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Industry Veteran Ruby Newell-Legner Reflects on AB Show Memories

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For 40 years, AB Show has been inspiring the industry by elevating facilities, enriching programs and empowering leaders. Throughout our history the connections we’ve made are what sets us apart.

In anticipation of the 40th anniversary show, we caught up with long-time attendee and prolific speaker Ruby Newell-Legner, who takes a look back on what AB Show means to her and some of her favorite memories from past gatherings.

How long have you been a follower of Athletic Business?
As an employee of Foothills Park and Recreation District from April 1986 to May 1996, I enjoyed the magazine and was fortunate to attend AB Show quite often. I worked in aquatics and facility management back then.
From 1994 to 2006, I volunteered for the Recreation Facility Design & Management School committee, serving as chair in 2002. From its inception, Athletic Business sponsored RFDMS. Each year, the school’s leadership team would come to AB to promote RFDMS in a booth at the AB Show exhibit hall.
Here is one funny memory from the booth: Another woman and I were staffing the booth and up walked Dante Bichette, a handsome, famous outfielder from the Colorado Rockies. My colleague clearly thought the sun and moon rose on him. She quickly grabbed a sharpie, jumped out in the aisle, stopping him dead in his tracks, and said, “Hey, Dante, would you sign my thigh?” Then she hiked up her dress so he could give her his autograph. Needless to say, it caused quite a commotion in the whole section of the exhibit hall, and we still laugh about it today!

What originally drew you to AB Show?
As a young professional in recreation, I depended on Athletic Business to provide cutting-edge ideas and professional development that I couldn’t find anywhere else.

Do you remember your first conference with us? Any fond memories?
There are so many fond memories, as I have presented 74 sessions for AB Show, speaking at 22 of the past 26 AB Shows. The only shows I missed were when the dates conflicted with my National Speakers Association Board of Directors meetings when I served on the leadership team and as president, for the 2015-2016 term. And for the record, I was really bummed to miss it those years.

In 1995, I presented my first program — titled “Don’t Hire, Select” — which addressed the need to be selective when choosing new staff members. I remember it as if it were yesterday. Sue Searls was sitting in the back of the room to support me. Speaking was new to me then, and I hadn’t planned where I would put the microphone pack. I had no pockets, and I was wearing a skirt with an elastic waist. I knew that it would pull my skirt down if I clipped it there, so I lifted my jacket and had the AV Tech hook it on my bra in the back. All the time I was thinking, “This must be what it is like to be in show business.”

I was extremely nervous throughout the presentation, which caused me to talk way too fast. At the 45-minute mark of a 90-minute program, I had gone through all the material I had prepared for the session. Sue looked at her watch and gave me the “stretch it out” sign, but I had nothing left. I think I filled some time by answering questions, but I have always prepared extra material in case I need it from that day on.

When I finished, I felt like I would pass out, because I don’t think I took a full breath the whole time.

I am so grateful that Sue continued to believe in me. That conference was the beginning of a speaking career I love dearly and have enjoyed for 27 years.

Is there a show or location over the years that sticks out to you the most?
They all have great memories, but the one that stands out the most is 2021 in San Antonio. After not having a show in 2020 because of COVID, it was heartwarming to be back together in person in 2021. It felt like a family reunion. A favorite memory was turning to see the whole AB staff sitting on the rocks as we gathered to watch the Day of the Dead River Parade. They had once again put a phenomenal event together and were exhausted but still smiling.

After I hosted and presented 26 virtual workshops for AB during the pandemic, it was great to meet up with Chris Stevenson, CSCS, owner of Stevenson Consulting, and Steven Trotter, MS, ACSM, ACE, the director of wellbeing at East Carolina University and a principal at Globetrotter Wellness Solutions, in San Antonio for AB Show. I had never met them in person. We had so much fun during our virtual presentations during the pandemic. It was great to share a few cold ones with them at the social.

Looking back, 2021 was Sue’s last show and I have such fond memories of working with her. I cherish our friendship that developed over the years. She will be missed in so many ways.

How did you react to Sue’s retirement?
Here is the comment I wrote on the article about Sue’s retirement — all so very true!

“Sue Searls gave me my first national conference speaking opportunity in 1995, and I have been privileged to present for more than 20 AB Shows over the years. Sue’s belief in me encouraged my growth and led to a full-time career as a speaker. Her knowledge of the industry, her connection with the people who make it happen, and her outstanding attention to detail have truly grown AB Show to the excellent professional development it offers today.

“Working side-by-side with Sue to plan, develop and deliver 25 webinars during the pandemic was pure joy! Her dedicated work ethic, superb guidance, and never-ending get-’er-done perspective became an inspiration and positive role model for me as I built my own business.

“On a personal note, Sue became a dear friend, respected colleague, and trusted adviser. She will be missed in so many ways.

“Congratulations, Sue. Enjoy your well-deserved retirement.”

What do you feel sets this show apart from others in the industry?
I believe it is the dedicated AB staff who each contribute to the quality content. Whether it be in the magazine, in the newsletter or online, the articles are top-notch and thought-provoking. Their knowledge of the industry truly makes the difference. Sue Searl’s attention to detail for the show and her connection with the people who make it happen have grown AB Show to the excellent professional development it offers today.

If you could describe AB Show in three words what would they be?
AB develops the leaders in our industry so perhaps “developing industry leaders.”

What keeps you coming back to AB Show?
I am honored to work alongside dedicated professionals who give their all to make a profession better. They also create opportunities for individuals like me who have grown through their offerings. I will be forever grateful for the chance they gave me!

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