You know spring has arrived when you see the first bloom of yellow forsythia or the robins prancing in the yard. In Boca Grande, you know the season is getting ready to ramp up when you receive your email from the Friends of Boca Grande listing the exciting opportunities for the season.
Sharon Hawkins has just arrived in Boca Grande from Wayzata, Minn. and she is relieved that she came just in time for the lower humidity. Her timing couldn’t have been more perfect, as it lowered the day before she arrived.
A proud member of the Friends of Boca Grande board of directors, Sharon is also one of Friends’ biggest fans.
“I became one of their Grande Sponsors a couple of years ago when they started that program, and then Kay asked me to join the board. I’ve been on the board a year, possibly a year and a half,” Sharon said.
It’s easy to understand why Sharon is proud of her work with the Friends of Boca Grande. This season offers something for every taste, from lectures featuring John Meacham, Sam Skinner and Tom Cross to concerts by the Sarasota Opera, Venice Orchestra and The Castalian String Quartet. If you like it, Friends has it covered.
A non-profit organization founded in 1986, The Friends of Boca Grande meets its mission each season to present outstanding cultural and educational programs for Boca Grande. Even during the pandemic, Friends of Boca Grande managed to move full steam ahead offering lectures, study groups, workshops, concerts and community events
Sharon is quick to dodge any credit and sings the praises of Kay Wagner, Marta Howell, Kyle Rich and Debbie Frank. “They’ve just done a bang-up job during COVID changing the programs to remote,” she said. “I just want to make sure that they get some well-deserved strokes.”
Sharon Hawkins was born and raised in Grand Rapids, Mich., and attended Michigan State. A mother of three children, Sharon is proud that two of her children married on the island, at The Gasparilla Inn. She said it makes it nice, as they have a connection here and are always excited to visit.
“A couple of years ago, my children lived in New York and Boston, but now they’ve done this smaller city thing and moved out of the big cities because of COVID. Today, one lives in Richmond, Va. and one lives in Wilmington, N.C. My third child left New York City and came with me for a couple of months during COVID to get out and then ended up deciding not to go back. She moved to Denver. Now I have three little grandsons, little, tiny things and they are just so adorable.”
Married in 1986, Sharon and her husband moved from city to city, as he built his career.
“I worked for about 10 years, but because of my husband’s career, we moved overseas and to so many places,” she said. “I believe we lived in nine states in the first 12 years of our marriage. He kept getting these job opportunities and we just kept moving, which is why I stopped working. I thought my kids would wind up being orphans if I tried to work every time we moved.”
Working outside of the home, that is.
“I became a full-time mother and homemaker and that worked out fine,” she said. “I was always the volunteer and the kid’s room mother and on all of the civic organizations. I still maintain some positions and I’m still on some boards in Minnesota as well as being on the board of Friends.”
From England to San Francisco, San Diego to Atlanta, Sharon moved her family until they ended up in Wayzata, Minn. on the shore of Lake Minnetonka.
After multiple moves and raising children, Sharon and her husband divorced and the family settled in Minnesota. It was a good friend from that state who brought Sharon to Boca Grande for the first time.
“I came down for a girlfriend’s birthday about 12 years ago and I just kept coming,” she said. “I had enjoyed coming here, it was a little haven, a little place to get away, to be introspective, and to walk the beach and ride my bike. It’s been a real gift to me to be introduced to Boca Grande and have a refuge.”
After buying a house in Boca Grande five years ago, Sharon immediately started to attend Friends of Boca Grande events. “I want to keep my brain sharp,” she said, “and plus I just love history and so many other things that they offer.”
Visiting Boca Grande is a family affair for the Hawkins family, as Sharon is thrilled that her children and grandchildren not only visit the island, but they also feel at home.
“They feel welcome here and they love going to church. We’re members of Our Lady of Mercy, which is where both of my children were married, so it’s special to us. They love the restaurants and the fact that they can bike safely. And you know the golf carts are a huge plus for any little kid.”
More than just a gorgeous island on the Gulf of Mexico, Sharon loves the fact that everybody on the board at Friends has an interest in continuing education and learning. She also points to impressive leadership.
“I think one thing that’s refreshing is that Marta wants to keep it fresh,” she said. “A couple of years ago they added something called ‘The Finer Things.’ It’s just the wide variety of things that make it interesting. Some people just want to stay right on the island, including me. I’m not crazy about going off the island a lot except when I go visit my children and grandchildren. There are so many things right on the island that transport you to another place.”
Volunteering her time for worthy causes is not something that just started when Sharon moved to Boca Grande. In her 20 years of living in Minn., Sharon dedicated much of her time to worthy causes. From the Minnesota Opera to the Minneapolis Heart Institute Foundation, Sharon enjoys bringing her leadership skills to causes that are close to her heart.
“I’m involved with an organization called Center of the American Experiment which is a policy organization, and the Charlemagne Institute,” she said. “I spent 20 years involved with a nonprofit called Twin Cities Rise that tries to take people out of poverty. I’m still a director emerita of that organization.”
Sharon has good reason to be proud of her hard work and dedication. “There are a lot of organizations that do admirable work. Some of them teach people to fish versus giving people the fish. I think in the long term you have better results when you teach people to fish rather than giving them fish.”
From the Friends of Boca Grande to the Boca Grande Health Clinic to the thriving art community, Sharon feels right at home here in Boca Grande, especially since she can participate in the many sports activities on the island.
“I do a lot of sports, like pop tennis, which is my current favorite sport,” she said. “I like to golf, and I like to ride my bike. I try to do a couple of miles on my bike every day. Sometimes I play mahjongg and bridge, but I play so badly. I don’t play it enough. It’s hard if you only sit down four times a year to play unless you have a very good memory.”
Sharon likes to be active; it’s part of what drew her to the island.
“People don’t just come here and sit. They keep very active, which is another reason why I like Friends of Boca Grande.”
However, while she still enjoys short trips, Sharon prefers staying put.
“I don’t have that need that some people do where they just have to go on a vacation, or they have to go somewhere exotic,” she said. “I just like to settle and enjoy my surroundings. You’ll talk to people, and they always have some great trips planned. That’s not me.”
Who can blame Sharon? After all, she did move a family of three to nine states in 12 years.
“I get what I need here in Boca Grande to keep my mind sharp and do all the athletics,” she said. “A lot of it has to do with Friends of Boca Grande and the breadth of programming that they offer which allows you to choose those things that are most interesting to you. I’ve actually become a Fla. resident now, so I am spending more time out of the state of Minn. and shifting my allegiances down here a little. That’s why I’m involved with the Friends of Boca Grande and am proud to support their excellent work.”