By Laura J. Cummings
When Elaine Rumble became Marsh Landing’s first Activity Director in November 1999, she was one of just six in the region. Without realizing it, she was trailblazing a trending vocation. Nineteen years later, the number of activities directors in Southwest Florida is now well above 150, she estimates. Every community of size needs what she calls a “cruise director on dry land.”
She’s always on the lookout for novel outings like brewery tours, Lippizaner Stallions or “glamping” (glamorous camping). And with nearly two decades of experience — including stints at Pelican Landing, Verona Walk, Village Walk and Lighthouse Bay at The Brooks (10 years and counting) — Rumble is always eager to share her expertise with up-and-coming activity directors.
- How did your career as an activity director begin?
In 1999, I bought a home in Marsh Landing and Eric, our salesman, thought if I could teach K-1 for 18 years, maybe I would be interested in the position of Activity Director for Marsh Landing. Judy Beach was on the resident social committee; she showed me the ropes and a new career had begun.
- Why is it important for every community to have an activity director?
Many of the residents in Florida are transplants from another state. An Activity Director is the glue that holds everyone together. We make it so that no one feels like a freshman on the first day of school, standing in the cafeteria, holding their tray and all strangers are looking back. We introduce them to others and make them feel welcomed.
- How has the role of activities director evolved over the years?
In many instances we are called Lifestyle Directors, because that is what we create, a “lifestyle.” We fill the days with opportunities to learn new skills, join clubs, exercise, socialize, take part in sports. We are always looking for something different, a hidden gem, something off the beaten path.
- How do local activity directors support one another and help spark creative ideas?
There are two activity directors groups to which I belong: Activity Directors Networking Group, begun by Kathie Pedit (Pelican Yacht Club) 30 years ago and the first of its kind in Florida, and Creative Visionaries, begun by Jenene Dulaney, Activity Director for Riverwoods Plantation in Estero. Both meet regularly, have expos and Facebook pages where information is shared, questions answered, opinions given and ideas swapped.
- What types of events do your residents at Lighthouse Bay most enjoy?
Grill & Chill is the best. All the hot dogs, hamburgers, chips and soda you want for $5. Everyone brings a side dish or dessert to share. There’s also tennis, bocce, Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre, Bingo, Majority Rules, Book Club, Art-full Encounters, bus trips, lunches, morning coffee, line dancing, etc. My residents truly like each other and enjoy any chance to get together. I really work in “Mayberry.”
- How can an activity director combine social events with philanthropy?
Last March, the Lighthouse Bay Charitable Foundation raised $25,000 in one day. We had a “Fun Run,” tennis, bocce, corn hole, basketball and putting tournaments. There was an evening event with heavy hors-d’oeuvres provided by Chef Lisa from FineMark Bank, plus dancing and music, a silent auction and a “Pop the Cork” wine event. This year our charitable event is March 9. We’ll be raising money for two charities: Valerie’s House, a place for children who have experienced the death of a parent or sibling, and Healthy Start, a nonprofit with a mission to reduce infant deaths and premature births.
- What keeps you going day after day?
Every day in the life of an Activity Director is different. You develop ideas that keep you challenged. Having an event turn out even better than I planned is rewarding. When the weather cooperates, life is grand!