On first glance one might not see that the finest continuing care retirement community located on the shores of Sarasota Bay stands like a sister next to the internationally renowned Sarasota Music Festival.  Of course, Plymouth Harbor residents number a good many of those enjoying the concerts performed by famed classical musicians and the extraordinary students who come from all over the world to vie for the limited opportunities at this all-scholarship chamber music festival.  But there is really more to it than that.

It all starts with the visionary individual, the Reverend Dr. John Whitney MacNeil.  In the same year that he negotiated the fundamentally essential financial support of the United Church of Christ for the establishment of Sarasota’s New College, he set his congregation on course to build “a retirement community of distinction.”  It was 1961.

By 1966, the first New College students were in their junior year of studies when the community gathered to dedicate the beautiful new building on the bay front.  Just a few months before, Dr. John Elmendorf had been installed as the New College’s second president.  According to his widow, Dr. Mary Elmendorf, herself a pioneering anthropologist, when her husband was interviewing for the position at New College, he was asked if he would support the concept of a new chamber music festival that was in the making.  “Not only did he say he would support it, he told them that he wouldn’t take the job UNLESS they started this music festival!” shares Mary with obvious pride.

The New College Music Festival held its first concerts in 1965 during Dr. Elmendorf’s first year in office and within two years was a three week festival drawing exceptional students from across the United States.   In 1984, renamed the Sarasota Music Festival, it was transferred to the administration of the Florida West Coast Symphony. 

What the visionary leaders of Sarasota set in motion 50 years ago is still enriching the community.  Dr. Mary Elmendorf, a Plymouth Harbor resident since 2001, is joined by many of her fellow residents as subscribers, regular concert attendees and financial supporters of this longtime musical gem.  For three weeks every June, music fills the air and Plymouth Harbor reaps the benefits.

For some the urge to travel across the globe to work in another country is a call to adventure, for others it is a smart career-building move. For Paul Groen, fresh out of Baylor College of Medicine and his internship in family medicine, it was a call to serve. And more specifically, it was a call to serve God.

Macky Groen, was on a rigorous career track completing her Masters degree in Nursing Administration at Columbia University when she felt a similar tug on her heart to devote herself to mission work in a Third World country.

Macky got there first and was just starting her third year of nursing in the bush of Nigeria when the handsome new doctor arrived. Their clinic consisted of eight women, nurses and educators, and one male doctor. The entire group worked and socialized together and everyone got to know each other quite well. Paul wisely treated each woman with equal attention and respect, careful not to betray any favoritism. Yet when he was given the opportunity to invite a select young woman to entertain on a friend’s veranda, supervised of course, it was Macky that got that call.

Their individual life choices had brought them together in this remote region and between that and the intense daily collaboration between them in their work, their love sprang from a deep “knowledge of the heart,” as Paul described it. They were meant to be. Paul and Macky married in Nigeria and spent a total of 10 years there together before finally deciding to return to the States when their two sons were of school age.

After completing a residency in orthopedics, Paul practiced medicine in Wheaton, Illinois outside of Chicago while they raised their sons. Their boys, initiated by their early childhood years in Nigeria, travelled with them on numerous trips back to Africa for short-term teaching stints. As a result both are “Third World citizens” comfortable wherever they might land.

Seventeen years of medical practice was enough, as both Paul and Macky were eager to get back to what they felt was their true life calling. This time, they formed a not-for-profit organization called Doctors on Call for Service, or DOCS, in order to develop the partnerships within countries like Kenya, Rwanda and the Congo to provide local medical education.

Their work was very successful. Rather than losing talented young people who trained abroad and failed to return home, Kenya and Rwanda developed their own capabilities to train medical professionals with the help of DOCS. “We were a catalyzing force in those countries and they were quick to draw on other resources to build their own training centers,” shared Paul.

The Democratic Republic of Congo was another story. Here, in a region rocked by years of war, genocide and sexual violence, there has been an even greater need for the outside assistance and support of DOCS. They focused their efforts in the eastern city of Goma which was at the center of the refugee crisis resulting from the genocide in Rwanda and two Congo wars. Understandably, success has been slower in coming there. The Learning Center that they built in Goma was soon destroyed by the eruption of the volcano Nyiragongo in 2002.

Undaunted, Macky and Paul strengthened their efforts with dedicated volunteers and a board of directors consisting of medical educators, business people and physicians based in the U.S. The Learning Center has been rebuilt and is serving their training efforts in that region. Only two years ago did Macky and Paul decide it was time to pass the reigns of the organization over to others to carry on their work.

