Saturday, May 26, 2018
News Roundup

From wartime to retirement, Frank Spatuzzi battled for his beliefs

CLEARWATER — The new span to the Clearwater Memorial Causeway, which took four years to build and opened in 2005, stirred admiration in some and discontent in others.

Among the project's harshest critics was Frank Spatuzzi, a decorated World War II veteran and president of the waterfront Pierce 100 Condominium Association. Mr. Spatuzzi fought for more than a dozen years, writing well-researched letters to the editor and participating in multiple lawsuits against the city of Clearwater.

"Some of these people get little or no sleep, listening to generators, backup vehicle noises, crane motors, back-and-forth yelling of these construction workers, and lights that cut through the night like 'Jedi lightsabers' onto our building," he wrote in 2003.

If city officials didn't know who Mr. Spatuzzi was before the project, they soon learned his name.

"Frank was an interesting guy, if you talked to him," said Clearwater Mayor Frank Hibbard. "He always had a pretty good attitude toward me. I certainly know there were times when he frustrated those before me."

Mr. Spatuzzi, a retired developer who also acted on behalf of orphans and baseball, died Friday. He was 93.

Pierce 100 residents argued that the city should have put the project to a referendum and that it was a waste of taxpayer dollars. For Mr. Spatuzzi and his wife, Inge, there was an additional problem. The new bridge sits at eye level from their sixth-floor condominium — and a little more than a football field away, closer than the drawbridge it replaced.

Residents sued twice over the project's financing or its approval process, but lost those cases in court. The condo association sued in 2005, claiming that the waterfront view had been obstructed. That case has been settled.

The Spatuzzis, meanwhile, learned to live with constant traffic noises and the reflections of headlights, even after years of construction noises subsided.

"We have dinner with the bridge every night," Mr. Spatuzzi told the Times in 2010.

Overall, though, he won most of his battles.

Mr. Spatuzzi was born in Vauxhall, N.J., in 1918, and grew up in Newark. In an era when some of his peers bought cigarettes for a penny, he called baseball "my babysitter" and hustled his way to a scholarship at Seton Hall University. Playing first base, he hit for an average above .400 and was later named to the school's athletic hall of fame.

He entered the Coast Guard during World War II, and in 1944 was wounded when a Japanese suicide plane struck his ship. The lieutenant junior grade was awarded the Purple Heart for shrapnel wounds that left him with a limp the rest of his life.

"I live by three virtues," Mr. Spatuzzi said in a recent interview. "One is compassion. The other is sensitivity. And the third one is integrity. I don't need anything else."

He also made the most of chance encounters.

Helping baseball executive Branch Rickey, who was then in a wheelchair, at a New Jersey airport led to a friendship. Mr. Spatuzzi stayed close to baseball, sometimes doing color commentary at Philadelphia Phillies spring training games.

In the 1970s he met Inge, a paralegal in a lawyer's office. Each had been married and divorced, with eight children total. They married in 1985.

Mr. Spatuzzi later celebrated the match with a necklace he designed and commissioned, with cursive letters spelling "The Franchise." A diamond dotted the "i."

"In Frank's lexicon it has to do with baseball," said Inge Spatuzzi, 77.

A third encounter in a Newark restaurant helped generations of children. As his wife recalled, "He met some nuns he didn't know, but he paid for their lunch. After he left, they found out who he was and invited him to lunch."

As a result of that meeting, Mr. Spatuzzi assumed the mortgage to build an orphanage. Today, St. Peter's Orphanage in Denville, N.J., serves abused, abandoned or neglected adolescent boys.

He and Inge moved to Clearwater permanently in 1993 but traveled often. Mr. Spatuzzi took photos from their trips, which he turned into greeting cards.

In 2008 he donated his Purple Heart to the Armed Forces Military Museum in Largo, where it was displayed below the simulated bridge of an LST-205, the type of ship on which Mr. Spatuzzi served when he was wounded.

