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Heavenly hostesses smiling with Santa

© St. Petersburg Times,
published December 9, 2001

The Boley Angels left their wings at home Tuesday, probably so as not to drag them through the platters of scrambled eggs served at the annual holiday brunch. Instead, many members dressed for the season in reds and greens.

The Boley Angels support Boley Centers, a network of 26 facilities that provide housing and services to the mentally ill in Pinellas County. Sandra Hultgren was chairman of the event, helped by her sister Brenda Battaglia and her mother, longtime Boley volunteer Ginny Battaglia. And, of course, by Mary Koenig, who founded Boley more than 30 years ago and remains active with the organization.

Christmas tunes emanated from the piano under the hands of Jerry Demark and Santa sat in a wing chair waiting for business. I sidled over and he said, "Whatever you wish for, think big. You won't get it anyway."

"That is not a very Santa-ish attitude," I replied.

"Come and sit on my knee and we'll talk about it," he said.

I learned his name is Stephen Rzysko. He was there at the invitation of his friend Connie Whitehead, and he really does resemble Santa with his flowing beard and bright blue eyes. And the point was to have our photos taken with him for $5 -- which went to Boley -- a fundraising ploy that appealed to the women attending but not the several guys who were there, notably Boley chief executive officer Gary MacMath, Boley director of housing Jack Humburg and board president Rutland Bussey, who all declined the chance to sit on Santa's knee.

In the crowd were Boley Angels president Sally Poynter, Margie Decker, Laura Jenkins, Anne Gooden, Patsy Wheeler, Phyllis Williams, Vera Brantley, Ann Bridge, Tinker McKee, Barbara Walter, Helen Rudolph, Jeanne Weber, Janet Pardee, Lou Vanderbleek, Aila McEwen, Gerry Nickels, Ruth Gray, Sharon Clayton, Diane Winning, Mary Cross, Helen DeWalt, Lea Newman, Pat LaMonde and Bernice McCune.

As she does every year, Ginny Battaglia made reindeer party favors of from corks, this year crowned with little American flags. Since each critter requires seven corks and she made more than 100, she relied on a lot of friends and wine lovers to supply them.

Both in spirit of the holidays and of collegiality, Gulf Coast Museum of Art Director Ken Rollins hosted a party Dec. 1 at his Belleair condominium for fellow art museum directors.

The gathering included Marshall Rousseau of the Salvador Dali Museum, who retires in July; his successor, Hank Hine, formerly of Graphic Studio in Tampa; John Schloder, director of the Museum of Fine Arts, and its director emeritus, Michael Milkovich; John Wetenhall, director of the John and Mable Ringling Museum in Sarasota; Margaret Miller, director of the Contemporary Art Museum of University of South Florida, Tampa; Emily Kass, director of the Tampa Museum of Art, and the retired Tampa Museum director Andy Maas.

A schedule conflict prevented my attending, but I hope it becomes an annual event -- although amateurs like me should be required to take a few art history courses beforehand to keep up with this group.

Since 1965, the Beach Branch of All Children's Hospital Guild has honored an outstanding volunteer at a holiday luncheon, naming her Mrs. Santa for the philanthropic gifts she has contributed to children's well-being through out the year.

Congratulations to Charmeine Smith, this year's Mrs. Santa, who has served as president of the guild, chaired numerous committees, helped with the hospital's annual telethon and continues to deliver pizzas to Ronald MacDonald House every month.

Both sections of the ballroom at the St. Petersburg Yacht Club were needed to accommodate the capacity crowd. I stopped to visit at one table that looked especially jolly and met Della Dee; Sue Oldenberger; Dorothy Wright, wearing a gold and South Seas pearl necklace she bought on a diving trip with her grandson; Virginia Lizette and Yvonne Ciesnier, who have "winter" homes in Largo and then leave the summer heat for cooler climes (lucky them); Mary Heagey; Andree Slack; Grace Jankowski and Kay Smith.

Wanda Wall and Evie Felsen are longtime members of the St. Petersburg Branch of the Guild, "but we come to support the Beach Branch every year," said Mrs. Wall. Sandra Moss brought her mom, Kay Moss, who was Mrs. Santa in 1987.

Asa Myers is both president of the Beach Branch and luncheon co-chairman, along with Maggie Eynatten. They had a hard-working committee -- many of them former Mrs. Santas themselves -- of Barbara Clair, Connie Davis, Juanita Kolka, Jean Wendel and Ginger Wittell, the person in charge of the Santa Bags, a novel "opportunity." (Remember, we are not allowed to use the word "raffle" for fear of a police raid.) Anyway, every member contributed four identical items, wrapped, which were divided among four big bags. Four people won them and took home about 50 presents each, which means that for about $5, some lucky women will have all their Christmas shopping and wrapping taken care of. And I, alas, was not one of them.

Again, let me stress that you who send e-mails need to be specific about the contents. I delete without opening any that are not so identified. Also, please avoid attachments if possible. Our system here at the St. Petersburg Times does not allow us to open most of them, a caution against viruses.



HOLIDAY OPEN HOUSE: The Museum of Fine Arts hosts an afternoon of family activities, docent tours and refreshments for members and the public. 1-4 p.m. 255 Beach Drive NE. Free.


BALLET SOCIETY HOLIDAY AUCTION: Mattison's, a new downtown restaurant, provides hors d'oeuvres and Bananas Foster at the Museum of Fine Arts to benefit the Ballet Society. Proceeds from a silent auction will be used for dance scholarships. With entertainment and docent tours. 7:30-9:30 p.m. 255 Beach Drive NE. Advance, $20, at the door, $25. 827-3828.

Dec. 31

GALAXY GALA 2001: Supporters of the Florida Orchestra ring in the New Year at the annual black-tie bash featuring a concert and dancing to music by the orchestra. 7:30 p.m. Renaissance Vinoy Resort. $350. (813) 286-1170, ext. 273.

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