Standing shoulder to shoulder with her brothers and sisters in tow, a little brown-haired, brown-eyed Italian girl stares intently up at the sky.
Her eyes begin to sparkle and a giant smile spreads across her face as a giant 75-foot Cat in the Hat balloon looms over the crowd. But before she has a chance to point out her favorite character, the sounds of drums and trumpets break her reverie and her eyes dart back down to the ground just in time as the rest of the Springfield Big Balloon Parade makes its way down Main Street.
Now some three decades later, River Club resident Lori Basilone sits in her corner office, that memory still as vivid as the day it happened. She uses the Big Balloon Parade as inspiration for what she hopes will be Lakewood Ranch’s next grand adventure.
As the Community Activities Director for Lakewood Ranch, Basilone is responsible for planning nearly a dozen events throughout the year, including Boo Fest, Holidays Around the Ranch, the Easter Eggstravaganza and the Back-to-School Splash Bash, among others.
But even with an event for practically every major holiday, there is one event that is still missing from the lineup — a community grand parade.
And it’s one that Basilone has her heart set on recreating right here in Lakewood Ranch.
“I think I’m just a kid at heart; I never really grew up,” Basilone says. “Parades were always a part of my childhood adventures and memories.
“Part of me in this position wants to create (an event) for new families here to go and have fun and act like children again,” she says. “Life can be too serious sometimes.”
Basilone assumed her position in 2007 and at the time thought she simply would be planning events for the community. Now more than two years after her first Back-to-School Splash Bash, Basilone has an entirely different take on her position.
“It’s so much more than just planning events,” Basilone says. “Lakewood Ranch is a very vibrant community, so it’s about pulling the whole community together and watching the kids grow.”
In her time on the Ranch, Basilone has tried to take each event and make it her own by adding her personal touches. The majority of Basilone’s ideas come from her own personal childhood experiences as well as Internet research.
With nearly a dozen events to plan every year, Basilone typically finds herself working on more than one event at a time. She often starts planning events six months in advance, trying to add at least one new element every year.
Then six weeks prior to the event, Basilone begins finalizing all of the details to make sure each event is a success.
“Rather than adding more events, I try to make each event more attractive by putting a new spin on the event and making it fresh,” says Basilone, who added a parade to last year’s Boo Fest to make it more attractive to residents.
But of all the events that she plans throughout the year, there is one in particular — Holidays Around the Ranch — that continually reminds her of why she does what she does.
“I really like the ambiance that’s created with the holiday season,” Basilone says. “It’s nice how calming the holiday spirit can make you feel. Seeing people come together like a family and celebrate the season and watching the kids jump up and down when they see Santa Claus — I get wrapped up in that.
“As a child, Christmas was definitely my favorite event,” she says. “It was the only time we were allowed to have soda, so you know it was special.”
A native of Connecticut, Basilone moved to Massachusetts in the first grade and lived there until moving to Florida eight years ago.
She graduated from Western New England College in 1982 with a degree in business. She began her career as a sales analyst for Spalding Sports Worldwide before tapping into her personal side as the company’s event planner. Basilone spent 14 years working for Spalding during which time she organized 10 different NBA All-Star weekends and various golf outings, among other events.
After the privately owned company was sold to KKR in 1996, Basilone left the sports world behind and assumed a position with Channing Bete, an education materials publisher.
In 2001, Basilone moved to Florida with her husband of 23 years, Mike, and two daughters, Jamie, who is studying sports management at Flagler College and Kenzie, who attends Braden River High School.
She spent five years running her brother’s medical practice before going to work as a purchasing agent for Pulte Homes. She was named Lakewood Ranch’s Community Activities Director in 2007.
When she’s not planning events for the community, Basilone enjoys spending time with her family. She and her husband try to go to the beach at least once a month, and the couple recently purchased a kayak and often paddle around Lido Beach. They also run three miles every morning.
Now with the new year upon her, Basilone already is busy planning a number of events, including the Youth Fishing Tournament, Casino Night and the Easter Eggstravaganza, among others. Additionally, Basilone says she is hoping to work with Main Street to expand this year’s Memorial Day Celebration.
“I’m really honored to have this position,” Basilone says. “I think Community Activities adds a breath of fresh air to that serious side, which I think is a good thing.”
Contact Jen Blanco at [email protected].