A retirement hobby
PAMELA GLINSKISEBRING - Visitors to the Central Florida BBQ Festival at Firemen's Field on Nov. 30 had the opportunity to watch the guitar and vocal performance of Jim Fortner's one-man band, Jimmy and the Megabytes.
Published: December 10, 2012
Published: December 10, 2012
What people didn't see was the months of work and preparation this Sebring Firemen Inc. events chairman put in to make sure the annual festival was a success.
"The Pig fest was very successful, with beautiful weather and a fantastic turnout. Everyone had a great time, and we did extremely well for the fundraiser," Fortner said.
Since 1927, Sebring Firemen Inc. has been raising money for school and community athletic projects.
Firemen's Field was built by this nonprofit group that was founded by area firemen.
Now, it is an "organization of over 100 men who are nominated or elected who are interested in supporting athletics," Fortner said.
"You don't have to be a fireman to be in the Sebring Firemen," Fortner added as he explained the group, known for its chicken barbecues, golf tournaments, fair events, and other fundraisers.
Their efforts have resulted in scholarships, new uniforms, new locker rooms, and have funded training programs and outings for area athletes.
Fortner wears many hats. He is also co-chair for the "Parade of Athletes," is an announcer during the annual all-star baseball games in May, and sits on the Highlands County Fair Board.
More than 700 people attended the first "Parade of Athletes" award banquet last June. The ceremony, which is co-sponsored by Highlands Today and the Sebring Firemen, recognizes the athletic achievements of Highlands County teens by providing scholarships, Spirit Awards, T-shirts, certificates, and athlete of the year awards.
"When your kids play sports there are a lot of people that contribute to their success … from the guy that rakes the fields to umpires, supervisors and coaches. This is my way of giving back to the next generation of kids that are coming along," Fortner said.
A self-described family man, Fortner has been married 36 years to his "first love," Linda, and credits her for his recent 40-pound weight loss.
"With the kids grown, we are trying to make some healthy lifestyle changes," explained the 59-year-old.
With pride, he talked about his three children. Heather Fortner is a third-grade teacher in Orlando. Anjuli "Juli" Pause is a civil engineer in West Palm Beach. His son Steven is studying computer networking at South Florida State College and works at Home Depot.
Fortner said that his son inherited his interest in computers. Jim is a nationally recognized expert on computer-aided design and drafting, who got his degree in physical geography, mapping and computer science from Texas State University.
His resume includes engineering firms like Halliburton, PBS & J Corporation, and Chastain-Skillman.
For the past three and a half years, he has worked as purchasing manager for E-Stone USA, which produces engineered stone, mosaic tiles and glass.
"I love being back in Sebring," said Fortner, who returned in 2006 to the city where he grew up.
"Long-term relationships are very important to me. There are dozens of people I grew up with that I still see almost every week," he said.
An avid music enthusiast who played his first Fender Telecaster electric guitar as a teenager, Fortner was able to perform in a 35-year reunion concert and cancer benefit with former "Gladstone" band members Roy "R.P." Pollard, Rick Solis and Dave Delate in 2007.
"We had a pretty good band," Fortner remarked. The group played gigs throughout Florida for the BJ Booking Agency in Orlando.
The singer-songwriter-guitarist said that as he nears retirement age, the desire to revitalize his music career has developed into Jimmy and the Megabytes, his current one-man act, in which he performs country favorites and some of his original songs.
Laying down backing tracks on his own recording equipment, he has been able to replicate the sounds of a full band.
"If you had your back turned to me and heard me playing, you'd think there were five people up there," he said of the vocal harmonizing and taped accompaniments that are unique to his show.
"Some people play golf when they retire, some people fish. I'm going to play music," Fortner said.
For more information on www.SebringFiremen.org or Jimmy and the Megabytes, call (863) 214-8137.