WEST COAST WOMAN
Some people have a knack for knowing what people want. When leading a non-profit organization that depends on fees paid by participants for its very existence, responding to people’s desires becomes crucial. Since 1986 Susan Goldfarb has been affiliated with The Longboat Key Education Center and took over the reins as Executive Director in 1997 with the sole purpose of giving people what they want in workshops, lectures, jazz nights, performing arts, films, and day trips. “Laura Taubes, an educator from Scarsdale, founded the Center in 1985 in a charming building where the Longboat Key Observer is now. I did some public relations for Laura and we became good friends. One day at lunch she said she was stepping down and asked if I would take over the Center,” Susan recalls.
From a cramped office on the second floor of The Centre Shops on Longboat Key, Susan is the leading force behind the diverse array of 150 offerings that adults flock to from October through April. How she accomplishes all of this with two part-time employees boggles the mind until you meet Susan. She has a calm demeanor that no doubt hides the apprehension she feels when events are scheduled for 12 straight hours in the Center’s three multipurpose meeting rooms. Almost daily the rooms accommodate classes that demand movement of furniture, setting up chairs, and taking down tables in a matter of minutes.
When asked how she describes what she does, she simply replies that she runs a school for adults. She elaborates by saying, “The school is for anyone who wants to stimulate the mind and keep the spirit young. We do not grow old; we just get better. People have time to take art, jazz, opera. It’s like college, only better. Our participants take the classes for love and interest in staying young in mind, body, and soul. It’s for emotional nourishment. These are not poolside discussions. Our rooms are intimate so our presenters and the audience can get up close and personal.”
Susan recognizes that there are other programs and organizations in the area that cater to adult learners. Susan finds presenters and presenters find Susan. “I’ve been here 27 years. People suggest topics and/or presenters. I get out in the community and listen to speakers. I look at overlap and overkill. If a person has presented for me in the past, I want a fresh topic. If they only have one presentation, I will probably not have them on the schedule again.”
The impressive biographies of presenters (who are competitively paid) in the current catalog are indicative of the people that live, winter, or visit this area with an expertise that they’re willing to share. The schedule includes knowledgeable speakers on diverse topics such as foreign films, fishing, writing, painting, Israeli fiction, mahjong, the Middle East, modern dance, the Civil War, birding, Truman, the American Revolution, contemporary art, and the list goes on and on. Even Susan—a yoga teacher for 25 years— teaches yoga several mornings a week at the Center.
Susan’s commitment, thoroughness, and enthusiasm permeate a conversation with her. She grew the courses from 35 in 1997 to the current 150. She describes herself as a pit bull with incredible tenacity. “I will not let go of anything unless I feel that I have gotten what needed to be gotten from a situation. With people, I never give up holding on and loving them once they’re in my world—for better or worse. This tenacity is something that has helped me to be successful in my life, but I also believe that it can be a great hindrance. One must always know when it’s best to let go.”
Tess Hogan says, “I have known Susan Goldfarb as both a close friend and my employer for quite a few years—during periods that included both tragedies and triumphs. I’ll always marvel at her ability to combine clear-eyed business acumen, curiosity, creativity, enterprise, glamour and genuine elan through times that would confound the rest of us mortals. She’s smart, she’s funny, she’s a great friend and a major asset to this area. We’re lucky she’s here.”
During the demanding season of January, February, and March Susan works 14 hours every day of the week. Her summers are spent putting together the ambitious catalog of classes. The Center serves primarily residents and visitors on Longboat Key and has 500 members who receive advance mailing of the catalog and tuition discounts. Nearly 4,000 participants enrolled in the Center’s programs last year. Susan originally came to Sarasota because her husband took a one-year sabbatical from Toronto’s York University to study to become a Gestalt therapist. They returned to Toronto and returned to Sarasota five years later. During the first stint in Sarasota, she worked for the Pelican Press and Snelling and Snelling, Inc. On her return to the area she worked at The French Hearth, wrote for a downtown publication, directed public relations and marketing for the Sarasota Ballet and Michael Saunders & Company, and had her own PR and marketing business.
Born in Toronto, Susan earned a Bachelor’s degree in English literature from York University and diplomas in music/piano from the Royal Conservatory of Toronto, theatre technology (opera and ballet) from the University of Toronto, and in French language and civilization from the Sorbonne in Paris. She was married to Dr. Richard Goldfarb, one of her undergraduate literature professors who later was chair of the English Department at Manatee Community College (now State College of Florida) before he retired. They were married for 38 years when he died in 2007.
Their daughter, Paris Rose Goldfarb Bassett, graduated from the University of South Florida with a degree in English Literature and is now studying for her Master’s degree in mental health counseling. Susan’s father passed away in early 2012 and her mother remains in Toronto. Susan married Michael Grossberg, a retired respiratory therapist, in November. She enjoys entertaining and preparing French, Asian, and Greek cuisine. Another passion is rescue animals. With her obvious love of life and friends, it’s surprising that she says she may write a book of short stories about how much she has suffered personally. Her daughter, husband, friends, and “students” will no doubt always think of her as someone who gives people what they want.
STORY: Carol Darling IMAGE: Evelyn England
WEST COAST WOMAN