Shoshana Walter

Shoshana Walter loves to write stories.

She has her pick of them at The Ledger in Lakeland, Florida, where she began as a police reporter in Nov. 2007.

In July, she completed a summer reporting fellowship at the Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg, Fla. where she took lessons and meals with some of the best in field, wrote articles for PointsSouth.net, and did her best to avoid sunburns. She was one of 16 young journalists nationwide selected for the program.

Shoshana graduated from Mount Holyoke College in May 2007 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in American Studies and a concentration in ethnic and gender studies. During her first year at Mount Holyoke, she founded a print magazine called Feminist Uproar. She interned for the Daily Hampshire Gazette in Northampton, MA in 2006, where she wrote local news including profiles of some of the Pioneer Valley�s most colorful citizens, as well as community responses to national and international developments, such as the crisis in Lebanon and Israel.

Before she became interested in newspaper journalism, Shoshana worked and wrote for the National Organization for Women of New York City, Shelterforce Magazine of the National Housing Institute, and historical feminist magazine, Off Our Backs in Washington, D.C.


Personal Narrative – Shoshana Walter

Editor’s note: The original version of this article included the name of the artist, his wife and his friend. At the request of the family, their names have been removed.

It was an awkward goodbye.

The dying artist wanted to stay
in the restaurant and talk some more, finish his second glass of sweet
tea, but his wife  knew better. Since he was sick, she knew he would
get tired soon. Better to leave earlier, while he was still talking and
energized, than later. She thanked me for coming and helped her husband
out of his seat – my cue to leave.

Instead I stood there with my
reporter’s notebook in hand, waiting for the scene that would tell me
my story, that would give me the answer to all the questions I had
about the artist and what he was going through as a dying man.

I
watched, silent, while his good friend opened the wheelchair. His wife
steadied him as he hobbled out of his seat. I trailed behind as they
maneuvered him past a row of cramped tables and chairs, down the wooden
steps and finally through the front door and into a bright midday sun.

As I had the entire meal, I wondered why I was there.

His wife turned around and noticed me again.

“Well,
it was very nice to meet you, Shoshana, OK?” She gave me a hug, as if
to pat me on the head, and turned to retrieve her car from the parking
lot.

That left the artist and his friend, by his side. I shook
the friend’s hand and turned to the artist, who held out his arms
expectantly. He was so friendly. He had told me so many stories. He was
dying. I knelt down for an embrace – “See you soon!” he exclaimed – and
then he pecked me on the neck.

He had probably meant to aim his
kiss for my cheek, and in our awkward wheelchair fumbling, he had
missed. Maybe he had meant to do it – to add a touch of intimacy to an
otherwise removed reporter-subject relationship. I had no way of
knowing. I did not know the dying artist. We were not and would never
be friends.

But at that moment, I felt sad.

Even though
he had said “see you soon,” I knew I would never see him again. He was
dying and I had no business being there. I needed to leave.

I
smiled at him, said goodbye once more, and scurried towards the parking
lot. On the way out, I saw his wife lift the wheelchair into the back
seat of their car.

It felt wrong to watch. It felt wrong to
intrude, yet again, on one of their last private moments, even though
they didn’t see me watching them. It felt wrong.

I looked away.

***

I did not know how difficult it would be to write about the artist.

When
I first set off to write the story, I knew that he was dying. I made
sure to approach the subject with a delicate tongue. Death is full of
uncertainty, terror and revelations of mortality. I was sure I knew how
he felt.

In fact, I only knew how I felt.

My first
experience with death was at 13 years old. First my grandmother died of
emphysema and then my grandfather, six months later, of lung cancer and
grief.

The loss hit me hard. I was already a typical 13-year-old
girl – wearing skirts that were much too short, sneaking out of the
house and giving boys lap-dances at parties when the parents weren’t
home. I was trying to understand the world, figure out my place in it.
That was all hard enough.

So I was shocked when my grandmother
died. I learned she died the same night I learned she had been admitted
to a hospital near her winter home in Florida. My father and I had been
in the process of buying plane tickets from our New Jersey home when we
got the call. I sat next to him on a white foldout chair, too old to
sit on his lap, too scared to not watch his face as he grasped the
phone.

My relationship with my grandmother wasn’t something a
teenage girl could appreciate. I hated the knit scarves and hats, the
matching neon puff paint T-shirts she made for my sister and me. But
she had always been there.

Her death was the first time I ever knew death was possible.

