Gasparilla krewes: where grog meets good deeds

TAMPA — When two brothers resigned from their longtime krewe last week over what they saw as moral lapses at Gasparilla, some wondered if attitudes toward Tampa's signature party were changing.

But in some ways, they already have.

For decades, Gasparilla was simply a way for Tampa's elite to party on a grand stage. But as the event has expanded and diversified to include more residents in varied krewes, it has also picked up a charitable bent.

There's still lots of drunken pirates, rowdy crowds and parade units out to have a good time over the now-ended Gasparilla season. But as newer groups have formed, their checklist now often includes a cause as well as costumes, beads and a float.

"I would say, especially since the '90s, the emphasis has been on charity," said Ye Loyal Krewe of Grace O'Malley member Joni Cusimano. "Maybe it comes with age, I don't know. I think some of the krewes got tired of being known as a bunch of drunks."

• • •

For almost a century, Tampa Bay area krewes enjoyed a guilt-free livelihood of being merely social clubs, exclusive groups of men who put on pirate-themed parades and parties.

Then a barrage of bad press in the early 1990s changed everything. Super Bowl XXV came to town in 1991, putting the parade and its all-white, all-male hosts, Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla, under scrutiny. For the first and only time in history, the Gasparilla parade was canceled when the krewe refused to immediately integrate.

Local feminist Louise Thompson revealed the names and businesses of all men who belonged to Ye Mystic Krewe, the oldest and most prestigious krewe, in her 1992 book No Girls Allowed.

Suddenly, the word "krewe" became publicly associated with sexism, racism and elitism.

Thompson contends that her research showed that these krewe members, considered to be Tampa's most wealthy and successful, were stingy with their dollars.

It took five years, the induction of a famous king named George Steinbrenner, and an already growing trend among some of the newest krewes for Ye Mystic Krewe to establish a scholarship fund for local high school kids.

While most established krewes file for a tax-exempt nonprofit status, all but a few are categorized as recreational clubs, not charitable organizations. They are not required to spend outside of their internal expenses of beads, floats, parties and other club purchases.

Yet almost all of the hundred-plus krewes that have formed over the last decade have felt obligated to give to one cause or another.

Ye Notorious Krewe of the Peg Leg Pirate gives its proceeds to amputees and their families. The Krewe of the Caribbean Cowboy focuses on Angels Unaware, a group that gives homes to disabled teens and adults, and The Children's Home. The Krewe of Fort Brooke has an annual fundraiser to benefit the Hillsborough High JROTC.

"We have this group of krewes that came along in the middle of (krewe history), I call us the middle kids," said Yvonne Painton, who started the Krewe of Pair O' Dice in 1995 and heads Krewes Kare, which brings krewes together to raise money for hurricane victims. "It seems like we really blossomed in a lot of charities. I'm finding it hard to say there are any krewes that do nothing for charities."

Some older krewes, however, seem to be the slower to climb on the philanthropy bandwagon. Gaucho Association of Tampa was formed in the 1950s and is all about parades and parties.

"We have guys that do some volunteer or charity work on their own," Gaucho president Doug Vance said. "But, no, we're strictly a party group."

The sole mission of the 29-year-old Ye Mystic Krewe of Neptune is to give its 100 members "an opportunity to relax, party and socialize with friends," according to its Web site. (Neptune's captain, Alan Suan, did not return calls.)

Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla pours most of its efforts into running the Gasparilla parade, though it is also known for giving scholarships. But executive director Jim Tarbet declined to talk about the krewe's charitable efforts, including the scholarship fund or how much it was worth.

It's hard to track the total charitable giving related to Gasparilla. Tax forms groups must file because of their nonprofit status don't list all their contributions. No one agency keeps track.

But some local charities say the krewes' growing trend of giving back to the community does make an impact.

Tampa's Shriners Hospital began feeling the effects around 2004, said international headquarters representative Wayne Witczak, who works with krewes and is on the Inter-Krewe Council. (The Tampa Bay chapter of Egypt Shiners is actually its own krewe.) Over the last few years, krewes such as Thieves of San Lorenzo and Krewe of Shamrock have donated around $40,000 to the local organization.

"These krewes obviously formed for social purposes, but they have a charitable side that often gets overlooked," Witczak said. "Yeah, they might drink and party one day, two days out of the year, but then the rest of the year, they're meeting with sick children and giving homes to needy families."

The Krewe of Sant'Yago Education Foundation recently awarded $125,000 to fund scholarships for needy Latin students, and claims to have given more than $800,000 to schools over the last seven years.

