roberts Bay, Venice Rookery, and Plymouth Harbor.  Rookeries are important because they provide nesting and roosting opportunities.  Sarasota County has 268 regularly occurring bird species.  Of those, 106 breed here in the county, about 15 breeders use rookeries and, of those, 11 or so breed at Plymouth Harbor.  Since 2012, there had been a rapid decline in birds coming to nest and roost at Plymouth Harbor.  Jeanne Dubi announced that bird counts over the summer increased from 133 in January to 429 in mid-September.  This increase has been encouraging and we hope to see more increases over time.

We were applauded for our work in restoring the peninsula and continuing to be good stewards of our bay.  In a word, we’re AWESOME!

Begun in 1966 as a dream of Rev. Dr. John Whitney MacNeil, former senior minister of the First Congregational United Church of Christ of Sarasota, who envisioned a progressive, interfaith, residential community for retired clergy and teachers, Plymouth Harbor today attracts vibrant residents, both nationally and internationally.  Most of these residents, over the years, have made significant contributions to the arts, culture, and education, helping to establish Sarasota as a vibrant and coveted community in which to live and retire.

Today, Plymouth Harbor, a non-profit organization, has become one of the premier continuing care retirement communities in the United States, offering services from independent to assisted living, skilled nursing, long-term care, and short-term rehabilitation, all on one campus.  Essential to its success and outstanding reputation are the nearly 200 employees who deliver care and compassionate services to more than 265 residents daily.

That spirit of caring is also the driving force behind philanthropy at Plymouth Harbor. Over the decades, members of the resident population, their families, employees, and philanthropists in the broader community have voluntarily donated more than $12,000,000 to perpetuate its mission.  Contributions of time, talent, and financial resources are made, believing that service to and support of other people is a worthy lifelong value.

Formalizing the Foundation

In an effort to further ensure appropriate stewardship, develop and implement fundraising strategies that support the most positive aging experience possible, and to provide funding for innovative programs and services for seniors in the region, the Plymouth Harbor Foundation was formalized in 2012.  Their culture of philanthropy is built on three pillars of value – benevolence, fellowship, and a zest for life – and three funds were established for these purposes.

Resident Assistance

True to their founding value of benevolence, resident assistance supports those who have outlived their financial resources, due to unforeseen circumstances, and require support for basic living expenses and medical care.

Employee Assistance

Creating an outstanding living environment depends, in no small part, upon successfully recruiting, retaining, and developing the highest quality work force possible.  This fund supports employees who are experiencing financial hardships or who wish to advance their education.

Zest For Life

This programmatic and capital fund supports innovations and enhancements that improve and preserve the vibrant quality of life for current and future residents.

Making a Difference

We hope you will consider making a gift to advance a positive aging experience at Plymouth Harbor.  Your future is worth supporting.

Members of Girl Scout Troop #121 & Boy Scout Troop #895 copy

Boy Scout Troop #895 and Girl Scouts from Troop #121 in Sarasota recently provided community service at Plymouth Harbor as part of a project that was partially funded by the Bay Partners Grant Program to restore a natural ecosystem on a portion of the campus.  The scouts spent a full day spreading mulch and watering plants that had recently been replaced.

“Community projects like this are an excellent example of what Dr. MacNeil had in mind when he envisioned Plymouth Harbor,” said Harry Hobson, President and CEO of Plymouth Harbor.  “Individuals of all ages coming together to support a positive living environment.  Isn’t that what “community” is all about?”


By Becky Pazkowski

Last month I wrote about Rath and Hartner’s book Well Being: The Five Essential Elements.  The authors  studied 23,000 people and found that there are five broad categories of well being that are essential to a thriving life: career, social, financial, physical and community wellbeing.  What  they found to be the single biggest threat to our own wellbeing is ourselves.  They go on to discuss items in each of the five categories that tend to be essential to a thriving wellbeing, and within our control.

In the chapter on Community Wellbeing (the sense of engagement you have with the area where you live) they suggest that thriving community wellbeing is about what we do to give back to our community.  They go on to explain that giving back is what may distinguish an exceptional life from a good one.

Philanthropy takes many forms . . . time, talent, treasure.  Time is perhaps the most valuable gift one can give.  Volunteerism, for many of us, was our first experience with giving.  We may have gotten started through our church group, scouts, school, or with our family.  Giving of one’s time is fulfilling, especially when you know that the time you have volunteered has served as a special purpose and helped someone.

Volunteering at Plymouth Harbor

For several young adults in Sarasota, the gift of time has played a valuable role in life at Plymouth Harbor.  Students from local high schools have been volunteering on Saturday mornings since June of this year to staff eTEAM clinics, where residents receive assistance using electronic devices such as cell phones, tablets, computers, etc.

Jeannette and Charles Gehrie, who have received assistance with their cell phones, commented that they have felt the students are patient and knowledgeable.  “They are delightful young adults and they have helped us immensely in using our cell phones more fully and with more ease.”