When
I spoke at her funeral, it was not so much a eulogy as it was a
revelation of all the things I did wrong: I didn’t realize soon enough
that the emphysema she’d had all my life was so deadly. I didn’t spend
enough time with her when she was alive. I didn’t get to say goodbye.

Maybe,
for that reason, I paid extra careful attention to my grandfather. I
watched him die. His lung cancer relapsed, the chemotherapy began and
he changed.

By the end, he didn’t care much to eat. There were
no bagels and lox and cream cheese – or all the foods I associated with
a trip to Grandma’s house, my father’s Long Island Jewish home. He was
nourished by Ensure milkshakes and inhaled oxygen through a tube. He
had never been a talker, but my 13-year-old-self knew the silence
surrounding him was more than a mere absence of words.

I tried
to make up for all the things I thought I’d done wrong with my
grandmother. I spent as much time with Papa as possible. I watched him
deteriorate, reminded myself that he was dying. I prepared myself.

But at his funeral, unlike my grandmother’s, I didn’t speak. All I could do was cry.

***

The dying artist is very different from my grandfather. He still has his wife. He’s a talker. He loves to eat food.

But
his kiss on my neck reminded me of Papa, who always left kisses ringing
in my ears. The touch was so familiar that I parted from Jack feeling
like I had lost something.

I had lost something. Amid all the memories and my difficulties dealing with death, I could not find my story.

The
day had unfolded with promise. After a couple of phone interviews, I
met the artist in person for the first time, interviewed him in his
studio, watched him paint and spoke with his wife and a close friend.
When they decided to go to lunch, I jumped at the chance to go with
them. I thought it would give me a scene for my story. I thought it
might reveal a vulnerability, might show how the dying artist was
dealing with his reality, over grilled grouper sandwiches and sweet tea.

But once we were there, I knew I wasn’t welcome.

I
did not order food but sat there as the three friends ate. I wanted to
become a fly on the wall, but I was so silent his wife wondered why I
wasn’t doing my job. “Do you have any more questions?” she asked,
numerous times. She didn’t trust my hand, slithering quickly across the
pages of my reporter’s notebook.

I could not think of more
questions. My sadness over the dying artist and his wife’s distrust
muddled my thoughts, and I sat there, waiting for the answers to arrive.

After I left, I tried to make sense of what I had witnessed.

I
thought I understood what it was like to die. I had seen it happen to
my grandparents. I knew how it felt to lose someone. I wanted the
artist’s wife to know – I understood.

But I knew I was there
for a reason. I had a story to write. The story I hoped to write was an
important story, about a dying man and what he would leave behind.

In the end the scenes in my story were not as vivid as I would have
liked. It didn’t convey the significance I originally envisioned. My
memories of death prevented me from asking the tough questions.

But in the end, I did something I wasn’t able to do for my grandfather – I spoke. I told the story. Read more

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In pageant’s glow, ushers reflect on glamour

The Miss Florida pageant is about to begin and friends and family of the 40 contestants pour through the doors of the Mahaffey Theater. They are decked out in dresses and jewels, suits and ties, perfume and hairspray.

Neither the tall lobby ceilings, the dark, reflective beams, nor the thick, gray carpet quell their voices. They are eager fans. They want to know how their “girls,” as many call the contestants, will measure up.

But most don’t notice the other unofficial judges in the crowd. The ones dressed in more sensible style: maroon vests over white button-down shirts, black pants, black bow ties and flat-soled shoes. Compared with the glitz and glamour of the pageant-goers and the girls themselves, these women are nearly undetectable.

They are the ushers of the Mahaffey Theater, a group of volunteers whose chance at a crown would have come many years ago. As they help fans find seats, they monitor the crowd and maintain a running commentary on the pageant.

For the most part, they have had little room for glamour in their lives.

Maryann Garbaciak is 65 years old and traveled frequently for her job. Dolores Smith, 80, was busy raising five kids. Olivia Beatty, 69, tried out for a pageant once, but that was a long, long time ago

Stationed across the theater floor, the women observe each night of the four-day-long competition until its conclusion Saturday night with the crowning of Miss Florida.

“The best part of this is watching how they dress,” Garbaciak says as she takes tickets outside the theater doors. Her eyes, magnified through thick glasses that seem to blend into her skin, wander over the crowd. Some of the pageant-goers look as done-up as the girls on stage. She speaks in whispers.

“It’s just amazing,” she says. “I never saw so much makeup in my life.”

She used to travel across the country, teaching seminars on accounting practices. Now, like the majority of the volunteers, she is retired. She likes early nights, dance numbers and people-watching. Working the pageant gives her a lot of that.

