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HE PUT 'WOW' INTO FESTIVAL OF STATES

That spring in 1965, a black-tie crowd at the Coronation Ball danced at the Coliseum, expecting nothing more exciting that evening than crowning a Sun Goddess.

Then a drum major, head encased in a giant Q-tip, hi-stepped it into the ballroom.

"Then, bam, coming out of all the sides and everywhere, in comes this full-blown marching band with all their horns and everything," said Linda Melleney, the 1963 Sun Goddess and wife of the man behind it all. "It just blew the socks off of everyone."

Like everything else at the St. Petersburg Festival of States, right down to the name and tag line ("Where All America Welcomes Springtime"), the surprise had Herb Melleney's fingerprints all over it.

Mr. Melleney, the first professional director for the Festival of States who in a 22-year run quickly turned the event into a competitive national stage for high school bands and reaped a ton of publicity for the city, died Tuesday, of cancer. He was 78.

"I don't think that even Herb had any idea about how many kids he affected in a positive way," said Bobby Cotter, 60, a former Pinellas Park High School band director and the son of Largo High School's legendary band director Bob Cotter. "During his tenure, he put together what was called one of the national championship shows."

A former advertising executive, Mr. Melleney came to St. Petersburg from Norfolk, Va., in 1962 as incoming director of the Suncoasters, a nonprofit group that still sponsors the festival.

"He was a very clear-cut, no-nonsense guy," said former boss Dan Ballard, 76. "If he liked you, great. If he didn't, get out of his way."

Mr. Melleney established himself as a pageant maker. In 1963, he doubled the festival's events to 36; a year later there were 100 events ranging from square dances to fireworks on the last night. "It was the whole 'wow' factor - 'What can I do so people are going to remember this'?" said his daughter, Kristen Schrader, 41.

Mr. Melleney scoured the country looking for top-flight high school bands. He started with Pennsylvania. Before long, an average of 27 bands marched down Central Avenue each year at the Festival of States Parade; half of them from otherstates.

Bands competed against each other in the Champions on Parade Field Show. Mr. Melleney also created the Illuminated Night Parade and a National Flag Pageant, a visual history of the U.S. flag.

"It's all hokey, but we need hokey sometimes," Mr. Melleney told the Times in 1981. "We need the flags flying, the people dancing, the music."

He wined and dined the visiting band boosters. "Band directors began to recognize, 'Hey, the place to go is St. Pete, Florida, because you got treated with respect and dignity,'" said William Findeison, 68, a former Lakewood High School band director. The job came with headaches. A pair of scantily clad sisters liked to jump aboard floats each year and wave. One year, local band directors complained about the amount of publicity given to out-of-state bands and threatened a boycott.

In the early 1980s, Mr. Melleney became concerned about tightening from the city, which had once gladly underwritten the festival's debts, and the prospect of corporate sponsorship. He resigned in 1984 to direct the International Festivals Association.

"The city is not in a financial position to fund the festival at the same level they did at one time," said Rick McCollum, theSuncoasters' executive director. Schools have also slashed funding. Just three out-of-state bands have participated since 2008.

"The bottom line is there will never be another Herb Melleney," Findeison said. "Once he retired, it has never been the same again."

Biography

Herbert Cecil Melleney Jr.

Born: June 19, 1931.

Died: Oct. 13, 2009.

Survivors: Wife, Linda; daughter, Kristen Schrader, and her husband, David; and two grandsons.

Service: Noon Tuesday (gathering of friends 11 a.m.); Anderson-McQueen Funeral Home, 2201 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street N, St. Petersburg.

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