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Wife won't soon forget this little birthday present

By LENNIE BENNETT

© St. Petersburg Times, published August 23, 2000


Birthdays are something many don't relish, but if one is to be celebrated, Alexander Astrack has the right idea about methodology.

For his wife Cynthia's 50th birthday, Astrack planned a surprise party at the Sunset Ballroom and invited more than 100 friends, including about 25 out-of-towners, whom he put up at the Renaissance Vinoy Resort for the weekend.

Friends arrived early and mingled in the Polywog Room while florist Tom Russo put finishing touches on the ballroom, set up for dinner with tables laden with roses and lilies.

In the crowd were Jim and Greta Myers; Dr. Bill and Jackie Brown; John Bowman and Fay Baynard; Bill Zewadski; Carol Phelps; Sandy Dolin; Stephen and Ada Bussey; Mrs. Astrack's mother, Nelva Ciasulli, and aunt, Jean Sepe; Mr. Astrack's daughter and son-in-law, Bill and Kathie Longo; and Aaron Paul, curator of Greek and Roman art at the Tampa Museum of Art.

The Astracks divide their time between a house in Tierra Verde and an apartment in Manhattan, so non-local friends on hand included Erika Borozan, who is known in northern parts as the chairwoman of the Vienna Ball at the Waldorf, which benefits the Bokor Scott Cancer Foundation; Roger and Bara De Cabrol (she is the daughter of chanteuse Petula Clark); and Chris and Tina Buck.

The ruse that her friends Dr. Richard and Mary Perry used to get her to the party was to tell her they were stopping in at a reception for prospective members of the Tampa Museum, (Dr. Perry is a trustee), before going on to dinner.

At 8 p.m. they walked into the ballroom foyer, which was strewn with rose petals and was dark except for dozens of votive candles.

She seemed genuinely surprised when the doors opened, everyone yelled "happy birthday" and pelted her with more rose petals.

Then the group sat down to a dinner of beef filet with mushroom ragout and chocolate torte with raspberries.

The Astracks own Astral Extracts, which supplies essences to perfume companies, so, not surprisingly, bottles of fragrances were given to guests along with an invitation to a brunch the next day at the couple's house.

* * *

Brookwood patrons were treated to an evening of fine wine and dining at a benefit organized by Barbara Frazier and hosted by Robert and Patricia Sheldon at Lewis House on the Eckerd College campus. The Sheldons (he is a retired physicist) are members of ASPEC, the Academy of Senior Professionals, a lively and eclectic group of retirees.

Mrs. Sheldon prepared a menu that included salmon and beef dishes, which Sheldon paired with Beaujolais Villages Georges du Beouf and Cabernet Sauvignon Justin 1997, followed by a dessert of lemon cheesecake with bitter chocolate and candied walnuts that was served with Sherry Lustau Spanish Cream.

I, alas, was not there to enjoy it, but Judy Malone reports that among those who did were her husband, Ross; their friend Carol Howell, who maintains homes here and in Atlanta; Ed and Ginny Oppemheimer; Bill and Mary Ellen Stickley; Roy Brady; Charley and Pat Hill; Cameron Lusty; Dr. George and Nita Beckman; Blanca Brown; Gene and Suzanne Menedez; B.J. Wilson and Frank Valdez; Cleo Robertson; Erl Piscitelli and Gary Walker; and Rodney Gilbert, Dolly Rote, Gloria Llewelynn, Linda Melleney, Jackie O'Brien and Rod Johnson, who arrived together in a stretch limo.

* * *

I am touched that some of you have called, concerned that On the Town has not appeared twice a week for several months. Because things slow down during the summer, the column has appeared sporadically. Mid-September will signal the return to the party circuit and to a regular appearance in Neighborhood Times on Wednesday and Sunday.

Look for the fifth annual On the Town Social Calendar, which lists events from September through May, on Sept. 10.

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