Imagine the end of a dinner party at a swank Naples home. The guests have been wined (quite liberally) and dined and now, surprisingly, they’re being issued boxer shorts and T-shirts. And told to jump into the hosts’ pool. The Jacuzzi goes on, some Dawn soap is poured in, and—before you know it—you have the guests splashing and laughing in 4 feet of suds. Welcome to hostess Shirlene Elkins’ world. (“That suds thing is actually like a wet T-shirt contest,” she says with a twinkle in her eye.)
Shirlene’s legendary here as a Fun Girl—perfect for this summer fun issue—and who would say otherwise about someone who has thrown birthday parties with dogs as the honored guests, a Millennial party that lasted three days and an I Love Lucy-themed 50th birthday party where 60 female invitees drove to breakfast in their pajamas?
Would it surprise you to know that this sunny native of California started her adult life as a nurse, with a B.S. degree in the subject from California State University, Fullerton? There was the grit in her full-time tour at St. Joseph Hospital in Los Angeles and a touch of glamour in her part-time gig at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. At St. Joseph, she says, “I did everything from massaging hearts to dealing with the drug gang members in the area. Once, a gang guy had me by the throat and slammed me against the wall to find out what was going on with one of his pals in the hospital. He only released me when a doctor came by and told him, ‘Your friend is dead.’
“Over at Cedars-Sinai, I made sure to work on the eighth floor where all the Hollywood stars were treated and came across such luminaries as Liz Taylor, Natalie Wood and Neil Sedaka.” On the side, she worked as a pastry chef for various of the stars.
So after eight years of nursing, when she followed her first husband to McLean, Virginia, she started a catering business when she couldn’t fit in her nursing duties as well. It grew swiftly to 125 full-time employees and served such clients as Oliver North and the Bush and Reagan families. She remembers doing a wedding for the daughter of Benjamin Bradlee, the renowned editor of The Washington Post. “Three days before the wedding,” Shirlene recalls, “his check bounced. I had to pressure him hard to get my money for the work I had done.”
Twelve years later, when she met and married her current husband, Bob, she sold her business and they got a place in Naples, strategically two hours distant from relatives scattered around Florida. And the rest since 1992 is Shirlene Does Naples—as she devoted her pluck and enterprise to philanthropy and fun. She was a founding trustee and first female chair of the Naples Winter Wine Festival and served on the boards of the Immokalee Foundation, Naples Philharmonic, Golisano Children’s Museum, YMCA Sneaker Ball and more.
About the fun: At the dog birthday parties, 16 to 20 friends brought their canines, who got to paint with their paws, run through an agility course, and glide down a slip and slide run into the pool to get cleaned off. The Millennial extravaganza took place in such spots as two airplane hangars and The Ritz-Carlton and featured John Davidson as emcee. And, of course, there was their Thanksgiving dinner for 35 guests that they couldn’t attend because of a medical emergency with Bob. But the show went on anyway with the chef they had hired, turning out a memorable feast for all.
Shirlene confesses to being a serial homeowner. “I’ve sold 26 homes in 25 years,” she says, “and lived in two or three of them, all in Bay Colony.” Wow. And all this has been a nice prelude to her latest turn in the workplace. Shirlene’s currently all smiles selling luxury single-family homes and condominiums for Sotheby’s International Realty, and, as she says, “now getting paid for it.”
Nurse. Caterer. Realtor. More to come? “I’m thinking about law school,” irrepressible Shirlene says. And if you think the post-party suds in her pool were a nice touch, stay tuned. The Fun Girl never rests and has that gleam in her eye.