BY JACK SHORT – Jim Sullivan would prefer that the maudlin days of Equus and Macbeth were behind him, and behind the Royal Palm Players.
Okay, RPP probably never did Equus, but they weren’t doing enough of what Jim says Boca Grande wants; he thinks he and Boca Grande have at least one important thing in common besides banking. They love musicals.
Jim said people confuse him with Dick Cheney. I can see it. They have a similar, no-nonsense demeanor. Jim seems a little more pleasant though, and was gracious enough to sit down and speak a little about his life, and his life in the theater.
He joined RPP around 2004, he said, was involved and then took a break, and came back three years ago. He was treasurer and is now president.
“It seems like I always get put in charge of everything I’m involved in,” he joked. “I don’t know why that is – maybe I’m a glutton for punishment.”
Glutton for song and dance is more like it.
Jim has played numerous roles over the years in amateur productions, but he said his favorite is he recent turn as Lenny in RPP’s production of “Rumors.”
“He was a real character,” he said. “Kind of a smart-ass person …”
Given that Jim doesn’t seem like much of a smart-ass, it seems like he had the most fun playing against type. Rumors is also a good example, he said, of what RPP can do to bring works written for younger characters and actors into their own demographic. He is clearly excited about what RPP has lined up for this small community of culture-philes.
But before he took on roles like Nathan in “Guys and Dolls,” Daddy Warbucks in “Annie,” Ensign Bells in “South Pacific,” and the butcher in “Fiddler on the Roof,” Jim had a much different role to play.
He grew up in Minneapolis with his family and moved with them to Dubuque, Iowa when he was 13. That’s where he went to high school, which is where he met his high school sweetheart, Sharon, who would become his wife. He was a sophomore and she was a year ahead. They both went to Iowa City and the State University of Iowa.
Sharon studied nursing, and Jim graduated with a degree in economics from the University of Dubuque. They had their first child before Jim graduated and went to work for Kimberly Clark. He worked in “a sales capacity,” and when he moved to the Minnesota Bankers’ Association, he took a sales-related position as well.
It involved getting bankers on television, and if you want to know how that works, that’s probably a good icebreaker for one of Boca Grande’s many cocktail parties or fundraisers. Or perhaps a great way to butter up the president of RPP before a crucial audition? You decide.
After that, Jim said, he got into the banking business itself. He began as a correspondent bank officer, encouraging smaller banks to let his organization manage parts of their portfolios, and eventually became executive vice president of a bank holding company that owned five banks.
Jim said he was inspired after enduring the beginning of Carter’s presidency and watching interest rates of nearly 20 percent cripple otherwise capable businessmen, to help those business owners avoid liquidation. He started his own company, Turnaround management.
“I realized that businesses don’t realize that banks would like to help them,” he said, “if they could come up with a credible plan …”
Turnaround Management helped businesses develop and present plans to banks, and managed them through the process.
“I did 147 turnarounds,” he said, “and only liquidated seven of them.”
That venture lasted approximately 30 years until 2001 when Jim decided to close up shop. Somewhere along the way, he’d gotten involved in the turnaround of a company that owned hair salons. Part of the plan he helped them develop was a new concept at the time – they would change their focus to economical haircuts, to the tune of $6.
He liked the idea so much he started a company that franchised several of the no frills salons around Tuscon Arizona. After 17 years he sold it back to the franchiser, but he still owns seven Supercuts hair salons in Council Bluffs, Iowa and Omaha, Nebraska.
Before Jim sold most of his salons, having decided it was time to retire, he said, he owned 34.
The moved straightaway to Boca Grande. Well, almost straightaway. The original plan had been to move to the Ft. Myers Beach area, and Jim and Sharon left from Boca Grande, where they were visiting some friends to go and lease an apartment down south. Well, they took the apartment for a short time, but as many plans to move to the Ft. Myers Beach area after being acquainted with Boca Grande, it didn’t last. One look at “all that traffic and all that hullaballoo” was all it took. They closed on their home in Boca Grande shortly after, in 2000.
Since that time, JIm and Sharon added two more daughters to their family. Subsequently, Cindy, Laura and Jennifer added 11 grandchildren to the family, some of whom in turn added five great-grandchildren. Let it suffice to say Jim has a large family. They barely fit in one photograph, but an expert photographer with a wide angle lens can probably make it work.
The math itself is enough to make a man guess how many people his family comprises, rather than do the math.
“26 or 27,” he said.
Jim and Sharon enjoyed the winter when they were younger, he said, but eventually did less cross-country skiing and ice skating. In Boca Grande, they play tennis and golf, usually at Sharon’s behest, Jim admitted.
And Sharon has become involved in theater as well, after a strange intra-scene performance that audiences loved brought her out from behind the scenes.
Jim’s first step into the spotlight took a little arm-twisting, too.
“I kind of got drafted,” he said.
He was in his 40s, singing in a church choir with his eldest daughter when one of the choir members suggested she get her dad involved in a musical production for the church, of “Guys and Dolls.”
Jim said he was too busy but they won him over eventually.
“They badgered me and badgered me,” he recalled, “and I did it. And I had a ball.”
So he of course got involved in the following year’s production as well, and so on for seven or eight years.
When he came to Boca Grande, he found RPP through his barbershop chorus, many of whose participants were also Royal Palm Players.
Jim is excited to bring more musicals, more fun, and more shows to the coming years’ RPP lineup. He said extremely important changes over the last three or four years have allowed the organization to grow.
“Our goal is to add more people and get them introduced to community theater,” he said.
To that end, he said RPP is looking for people for next year’s comedy, musical, and staged reading, to participate both on stage and behind the scenes.