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Friends, family honor Betty Sembler at 70

By LENNIE BENNETT

© St. Petersburg Times,
published September 9, 2001


Hard to believe that Betty Sembler turned 70 recently. The indefatigable wife, mother, activist and philanthropist soon will add another title to her string of accomplishments: chatelaine of the American Embassy in Rome, once the Senate confirmation comes through for husband Mel Sembler's appointment as ambassador to Italy.

Her daughters-in-law, Liz, Debbie and Diane Sembler, invited several hundred friends to a birthday luncheon for Mrs. Sembler, commandeering Gratzzi, the Italian restaurant at BayWalk, for the occasion.

Iris Salzer and Hazel Hough walked from their downtown condominiums; Mrs. Hough is just back from a summer in Aspen, Colo., with husband Bill. Lawyers Pam Campbell and Evelyn Kuttler sat with Judge Irene Sullivan, who could only stay through the salad. Joyce Baker's husband, Rick Baker (the mayor of St. Petersburg, by the way), was dining at another BayWalk restaurant and stopped by to wish Mrs. Sembler a happy birthday.

Sembler gave a lovely tribute to his wife, recalling their first meeting on the campus of Northwestern University when she was 19, followed by one from longtime friends of the Semblers, sisters Marilyn Benjamin and Sonya Miller.

Also in the crowd were Jane Silverberg, Ramona Updegraff, Evelyn Bilirakis, Judy Davis, Ellen Merkow, Janet Root, Elaine Hearn and Margo Fischer.

A nice touch: Instead of gifts, guests made donations to the Drug Free America Foundation, which the Semblers founded, one of many worthy causes they have supported through the years.

That Betty Sembler has so many true friends and a loving family is no surprise. Among all the people I meet, she has always been special to me. Her warmth, kindness and total lack of pretention shine through. I wish her many more happy birthdays.

* * *

News from the committee planning Pavilion, the uber-gala in Tampa on Nov. 3 to benefit the Tampa Museum of Art: Ladies' Spa Day, a sort of gala warmup (gotta get those pores steamed open), will be held at Marcelina on Oct. 20, says Mary Perry.

Marcelina is a new private club for women expected to open in October, the newest venture by businesswoman Maureen Rorech Dunkel, who gained fame by amassing a collection of dresses worn by the late Princess Diana. She used the dresses to raise thousands of dollars for charity.

Mrs. Perry said she expects the event to sell out quickly, like Pavilion itself, which she said will probably top out at 600 patrons. The lucky few who attend Ladies' Spa Day will be treated to the expected range of services -- massages, manicures, hair stuff -- and more this year. Marcelina will stock Valentino's couture line, so you can pick up your ball gown at the same time. For information, call (813) 286-8659.

* * *

The annual Affaires d'Art pamphlets are out, with a menu of fun parties, hosted mostly by Stuart Society members, to benefit the Museum of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg. They include cooking classes with local chefs, card parties, and miscellany such as a luncheon entitled Figure Faux Pas and Fixes, Proportion in Dressing. For information, call 866-0202.

* * *

Two dates to add to the On the Town Calendar are the gala benefiting St. Anthony's Health Care on April 27 and the Heart Ball on Feb. 16, a fundraiser for the American Heart Association.

The committee for the Heart Ball met Thursday for its marching orders, and tall ones they are. The group's goal is to raise $200,000 at the party. The Heart Association has its own ambitious goal, to reduce heart disease and strokes by 25 percent by 2010. The ball's goal, at least, seems doable. The steering committee includes well-connected community folks such as Bill Heller and Sue Brody, who are co-chairmen and know how to fill tables.

Still, said Heller, "It's going to be a little uphill this year. When the economy is down, the sponsorships drop. But we'll get there; it's a good cause."

The venue is Hangar One at St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport so, of course, the theme is aeronautical. Dress code is black tie optional and tickets begin at $200. More on both parties later.

Looking ahead

Today

AN AFTERNOON OF JAZZ AND ART: Members of the St. Petersburg affiliate of LINKS, the prestigious national organization of black women, host a fundraiser at Sunken Gardens to benefit local Boy Scout troops. Several groups will perform, authors will sign books, and there will be art and photography displays. With refreshments. 5-9 p.m. 1825 Fourth St. N. $25.

Saturday

CHILDREN'S DREAM FUND 20TH BIRTHDAY PARTY: A big cake with candles at International Plaza marks the occasion and launches a new name for the organization, formerly the Suncoast Children's Dream Fund, that arranges "dreams" for seriously ill children. Among the activities is a build-a-bear workshop to benefit the fund. Cake will be cut at noon. 2223 N Westshore Blvd., Tampa. 892-6737.

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