■ BY SUE ERWIN
John Mannion is a fitness trainer whose goal is to help people in Boca Grande gain strength and stability to avoid the risk of injury. He currently teaches a “Sit and Get Fit” class three days per week at the Boca Grande Community Center. The courses are held on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 9:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. in the Multi-Purpose Room.
“You just need a desire to become stronger and healthier,” John said.
Students go through a series of eight basic Tai Chi moves that promote stability, balance and toning.
“I tell my students that practicing the moves at home just five minutes a day can make a big difference,” John said. “All of the people in my class can stand on one leg while performing different poses … this is a great class that can help reduce falls. It’s also beneficial for improving Parkinson’s symptoms.”
He originally taught a Tai Chi class in Boca Grande, and last year, he held a discussion with Debbie Frank at the Community Center about changing the class to focus more on using yoga poses and Tai Chi moves that people could practice from a chair.
“We do mini-squats and focus on shifting weight and gaining strength,” John said, “Many things can affect balance. Neuropathy is a big problem, because if you can’t feel your feet, you’re not going to be able to support yourself.”
John started a “yoga for strength” class at the Englewood YMCA for about 10 years. He also works one-on-one with clients and offers personal training in their homes.
Born in New Jersey, his family moved to Long Island, New York where John finished high school. He attended New York State Maritime College for two years, and studied geology at University of New York at New Paltz.
“I liked being outside and I liked studying fossils and rocks,” he said. “I found it very interesting.”
He wound up teaching in a public junior high school for two years, and then he taught at a private boarding school for 14 years.
“There were only about 36 kids in the whole school, so the classrooms were very small,” John said. “The difference between teaching six kids versus 30 kids is that you could tell right away if they didn’t learn something. So rather than waiting 10 weeks and having them fail a test, you could stay on top of things and keep them all on the same track.”
After teaching, he purchased some rural property in New York and started doing carpentry. He eventually built a house on the land, and helped build other homes in the area.
In the meantime, John opened a silkscreen shop in upstate New York and sold products he created at New York City art shows.
“It was an intense process,” he said. “Working with ink and stencils, you only had one shot at getting it right or the canvas would be ruined.”
John and his brother renovated a small restaurant for a friend, and the two brothers ran the coffee shop once the work was completed. They did that for a couple years and then sold the place, and John went back to building homes.
Carpentry was his passion for many years. He also played guitar in a band while he was in college.
“My plan was if I learned how to play in a band, I wouldn’t have to learn how to dance, but I could still meet ladies,” he said. “
John turned his passion of carpentry into an art. He is a woodworking artist who designs, builds, and paints furniture. He won first prize in the fine furniture and craft category in the 2014 “Made By Hand” art exhibition in Punta Gorda. His work is in collections from Maine to California, Canada, the Netherlands, the UK and Bermuda. His experience restoring antique homes, while living upstate New York, inspired him to create Shaker style furniture. After moving to Florida, the strong tropical light and colors influenced his work. He now calls his furniture style, “Shakerribbean.”
“My furniture design is inspired by the irregular weathering of wood with wind, water and sand,” he said. “I achieve this effect on planks by sanding, cutting, shaping and reshaping … following lines that might materialize in nature. “
Some of his recent work can be found at Englewood Frame Shop. He gets regular special requests for custom work, and has been keeping busy with those orders over the past few years.
John and his wife, Diane, had an art gallery in the second story of the Depot Building on Park Avenue in Boca Grande during the early 1990s. It was called The Mannion Gallery.
“Many of the things I’ve built, along with her paintings can still be seen around the island,” he said.
John has two daughters and Diane has two as well. One of Diane’s daughters, Betsy, has done special effects for Netflix films. Her other daughter, Jenna, is a graphic designer. John’s daughter, Tami, is a nurse practitioner. His other daughter, Sandra, is a dog trainer in California.
John and Diane have been married for 35 years. They left New York and moved to Maryland for a few years and then relocated to Florida about 27 years ago.
“We had a sailboat but it was just too cold to use it most of the year up there,” he said, They lived in Punta Gorda Isles for about eight years before moving to Palm Island. They eventually settled in Englewood where they currently live.
Diane is also an artist and some of her paintings are on display at the Hughes Gallery. She recently had a show at the Englewood Art Center in south Sarasota County.
John and Diane had an art gallery on Old Englewood Road for three years next to Carroll Swayze’s former studio in the late 1990s.
In 2016, they moved to Wilmington, North Carolina for a year where John renovated a 1907 brick home.
“The traffic was terrible because it was a college town, and the crime rate was growing, so we sold that home and settled back in Englewood,” John said. “I like challenges and I get bored easily, so I like to stay busy.”
When he is not working, John enjoys fishing. He earned his captain’s license and worked as a charter captain in Fishermen’s Village when he lived in Punta Gorda Isles. He doesn’t do much fishing these days as he is more focused on his fitness endeavors.
“The class at the community center has become better than I ever thought it would be … I try my best to make it fun,” he said “We are almost filling up the room now, so my guess is we may be adding another class soon.”
To schedule an appointment with John, email him at bawani422001 or call (239) 821-2820.