Rona Jacobsen and Sharon Placke haven’t been the owner-operators of Jazzercise Grand Island Center for long, but according to them, Grand Island hasn’t been without a Jazzercise since 1979.
Given both women grew up in Grand Island — graduating from Northwest High School and then attending Kearney State College before making their way back — they would know.
“I’ve always wanted to own a Jazzercise center,” Jacobsen said. “When it came open for sale, I was like ‘I really want to do it, but I’ve never owned my own business,’ so Sharon and I — we’ve been friends since junior high — she was the perfect person (to ask).”
Jacobsen retired in March from Sherwin Williams in Grand Island, where she worked for 30 years. She also runs a home interior business, Interior Concepts By Design. Placke works as the business manager for Northwest Public Schools, where she’s been for 27 years.
“It’s nice to have two of us,” Placke added. “We share the duties and have somebody to ask questions or talk back and forth about stuff, so that’s helped tremendously.”
Customer, instructor, owner
Both women began their relationship with Jazzercise as customers, transitioning to instructors — Jacobsen in 2003 and Placke in 2012 — and then as business owners since the pair took over in May.
“When this came up, and I knew I was retiring, this was just a chance to jump on it, because (Jazzercise) has really been my saving grace throughout the years,” Jacobsen said. “You come to Jazzercise, you come and forget everything else, especially when you’re an instructor. You’re thinking about what you need to do and you’re not thinking about anything else.”
Jazzercise was created in 1969 by founder and CEO Judi Sheppard Missett. The single aerobic dance class, based on classical jazz dance, has since grown to include different styles of fitness classes, including strike, fusion, core, strength and the original dance.
According to the official Jazzercise website, “the leotards — and the ‘80s — are long gone and our classes are way too hot for legwarmers.”
But that doesn’t mean some people don’t remember those days.
“They’d Jazzercise in socks when I started, so ... it’s been a long time,” Jacobsen said with a laugh. “But through having kids, college, career, I’ve always wanted to (stay with it). I started in ‘85, ‘86, just going to Jazzercise classes. I tried everything; I’d go Jazzercise for a couple years, and then I’d try something else, and I always came back to Jazzercise.”
Jacobsen has tried just about everything else the area has to offer — from local 24/7 gyms to dance to Zumba classes at the YMCA — but for her, nothing beats out Jazzercise when it comes to keeping active and entertained. “We have aerobics, we have strength training, we have stretching, everything you need incorporated in that hour of class.”
Placke has also tried other forms of exercise, notably running, but “I don’t like to run in the winter” and so Jazzercise has been a good fit for her over the years.
“I did Jazzercise right after I graduated from college, so I did it when I was working right after we moved to Grand Island,” Placke said. “And then I got married and we moved south of town — and not that that’s a long ways, but I just didn’t do the drive in to take classes. And then, when Trina (Goodrich-Vap) opened in July of 2012, I came back as a customer.”
From there, Placke decided to intensify her involvement with Jazzercise, going to instructor workshops that fall and becoming a certified instructor by December. “So within six months of being a customer again, I was an instructor.”
Center has plenty to offer
Both women acknowledge the competition their center faces.
“It’s tough in Grand Island; there’s a lot of opportunities for people to go to work out,” Placke said. “They’re all different in their own ways, and so it’s a competition between all of us. But a town the size of Grand Island should be able to support all of us.”
Jazzercise is a flexible mix of fitness exercises that can be adjusted for high- or low-intensity workouts as needed. And with 13 instructors, including both owners, on the schedule, the Grand Island center offers classes for all ages, of all coordination and mobility levels.
“It’s all levels,” Jacobsen said. “We have students from 16 to ... let’s say 75. We have all ages, all fitness levels.”
The Grand Island center offers both hour-long and half-hour classes at intervals between 5 a.m. and 6:30 p.m., and also offers child care during certain classes, in order to accommodate as many schedules as possible. While there are currently 35 classes offered per week, the center is hoping to increase that number to 40 in coming months.
Jacobsen and Placke are adamant that their business venture should remain a beneficial part of the community, from accommodating their customers’ availability and desires — “we did a survey to see what classes people like to go to; it’s the same classes that we do now,” Jacobsen offered — to sponsoring events and fundraisers.
“We do a lot of events throughout the community,” Jacobsen said. “We did Girls and Pearls; the event at Principal; I’m going to have the cross-country team from Ravenna come in and they’re going to take a class.”
Jazzercise put together a team for the Race for GRACE, and has put together donations for fundraisers. The center also takes part in “Think Pink” for Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October, and will work with the Heartland United Way’s Adopt a Family program in November as well.
“We try to do things besides just be here to bring everyone together,” Placke said. “Some of us scooped ice cream at the State Fair for the United Way.”
Participation in these events is never mandatory for instructors or customers, but Placke and Jacobsen feel it’s an important way to give back to the community.
It doesn’t hurt when it comes to forming bonds within the classes, either.
“The camaraderie (of Jazzercise) is one of the big parts of that,” Placke said. “You know, when you have the same 15 people coming every morning at 5:30 a.m., they notice when somebody’s gone. And when you’re gone for a week, they’re like ‘Where were you?’ ‘Are you OK?’ ‘Are you just not getting up?’
“So it’s just really nice, that part of it,” Placke said.
Partners in Jazzercise
Jacobsen said the business partnership has worked out well so far. “She’s the numbers person. I’m more the social,” Jacobsen said.
Placke agreed. Her job at Northwest keeps her busy, and learning to run a small business has only added to that.
“Then you just have all the little questions,” Placke said. “Is the space good? Do we have enough parking? Just all the things you don’t think about, and then you’re learning other things like your marketing and your social media and your advertising.”
It’s been a learning process for the both of them.
“It’s all worked, and we have a great team of instructors and people that help us out,” Placke said.
The support from friends and family has been invaluable, and a welcome surprise in some cases.
“I thought he wouldn’t be,” Jacobsen said about her husband’s support. “But I talked to him about it and he went ‘Well, I always knew you wanted to own a Jazzercise center,’ and it’s like ‘Oh, yay!’”
Placke added that while she still does work full time, her husband has been supportive. It also helps that her kids are grown, which she admits would have made a big difference in her availability.
“Timing for me ... it wasn’t perfect, but sometimes you just have to do things. I could have never done it by myself, which is why it’s worked out well with Rona,” she said. “Rona’s a little ahead of me; I haven’t retired yet.”