BY PENNY FLETCHER
Between January and March the Sun City Center Information Center served 465 residents, 499 out-of-town visitors, gave tours to 190 people, and answered 261 long distance telephone calls.
The all-volunteer staff there also fielded 264 email inquiries and answered 34 people by mail who did not have email.
Center coordinator Janet Ditmore and her busy staff of about 60 need more help.
“We have 30 regulars and about 30 fill-in part-timers,” Ditmore said. “They each work 2-hour shifts with two to a shift. When any of the 30 regulars need a day off, are sick or take a vacation, I have to find a sub. Sometimes it’s easier just to sub myself,” Ditmore said. She also takes a shift as a volunteer on a regular basis, she said.
Ditmore serves as the hospitality chairwoman for the Sun City Center Community Association so when the position was vacated at the Information Center, many members and board directors said she’d be a natural at the job.
She works closely with Judy Hackett, who tries to make sure all the hours are filled by volunteers.
After 13 years in Sun City Center, Ditmore says she knows the community well enough to answer most questions. But there are books compiled over the years that help people with all kinds of answers from where to find things to lists of Realtors, houses of worship, HOA rules, maps, suggested tour routes, and just about any other question someone could ask.
Originally from Pennsylvania, Ditmore moved around the world with the military and then worked as a marketing manager in Leesburg when she moved to Florida. She was appointed to head the Information Center in 2013 by the association board and is also in charge of the annual Hi Neighbor event that showcases what all the clubs and organizations do for residents and visitors.
She’s one busy woman.
“We knew she’d be great,” said John Bowker, who used to run the Information Center.
Well, that’s not entirely correct.
Bowker began the project when he and Evelyn Lunsford started going through about 40 boxes of old newspapers and articles about Sun City Center that had been stored in the late Phil Lange’s garage. Lange, a professor emeritus at Columbia University in NYC, had taught at Community Church College and the Issues and Ideas forum in Sun City Center for many years and collected all sorts of stories and memorabilia.
“The papers were rotting. You could stick your hand through about 10 of them nearly up to the elbow,” Bowker said. “We had to get them out of there.”
That began Bowker’s history project that eventually landed him in the job of running a History Center out of Old Town Hall.
Then Walt Cawein, a former president of the Community Association, bought three houses on Cherry Hills Drive, tore two down for a parking lot (because even though they were offered free to anyone who would move them, no one took them up on the offer) and renovated the third for a combination Information and History Center.
The Men’s Club Lifeline project also has a room in the building.
Bowker spent about $1,000 of his own money preserving the papers in fireproof boxes in a fireproof room he had built.
Eventually a website was set up to answer most general questions, which works especially well for out-of-towners wanting to find out more about the community when considering retirement.
But people ask all sorts of specific questions too, like how to get to an airport, or who to go to for any number of problems. Many who move do not even know where to find the people in charge of their homeowner’s association, Ditmore said.
“They need to know how to get their association badges and what the watering rules are here,” she continued. “ We try to answer as much of the out-of-town questions by email but some people don’t use computers and so we have to use snail mail. That means the association pays for postage. They also cover our expenses. No one here is paid, everything is volunteer.”
To find out how to volunteer to help email Ditmore at email@example.com.
The new Information Center is due to break ground in about six-to-nine months, said David Floyd, who is in charge of the Project Committee facilities expansion.
“Right now we are in the permitting and design phase,” he said.
The new building will cost about $200,000 and will be from 1,200 to 1,500 square feet with a central area for welcoming and talking with visitors and residents, several small offices and a room for the History Society.
It will be shaped like the existing arts and crafts building and will be the new “coffee” color that is being used to replace the blue and white on all the central campus buildings.