BROOKSVILLE — Sue Rupe took a circuitous route to her job as tourism development coordinator in Hernando County.
Her long career in county government has given her firsthand involvement in road construction and other public works projects, and she helped with the development of the county's Airport Industrial Park. For a short time, she even drove a mosquito control spray truck.
Somewhere along that 35-year journey, Rupe fell in love with the county, and that's made it that much harder to walk away from her job as Hernando's chief cheerleader.
So when Rupe retires at the end of the month as the only tourism coordinator Hernando has ever known, she vows to not be a stranger. She doesn't see how she can go cold turkey from all of the county's gems that have filled her life, from the iconic mermaids to the historic Chinsegut Manor.
In fact, she said she plans to finish the office's annual report after she leaves, serve as an ambassador at tourism events and help out in a variety of ways as a volunteer.
"I don't see me really dropping out of things. I'll be involved in different things until I see what I want to do when I grow up,'' Rupe said.
Spending time with family, working on her classic Corvette and maybe even a little travel writing are part of her retirement plans.
Rupe looks back with a sense of accomplishment in all the roles she has played in the county since 1975, but with special pride knowing that she helped establish Hernando County as part of Florida's Nature Coast and, while working in economic development, helped with bringing the Walmart Distribution Center to the Ridge Manor area.
Using the slogan "Naturally Hernando," Rupe has helped promote a variety of events, ranging from the annual dog show at Florida Classic Park to the Brooksville Raid Festival. Promoting features ranging from the Croom Tract of the Withlacoochee State Forest to the scenic coastal areas of western Hernando, Rupe has helped demonstrate what the county has to offer visitors.
Drawing in tourists is as big a part of economic development as other efforts to lure industry. Tourism generates an estimated $14 million in revenue in Hernando County annually, and approximately 14 percent of all sales tax revenue locally comes from tourism-related businesses.
With golf, the trail system through the forest and Weeki Wachee Springs State Park as the county's top draws, Rupe said she has been happy to sell the county's best features. She also sees bright days ahead for Hernando County tourism.
She was especially glad to see the state take over Weeki Wachee Springs.
"The state protected it. It saved it,'' she said. "It's going to be good for the area.''
Rupe said she is excited about what's still to come for the county, including the first blueberry festival and plans to reopen the meeting facilities as Chinsegut. Every event that draws people in, she said, has a wide impact on the county's economics, from filling tables at local restaurants to increasing sales for local merchants.
Promoting the events also allows local residents to learn about aspects of Hernando they may never have experienced, she said.
"It's amazing how many people don't have any idea of what is in their own back yard,'' she said. "There is just so much to do here.''
A native of Seattle, Rupe, 66, landed in Florida when the Disney operation was in full swing and jobs were easy to come by. While she went back to the West Coast for a time, she ultimately ended up in Brooksville, where she knew some people. Plus, she said, she liked the hills.
Rupe has three daughters, a stepdaughter and a son. She has 14 grandchildren, and her second great-grandchild arrived this month.
She lost her husband, Doug, to cancer eight years ago. As tourism coordinator, she often had her husband and children in tow for various events, so much so that when the County Commission honored Rupe last week, the resolution also praised her family for their efforts on Hernando County's behalf.
She jokes that, with such a big family, "we have our own baseball team,'' and she delights in the fact that most family gatherings are on the 6 acres she shares with Sparky, her Dalmatian, and Cruella, her Siberian husky, as well as her granddaughter's horse, Achilles.
When Rupe looks back to her early years working for the county, she remembers the many co-workers and savors a few of the hires who, like her, turned out to be longtime county employees.
Rupe, who makes $90,778 a year in salary and benefits, is on the committee that is interviewing candidates to replace her, but with the County Commission's decision last week to explore other options for providing tourist development services, it is unclear whether there will be another county-employed coordinator.
Rupe's only advice to the county's leaders is that tourism development must continue because of its positive economic impact. She does have some advice for whoever might follow in her footsteps.
"Know Hernando County. Love Hernando County. Be able to promote Hernando County to the type of visitors we need,'' she said.
Other handy traits for a tourism coordinator, she said, include not having a personal life, being willing to join lots of organizations and realizing that, with a very small support staff, every duty listed on the job description becomes the coordinator's duty.
Rupe said will miss all those tasks. After all, the people she dealt with were mostly people who simply wanted help to find something enriching and entertaining to do in Hernando County.
"It's a fun job,'' she said.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1434.