Still zinging after all these years
After 40 years in Venice, Sertoma still signs up two to three new members a month, says real estate investor Ed Taylor. With a roster of about 130, the Venice club is one of the largest U.S. chapters of Sertoma Inc., a North American organization promoting hearing health.
Sertoma “just filled a niche,” says Taylor, one of two charter members still active. The club opened and continues to underwrite a nonprofit speech clinic for kids struggling with everything from cleft palate to Down syndrome. It has attracted “a perfect cross-section of the community,” explains Taylor, a who’s who that over the decades has spanned the school board to the city council, Venice Main Street to Venice Theatre. “We’ve generated a lot of leaders,” he says.
The combination of mission focus and member confidence gives Sertoma an élan attractive to young professionals, according to Taylor. “We still have a lot of fun,” he says. The club has a knack for beer concessions. Among its fund raisers, it pitches in at the Suncoast BBQ and Bluegrass Bash to benefit the Suncoast Foundation for Handicapped Children (SFHC), which leases facilities for $1 a year to a number of nonprofits, including the Sertoma Speech Clinic. Sertoma has also mounted an “Unfashionable Show,” with members modeling crazy outfits.
“We have a sense of humor,” Taylor says. “We make fun of ourselves; we’re shameless.”
Irreverence ripples through the regular meetings at Allegro Bistro, one of the few local venues that can host such a large group. One tradition: Any member (or spouse) whose name has appeared in the paper gets “fined.” Says Taylor, “It sounds corny, but it’s fun. You get zinged. You have to be there to experience it.”
Inspiring Perfect Attendance
In 10 years, Penny Correll hasn’t missed a Rotary meeting. Over lunch or on committees, she’s always making new friends, chatting with “a gal who cave dives,” for instance, or someone who worked for Hugh Hefner. “I love being around interesting, happy people,” she says.
Travel for her career of marketing apparel made joining impractical until she retired. In Venice she found a club about 100 members strong that combines the business social networking for which Rotary is famous with popular local fund-raising events such as the Fine Art & Craft Festival at the airport in January and the Toast to Venice in March. The club invests the proceeds in the community, helping to support the Rotary Futures College Resource Center at Venice High, for example.
“I like to have a purpose—and to give back to the community,” says Correll. “It sounds trite, but it’s true.”
Now serving a year as club president, Correll says she wakes up at 4 a.m. reaching for a pad and pencil to jot down ideas for engaging members. She takes pride in Rotary’s global as well as local philanthropy, opening the weekly meeting at the Venice Yacht Club with a reminder: “Welcome to the greatest humanitarian organization in the world.” Working with the WHO and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Rotary International has contributed to the imminent eradication of polio, Correll points out, as well as peace fellowships, clean water initiatives and more. So she was proud to collaborate with equestrian Fox Lea Farms this year to launch a new November fund raiser for worldwide causes: Show Jumping under the Stars.
She hopes this event will grow, part of her legacy—along with her positive attitude. “I appreciate people. I appreciate the time they give,” says Correll. “I make people feel good.”
South County Jazz Club
Hitting a High Note
This month’s “guitar summit” at the Venice Performing Arts Center (VPAC) represents a culmination of sorts for the South County Jazz Club, now in its sixth season. With a board of five, a dozen volunteers, and no grant funding, the club has cultivated a devoted membership and organized some 400 affordable jazz events in the area. With the Friday afternoon concerts at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Venice often selling out, the club stepped up programming this year, including bookings at the 266-seat Glenridge Performing Arts Center and the gathering of "The Great Guitars of Jazz"—Nate Najar, Larry Coryell and Russell Malone—at the VPAC on Jan. 19.
“A lot of people in Venice love mainstream jazz,” says club founder and president Morrie Trumble. “We just tapped into a vein.”
