Thursday, June 28, 2018

#40~October 1980~Hello, Jacksonville!

I forgot to mention a very important event that happened in December 1979. Around Christmas time we were invited to spend Holidays in West Palm Beach, Florida. Ida's friend had a condominium there. She helped us to rent a room in a private home and Felix, Ida, Masha and I got in our little yellow "Dutch Colt" and were on our way to sunny Florida.
Elizabeth stayed home with my parents. She was too little to make this trip.
We were driving, singing Christmas carols, eating snacks and finally arrived to Jacksonville, Florida. We decided to stop and visit my friend from College, Alla. They immigrated to the States just like we did, about 2 years after we left Ukraine. It was so exciting to see her, meet her husband, Mark and their baby Stacy. They lived in a 2 bedroom apartment and we stayed up all night talking about our college years, exchanging stories about people we knew, about people we met in America and talked/dreamed about our life in the US. Next day it was raining and our plans to go to the beach had to be cancelled. Out of curiosity I opened a phone book and looked up Gymnastics Schools in the area. I found one and Alla said that she knows the owner, Bob Salstone. We decided to go see the school, just for fun. It was located in Orange Park, about 30 minutes from their home. We were impressed by the long ride over Buckman Bridge. I loved the fact that we could walk in shorts and sandals in December!!!, it was sunny and warm, and everyone seemed much nicer. When we arrived to CC Gymnastics (stands for Clay County Gymnastics), the owner, a very young man - Bob Salstone, greeted us with the smile and showed us around. It was a free standing cute building with everything you need to teach gymnastics to the kids. We walked around, talked and he lightheartedly asked us if we would be interested in buying it. We all laughed and joked about it.
After short, but fun visit, we were on our way to Palm Beach.
The reason that this incident is important: after few months we did receive a phone call from Bob and he asked us very seriously this time if we would be interested to move to Orange Park and buy his Gym. He was moving to Chicago. We looked at each other, and after a short discussion decided to give it a try. Felix got on the plane and went to visit him to discuss all the details. Honestly, I did not think it would work. I just could not see myself as a business owner... But Felix had other ideas and plans.
It was very difficult to let Steve, our friends and especially my students know about our plans. Everyone was very sad to see us go. Some were happy for us, for the opportunity we had. Some were saying that we will not last a month and will be begging to come back. Some just did not talk at all.
We did not know what was ahead of us. Again we jumped with our eyes closed and hoped for the best. But we were together. My parents stayed behind until the house would be sold.
At the end of September 1980 we packed our station wagon with most necessary things and were on our way to sunny Jacksonville, Florida! New chapter of our lives was about to start!
Marina Davidovich with Elizabeth and Masha in Orange Park, Fl

Friday, June 15, 2018

#41 ~ JANUARY 1981~United Gymnastics Academy, Orange Park, FL

Driving from Detroit to Orange Park in fully packed station wagon, with 2 little girls in the back of the car playing, sleeping singing... we were thinking what's ahead, what to do first, what NOT to do....We were also thinking how to call our new business. We knew even then that name is very important. We saw the truck driving by with the sign "United" on it and I don't remember who said it out loud:"How about United Gymnastics Academy?" It makes sense: we wanted to teach all  3 disciplines to our future students: Artistic Gymnastics, Rhythmic Gymnastics and Acro-Sports. We will UNITE 3 sports!!! We had no idea that UGA stands for a very well known college in GA. But there were a lot of things we DID NOT know. As a matter of fact our upbringing, education and experience in Ukraine was all about anti-business and  anti-profit. Businessmen were made known as evil, mean people who were taking advantage of workers, and "sipping" their blood. And here we are, becoming business people!!!
On the previous visit to Orange Park Felix rented the apartment in "El Matador" apartment complex, next door to the Dog Track. Two bedroom apartment was clean, bright and empty and to say the least a little depressing.
But we had blue phone that we kept from our apartment in Detroit, we had small  table and 4 tiny chairs for the kids, some blankets and pillows, basic kitchen utensils. What else do we need? We had each other, our dreams and lots of  hope!
After paying Bob Salstone monthly rent, putting up all the deposits for the utilities, buying some necessities for the kids, we  practically had nothing left on our  account.
November 1, 1980 we opened the door to our Gym. Our first students: Cindy Gossar, John Plunket and another boy whose name I don't remember came in. Apparently, Bob told all his students that he closes business and most of them, actually all of them went to another Gymnastics school, not too far from our Gym. But this did not slow us down. We conducted classes with enthusiasm, love and professionalism. Word got out. Next week we had enough kids to split students on 2 groups, and then we had more and more kids coming.
Felix bought an old copy machine. We made flyers, pasting pictures from the magazines and typing on the old typewriter. One Sunday afternoon drove to Orange Park Mall and  put flyers on the cars We just wanted to let everyone know that we are here, that we are good...
Well, the manager of Orange Park mall did not share our enthusiasm. We got a very threatening phone call from his office and that was our lesson #1.
Kids were very happy. Mashoonya went to Orange Park Elementary school and Elizabeth was in the Day Care, not too far from the Gym. After school they ate, took naps and played in the Gym.
By December we had 30 students! Christmas Party was a success. We had Santa, exchanged gifts, danced, sang Christmas songs and I did a little demo of Rhythmic Gymnastics. And we had a local paper "The Florida Times Union" coming to do a story about us.
Marina Davidovich performing for the students during the Christmas party. Orange Park, FL

Newspaper article about our Gym. One of many...

Saturday, June 2, 2018

#42 ~1981~Orange Park, FLA

Our daily life was exciting, busy, full of surprises: good, bad, scary and entertaining... We were on our own, we were making decisions, we were learning how to deal with different issues concerning business, children, parents, advertising, finances... But most of all we wanted to build a safe, happy place where kids could learn an art of gymnastics, bur also teach them life skills that they could carry on for the rest of their lives.
At that time we met a lot of people that became our good friends. One of them was a very nice gentleman - Claude Bass. He owned a local photography studio and was well known in the community. He would come and watch how we worked with the kids for hours, took photos and helped us more that he would ever know with simple business advice or just praising us for our work ethics or just giving encouraging smile.. Another family was Smith Family. Mary Smith had 3 girls and just "adopted" our family. We would spend a lot of time in her home...She also invited us to come visit her parents at the Amelia Island home where we spent wonderful weekends enjoying true southern hospitality, picturesque lake, huge pool, horse range.
I think around that time I started dreaming about having our own home, where Masha and Liz could have their own rooms, big yard to play, big kitchen for me to cook and entertain. I was definitely becoming an American!!!
On most of the Sundays we went to the beach to relax, play and have fun. We always brought a bus full of kids with us.
Our first building: Industrial Loop. Felix and my dad made the sign by themselves!

Mary Smith and Elizabeth Davidovich at the Amelia Island

Anastasia Beach with Marina Davidovich, Cindy Gossar, Masha, John Plunket, Katy Wolf.