Marty Buenneke, who has been working mostly with Marinna Okawa from Pine View High School, says, “Marinna has been helping me with email on my computer.  She is very well qualified and has a lovely personality.”

Jim Underwood, who has received assistance from several of the students, comments, “These students are very interesting and dedicated to helping us.  I thought they would be more shy, but they are very outgoing.”

Florence and George Heitler comment:  “The eTEAM was a great idea and truly is a wonderful help to those of us born before the electronic revolution.  Whoever thought of it deserves credit, but members of the eTEAM deserve our sincere thanks.  They are truly life savers for our problems (which seem so simple to them!).  They are kind, non-judgmental, and seem happy to help.  Please tell the e-TEAM how much we appreciate them.”

Sixty-four residents have received instruction from our eTEAM members, who have volunteered over 90 hours since June.  Students receive credit for community service through their high schools, where a minimum of 75 hours are required for graduation in Sarasota County.

Other members of the eTEAM, current and past, include Tamera Miller, Lexi Hart, Angelo Buenano, Grace Seymore, and Evan Pazkowski.  In addition, thank you to the adult volunteers who have helped me facilitate the clinics each week.

We are very grateful to these bright, energetic, and knowledgeable students who have chosen Plymouth Harbor for their volunteerism.  They have certainly answered a need here, thus contributing to something bigger than themselves.  If you wonder if they find enjoyment from volunteering, David Yaegers commented, “I enjoy my visits at Plymouth Harbor because the residents are such interesting people.  I’ve met an inventor, a world-renowned photographer, and a woman who told me all about the times when she lived in New York City.  I’m teaching them how to use technology, but they’re teaching me so much, too!”

Regardless of whether you need help from the eTEAM or not, please feel free to stop by to the Resident Business Office some Saturday morning to meet the team and thank them for their valuable gifts of time.

Extraordinary Talents and Long-time Loves

There is a special quality in the welcome one receives when stepping through the threshold of Gene Heide and Celia Catlett’s home in the West Garden. Gene and Celia offer kind greetings, but there is a warmth emanating from the polished natural wood surfaces and lovingly tended plants found throughout their home that captures the imagination.  Here lives an exceptionally grounded couple and I looked forward to our chat.

Truth be told, I had been told Gene did some wood working before I met him, but I was not expecting the museum quality of wood carving that he and Celia shared with me that rainy afternoon.  I soon learned that this rare talent emerged very early in his life and it’s a charming story.

It started with his father’s cigars.  In those days, during the Depression, the paper rings on cigars could be collected and returned for premium gift, like trading stamps, remember those? Gene and his older brother were eyeing the pearl-handled pocket knife, so their father set up the challenge.  The pocket knife would go to the boy with the best grades.

Gene, who earned a PhD and spent his life in academia, was the better student with all A’s. He claims it was because he didn’t get into trouble like his brother who got only one B.  Armed with the tiny knife, which was still sizable for a 6-year old boy, he carved toys like swords for roughhousing with his friends.

Most children try things, play for a while and move on to the next, but working the wood with his knife was a long-lasting love for Gene.  When Celia handed me two small busts carved from dark wood, one clearly of Abraham Lincoln, the other of Jesus, I was stunned when she said Gene carved them when he was only 12.   His little hands brought out stunning detail and symmetry in the faces.  This was not child’s work!

Of course he didn’t stop there and went on to make at least two housefuls of furniture.  The coffee table at my feet with the striking grain and smoothly polished finish was his artwork, as was the desk by the window with the artfully “rough hewn” edge.  In their foyer, a handsome cherry grandfather clock stands sentinel, reminding Gene of the cherry tree which was cut down to make way for a university construction project under his watch.  He’s happy he was able to cure the wood and put it to good use.

While Gene had been a wood-carving university administrator, Celia was an English professor with an interest in children’s literature.  Gene’s hand-made bookcases held her collection of great literature and fairy tales. And somewhere on those shelves was certainly a copy of her own book, Nonsense Literature for Children: Aesop to Seuss.

Gene and Celia met while both were working at Eastern Connecticut State University.  Gene’s wife, Betty, was the Assistant Vice President  of Student Affairs and worked closely with Celia who was the Director of Writing. Betty faced down Alzheimer’s and eventually passed away.   It was sometime after a reception honoring her career at the university that Gene and Celia got together as  couple.

They share this history and many interests with a peaceful ease.  They’ve had some adventures together, too, and both point to their trips to Jamaica as real highlights.  On two separate occasions, Celia’s work took her to a program training teachers in Jamaica. Living there in Lucea, near Montego Bay, their eyes were opened to reality of poverty on the island.  Teaching in rundown facilities at night despite rolling electricity outages, they came to admire the teachers themselves who faced these circumstances on a daily basis.

As they’ve settled into life at Plymouth Harbor, the moved in less than a year ago, they have kept living life as they always have. Celia volunteers as a tutor at Booker Elementary School and this year will be spending a whole day there and across the street at the North Sarasota Public Library.

