Fred Fisher of Tarpon Springs and Whitfield Palmer of Ocala, co-founders of Phoenix Houses of Florida, a substance abuse treatment program previously known as Day Top Village, received the second Monsignor Laurence Higgins Humanitarian Award on March 5. But first, emcee Paul Wilson warmed up the crowd singing I Did it My Way to accompany a video of Phoenix House residents whose stories and poems are compiled in Voices of Recovery, Words that Free Us, published by philanthropist Ray Murray.
Among the 120 guests showing their support at Higgins Hall were politicos Anne and Buddy MacKay and Ed and Lawton Chiles III, sons of the late governor. The dinner netted almost $70,000 for programs hit hard by budget cuts.
Phoenix House's best known benefactor, New York Yankee Derek Jeter, who gives $100,000 annually, was playing ball and couldn't attend. Hey, maybe he'll host next year's dinner at his gigantic new home on Davis Islands.
Chiselers Market Preview Party
The hardest working gals in town got lucky at their 13th annual Chiselers Market Preview Party on Friday the 13th of March at the University of Tampa's Plant Hall. Between hostess and sales duties, the women wrangled 450 sponsors and shoppers to pay "twice the price" for market treasures, rather than fight the hordes the next day.
Party chairwomen Al Van Voris, Sandy Harris and Suzanne Strahan and resident Glenda Barlow enlisted trumpeters to announce the auction and lure bidders from the bar and cocktail buffet, including Rex and Geneva Damron, who bought dinner for 10 with Renee and UT president Ron Vaughn for $1,100. Party tickets, sponsorships, pre-Market sales and the live auction brought in almost $19,000 that night.
Since they began 50 years ago, Chiseler projects have raised nearly $4 million for restoration of doors, windows, carpet and more at the 1891 Tampa Bay Hotel. The one-day bargain hunt "absolutely takes a village" said Ruth Tapley, Market co-chair with Sterling Remer. "We were overwhelmed by the outpouring of community support."
Celebrity Dancing in Tampa Bay
"Any resemblance to ABC's Dancing with the Stars is completely intentional,'' said WFTS-Ch. 28 anchor Brendan McLaughlin as Celebrity Dancing in Tampa Bay began in Morsani Hall at the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center.
For the third year, the Spring domestic violence shelter board members Sarah Coates and Stephanie Hobson asked 10 community notables to take 10 hours of instruction from 10 professional dancers and compete for $1 votes.
Judges' opinions don't count, said co-host Victoria Regan to the hard-working hoofers earning raves. First place was determined by about 1,000 loyal, deep-pocketed friends who voted online (including contributors from India, England and Russia) or during the intermission March 12.
The winner: cosmetic dentist Angela Rasmussen and partner Martin Rivera for their elegant waltz.
Just as impressive in their sparkly Designs to Shine costumes: Judy "Sexy Samba" Lisi and Jason Bundy; Simon "Suave" Canasi and Ashley Novack; Fran "the Godfather" Curci and Michele Mason; George "So-Cool" Tinsley and Laurie Collett; Aakash "Bollywood" Patel and Julia Meyerovich; Allison "Hot to Trot" Beard Luzier and Sergey Kopylov; John "Steamy" Thomas and Michelle Montague; Susan "Tina Turner" Touchton and Scott Montague; and clowns Stephanie Agliano and Richard Collett.
The Plant High Chamber Singers and three pairs of champion dance instructors ("poetry in motion," said Regan) performed; 500-plus patrons joined the cast for dessert.
"It's black-tie meets cheeseheads," said Joanne Lighter, the Spring director, describing the dancers' rabid fans. But serious funds are raised, she said, "to do our job of keeping people alive.''