TBT Spotlight: Julie Tollen

By Grace Maselli

TBT member Julie Tollen’s got a skill or two: She’s a first violinist and Operations Manager for the Tampa Bay Symphony, and at alternate times plays her violin with a string quartet and somewhat impromptu “musical groups” around Tampa. “I call myself ‘semi-professional,” Julie remarks. When she’s not among the string players, she’s a 3rd degree Black Belt in the martial art known as Aikido. Julie manages the facility Aikido Chuseikan of Tampa Bay, founded by her husband and his close friend in 2013, and runs the youth program for developing martial artists in the Ybor City section in Tampa.
But it doesn’t stop there. After living for five years on Japan’s southern island, Kyushu, teaching English as a second language, Julie now speaks Japanese, is a certified personal training, and is a graduate of the “alternative” Naropa University in Boulder, CO. (She holds a degree in Religious Studies with a decidedly “Eastern” focus–think Buddhism combined with Western poetics and psychology).

In other words, Julie’s a change agent who doesn’t shy away from commitment and hard work and who’s always had a deep sense of connection to her local community. “I joined TBT in 2013 because it is pure—it has integrity. Its motives are in the right place and it’s about simply helping one another to make a good community,” describes Julie, who also volunteered in Hillsborough County for four years from 2013-2017 as a tutor teaching an illiterate adult to read.

“If I’m not involved in the community, I feel something is missing,” says Julie. Maybe this is not entirely surprising when you consider the welcoming, inclusive ethos and community interconnectedness in Swarthmore, PA., the small town in Pennsylvania where Julie was raised. Swarthmore is home to Swarthmore College, 11 miles southwest of Philadelphia. The private liberal arts college is part of the “Tri-College Consortium,” integrating Swarthmore with Bryn Mawr and Haverford Colleges, and affiliated with the University of Pennsylvania. The town and its surrounding environs is arguably heavily influenced by the Quaker “Friends” religion rooted there and its “All are welcome,” position, with doors flung wide to people of all ages, religious backgrounds, sexual orientation, gender identification, and social class.

According to Julie, “I grew up in a liberal arts environment that believed in the value of community and education, and in a family where we believed in the power of music and the arts.” Even when Julie would venture far from her own backyard for such an education, travelling abroad not just to Japan, but exotic locations such as Jordan and Tibet (where she was taking international studies coursework), her family supported for her exploration and learning which gave her confidence to grow further.

Through TBT, Julie offers the following skills and services for trade with fellow members: Aikido one-on-one lessons, the symphony experience–concert tickets for youth and college students to attend the symphony, and will be your Japanese conversational partner!

Neither is it arguably a surprise given her energy level and pure optimism that Brahms’ String Quartets are Julie’s favorite pieces to play on the violin. “They’re intense. Full of life and vigor,” she says. Just like the woman herself.