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Sowing seeds for Plant Hall

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By AMY SCHERZER, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published April 5, 2002

SO WHAT TOOK SO LONG: Timing is everything, says Pene Herman, president of the H.B. Plant Museum Society and a member of the Chiselers. Good things come to those who wait, says her sister, Patty Ayala, who also belongs to both groups.

The museum society and the Chiselers have long had similar goals. Finally, the two groups will hold a joint fundraiser, the "Silhouettes of Style" fashion show April 29 at the Hyatt Regency Downtown.

The sister co-chairwomen will split the proceeds evenly between the two groups. The Chiselers formed in 1959 to fund ongoing preservation of Plant Hall at the University of Tampa. The museum society started in 1975 for the acquisition and preservation of artifacts in Plant Museum, which is in Plant Hall.

There are other firsts. This will be Neiman Marcus' first offsite fashion show since opening at International Plaza in September. A $20,000 grant from the Falk Memorial Fund is the largest for either group. And Herman and Ayala think this might be the first time two sisters have chaired such an event.

More than 200 patrons have sent in $100 checks, putting the $60,000 goal within reach. Invitations for the $50 tickets were mailed last week.

So we ask again. What took so long?

* * *

GOTTA DANCE: He has danced, choreographed and taught in 30 countries on five continents. Now, Daryl Gray wants to put Tampa on the map. The American Ballet Theater-trained Gray debuted at 14 and has gone on to direct and stage numerous musicals, operas, ice dancing, videos and national television. The New York City Opera is currently playing his musical staging of Carmen at Lincoln Center.

Gray and his wife, Tampa native Beth Osiason, left New York to raise their kids, Zoe, 31/2, and Noah, 11/2, here. They've lived in Culbreath Bayou for a year.

"It's a better environment for the children," he says.

He doesn't see why he can't produce Broadway-quality shows in Tampa, using the bay area's own talent.

"This kind of creativity happens with great pride in cities like Chicago, Atlanta, Miami, Minneapolis," he says. "Why not Tampa-St. Pete? Why not now?"

His Australian production of Pirates of Penzance would be great fun during the Gasparilla festivities. His next musical, Honky Tonk Angel, about Patsy Cline, could open right here.

* * *

PAVILION XVII: Tampa Museum of Art announces Sara and Mort Richter as co-chairs of Pavilion, the annual formal ball set for Nov. 2. The former owners of Richter Asset Management have moved back to Tampa after 15 years in Greenwich, Conn.

"We always knew we'd be back. We missed Tampa tremendously," says Sara.

They're lining up committee chairs. So far they've tapped Sue Sutker, food; Kim and Paul Hanna, underwriting/sponsors; Sandy Juster, patrons; Tom and Harrison Giddens, decorations; Gail Levine, silent auction design; Jackie and Michael Shimberg, dance; Jennifer Malin, after-party; Sandy Frye, public relations; Paul Flynn, finance; and Gregg Thomas, legal.

The Richters' enthusiasm is contagious as they describe how the Pavilion theme will take guests back to the future, so to speak. Proceeds will help the museum grow into the focal point of a new cultural arts district in downtown Tampa.

"It's the last year at the museum. By the following year construction should be under way," says Sara. "We're honoring where we've come from and getting excited about where we're going."

"We're saying goodbye and saying hello, celebrating everything that the museum has come to be, from very modest beginnings to the threshold of something great," says Mort.

There's much to be done. Ticket prices are still in discussion, as is the choice of caterer. The live auction, chaired by Art Keeble and Mark Finegold, will be held during the patrons party and the silent auction at the ball.

Stay tuned.

* * *

GONE FISHIN': Anyone who knew Johnny X. Ferlita knows boating and fishing were his first loves, that is, after his two daughters, Patricia Companioni and Gerry Garcia.

"We were raised as his sons," laughs Garcia, now of Orlando. "From the minute we could stand, we had fishing poles in our hands. We fished almost every day during tarpon season."

Ferlita's wife, Adele, recalls being "more company than fisherwoman. I would read the paper and Johnny would fish."

A year after he died, his family has organized the Johnny X. Ferlita Memorial Fishing Tournament for May 10 and 11 at the Bayside Marina, off Gandy Boulevard. They've chosen the Pediatric Cancer Foundation to get the proceeds from the $200 entry fee for the snook, redfish and trout catch-and-release tourney.

Paella and sangria, donated by the Columbia Restaurant, start the fun May 10.

Fishing begins at 7 a.m. the next day and ends at 3 p.m. with scoring and a dockside cookout.

Central Bank of Tampa, where Ferlita was chairman of the board for many years, is the sponsor. Ferlita ran the family beer distributorship, too, so Heineken is also a sponsor, along with TECO and Colonial Bank.

For more details, call the Pediatric Cancer Foundation at 269-0955.

* * *

BEST OF TAMPA BAY: "Best of Tampa Bay" organizers put a new twist in the cinnamon bun this year. They want to turn the April 27 restaurant sampling benefit for the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center into a weeklong culinary festival.

"Four restaurants will serve gourmet wine dinners during the week prior to "Best of Tampa Bay," says Denise Lasher, who chaired the annual eat-a-thon for five years but is now a candidate for County Commission in District 2. Dinners are $95 per person, tip included.

Lasher expects the event to expand like the popular Sarasota Winefest. Call 222-1037 to reserve a seat at T.C. Choy's Asian Bistro (April 22), Roy's (April 23), Six Tables (April 24) and Centre Club (April 25).

Call the box office, 229-7827, for tickets to the "Best of Tampa Bay," $50 in advance, $60 on April 27. Event chairman David Oates has 50 restaurants, vendors and caterers cooking up tasty samples, plus five stages of live music, for the 1,500 expected.

- To pass along tips to Amy Scherzer, reach her at 226-3332 or

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