My husband and I moved from Northern Virginia to Englewood in late 1994 when my daughters were 4 and 2. We wanted to be closer to my parents and I was desperate to escape the cold weather. My kids went to school here and graduated from Lemon Bay High School. My younger one, 27 now, has set down roots just over the Englewood line in Port Charlotte.
I’ve been writing about Englewood for almost that long, for the Englewood Review, then the Herald-Tribune and then back to the Review. I’ve covered almost every Pioneer Days during that time and every Pioneer Days event, the pageants, the contests, the parade, the people. I’ve written about floats and ridden them. I interviewed 80-year-old grand marshals and 8-year-old beauty queens. I was invited to be the first female panelist at a “Mayor for a Day” debate, and this year, I was asked to again be on the panel even though I no longer live in Englewood.
I moved to Venice in late 2015 to give my older daughter, who is on the spectrum and doesn’t drive, access to public transportation, independence and a job. My home, work, and about 80% of my social life are now in Venice. It’s been a good move for Jenna and in many ways for me, but I find myself telling people, “Venice is great, but I miss Englewood.”
People who love Englewood often use the word community and nothing defines that sense of community more than Pioneer Days, and especially the Mayor for a Day race. People pay $10 to be able to run for “Mayor,” then raise money for charities they care about. They hold fundraisers, attend events around town, and participate in these debates. They do this even though they may be working full-time, have families and other commitments. Every dollar they raise counts as a vote. The one with the most votes gets to be ‘Mayor’ and ride in the parade on Labor Day. All of them get to donate the money they raised to their charities. And because it’s Englewood, they raise a lot of money.
Even though he wouldn’t know anyone there and I’d be sitting with the panel, my boyfriend Daniel wanted to attend the first debate at the End Zone. When he arrived, the room was crowded, but instead of pointing him toward an empty barstool, I spotted Linda Stephens, Karen Tyree and Margo Grimshaw, all of whom I’ve known for decades. I thought that’s where I’d want to sit. I asked if there was room for Daniel in their booth and of course they said yes.
Meanwhile, I got to sit at the table with my fellow panelists, including Matt Smith, who handles my parents’ insurance, and Kathleen Jarosik, owner of Xpertech Auto Repair, who took care of my cars for decades. It felt like I never left town.
Our emcee was my friend Steven Legg, who opened the event by saying, “One thing that I know about Englewood is that this town comes together.” Then for about 90 minutes, the candidates and the crowd proved that was true. Yes, the six candidates fielded questions about their pet peeves, favorite restaurants and the strangest thing in their car (that one was mine), but they also spoke passionately about feeding the hungry, and preventing bullying, domestic abuse and accidental drowning. “The fact that I can give something back, makes me so happy,” said Candace Stevens, who owns her own business,
has four teenagers at home and still found the time to run for mayor for Bikers Against Child Abuse.
The room was packed with supporters who applauded generously for every candidate and helped collect “votes.” Kendra Porter, who grew up in Englewood, moved away, and like so many others, moved back, declared, “This community is so solid. This community is amazing.”
When the event was over, I checked in on Daniel who was happily hanging with my friends, and had been joined by past Mayor for a Day Torrey Mead. I met Torrey when I wrote about his daughter Aubrie winning Little Miss Englewood, about 20 years ago. We see each other every few years and he always greets me like a good friend.
As we were leaving I asked Daniel if he had a good time, considering I was the only one he knew in the room. He said it was great. “I felt very comfortable even though they had all this history and I was there for the first time.” He said that being there he understood what I had been saying about Englewood. There’s no place else like it.