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.