A segment on Naples Daily NewsMakers isn’t enough time to chronicle the nearly 100 years of life Barbara B. Mann has lived, most of them cultivating performing arts in Southwest Florida.
"Seven minutes?" Mann said before a recording of the show Wednesday. "That's not very long,"
But it's more than enough time to glean those characteristics that helped her to bring nationally renowned acts to the Fort Myers area and the arts hall named after her. She's sharp, open, musically gifted and delightfully poised.
Mann celebrated her 99th birthday Wednesday during the show, appearing neatly dressed in a butterscotch skirt and suit jacket, bantering with the host, Jeff Lytle. The episode will air Sunday at 10 a.m. on ABC-7.
Her son, Frank Mann, a Lee County commissioner and former state senator, helped his mother slip off a fur coat. "Barbara B." or "B" as she's known stepped onto the stage and sat in her seat where her dainty, sandaled feet dangled and swayed throughout the interview.
"You like my outfit?" she asked Lytle, after he commented on her ringed fingers.
"She rented it just for today," her son joked. "We have to have it back by 11."
Frank Mann presented his mother with a surprise cupcake ("a cake!") during the recording. She asked to take the dessert home, telling Lytle "And you don't get a bit of it."
Mann said her incentive to live to 100 is to land an even bigger TV gig with Willard Scott, NBC's weatherman based in Fort Myers who regularly features centenarians on their birthdays for a spot on The Today Show.
For years, Mann played the piano and organ and directed choirs for area churches before helping to found the Fort Myers Community Concert Association. She served as president for 50 years and remains active in the organization.
As they grew, Mann shared her love of music with her two sons, Frank and George Mann Jr., who goes by Pat. So when Frank Mann became a state senator in 1982, he made it a point to continue his mother's vision by helping to bring a performing arts center to Edison State College's Lee Campus to be used in conjunction with the University of South Florida.
"She planted that little seed in my head when I was 8 or 9-years-old," Frank Mann said.
Two years later, the building was named the Barbara B. Mann Performing Arts Hall.
"Well I was thrilled" Mann said. "I drive by and see it my name up there and think 'I was glad I had a musical background of my own to share with my children.'"
"And 600,000 people in the community," Frank Mann added.
At 99, Mann prides herself on her independence. She still lives on her own with two cats, but has given up cooking and driving. Friends take her to the store and church.
Her secret to longevity is keeping busy. She makes it a point to attend shows at her hall, and should you ever call the Fort Myers Community Concert Association with questions about your tickets, it's Mann herself who will pick up on the other line.
Aside from those commitments, and a dinner date with family for her birthday Wednesday, Mann said she continues to enjoy life.
"I don't have any other plans," she said. "I go day to day."
Frank Mann said his mother needs to stay active until she's 100.
"(The hall) already has tentative plans for a gala 100th birthday," he said.