Richard Gonzmart was one of the brothers who resigned from the Sant'Yago krewe, which his father helped form, after a deejay on the krewe's Gasparilla boat made vulgar remarks and he didn't feel the krewe's leadership dealt with it properly.

Gonzmart said he still supports what the foundation does, and hopes to continue to donate as he has in the past. But he will not support the krewe.

The krewe, he said, has nothing to do with the foundation. Some of the members donate to the foundation, but the krewe does not give that kind of money to charity.

"They (the krewe members) do the night parade and they pass out beads to hospitals on Valentine's Day," Gonzmart said. "But as far as the money goes, that's not the krewe. That's something else."

That's true, said foundation president Rex Damron. However, the foundation's board is made up of 35 Sant'Yago krewe members. And being associated with a krewe that has more than 250 well-connected men doesn't hurt the cause.

"I think we've set the guideline," Damron said. "If 80 krewes in the Tampa Bay area did something like what we're doing, just think of what it could do for humanity."

Emily Nipps can be reached at nipps@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3431.

Living a pirate's life used to be so simple. Tampa's original Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla and the many who came after it enjoyed the luxury of being little more than exclusive men's clubs that threw occasional parties and marched in annual parades. There was no guilt in grandiose behavior, no shame in just having fun.

But times have changed. While many krewes likely still cling to questionable traditions and secrets, on the outside they have an image to uphold. Prominent businessmen and women can no longer pillage and plunder without doing with good deeds along the way. Reckless and lewd krewe behavior is often frowned upon, while helping the sick and poor is becoming the norm.

The modern-day pirate no longer wants to be associated with booze and babes, but rather for its contributions to society. Last week, two brothers from the well-known Gonzmart family resigned from The Krewe of the Knights of Sant' Yago after a DJ on their Gasparilla boat yelled for a woman to bare her chest for beads. Richard Gonzmart said the only part of the krewe he will now support is it's charity side project, a scholarship fund.

"I would say, especially since the ''90s, the emphasis has been on charity," said Ye Loyal Krewe of Grace O'Malley member Joni Cusimano. "Maybe it comes with age, I don't know. I think some of the krewes got tired of being known as a bunch of drunks."

• • •

when two bothers resigned over moral values last week, some wondered if attitudes about atmap's signature party were changing.

but in some ways, they already have.

though once merely an excuse for tampa's elite to aprty on a grand stage, as gasparilla has expanded to include regular folks krewes, it has also picked up ......

TAMPA — When brothers from a well-known Tampa family resigned from the Krewe of the Knights of Sant' Yago last week, the act was as symbolic as it was surprising.

Richard and Casey Gonzmart, whose family founded the krewe in the 70s, felt that their Gasparilla invasion boat's DJ went too far by shouting to a woman to bare her chest for beads.

Members from other krewes, as well as the head of Sant' Yago, were also quick to distance themselves from the act.

"While this kind of behavior might have been tolerated in years past," El Baron Dan Haya said in a letter to Sant' Yago members, "I believe that is time that we rise above participating in this type of behavior.

Being in a krewe isn't what it used to be, or so krewes would have you believe. Prominent businessmen and women can no longer pillage and plunder without doing with good deeds along the way. Reckless and lewd krewe behavior is often frowned upon, while helping the sick and poor is becoming the norm.

Some credit changes that happened during the politically correct 1990s. Others believe the influx of female krewes have helped shape up the men. Either way, most modern-day pirates no longer want to be associated with booze and babes, but rather for their good works with hurricane victims and sick children.

"I would say, especially since the 90s, the emphasis has been on charity," said Ye Loyal Krewe of Grace O'Malley member Joni Cusimano. "Maybe it comes with age, I don't know. I think some of the krewes got tired of being known as a bunch of drunks."

*******

For almost a century, Tampa Bay area krewes enjoyed a guilt-free livelihood of being merely social clubs, exclusive groups of men who put on pirate-themed parades and parties.

Then a barrage of bad press in the early 1990s changed everything. Super Bowl XXV (1991) came to town in 1991, putting the coinciding parade and its the hosting all-white, all-male hosts, Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla, under scrutiny. For the first and only time in history, the Gasparilla parade was cancelled when the krewe refused to immediately integrate that year.

Local feministm Louise Thompson revealed the names and businesses of all men who belonged to Ye Mystic Krewe, the oldest and most prestigious krewe, in her 1992 book No Girls Allowed.

Suddenly, the krewes were no longer viewed as simply bunch of fun-loving, good ol' boys. Instead, the word "krewe" became publicly associated with sexism, racism and elitismeliticism, which were much bigger sins in the '90s than it did in years past.

