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Romance, sweat -- and how Charlie Crist got that tan

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By ERNEST HOOPER

© St. Petersburg Times,
published June 8, 2001


President George W. Bush gave more than a helping hand to Habitat for Humanity when he was in town. He took his hat off to the organization.

Bush wore a baseball cap while hammering nails, and then signed it and gave to the organization so they could auction it off.

"Get a bundle for it, and then ask for more," Bush told Lew Frazar, executive director of Hillsborough County Habitat for Humanity.

Frazar said he's going to get a certificate of authenticity for the cap, which has some of the president's sweat on it, and then auction it at a fundraiser.

No, he won't be putting the hat on eBay.

* * *

Oscar Smith has been working in the arduous STEPS program for 3 1/2 years now, but it is paying off.

The STEPS program -- a partnership between the city parks department and Mayor Dick Greco's Beautification Program -- provides part-time summer jobs to low-income students. The emphasis is on beautification: Most of the kids have to endure the Florida heat for eight weeks.

Smith, now in his first year at Hillsborough Community College, has endured, and, along with Gaither High's Jerod Horton, received a $1,500 scholarship Thursday at the Ice Palace.

The program stresses teamwork, a fact not lost on Smith. He used his moment in the spotlight to lobby for a pay raise for his fellow STEPS workers. They are now paid $6.25 an hour. "I wish they could push the pay up just a little bit," said Smith, who has worked his way into a STEPS job with the firm of Wilkes & McHugh. "I'm doing okay, but they need a little more."

* * *

It wasn't just the food that made President Bush's dinner at Bern's special Monday night. The private room the president ate in was recently refinished by interior designer Keith Bucklew. He used solid mahogany to give it an "old-world" feel.

Redesigning the room is just one more chapter in Bucklew's meticulous redecoration of the restaurant.

"Bern's is a romantic type of place," Bucklew said. "I don't want to lose the essence of that."

Bucklew does most of his work in the summer, when business is slower at Bern's. The bar has been redone and changes also have been made to the dessert room.

The redesign started a couple of years ago. Asked how long it will take to finish, Bucklew quipped, "the rest of my life."

* * *

When John Fitzgerald retired as an art professor in New York, he moved to Ibiza, and found inspiration for his tropical paintings in the Spanish island's cliff-lined beaches.

When he decided to return to the United States, Fitzgerald sought an equally inspirational place and chose -- drumroll please -- Tampa Bay.

While we may not have cliffs at the beach, Fitzgerald said he has found another phenomenon that's just as artistically inspiring.

"I really started watching the darkness and lightness of the weather," said Fitzgerald, an adjunct professor at HCC's Ybor campus. "The change in weather is a big factor ... and we have some of the most dramatic clouds anywhere in the world."

You can see Fitzgerald's work in an exhibit opening Saturday at 5 p.m. at the Paccine Art Gallery, 3910 S MacDill Ave.

* * *

Education Commissioner Charlie Crist told the students at the STEPS event how much he gained from a summer construction job he worked as a teenager. Mayor Greco, who followed Crist at the podium, wisecracked that that was the summer "you discovered how great you look with that tan you always have."

-- Ernest Hooper can be reached at (813) 226-3406 or hooper@sptimes.com. His column appears on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday.

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