For Amanda Pearsall, executive assistant to Sharon McKenzie, the executive director of Barrier Island Parks Society, it is the first big event of the social season. BIPS runs and maintains the lighthouse museum and raises funds to help our local state parks,
“This year, we’re going to be even bigger and better,” said Amanda, during a short break from preparations for the event.
The wreath and garland are up, the lights have been strung and the fire department has been by to adorn even the highest of railings and windows with decorations at the lighthouse, but there is still plenty of work to finish before the festivities.
Amanda was born in St. Louis, Mo., and grew up in a small town about an hour away. She always had a love of the water, and growing up near the mighty Mississippi didn’t hurt.
After graduation, she moved to San Diego, where she saw the ocean for the first time at the age of 25.
“It was January, and I just ran down the beach and threw myself into the water,” Amanda remembered. “It was freezing cold. The Pacific doesn’t warm up like the Gulf of Mexico, and there are really only a couple of months out of the year that it is nice to swim in. January is not one of them. I very much prefer Florida beaches!”
Amanda worked in dining and beverage service in San Diego, and met her husband, Rusty, through her job at the iconic Hotel del Coronado.
“Actually, I worked for him there,” she laughed. “Our very first date was for work. We were looking for new bartenders for the hotel, and the best way to do that is to go out to different bars and look for the best, then you offer them more money.”
The couple dated for six months before Rusty proposed to Amanda.
“There was a place in Mexico we would go, just to get away for a couple of days,” she explained. “One night, we were eating dinner at a place with a mariachi band, and they stood behind me and played the entire night. I like mariachi music but after a while, enough is enough. I was just starting to get really irritated when they stopped playing and the guitarist asked me a question.”
Amanda was confused for a few moments.
“I knew just enough Spanish to think that the guitar player was proposing to me,” she laughed. “Then it sunk in that he was asking me for Rusty, and I said yes.”
The couple soon had a daughter, Leslie, and 10 years after moving to San Diego, Amanda was heading east, to Pennsylvania.
“Rusty is from New Jersey and has family in Pennsylvania,” said Amanda. “We settled in and bought a restaurant.”
Three days after they became the owners of the building, it caught fire and burned to the ground due to faulty wiring.
“The insurance company said that we didn’t have a policy so we couldn’t collect,” she explained. “At the same time, they claimed that we had burned down the building ourselves for the insurance money. All of this with a 6-month-old baby.”
It took four years of lawyers and fire experts and electricians to finally resolve the matter, in their favor.
“It cost us just about exactly what we got in the settlement to pay for the lawyers,” said Amanda. “Then, of course, we turned right around and bought another restaurant. I worked the front of the house, doing event planning for parties, weddings, all sorts of things. Rusty was the chef. He is an incredible cook.”
The couple was there for 10 years before the exhaustion of running the restaurant became too much.
“You had to be on duty 24/7,” said Amanda. “When we went on vacation, something would always happen and we would have problems when we came back. So we tried to retire.”
Instead, they found new careers. Amanda became a pharmaceutical rep for Glaxo Smith Kline and Rusty got into real estate.
“After Pennsylvania, we moved to North Carolina and built a house in South Port,” Amanda said. “We were there for six years. I went from being a pharmaceutical rep to doing the same thing for a diagnostic imaging company. Rusty went to work for Marine Max as a delivery captain.”
The couple had always loved sailing, so the job was no hardship for Rusty. Sometimes Amanda would accompany him on his delivery trips.
“I had been here so many times, doing deliveries with Rusty,” said Amanda. “We came this way when we were doing deliveries from the east coast. We also visited St. Pete a few times and made trips through Lake Okeechobee. We even came here on vacation once when our daughter was young.”
Eventually, Amanda retired from her job and the couple moved to Florida.
“We came down here on our boat, a 45’ ketch,” said Amanda. “We like to take it out traveling. At one point, we lived on it for about three years. My husband is a very lucky man. Most women I know wouldn’t be very interested in doing that or in him having a job where he is gone on the water so often.”
When they came to Charlotte Harbor, they stayed on the boat for six months before they found a house in Venice to call home. The couple, married for 28 years, like to spend time together at home when they aren’t on the water.
“We like to cook together,” she said. “Rusty likes Asian, Latin, pretty much anything where you can really be creative. We grow our own herbs and some vegetables at home. Right now I think that I have enough grapefruit on my trees to supply the entire island.”
One day, while reading the Boca Beacon at Ace Hardware, she spotted an ad for the executive assistant position at the lighthouse.
“It was a dream job, but I had never worked as an assistant before,” said Amanda. “I emailed Sharon and asked her if she would even want to look at my resume, since all of my experience is in other areas.
She said sure, so I sent it in. I got the job.”
The position was supposed to be a semi-retirement for Amanda, though she chuckles at the idea now.
“Sometimes it’s part-time, sometimes it isn’t,” she said. “There is always something to do, from getting ready for the lighting to preparing for the Green Gala to working in the gift shop.”
But it isn’t all big events at the lighthouse. There are also programs for children and adults to prepare for.
“This season, we will be starting the Lighthouse Kids Explorers,” said Amanda. “It is aimed at kids up to around 10. They will have interaction with the Coast Guard, tours of the lighthouse, they will learn about the lamp and there will be crafts and activities for them, as well.”
Younger children will have a program of their own.
“Little Lights is an early reading program,” explained Pearsall. “We will have local authors coming in to read their books to the children.”
When Amanda isn’t at work at the lighthouse, she and Rusty still like to adventure on their boat. This August, they had plans to go to the Dry Tortugas, but Hurricane Isaac caused that trip to be postponed.
While Amanda loves the freedom of the open sea, she also enjoys her job.
“It’s fast-paced, never boring and there is always something new and different to do,” she said. “Besides, who else gets to work with a view like this?”
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