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100 years in a 'nice city' celebrated

Centenarians help St. Petersburg kick off a year of events to mark its 100th year of incorporation.

By CANDACE RONDEAUX, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 1, 2003

ST. PETERSBURG -- Doris Doren's long fingers fluttered in the air as she tapped out a sonata on an imaginary piano.

"I can't play any more," she said, stopping to pull at knuckles stiffened with age.

The former concert pianist's eyes crinkled with a smile as she remembered the musical Morse code of her younger days. Life is beautiful, especially if you're 107 years old and your song is still playing.

Doren was one of several seniors who were honored at a ceremony Friday to celebrate St. Petersburg's citizen centenarians at the Museum of Fine Arts. She is also one of nearly 2,800 people older than 90 living in the city, according to the 2000 census.

Sponsored by the museum and the North Shore Living Community, the ceremony was part of a series of roughly 150 events planned to celebrate St. Petersburg's incorporation 100 years ago. The yearlong celebration coincides with the 300th anniversary of Russian Czar Peter the Great's founding of St. Petersburg, Russia.

Mayor Rick Baker was on hand to congratulate the centenarians and award them certificates and miniature keys to the city.

"You've seen two world wars," Baker said to the hundred-year-plus honorees. "You've seen electricity become common in every home. You've seen air flight, space travel. What marvelous things you've seen in your lifetimes."

Marvelous and beautiful was the way Dr. R. Hilton Pemble remembered it Friday. Pemble was still wearing knickers when his family moved to St. Petersburg from upstate New York in 1917, but he recalled the city's infancy with ease after accepting his certificate.

"It was a nice city then," Pemble said, "and it's a nice city now."

The 99-year-old retired optometrist will turn 100 in two weeks but was ready to party as he watched the St. Petersburg Folk Ensemble perform foot-stomping Russian folk dances in the museum's auditorium. Asked if he ever dreamed he'd live to be 100 years old, Pemble shook his head, laughed and exclaimed, "Oh, no!"

But his three children, nine grandchildren and 22 great-grandchildren have no doubt he'll live to see many more years come and go.

"He's one of the most positive people in the world," said his daughter, Roberta Pollein, 70. "His glass is always half full."

-- Times staff writers Alicia Caldwell and Connie Humburg contributed to this report.

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