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Sushi and a grand vision

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By AMY SCHERZER, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published June 7, 2002

GREEN FOR GREEN SPACE: Profusion closed for three hours Sunday night, as the elegant International Plaza restaurant was turned over to 100 patrons of "An Evening in Asia" to "remember, reflect and rejoice."

Those three R's sum up the vision for Florida AIDS Memorial Park, a 1-acre green space proposed for the corner of Bayshore Boulevard and Hyde Park Place.

Between sushi, soup and grilled salmon, Earl Garland, president of the Park Foundation, urged everyone to help make the $500,000 park happen.

Gene Copello, the University of South Florida ethics professor who heads up the nonprofit Florida AIDS Action service organization, seconded that emotion.

Arrangements of orchids, Asiatic lilies and birds of paradise looked cool. In fact, they came from Leland Cool and Hector Punto's Nature Shop on Franklin Street. Entertainer Stewart Lippe, in heavy eye makeup, played the koto, an ancient Japanese instrument. He also juggled umbrellas and performed card tricks. Local artists painted 4-inch ceramic tiles for take-home gifts.

Florida AIDS Action board members Robin Kurtzman and Lew Sibert greeted politicians and guests, including Tom Liberti, chief of the AIDS program at the Florida Department of Health; Hillsborough County Commissioner Chris Hart; state Rep. Sandra Murman, R-Tampa; and Barbara Gaynor, of Mothers' Voices in Miami.

The $200-per-ticket fundraiser did not include a raffle or silent auction.

"We didn't want to distract from the serious purpose of the event for the HIV-AIDS community, and we didn't want to be burdensome," said spokeswoman Mary Ann Green. She expects the evening to net more than $25,000.

* * *

LES BONS TEMPS: Mardi Gras is the mother of Gasparilla, as history buffs George and Mary Lib Howell know so well. Tampa's rowdy pirate krewe owes its start and many of its traditions to New Orleans' wildness. So noted, said the Howells, who threw a Mardi Gras party for daughter Courtney, the 89th Gasparilla Queen, on Saturday night.

The University Club became the Vieux Carre, filled with 400 friends and pirates in blacktie. The must-have accessory: A Queen Courtney medallion dangling on pink beads. A Big Easy spread -- shrimp etouffe, escargot, crab cakes, crawfish fritters and pork tenderloin stuffed with andouille sausage -- filled three rooms and the foyer. Beignets, bread pudding, crepes and cigars rolled out into the Court of Two Sisters.

Floral impresario Harrison Giddens' roses and ivy were arranged on wrought iron gates. Black signposts led to the Voodoo Lounge, Howell Park and the Royal House of Blues. Purple, green and gold plumes hung on chandeliers.

What would Gasparilla be without a parade? The Eddie Graham Band of New Port Richey tooted through the crowd, blasting When the Saints Come Marching In. The Amanda Gertulla Trio -- a harpist, cellist and violinist -- played in a flowery gazebo. Nootchie Smith, "the New Orleans Oracle," declared the party "N'awlins authentic" all the way.

U Club veteran bartender Steve Caito appeared in a flurry of feathers behind the Voodoo bar. Another bartender shared the recipe for the Pirates' Special cherry red punch: Myers Rum, Bacardi Light Rum, Capt. Morgan's Rum and Pat O'Brien's Hurricane Mix.

Those Howells! At 1 a.m., they filled up a limo with friends and popped off to Ybor, continuing the party at the Rare Olive until 4 a.m.

* * *

A LADY NEVER TELLS HER AGE. Still, we managed to find out and so did Mayor Dick Greco. He issued a proclamation declaring Louise Lykes Ferguson Day on her 90th birthday last week, in honor of the Tampa matriarch's lifelong community involvement.

"I've had a lot of birthday presents, but never one like that," said the mother of two, grandmother of six and great-grandmother of one.

Happy Birthday to a gracious lady.

* * *

HURRY BACK, MAESTRO: Florida Orchestra resident conductor Thom Wilkins said he didn't get it, but everyone else at last week's "Roast & Toast" sure did. Friends, fans and colleagues (quite often, one and the same) came to say goodbye, Godspeed and hurry back. Wilkins, who moves to Detroit this month to become resident conductor of the Detroit Symphony, seemed stunned at the heartfelt send-off.

Emcee John Wilson of Fox 13 News began with an "adulation and congratulation" video of farewell cameos. Wilkins perched on a stool for the live tributes, a 3-foot stuffed Thom doll on his lap. Board member Paul Hanna, vice president of SunTrust Bank, listed warm Krispy Kreme doughnuts among the Top 10 reasons Wilkins will miss Tampa. Principal percussionist John Shaw played ventriloquist through the Thom doll. The key to the city came from Tampa Mayor Dick Greco, who said hearing the life story of Wilkins -- born out of wedlock, growing up in a Virginia housing project -- helped him appreciate the value of a cultural arts district.

Two of Wilkins' biggest fans, Ray and Nancy Murray, spoke for everyone when they said they respected Wilkens too much to roast him.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK: By the time you read this, the Tampa Bay Youth Orchestra will be off to the Big Apple. They were to fly to New York on Thursday, 63 kids ages 12 to 19. Saturday they will play the Star Spangled Banner at Yankee Stadium, arrangements made by Florida Orchestra patron George Steinbrenner. Monday night, after a weekend of sightseeing, they fulfill the dream of all serious musicians: Playing Carnegie Hall.

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

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