When jazz promoter and retired NBC radio program director Trumble moved from Manhattan to Venice, he brought a loaded Rolodex. Although thrilled to find so much local talent, he also aimed to introduce out-of-the-area artists to Venice listeners. While keeping ticket and membership prices modest, “We tried to position the club to pay artists as much as we can,” he says. “I think we’re the only successful subscription jazz club in the nation.”
Trumble fell in love young with classic Benny Goodman swing and Louis Armstrong jazz. As a first grader, he hovered around the jukebox in his parents’ Denver coffee shop hoping customers would drop in change. He grew up to play trumpet and tenor sax, studying with “some fairly prominent people in New York” and “gigging around” until the day job ate too much time, he says.
Through the club, he can enjoy—and preserve—his beloved sound, in the company of a discriminating audience. “Musicians like playing here,” he says. “They feel understood and appreciated.”
Venice Touchdown Club
Anyone who has ever attended a Venice High School (VHS) football game understands why the Touchdown Club never lacks sponsors and volunteers. Think Friday Night Lights minus Texas troubles. “With no pro team in town,” says the club’s vice president, Greg Hitt, “everyone comes out. It’s a generational thing, a family thing. Alumni come back. Young kids aspire to be Venice Indians. On a bad night, we’ll have 5,000 people in the stands. When the team won the state championship in 2000, 10,000 fans from Venice went to Gainesville for the final game.”
Business owner Hitt has been helping on the gridiron sidelines for about 30 years. His son, TJ, was a ball boy at age 5 while Hitt managed the equipment. “Venice allows you to do that,” he says.
In 1996 the Touchdown Club “really stepped up its support,” says Hitt. In 2000, as the team went undefeated in the regular season, TJ was playing defensive end. Hitt remembers VHS students lining up as the squad boarded the bus for the playoff semifinal in Miami. The caravan of players and fans took a small detour, past the elementary school, with kids cheering outside, and through downtown, “with old folks waving.” As more than a dozen buses turned onto I-75, the team spotted fire trucks on the overpass and signs every 50 miles.
Watching TV recently at the Daiquiri Deck, Hitt counted six alums playing in college or NFL games (among them, Dri Archer, Pittsburgh Steelers; Trey Burton, Philadelphia Eagles). The Touchdown Club helps players land academic scholarships and keeps enhancing football operations with hefty contributions. “If we hear there’s a better helmet, shoulder pads, cleats—we get it,” says Hitt.
Why Kiwanis? Kids, agree attorneys Bob Moore, 75, and Adam Miller, 37. Moore ticks off thumbnail sketches of the big-name clubs. Kiwanis, he says, has a reputation for “hands-on service.”
“It’s more of a down-to-earth club,” adds Miller.
When Moore settled in Venice almost 50 years ago, his pastor and law partner steered him to Kiwanis. He rose from club president to Florida District governor to Kiwanis International president in 2003-2004, traveling to 39 countries. Kiwanis brought Big Brothers Big Sisters to the area, Moore says, and with the Loveland Center launched an Aktion Club, now part of a Kiwanis International network of service clubs for adults with disabilities.
The chapter also started an annual “fishathon” at Oscar Scherer State Park. That event hooked Miller, tagging along behind his dad. When Miller returned to Venice to practice elder law, he joined his dad’s club. Members wish they could clone him.
“We need more young members,” says Moore. Traditional service clubs have suffered from competition for time: Two-career couples with children often guard their weekends, and a host of nonprofits with no dues or meetings offer flexible volunteer opportunities. This past year hit Venice Kiwanis especially hard as two staunch members died and two more moved away.
But the mood is upbeat at the monthly lunch at the American Legion post. After the prayer and pledge of allegiance, one member throws a “happy dollar” into a circulating bucket because of World Series game 7. Another donates a “give-me-strength dollar”; she’s organizing the books-and-pj’s-for-homeless-kids giveaway. Plans are afoot for an Aktion Club “fun day” and a “flapjack fund raiser” at Applebee’s.
And Adam Miller is looking forward to taking his son to the fishathon in April.