Friday’s show is about to start. The doors to the theater open and Garbaciak and Beatty slip inside to help direct traffic as some of the 1,200 pageant-goers extract themselves from the lobby and line up.
When Miss America 1999 glides through the aisle in a red-sequined gown, Beatty leans over, whispering to Garbaciak: “I feel like we should gussy up our uniforms. We’re underdressed.” The black and maroon ushers uniforms are provided to them by the theater.

Beatty is a big fan of the pageant. Each night includes group choreography, three professional singers, six professional dancers, “witty” banter between the two hosts and a soundtrack for each of the segments. Beatty judges the talent competition as delightful. Most of the girls sing or dance. One or two recite a monologue or twirl a baton.

She has a different view of the interview competition. That’s when each contestant picks a question out of a fishbowl and answers on stage. The questions sometimes cause the crowd to snicker. Like this one:

“Who would you rather have as your roommate? Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan or Paris Hilton?”

Or:

“In the movie ‘Pirates of the Caribbean,’ Johnny Depp plays the ultimate bad boy, Captain Jack Sparrow. Is your type more of a bad boy or a Steady Eddie?”

Beatty tilts her head. “That’s a weird one,” she says. ” ‘Steady Eddie’?”

She never made it to this stage of competition. In 1959, when Beatty was 17, she attended an open audition for the Miss Pittsburgh pageant. Pageant officials lined up hundreds of girls, dressed only in swimsuits.

She was the first to be eliminated.

The swimsuit competition at the Mahaffey each night is tough for everyone involved. Aside from the music playing softly in the background, the theater is quiet as each contestant struts across the stage, turning and posing at all angles for 30 long seconds. The official judges inspect the girls’ suits closely to make sure their bodies are covered and decent.

Smith had already reached her judgment.

The swimsuit segment — now called “lifestyle and fitness in swimwear” — belittles the contestants and takes the focus off their intelligence, talent, and beauty, she says.

Smith is a small woman with small lips and a little bit of lipstick. She wears white earrings in the shape of miniature triangles. Since she began volunteering at Mahaffey 16 years ago, she has seen the girls’ swimsuits shrink steadily from modest one-pieces to belly-baring bikinis.

“I know it’s entertainment,” Smith says. “But you have this beautiful dress, so dramatic. And then you come out in a skimpy old bathing suit?”

Smith, too, has had a pageant experience. Her daughter Paula was a newspaper intern in 1971 when she was assigned a story on the Miss St. Petersburg pageant. To get behind the scenes, Paula reluctantly signed up for the competition.

“She didn’t think she had any business being one of the contestants,” Smith recalls. “She wasn’t prepared.”

Paula’s talent was synchronized swimming. Because there’s no swimming pool at the Mahaffey, pageant officials filmed her routine at the North Shore pool and ran the reel on a screen during the talent competition.

Paula lost.

Smith didn’t much care. The pageant girls are beautiful, talented and intelligent, she says. They even throw their support behind important causes, competing in the pageant with their own platforms.

Last year’s queen founded an organization called HOPE based on her platform, “Helping Other People Eat.” This year’s winner, Tallahassee’s Kylie Williams, chose “Realistic Support for Our Troops.”

Smith has done quite a lot, herself. Recently, she won a key to the city for her volunteer work, but not just for the pageant. She’s worked with Meals on Wheels and cancer patients. She raised her five children with a strict hand and grander ambitions.

“This was never my bag,” Smith says of pageants. “Too much froufrou business.” Read more

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A St. Petersburg artist wonders, What have I given the world?

Jack Barrett did not have an appointment when he and his wife marched into the St. Petersburg Museum of Fine Arts and handed the chief curator a stack of Barrett’s sketchbooks. He has filled hundreds over his lifetime, and considers them his most valuable work. He hoped to have them accepted for a one-man show, something that would secure him a place in history as a serious artist.

It is the last thing he wants before he dies.

“My dream is to have my work in a museum,” Barrett says. “You feel like you’ve arrived.”

That dream has taken on special urgency for Barrett, 77. The local painter and illustrator is weakening after years of illness. He has cancer in both legs and a heart condition that affects his stomach and his lungs. The time he spends in his Salt Creek Artworks studio in southeast St. Petersburg has grown sporadic. Progress on an acrylic painting of a colorful and frenzied jazz scene has been slow.

