It was 1980 and Carol Nalevanko had moved to Arizona after graduating from the University of South Dakota. Looking for a job, answered an ad in the paper for an activities director.
“The ad that I answered asked if the candidate liked people, liked sports, and liked organizing events,” she remembers.
She thought that described her pretty well, so she applied. She was given an interview that same day and landed the job—and the rest, as they say, is history.
Fast-forward 40 years, and Carol is now the president of Village Health Clubs & Spas. Her first job—the activities director one—was with Metro Sports & Health Club, which was owned by Bennett Dorrance. After some time as the activities director, she was promoted to general manager.
She was in this role in 1990, when the Village Tennis Center, located at 44th Street and Camelback, came up for sale.
“Bennett called me and said to check it out; maybe we could have another club,” says Carol. “At the time, it was a bankrupt, 400-member, tennis-only facility with a swimming pool.”
Carol looked into it and felt that the location had “great potential.”
So in 1990, Bennett joined with Drew Brown and Mark Sklar to form DMB Sports Clubs, and the trio purchased the property. It underwent an expansion, and fitness and group exercise classes were introduced as well to make it a multi-recreational facility.
“The Metro Sports & Health Club was the foundation of the model that we built the Village on,” Carol says. “It’s all about building relationships, not only for fitness, but the social relationships, as well.”
Today, Village Health Clubs & Spas (VillageClubs.com) has four locations—the original Camelback one, Gainey, DC Ranch and Ocotillo (another was built in Verrado, but was later sold). Future locations, such as in the southeast Valley, are under consideration, as well.
The Clubs offer not only personal and group fitness options, but a spa/salon, court sports, a Kid’s Club, camps and activities for kids, a café, and activities—which include parties that draw 600-1,000 guests at a time.
“We are much more than a place people come to work out,” Carol explains. “Our success is based on the fact that we’re more than a fitness center. We have a strong social element and we’re all about people meeting people and connecting. We have multiple generations of members here and it’s an excellent place to spend time together to build lifelong friendships.
“It still amazes me that we’ve taken our first club and grown it into this really dynamic company of 900 employees and about 30,000 members,” she continues. “Every January, we have our annual employee party. We rent out the Hyatt Gainey ballroom and every time I walk into that ballroom I’m amazed at what the company has become.”
Carol credits the success of the company to both the people—the employees and members—as well as the product itself. It’s a model that lets people disconnect from social media and have human connections. We created an environment where both fitness and social interactions are valued and encouraged. The Village is a second home for our members and that can change people’s lives.
“I’ve been with the company for 40 years and every time I walk in I get a feeling of satisfaction and pride,” she says.