Local Folks: Susan Painter and Rick Pariani

Local Folks: Susan Painter and Rick Pariani
Rick Pariani and Susan Painter in their Avondale yard

Susan Painter and Rick Pariani have been married for 45 years. She is a retired teacher who had taught art in St. Johns County schools for many years. How apt that she retained her maiden name, Painter. Pariani is a landscape architect retired from Davidson Companies. They bought their Avondale home five years ago, commencing a restoration and beautification project admired by many.

Painter grew up in Georgia. But for Pariani, the decision to move their family to the Jacksonville area in 1997 was somewhat of a coming home. He had spent his toddlerhood here, as his Navy father was stationed in Jacksonville for a time.

For more than 20 years, the couple lived in the Sawgrass section of Ponte Vedra Beach, raising two children there. Their daughter, Allison Painter Pariani, went on to become a teacher in Brooklyn, New York. Their son, Mark Painter Pariani, went on to become an architect and a photographer, currently with a Southbank firm, ELM Studio.

Since retiring, the couple has spent much of their free time traveling with family and friends. They’ve been on a number of what they’ve dubbed “Three-Sister Tours” with Painter’s two sisters and their husbands. The first found the three couples in Italy for three weeks. Painter and Pariani’s most recent excursion was to the World Expo 2020 for eight days in Dubai with three other couples, including their son and his girlfriend and their daughter and her husband.

Painter Pariani garden overview
Painter Pariani garden overview

In addition to growing into a love of travel with family and friends, Painter and Pariani have developed a passion for gardening together in their retirement. “It’s interesting because when we first married, our passion was canoeing together,” Pariani said. With a chuckle, both agreed that, with age, canoeing had become more challenging.

It was their son who got the couple enthused about moving to the Avondale area after he had purchased a John Gorrie condo. Painter and Pariani bought a 1927 build. The side yard had been abandoned for years and the shrubs overgrown. “The former lawn had been left to seed and weed. We took command of that entire space and designed a garden with both hardscape and softscape,” Pariani said.

“The design of it is the most unique feature of it,” said Painter. They had to do some demolition work first, and there is no grass in their backyard now. There are raised beds and brick pathways, befitting the age of the house. There is an outdoor dining area and a seating area.

Pariani designed the yard based on his wife’s interest in starting an herb garden and wanting to experiment with some different plants, including ornamentals. The vegetable plots are formally laid out and have seen tomatoes, peppers, onions, carrots, potatoes, and spinach. “Because we’re both retired, we have the time to devote to it,” Painter said.

Painter Pariani Avondale garden
Painter Pariani Avondale garden

Painter and Pariani take their talents into the neighborhood and have done much service work for several local schools and parks. “Being retired helps a lot,” Painter said. In earlier years, they were focused on raising children and working full-time. Their availability for volunteering in the community was limited then. They both knew that in retirement they would need areas of focus to plan their days and to be involved in activities that are important to them.        

Painter got involved with the St. Johns Riverkeeper as a volunteer on their field trips for students. Then, she got involved with the Master Gardener Program, completing her certification as a Florida Master Gardener. Now, Painter is part of the local Garden Club. Her tendency toward the soil can be attributed to her mother, whose maiden name, ironically, was Farmer.

Pariani, in anticipation of his retirement, engaged with what was then the Hemming Park Board of Directors. In his role there, he did a lot of pro bono design work. “Once we purchased our home in Avondale, I wanted to participate for the greater good of the neighborhood and share some of my 40+ years of national and international design experience, so I became a member of the Riverside Avondale Preservation (RAP) Board of Directors,” he said. That led him more recently to participation on a brand-new subcommittee of RAP, working on various initiatives.

Painter said that their community involvement gives them an outlet for their creativity, their interests, and their socialization. “We’ve met some wonderful people her since we’ve moved. A lot of that was through these organizations,” she said.

Painter and Pariani share an interest in history and historic preservation. They enjoy watching neighborhood houses being restored and learning about new projects to enhance the experience of living here. “We’re excited about the potential of the city of Jacksonville,” Painter said.

By Mary Wanser
Resident Community News

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