By Dawn Krebs
ST. LUCIE COUNTY - For the last 30 years, Mary Settle has helped the residents of St. Lucie County get fit.
Ms. Settle is the owner of Nature's Way Health Club along with her husband, Paul.
The club, a huge 13,600 square foot building located on U.S. 1, started out with much humbler beginnings.
"We first opened in 1981 on Georgia Avenue in Fort Pierce," Ms. Settle said. "For the first three years, the club was for women only."
Deciding to have a business in Fort Pierce was an easy decision for her. Ms. Settle was born and raised here in the city.
Deciding to open a health club and what to name it was even easier.
"When I first opened, there wasn't anything for fitness in the area," she said. "We chose the name 'Nature's Way' because we believe - and still do - that to need to exercise the natural way to become healthy."
From that small start, the business moved a few more times before arriving at the location where it is now, on U.S. 1 in a building that was built specifically to be the health club in 1999.
"We never dreamt it would get this big, but it grew as we needed to," she said. "It works well for us, as it's a central location for all our members. And we have a lot of good members."
The club has a large room that consists of half the building. It holds row after row of cardio equipment and machine weights. Along one bank of windows are all the free weights at different stations. Also in the building is a large room for classes that can be divided into two, changing rooms and a childcare room.
Over the years, the classes have changed as well. While at first aerobics and step class were popular, recent classes now include Zumba and Silver Sneakers, a fitness program for seniors.
While it seems like a lot, Ms. Settle said it's what helped a lot of people stay healthy over the years. It's those people she greets by name with a smile when they come in.
"I have a lot of loyal members," she said. "We're a family. Some of my members have been here the entire 30 years."
Because of the recent economy, though, Ms. Settle has decided to look for another location where she can offer all the same services with the same high quality.
"People have seen the sign out front and think I'm closing, but I'm not," she said. "I'm currently looking for something more affordable on the east side of U.S. 1 in Fort Pierce."
She said she handles all the questions about the business closing with a smile.
"I'm not going out of business, I'm here to stay," she said. "This place is my heart."