There are two good reasons to join the Segway Riders Club of The Villages, according to president Ken Redding. “It’s a great way to explore Central Florida. And we always stop for a great lunch.”
Segways are two-wheeled self-balancing electric vehicles, invented by Dean Kamen, and launched in 2001. Riders stand, hold the handle bars, and maneuver the Segway by shifting their weight. The top speed of the Personal Transporter (PT) model used by the Club is around 12 mph and they can go about 24 miles on a full charge.
Started in 2007 by Tom and Barbara Davis, the Club has grown to some 350 members.
“In the beginning we’d ride once a month and the Segway dealer in Mount Dora would plan the trip,” Ken says. “Then about five years ago the Club took over the logistics – destinations, restrooms, restaurants, and so on.”
Since the Segway PT costs around $6,000, most members rent their vehicle from Segway of Central Florida for “$49 and change,” according to Ken. The dealer can bring up to 21 machines to the Club rides and members sign up for them in advance. “Along with the members who own their own Segway, we end up with 25 people or so on a ride.” The Club does as many as five rides a month in the Central Florida area, along with out-of-town trips. Trips are planned to Savannah, Ga. and several Florida locations this year. Part of the appeal of the ride is the narrative that Club explorers – the route planners – develop and relay to the riders through ear phones.
Club treasurer, Vicki Luntzel, took her first Segway ride several year ago on a cruise with her late husband. “It was a shore excursion on Grand Turk Island. So, when we came back to The Villages, I immediately joined the Club.” Now she always looks online for a Segway ride whenever traveling. “The latest one was in Seattle, but we’ve done Lombard Street in San Francisco, Atlanta, New Orleans, Chicago and her native Boston – it was 42-degrees and drizzling in Boston that day.”
Vicki’s family moved to Melbourne, Florida when she was 12 and she graduated with a degree in education from South Florida University. After a few years of teaching she joined Lockheed Martin as a finance manager, a job which took her around the country.
Like many clubs in The Villages, the Segway Riders Club gives back to the community. “We sponsor the Segway Experience,” Ken says. “People sign up for a half-hour session on a Segway with experienced Club trainers. That includes getting on and off the machine, steering and handling, and a short ride. After that they would probably have no problem doing a city ride.” The training cost is $30 and the funds are used to buy Segways for members of the Disabled American Veterans #150. The Club has donated five vehicles so far. The next Segway Experience is scheduled for March 18, 2019 at SeaBreeze Recreation Center. Sign up and pay online or in person at The Villages Box Office.
Ken Redding grew up in Uxbridge, near Boston, where his father was a partner in a local trucking company. “I’ll never forget the first time I drove a tractor trailer through the Sumner Tunnel under Boston Harbor. I was only about 18 at the time and it’s a pretty narrow tunnel.”
He studied accounting in college, ended up at Peat Marwick Mitchell, moved on to establish his own CPA business, and eventually became president of UniBank, a mutually-owned community bank headquartered in Whitinsville, Mass. He retired 10 years ago.
“The year I retired we took a little road trip, driving to Florida. My wife, Louise, had a buddy who lived in The Villages who had been after her to visit. I really had no interest. A retirement community? All those old people,” he laughs. “After a couple of nights, I thought, ‘I’d like to look around this place.’” In 2010 they bought their home in the Village of Largo.
Vicki’s story is much the same. “We had retired to Melbourne and I had two girlfriends who lived here. After the 2004 hurricanes slammed the East Coast of Florida, we decided it was time for a look.” They bought a home in the Village of Belvedere. But for Vicki, the real decision came down to competitive Mahjong.
“Here you can play every day, any day, at one of the rec centers,” she says. “I always play at least two days a week, and next week I’ll be playing in a three-day tournament.”
“Competitive Mahjong is not social,” Vicki says pointedly. “We play for money and as soon as you put up money, people get serious.” Players pay to play and many of the tournaments also raise money for charities. “The one next week is to raise money for St. Jude’s.” She has played tournaments in Tampa, St. Petersburg, Las Vegas and Atlantic City. But, she says it’s more about the competition, not the money. In a tournament in Tampa a few years ago, Vicki came in fourth and won $400.
She is also in the Single Baby Boomers Club – Villagers who are single and born between 1946 and 1964.
“It’s not a dating club – although some of the members have married – we just do a lot of activities from pickleball to dinners to special entertainers at our monthly meetings,” she said.
Outside of Segway riding – Ken is also one of the Club explorers planning the rides – his passions include playing golf and, more recently, converting old 8 mm movies to digital. “I bought a machine to convert the films I found in a box in a closet. Thanks goodness my mother saved all of this stuff. It uncovered some memories, including problems I went through as a teenager!”
Ken sums up the Segway Riders Club experience: “It’s really just a vehicle to get around and explore. It’s taken me to places I wouldn’t have gotten to otherwise. And the food. It’s always good to have food attached to it somewhere.”
For more information on the Segway Club, visit www.srctv.org.
John W Prince is a writer and Villages resident. For more information visit www.GoMyStory.com.