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An atypical stepmother, tributes to moms, gratitude

By ERNEST HOOPER, Times Columnist

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 12, 2002

It's Mother's Day, but for the Rivera family, it's Stepmother's Day.

It's Mother's Day, but for the Rivera family, it's Stepmother's Day.

The fictional perception of stepmothers has varied from Cinderella's evil guardian to the angelic Carol Brady, but in reality neither image is accurate. Stepmothers don't always force the stepchildren to do all the chores, but they also find it far more difficult than Mrs. Brady to craft a meaningful relationship with the kids of their husband.

And for some, getting along with the ex-wife is anything but a picnic.

Gloria Rivera has defied the stereotypes, and if you don't believe it, just ask the ex-wife. Serita Rivera has nothing but praise for the stepmother of her two boys, Michael and Heriberto III.

"We're very good friends. We just clicked like that," Serita said. "She's a nice woman, very nice and easygoing, and I'm easygoing, too. She also has two daughters and we all just get along."

Such a unique relationship deserves a fairy tale ending, but that won't be easy. Gloria Rivera is battling cancer. Serita says she has double melanoma and the family recently learned the disease is beginning to impact her heart and liver.

Gloria Rivera is a motivational speaker, so she is gathering motivation and inspiration from her own words. Serita said she remains upbeat, spiritual and positive.

"She's just a wonderful person to a lot of people," Serita said.

* * *

Judy Schwartz has two passions: food and kids. She's been cooking since she was 12 and now teaches food production at Robinson High School.

She will combine those passions today at the eighth annual Mother's Day Picnic at Ralph Lupton's Boggy Bottom Barbecue Ranch. Each year Ralph and his wife, Nancy, invite foster moms and their families for a free meal. They are expecting upwards of 800 people.

Judy will be there to man the grills and honor her 31-year-old son, Bob, who devotes a considerable amount of time to the Foster Aunts and Uncles organization.

"I do it because he's my son and he's very passionate about helping foster children," Judy said. "I always try to support whatever he's passionate about. I think that's the job of a mom."

* * *

Two well-known local moms were honored last week because of their devotion to their families and community.

On Tuesday, the late Adela Gonzmart was given the Ambassador's Award at the Tampa Convention and Visitors Bureau's National Tourism Week Luncheon.

Sons Casey and Richard Gonzmart, who now operate the Columbia restaurants, accepted on behalf of their mother after a stirring video presentation that illustrated how Adela always kept Tampa in the forefront of her life.

On Tuesday night, the Junior League of Tampa gave its Sustainer of the Year Award to Cody Davis for her years of volunteer work, which include 45 years of service to Tampa General Hospital. She has been a Junior League member since 1954.

Davis also raised three children as a single mother while working full time selling real estate. One of her kids is Congressman Jim Davis, who was there to help honor Cody.

* * *

Since my mother passed on April 11, I have been touched by the condolences expressed by friends, colleagues and particularly readers who know me only through this column. While I have tried to respond to each individually, I want to express my overall gratitude on this day.

I also want to say, as one reader so eloquently wrote, that my mother lives on in me. Actually, it's my daughter, Madelyn, who has her spirit.

In March 2001, my mother sent me a housewarming gift, a ceramic wall clock with teddy bears in place of the numbers. She said if my sons didn't like it, we could put it in the baby's room. My wife and I laughed because at the time, we knew of no baby.

Madelyn was born Oct. 19.

Thanks mom, and that's all I'm saying.

-- Ernest Hooper can be reached at (813) 226-3406 or Hooper@sptimes.com.

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