Barbara Balch Mann, 100, completed her work for the enrichment of music and the arts in the community she loved Sunday, Dec. 15, 2013.
On Jan. 4, 1913, she was the last child born in the Balch home built by her ancestors in 1750, in Topsfield, Mass.
In 1922, her mother brought her and her sister, Helen, to Fort Myers to live with her mother's parents.
Barbara Balch Mann
She graduated from Fort Myers High School in 1929 and was presented her diploma by Thomas Edison. Mina Edison had presented her with a large basket of flowers earlier that year when she was the star in the school play.
She later met her future husband, George, when they both performed in a play presented on the old Pleasure Pier in downtown Fort Myers in 1935. They were married in 1938.
In 1947, the two founded George T. Mann Construction, with George as the general contractor and her as office manager and bookkeeper.
She and George were married for 59 years until his passing in 1996.
In 1923, she and her sister performed for Connie Mack and the Philadelphia Athletics as part of an effort to lure the team to Fort Myers for Spring Training - it worked.
Over the years, she was either organist, choir director or both at St. Luke's Episcopal, First Christian and First Baptist Churches, and she finished her church career after a 30-year stint at First Presbyterian Church, retiring in 1998.
She was a founding director of the Fort Myers Community Concert Association in 1948 and served as the organization's president for 57 years.
She founded the Edison Choraliers, which performed during the Edison Pageant of Light, was president of the Fort Myers Woman's Community Club and the Rotary-Anns.
She was also the charter president of the Lee County Alliance for the Arts.
Her lifelong ambition was to have a college degree, which was virtually impossible for a young woman growing up in the depression. But she enrolled, in her sixties, at Edison Community College, received a degree, then enrolled at Thomas Edison State College of New Jersey and proudly received her bachelor's degree.
As a tribute to her many years of leadership in the arts and culture in the community, the Florida Legislature named the new performing arts hall at Edison College after her.
She is survived by her sons, George T. "Pat" (Jena) Mann Jr. and Lee County Commissioner Franklin (Mary Lee) Mann; grandchildren, Frank (Deirdre) Mann Jr., Ian Mann, Michelle (Chip) Mann Strazis, George T. "Ted" Mann III, Christina (James) Mann Savino; and 13 great-grandchildren.
At her request, the family received friends and members of the Community Concert Association Friday, Dec. 20, 2013, at the Judd Pavilion of the Barbara B. Mann Performing Arts Hall. A formal celebration of her life was held Saturday, Dec. 21, at the First Presbyterian Church in Fort Myers.
Contributions to the Fort Myers Community Concert Endowment Fund will honor her memory. Donations may be mailed to Fort Myers Community Concert Endowment Fund, P.O. Box 606, Fort Myers, FL 33902.