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Kenwood woman ‘really shaped what makes St. Petersburg unique’

Charla Cribb was an artist, a journalist and a folk musician. She was 74.
 
Charla Cribb was a journalist, an artist, a musician and a community builder.
Charla Cribb was a journalist, an artist, a musician and a community builder. [ Courtesy of Krissandra Wasel ]
Published Jan. 23, 2023

Once a year, maybe twice, Fri Rieder and his wife host a big party at their home in St. Petersburg’s Historic Kenwood neighborhood. Rieder texts his neighbors before to let them know, and after to apologize for the late-night noise.

One year, when he sent the day-after text to the woman next door, she responded with this:

“I enjoyed the laughter.”

That woman, Charla Cribb, was a journalist, an artist, a musician, but maybe most of all, she was someone who built and supported the communities she moved through. Raised in a bohemian family outside of Oakland, California, Cribb moved to St. Petersburg in the mid-1960s.

“Since the minute that she named this her home, she became a part of the things that made St. Petersburg different from every other place,” said daughter Krissandra Wasel. “She really shaped what makes St. Petersburg unique.”

Cribb died Jan. 6 in Gainesville, Georgia, where she’d moved to be close to her daughter because of an ongoing illness. She was 74.

Charla Cribb played the dulcimer and performed at folk festivals around the Tampa Bay area.
Charla Cribb played the dulcimer and performed at folk festivals around the Tampa Bay area. [ Courtesy Krissandra Wasel ]

“An odd assortment of characters”

“Every city of consequence has its strip,” Cribb wrote in the St. Petersburg Times in 1986, “a linear scrap of downtown where an odd assortment of characters meet and mill. St. Petersburg’s strip, on Central Avenue between Fourth and Fifth streets, is a heart-of-the-city place with an off beat. Here, you’ll find Nancy, who walks like a man and talks like an ill-mannered sailor. Here roams the Hyena and his jarring laugh. Here mix hotdog vendors and pamphlet hawkers, executives with three-piece suits and lonely elderly who have no better place to go for a day’s distraction. The Strip, as some of them call the block, is their domain...”

The stories Cribb wrote as a staff writer for the Evening Independent and later for the Times showed a tapestry of interesting people, whom Cribb approached with curiosity and respect.

Her work, under the byline Charla Wasel and later Charla Cribb, included the Treasure Island couple who cleaned up beaches, the woodworker who built boats then guitars, the year there was a Christmas elf shortage, volunteer clowns, the lost poodle-Chihuahua-Maltese-and-Yorkshire-terrier mix, and the drag queen fighting for acceptance. In 1985, she won first place for a story that followed the yearlong adventures of a rented tuxedo.

When Bettinita Harris came to the Evening Independent for her first job out of college, the African American from Kansas knew no one and found a newsroom that looked nothing like her.

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Cribb invited her over for dinner and helped her navigate the newsroom. They moved together from the features department to the news department.

“She was always the first read on my stories,” Harris said. “She held journalistic values very high. She was tenacious. She was a pit bull.”

When the Independent closed in 1986, Cribb moved to the Times, then into public relations for Goodwill Industries and later Freedom Scientific, which makes software and hardware for the blind and deaf. She eventually started her own marketing and graphic design business.

She continued playing and performing at area folk festivals and was a founding member of the Florida Folk Music Association. When Cribb learned more about her Osage heritage, she founded the American Indian Cultural Society of St. Petersburg. And after moving to Kenwood in the early 1980s, she found a neighborhood that was just starting to celebrate its history, which she soon became part of.

Charla Cribb, who worked as a reporter for the Evening Independent and later the St. Petersburg Times, knelt to be on eye level with youngsters while on assignment in 1986.
Charla Cribb, who worked as a reporter for the Evening Independent and later the St. Petersburg Times, knelt to be on eye level with youngsters while on assignment in 1986. [ 1986 | St. Petersburg Times ]

Nanny Kenwood

When she moved into the yellow craftsman at Eighth Avenue and 22nd Street, Historic Kenwood was just Kenwood. The neighborhood, which dates back to the 1920s, soon saw the beginnings of a revival with renewed investment from the city and interest from members of the community. Cribb got involved with the neighborhood association, did research on the area’s history and wrote the association’s newsletter.

Cribb took part in her neighborhood’s arts scene, but her greatest contribution, her daughter said, was helping to establish an ongoing series of free monthly events for families called Kenwood Kids. Carolyn Gambuti, who eventually took over the neighborhood newsletter, agreed and thinks the program helped get more neighbors involved.

That work earned Cribb a nickname that stuck — Nanny Kenwood.

“She had a huge heart,” Gambuti said. “She wanted to live the best life that she could. She also wanted a good life for those around her.”

Charla Cribb’s celebration of life will take place 2:30 p.m. Feb. 19 at Seminole Park in St. Petersburg.

Charla Cribb, far right, is pictured here with her daughter, Krissandra Wasel, and son, William Wasel.
Charla Cribb, far right, is pictured here with her daughter, Krissandra Wasel, and son, William Wasel. [ Courtesy Krissandra Wasel ]
Charla Cribb's "Blue Water Dance." She was one of the artists who kept her studio in the Kenwood Artists' Enclave.
Charla Cribb's "Blue Water Dance." She was one of the artists who kept her studio in the Kenwood Artists' Enclave. [ TAMPA BAY TIMES | 2018 ]

Poynter news researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this story.

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