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Many SFSC employees work behind the scenes, making sure that programs and events run smoothly. Karen Pelski is one of them. In March 2020, she came to SFSC to work for the Cultural Programs Office in the Wildstein Center for the Performing Arts on the Highlands Campus.
As Cultural Programs specialist, her job has two functions. “I recruit and train volunteers for our theater,” she said. “So, I train people in the community who want to be ushers, ticket scanners, playbill people, drive patrons in golf carts to and from the parking lot, and so forth. I’m also in charge of artist services. For the artists who come to the theater, I help them with transportation, book their hotel, and make sure they’re fed. I make sure they have anything they need in their dressing room.”
Pelski works in conjunction with Jeanne Tripsansky, the catering manager, who’s in charge of preparing food for the artists, serving the food, and clean up. Pelski trains volunteer to work with Tripsansky in the kitchen.
Pelski and her volunteers need to be ready for just about any challenge that comes along. “Some artists, especially, those who are on the road, drive up in a bus,” Pelski said. “I may book a College van and my volunteers will drive the artists wherever they want to go, such as to run errands or have a manicure. One artist wanted to go fishing. These folks are on the road much of the time, so they appreciate anything we can do to assist them. Our goal is to make sure the second they come to our door, they’re pleasantly surprised.”
Prior to going on stage to perform “The Beat Goes On” Cher tribute show last season, the artist accidentally ripped her costume. When Pelski recruits volunteers, she often asks them if they know how to sew. She found someone who lived close to SFSC. A zipper was purchased at Walmart and the volunteer immediately came to the College to fix the costume.
Pelski has indicated that artists, often, are surprised when they get to SFSC’s theater. “In a small town like Avon Park, they don’t know what to expect,” she said. “We have contract riders when working with artists. They cover hospitality and technical requirements. It’s amazing what the artists ask for. For instance, artists have asked for running water in their dressing room or a private toilet. When we read these contract riders, we often say to each other, ‘What kind of places have these artists been going to where they don’t have running water?’ The artists are happy when they get here. They see our facilities and they’re thrilled. SFSC Performing Arts has a good reputation. Artists talk to each other and tell each other about what great experiences they’ve had here. Of course, we’re proud of that.”
Although Pelski didn’t begin her career in the performing arts or in volunteer services, her accumulated experience over the years came together to prepare her for her current position.
Born in Waukegan, Ill., Pelski grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio. She earned her bachelor’s degree in Speech Pathology in 1983 from the University of Cincinnati. Right out of college, she practiced as a speech pathologist, traveling between three local elementary schools. However, three years later, budgets were cut and Pelski was out of a job.
As luck would have it, she worked a second job in retail that turned into a career. Thirty years of experience later, Pelski has done just about everything you can do in retail. “I’ve been an assistant buyer, a buyer, an assistant store manager, a store manager, a sales manager, and I’ve worked in human resources and in operations. One of my last positions was as a regional merchandise manager with Macy’s and my area of responsibility was women’s shoes.
“I loved my job, but life happens,” she said. “You get divorced and you have a young child. Now you can’t travel as much as you did.”
By the way, Pelski’s son is now 24 years old and graduated in December 2023 from the University of Central Florida with a degree in Electrical Engineering.
Because Pelski held an education certificate, she was eligible to teach Geography at a Montessori pre-school and kindergarten in Cincinnati.
“I loved being a teacher,” she said. “You’re a rockstar. I did that for eight years. When I left, I was the assistant director.”
After marrying her current husband, Paul, he asked Pelski where she’d like to live. They had met online when he was living in Wisconsin and she in Ohio. Paul was originally from Fort Lauderdale and owned a house in Boca Raton for some time. Pelski had always wanted to live by the water, so they decided to move to Boca Raton. Paul had three sons of his own, so now they had a family of four sons, three daughters-in-law, and eight grandchildren.
Pelski took a job at the local YMCA as a pre-school assistant teacher. Within a year, she was promoted to the Community Outreach branch for the YMCA, where she gained experience in fundraising and event management. Then a position came open for a volunteer coordinator at the YMCA. Her supervisor suggested she apply for the job and she was hired. She worked with volunteers in the Foundation and the branch board of directors, athletics, and special events.
“At the YMCA, you need volunteer coaches for athletics, so you make sure that everyone is fingerprinted and everyone is trained. Then you have events at the Y, like Healthy Kids Day or Halloween at the Y, and you need volunteers to work the events. Most of the volunteers were high-school aged kids. In fact, Florida Bright Futures was my way to entice high school kids to volunteer. I’d say, ‘If you want to go to college for free, you can get 150 volunteer hours, so come see me.’”
I also started a new program through the Y called “Togetherhood,” in which we partnered with businesses in the community and did beach cleanups, helped the Florida Food Bank sort food, and so forth. I formed great relationships with the local businesses through the program. One of the guys that worked with me on beach cleanup became the mayor of Boca Raton.”
Pelski’s mother-in-law owned three houses in Highlands County. As an adult, Pelski’s husband would bring his children to Highlands County, where he had fond memories of being out on the water. And he loves to renovate houses. The Pelskis found a house in Sebring to renovate in 2014. After four years of hard work on the weekends, the house was in great shape to sell, but the Pelskis decided otherwise. They had fallen in love with the house and moved in.
After moving to Sebring, Pelski said that she “became obsessed with SFSC. A college campus is the heartbeat of a community. So, I really wanted to work here. I applied for a few positions but didn’t get them. Then, I applied for this position. Although I didn’t hear anything about the position for a while, I would come to the College and walk around. Sometimes, the security guys would ask me if I needed a ride and would show me around campus and tell me what all the buildings were.”
Pelski is proud of SFSC Performing Arts and wants to share its events with others. “We have a fabulous facility at SFSC and we get top notch entertainment,” she said. “Professional artists from all over the world perform here. Our students and full-time employees get discounts to shows. We would love to see more engagement with employees and students and we encourage them to come see the shows.”
“Six of us work in the Cultural Programs Office,” she said. “We have the best team. Everyone in our department supports each other. We’re all friends. I feel as if all of my experiences from previous jobs, such as recruiting, scheduling, managing people, and using the Salesforce platform have been combined into this one. I can’t help but love it.”