Marty Pomerantz: a playful spirit

May 29, 2013 


This past Sunday, 6,027 members of the UNC community said goodbye to college life, most of them having spent their last four years attending Carolina.

It would be easy to overlook any one individual’s departure from the university. But some have such an ebullient spirit, playful outlook and have made such an indelible impact on the university, heir departure must be noted.

Though he may still be found milling about the halls and offices of Woollen or Fetzer Gymnasiums, campus recreation centers or outdoor exercise facilities for the next few weeks, Marty Pomerantz has technically retired from his position as Campus Recreation Director. It’s a role he accepted in 1991 after honing his diplomatic and collaborative skills around the country.

But, in a way, Pomerantz can’t retire. By his own philosophy, he never truly “worked” at the university.

Pomerantz lives by the motto that it’s not work if it’s something you enjoy,” associate director of Campus Recreation Lauren Mangili said

UNC Campus Recreation, jointly administered by the academic Department of Exercise and Sports Science and the Division of Student Affairs, presides over such diverse facets of university and community life as intramurals, sports clubs, outdoor recreation, fitness and the facilities available to nearly 55,000 students, staff and faculty at the university.

No easy task. Given the emphasis on and level of health and fitness at UNC, the Recreation department at Carolina would rival many smaller schools’ entire athletic department in terms of facilities and participation.

After an early stint at UNC 1976-1983, the Bronx native worked at Emory University, Texas A&M and Cortland College in upstate New York before returning to Carolina as Director of Campus Recreation in 1992. Since that time, the department has seen unprecedented growth.

“I think that, when Marty came, Campus Recreation had around five employees,” said Pomerantz’s wife of 10 years Meg, project director for the Carolina Collaborative for Research on Work and Health. “Now there are more than three times that many.”

Under Marty Pomerantz’s watch, UNC saw the opening of the Student Recreation Center in 1993 just across South Road from the Student Union and Pit. He also presided over the opening of the Outdoor Education Center, the Rams Head Recreation Center in 2005 atop the Rams Head Parking Deck and, more recently, the South Campus Recreation Center. Pomerantz refuses to take credit for many of the facilities and programs initiated during his tenure, however.

“I can’t take any credit,” he said. “I just happened to be in the right places at the right times. I was here when growth came at the right time and when students supported these ideas.”

Pomerantz did accept some of the credit for the institution of the Outdoor Education Center however.

“The seed money for that came from a gift from a donor — Charles Aycock Poe — which was supposed to go towards renovating the outdoor (Kessing) pool,” he said. “The cost of renovating the pool was significantly higher than his gift, so I suggested redirecting the gift toward a climbing wall in Fetzer Gymnasium and developing a ropes course at the Outdoor Center.”

Now also offering tennis courts, a disc golf course and sand volleyball courts, the Outdoor Education Center is now one of the most popular recreation areas on campus.

Pomerantz seasons his successes with one regret, however.

“What hasn’t worked has actually been paddle tennis,” he said. “I think it’s actually ahead of its time. I hope the courts hold up until the popularity catches up. I haven’t given up on that.”

A collaborative effort

But beyond the facilities and the fitness, perhaps it’s Pomerantz’s political savvy that simply gets so much done on behalf of recreation and inclusion. That’s so evident in programs like his Kids R.O.C.K. (Recreational Opportunities for Carolina Kids), which is a free program introducing healthy sports and activities children of students, faculty and staff, and in the annual Jingle Bell Jog and Spring Fling 5K runs so popular with UNC staff.

“It often comes down to working well and collaboratively with department chairs at Exercise and Sports Science,” Pomerantz said. “It came down to good leadership from John Billing, Fred Mueller and now Kevin Guskiewicz. Plus, we’ve always had a great staff bringing new ideas to the campus, and that’s why I have a real hard time taking credit.”

“His institutional memory has really been important in trying to coordinate Exercise and Sports Science, Campus Recreation and Student Affairs,” said Pomerantz’s supervisor Kevin Guskiewicz, chairman of the Department of Exercise and Sport Science.

Don’t expect Pomerantz to disappear from the local recreation scene altogether, however.

“This summer I’ll be directing a summer camp for the Montessori Community School of Durham,” he said, adding that he will also be spending considerably more time with his family.

“My true passion is my family,” he said. “I’m looking forward to spending time with my grandchildren.”

“I’ve really mirrored my career after him,” said Marty’s son Seth Pomerantz, the assistant director at UNC’s Faculty-Staff Recreation Association (the FARM). “He was my inspiration to get into recreation in the first place.”

“When you ask Marty what his greatest accomplishments are in life, he’ll tell you (his sons) Adam and Seth,” Meg Pomerantz said, “and the fact that he’s had two successful marriages in his life.”

But don’t expect to find Marty Pomerantz sitting back in a rocking chair bouncing his grandchildren on his knees. More likely he’ll eventually be leading them on a bike excursion to the coast or perhaps engaging them in a game of paddle tennis.

“He always had a quote on his door that said, ‘Find a job you love, and you never work a day in your life,’ Seth Pomerantz said. “That’s what he lives by, and that’s how I now live my life.”

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