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Q&A with Sanibel Rec Center’s Dave DeFonzo

By Staff | Jul 2, 2009

Dave DeFonzo works as the Program Specialist for the Sanibel Rec Center. He can be found on his bullhorn at the Rec Center, shuttling energetic children on field trips and making sure everything is running smoothly.

And despite the sometimes chaotic pace of running children’s rec and summer programs – DeFonzo seems to always be sporting a smile.

You seem like a fun-loving fellow. Your childhood must have been a blast. Where did you grow up? Can you share a little bit about your childhood.

I was born in a small rural town in northern central Pennsylvania called Jersey Shore. Ironically at the age of four my family moved us to Toms River, another small town located on the barrier island coastline of southern N.J. Yes, that’s right, you know it better as …”The Jersey Shore”. I know, I know now just hold on a minute, before you drop the paper and start googling “Small town USA” on the computer, it wasn’t easy on my folks either who were continually trying to explain to me how the eight to 10 foot swells of the Atlantic Ocean completely washed away the entire Appalachian Mountain chain during the last high tide. And after five hours in the car It also gave a whole new meaning to every kids favorite question “Are we there yet?” Especially since I thought we never really left? My dad still doesn’t know how to answer this one. Oh it was a blast alright!

What did you go to school or train for?

After a childhood on the shore I went searching for those mountains once again and found them in central Virginia at Lynchburg College. Only this time they were blue, and by the end of my freshman year I felt confident that the high tide was no longer a threat so I settled in. I graduated with a Bachelors degree in Commercial Art, a Minor in Communication and course work toward elementary education.

What brought you to the area?

My grandparents, Bob and Doris Hickie, blazed our first family path to Sanibel, vacationing here as early as 1962, and then building a retirement home here in 1975. As a young teenager from N.J. I spent summer and winter vacations visiting with them while working part time jobs. My grandmother would have told you it was shelling for shells that were anything but miniature back then.

We know you work as the program specialist for the Sanibel Rec Center. What’s your job like?

Over the years I have always felt like what I do could best be described as a cross between Radar O’Reilly, supply clerk from the hit comedy series M.A.S.H and game show host – and I think I still have a few of those plaid jackets too…

You work with a lot of children in your

position. Can you describe some of your more memorable moments?

There have been so many over the years – to just name a few wouldn’t do justice to the rest.

What is your most challenging part of your job? The most rewarding?

I think the most challenging thing I attempt to do everyday is simply be creative with regard to all our youth programming. Thankfully I am surrounded by a team of individuals from all of our Rec divisions that help me keep things fresh. And they’re good too.

Rewarding to me is bumping into the occasional Rec kid from class 19 whenever jingling his first set of car keys and wearing his college colors. They track me down across the parking lot of Bailey’s with a huge grin and say…”DAVE !! Remember the time………” enough said.

What inspired you to get into this line of work?

Memories of my own wonder years at a local day camp. In grade school my best friends dad, Jack Kolmansberger, ran multiple township rec sites in N.J. in the summertime, and as kids we would tag along on spot checks and supply deliveries. We of course got some play time in at each site and when we were older he hired us to run those sites. And before I knew it I had a career. It kind of snuck up on me.

What did you aspire to be when you were growing up?

When I was a kid I thought a lot about being a cartoonist. But the closest I came to that was the cartoons on Saturday morning television.

What would surprise people to learn about you?

That I am not always the funny, extroverted, energetic rec guy….sometimes I am funny and extroverted but tired as heck !

What hobbies/interests do you have outside of work?

I like collecting vintage memorabilia of all sorts. My family prefers calling it simply collecting dust.

What is your family life like?

My wife Darby is definitely the glue that cements our family. We have three wonderful daughters; Eliza 17, Emma 7, and Ella 3. Soon we’ll be dealing with pre-K, elementary school and college all at the same time! As much as I enjoy my job my favorite part of every day is coming home to them at five o’clock. Darby and I look forward to being able to spend even more time together one day in a couple of rocking chairs.

What are your short-term/long-term goals?

I am happy to have served with the City’s children’s program since 1991 and hope to be a part of our communities youth and progress well into the future.

You appear to be a rather upbeat chap. What do you attribute your positive, sunny attitude to? What words of inspiration do you have for living a happy life?

Our staff always seems to find the lighter side of a challenge. This may be part of the reason one chooses a field like recreation. The fun is built right into the job description – yeah we have our nutty days too but

I think the one consistency for me over the years has been how much I still enjoy going to work everyday. Inspiration is over-rated ! Stick to what you know best!