When The Villages Recreation Department opened the 10th regional recreation center on Friday, they pulled out all the stops to make the occasion especially festive. Why?
Because this will likely be the last multi-function regional facility to be opened, as The Villages moves toward build-out — and to honor John Rohan, the familiar and admired face of Villages recreation, and his dedicated staffers, who have built The Villages recreational lifestyle from small beginnings into a one-of-a-kind phenomenon.
Hundreds of Villagers brought palpable good spirits to open the gold shingled, 30,000-square-foot building, located at the corner of Morse Boulevard and State Road 44. Villages Vice President for Community Relations Gary Lester, and the Recreation Department’s Pam Henry, helped Rohan count down to the ribbon cutting, with songs and pompoms from The Village Cheerleaders. “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow,” they sang.
“This is just so wonderful, so exciting,” beamed Janet Tutt, Villages District Manager. “There are no words. This is not only a tribute to John Rohan, who built our recreation — it’s about our history. The Villages has a rich history leading from humble beginnings to the lifestyle it offers today.”
Representing the Villages Homeowners Association were Tom Young and Matt Friedland.
Everyone was shaking Rohan’s hand and hugging him, including Jennifer Parr, from The Villages founding Schwartz/Morse family. Bud and Nancy Stout, from The Villages Rose Club, presented a gorgeous bouquet of home grown roses to Rohan.
High up along the ceiling of the entranceway, murals depict the iconic golf cart bridge spanning U.S. Hwy 27/441, plus polo, tennis, basketball, fishing — the array of pastimes is almost endless. The green and gold wall treatments and carpets blend beautifully with the rich wood-paneled flooring and trim, and for an added bit of nostalgia, the large mosaic tile logo, moved from the former sales office at La Reina Building in Spanish Springs, lies at the entrance to the huge Rohan facility theater.
Outside, one finds all manner of sports available — including a large residents-only sports pool, brand new tennis and platform tennis courts, plus basketball and pickleball space.
During the summer, The Villages Design Department chose from among more than a hundred submitted paintings from Villages artists and hung ten lifestyle murals in various rooms. Rohan’s artist niece, Christina Rohan, from Gainesville, also painted a mural.
The eldest of the artists, Santo Domingo Villager Freddie Venturoni, 92, was shocked to be selected as a muralist, because she is best known for her note cards, calendars and small art pieces in black-and-white. Her pen and ink medium lends itself perfectly to her rustic Brownwood Paddock Square scene — complete with its log cabin and windmill.
Venturoni and the other artists consider this invitation to be a thrill of a lifetime — an opportunity to be part of posterity among their friends and neighbors. Near by, fellow muralist, Trudy Peterson stood by her depiction of the “Fourth of July at Spanish Springs.”
The artists, including Village of Mallory Square resident Leda Rabenold, converted their small submitted paintings to the large mural canvases using grids — copying one square at a time until their pictures were transformed. Rabenold was excited about her Lake Sumter Landing lighthouse scene — by far, the largest canvas she has ever done. Nancy Dias, from Piedmont Village’s work entitled “Evening Star at Lake Sumter Landing” also shows this popular centrally located venue.
Dias liked how each artist has a framed portrait next to their mural, plus a plaque with their name and Village, and when they moved to the community.
Orange Blossom Gardens Villager, Jeannie Willette, enjoyed painting her “Candlelight by Golf View” mural — depicting vintage ‘Battle of the Sexes’ competitions, before the Senior Games began in The Villages. Willette believes her painting will speak to the longest-term Villagers, who recall when the community only existed on the Historic side. “The Villages has a long happy history,” Willette said, “and I think it’s good to show it and remember it.” Another OBG resident, Val Mydske’s composition shows ‘Paradise Park,’ also on the Historic Side, which was recently expanded and renovated.
Tracy Mathews, vice president of The Villages design division, believes involving resident artists demonstrated how much Villagers participate in the active community lifestyle — and marvels at the variety of scenes the talented artists chose to paint.
Sabal Chase Villager, Cindy O’Lear, painted “Spanish Springing,” and rounding out the fine art array is Chatham Villager Diane Andrus’ painting of The Villages Polo Club; Springdale Villager Mike Daley’s “Fading Light Golf,” and Phil Myers’ beautiful tree-lined “Saddlebrook Canopy.”
Special features never before offered at a Villages rec center opening included a raffle ticket on which visitors collected stamps in each room on their tour to enter; and an EXPO, with representatives and demos of dozens of hobbies and sports. Hundreds of solo and tandem cyclists converged on the Rohan center from all points north. Polo Ridge cyclist, Ed Hankwitz, said “I don’t know just how many of us there are — but we all looked forward to this.”