A resident of Lakeland since 1968, Nancye Thornberry came up with the idea to start the Games in 1991, after traveling to Syracuse to watch her brother compete in the National Senior Games. Inspired and awestruck by the athletes at the National Senior Games, Nancye came back to Polk County intent on starting senior games in Polk County.
With the support of the Ledger, the County Commission, and Polk County Leisure Services, Nancye formed a board of directors and served as the first president. In the first year, she was also the office staff, the events coordinator, and the registrar with the help of volunteer Sandy Jones. She formed successful partnerships with sponsors such as Barnett Bank, the George Jenkins Foundation (now Publix Super Markets Charities), and the James W. Sikes Family.
In 1992, the first year of the Polk Senior Games, 777 participants competed in 53 athletic events. The Games now host nearly 2,500 participants in 99+ events a year. The Games are now managed by a salaried Executive Director, a fifty member board of directors, and presented in cooperation of over 750 volunteers. Polk Senior Games has grown to be the largest of the senior games in Florida. and one of the largest in the country.
Nancye is a competitor and has won medals in many events through the years. She still serves on the Board of Directors and is currently on the Special Events and Nominations Committees. She also serves as the Event Manager for Senior Smarts and Scrabble.
Over the years, Nancye has served the community as a school teacher and volunteer for numerous organizations. Nancye also served as Executive Director for the Polk Museum of Art, where she in 1974 started the Mayfaire-by-the-Lake Arts Festival.
In 2008 Nancye Thornberry was inducted in The Polk County Sports Hall of Fame under the contributors’ category for founding the Polk Senior Games.