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Assistants bask in their day

Business stopped for many on Wednesday as bosses shuttered their offices to take their professional assistants to the annual salute luncheon in their honor.

Kathy King, the Pier Aquarium's executive director, brought her PA, Valerie Kimball, saying that voice mail was in charge while they were gone. "The answering machine" was the similar response from Dr. Michael Reilly's staff that included Maureen Heretick, April Hofacker and Angela Norris.

Event chairwoman Joan Loader welcomed the crowd to the Renaissance Vinoy Resort's Sunset Ballroom for lunch, sponsored by St. Anthony's Hospital Auxiliary.

Committee members Cathy Lay and MaryLou Schaffer gathered several tables full of merchandise donated by 83 local businesses. Each was tagged with a number that matched a ticket given to every PA, and at the end of lunch they claimed their gifts.

In the crowd were architects Bea Jolly, Bill Harvard, Jon Toppe and Jim Shawhan with their staff, Kathy Gast, Michelle Brown, Darlene Szmajeser and Tina Pickel, Mercantile Bank's Michele Brean and John Sica with Pat Kenney, and Dillard's president David Daub with Jan Keener and Susan Chapman. Raytheon Systems general manager Jim Garrett filled two tables with executives and PAs, including Wayne Catrell, Jim Hicks, Mitch Lee, Marsha Barnes, Regina Bechtold, Shirley Cox, Crystal Finn, Peg Welin and Joyce Wilson. "Who's minding the shop?" Garrett was asked. "That's a good question," he replied.

Also making a strong showing were guests from Bayfront and St. Anthony's hospitals and their Health Care Foundations. Among them were Joy Gorzeman, Sue Brody, Sister Karen Burns, Judy Wilson, Dr. Michael Rauchway, Mandy Peterson, Gil Curd, Jim Krause, Karen Sims, Lynn Kleer, Kelli DeGraw and Cheryl Whiteman.

Rosanne Lindsey of John Knox Village received the Professional Assistant of the Year Award, presented by the first recipient, Shirley Cox who won the award in 1993. Said Lindsey's boss, David Wildgen, "She lives and loves her work."

The QuEST Ropes Course opened Thursday with a ribbon-cutting at the 2-acre site between Northeast High School and John Sexton Elementary School.

Northeast High principal Mike Miller welcomed the crowd that included Pinellas County School Board Chairwoman Lucile Casey and Anne Anderson, president of the Junior League of St. Petersburg, which donated $50,000 for construction of the course.

The ropes course, three years in the planning and construction, was the vision of Kathy Gregg, a teacher in Northeast's QuEST program, an integrated curriculum for ninth-graders.

She and other QuEST teachers Barbara Muhly, Charlotte Walker, Shirley Puller, Karol Grabo and Jane Pelligrino were among the volunteers demonstrating the course. League members also participated. Ginny McCarthy scaled the 45-foot-high rock wall, then came down on the 200-foot zip line while fellow members Kate Hargrove, Shannon Arnao, Holly Magnan, Melinda Pletcher, Carolyn Willette, Murray Beairsto and Georgia Mattern cheered.

The stated goals of the course are teamwork, communication, leadership self-confidence and trust.

The last goal was a big one for Leslie Ann Smith, league president-elect as she stood high on a platform, preparing to fall backward.

"I love you guys," she said to other volunteers, hoping they'd catch her. (They did.)

The QuEST Ropes Course eventually will be open to all Pinellas students, though for the first trial year it probably will be limited to those at Northeast High.

It's already being booked by corporations and not-for-profit groups beginning Friday. For information, call 579-4455.

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