The Fitness Center that Just Won’t Quit

Karen DesJardin leads water aerobics at Port Huron Fitness Center

By: Karrie Beck

This article is brought to you by: Mosher’s Jewlers
336 Huron Ave, Port Huron, 48060, Tel: 810-987-2768/

There isn’t a local workout center with more heart than Port Huron Fitness Center, and no one person with more energy than the owner of Port Huron Fitness Center, Karen DesJardin. Together, these two components mark the recipe for over twenty-five years of success.

United Health Spa, 1988

I can’t quite put into words the enthusiast spirit which is seemingly innate in Karen. In fact, I’ve never met anyone like her. To know Karen is to understand why her fitness center has continued to go the distance. The history of Port Huron Fitness Center, or United Health Spa as it was originally known, is rather lengthy. Established first as United Health Spa, it opened 1988. Many are aware of its location inside the former landmark hotel, the Thomas Edison Inn. However, most may be surprised to learn that the health club actually opened before the Edison Inn was completed. Chris Marvin, a 48 year veteran aerobics instructor, began working for United Health Club in ’88. Chris recalls, “I was one of six girls hired in the beginning by United. We were trained for both floor and water aerobics.” She laughs as she remembers the ‘uniforms’ they wore back in the day: leotards, suntan tights, satin white jackets with the name United Health Spa embroidered on the lapel, and of course, no uniform would be complete without the leg warmers. Chris goes on to mention the numerous remodeling projects and changes she witnessed over the years. “So much has changed. In the beginning, it was wall-to wall-carpet, even in the pool area!”

It was the early ’90s, and United Health Spa was a part of a larger conglomerate of health clubs which sold lifetime memberships. In 1993, the business was sold and the name changed to Park Place Athletic Club (PPAC). Karen DesJardin spoke of how the original owners, Darius Gray and Tom Bossi, both continued to honor the lifetime memberships- even after the closure. “Actually, for six years they honored them, SIX YEARS!” This meant all previous lifetime members of the club were able to continue working out at PPAC for free. True loyalty for its patrons.

Longtime member, David McElwee, works on the new treadmills at Port Huron Fitness Center

I learned that her dedication to health and fitness actually began while she was living in Long Island, New York. “So I joined the gym, and [I] refused to pay for something and not get my money back. I went three times a week no matter what!” After moving to Port Huron in 1992, and missing those regular workouts, a friend suggested United Health Spa to Karen. She jokes, “They had a stair master!” She laughs as she remembers the significance of this particular machine. “Years later I actually had that specific stair master re-conditioned because it was the machine that brought me to the club.” Karen’s previous gym in New York, Bally Total Fitness, coincidentally partnered with United Health Spa. “It was all meant to be…I can’t imagine [if] I hadn’t walked in there, it just all came together! You have to listen to that voice, be open to it.”

DesJardin began working out at the club in 1992. She was hired as an instructor in ’93, and earned her personal training certification from the American Physical Fitness Association in 1996. Before becoming the owner, Karen worked as a trainer, assistant manager and manager. Karen just grinned as she talked about the previous owners and the people she’s met along the way. It’s apparent that they’ve became like family to her.

Throughout the numerous name changes, Karen was there. In 1995-1999, Park Place Athletic Club became Port Huron Fitness Center Incorporated.  This name change also brought with it Karen’s decision to take over as owner in September, 1999. “Faith over fear!” she says. For over seventeen years now, Karen has owned and continued to grow Port Huron Fitness Center. Since that time, the building’s additional changes are eminent. In addition to the various pool and spa area make-overs, machine upgrades, and added equipment, Karen has a passion for helping others get and stay in shape. There are so many positive testimonials from people who appreciate her level of vigor. One client shared, “Karen makes working out so much fun! She’s my cheerleader!”

Chris Marvin, Water Aerobics Instructor, Port Huron Fitness Center

It’s the dedication and caring spirit of the entire staff that has led to the center’s continued success. Specifically following the most recent of changes, which saw the closure of the Thomas Edison Inn and re-opening of the Hilton Hotel, Double Tree, in 2013. They’ve added state of the art equipment and a fresh-looking aesthetic which greets you at the door. A far cry from the neon lights and plush pink carpet from those early days.

Port Huron Fitness Center celebrates Marge Gavin’s 98th birthday

Chris Marvin, who’s taught water aerobics for Karen for over fourteen years, says “The water program is great! It’s a really big part of what we do.” Chris and Karen both spoke fondly of all the different members who’ve been with the Port Huron Fitness Center for decades, Marge Gavin being one of them. Marge joined Port Huron Fitness Center, her very first fitness center, at the young age of 77. She’s continued to take classes to this day. The club recently celebrated her 98th birthday. Strong support for keeping active later in life.

Karen’s enthusiasm for fitness is only one of the reasons why I believe her business has been so successful. Like many business owners will say, it’s the heart that makes the difference. Karen and her staff definitely put their hearts into helping others. Greeting everyone by name, uplifting with their spirit, and making even the most inactive participants (me) throw on their swimsuits and jump in the water. Karen, herself, practices what she preaches. From the homemade protein bites she hand crafts and shares, to the long list of marathon races she’s completed; she exudes healthy living.

Owner, Karen DesJardin (left) with Water Aerobics Instructor, Donna David

In fact, In preparing for this story, I can’t remember a conversation where Karen didn’t praise the many people who’ve helped her along the way. She spoke so fondly of all those who’ve helped her: the previous club owners-Darius and Tom, her staff, clients, and the many kind supporters. She’s truly grateful for all they’ve done. She says the center wouldn’t be what it is today without her awesome staff! “Sandi Marsh opens up for me in the mornings, and I’m so thankful for her! My fantastic instructors: Chris Marvin, Tonya Huss, and Donna David, each offer such great water classes!”

All in all, I was impressed with the updated, fresh, and overall cleanliness of the Port Huron Fitness Center. From the locker rooms, available state-of-the-art equipment, and my personal fondness of this fitness center, I’m dubbing it the fitness center that just won’t quit! Karen, in my opinion, is one of the main reasons for this truth. Her nonstop, never give up nature hasn’t changed in all the years I’ve known her. Port Huron Fitness Center is the kind of place where you go to make friends, build confidence, strength, and feel comfortable in your own skin. Give her a call and you’ll see what I mean!

Water Aerobics Class Schedule

Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday    9:00-10:00 am

Monday, Wednesday    5:30-6:30 pm

Tuesday, Thursday    10:00-11:00 am  &  4:30-5:15 pm

*You can attend any number of these classes for one month for only $35.00!

Port Huron Fitness Center

500 Thomas Edison Blvd

Port Huron, MI 48060

If you enjoy our feature stories, “Like” us on Facebook!


Disclaimer: Blue Water Healthy Living is an online magazine located in Port Huron, Michigan. Our purpose is to promote healthy living by showcasing the Blue Water Area, its people, issues and surroundings. This online magazine is devoted to providing healthy living related stories, local happenings, and commentary. Often inspiring and uplifting, our stories come from our heart and soul to promote the enjoyment of a more fulfilling Blue Water Area lifestyle. The material on this web site is provided for informational and amusement purposes only and is not to be confused with any medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. The views and opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect the opinions and values of Blue Water Healthy Living.

Our Sponsors

Voices Wanted!

Write for Blue Water Healthy Living
For more information on writing for BWHL….. Click Here!

Be a Part of GBS Media or BWHL

GBS Media