It brings retired Realtor George Diaz great joy to merge his twin passions — his family and his krewe. His wife of 54 years, Aida, three daughters and four grandchildren offer endless love. The Krewe of the Knights of Sant' Yago bring boundless friendship. Diaz's kids and krewe came together last weekend at the Latin men's club's annual debutante ball, "Unmask the Beauty, a Venetian Affair," where 10 girls made the rite of passage to adulthood. He welled up watching granddaughter Stephanie Costantino waltz with her father. His youngest granddaughter, Araceli Wakefield, 7, was her adorable attendant. For the past 30 years, Diaz, of West Tampa, has designed costumes, sets and choreography for most of the krewe's coronations and debutante balls, including this one. But at home, the 82-year-old is simply "Papi," says Stephanie, the family's latest deb. He is her go-to guy for a ride to the mall, assistance with an art project, even boyfriend advice. It was an emotional evening, says the 18-year-old who lives in Carrollwood. She and Papi recently shared their affection for one another with a reporter.
Stephanie, why did you decide to be a debutante?
Papi loves me and my sister and it makes him so happy that we bring on the tradition. He loves showing us off to everyone. He's always doing everything for us, so it's something we can give back to him. I think it means a lot to him. He texts me and asks about the practices. He started crying when we were circling the floor and they read my thank-you to the most incredible Papi anyone could ever ask for.
So he didn't have to twist your arm to be a debutante?
My lifelong neighbor Kara and my best friend Alexis, we knew our dads and grandparents wanted us to do it. It all came together that we decided to do it the same year.
I used to look at pictures of my mom, but I didn't think it still went on, you know, that dads present their daughters to the world.
Mr. Diaz, what emotions were you feeling at the ball?
I was on cloud nine when I danced with Denise (eldest of his three daughters and the only one to be a debutante) in 1979. The world was at my feet.
I felt elated and proud when Courtney (Denise's daughter) was presented two years ago. Now her younger one, Stephanie … I had goose bumps most of the time.
Last year, my grandson was a crown bearer in the court. By our bylaws, he can come into the krewe automatically at age 18. I have served on every committee … nine times on the board of directors. I go to every single meeting. I like to be in the background. I never wanted to be king.
What's so special about your grandfather, Stephanie?
We're both creative, we both like to have fun. He cherishes his family and loves every moment. He jokes around with my boyfriend and tells him, "You better treat her good."
I finally started driving this month. I was very scared. … He would pick me up anytime I ever needed a ride anywhere. All my friends love him. On half-days he would pick us up and take us to lunch.
He always says you're as old as you feel. We always say he has the heart of a teenager. He's crazier than half the family.
So, what was the best part of the debutante experience?
Stephanie: It's just fun. My dad and I always laughed at practice about messing up. You start in flip-flops and then change to heels and they make you wear a crinoline. And we practiced over and over again.
Diaz: It's the satisfaction that I get when I see these beautiful girls and their parents so proud of them.
Amy Scherzer can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3332.