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Stolen dolphin and palm weren't mere decorations

Wanted: one lighted dolphin and one palm tree decoration on the lam.

The pair, which vanished from their perch at the entranceway to Hernando Beach, were no ordinary holiday decorations, Seaside Realty owner Melody Merritt said.

Merritt bought three dolphins and three palm trees in honor of community activist Joan Lentini, known as "the Mother of the Beach," who died last month. She placed them at the intersection of U.S. 19 and Osowaw Boulevard, the Hernando Beach entrance Lentini decorated each holiday season.

"Joan lit up my life, and I wanted to put up lights for her," Merritt told the Times shortly after Lentini died. "We will miss her very much."

Near the decorations, Merritt and other Hernando Beach residents placed a sign that read, "In memory of Joan Lentini."

But sometime between Christmas and New Year's Day, a dolphin and a palm tree disappeared from the memorial display, Merritt said.

The other decorations, including the Santa hats on the dolphins in the entranceway's pond and poinsettia plants, were left behind.

The missing dolphin cost about $100, and the palm tree, about $65, Merritt said.

But she and others said money isn't the issue.

"I do not know how much lower a human being can be than to do something like that, to take something placed there by others with love and in someone else's memory," Hernando Beach resident Gladys Moore wrote in a letter to the Times.

Merritt has not yet filed a police report and said she is hoping that whoever took the dolphin, which was white with blue lights, and the white-and-green tree will return them unharmed.

"I don't know if I could sleep at night. I couldn't lay my head down if I took them," she said.

Lentini, 74, was a popular Hernando County resident active in countless organizations, including the Coastal Hernando Business Association, the Hernando Beach Property Owners Association, the Greater Hernando County Chamber of Commerce and the Democratic Executive Committee.

"Maybe they didn't see the sign," Merritt said, adding that she can't imagine anyone who had heard of Lentini would steal the decorations.

"I did that out of love, love for a good friend," she said. "I wanted to do something nice for her, in memory of her. So bring 'em back. It's wrong."

Moore added that the thefts were "sleazy."

"It's like robbing a grave or something," she said.

Mary Spicuzza can be reached at mspicuzzasptimes.com or (352) 848-1432.

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