Meet June’s CityMaker, Nancye Thornberry.
And everything else
Nancye’s name may be synonymous with the Polk Senior Games, but her involvement within the city of Lakeland is much more multifaceted.
In 1974, Nancye played a key role in the opening of the Lakeland Civic Center, now known as the RP Funding Center. Three years later she was named the executive director of the Polk Museum of Art, where she would begin Mayfaire-by-the-Lake in 1978. Now attracting more than 70,000 visitors annually, Mayfaire-by-the-Lake has grown into one of the most prestigious fine arts festivals in all of Florida.
Her accolades range from being awarded the key to the city (twice!) to being inducted into the Polk County Sports Hall of Fame for her work within the Polk Senior Games. Nancye is also the proud recipient of the Outstanding Volunteer Award, courtesy of the Retired Senior Volunteers Program. Having survived cancer a miraculous four times, Nancye uses her experience as a survivor to advocate for others as a member of the Lakeland Breast Cancer Awareness Luncheon Committee.
And everything yet to come
Having retired from competing herself, Nancye’s found solace in the “spirit of camaraderie” that the Games provides the community to which she now proudly calls her home. It’s not to say that she’s content with the status quo, though. Nancye’s eagerness to help those around her has only strengthened with age. Lisa Palas, Nancye’s daughter and caretaker, has seen that firsthand.
“My mother enjoys doing these things so much,” Lisa said in reference to the Games.
“My mother loves to have a project. She’s her happiest when she has a project going where she sees that it will have an impact and make people’s lives better and happier.”
Although she’s stepped down from the podium and away from the limelight, Nancye still plays an active role on the board of directors for the Polk Senior Games. She’s often recognized when she leaves home, but her focus is different now; Nancye wants to empower others in our community to believe in themselves and their ability to do good.
“If you start something, and it’s good and it continues, you can consider that you’ve had a successful venture… follow the dream you have of what it could become and what it might be,” Nancye said encouragingly.
With the CityMaker title added to her already long list of achievements and awards, Nancye hopes to use her influence as a community leader to continue promoting positive change in both Lakeland and beyond. Not that she hasn’t done that already, though. From the Games to Mayfaire-by-the-Lake, Nancye’s contributions to our community have allowed it to flourish like none other, but she’s quick to point out that she wasn’t able to do it all by herself. Citing everyone from retired Lakeland Parks and Recreation Director Bill Tinsley to her own daughters and sons, Nancye spreads the credit for her achievements as wide as the city has open arms for her.
Although Nancye’s journey wasn’t without its hardships, she’s stood strong as a pillar of our community through the toughest of obstacles. As a Lakeland CityMaker, Nancye truly epitomizes everyday “awesomeness,” something she hopes the rest of our community can strive for much the same.
“I think some people are just scared to try,” Nancye said. “You’re either going to do something or you’re going to sit back and watch other people do it. It’s what comes out of your heart, what comes out of your body, that makes you want to make a place better than it was when you arrived.”
Images courtesy of the Polk Senior Games Facebook page.
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