FRANK SOULE: A life at play

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FRANK SOULE HELPED REDEFINE HOW HILTON HEAD VIEWS RECREATION.

If you’ve spent any time at all at the Island Rec Center, you’ve probably met Frank Soule. He’s hard to avoid at the center — he has been with the organization since 1986, when Hilton Head Island was home to a full-time population of only about 17,000 people. Under his guidance, the Island Rec Center has grown in step with the island itself, going far beyond the boundaries of a simple public recreation facility to become a fundamental building block of the community.

So deep is his passion for the Island Rec Center, it forms a sizable portion of who he is as an individual: He’s a family man who speaks with love and pride about his children, Ashtin and Benton, and who recently celebrated 20 years with his wife, Kelly.

But ask him about his career spent defining the island’s approach to recreation, and his wide smile grows just a little wider.

“This is actually like coming full circle,” he said, stepping out of the trailer that’s his temporary office and into the clang, buzz and screech of construction. “We were working out of office space (when I first started) after the county took over the youth center.”

Soule first came to the island in 1986, recruited by friend and former co-worker Chuck Wielgus. It was Wielgus who had first urged Soule to go into recreation, seeing how quickly the college freshman took to it after spending summers at the local rec center. After graduating with a degree in community recreation from Lyndon State College in Vermont, Soule began working with Wielgus at the local center until the both left a few years later. Soule left Vermont for Port St. Lucie, Florida, while Wielgus came to Hilton Head to develop the rec center.

“About three years into it, he calls me up and says, ‘I have a program director job, do you want to take it?’ We came up and the rest is history,” Soule said.

After working out of the building now housing The Art Academy of the Hilton Head Art League, the rec center moved to its own building in 1988.

“At that time we were able to take a leap forward, especially in having a gym for our basketball programs,” Soule said.

That leap forward saw the Island Rec Center building relationships with entities from the Town of Hilton Head Island to the Hilton Head Island Senior Center to create new programs and help build many of the town’s parks.

Today, the rec center is poised for its next big leap forward under his leadership.

“With the opening of the new rec center, we’re really looking to expand,” he said. Plans for the new facility include an indoor walking track, cardio and weightlifting equipment, and more room for socializing — something Soule says is a recent development in his world.

“We have one lady who comes to do water aerobics, and she’s always inviting groups to come join her. That’s a trend we’re gravitating toward,” he said.

The rec center also will place a greater emphasis on outdoor activities, from paddelboarding to fishing and surfing. It’s a great fit for this avid outdoorsman. When he’s not at the rec center, you’ll find Soule far afield, deer hunting, duck hunting, boating and golfing.

“I like spending time outside, especially in the fall,” said Soule. “The weather’s beautiful around here.”