Alliene Romaine created beauty out of the materials around her. She saw an angel in every bottle of Dove dishwashing liquid. She made them little robes, then topped that off with a doll's head and wings. Even the cap on a jug of milk was, in her eyes, a potential checkers piece.
And she turned young girls in her neighborhood into trophy-winning majorettes.
Once, Mrs. Romaine had dreamed of becoming Purdue University's Golden Girl, one of twirling's highest honors, leading the school's marching band at the Indianapolis 500.
Instead, she turned to teaching.
Mrs. Romaine, who founded the Twisters and Twistettes for local elementary and middle school twirlers, died April 29, of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. She was 77, and had been living in Asheville, N.C., for the past five years.
Mrs. Romaine discovered her new mission three days after arriving in St. Petersburg in the late 1950s during a neighborhood walk. She watched two young girls trying to twirl batons - and couldn't resist giving them a couple of tips.
Soon the girls wanted to learn more. So did their friends.
Classes held in her yard mushroomed into a performing group, the Twisters, who marched down Central Avenue in the Festival of States parade and overachieved in competitions. She didn't believe in charging for lessons, and few of her students would have been able to afford them anyway.
"These kids might never have a chance for something like this," Mrs. Romaine once said, adding that she had undertaken the effort because "kids need to feel special."
Her students sold aluminum cans and glass to buy their Kelly green skirts with ball fringe and white blouses. They caught flaming batons and hurled knives with safety, and marched in parades to the cadence of her whistle blowing left, left, left-right-left.
At twirling competitions, they might have taken home more second- and third-place trophies than firsts, but they won their share.
Alliene Romaine grew up in Indianapolis and took baton lessons as a child. She gave up competitive twirling for teaching at 14. A marriage to happy-go-lucky Ken Romaine, who delivered for Borden Dairy in St. Petersburg, produced happiness and heartache.
She secreted money away from her job as a teacher's aide, often to cover his losses at the dog track. But she laughed at his five-minute jokes, and savored vanilla ice cream with him and their two children. She liked hers best with Hershey's syrup and hot fudge.
In 1980, Mrs. Romaine told her students she could no longer run the Twisters or the group for older children, the Twistettes. She did not tell them the reason: Her arthritis had worsened.
"She taught me that if it feels right in your heart it probably is," said daughter Debra Romaine, who won 60 medals and 120 individual trophies for her twirling. "And if it doesn't feel right, it probably isn't."
Andrew Meacham can be reached at (727) 892-2248 or email@example.com.
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Alliene Claudette Allison Romaine
Born: Feb. 6, 1934.
Died: April 29, 2011.
Survivors: Son Kenneth Romaine and his wife Regina; daughter Debra Romaine; two grandchildren; and one great-grandson.