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Orchestra Guild honors Pops in the Park host Helen Torres

Helen Torres started the annual Pops in the Park concert.
Helen Torres started the annual Pops in the Park concert.
Published Oct. 18, 2013


What a gift to the community Helen Torres promised back in the 1990s, when the Florida Orchestra was in debt and nearly dissolved. And she has delivered, every time, on her pledge to subsidize a free concert along the St. Petersburg waterfront for 20 years. (The Oct. 19 performance is the most recent.)

For that enormous generosity, the St. Petersburg philanthropist was honored at "Heart of Gold," a tribute presented by the Florida Orchestra Guild/St. Petersburg in the ballroom at the Birchwood.

Kathryn Holm McManus, a onetime principal harp with the orchestra who was its executive director during those lean years, said bankruptcy was a regular agenda item then, but "we just couldn't do it. We had a board that wouldn't give up and musicians who wouldn't stop playing."

That determination and several generous financial donations kept the orchestra going, and Torres' annual concerts have built an audience of thousands. Former St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker mentioned Torres as one of the city's cultural assets, along with its museums, galleries and parks.

Now retired, the native New Yorker started Homes by Helen in 1988, having moved to the Tampa Bay area from Boston, where she enjoyed the annual July 4 Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular.

July can make for tricky local weather, so Torres said, "Let's do it in October. And we have to have fireworks." In a 2004 interview, she said it cost $62,000 to produce, and $1,000 a minute for the fireworks.

The orchestra announced last month that Ashley Furniture has made a four-year commitment to finance Pops in the Park.

Judy Cunniff was chairwoman for the gala, which also was a fundraiser for the orchestra. Committee members included Mozelle Bell, Janet Burnett, Roseanna Costa, Judy Davis, Emily Gillespie, Marty Hallas, Pat Howells, Susan Luehrs, Virginia McConnell, Roma McDonaugh and Sydni Shollenberger.


Golf, food and cigars were the drawing cards at the annual Great Extravaganza fundraiser for Great Explorations, and so was the scenery at the Rutland-Farley estate in St. Petersburg.

Hosts Michele and Phil Farley and event committee chairs Silvia and Dan Leeper greeted guests, many of whom arrived in golf wear to participate in chipping and putting contests and miniature golf during "Birdies, Bogies & Stogies."

Food and drink and silent-auction items were abundant. Guests heard from Lisa Negrini, the children's museum's outgoing chief executive; Angeline Howell, incoming executive director; David Hood, board of trustees chairman; and Scott Wagman, past chairman.

Bella Brava provided food for the event, which raised in the neighborhood of $70,000. Jason Alpert was the auctioneer.

Know a great volunteer?

The Queen's Court is accepting nominations for outstanding female volunteers who live in Pinellas County. Submissions must be sponsored by guilds, auxiliaries or other nonprofits. For an application, call (727) 822-7571. Deadline is Jan. 3.

The court also is accepting applications from Pinellas charities to receive grants from the 2015 event. Call (727) 894-7543. Deadline is March 1.

The 56th annual Queen of Hearts Ball on Feb. 22 benefits Academy Prep Center and Daystar Life Center.