Party professional

Published 6:08 pm Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Felton Mann is all things Planters Club to a generation of Suffolk residents who have attended events at the waterfront property. He is responsible for upkeep of all the city’s recreation buildings, but the Planters Club is his favorite.

Felton Mann puts the special in special events

If Felton Mann had applied for the job he holds now, he might have answered an ad like this one:

“City of Suffolk seeks facilities management coordinator. Must be willing to relocate to beautiful waterfront property. Spend your days maintaining 13 city buildings and 14 parks and preparing them for special events. Attend numerous weddings, bridal showers, baby showers, proms, reunions and more. Hold fathers-of-the-bride while they cry on your shoulder. Console brides when they get stood up at the altar. Listen to people reminisce about the parties they used to have at the Planters Club. And did we mention that you’d live at the Planters Club?”

But Mann didn’t apply for that job. He simply started working at the Suffolk National Guard Armory decades ago because he needed a job and his uncle already worked there.

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“From there, we expanded and we had to go to other facilities,” Mann said.

All of the city’s parks and facilities fall under his purview, but Mann says the Planters Club is his favorite.

“This is my baby,” he said. “It always seemed magical here.”

The Planters Club, located by the Nansemond River off Sleepy Hole Road, was built by Amedeo Obici, the founder of Planters Peanuts. It was originally intended as a social hall for his employees.

“You meet a lot of people that have a lot of history here,” Mann said. “You get the chance to talk to all of them. One man said he remembered getting his first kiss from his girlfriend there.”

The hall, which sits across the water from Obici’s Italianate mansion, has changed through the years. The pool was filled in, and the club no longer hosts Obici’s elaborate parties.

Instead, it hosts plenty of elaborate parties thrown by others.

“Some of the beautifulest weddings you want to see,” recalled Mann, who’s been to hundreds of nuptials over the years. Other parties — showers, proms and the like — likely number in the thousands. The city requires a facilities representative at each event held in the building, and Mann has drawn that duty for years now.

Mann works closely with the happy couples to orchestrate every aspect of their wedding days.

“This is a big day for them,” Mann said. “I like to contribute to that cause. If you work with them from beginning to end, you don’t see many surprises. You get to meet them ahead of time. You know what they want.”

Of course, there are the things nobody can prepare for, like when the groom fails to show up. Mann has comforted a handful of brides when their big day turned into a big disappointment.

When the groom does show up, it’s usually the bride’s father who needs to be comforted.

“You meet a lot of fathers when their daughters get married,” Mann said. “You’re there for them.”

All the hard work is worth it, he says, when people thank him for making their event special and remember him years later.

“It goes a lot further than this building,” he said. “I’ve come many times and found gifts on the front steps. I enjoy the people so much.”

But it’s not just the people who make the job unique. Mann has seen the sun rise many times as he worked frantically — sometimes with only a few hours between the end of one event and the beginning of another — to set up the building.

And the cottage behind the Planters Club is nothing to sneeze at — it offers the same incredible waterfront view of the Nansemond River as does the venue itself.

It’s a tough job, but someone’s got to do it.