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Florida Holocaust Museum gala, St. Petersburg Museum of History fundraiser


The Florida Holocaust Museum's annual gala brought supporters together at Mahaffey Theater and celebrated a new exhibition. To Life: To the Arts is a new retrospective of artist Samuel Bak's work.

Bak, who started painting at age 9, and his mother were the only members of his family to survive the Holocaust. After the war, they fled to the Landsberg Displaced Persons Camp, and he enrolled in painting lessons in Munich. When Bak and his mother immigrated to Israel in 1948, he studied at the Bezalel Art School in Jerusalem. His first exhibition of abstract paintings was in Rome in 1959.

The FHM presented Bak with its Loebenberg Humanitarian Award named for Edith and Walter Loebenberg. Walter Loebenberg is the Holocaust survivor, St. Petersburg businessman and philanthropist who founded the museum in 1989.

Before the presentation, guests dined on a variety of food served at stations throughout the Mahaffey lobby and bid on silent auction items.

Marty Borell, immediate past board chair, said he is constantly reminded of the museum's impact.

"Every day during the school year if you drive by the museum and there are school buses," he said. "Most (students) come for the first time in fifth grade." He believes that's the perfect age because students are old enough to understand history but young enough that their values are still being shaped. Borell hopes when they experience the museum they learn the importance of being an "upstander not bystander."

"We also teach them the power of propaganda and that they have to be sensitive to what is told to them," he added.

The museum is the third largest in the country after Washington, D.C., and Houston.

Brent Sembler said he often hears locals and visitors express their surprise that St. Petersburg has such an extensive museum. Beyond the thousands of school students who visit the museum at 55 Fifth St. S, thousands more are reached by the teaching trunks that are sent around the country, said Rachael Worthington, a museum volunteer. Each trunk has age-specific exhibits that teachers can use to educate their students.

Those who visit the museum hear personal stories from Holocaust survivors.

"Every survivor has their own story to tell," said Toni Rinde. The students she talks with ask a lot of questions.

"I do such a good job teaching they don't have any questions to ask when I'm done," teased her husband, John Rinde.

One of the most moving interactions for Toni Rinde came from a young boy who challenged her that she had no idea what living in a poor neighborhood is like.

"I said, let me tell you about my 'hood," Rinde recalled, then she talked with him about being a hidden child in Poland during the war.

"I got a note from him later saying, 'You changed my life,' " she added.


The St. Petersburg Museum of History celebrated with its supporters at a fundraiser dubbed Cocktails on the Courts at the St. Petersburg Shuffleboard Club. The event offered a taste of Old Florida along with music by the Black Honkeys, who played tunes by Michael Jackson and Kool and the Gang among others.

A buffet served mango smoothies in martini glasses, grits with bacon and cheese and miniature key lime pies. Though the iconic Shuffleboard Club built in 1922 provided plenty of history, the event also included memorabilia from the museum, including an original sign advertising Webb's City and another sign featuring a vintage Coppertone ad. A green bench was one of the items for sale in the silent auction.

Guests included museum director Rui Farias, (an organizer and worker bee as well) and his wife, Susan; Lee and Sue Allen; Sharon and Rick Kentner; Hope and Miles Green; David and Elizabeth Skidmore; and Elena and Andrew Coundouriotis.


The Queen of Hearts ball on Saturday will honor female volunteerism in Pinellas County and raise money for PARC and Clothes to Kids. 6:30 p.m., Hilton St. Petersburg Carillon Park, 950 Lake Carillon Drive.

Moonlight Dance Masquerade Suncoast Hospice Empath Health Ball also is at 6:30 p.m. Saturday, at the Vinoy Renaissance St. Petersburg Resort & Golf Club, 501 Fifth Ave. NE.