WORDS: Amy Bell
MAIN PICTURE: Whitney Patton
For Marge Vita, volunteering is a way of life. She has worked as a volunteer for as long as she can remember, and Manatee County has benefitted immensely from her tireless work.
Born and raised in Irvington, New Jersey, Marge studied at The Berkeley Secretarial School in East Orange, New Jersey. She graduated from the one-year intensive program that included courses in shorthand, business correspondence, typewriting, commercial law, secretarial accounting, economics, principles of advertising, and business psychology.
After graduating, Marge landed her dream job in 1950 at House Beautiful Magazine, where she worked as an editorial assistant. She shared an office in Manhattan with the editor-in-chief. Her primary role was to identify the names of the flatware used in photo spreads. “I would walk a few blocks to Tiffany and show the photo of the table setting to the expert there, and they would identify each piece for me—that job was great fun,” she recalls.
In the early 1950s, Marge met her future husband at a Saturday night dance in New Jersey. She and Bob danced the jitterbug all night long, and the rest was history.
In October of 1977, Marge and Bob were transferred from Poughkeepsie, New York to Bradenton. “Not only was it a change for the better, but it also changed my life forever,” she says. “I have always volunteered in each community we lived, so it was natural for me to continue.”
And that she did. In fact, Marge has continued to give back to the Suncoast community for the last four decades. She still volunteers today.
Soon after she moved to Manatee County in 1977, Marge registered to work at Blake Hospital as a volunteer. Over the next 20 years, she continued to take on more and more responsibilities at the hospital until she ultimately became the Director of Volunteer Services.
During that time, Marge also joined the Suncoast Directors of Volunteer Services, covering Northwest Florida, where she served as president. She also joined and became president for the Florida Association of Directors of Volunteer Services (FADVS). “In all these positions, I developed lifelong friends,” she adds.
In 1998, Marge was awarded the Sally Sitta CEVA Award, which recognizes the Commitment to Excellence in Volunteer Administration. The award was established by FADVS in 1996 to recognize outstanding volunteer leaders in healthcare. Renamed in 2001 in honor of Sally Sitta, the first recipient, the award is presented annually to a FADVS member who exemplifies the profession.
Marge’s nomination for the prominent award reads as follows: “Marge is best known for her tireless efforts to make volunteer leadership educational opportunities available to new and experienced volunteer directors and coordinators. A former president of FADVS and a lifetime member, Marge has served the organization in many capacities. As chair of the FADVS Certification Program, Marge was instrumental in making the certification program a professional tool that has become recognized throughout the country. On a national level, Marge wrote an article about volunteers for the National Risk Management Newsletter and was instrumental in convincing Columbia/HCA to include volunteers in the corporate mission statement.”
To the Dogs
After retiring from Blake in 1999, Marge became a volunteer at Southeastern Guide Dogs in Palmetto. For the past 20 years, she has worked as the manager of the Southeastern Guide Dogs gift shop.
When Marge first took on this position, the gift shop was a small closet in the old admin building. Today, she finds new merchandise to sell, keeps the gift shop stocked, and learns new ways to promote items. “It’s such a privilege to be with the volunteers and the staff here,” she says. “And I’m continually amazed by the students and how good they are with their dogs.”
Marge has also served as a breeder host for Southeastern Guide Dogs. “This has allowed me the pleasure of raising three breeder dogs for the school: Brandy, a smooth-coat Collie, Docker, a rough-coat Collie, and my present companion and best friend, Smooch,” she says.
Smooch, a beautiful yellow Lab, is now a retired breeder. “The collies were regal, and along comes this clown named Smooch,” Marge says. Smooch entered Marge’s life after her husband Bob passed away. “She makes me laugh, and she keeps me healthy and active. These dogs give you a love you can’t imagine.” Not only do Marge and Smooch love working together at the gift shop, but they also share November birthdays three days apart. “We party,” Marge says. “She gets a cupcake.”
A Family Affair
For the Vitas, volunteering runs in the family. Married for 51 years, Marge and Bob had five children—three girls and two boys. Today, Marge has 11 grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.
Before he passed away, Marge’s husband Bob shared her love of giving back to the community. “He was active in the Kiwanis, serving as president, and he also was instrumental in bringing the Stagg Bowl (the division three football final) to Bradenton for several years,” she recalls.
However, Marge says one of Bob’s most loved volunteer positions was serving as president of the Pittsburgh Pirates Booster Club in Bradenton. “The Pirates gave him the honor and the thrill of throwing out the first pitch for a Pirates game at Three Rivers Stadium,” Marge adds. “He served the Pirates until the day he died.”
Three of Marge and Bob’s five children still live and work in Bradenton. Marge’s daughter Tracey has owned and operated Tracey Vita’s School of Dance since 1981. For more than 20 years, her son Robert has owned Bob Vita Lawn Care Service. Her son John is currently Vice President at Morgan Stanley and has served as a financial advisor, following in his father’s footsteps.
Marge’s daughter Chris-Anne remained in New York, where she works as an office manager for a dental practice. Her daughter Cindi is a 20-year financial advisor currently serving as a Vice President with Stifel.
“Our children and our grandchildren volunteer with many organizations, including the Desoto Society, Kiwanis, HOPE, Ronald McDonald Red Shoes, as well as local assisted living homes, to name a few,” Marge adds proudly.
Over the years, when she wasn’t volunteering, Marge enjoyed golfing at Bradenton Country Club, where both she and Bob served on the Board of Directors. “However, my most favorite time was watching my children grow, and then create families of their own and give us beautiful, intelligent grandchildren and great-grandchildren,” she reflects. “They all continue to serve their communities.”
Watching Over Manatee
While living in New Jersey, Marge and Bob inherited a statue of the Virgin Mary that had been at the parish grotto for many years. “She traveled with us to New York and then to Bradenton,” Marge recalls. “Bob and I decided she needed a more visible presence to look over all her children, so we donated her to St. Bernard’s Church on Holmes Beach.” Through donations, the church placed a grotto around the Virgin Mary statue for all to share. It’s just one of the many ways Marge has shown her love for the community over the decades.
“Manatee Country is my home, and I have been blessed to live here to raise my children, my grandchildren, and my great-grandchildren,” Marge says. “Thank you, Manatee County, for a wonderful life.”
Thank you, Marge Vita, for everything you’ve done and continue to do for this community.