After so much excitement, not-so-glamorous travelling, and hard work they are satisfied with their lives and are now enjoying the cultural riches of Sarasota from the comforts of Plymouth Harbor. Both of them relish the expanse of blue sky and water outside their living room windows. “We spent years in the dry, dusty bush and look at us now – surrounded by water!” Macky says with a smile. Paul enjoys walking the Ringling Bridge in the cool, early mornings and being surrounded by other interesting residents at Plymouth Harbor.

“Maybe we lived an exciting life, but I think the people here at Plymouth Harbor are really stimulating!”

Music came so easily to Ted Rehl when he was a child that he almost took it for granted. Able to play nearly anything by ear at an early age on his family’s parlor piano, he was encouraged with lessons. His talent on the piano was a given, or so it would seem by the matter-of-fact way he describes his musical training. While Ted enjoyed it enough, there were always other things that captivated his interest and challenged his mind, such as math and more “logical” pursuits.

Nevertheless, the young boy from Galion, Ohio attended Oberlin College Conservatory of Music on a full scholarship. It was here on this quintessential Midwest liberal arts college campus that he met Fran, a gifted cellist from Seattle. They were soon married and Ted stayed on to earn his graduate degree in music at Oberlin. After one year in working in New York City, Ted joined the faculty at Washington State University, Pullman before finally settling at Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin.

Fran taught music for many years before deciding to take on the different challenges of real estate with a good bit of success. Meanwhile in addition to his faculty responsibilities, Ted was an active soloist, accompanist, and chamber music player; in the 60s he was member of a duo-piano team that had a New York manager and played programs all over the United States.

When offered an early retirement package after 34 years at Lawrence University, Ted took it. He played his last concert with conservatory colleagues in a final hurrah. Perhaps only he knew that this was the definitive end of a chapter when he closed the lid on the keyboard after that concert.

Ted didn’t touch another piano for 18 ½ years. There was no tragedy or drama involved. It wasn’t that he disliked the piano, he was just finished with that and wanted to do other things. He sold his piano, disposed of all of his music, and pursued his other hobbies.

In addition to bridge, puzzles, and volunteer work, Ted turned his curiosity and mathematical logic to the world of computers. It was never dull and he was never aware of any void left by the absence of the piano in his life.

When Fran and Ted moved to Plymouth Harbor, they enjoyed living in and being surrounded by a community rich in the performing arts and music. The intimate Pilgrim Hall struck them both as a perfect recital and chamber music venue.

In 2010 they spoke to Harry Hobson about their desire to provide a fine, recital-quality grand piano to be used by visiting artists in Pilgrim Hall performances. It started simply enough, searching listings of used pianos as well as talking to the regional Steinway dealers, they began to narrow their search. Each time a prospective instrument was presented to them, Ted declined to try it out himself. Listening to the dealer’s playing was enough to test the sound for them.

Until one day, it simply wasn’t enough. They scouted out a dealer who had a Steinway grand piano in a small showroom near Venice. There was something Ted heard that caught his attention. It touched his heart, in fact. No one was more surprised than his wife Fran when Ted agreed to try it out. He spent the next two hours playing, listening, and falling in love with a piano for the first time in his life.

This might sound odd, but Ted had just never met the right piano before. This little Steinway had an alluring sound and touch that inspired a new joy of expression. With the piano soon settled into its new home on the stage of Pilgrim Hall, Ted began to look forward to his time making music with it.

“At first I had no technique whatsoever,” says Ted, “and it was slow getting it back.” He practiced at least 3 hours a day for weeks, even months before he felt comfortable. Urged to set a date for the dedication of the piano with a recital, Ted practiced steadily. Not until about a week before the April 1, 2011 date did he feel confident that he could make it through the program without embarrassing himself.

He was a smash hit and each successive concert since (5 so far) is greeted with a full house and standing ovations. While making his fellow Plymouth Harbor residents happy with his performance, Fran realizes that he’s happier than he had been in years.

Ted just knows that his goal now is to keep practicing. It’s exhilarating to have his technique at the previous professional level, and, he believes, even better than before. His plan is to keep presenting programs that his friends enjoy. He takes requests and slips in some music that he’s always wanted to perform. Fran’s considerable musical judgment is called upon to make sure the programs have the right mix of music to be entertaining for all.

His last program, The Romantic Piano, was recorded. For a donation of any amount given to benefit the arts at Plymouth Harbor, a CD of the program is being given as a token of gratitude. (For more information, contact Becky Pazkowski,The Plymouth Harbor Foundation.)

Ted’s next concert, an all-Russian program, is scheduled for October 18 and will include Moussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition in its original form for solo piano. Stay tuned for more on that.

