In the summer of ’69, Patti Komara was earning $36 in an afternoon – the kind of money that was out of reach for a typical 16-year-old.
“I was charging a $1 a lesson. I still have my original book with the names of the 36 students,” she says. “I was able to use space at the Dyer United Methodist Church and I would ride my bike with a basket in the front with my lesson plans.”
Patti would unroll carpet strips at the church for her tumbling lessons, laying the groundwork for today’s Patti’s All-American. The gymnastics school was a groundbreaking concept, focusing on teaching gymnastics and going beyond just tumbling.
“I taught for 20 years. As long as I was one step ahead of the students, I was good. When students mastered the hardest skills and had to learn the next skill, I would bring gymnastics people in who knew more about the uneven bars and beams,” she says.
“I had to stop teaching as it was rough on my family and I wanted to work on my business … I can still tumble a little.”
Today, Patti says she can still do cartwheels at 66 years old as she marks 50 years in business. She continues to offer instructional classes and special events, and Patti’s is also a place for birthday party celebrations. Classes are offered for children as young as 6 months and as old as 18. Participants can learn gymnastics, swim, dance, trampoline and tumbling and there’s a Parkour-inspired class for boys called Ninja Zone. There is also an educational preschool offering: Gym-N-Learn.
“Developing my staff has been key. The great thing about being a leader in a company is the chance to develop the people around you and I have been able to develop along with them as well,” she says. “You have to create relationships with your customers. Our customers are the child, mother and father and we have to cater to all of them.”
Beyond building her business, Patti has also been a speaker nationally on best practices to teaching gymnastics and operating a gymnastics school. She has produced more than 150 training DVDs for instructors and owners over the years as well as authored many articles and books on the subject. Her Tumblebear connection program brings all of her insights, experience and knowledge together to help guide instructors.
“When I think of all of the speaking events across the country that I have done … I have lectured a lot and been to all 50 states … My proudest accomplishment is to have had an effect on thousands … I am so proud of that,” she says. “Also, it’s so gratifying when a child gets a cartwheel or learns a skill that he or she has worked on for a while.”
While over the 50 years, Patti’s gym may have had different names and locations, what has not changed is her commitment to superior service.
“We’re in the service industry, so I know I must hire friendly people. I want my staff friendly and professional as it helps create relationships. Your front-desk people need to be out there and cheery,” she says. “The bigger you get the more headaches and more everything else you have. We work on our attention to detail from the lesson plans to the bathroom rug. We found our niche and it is instructional gymnastics, dance and swim.
“We had a 21-word mission statement at one time, and we changed it to two words: Create happiness.”
Every day, Patti is striving to be the only answer to the question: Where should my child take gymnastics?
“We want community members to say that we are friendly, that we know what we’re doing and we’re experts in our field,” she says. “We want to continue to reach that goal to be the answer to that question in everyone’s minds.”
1530 Joliet St. in Dyer