Joel Momberg’s reputation for fundraising in the Tampa region is top-notch. But he has another side bubbling under the surface.
EXECUTIVE: USF Foundation CEO Joel Momberg. A well-known institutional fundraiser in the Tampa region, Momberg, 69, recently led the billion-dollar USF Unstoppable Campaign. He’s also one of the original founders of Taste of Pinellas and the Children's Miracle Network Telethon. Prior to USF, he spent three decades in top fundraising roles at All Children’s Hospital.
DIVERSION: Writes novels. First book is “Home Movies,” self-published in 2013. His second book, published in November, is “Sammy: The Novel.”
BACK TO THE FUTURE: Set in St. Pete Beach, “Home Movies” tells the story of Buddy Rosen, an enthusiastic kindergarten teacher who is a play off Doc Brown from "Back to the Future." Rosen — Momberg was a teacher before he got into fundraising — buys old home movies at garage sales, partially to discover a family life he never had. Then, in one old home movie, Rosen sees his father. One problem: Rosen’s father died a young man — or so the protagonist thought. The rest of the book, says Momberg, traces Rosen’s journey to find the dad he never really knew.
'It can be a great stress reliever. t’s like exercising or working out. It just makes you feel better.' Joel Momberg, on writing
SAMMY THE BULL: Momberg’s latest novel traces Sammy Levine, an 86-year-old who bolts from his St. Petersburg area nursing home, unhappy with his end-of-life existence and determined to take one final trip with his wife, Esther. Yet Esther is recently deceased — her ashes in an urn in Sammy’s room. Sammy heads back to his native New Orleans, Esther’s urn in his knapsack, for what the book jacket calls “the bucket list of bucket lists,” and, of course, to settle some scores. (While a work of fiction, Momberg’s late dad was named Sammy, and Momberg’s late mom was named Esther Levine. And Momberg grew up in New Orleans.)
THE JAZZ SINGER: Momberg’s blue-collar New Orleans neighborhood was filled with jazz and R&B musicians and songwriters, and music was his first passion. One of his neighbors was Allen Toussaint, an influential New Orleans singer and producer. Momberg would go to Toussaint’s house to watch him hold music court. Then a young boy, Momberg even got some piano lessons. “I used to just go over and hang out there,” Momberg says. “It was wonderful.”
MAD MEN: Momberg took his creative talents to the writing side soon after college. His first jobs were writing copy for ad agencies and PR firms. “I felt I had a talent for it,” says Momberg, “but I felt like there was more I could do.”
FUNNY GUY: After a stint in teaching, Momberg, in 1979, took a job in fundraising development at All Children’s. To generate interest in the hospital, Momberg and some colleagues wrote music and plays for children, like one with the character Dr. Pete E. Adtric. (Get it, pediatric?) His team won a regional Emmy award for their work.
IT’S A PROCESS: Writing novels wasn’t a lifelong dream, exactly, just something that came to Momberg after receiving good feedback from the short bursts he writes on his blog, I Was Born Very Young. “Home Movies” took at least eight years to write — mostly because he would start and stop and not revisit for as long as six months. “I was embarrassed to tell people I wrote a novel because it took so long to write,” says Momberg.
GET IT DONE: “Sammy: The Novel” was the opposite. He wrote it in a year or so, often spending a week at a time, during slow periods at work, at his beach condo on Pass-a-Grille writing. Says Momberg: “I was able to keep up the consistency.”
MODEL BEHAVIOR: Momberg admires writers who can weave characters in out of stories in sometimes surprising ways, like Stephen King, Dan Brown and Kurt Vonnegut. “I love how Brown relates art to religion,” Momberg says.
A GOOD RELEASE: While Momberg has hobbies, including fishing, writing provides a singular and special purpose. “It can be a great stress reliever,” he says. “It’s like exercising or working out. It just makes you feel better.”
UP NEXT: Momberg’s confidence has grown with “Sammy: The Novel” and he has ideas for a few more books. “I’m not saying I’m great at it,” Momberg says, “but now that I know I can do it, I will definitely do it again.”