Well, no one can ever claim that Plymouth Harbor residents don’t know how to have a good time and aren’t extremely talented at entertaining themselves! This spring saw the third “Plymouth Harbor’s Got Talent” evening with master of ceremonies George Heitler welcoming a parade of performers to the stage of Pilgrim Hall.

This tradition started in 2006 when George thought he’d present something along the lines of Major Bowe’s Amateur Hour. But, in reading the biographies on file, he discovered so much talent that he switched it to a Talent Show. That successful show then led to another in 2010 and 2013, now under the name referencing the British and American reality-talent shows popular today.

So, certainly you are wondering, “Who’s got talent, anyway?” Well this evening, the audience heard from 16 brave talents.

The show opened with Joan Sheil on the organ, playing “Side By Side,” written in 1927 and sung by many popular stars. Ater playing it once, the audience was invited to join in a chorus led by George Heitler.

Monologues, story-telling, jokes, and skits were very popular. We heard monologues from Naomi Wittenberg and Bill Brackett, both familiar to us from their involvement in the annual Plymouth Harbor Players productions. Joanne Hastings and Serge Oliel told humorous stories. Al Balaban brought to life the story told in the song, “Sam, You Made the Pants Too Long.” LuVerne Conway, in costume, ended her story with the song, “My Heart Belongs to Daddy.”

Dancers Jim Griffith and Bobi Sanderson chose not to attempt their talent on the small Pilgrim Hall stage, but shared a video of their performance at a previous dance competition.

The only non-resident performers were the intrepid duo Becky and Paul Pazkowski. Becky is our Vice President of Philanthropy, but she forgot to send the hat around after she sang. Or maybe she thought twice about it.

Rev. Rosemary Gremban not only sang her lovely spiritual songs a capella, but composed them herself. Peggy and Don Wallace did the same thing, but the message was a little, shall we say, irreverent. Peggy sang a series of not-so familiar college alma maters and fight songs to her favorite schools – East Overshoe U, Puberty Normal, and Missouri College of Mines, among others. You had to laugh and it wasn’t because of Don’s piano playing!

Finally, Florence and George Heitler tested their thespian skills by portraying a dear older couple that hated, despised, and loathed each other in poetic recitation.

It was all great fun, particularly when the entire cast was called upon impromptu to sing the final song, “Give My Regards to Broadway.”

Plymouth Harbor’s Got Talent       PART 2

If you missed this show watch these videos, or a DVD of the entire evening can be found in the Library on the Mezzanine. And if you are wondering, yes, there will be other opportunities to perform, so dust off the tap shoes, tune the guitar strings, and get to work so we can applaud you in the next “Plymouth Harbor’s Got Talent!”

Spirit of Philanthropy

By Becky Pazkowski

I am happy to say that I have met with a total of 130 residents at Plymouth Harbor since last June (just about half of our total population).  Meeting all of you continues to be my favorite part of my job . . . learning about you, your family, your career, your travels, your hobbies and passions, and what led you to Plymouth Harbor. 

I always ask if I can update you on the Foundation, and you always say yes.  Comments that I frequently hear are, “I don’t have much money to give away.”  “I know you are looking for large gifts.”  “I have a big family.”  “The poor market has eaten away at my nest egg.”

My answer is always the same . . . not everyone can make a $1,000,000 gift, but every single gift is significant.  Gift giving is very personal, and should be self-fulfilling.  When you make a gift to a cause, you should feel a sense of satisfaction and warmth having given it. 

My husband and I give to several different causes, and probably the most fulfilling for me is what we give to the music series we helped to establish in Michigan.  It’s personal and it’s emotional, and it should be for you, too.  We have received gifts from many of you recently for various causes; three in particular that I have listed below.  Individual gifts toward these three items alone range from $5 to $500.  Adding them all together, more than 70 individuals made gifts that total over $6,200.David Houle at Plymouth Harbor

Support for the David Houle book “Entering the Shift Age” where $5.00 of each sale benefited the beginnings of a library in the Smith Care Center.  This amounted to $120 total and will go a long way toward the purchase of books and audio books for our nursing and rehab residents.

dance floor at Plymouth Harbor senior living community

Support for the purchase of a portable dance floor at Plymouth Harbor, which will be used  throughout the campus.  The total amount needed is approximately $6,700 and we have support for $5,575 so far.  Only $1,125 is needed until we can purchase the portable dance floor. 

Pianist at Plymouth Harbor senior community

Support for the CD made by Ted and Fran Rehl of Ted’s most recent concert “A Romantic Piano” which featured selections by Schubert, Liszt, Brahms, Grainger, Gershwin, and a group of pieces by Chopin.  The Rehl’s very generously offered this CD for a donation of any amount to benefit the improvement of the arts in Pilgrim Hall, including repair and maintenance of the Steinway piano that they donated.  As of this writing, $580 has been donated toward this cause. 

