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Looking as comfortably at home as if she’d occupied her office all her life, Ann Marie LeBlanc pushes back her chair and offers me coffee, which she says they brew at all times of the day. Amid bulging files accumulated as liaison to the more than 170 registered clubs and other special groups and organizations, there were also calming touches like her Michigan lighthouse computer screen wallpaper and her “You’re Appreciated” coffee cup- earned during her years on the board of directors of the Sun City Center Community Association.
|ANN MARIE LEBLANC|
Despite the bulging files and messages from club officers and other residents, Ann Marie still appears in complete control and quietly confident.
Maybe part of that quiet calm comes from having traveled the world with her husband Ray, an automotive parts designer, and having a blended family consisting of 10 children, 22 grandchildren and six great grandchildren. Finally I’ve met someone with more children, step-children and grandchildren than I have. (But not by much.)
When I found out that Ann Marie has only lived in Sun City Center for five years, I immediately wondered how she had become so very busy. I mean- it usually takes more than a couple of years to be involved in as many projects as she is.
As liaison to the clubs and organizations that come under the umbrella of the Community Association, she deals with all the rules and regulations, club room assignments, special event bookings and yes- often has to solve disputes. Just recently, she was in charge of raising funds for 90 new chairs for Community Hall and is co-chairing FunFest- the association’s annual main fundraising event – with Jane Keegan. Having done the event without a co-chair last year, Ann Marie says having Jane sign on was a real blessing.
“Right now, I stay pretty busy counting the hours the volunteers turn in,” Ann Marie said, almost as though that massive project was an afterthought. “I don’t think the volunteers here are recognized enough. I’m going to count up the hours, and Kings Point is doing it too, then we’re going to total them together and apply as one community for Gov. Crist’s ‘Points of Light’ recognition award. We have been recognized for many things by the county, but the people here are a shining example for the whole country – actually, I think we’re the most unusual community in the world - and while I’m in office, I want to be sure to spread the word as far as possible.”
In April, Sun City Center and Kings Point also plan separate recognitions of their many volunteers, she said.
But what’s she doing right now?
“We have so many wonderful clubs and organizations I thought having a Holiday Walk would be very appropriate,” she said.
So she’s arranging one.
It’s not a “walk” like the 10K or three-mile run, but a chance for the surrounding area to walk though the Sun City Center clubrooms while they’re decorated for the holidays and see what they have to offer.
People may also find everything on their Christmas lists from toys made by the Sawdust Engineers to hand-crafted jewelry, pottery, paintings, ceramics, and well- art in just about any medium you can name.
“Last year I had a friend come down and she ended up spending $250 and getting gifts for everybody on her list. But even if you don’t buy anything, there’s warmth all over the campus, you can get refreshments, get ideas for gifts, let the kids- or grandkids- run the trains (in the Model Rail Road Room) and see how the wood carvers make their things.”
Ann Marie has already made more than 60 bows to go around the lampposts and has spoken with club officers and knows that all the rooms will be decorated.
Joe Kuhn, an experienced chef, is going to do a breakfast the day of the event, Dec. 13, from 8 a.m. to noon although the Holiday Walk (or breakfast) won’t be open to the public until 9 a.m.
Joe is going to see that the people working the booths and club rooms have a chance to eat before the visitors come. Pancakes and sausage and eggs will be cooked, served and cleaned up by volunteers.
I wanted to know how Ann Marie always manages to get so many volunteers while so many others are having a hard time getting helpers.
“I don’t know. I’ve never had to beg. We just put it in our newsletter and people appear,” she said. “We always have enough.”
Part of her success on the board, she attributes to the fact she lets others handle the “sticky stuff” with the county while she concentrates on in-house affairs. “I love the community, so it’s natural for me to want to work with the volunteers and residents. I let the others worry about the political matters,” she said,
acknowledging that there are certainly plenty of those now that the developer, WCI, declared bankruptcy in October.
“We will have to see whether the community wants to keep all the golf courses, or make some green spaces. The board is already working on these matters and exploring if we will have the money we might need. But this community has everything from metaphysical pursuits to lawn bowling to softball to every poker game ever invented. People will continue to come.”
Ann Marie likes to brag about the community so much she volunteers at the Visitor’s Information Center a few hours a week. Oh, didn’t I mention that before? Yeah- she does that too.
But why? How did all this volunteerism start? Forty-five minutes had passed and I still didn’t know the answer to that even though it had been my first question.
At last she told me.
“We had a beautiful place on the lake in Michigan. We’d bought it really for the grandchildren and had lived there 15 years,” she said. “Then my sister-in-law, Theresa Phillips (who is a director of the Information Center) and my husband and I decided to move here. It was exciting, but I cried all the way down because we were leaving the family. They immediately became involved in things but I didn’t. Then one day, my husband said, ‘why don’t you play bridge today?’ I did, and the next week, he asked if I wanted him to take me again. I said no, and I went by myself. Four months later I was president of the Wednesday Progressive Bridge Club and that was the beginning.”
Ah ha! I had my answer. Ann Marie, like so many other Sun City Center newcomers, had quickly gone from the card table into other activities, meeting new friends and becoming involved with clubs, causes, charities and a whole new life along the way.
Every week I find that people seem surprised at how interesting they really are.
*Perhaps you have something you’d like to share. Or maybe you’d rather tell the community about your favorite charity or cause: or sound off about something you think needs change. That’s what “Over Coffee” is about. It really doesn’t matter whether we actually drink any coffee or not (although I probably will). It’s what you have to say that’s important. E-mail me any time and suggest a meeting place. No matter what’s going on, I’m usually available to share just one more cup.
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