Sean De Palma is wearing short pants to work for the first time in roughly 15 years!
“When I received my introduction at Town Hall, I wore a nice suit and all everyone did was refer to my clothing,” says the new Town of Fort Myers Beach Parks & Recreation Director with a laugh. “So today begins a new era for me, though you will never see me get so casual I will show up in a t-shirt!”
Sean’s New Era in a sense, began back when he was 14-yers-old: “I got into a bit of trouble so my stepfather said it was time to better use my opportunities. I was fast so I tried junior varsity football but I did not have the weight and strength, so I shifted to swimming, as our school pool had a swim program. I became so good that at age 15 I became a junior lifeguard earning $13-an-hour in my first job, and that was good money to a teenager! More importantly, I found my career and stayed on that path, advancing in the City of North Miami Beach Recreation Department to become a regional supervisor.”
This instilled in Sean a passion for Parks and Recreation “because it allowed me to live it from one end of the spectrum to the other; from learning to swim to making the field my career where I know how to achieve results.”
One of his most important life lessons occurred when he was 16-years-old. “A colleague and I opened the community pool on a Sunday morning. Two brothers immediately entered, and the other lifeguard was to go up in the chair but was tardy. The brothers, who were 13 and 6, made a beeline for the water and jumped in the deep end and I instantly knew something was wrong with the little boy. Even though I was caught off-guard, I jumped in, wearing all my gear, and saved his life. I received a nice commendation, though I took a lot of kidding about jumping in and swimming the long way rather than running down the pool deck and going in closer to him. If that boy didn’t pull through, you never know what could have been. I learned then to expect the unexpected and to be ready for anything.”
He eventually moved on to the City of Coconut Creek to run their athletic programs, but most importantly gained a director who took him under her wing: “I don’t know why but Linda Weinerstrand saw something in me and became my mentor and it was great! Later in my career this happened again with Dan West. Both are tremendous and inspirational, and I hope I pay that forward with my young colleagues. I tell students you can achieve anything, whether it is travel or racing cars or jumping out of airplanes, if you discover your passion. Make your vacation your vocation and you will never work a day in your life.”
After a few years in the restaurant business with Dairy Queen, Sean quickly jumped back into Parks & Recreation with Broward County, coordinating their special population programs, while at the same time being a supervisor for the City of Hollywood athletic department. He eventually became a manager for Hollywood, overseeing a staff twice the size of Fort Myers Beach. Sean then enjoyed a short deja vu stint with Miami Gardens, “as that is where I grew up and learned to swim!”
Now life and career bring him to Fort Myers Beach, with Sean calling this “the right opportunity at the right time. Now that my only daughter is older, opportunities on this side of the state make sense because it is a reasonable commute to visit each other. I admit when I first applied, this job was not a priority, but when my initial interview was with a panel made up of the school principal, Advisory Board member, another recreation professional and a Town staff representative, I quickly realized there is a strong unity for parks and recreation here. From that point, I really wanted the position.”
Sean finds Interim Town Manager James Steele to be “a real leader, real professional, and real gentleman! Jim sold me on the Town, and I wish he would stay, but I understand. Scott Baker took me on a great tour of the Town, is very thorough and open, and a wonderful gentleman himself. I look forward to meeting other members of the Town family over time.”
He cautions that “I do not want to sound overconfident or arrogant but I feel I have a firm grasp of our situation because of my prior experiences. We enjoy great community involvement that I would like to translate into vigorous volunteer participation. The Town of Fort Myers Beach Parks & Recreation is more than Bay Oaks — the swimming pool, other parks, special events and programs, as well as facets we have yet to explore and exploit, like grant funding and sponsorships; these are definitely on my agenda.”
Right now Sean has three priorities: “The budget, because how we allocate tax dollars is a passion for me; staff development as our current group is young and they require professional standards and techniques to properly funnel their passion; and our infrastructure.” He already recognizes that Parks & Recreation “cover the age spectrum on the island and, more importantly, the class spectrum, and that I find interesting because, counter to popular perception, not everyone on Fort Myers Beach is a multi-millionaire. We will add style and technique to our programs and events to serve all these dynamics, with specific ideas rather than glossing over them with a broad brush.”
Originally from Smithtown, New York – “on the island,” he emphasizes – Sean grew up and spent most of his life in Southeast Florida, though he obtained his Master’s degree in Parks & Recreation Administration from Frostburg State University in Maryland. He is single and the father of a teenage daughter who remains on the east coast. “She visited the week after Christmas and we went parasailing and jet skiing, after spending 35 minutes in beach traffic, then went to the Times Square Dairy Queen! We were at the beach for three days and she liked it a lot because she loves watersports, and she already looks forward to her next visit.”
As for Sean’s initial impression, “Fort Myers Beach seems like it is in transition, like a lot of communities with similar woes, except here I discover hidden gems all the time like the Mound House and Newton Park. Island architecture is beautiful, in that Old Florida/Keys style, and I appreciate the modern ones that mimic that look.”
Sean’s hope for the Parks & Recreation Department is that “we really target those who frequent our locations to volunteer and actively participate, not only in programs and events, but to assist us to expand and grow. We will set protocols for and be pragmatic about how we move forward, to improve and renovate what we already have and enjoy. We have a lot of opportunity to expand our physical barriers while increasing our community identity, and that is exciting.”
To join in on the excitement, contact the Town of Fort Myers Beach Parks & Recreation Department at 239-765-4222 or see www.fortmyersbeachfl.gov.