Barrett is perhaps best known for his illustrations and portraits in the St. Petersburg Times, where he worked as an artist for 20 years. Since he retired in 1990, he’s become a fixture in the local art community. He has had more than 15 one-man gallery shows, mostly in Florida, and some in Canada and his native Pittsburgh. He has won several awards for his paintings and illustrations, including the 1974 Illustrator of the Year award from the University of Florida’s College of Journalism and Communications, one of Barrett’s greatest honors.

But he’s never had his work hung in a museum. So whenever he can, he continues to paint and draw, sometimes even from his bed, looking for a legacy in his art.


A tall man with a full head of hair, Barrett towers over the stacks of paints, sketchbooks and canvases littered across his studio. He has grown so thin that he wears his blue jeans cinched tightly at the waist with a black leather belt. Even so, they sag, and his wife, Louise, tugs them up by the belt loops. When he is strong enough to visit his studio, she eases him from his wheelchair into a paint-spattered seat to work. When he is ready, he pushes up the sleeves of his baggy green sweatshirt and dabs layers of green onto a painting he had begun weeks before.

He has been getting radiation treatments daily this summer. And he has let friends know that his health is deteriorating.

“He just told me he was dying,” says Pat Burgess, who owns Salt Creek Artworks, and has known Barrett since he started painting there 25 years ago. “I had no idea.”

Barrett has been battling illness almost that entire time. He had the first of several open-heart surgeries in 1993. In 2000, Barrett had a heart valve replaced. He was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2004, and with another heart condition, pulmonary hypertension, in 2006. And now, the skin cancer in his legs.

Through it all, he has painted.


Barrett learned how to paint from an aunt when he was 7. He would spend his weekends in her three-story brownstone on the north side of Pittsburgh, watching her work.

His fascination soon expanded beyond painting to illustrating. One day when he was 10, Barrett skipped school and snuck into the offices of the Pittsburgh-Post Gazette, where he staked out the desk of comic strip artist Cy Hungerford. When Hungerford left his desk for a moment, Barrett rifled through the artist’s garbage can, hunting for discarded, crumpled gems. Hungerford caught Barrett in the act. But instead of kicking him out of his office, he befriended the fledgling artist.

Those early explorations would become a lifelong passion and profession. Barrett graduated from the Art Institute of Pittsburgh in 1954. He began his career in the advertising industry, and moved on to comic strips and magazines. In 1970, Barrett joined the St. Petersburg Times as an artist. For the next 20 years, he traveled the world, always with a sketchbook in hand. He drew Deng Xiaoping in China and Jimmy Carter in Washington, D.C. He met and made portraits of Liza Minnelli and Liberace.

“The very worst was Elvis Presley,” Barrett says. “They were a bunch of rednecks.”


As an artist, Barrett is known for his color and spontaneity. His abstract interpretations of landscapes and people are both bold and whimsical. He draws inspiration for them from his sketchbooks.

Barrett sketches everywhere. At home or the mall, at the beach or the busy Borders bookstore at Tyrone Boulevard. In 1967, Barrett drew a portrait for the circus, and was so inspired, he became a clown for two days. Clowns have been a regular motif in his work ever since.

“He has the most marvelous collection of sketchbooks,” says Lennie Bennett, art critic for the St. Petersburg Times. “They show that whenever possible he has always wanted to make art.”

But Barrett says his family life suffered because of his passion to paint. He regrets not spending more time with his only daughter, Stephanie.

“I wasn’t a very good father,” Barrett says. “I was always working.”

Stephanie Barrett-Klima, 51, has a different story. In the home she remembers, her father’s art covered every surface.

“Growing up you’d be watching TV and you’d look over and he’d be sketching you,” she says.

Barrett-Klima drew and painted as a child, but gave up the hobby in high school. She was never sure whether the praise she got from her teachers was for her talent or her father’s reputation.

She and her husband are raising two children, ages 11 and 14, and Barrett-Klima works as an insurance agent. But she says she has felt the urge to start painting again. She recently set up an art room, much like her father’s studio, in her house in St. Petersburg. She has put out canvases and paints. Now she waits for the right time to begin.

“It’s probably because he’s waning,” she admits. “I feel a void there. A need.”


The void Barrett wants to fill by being accepted for a museum showing will remain, at least for now. The Museum of Fine arts considered displaying his sketchbooks, but had to decline. The museum’s practice is only to accept the work of artists who are nationally renowned, says chief curator Jennifer Hardin.

A year’s worth of Barrett’s paintings was honored in a one-man show in the galleries of the Salt Creek Artworks for five weeks this spring. And he continues to visit his studio, when health allows, to do what he has done his whole life.

