Emilia Ficarrotta of Dunedin celebrated her 103rd birthday Dec. 11 with a party at Rosewood House II surrounded by four generations of family, Rosewood House residents and staff. The birthday girl and her guests commiserated around a cake decorated with red poinsettias and were entertained by Jonathan Miller, who sang songs inspired by Frank Sinatra and the Christmas season.
She was born Dec. 11, 1908, in Tampa to Michael and Lucia Pelligrino. At age 5, she and three siblings accompanied their mother on a trip to Sicily to bury her father who died at age 33.
After completing the fifth grade, she quit school and went to work in a cigar factory to help support the family. Though her fingers were sore and cracked, the youngster rolled up to 250 cigars a day.
In 1929, she married Joseph Ficarrotta. The 21-year-old continued to work at the cigar factory while her husband found work as an employee of Hillsborough County. They raised two children, Dominick and Antoinette, in the heart of Ybor City.
Sunday dinners at "Grandma's house" were a tradition for Ficarrotta's children and grandchildren for many years. She retired from the cigar factory in 1963, received her first driver's license at age 60 and lived on her own until she was 99.
After her husband's death in 1983, Ficarrotta found strength through her family. From her unique historical and economic perspective, she has been able to share the values of money and family with her grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
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Gladys Strout Doelling of Clearwater turned 100 years old Dec. 18. A party in her honor was held at Palm Gardens in Clearwater, attended by family and friends.
She was born in Brunswick, Maine, to LeRoy and Margaret Strout. She had four brothers and five sisters.
At age 18, the family moved to Stamford, Conn. While living there, she met Lester Doelling at a baseball game. The couple married June 24, 1934, in Rye, N.Y. and celebrated 74 years together.
They came to Clearwater in the 1970s.
Mr. Doelling died in 2008.
She has two daughters, Mary Doelling Pasiak and Margaret Doelling LeBlanc, both of Palm Harbor; eight grandchildren; 15 great-grandchildren; and a great-great-grandchild.
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Bouchard Insurance selected the not-for-profit agency Directions for Mental Health, which offers outpatient counseling, psychiatric services, and programs for children at risk for trauma and those who have been abused, as the recipient of its second annual Bouchard Teddy Bears Drive, which brings together a collection of more than 50 bears donated by local staffers.
"We're glad to help Directions by donating bears," said Bouchard's vice president Eric Beck. "The support our employees give to some of our nonprofit clients this time of year is unparalleled."
On Dec. 22, Santa distributed the fuzzy new friends to more than a dozen children at Directions' Children's Center in Largo.
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Each year, the National Office of the Pontifical Mission Societies in the United States selects a piece of art from thousands of entries nationwide to be reproduced as its official Christmas card.
This year's grand prize winner is Kristina Kourkoulis, a seventh-grade student at St. Cecelia Interparochial Catholic School in Clearwater. She received a commemorative plaque and her artwork (along with the other 23 winners) appears as Christmas e-greetings on the HCA website for kids — hcakids.org — during the Christmas season.
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One hundred volunteers from churches, schools, the Rotary Club and the community at-large helped make Christmas special this year by packaging bags of food and distributing them to those in need in the greater Tarpon Springs area.
"The Shepherd Center has been serving the needs of the community since 1974. Our clients include the elderly poor, lower income families and the homeless," said Lisa Hughes, executive director.
Included among the volunteers were former U.S. Rep. Mike Bilirakis and his wife, Evelyn, four pastors from local churches, the Palm Harbor University High girls basketball team, members of Tarpon Springs High's Honor Society, and Tarpon Springs Rotary Club president and officers of the board. Many brought their families to help.
"We're all happy to help in whatever way we can", said Robert Alderman, past treasurer of the Shepherd Center.
Six hundred families received a bag of food items, along with a turkey and eggs — enough to provide a nutritious Christmas dinner for a family of four.
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Karaoke singers from the every-Monday "Ann's Nite Out" show at the New York New York nightclub in Clearwater donated more than 500 holiday gifts to the children and families aided by Isaiah's Inn, a local charitable ministry.
The 36-member karaoke group, who have been singing together for 16 years, began this charity program in 2005 with a contribution of 50 gifts. This year's donations were purchased with thousands of dollars collected from or spent by the singers, their spouses and other NYNY patrons and staff.
"For many of us, this is our Christmas," said Ann Purser, the creator of "Ann's Nite Out" karaoke show.
Toys included stuffed animals and trucks, but an emphasis was put on gifts of things to do, rather than things to have. The gifts were distributed by the Isaiah's Inn ministry.
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Winners of the 22nd annual Holiday Boat Parade in Tarpon Springs, held Dec. 10, have been announced.
First place went to Tony Donzetti in Potential; second place was awarded to John Bujalski in Jenny Sue; and third place was given to Harold Pelky in Tarpon Express.
The event is sponsored by the Tarpon Springs Recreation Department.