Thompson contends that her research showed that these krewe members, considered to be Tampa's most wealthy and successful, were stingy with their dollars.

formed

What was worse, said Thompson, was that it seemed as though these krewe members, considered to be Tampa's most wealthy and successful, were selfish with their dollars.

"When I started putting the book together, I assumed these are the same people who contribute greatly to our charities," Thompson said. "Not true. I found out that these people don't give squat. They weren't who I thought we were."

It took five years, the induction of a famous king named George Steinbrenner, and an already growing trend among some of the newest krewes for Ye Mystic Krewe to establish a scholarship fund for local high school kids.

**********

While most established krewes file for a tax-exempt non-profit status, all but a few are categorized as recreational clubs, not charitable organizations. They are not required to spend outside of their internal expenses of beads, floats, parties and other club purchases.

Yet almost all of the hundred-plus krewes that have formed over the last decade have felt obligated to give to one cause or another.

Ye Notorious Krewe of the Peg Leg Pirate gives all of its proceeds to amputees and their families. The Krewe of the Caribbean Cowboy focuses on Angels Unaware, (a group that gives homes to disabled teens and adults,) and The Children's Home. The Krewe of Fort Brooke has an annual fundraiser to that benefits the Hillsborough High JROTC.

program.

"We have this group of krewes that came along in the middle of (krewe history), I call us the middle kids," said Yvonne Painton, who started The Krewe of Pair O' Dice in 1995 and heads Krewes Kare, which brings krewes together to raise money for hurricane victims. "It seems like we really blossomed in a lot of charities. I'm finding it hard to say there are any krewes that do nothing for charities."

Some The older krewes, however, that seem to be the slowerst to climb on the philanthropy bandwagon. Gaucho Association of Tampa was formed in the 19'50s and is all about parades and parties, and little else.

"We have guys that do some volunteer or charity work on their own," Gaucho president Doug Vance said. "But no, we're strictly a party group."

The sole mission of the 29-year-old Ye Mystic Krewe of Neptune is to give its 100 members "an opportunity to relax, party and socialize with friends," according to its Web site. (Neptune's captain, Alan Suan, did not return calls.)

Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla pours most of its efforts into running the Gasparilla parade, though it is also known for giving scholarships. But Executive Ddirector Jim Tarbet declined to talk about the krewe's charitable efforts, including , who makes $100,000 a year, would not talk about the scholarship fund or how much it was worth.

It's hard to track the total charitable giving related to Gasparilla. Tax forms groups must file because of their nonprofit status don't list all their contributions. No one agency keeps track.

But some local charities say *******

Regardless of which krewes are the most or least charitable, the krewes' growing trend of giving back to the community does make an impact.

, some charities said. and that's a good thing.

Tampa's Shriners Hospital began feeling the effects around 2004, said international headquarters representative Wayne Witczak, who works with the krewes and is on the Inter-Krewe Council. (The Tampa Bay chapter of Egypt Shiner's is actually its own krewe.) Over the last few years, krewes such as Thieves of San Lorenzo and Krewe of Shamrock have donated around $40,000 to the local organization.

"These krewes obviously formed for social purposes, but they have a charitable side that often gets overlooked," Witczak said. "Yeah, they might drink and party one day, two days out of the year, but then the rest of the year, they're meeting with sick children and giving homes to needy families."

The Krewe of Sant' Yago Education Foundation recently awarded $125,000 to fund scholarships for needy Latin students, and claims to have given more than $800,000 to schools over the last seven years.

Richard Gonzmart was one of the brothers who resigned from the Sant'Yago krewe, which his father helped form, after a deejay on the krewe's Gasparilla boat made vulgar remarks and he didn't feel the krewe's leadership dealt with it properly.

Gonzmart said he still supports , one of the brothers who resigned from the Sant' Yago krewe, said he still supports what the foundation does, and hopes to continue to donate as he has in the past. But he will not support the krewe.

The krewe, he said, has nothing to do with the foundation. Some of the members donate to the foundation, but the Sant' Yago krewe does not give that kind of money to charity.

"They (the krewe members) do the night parade and they pass out beads to hospitals on Valentine's Dday," Gonzmart said. "But as far as the money goes, that's not the krewe. That's something else."

That's true, said foundation president Rex Damron. However, the foundation's board is made up of 35 Sant' Yago krewe members. And being associated with a krewe that has more than over 250 well-connected men doesn't hurt the cause.

"I think we've set the guideline," Damron said. "If 80 krewes in the Tampa Bay area did something like what we're doing, just think of what it could do for humanity."

Emily Nipps can be reached at nipps@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3431.

Gasparilla krewes: where grog meets good deeds 02/25/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 26, 2008 9:20am]

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