TAMPA — Don't think of this as a memorial service.
Sandra Hamby Prince is legally not considered dead.
Two-and-a-half years have passed since the social worker disappeared from her Temple Terrace home. Though detectives believe she suffered a violent end, they have yet to find her body or make any arrests.
Today, her friends and former co-workers from the Agency for Community Treatment Services, a substance abuse treatment center she co-founded 30 years ago, will gather and dedicate a house for the homeless in her name.
The Sandra Prince Samaritan House at 11710 N 17th St. will provide 24-hour, long-term housing to 14 chronically homeless people. Two years in the planning, colleagues say this project is just the kind of thing Prince would have fought for.
"She always stressed how we treat our clients," said ACTS program administrator Hayward Davis. "Not to look down on them, but to treat them with respect and dignity."
Prince was approaching 60 when she vanished from her home around New Year's Day 2006. Her path to becoming an administrator of one of the Tampa Bay area's leading substance abuse treatment programs started with a small treatment program at the Salvation Army before it developed into ACTS.
Today, her estate is estimated at $2.8-million, according to court documents. But she was unmarried and had no children or siblings, factors that have contributed to the mystery of her disappearance.
"We are all just still scratching our heads," said Susan Horton, a longtime friend of Prince's who plans to attend today's ribbon-cutting and dedication.
Though asked to write something in Prince's honor, Horton said she was stumped, knowing ACTS administrators didn't want to use the occasion to rehash the circumstances of her disappearance.
"We're really trying to emphasize this is a celebration of her work — and not a memorial service," said Mike Provenzano of ACTS.
So, Horton decided to attend in silence. She's just worried that people may interpret the silence as surrender.
Twice in the past year, detectives dug beneath a South Tampa house with the hope of finding Prince's body. They suspected Prince was buried there, beneath the foundation of a home built by a married man police say she was dating. Both times, they came up empty.
Earl C. Pippin Jr. was then — and remains today — a person of interest in the case, police say. Pippin denies any involvement in the vanishing.
On Thursday, Temple Terrace police spokesman Michael Dunn said, "There's nothing new."
Lead detective Michael Pridemore declined comment.
Horton worries the lack of news means there's a lack of additional leads.
There's only one thing she wants to say as officials from ACTS and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development gather to cut a ribbon in Prince's name.
But instead of saying it there, she'll say it here: "Let's not give up on Sandra."
Rebecca Catalanello can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3383.