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  1. Arts & Entertainment

Seniors in Service use documentary to illuminate joy of twilight years

Moderator Robin Ingles, Seniors in Service director of marketing and development, on the left, along with the film's producer Elizabeth Yng-Wong and Tampa restaurateur Richard Gonzmart staged a panel discussion after the nonprofit's screening of the documentary "The Longest Game." Photo by JOYCE MCKENZIE | Special to the Times
Published May 31, 2018

TAMPA — Seniors in Service, presenters of a recent documentary at the Tampa Theatre, describe the venue as the ideal setting for the film's portrayal of the merits of moving forward with a purposeful life regardless of age.

The Longest Game, a story depicting the positive effects derived from the interaction among a gaggle of mainly octogenarians who — no matter the weather conditions — gather daily at 1 p.m. for a game of outdoor paddle tennis, was screened in the historic 92-year-old venue last week.

With some down time in her normally action-packed work schedule, Los Angeles-based award-winning director/writer Camille Thoman came across the seniors while visiting her mother in the tiny town of Dorset, nestled in the valley of the Green Mountains of Vermont. Following lunch one afternoon at the Dorset Field Club, the duo happened to stumble upon the group of old men in the club's paddle hut, ribbing one another about one thing then another while sharing some heartfelt laughs centered on their playing of the sport.

Charmed beyond measure by the guys, and struck by the nudging of her mother, Thoman decided to do her next film about them.

Together with producer Elizabeth Yng-Wong, they spent months with the men on and off the court, even breaking bread with them in their homes, some accompanied by their spouses and others whose wives had passed away but whose cherished memories were forever present in furniture and memorabilia.

The sentimental pieces included a half-empty jar of homemade spaghetti sauce in the freezer, prepared by the former soulmate of one widower.

Thoman, who was unable to attend the event at the Tampa Theatre, said while paddle tennis is the glue of the film, it's more about the men telling of their histories and passions and displaying the wisdom that comes with their longevity of life.

But perhaps more importantly, she noted, is that it shows that many people well into their 80s are still capable of staying active and, in this instance, setting the benchmark of how good life can be at that stage of the game if you see every day as a blessing.

"I thought the film was very touching in that it made people both laugh and cry, and very entertaining because people in the audience connected with it beautifully," said Herma White, who is serving her second consecutive term as Seniors in Service board chairman.

"It also connected well with people of various ages and I'm so glad that Seniors in Service had a role in making that happen."

A panel discussion following the film's screening featured Richard Gonzmart, president of the restaurant group best known for the Columbia, Ulele and the resurrected Goody Goody eateries in Tampa; and The Longest Game's Yng-Wong, who filled in for former WFLA-Ch. 8 anchor Gayle Sierens due to Sierens' family emergency.

When asked by moderator Robin Ingles, Seniors in Service director of marketing and development, what aspirations Gonzmart, age 68, has for the future, he responded with a litany of plans that include opening the Buccaneer restaurant later this year in Longboat Key on property that once was home to Patigeorge's, one of his parents favorite restaurants.

He also is looking forward to the reality of bringing back foods and wines popularized by Sicilians, who along with the Spanish and Cubans founded Tampa. Plans are underway for him to do just that with the opening of Casa Santo Stefano restaurant in the near future.

"We have to go back to the way things used to be … and we need to be there for each other and share with one another," said the beloved restaurateur and prostate cancer survivor, who also hopes he can aid in the quest to find a cure for the disease.

Gonzmart also wants to give at-risk kids an opportunity to attend Hillsborough Community College.

On the other hand, Yng-Wong, at the age of 45, would like to continue producing real life films for the purpose of educating and entertaining the public about people and subjects of interest.

"Thank you to the Tampa Theatre for hosting this movie," she said. "It has been a joy."

According to Ingles, the evening's presentation, open to the public and preceded by a VIP reception in the theater's lobby, was a major and highly successful fundraiser for the organization.

"I thought it was probably the best event we've ever had and we're delighted with the outcome," said Susan Boyd, former chairman of the board.

Contact Joyce McKenzie at hillsnews@tampabay.com.

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