Members of the St. Petersburg Yacht Club have been celebrating their centennial for months now, but the official 100th anniversary gala was a party for the ages.
Commodore Bob Johnson and his wife, Carol, got there early to welcome Elizabeth Wright, who arrived with her daughter Nancy Thomas. Mrs. Wright was born in 1909, the year the club organized. She celebrates her own centennial later this month.
Given the size of the crowd, it felt as though every one of the 2,732 members were present, but membership director Mary Pontone estimated the guest list at somewhere above 1,500.
Nancy Vildibill and Lynda Lind did much of the preliminary planning for the membership event, then praised the phenomenal execution of all the club's staff, including manager Robert Lovejoy, catering manager Shannon Chafin and executive chef Matthew Tracy.
“When I see what management did for this thing — they just were superb," Vildibill said. "I think we have the best club in the world anyway."
And what a party it was, spread through every square inch of the yacht club, from the lobby to the lounge to the ballroom. Photo displays detailed the club's history, from Olympic champions to social events, and there was abundant food and drink and live music in all of the rooms.
The dress code for the evening offered several options: period costumes, black tie or yacht club formal (navy blue blazers, white trousers, white shirts, black ties, white socks and white shoes). Many former commodores wore their trademark jackets.
There's more to come, and members eagerly await a published history. It is a labor of love for Jim Watters, the overall chairman for the centennial committee, and Bill Ballard, a past commodore, who is editor of the book. Club historian Barbara Watson Clapp is its photo editor; Tom Pierce is the copy editor; and Gina Bowden-Pierce is the page designer. All have spent countless volunteer hours on the publication, which should be completed by the end of the year.
Nearly 15 years ago, retired hotel executive Jeff Fortune and his late wife, Joan, a retired lawyer, met retired educators Bob and Barbara Anders and began trying to figure out how to establish a school for at-risk children in St. Petersburg.
They knew about youngsters with early promise who were being shifted from place to place, who had no books, newspapers or other reading materials, who lacked support from their families and the school system. And they hoped to have a positive effect on their lives.
After extensive research and dogged fundraising and recruiting other volunteers, they established Academy Prep Center of St. Petersburg, which opened in 1997 with boys in grades 5 and 6. The private school extended enrollment until it had boys in grades 5 through 8, then opened to fifth-grade girls in 2000. Academy Prep now offers classes for boys and girls in grades 5 through 8.
The school's press material says that 95 percent of its graduates are in high school, college or in the work force. A Tampa expansion opened in 2003.
"There's no magic in these walls," Fortune said in a recent interview at the St. Petersburg campus. "It's all about adults putting in the time to assist kids to grow up."
Fifth grade, he said, is "just before children's behavior becomes fixed." Academy Prep offers youngsters the opportunity to have goals and helps them to achieve them.
Fortune and his wife, Sherry, spend much of their time in the Bahamas these days, but they expect to be in St. Petersburg on Saturday when his continued support and commitment will be recognized with the inaugural Jeffrey L. Fortune Dream Maker Award. The presentation will be made at the Evening of Dreams fundraiser for Academy Prep of St. Petersburg.