By LENNIE BENNETT
© St. Petersburg Times, published March 11, 2001
It is an impressive sight: a sea of business suits -- more than 500 -- and most of them inhabited by women. The Women's Symposium on Thursday, a St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce annual event, was sold out this year and featured speaker Faye Wattleton, former head of Planned Parenthood and now president of the Center for Gender Equality. Its a far cry from the early days when organizers felt fortunate to get 50 business women attending. That was about 20 years ago, and the growth of the chamber's Women's Council reminds us of the number of women now in the work force and the variety of their expertise.
The perimeter of the Campus Activities Center at University of South Florida-St. Petersburg was rimmed with business booths, and great quantities of business cards changed hands as attendees negotiated their way around the luncheon tables filling the center of the room.
I had a difficult time not bumping into people; on the other hand, my job is to bump into people. Among them were Karino Cano and Lisa Wharton Turner, co-chairs of the event; Tami Simms Powell; Luisa Perez Harvey; Carolyn Wiggins; Lisa Munafo; Kristin Guenthardt; Linda Osmundson, who brought her mother, Dorothy Osmundson, visiting from California "and active in the chamber out there," she said; Beth Knowles; Sharyn Wittner; Linda Melleney; Christine Lippard Weigle; Alexandra Jupin; Marilyn Littlejohn; Mickie Breen; Dagmar De Stefano; Cynthia Sinclair; Helen DeWalt; Darlene Grayson; Beth Houghton; Barbara Anders; and Debi Davis.
"Men would probably have hired someone to do it," said Women's Council chair Suzanne Fisher of the floral centerpieces made by volunteers organized by committee member Terry Cunningham, who also got a group together the previous evening to inflate several hundred balloons. Mrs. Fisher was hard to miss in this seriously suited crowd. She wore a bright floral print jacket and lime green silk skirt by au curant designers Dolce & Gabbana, and why not? "It's part of my job," she said (she manages the Beach Drive women's clothing store Johnston of Florida), "and it's spring." And it was a lovely outfit.
I was introduced to a whole new side of Catherine McGarry, who burst into a rousing version of the Tocaja, Mich., Girl Scout song. (It is one of those songs that is going to stay with me for a long time, I think.) She is now a council member of the four-county Girl Scout organization, but recalled the good old days when she was a troop leader and Margaret Swearingen was one of her Scouts. And they sang that song together. Swearingen now works for McGarry in the Eckerd College development office. They say they don't sing it often. They came with Judy Johnston, executive director of the council who tells me she always has excellent attendance at the council meetings because everyone who comes gets a box of Thin Mints.
Fellow potters Lenne Nicklaus-Ball and Dianne Caton exchanged handshakes and clay dust. Caton created the beautiful raku pots presented to this year's Women of Distinction.
And they are: Kathy Oathout and Martha Lenderman. Oathout was a pivotal part of the Chamber of Commerce for many years. She recently began a new job with the Florida International Museum in operations and long-range planning. Lenderman has a distinguished career in social services, both as a professional and volunteer. Most deserving women.
Next year's event is already scheduled for March 28 at the Renaissance Vinoy Resort where they expect to almost double the attendance.
Night of the Orchid: Preview party for Art in Bloom at the Museum of Fine Arts is a cocktail buffet catered by Michael's on East. Dozens of massive floral arrangements fill the galleries. 6:30 p.m. 255 Beach Dr. NE. $75. Cocktail attire. 896-2667.
Designer Showhouse Preview Party: The 27th annual showhouse sponsored by the St. Petersburg Florida Orchestra Guild opens at the swanky new Vinoy Place. Tours of the three-story city home begin at 6:30 p.m. A cocktail buffet by the Renaissance Vinoy Resort follows, with cash bar and dancing. 585 Fifth Ave. NE. $50. The showhouse is open to the public from March 24 through April 14. Tickets in advance, $8. At the door, $10. 393-1558.
Midtown Kiwanis Casino Night: The fundraiser benefits the service club's projects that include a children's Halloween Festival at The Pier and holiday baskets for the needy. The silent auction includes vacation packages to North Carolina and Montana. Gaming tables, dancing and refreshments. 8 p.m. St. Petersburg Yacht Club, 11 Central Ave. $25.
St. Petersburg Rotary Club Fundraiser: Proceeds benefit the St. Petersburg Family YMCA. The Happy Hour format at Cha Cha Coconuts at The Pier includes light refreshments. 5:30-7:30 p.m. $50, includes a raffle ticket for door prizes and a grand prize of a six-day trip to Sydney, Australia, for two. 580-7893.
Heart of Calcutta, A Mystery Presentation: A mystery theater, dinner and dancing to benefit the Cross of Lorraine, the support group for the American Lung Association's Children's Asthma Camp. 6 p.m. St. Petersburg Yacht Club. $45. 360-8685.
Grand Slam Gala: The Rays of Hope Foundation, the charitable foundation of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, invites you to dinner with players and coaches, followed by dancing. The Baseball Writers Association of America will present player awards. Benefits the St. Petersburg Family YMCA, Children's Home Society and the Education Foundations of Pinellas and Hillsborough Counties. Semi-formal. 7 p.m. Tropicana Field. $175. 825-3470.
A Taste of Paradise: Two dozen local notables, including some professional chefs, cook up favorite dishes for patrons at this fundraiser for Family Resources at the Tierra Verde home of Tom and Jennifer Andrews. An example: my friend Terry Tomalin, outdoors columnist at the St. Petersburg Times, says he will ask fishing pals to donate their catches, which he will stir into a big fish stew. 6-9 p.m. $100. 550-4011.
Tables from Film: Tabletop vignettes designed by decorators, artists and gifted amateurs take children's films as their inspiration. Benefits Great Explorations, the Hands On Museum. With dinner and entertainment. Dressy casual. 6:30 p.m. TradeWinds Island Grand Resort, 5500 Gulf Blvd., St. Pete Beach. $75. 821-8992.