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    Kapok Tree founder, supporter of the arts

    By LORRI HELFAND, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published March 3, 2002

    CLEARWATER -- June Baumgardner Gelbart, who began the Kapok Tree restaurant with her former husband, died at 71.

    She was born in New York City and came here in 1957, the year she and Richard Baumgardner opened the Kapok Tree. The restaurant, which closed in 1991, attracted crowds of people, who came to eat family-style meals and stroll through its opulent gardens. She stayed on as director and chairman of the board of Kapok Tree Inn Corp. until she retired and sold her interest in the early '80s.

    Mrs. Gelbart, a local benefactor, was active in the Jewish community, supported several religious organizations, and was a patron of the arts.

    She was a member of Congregation Beth Shalom and Temple B'nai Israel in Clearwater. She was a member of B'nai B'rith, life member of Hadassah and was a Lion of Judah. She was a founder of and contributor to Menorah Manor and the Tampa Bay Holocaust Museum, now the Florida Holocaust Museum.

    She sponsored the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. She was a board member and supporter of the Gulf Coast Jewish Family Services, was a past board member of the Golda Meir/Kent Jewish Center and was a Friend of Pinellas County Jewish Day School.

    In 1977, she donated 38 acres to Clearwater for the Richard B. Baumgardner Center at Ruth Eckerd Hall, where she was a funded life member. She was an original cast member of the Leading Ladies of Ruth Eckerd Hall and was a supporter of the Florida Orchestra.

    She was a lifetime member of the Miniature Art Society and donated first and second prizes for the Miniature Art Shows for more than 25 years.

    Survivors include a stepson, William Baumgardner, Clearwater; two stepdaughters, Sally Stribley and Suellen Gelbart, both of Melbourne, Australia; and three grandchildren.

    A funeral service will be at 2 p.m. Monday at Congregation Beth Shalom, 1325 S Belcher Road, in Clearwater. Rabbi Kenneth Bromberg will officiate. Interment will follow in Sylvan Abbey Memorial Park.

    In lieu of flowers, the family suggests memorials to Menorah Manor, Gulfcoast Jewish Family Services or Congregation Beth Shalom.

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