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Homes, sweet homes, decked out for a cause

© St. Petersburg Times
published December 4, 2002

The convergence of Thanksgiving and Hanukkah made for a relatively quiet weekend on the town, with families and friends celebrating together. The undaunted later headed out for retail therapy, and the rest of us yielded to other indulgences.

By midmorning Monday, participants in the "Create Your Own Gingerbread House" event for the Tampa Bay Chapter of the American Red Cross were bedecked in Christmas sweaters and armed with pastry bags in the Grand Ballroom at the Don CeSar Beach Resort & Spa in St. Pete Beach.

Davis Henderson and Nicole Pakson of the Red Cross greeted me as I arrived on the creative scene; never have I witnessed such an array of trimmings, from licorice and LifeSavers to gum drops and frosted shredded wheat to Pez, Peeps and plantain chips.

Everybody starts on even footing, supplied with plastic aprons, chef's toques, gingerbread structures and basic candies, plus enormous bowls of icing.

"These are all my best friends, and we start the holiday this way," said Susan Taylor, who applied brightly colored vanilla wafers to her house. "This is the Ya-Ya table." Her companions included Helen DeWalt and Pam Gentry.

Bill Freda and Gary Tocklin, the only men in competition, "should get the prize for bravery," Freda said, though they smiled as they decorated confection houses alongside their wives, Eileen Freda and Adrian Tocklin.

The Don's executive chef, Eric Neri, counseled some contestants, and disc jockey Rob Vollmar kept the tunes jumping as participants piled sugarplums onto their projects.

In the spirited crowd were Christi Mills, Jennifer Briggs, Jane Saylor, Barbara Kyes, Cheryl LaMar, Jan Boxer, Donna Painter, Fran Risser, Suzanne MacDougald, Susan Wehrmann, Robin Donina Serne, Sue Knipe, Tiffany Babb, Kristen Perry, Stephanie Dyer, Christina Palmer, Janet Allweiss, Shannon Arnao, Pat Doyle, Edie Spies, Barbara Zaccaria and Mary Wyatt Allen.

If adding ornamention to the houses was difficult, so was judging. Jennifer Holloway, Joyce LaFray, Margaret Word Burnside and I roamed the room and made these choices, although all were winners: Most Original, Sarah McAdoo; Most Festive, Diane Winning; Sweetest House, Laine Walker; and Most Traditional, Anne Shelaski. Defending champion Mary James won Judges' Choice; Brooke Bowman, People's Choice.

Best in Show went to the Hawaiian village constructed by table mates Alice Rimel (who also won Most Fun, a new prize category dedicated to the late Susan Pomerantz), Michelle Rimel, Scottie Diebold, Emalou Dublo, Silvia Hoyt, Blythe Agee, Twila Davis and Kathrine Franckle. It had a chocolate volcano, shell-shaped candies for the beaches and a Red Cross station ("in case the volcano erupted," Mrs. Davis said).

Mary Critchfield and Karol Bullard co-chaired the event, and Yolanda Fernandez emceed.

* * *

As Shorecrest Preparatory School celebrated the dedication of its new arts and media center the weekend before Thanksgiving, the staff and faculty said farewell to a beloved colleague on Nov. 22.

Ashley and Pete Gairing and head of school Mary Harden Booker gave a party for Helen Reuther, who is moving to Williamsburg, Va., to be near her daughter, Linda Osbourne.

For nearly three decades, Mrs. Reuther has worked in various capacities at the school, from teaching typing to working in the business office. She ceased accepting a salary some time ago but continued to volunteer.

Another of her children is Hollywood producer Steven Reuther, who was in his native St. Petersburg to participate in the dedication of the Raymund Arts and Media Center and the Janet Root Theatre at Shorecrest. He brought his daughter, Danielle, along for the weekend.

Mrs. Gairing put together a computer presentation of Mrs. Reuther's life that included her baby pictures and photographs of her with celebrities such as John Travolta, Michael Douglas and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Candlelight and cream-colored roses were used throughout the Gairings' home.

Guests included Janet and Allen Root, Robin Donina Serne, Mary and Jeff Pratt, Mike Pruitt, Lillian Nelson, Gary and Jean Carnes, Brad Moore, Suzanne Wells, Joan and Mike Swanson, Betsy and Doug Gardner and Bruce Haskell.

Looking ahead


DOWNTOWN ST. PETERSBURG MAAS BROTHERS RETIREES LUNCHEON: Noon, Regatta Room, St. Petersburg Yacht Club, 11 Central Ave. $14 (includes ticket to Maas Brothers exhibition, Florida International Museum, St. Petersburg). 527-9464.


A MASQUE FOR AIDS: Masquerade theme benefits AIDS Care Today. Cocktails, dinner, dancing, entertainment, silent auction. Hilton St. Petersburg, 333 First St. S. $90. 586-4432.


PI BETA PHI ALUMNAE CHRISTMAS LUNCHEON: Noon. O'Bistro, 6661 Central Ave., St. Petersburg. Order from menu. 327-6133; 347-8721.


HOLIDAY TASTE, TOUR: Tampa Bay Bed & Breakfast Association event benefits Academy Prep Center for Education, Robert Ray Defibrillator Fund. Tour eight B&Bs, sample food from eight bay area restaurants. Other features: harpist at Bayboro House; Scott Taylor Hartzell book signing at Dickens House. 4-8 p.m. $10 in advance; $12 at door. 822-8622.

HOLIDAY OPEN HOUSE: Seasonal decorations, docent tours, holiday crafts, music, stories, refreshments. 1-4 p.m. Museum of Fine Arts, 255 Beach Drive NE, St. Petersburg. Free. 896-2667.

LOVE LIGHTS A TREE: Sword of Hope, American Cancer Society ceremony honors cancer patients, survivors. Hors d'oeuvres, entertainment, silent auction. 5-8 p.m. Hilton St. Petersburg, 333 First St. S. 360-1032; 526-4849.

CHRISTMAS WITH KEVIN HARRINGTON: Museum of History Guild benefit at former residence of Gary Sheffield. 7-9 p.m. $75. 894-9394.

COLORS OF OUR MOTHERLAND: A KWANZAA GALA: Pinellas County Chapter of Jack and Jill of America Inc. event benefits Sickle Cell Anemia Foundation, HIV/AIDS, CASA, community scholarships, Jack and Jill Foundation. 5:30 p.m. TradeWinds Island Grand Beach Resort & Conference Center, 5600 Gulf Blvd., St. Pete Beach. African-American attire representing west, south, north and east Africa. $45. 367-6461.

-- Mary Jane Park can be reached at (727) 893-8267; fax (727) 893-8675; e-mail; or P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731.

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