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A lively party behind the scenes, too


© St. Petersburg Times, published May 25, 2001

Washington's Capitol Hill Club was rocking with Greek food, music and dancing May 16 when U.S. Rep. Mike Bilirakis (R-Tarpon Springs) and his wife, Evelyn, gave their annual party for family, friends and constituents.

Some 300 dropped by for the bash, which was scheduled for two hours but lasted a couple of hours longer once dancing began.

"Even those of Greek heritage who usually avoid participating got into the act," says Kally Harvard, who worked on the party for the twelfth straight year. She flew to Washington the Monday before the Wednesday party to help sister Evelyn. Evelyn, Harvard, their aunt Kally Lulias of Tarpon Springs and Evelyn's longtime friends Tina Wells of DeFuniak Springs and Patsy Woodruffe of Tampa worked for three days in one of the club's kitchens preparing authentic Greek dishes.

The day before the party, Harvard stuffed 2,000 grape leaves before getting a plane back to Tampa. That night, she received the Virginia Lazzara Award for community service from the Junior League of St. Petersburg. The next morning, she took the first plane back to D.C. to resume her kitchen duties.

Her seatmate on the flight back was cousin John Lulias of Tarpon. John, who participates in the Greek dance group Lavendia, flew to Washington to get the dancing going.

Kally Lulias' other son, Archbishop Nikitas Lulias, flew in from Hong Kong. Nikitas is the archbishop of Southeast Asia for the Greek Orthodox Church. Early in Bilirakis' congressional career, his nephew Nikitas served as one of his aides.

Also enjoying the homemade tyropitas and spanakopitas were Greek Ambassador Alexander Philon and Cypriot Ambassador Erato Kozakou-Macoullis.

Will they host party 13? Bilirakis has until next spring to decide if he'll seek re-election.

More to the 'Squalus' story

Last Sunday's NBC movie Submerged, which featured the heroics of Charles B. "Swede" Momsen, had great Tampa Bay area ties. In real life, Momsen, the main character in the movie, was married to the former Anne Irvine of St. Petersburg. After an illustrious naval career, Vice Adm. Momsen and his wife moved to St. Petersburg, where they lived the rest of their lives. Both are deceased.

Momsen gained international fame after he developed a diving bell, a large, hollow, bell-shaped apparatus used for underwater work. His diving bell brought 33 men to the surface from the sunken submarine Squalus in May 1939.

His Momsen Lung, a personal breathing device for escaping from sunken subs, became the aqualung used by Navy divers. In World War II, he commanded the U.S. Navy's first submarine wolfpack. After the war he led a joint task force in the Pacific nuclear bomb tests.

While the movie showed Momsen as the first Navy man to reach the disabled sub, it was actually another Navy diver who made the the first contact. John "Mike" Mihalowski, who also retired to the Tampa Bay area, had the honor, along with another Navy diver, Bill Badders. Mihalowski and Badders spent 16 hours making elevator-like trips to the bottom. Alternately, one of them would serve as the controller of the bell and the other one would descend into the bell for the actual transfer of the trapped men from their submarine.

Mihalowski and Badders received Medals of Honor for their bravery. After retiring from the Navy, Mihalowski made his home in Largo. He died in 1993.

'16 Magazine' is sweet on a Bush

First Florida family's first son George P. Bush has potential voter appeal. The editors of 16 Magazine have included the younger Bush as a pin-up in its new summer issue. The magazine, by the way, targets women who are not quite old enough to vote.

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