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Retirement community aims for golden memories

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SUN CITY CENTER – A party for 11,000 guests, plus? An anniversary observed for an entire year? A celebration that both commemorates the past and ensures pleasure in the present? With a base budget less than fifty cents per guest?

Sure! Why not! The impossible just takes a little longer! So, where’s the operations manual?

But, there was no manual of instructions, no mentor hovering in the wings, no published how-to hardcover to lean on when Ann Marie Leblanc took on planning this retirement community’s 50th birthday bash in January, 2009. What the two-term Community Association director had was a few hints provided by slightly older municipal cousin, Sun City, Arizona, some seed money, and a wealth of social entertaining experience beginning as mother to 10 children, grandmother to 22. Leblanc has shown she knows how to parlay her assets.
Melody Jameson photo
Sun City Center’s 50th anniversary commemorative booklet is just one of myriad details that has kept Ann Marie Leblanc and a 25-member committee hopping for about 18 months with planning and arranging the community’s year-long anniversary celebration. Designed to promote the “Lifestyle for the Young at Heart” theme, the collector’s item, including the observance’s calendar of events as well as details about the community that charted new ground in retiree living a half century ago, is to be mailed to every home in SCC before the year of celebration kicks of May 10, 2011. SCC is one of the three original Del Webb retirement communities.

It’s still a work in progress, but Sun City Center’s golden anniversary promises to be a continuing extravaganza of strolls down memory lane, shared knowledge, dress up and dress down occasions, athletic events, tours both aquatic and on terra firma, entertainments, food, favors and just plain fun.

It all starts May 10, 2011 – a half century to the day after Del Webb, a pioneering developer who envisioned entire communities designed expressly for active retirees, turned the first shovelful of dirt to initiate his central Florida concept – the second of three originals. Webb’s notion, so the story goes, was to carve Sun City, Florida, following on the heels of the Arizona cousin, from amidst the bay heads of the former cattle ranch bordering a two-lane, barely paved track between Wimauma and Ruskin. However, a much older Sun City already existed south of Ruskin. So, ground was broken for a Sun City forever to be distinguished by the added “Center.”

The first half-century celebration opens at 10 AM next May 10 with a parade of marching bands, floats, and units honoring many organizations which are the volunteer pillars on which so much of the community’s quality of life has been built over five decades, Leblanc said this week . Television personality Steve Jerve is set to be Grand Marshal and among the expected honored guests is the SCC couple who have lived in the community since its first decade.

The parade’s exact route though the town and on Sun City Center Boulevard is being worked out with local law enforcement, she added, but it will end in an outdoor community picnic on the Central Campus.

And, if it can be coordinated, Leblanc said she’s interested in arranging simultaneous ringing of each SCC church’s bell in concert with the parade to signal the community’s call to its next half century.

The commemoration is to wrap up 12 months later, with a gala at Community Hall in April, 2012.

In between are a parade of homes to demonstrate the differing structural styles built by the several developers, a birthday party toasting the late Del Webb, an antique car exhibition, and a silent auction and an appraisal fair. On tap are golf tournaments and pool parties and a 5K walk and “50” themed functions in the fitness center and lawn bowling lessons at no charge. For history buffs, Daughters of the American Revolution are planning an ode to the U.S. Constitution and one of the community’s historians, John Bowker, is to present a visual version of the community’s story and the performing arts club will offer a couple of productions.

Recognizing the many retired military service men and women, Veteran’s Day, 2011, will see the 11/11/11 Military Ball at Community Hall, Leblanc noted. There‘s also a pancake breakfast and an ice cream social and a pot luck supper built into the schedule at various times. For the competition minded, bridge and softball and horseshoe contests are slated. Plus, the community’s slate of annual events – Holiday Walk, Follies, Fun Fest – will be held as usual, she added.

Taking a lesson learned from the Arizona cousin which celebrated its half century mark in 2010, Leblanc said she and her 25-member committee have aimed for a judicious balance throughout the celebration year rather than an overwhelming menu of daily choices.

“Fifty is the big number here,” the CA director emphasized, adding the committee has made a deliberate effort to hold many costs to consumers down to 50 cents. But, to meet this objective there had to be substantial underwriting, she indicated. It began with $5,000 in seed money from the CA. To supplement the CA figure, she created and has been implementing a tiered contribution program giving “Proud Sponsorship” status to donors of $50, the “Elite” classification for contributions in the $51 to $99 bracket ,” Silver” status to those able to provide between $100 and $500, and conferring the “Golden” label on contributions of $500 to $1,000 or more. SCC’s newest developer, Minto Communities, and The Observer newspapers have contributed in the latter category.

In addition, Leblanc has applied for a $1,500 Neighborhood Grant from Hillsborough County and plans to stage a fund-raising pancake, egg and sausage breakfast on September 25 in the Florida Room. Moreover, some generous cash donations have materialized.

Expenses include a commemorative 50th anniversary booklet being compiled for delivery to every SCC home as well as the anniversary golf balls she wants to use as favors and the observance mugs which can be personalized for $10 each and the celebration tee shirts not yet priced.

If there’s any money left over, Leblanc said she thinks about a permanent installation on the Central Campus marking the community’s half-century achievement when its “Lifestyle for the Young at Heart” was most honored.

Marker or not, though, the former journalism major who honed people skills in the travel industry and volunteers freely, wants most that SCC residents “remember a fantastic celebration” which made them “aware of the history from the past” and gave them “enjoyment of the present.”

If so, the credit will be due the hard-working committee, she asserted. “I’m a dreamer,” she acknowledged “I have taken my dreams on behalf of the community to them (committee members) and they have made them come true.”

Copyright 2010 Melody Jameson
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