SARASOTA, FLA. -- Our Amazing Woman of the Suncoast this week is Michelle Pingel. She's CEO of the Player’s Theatre, the 2nd oldest community theater in Florida, a position she worked her way up to after starting there as a volunteer.
Pingel's family were Longboat Key pioneers. "My father was the fire chief, my grandfather the town building inspector."
Like most her family, she graduated from Cardinal Mooney, and then the State College of Florida. "My first real job was, I was an assistant manager at Walgreens."
She says the business training she got there from her boss Karen Bang, she still uses today. "She and her husband, who is also a Sarasota County Sheriff's deputy like my husband, set me and my husband up on a lunch date. And that's how I met my husband."
At the time she met her now husband, Kevin Pingel, she was a single mom struggling to support two young sons. "The hours for retail weren't very flexible, so I went into the government world, which I did not like at all."
And when her youngest son took a class at the Player’s Theatre, Michelle started volunteering there. When she offered to write grants for them, they offered her an administrative position.
Despite the pay cut, she took it. "I came in, worked my way up to office assistant, to director of operations."
She earned the title of managing director during the economic downturn. "We were close, 8 weeks away from bankruptcy probably."
The split management plan that she came up with basically saved the theatre. Jeffery Ken became the artistic director, and Michelle became managing director. Together, they make magic.
And her family life has flourished. She and her husband make a great team. "We have an interesting life with him being a sargeant at the Sheriff’s Office and dealing with crimes against children and homicides and me dealing with the theatre."
Her two sons graduated from Cardinal Mooney. "Andrew is a junior at Florida Gulf Coast University, studying forensic studies and wants to be a cop like his stepfather."
And her youngest son Austin? “He's in an amazing program at Old Miss; it's a National Guard program."
And she just launched the Players’ first endowment fund to protect the theatre's future financial security.
And her life lesson? "Listen and surround yourself with people who are much more intelligent than yourself."
Michelle's ultimate goal is to spend more time in Tallahassee advocating for the arts so that the Player’s Theatre and others like it will be more financially secure in the future.