In 2011, Stand & Salute American Heroes, part of the nonprofit Our Fallen Soldier, honored Mr. Spatuzzi with its annual Stand & Salute American Heroes Award — the first one given to someone for service in the Coast Guard.

In recognition of the award, at a September Rays home game against the Red Sox, Mr. Spatuzzi climbed out of a wheelchair, walked shakily to the mound and threw out the ceremonial first pitch.

His health declined rapidly after a fall at home Dec. 24. He underwent surgery for a broken hip and was transferred to Suncoast Hospice House Brookside.

His death marks "the passing of more of that 'greatest generation,' " Hibbard said.

Andrew Meacham can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2248.

Comments

Police investigating shooting outside nightclub

ST. PETERSBURG — Police are investigating a fatal shooting that occurred outside a south St. Petersburg nightclub early Saturday morning.Brennan-Aire D. Williams, 28, was pronounced dead shortly after arriving by cab at Bayfront Health. Police invest...
Updated: 7 minutes ago
Vegas envy: Is Tampa Bay ready for a Vegas’ birth-to-best story?

Vegas envy: Is Tampa Bay ready for a Vegas’ birth-to-best story?

What in the name of the 0-26 Bucs is going on here?The breathtaking Vegas Golden Knights are the greatest expansion team in professional sports history. They are the best (or worst) thing to ever happen to our games, having won 51 times during the re...
Updated: 9 minutes ago
Rays jump on Orioles early, coast to 5-1 win

Rays jump on Orioles early, coast to 5-1 win

ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays cruised to a 5-1 victory over the Orioles on Saturday at Tropicana Field.In his first career start, Ryne Stanek pitched 1⅔ scoreless innings for Tampa Bay, retiring all five batters he faced. His fastball sitting...
Updated: 16 minutes ago

Woman dies in Plant City after SUV flips off road

PLANT CITY — A Seffner woman died Saturday from injuries sustained when her sports utility vehicle flipped off the road and crashed into a fence near the intersection of Tanner Road and State Road 574.Amanda K. Cepeda-Duque, 21, was traveling west on...
Updated: 16 minutes ago
Her husband wouldn’t apologize to her father — so she shot him, police say

Her husband wouldn’t apologize to her father — so she shot him, police say

RIVERVIEW — A Riverview woman shot and killed her husband Saturday because he punched her father and wouldn’t say sorry, the Hillsborough Sheriff’s Office said.Sabrina Michelle Hendley, 40, faces a first-degree murder charge in the death of Mark A. H...
Updated: 1 hour ago

Updated: 2 hours ago
An American Airlines passenger was refused beer - so he screamed, fought and spit blood, FBI says

An American Airlines passenger was refused beer - so he screamed, fought and spit blood, FBI says

It began, as so many plane debacles seem to, with strange sounds in the bathroom.They were the noises of Jason Felix, one of the passengers on Wednesday’s American Airlines flight out of Saint Croix, according to a FBI affidavit recounting events lea...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Rays Tales: What the trade of Alex Colome and Denard Span leads to next

Rays Tales: What the trade of Alex Colome and Denard Span leads to next

The reality of Friday's surprising trade of Alex Colome and Denard Span to Seattle is, of course, between the extremes.One side is screaming this is the latest proof the Rays are driven more to pocket money than winning games (and, for the loudest, o...
Updated: 2 hours ago
No rain in sight: Fire fears force land closures in Arizona

No rain in sight: Fire fears force land closures in Arizona

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — Dry pine needles and dead wood snapped under fire prevention officer Matt Engbring’s boots as he hiked a half-mile into the woods in search of a makeshift campsite that had served as one man’s home until this week when the area was...
Updated: 4 hours ago
More LGBT issues loom as justices near wedding cake decision

More LGBT issues loom as justices near wedding cake decision

WASHINGTON — A flood of lawsuits over LGBT rights is making its way through courts and will continue, no matter the outcome in the Supreme Court’s highly anticipated decision in the case of a Colorado baker who would not create a wedding cake for a s...
Updated: 5 hours ago