Tuesday, January 16, 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
Thanks to Hurricane Irma, there’s a pass at Shell Key again

Thanks to Hurricane Irma, there’s a pass at Shell Key again

By CRAIG PITTMANTimes Staff WriterAT THE SHELL KEY PRESERVE — From a boat puttering along in the water, the sandy beach seems to go on and on. Then, abruptly, it ends at a mass of tangled, overturned mangroves where a great blue heron sits on an expo...
Updated: 20 minutes ago
Panic ensued after casino shuttle caught fire, survivor recalls

Panic ensued after casino shuttle caught fire, survivor recalls

By HOWARD ALTMAN Times Staff Writer PORT RICHEY — Before directing them to abandon the burning ship, the crew of The Island Lady casino shuttle moved passengers around the 72-foot wood-hulled vessel as fire began smouldering on both sides, one passen...
Updated: 24 minutes ago
Dow bursts through 26,000 in record seven trading days

Dow bursts through 26,000 in record seven trading days

The Dow Jones industrial average blew past 26,000 Tuesday for the first time ever, coming only a week after hitting 25,000 and showing further evidence that the long-running bull market is alive and well."There are several reasons for markets to melt...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Florida love triangle led to a murder-for-hire plot, police say. But the wrong woman was killed.

Florida love triangle led to a murder-for-hire plot, police say. But the wrong woman was killed.

Heartbreak and jealously were the twin engines driving the scheme, police would later say. Ishnar Marie Lopez-Ramos was in love. The object of the 35-year-old Floridian’s affection, however, was tangled up with another woman. To solve her hear...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Hernando County wants taxpayer grant recipients to show their math

Hernando County wants taxpayer grant recipients to show their math

by barbara behrendtTimes Staff WriterBROOKSVILLE — Hernando County has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in recent years on taxpayer-funded grants to outside agencies and organizations, including $396,000 for the current year.Those dollars have ...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Arizona-based AFI Mortgage opens St. Petersburg branch

Arizona-based AFI Mortgage opens St. Petersburg branch

Times StaffAFI Mortgage, a subsidiary of an Arizona-based bank, is opening its first Florida locations in St. Petersburg and Lakeland. Its parent company, AmeriFirst Financial Inc., specializes in mortgages. "This Florida team is innovative, knowledg...
Updated: 1 hour ago
St. Petersburg’s apartment boom is spreading west

St. Petersburg’s apartment boom is spreading west

By SUSAN TAYLOR MARTINTimes Senior CorrespondentST. PETERSBURG — Still more apartments are coming to St. Petersburg, this time to the Edge and Grand Central Districts just west of downtown.The new projects, all by out-of-state developers, will add mo...
Updated: 2 hours ago

Pasco Letters to the Editor for Jan. 19

Re: Walking leads to shocking catalogue of trash | Jan. 12 column Bring back anti-littering campaignJust came back from the beautiful, clean city of Singapore, where there is a $1,000 fine, plus community service for littering. I think a presiden...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Pope begs forgiveness for ‘irreparable harm’ from sex abuse

Pope begs forgiveness for ‘irreparable harm’ from sex abuse

SANTIAGO, Chile — Pope Francis begged for forgiveness Tuesday for the "irreparable damage" done to children who were raped and molested by priests, opening his visit to Chile by diving head-first into a scandal that has greatly hurt the Catholic Chur...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Some fear Spa Beach billowing net sculpture could catch birds and storms

Some fear Spa Beach billowing net sculpture could catch birds and storms

By WAVENEY ANN MOORETimes Staff WriterST. PETERSBURG — International artist Janet Echelman may have fulfilled her $75,000 feasibility contract with the city and previewed her billowing, parasol-inspired sculpture for Spa Beach, but for some, key ques...
Updated: 4 hours ago