A Lesson in Thankfulness

Joy Ennis perches on a boulder at the Downtown Cary Park, slated to open next summer. Contributed photo.

Joy Ennis’ successful career with the Town of Cary began with a thank-you note — and if you know her, you won’t be surprised.

“Joy is selfless, always thinking of others and putting them first,” said Sarah Preston, assistant general manager for the Downtown Cary Park and Ennis’ right-hand woman. “She is constantly making sure others are taken care of and will do whatever she can to ensure that others are OK and feel good.”

Prior to her working for the Town of Cary, Ennis had spent the first 10 years of her career working for Oxford University Press before finding herself without a job following a series of reorganizations. During that time, Ennis had also been working with the Cary Children’s Choir — now called Cary Youth Voices — and was looking to formally thank the town for graciously offering rehearsal space.

Joy Ennis takes a much-needed break at Glacier National Park. Contributed photo.

“I was trying to write a thank-you note, and when I finally got in touch with the right person, I explained that I was recently laid off. He said, ‘I’ve got a part-time job available — why don’t you come work for me until you find something?’ Well, that lasted a year because I couldn’t find a job, but I was eventually able to apply and get a full-time job with the town as the festivals coordinator. So that started off my journey with the town 21 years ago.”

While serving in this role, Ennis directed hundreds of artists, volunteers, staff, and public works employees to produce the highly popular Lazy Daze Arts & Crafts Festival and its sister event, Spring Daze.

“Joy first hired me as a part-time program assistant for the Town of Cary in 2005,” said Preston. “At that time, I assisted her with accomplishing the work of the festivals. Joy is great at creating unique, memorable experiences for the public to enjoy; her attention to detail in this area is exceptional.”

Joy Ennis, photographed in 2013 by Cary Magazine, accepted the 2022 Women of Western Wake Lifetime Achievement Award.

Thanks to her tireless work and dedication to her community, Ennis was picked as a 2013 Woman of Western Wake before becoming the operations and programs supervisor for The Cary Theater that same year.

“I decided to make a move and do something different, and I thought it looked like a fun challenge,” said Ennis. “The Galaxy Theater had just closed, and there was not really an independent movie theater in Cary, so I wanted to fill that void with the Cary Theater. I found a group called The Art House Convergence, which is a collection of art house movie theaters from all across the US, and convinced the town that I should go to this conference. It was like finding the Rosetta Stone for running a movie theater. Once I did that, I was able to really put into place a five-year vision for what we wanted to do and why we wanted to do it, and then we were off and running.”

The ultimate surprise! Joy Ennis received the Lifetime Achievement Award at Cary Magazine’s Women of Western Wake Forum on Sept. 30.

During her time with theater, Ennis’ vision of community engagement truly came alive.

White Christmas is my favorite film, and that was really the first big event that I created,” said Ennis. “I thought, this is either going to work, or it’s going to be a huge flop. At the first showing, my husband was standing at the back of the theater with me when the movie started, and everybody started singing and laughing and throwing snow, and I started crying. My husband asked what was going on, and I said, ‘Look, it worked! They’re happy.’ That is the magic, bringing the community together like that.”

In 2019, the town asked Ennis to take on the role of general manager for the Downtown Cary Park. She took three weeks to consider the proposition, given how much she enjoyed her work at the theater and how much she still wanted to accomplish.

“The more I thought about it, the more I thought, I can’t possibly turn this opportunity down,” said Ennis. “I’m very fortunate. They gave me the opportunity, said go, and we’ve been running fast ever since.”

Although official master planning didn’t begin until 2016, the town had plans for the park about 20 years ago.

“We actually found an old map that was dated probably late 1800s, and the place where the park is now was owned by a gentleman named Ben Savage,” said Ennis. “He was a horticulturalist, and he had fruit trees on this property. There was a map that he drew, and it said ‘park’ on it, so we like to think that this has always wanted to be a park, even 120 years ago. There are a few pecan trees still on the site that I like to think are still some of Mr. Ben’s pecan trees.”

Friends and coworkers gather to congratulate Ennis on a job well done.

Construction started in March 2021, and the park is slated to open next summer. Ennis says she is most excited to watch the community come together in different ways and for people to experience the park on their own terms — whether by going to an event, taking a class, or just enjoying their surroundings on a quiet day.

This year, Ennis was presented with the Lifetime Achievement Award at Cary Magazine’s Women of Western Wake Forum, honoring her years of service, innovative programming, and love for our community.

Ennis cuddles with her dog, Sophie. Contributed photo.

“The Lifetime Achievement Award doesn’t mean, oh, you’re done! It means that I’m on the right track and I need to keep going,” said Ennis. “It was very humbling to be recognized in that way, because the other women who have been recognized as Women of Western Wake are amazing and doing such wonderful and impactful work in our community.”

Preston, who joined Ennis on the Downtown Cary Park staff in 2021, is excited to work with her to “bring this beautiful space to life.”

“Joy has a ton of life to live and so much more to give to the world. She has achieved a lifetime’s worth of work,” said Preston. “These events and spaces that she managed and will manage are filled and will be filled with people who have been and will be impacted by the efforts she led; these spaces and events will long outlive any of us. These spaces are where special memories are created with both loved ones and strangers — memories that will last a lifetime.”

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