Saturday, July 21, 2018
News Roundup

Activist's oak tree campaign made South Tampa suburb beautiful

NEW SUBURB BEAUTIFUL

This enclave of old homes in South Tampa once wasn't quite as beautiful as it is today. Lillian Wharton transformed it. Nearly 40 years ago, the activist in high heels walked the neighborhood knocking on doors.

"You want a tree?'' she asked.

Today, branches of lush oaks arch over the streets, a constant reminder — to those in the know — of the neighborhood canopy crusader who died in 2008 at age 89. Residents still praise Wharton's legacy.

"It makes the neighborhood,'' says Will Cassidy, 40, out walking his dogs with 8-year-old daughter, Macy, on Prospect Road on a recent Sunday.

"That's what everybody says. You go down the street, it's the trees.''

Cassidy knows the history because he lived across the street from Lillian Wharton and her husband, Paul, a popular educator for whom Wharton High School was named. The couple lived on Prospect Road for their entire 65 years of marriage. Paul, 94, died three months after Lillian.

"We love the trees,'' says Brian Smith, 42, who moved into the neighborhood five years ago. Because the canopy is so thick, Smith finds it surprising that the first trees were planted just 37 years ago.

For Wharton, it was the fulfillment of a longtime dream. She had rallied the neighborhood as an effective political force, pressuring Tampa city officials to plant oak trees in the easements.

"Mother badgered them, and everybody went along with it,'' says her daughter, Mary Wharton Schroeder. She thinks Lloyd Copeland, the acting mayor at the time, gave in out of weariness. "The mayor was so sick of hearing about it.''

Lillian Wharton took on the Heritage Live Oak Project for her club, the Amaryllis Garden Circle. On Sept. 18, 1974, city workers planted the first five of 200 heritage oaks brought in from Texas. Copeland and city park officials were on hand for the event.

Bettie Nelson, 85, a fellow beautification firebrand, vaguely recalls that residents had to pay a fee, maybe $35 each, for the city to plant a tree in front of their homes.

Ali Glisson, Tampa public affairs director, says she can't find records of what fee, if any, New Suburb Beautiful residents were charged. Under a current community tree-planting program, Tampa residents and neighborhood associations can request free trees for city-owned land in front of their homes.

Nelson didn't take one of the heritage oaks in 1974. Her two towering Washingtonia palms remained healthy, though others in the neighborhood were dying — ''cockroach condominiums,'' as Schroeder called them.

"I'm a history buff,'' Nelson says, "so I didn't want to change any of the historical heritage of my house.'' When her palms finally died, she put in oak trees, though she had to buy them from a nursery.

"Lillian was always so enthusiastic, and she had far-reaching thoughts and ideas of the completed picture. She could see the whole picture,'' says Nelson.

"And it was something fun to do,'' she adds. "She and I thought the same, and we had so much fun. I still miss her, that rascal.''

Schroeder and Nelson laugh at the memory of Wharton canvassing the neighborhood in heels. The longtime legal secretary was always impeccably dressed. Nelson recalls a time she and Wharton were hard at work weeding the garden at an entrance to the neighborhood from Howard Avenue, under the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway.

"I looked down, and it was a hot day, and Lillian had stockings on!''

Paul Wharton, an assistant school superintendent and former principal of Plant High School, had always received the accolades. So he was happy for his wife and proud of her accomplishments, says Schroeder, 57, a private tutor of the SAT and ACT college entrance exams. A lifelong resident of New Suburb Beautiful, Schroeder lives on Sunset Drive with her husband, well-known land-use consultant Steve Michelini.

The success of the oak tree project moved the president of the garden club, the late Mildred Geer, to honor Wharton with a poem. It read in part:

"… When told all the palm trees would have to be counted,/ On her trusty little feet she forthwith mounted.

"Without a second thought of aches or pains or blisters,/ She swept through our streets like a full-blown twister …''

Philip Morgan can be reached at (813) 226-3435 or [email protected]

Comments
Rays journal: Replacement catcher Adam Moore ready to play

Rays journal: Replacement catcher Adam Moore ready to play

ST. PETERSBURG — The newest Rays player is also nearly the oldest.With All-Star C Wilson Ramos on the disabled list with a hamstring injury, Tampa Bay turned to veteran Adam Moore, 34, as the new backup catcher behind Jesus Sucre. Only reliever...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Martin Fennelly: Rays and Marlins at different stages of same mission

Martin Fennelly: Rays and Marlins at different stages of same mission

ST. PETERSBURG — New York Yankees god and former Tampa resident Derek Jeter, who was once going to save the Rays (or so we thought), was at Tropicana Field on Friday night. The Captain had the gall to show up as Miami Marlins chief executive of...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Dolphins owner: Actually, we haven’t decided whether to levy anthem penalties

Dolphins owner: Actually, we haven’t decided whether to levy anthem penalties

Times wiresThe NFL can't seem to get away from the divisive national anthem issue.The latest developments this week assure that, despite the league's wishes, the debate about how to handle players who kneel during the anthem to protest police violenc...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Late rally falls short as Rays lose to Marlins, 6-5

Late rally falls short as Rays lose to Marlins, 6-5

ST. PETERSBURG –The Rays rallied for four runs in the bottom of the ninth Friday night, but their rally came up short as the Marlins held on for a 6-5 win at Tropicana Field.Tampa Bay's bullpen gave up five runs in the seventh, and that was too...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Kiermaier has ‘severe bone bruise’ in foot, dates back to April injury

Kiermaier has ‘severe bone bruise’ in foot, dates back to April injury

Rays outfielder Kevin Kiermaier left Friday's game in the fifth inning when an injury to his right foot that has bothered him since April flared up with the worst pain he's encountered this season.Kiermaier called the injury a "severe bone bruise" an...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Greg Auman’s takeaways from Friday’s Rays-Marlins game

Greg Auman’s takeaways from Friday’s Rays-Marlins game

Nathan Eovaldi bounced back nicely following an eight-out, eight-run outing last week vs. the Twins. He lasted six innings, gave up one run and struck out eight. Take away the Twins game and Eovaldi has allowed three earned runs in his past four star...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Shooting outside McDonald’s in South Tampa leaves man in critical condition

Shooting outside McDonald’s in South Tampa leaves man in critical condition

TAMPA — Tampa police are investigating a shooting that occurred Friday night at a McDonald’s restaurant at 3515 S Dale Mabry Highway.Police responded around 7:30 p.m. after a man was shot around a dark grey Dodge Charger in the back corner of the res...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Pasco sheriff: Woman faked kidnapping attempt on her daughter to frame former business partner

Pasco sheriff: Woman faked kidnapping attempt on her daughter to frame former business partner

HOLIDAY — The mother of a 12-year-old girl was arrested Thursday after authorities said she faked a kidnapping attempt on her daughter in an effort to frame a former business partner.After the mother was taken into custody, detectives said she tried ...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Sheriff’s Office warns of IRS phone scams in Pinellas County

Sheriff’s Office warns of IRS phone scams in Pinellas County

Beware of callers saying they’re with the IRS and demanding payments, the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office warned Friday.According to a news release from the agency, scammers have been phoning residents across the county this week and trying to trick...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Rays’ Kevin Kiermaier leaves game with foot discomfort

Rays’ Kevin Kiermaier leaves game with foot discomfort

Rays outfielder Kevin Kiermaier, who missed two months earlier this season with a thumb injury, left Friday night's game against the Marlins with what the team described as "right foot discomfort."It wasn't immediately clear when the injury occurred,...
Updated: 7 hours ago