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Welcome Club good fit for local social scene

By LENNIE BENNETT

© St. Petersburg Times,
published October 28, 2001


Given our concern about the world these days and our suspicions about other people and cultures that sometimes spills over into paranoia, the Welcome Club is a welcome addition to the local social scene.

Padmini Durr, its organizer, greeted about 40 women at the inaugural meeting Thursday at the Museum of Fine Arts.

"The club," she said, "is about friendship through understanding and understanding through friendship. Women from different cultures have so much in common."

The first Welcome Club was started in 1959 in Washington, D.C., by Mary Adair, the wife of a diplomat, as a way for women from different countries to get to know each other. Today there are 21 clubs with 4,500 members in the United States and other countries that include Turkey, Israel, England, Switzerland and Germany.

Mrs. Durr, originally from India, was active in a Welcome Club in Colorado, and when her husband affiliated with the University of South Florida and they moved to St. Petersburg, she decided to start one here.

Esrat Demougeot, chairwoman of the national organization based in Washington, D.C., and board member and Washington, D.C., resident Fran Luessenhop, both friends of Mrs. Durr, came for the meeting.

"Typically," said Mrs. Demougeot, "50 percent of the members in a club are local women and 50 percent are from other countries. That's the mix we strive for."

Among the new and prospective members of the Tampa Bay Welcome Club were Arnaz Marker, wife of the former Pakistan ambassador to the United Nations; Dr. Susan Betzer; Sheila Morgan, executive with a large construction company ("I mostly work with men, so I'm looking forward to friendships with women" she said); Celia Vause; Elaine Gustafson; Marcia Horowitz; Zoe Boutros, whose family is Greek but who grew up in Egypt and who now lives in Tierra Verde; Guna Carr; Pat Baldwin; Marylou Pahigian; Tehmi Dastoor; Jennifer Hardin; and Maritza Fernandez, originally from Chile, who was a member of the Welcome Club in Kansas City, Mo.

Their next step is to identify special interests of the members and form clubs within the club. They are considering books, cooking, art appreciation, golf, gardening and bridge.

"But we are not about fundraisers and we should not get involved in politics or religion," Mrs. Durr said to the group. "Food is something that we can all enjoy, so please help yourselves to our refreshments."

We needed no further encouragement, so with that, we gathered around a table loaded with tea sandwiches. Breaking bread, or just munching on it together, is a good way to begin a friendship.

The next meeting of the Tampa Bay Welcome Club will be on Nov. 15 at the Garden Restaurant, 217 Central Ave., at noon. Lunch is $15. For information and reservations, call 397-9706 or 360-1149.

* * *

I had a conflict and could not attend Infinity's Furs Bangles and Beads on Oct. 20, a fundraiser for Brookwood, Center Against Spouse Abuse and Help A Child Foundation. So I stopped by the St. Petersburg Yacht Club that afternoon to visit with committee members setting up for the party.

These parties are volunteer-intensive and a lot of work, so chairwoman Joann Barger fortified the group with club sandwiches delivered to the ballroom by a waiter. Auction co-chairs Beth McDonald and Mary Shuh and committee members Dot McCarthy and Paula Park spent hours arranging the long tables loaded with auction items. Cindy Weatherby arrived with several dozen orchid plants she potted in hand-painted containers that she and Connie Whitehead arranged as table centerpieces.

"The party was beautiful," said Infinity president Jeanne Tucker, who said about 100 patrons attended. "Joann and her committee worked all summer long. We, of course, wished we'd had another hundred people there, but in this climate we were pleased."

No totals in yet for that party.

But Kanika Tomalin of the Bayfront Health Foundation reports that Bay Bash earlier in the month raised more than $88,000 for the hospital, which is good news. She also said that a date has been set for next year's Bay Bash, Oct. 4, again at the Renaissance Vinoy Resort.

* * *

The first fashion show by Nordstrom since coming to the area was a benefit for the Tampa Guild of the Florida Orchestra, and it drew orchestra supporters from St. Petersburg as well as Tampa. It was a well-done show that included plus-size models, who drew rounds of applause from the audience.

The meal, catered by Outback, was another nice surprise, not the steak and potatoes usually associated with Outback but a ladies' lunch of oriental chicken salad and chocolate mousse.

In the St. Petersburg group were orchestra trustees Vicki Fox, Louise Weaver and Suzanne MacDougald; Fran Risser; Lynn Cox; Kally Harvard; Glenn Mosby; Lucille Wagner; Chris Eastman; Pat Howells, Nellie Bonatati; Sue Mellini; Toni Quinty; Donna Tyler, Donna Nannen and Susan Hicks.

And a really welcome detail in the program was the inclusion of prices for all the clothes modeled. It's a lot of work, but probably a smart thing to do. Many people assume that only expensive clothes are shown on a runway; the price list belied that. Yes, there were pricey St. John knits, but there also were affordable separates. The gesture probably brought a lot more shoppers to the store afterward.

LOOKING AHEAD

Nov. 2

ALPHA FASHION SHOW AND LUNCHEON: The show is by Saks Fifth Avenue and benefits ALPHA, which provides housing and support services to homeless pregnant women and teens and new mothers with infants. Silent auction opens at 10:30 a.m. St. Petersburg Yacht Club, 11 Central Ave. $30. 822-8190.

* * *

Nov. 3

THE MASKED BALL: A black-tie fundraiser for Academy Prep, a privately funded school for disadvantaged boys and girls, at the TradeWinds Island Resort, 5500 Gulf Blvd., St. Pete Beach. Wear your own mask or purchase one made by students. 6:30 p.m. $150. 322-0800, ext. 2104.

* * *

Nov. 4

GOLDEN BATON BRUNCH: The Florida Orchestra Guild of St. Petersburg honors Celma Mastry, a generous donor and volunteer. 11:30 a.m. St. Petersburg Yacht Club. $35. 866-0925.

* * *

Nov. 7

AUTUMN RHAPSODY: Luncheon hosted by the Stuart Society of the Museum of Fine Arts at St. Petersburg Yacht Club with fashions by Coplon's. 11:30 a.m. $40. 894-8484.

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