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Shuttle Disaster

Tributes prepared for 7 lost

Across the bay area, services and memorials are planned to honor Columbia's crew.

By BABITA PERSAUD and KEVIN GRAHAM

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 4, 2003


TAMPA -- The note, tucked in a peach rose, said, "God Bless, especially for you David, Mike, Rick, William, Laurel, Ilan and Kalpana."

Another, on a wreath of fragrant lilies and white carnations: "Our deepest sympathies to our astronaut heroes. Love, Linda and Dick Greco."

Across the Tampa Bay area Monday, people searched for a way to pay their respects to the space shuttle Columbia astronauts.

In downtown Tampa, Mayor Greco and police Chief Bennie Holder set up a makeshift memorial, erecting two wreaths in front of the most appropriate place they could find: the Tampa Police Memorial at Tampa Police Station, 411 Franklin St.

Made of black granite and created by artist J.J. Watts in 1995, the towering silhouette of a police officer honors those who have died in the line of duty. In a way, said Greco, "so did the astronauts."

One wreath put up Monday bore the note signed by Greco and his wife, the other from the city of Tampa. The mayor invited the public to bring cards and flowers to the memorial through Feb. 7.

"We want to do something," Greco said. "It has been such a happy time here in Tampa for the last two weeks, but the city needs a place now to pay their respects."

Bill Sefekar, 50, a planner with the county's growth management department, was one of many who stopped by the memorial Monday.

A member of a St. Petersburg astronomy club and a longtime admirer of the space program, he wore a black tie adorned with orange flying comets in memory of the fallen astronauts.

"We need to have an outlet," he said. "We need to show our support for the families and our country."

Across town, the feeling was mutual.

At the Museum of Science and Industry, where youngsters learn about the stars by peering into telescopes, plans for a permanent memorial to Columbia were started Monday, said Beverly Littlejohn, museum spokeswoman.

Several area funeral homes felt the need to have a place for the community. At Moss-Feaster, Osgood-Cloud and Serenity Gardens -- located in Pinellas Park, Clearwater, Dunedin, Largo and Palm Harbor -- people can sign register books that will be forwarded to NASA. A memorial service has been scheduled for Serenity Gardens Memorial Park, 13401 Indian Rocks Road in Largo, for 8 a.m. Saturday. People are invited to bring cards and memorabilia to be put into a time capsule at the end of the service.

At the ornate Hindu Temple of Florida on Lynn Road in Carrollwood, both the American flag and the orange, green and white Indian flag flew at half staff -- not only for Kalpana Chawla, the first Indian-born astronaut in space, but for the entire crew, said Dr. G.M. Ramappa, president of the temple.

The temple is planning a special prayer for this weekend, either Saturday or Sunday, at 4 p.m., said Ramappa. At Sunday's regular service, the Hindu priest offered a prayer: "We pray that the astronauts find peace and their families have the courage to bear this solemn time."

In Citrus County, at the Beverly Hills Jewish center, a service was in the works for Friday at 7:30 p.m. "We feel very strongly about this tragedy," said Sandy Flatow, president of the center. "One of the astronauts was an Israeli. That poor country. This was supposed to be such an uplifting experience for them." The community is invited to attend.

At the Weinberg Village assisted living facilities in Citrus Park, 30 residents stood before the American flag and the Israeli flag Monday. Each flag was tied with a black ribbon, a symbol that two countries are mourning together.

They recited the kaddish, a ritual prayer of the dead for Jews. And they lit seven candles, one for each astronaut. While all the astronauts were remembered, the service was intended to especially honor Columbia crew member Ilan Ramon, who was born in Tel Aviv.

"I feel like I lost a member of my family," said Ida Baumgarten, 81, who had visited Kennedy Space Center and had seen Columbia stationed there.

"I cried plenty, believe me, for all seven," said Adele Zagelbaum, 77. "To die like that is not an easy thing."

-- Times staff writer Bonnie Willette contributed to this report.

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