They love the surroundings at Plymouth Harbor and take advantage of them by swimming and walking as often as possible.  Celia keeps her heirloom 1947 Grumman canoe on hand to ply the waters of Sarasota Bay with Gene or one of her daughters when they visit.  And Gene can be found down in the wood working shop, fixing furniture for his neighbors or doing what he does best, making something extraordinary.

 By Becky Pazkowski

A few years ago I was meeting with a potential donor, talking to him about his interest in supporting a particular project we were considering at the community hospital where I worked at the time.  The project was a monitoring system that had proven to save lives at other hospitals where it had been installed. 

This young man (in his 40s) had worked very hard to build a thriving financial business in Chicago, and sold it to Goldman Sachs in the good old days of the 1990s.  He found himself very wealthy and moved his family back to his home town to be with his extended family. 

While we think that having a lot of money will make us happy, this was certainly not the case for this man.  He shared some of his family stories with me that day.  His siblings were struggling financially and even though he was in a position to help them, his brothers wouldn’t accept money from him.  They resented him for his success.  A rift was formed between him and his loved ones, and he found himself feeling helpless and frustrated. 

That day, he wrote us a check for $10,000 to fund the project we were talking to him about. We were elated.  He had been searching for some happiness to come of his good fortune, and it did.  What to him was a small amount of money, to us meant saving lives.  We left each other that day, both feeling a little lighter of heart.

When it comes to money, it is not how much we have, but what we do with it that brings happiness and fulfillment.  In the world of philanthropy, there is so much that can be and needs to be done, and so much joy that can come of it.

According to Rath and Harter in Well Being: The Five Essential Elements, researchers at Harvard found that spending money on others boosts one’s happiness more than spending on one’s self.  Their research also showed that even when given money to do with as they wished, those who spent it on others, or gave it to charity, were happier than those who did not. 

Philanthropy is about making “transformations” rather than “transactions.”  In other words, it is not what or that you gave, but what kind of good did your gift bring about?  Consider how here at Plymouth Harbor a scholarship helps make a college graduate, or how a dance floor brings people together, or how a therapeutic stationary bicycle reduces disease symptoms and increases someone’s quality of life, or how a piece of art or a musical performance lifts our spirits. 

Whether your giving is during your lifetime or through your estate, think about what kind of impact you would like to make, or what kind of legacy you would like to leave, and then consider making a gift toward those dreams.  It will make you and so many others happy. 

Jane Smiley (left) with Janet Zarro of Women's Resource Center

Generous, passionate, compassionate . . . three words that describe Jane Smiley and her feelings for Plymouth Harbor, our employees, and education. 

here is hardly an arts, human service or arts related not-for-profit organization in Sarasota, Florida that has not benefited from the wisdom and energy of Jane Smiley.  New College is grateful for her support.  The Women’s Resource Center of Sarasota County counted her as a board member for many years.  She has chaired the boards of the Sarasota County Arts Council and Art Center.

As a long-time Plymouth Harbor resident,  Mrs. Smiley has also given significant support to her current home as well. Recently she established, through an annual gift, the Jane T. Smiley Scholarship to benefit Plymouth Harbor employees.  The annual $2000 scholarship supports educational endeavors of current Plymouth Harbor employees who are seeking post-secondary degrees, certifications, or specialty training in any field.  Asked what inspired her to establish this scholarship, Mrs. Smiley said, “I have been so fortunate in my life, and it began with a good education.  Giving back is the right thing to do now.” 

Harry Hobson, Yaima Comas, Jane Smiley (l-r)

Yaima Comas is the first recipient of the Jane T. Smiley Scholarship.  Yaima has been a member of the Home Care staff as a certified nursing assistant for nearly three years.  She is pursuing her bachelor’s degree in Health Services Administration. 

“We are very grateful for Mrs. Smiley’s generosity and vision for advancing the dreams and ambitions of our employees,” said Harry Hobson.  “This is a perfect example of how passions and needs come together to benefit all.  Thank you, Mrs. Smiley, for your kind support.” 

 Seven adventurous Plymouth Harbor residents recently took a quick five minute ride down the beach, slipped into kayaks, and  spent the next 2 1/2 hours traversing through the amazing mangrove tunnels located in Sarasota Bay just south of Plymouth Harbor. 

These mangroves are easily part of the landscape viewed daily from resident homes from their southern facing windows. A morning of kayaking reveals the wonders hidden within them.

In addition to enjoying invigorating exercise and beautiful scenery, the group learned many interesting facts about this fascinating section of Florida’s west coast as their experienced tour guide pointed out various features, plants and birds along the way.

Thanks to Chef Renee and his culinary team, our intrepid kayakers enjoyed a waterside picnic after their morning adventure. This is not the first kayaking foray that Plymouth Harbor residents have enjoyed, nor will it be the last!