Now I ask that you consider the number of people that will be touched by the gifts in just these three examples. That would include every single resident now and into the future here at Plymouth Harbor. 

Think what would have happened if each of those 70 people decided not to donate because they thought their gift might be insignificant.  Well, we are very glad that didn’t happen.  We are grateful for every gift that is given, and we hope you will continue to feel the warmth that your gifts have generated.  Thank you for your continued support.

P.S.  If you are interested in support for the improvement of the arts or the portable dance floor, we welcome your gift of any amount.   

monarch butterfly at Plymouth Harbor When the sun and the weather are just right, it’s easy to imagine the peace to be found in a well-appointed butterfly garden.  Sarasota abounds with these delightful creations filled largely with native plants and the 170 species of butterflies that find their homes here at one time of the year or other (that’s nearly a quarter of 740 species found world-wide!)

Tillie Bessemer appreciated the delicate natural beauty of butterflies and the restorative powers of a garden in which to appreciate them. For this reason she designated a gift from her estate to provide for a butterfly garden to be maintained on the grounds of Plymouth Harbor after her passing.

Resident Fran Rehl became a member of the Grounds Committee very shortly after arriving at Plymouth Harbor in 2006. Fran never knew Tillie personally; however, she and her fellow committee members have kept her wishes in the years since.  But the labor of planting every spring, not to mention weekly weeding and pruning, can be difficult to maintain.  Butterfly gardens take loving care and attention. This is where Girl Scout Nichole Peal steps in.

Nichole, a junior at the Sarasota Military academy, is a hardworking and high-achieving young lady. She’s been in Girl Scouts for 11 years and is now an Ambassador Scout working on the coveted Gold Award, which is the highest ranking Girl Scout award one can achieve.  She got the idea to develop her service project around the Plymouth Harbor butterfly garden last autumn when she met resident Ann Brackett and VP of Philanthropy Becky Pazkowski on a visit to the Girl Scout Headquarters.

“I had just finished my Harvest Award where I had learned about butterfly gardens on a visit to the Florida Native Plant Nursery in Myakka,” says Nichole referring to another prestigious Girl Scout Senior award.  “There are so many elaborate rules for butterfly gardens like the number of plants and which ones are for the butterflies to eat and which are for laying their eggs.”

Nichole was no stranger to Plymouth Harbor having visited several times for Christmas caroling and the idea of creating a project that would have a lasting impact on this community was appealing. In fact, in her words, “It sounded cool.”

With the support of the Gulfcoast Girl Scout Council and executive director Sue Stewart, Nichole was ready to go to work.  And it’s a lot of work required to earn the Gold Award; work that she has to fit in between classes at her high school as well as at State College of Florida where she has started early, and her part-time job!

First she had to conduct serious research and prepare her plan following the first five of seven required steps – identify an issue, investigate it thoroughly, get help and build your team, create a plan, and then present the plan and gather feedback.  She’ll be purchasing the plants and getting ready for planting in mid-May. 

Be on the lookout for updates on Nichole’s progress and the rejuvenation of a beautiful butterfly garden for all to enjoy.

 

A Zest for Life Profile

Lest you ever suspect that selling your home and moving to a retirement community like Plymouth Harbor means that life is slowing down, have a chat with Peggy and Don Wallace. A report on their daily activities and active work in the community would leave a 50-year old youngster breathless.  And that’s exactly what happened when I joined them for lunch recently in the Mayflower Dining Room.

From the moment we sat down, they were bubbling with all the reasons they cherish living in the Plymouth Harbor community. But first things first, Peggy and I ordered the seafood wrap while Don ordered a cheeseburger with gusto before we all bolted for the salad bar, one of the best in Sarasota.

We sat down with salad plates heaping and I quickly learned that Peggy and Don had not intended to move into Plymouth Harbor when they did.

“We put our name on a waiting list saying we wouldn’t be ready for another 2-3 years,” said Don.  But when they got a call three months later with the news that a southwest facing apartment on the 12th floor of the tower was available immediately, they put their home on the market and packed their things.  Although it took a year to sell their house just when the marketing dipped, he beamed, “We never regretted it and never looked back.”

In fact, they never missed a beat keeping up with their outside circle of friends and find themselves even more involved in activities than when they had their home on Siesta Key. They keep physically fit by working with Michael in the gym at least twice a week.  Peggy serves on the Library Committee and is getting ready to participate in the project of redecorating their colony common area.  Don is active with the Programming Committee.

