It has the reputation of being elitist, but the Junior League is one of the most demanding service organizations I know of, requiring at least 40 hours of work in the community each year, attendance at monthly meetings, and membership on organizational committees that raise funds or do special projects. Membership, once a secret, selective process, is open to anyone wanting to work hard as a volunteer. If that is elitism, I think it's a good kind.
The annual dinner is just for fun, though, and an opportunity for younger, active members to mingle with older "retired" members, called Sustainers, like me.
This year it was held in the Sunset Ballroom on Snell Isle, walking distance for many members. The decorations committee chose a Mexican fiesta theme and decked tables in big paper flowers surrounded by hollowed out peppers containing votive candles. (I hope they were able to recycle those peppers into a salad or spaghetti sauce; I bought some the next day at Publix at an eye-opening $3.49 a pound.)
Doug Beairsto, one of the few men attending, had good reason for the big smile he wore most of the evening: his wife Murray, was ending her year as president, passing the gavel to Jan Herzik.
Two special awards are handed out each year. The Virginia Lazzara Award, named for a remarkable woman who died much too young, acknowledges volunteer contributions to the community and the league by a sustaining member. Mary Gardiner Evertz was the recipient. She is a colleague of mine here at the St. Petersburg Times, and I have known her for decades. I do not know of a more quietly generous soul.
Many others obviously agree; three tables _ about a quarter of the attendees _ were filled with her family and friends, including husband Bud, son Gardiner, her sister Wendy Lewis, Norma Jean Harris, Suzanne Clark, Barbara Smith, Beth Duncan, Jane Weems, Joanne Fleece, Betty Jean Miller, Janet Raymond, Judy Stanton, Carol Sue Stevens, Cary Bond Thomas, Joyce Sewell, Mary Joan Mann, Loretta Stitt, Anne Long, Mary Christian, Tinker McKee, Jeannine Green and Ashley Gairing.
The second award is presented to an active member. This year's recipient of the Maillande Holland Barton Award, named for the founder of the St. Petersburg league, was given to Jane Johnson Graves. I also have known Mrs. Graves for years, and she is another one of those hard-working volunteers just as willing to be the behind-the-scenes worker bee as she is a committee chairman. Her mother, Betty Jane Johnson, a longtime league member, and father Bill were there to see her honored.
Nice to see were a new generation of members, among them some daughters or daughters-in-law of sustainers, including Margaret Smith, Kim Earle Andrews and Tiffany Treadwell Lettelier, whose mother Sherry Treadwell was also there. New active member Penny Wallace was recognized for her contributions during her first year.
The contribution of the league to the community this year was impressive: $110,000, said Mrs. Beairsto.
The Stuart Society, another venerable women's organization, held its final meeting of the year at the Museum of Fine Arts, and outgoing president Betty Breedon had a lot of good news to report.
Mrs. Breedon said the group had contributed more than $88,000 to the museum for a variety of purposes, including helping to underwrite exhibitions. Most dramatic was the art purchased for the permanent collection and unveiled by museum director Michael Milkovich, The Mystic Marriage of St. Catherine by Fabrizio Santafede, the first Italian Baroque work for the museum to own.
My favorite part of this meeting is the pre-business social in the garden where silver trays of little sandwiches and pastries are set out. I anchored myself next to the cucumber ones, and in between swallows, I enjoyed chatting with museum board president Carol Upham; Bonita Cobb; Greta Myers; Starr Weihe; Parsla Mason; Margaret Bowman; Celma Mastry, whose St. John suit was in my favorite sorbet flavor, tangerine; Hope Andruss; Helga Andrews; Alice Eachus; Claire Trice; Kim O'Brien Marion Snider; Roberta Hoskins and Barbara DeMaire.
New members introduced were Lois Atkins, Eleanor Baney, Nancy Biesinger, Jacqueline Brown, Carol Dameron, Alice Eachus, Sunny Endicott, Donna Guillaume, Sally Poynter, Norma Ross, Judy Sauers, Anne Shamas, Janet Stoffels, Mary Stovall, Nancy Harris Thomas and Donna Tyler.
On my way in, I passed a departing Eric Peterson, who always makes a big flower arrangement for the stage of the Marly Room on meeting day. For his friend Jeanne Tucker, who is the incoming president, he used Belles of Ireland, "because I'm a Sullivan from Ireland," she said.
I guess Mary Perry and Tina Douglass are not busy enough with all the volunteer commitments they already have with the museum and Selby Gardens; they have agreed to be on the planning committee of Pavillion, the mega-gala in November for the Tampa Museum of Art.
Margie Laughlin, finishing up the installation of an exhibition of paperweights in the Kathryn B. Stenquist gallery, told me that she is retiring as registrar in August. "This is my last installation," she said. Laughlin has been a fixture at the museum almost since its opening and is considered its institutional memory. I will miss her wisdom and sense of humor.
Bettye Black brought granddaughter Tiffany Davis, on leave from her posting in Kosovo. Her description of parachuting into the country at night with the sniper division was a world away from cucumber sandwiches. Reality has a way of curbing one's appetite.
The Sunshine Chapter of the American Business Women's Association celebrated its 50th anniversary Wednesday with a dinner at the St. Petersburg Yacht Club that included members from nine other chapters in the Tampa Bay area as well as nine others throughout Florida. The St. Petersburg group was the first formed in the state. Nationwide, the association counts about 8,000 members. National director Carolyn Bufton Elman came for the occasion from headquarters in Kansas City, Mo. I like this: A man started the organization. Her father, Hillary Bufton, formed it with a group of women after World War II in St. Louis, with the purpose of helping women better themselves through education.
I wrote recently about the life-size portrait Bob Haiman had made so he could appear in the Dragon Club group photo, the first one taken in 25 years, even though he was traveling in Japan at the time of the dinner. Tom DeVoe was put in charge of holding it up, which he did, and then slipped it under the table during dinner.
"Bob is missing," Lynn Cox said at the Stuart Society meeting, referring to the photograph, not the person. She said a prankster had taken the photo that night. Speculation is that a clandestine version of "Where's Bob?" will be launched, and Haiman may find himself virtually present in locations even more exotic than Japan.