“There is so much to do at Plymouth Harbor,” Peggy points out. “If you aren’t active, then you must not want to be!”

Together they are a power couple providing a real professional touch to the annual Plymouth Harbor Players theatrical production. Don is still an active member of the Directors and Writers guilds of America, but doesn’t get paid scale for writing the play for this group of amateur resident thespians.  For the past three years he has written and directed the production.  Peggy had been his stage manager until this most recent production when she was cast in a leading role.

Zest for Life at Plymouth HarborNearly two months of rehearsals for this annual production are an all-consuming business, especially with pros like Don and Peggy at the helm. That professional polish is the result of a life spent in the entertainment business in LA and New York.  Don wrote, directed and produced soap operas such as “The Edge of Night,” “One Life to Live” and “All My Children.”  He was nominated for three Emmy awards for three different episodes of “One Life to Live” and won a Writer’s Guild of America award for an episode of “One Life to Live.”

Both Don and Peggy are musicians; she’s a singer and he’s a horn player.  They sing in the choir at the First Congregational Church and attend the Sarasota Orchestra concerts regularly.  It was great fun to talk about his experiences conducting choirs and our respective views on whether to sing Brahms’ German Requiem in English or the original German.  We could have talked the rest of the afternoon, but not with their busy schedules!

One of their sons lives here in Sarasota, another visited just last month and their granddaughter had just left the day before our meeting after a week’s visit.  Their family enjoys staying at the Lido Beach Resort where Plymouth Harbor residents benefit from a discount rate even during the height of season.

Peggy says that one of the most important factors that make her busy life manageable is the care and attention of all the staff at Plymouth Harbor.  “They take away the little hassles of living,” she shared.  Well, when you are as busy as Don and Peggy involved in activities that feed mind, body and soul, you need every minute you can get for yourself!

Friday, November 23 at 3pm in Pilgrim Hall

David and Jenny Heitler-Klevans of TWO OF A KIND

David and Jenny Heitler-Klevans of TWO OF A KIND

TWO OF A KIND delights audiences of all ages with their music, good humor, and audience participation. David and Jenny Heitler-Klevans of TWO OF A KIND love bringing people together and building community through music. Their beautiful harmonies accompanied by David’s powerful, rhythmic guitar playing and Jenny’s multi-ethnic percussion instruments create magic on stage.
An award-winning husband-wife duo, TWO OF A KIND presents concerts for families and children of all ages, including songs, puppets, movement, and stories – all with an emphasis on interaction and participation. Themes of songs and stories range from reading and books, friendship and animals, to social issues such as the environment, conflict resolution, and diversity. TWO OF A KIND helps audiences of all ages feel that they can create music and that they can make a difference in the world.
“Our songs are written out of great respect for children – their experiences, their sophistication and their desire to explore big issues. Our goal is to provide quality music that speaks to children and adults, and helps them to become people who make a positive contribution to the world – and to have fun at the same time!”

Five Star quality and service is an everyday reality for Plymouth Harbor’s Swiss-born Executive Chef René Weder. Trained at the Culinary School of St. Gallen, Switzerland, Chef René further honed his skills at four and five star resorts throughout the United States during his 25-plus years.
Whether it was at the five star Boca Raton Hotel and Club, Hyatt Resorts in Hilton Head and Beaver Creek or the famous Brown Palace Hotel in Denver, Colorado, Chef René’s exceedingly high culinary standards were met on a daily basis and diners were served in elegant style.
The results didn’t change when he made the move last year to Sarasota and took on the responsibility for managing dining services at Plymouth Harbor on Sarasota Bay. He supervises a skilled culinary team and oversees service in Plymouth Harbor’s casually elegant Mayflower Dining Room and the Plymouth Rock Café. He is also responsible for the very active catering services which provide a unique resource for residents who wish to plan private parties, larger events and gatherings.
He plans regular dining adventures such as extravagant seafood buffets and a very popular Sunday brunch while never repeating a menu within a month. Residents vie for the opportunity to enjoy one of his Chef’s Tables with seating in the kitchen and a special menu prepared before their eyes.
While the culinary standards are high, Chef Rene has found another level of personal service that he can offer at Plymouth Harbor. “Our tastes change as we get older, and dietary restrictions complicate our dining experience,” shares Chef Rene. “Too often, establishments such as ours eliminate salt, or modify the preparation for all, which makes for an unnecessarily bland experience for some.”Chef Rene enjoys getting to know each resident prepares food to meet their specific preferences and needs.
“A fine dining experience is one of life’s greatest joys.” believes Chef René. “I would never want to compromise on this, and I don’t think our residents should either.”