Occasionally he ponders the other possibilities life might have held. He thinks he would have enjoyed being a performer. A character actor, maybe.

“I could have made it,” he says one day over lunch with his wife.

“You made it,” Louise assures him. “You still made it.”

On a recent Saturday, while Barrett napped after radiation therapy, Louise Barrett went to Salt Creek Artworks to dismantle her husband’s one-man show. A year’s worth of work was taken down in 20 minutes.

A lifetime of his work, and art, will leave a legacy forever.

CORRECTION: Errors in this story were corrected on July 4, 2007. Barrett’s retirement date, his job title and the description of his cancer treatment were inaccurate. Read more

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A gallery of memory

Pat Burgess, the owner of Salt Creek Artworks, doesn’t have
a favorite painter.

She likes Cezanne, whose home she saw on a group tour of France
earlier this year. She likes that other impressionist painter who cut his ear
off. She is 68 years old. She likes what she likes and she doesn’t know what
that is.

“I have no clue about art,” says Burgess, walking through
her gallery. “Maybe it’s the expression of the face or the eyes. The sadness.
Maybe I can relate.”

Burgess walks in small, slow steps. The current show is by a
long-time Salt Creek artist. Every once in a while, when her vision blurs or
her eyes itch, she removes her glasses and rubs her eyes. She likes his
paintings, the flamboyant colors, but she can’t afford them.

Burgess inherited Salt Creek
Artworks when her parents, Dorothy and Azell Prince, died nearly two years ago.
Since then she has taken on all the responsibilities of running a full-time
business, without much guidance.

Like her father, Burgess never knew much about art.

The Prince family turned the
former maritime factory, which was then a furniture store, into an arts complex
14 years ago. It was not their idea. They never planned to run it themselves.
But after a business partnership fell through and zoning regulations prevented
them from changing their plans, the Princes decided to give it a try.

Azell
Prince was most involved from the beginning. The last-known living employee of
Thomas Edison, Azell spent most of his life performing clerical work, said his
daughter. Burgess grew close to her father after her two brothers went to
military school. She was there to help Azell when he began work on Salt Creek
in 1993 at 78 years of age.

Azell
quickly befriended the first artists to rent studio space and enlisted their
help. Together they ripped up dirty carpets,
installed tiles and built studio walls. A contractor repaired the plumbing and
electricity. Azell himself installed track lights and painted the galleries.
The space was his, but he gave artistic ownership to his tenants.

“He didn’t know anything about
art. If it was up to him it would have been seagulls and beach scenes,”
said Lance Rodgers, a painter and Azell’s appointed curator. “One of the things
I loved about Azell is that he gave us space, he gave us freedom.”

After retirement, Azell was
left with free time on his hands and looked to Salt Creek for friendships.
Dorothy had begun to develop Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes and lose her
eyesight. Burgess knew her father liked spending time away.

“To be perfectly frank, I
think he liked being around the people,” Burgess said. “My mother was not
well.”

In February 2005, after
weeks in the hospital, Dorothy moved permanently into her daughter’s home. By
then Azell was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Both he and Dorothy became
bedridden. Burgess pushed Azell’s and Dorothy’s beds together, their heads on
opposite ends, so that Azell could watch his wife as she died. They were there
for months, until June, when Dorothy passed away.

Three months later, he was gone too.

“I know it’s crazy to be so attached to your parents,” said
Burgess. “But I had to take care of them and watch them die. And that was
horrible.”

Now Burgess lives alone. In the past, Burgess and her
parents drove from St. Petersburg
to New Hampshire to escape the Florida
summer sun. Burgess no longer makes the trip. She has work to do. She has to
send out mailings, meet with tenants and pay the bills.

“So far the building is paying for itself,” said Burgess, a
former real estate agent. She now relies on Social Security benefits and a
small paycheck from Salt Creek to get by. “We have never made a profit.”

There are 42 studios at Salt Creek and currently eight
vacancies, although sometimes Burgess has trouble keeping track of the exact
number.

“It gets so that you know some people better than others,”
she said. “And then they get behind in their rent, and then collecting rent
gets to be a real obstacle.”

Sometimes tenants leave their spaces without any notice.
Sometimes they hang on without paying. Despite the bad track record, Burgess
does not have a process for selecting renters, except for one stipulation –
she has to like them.

If they say they can pay the rent, that’s good enough for
her. She does not always like the art, but she never censors the artists.

“Lance did some of this radical stuff, with flags and skulls
and bare boobs,” Burgess said. “I didn’t understand any of it.” Still, Burgess
trusts Rodgers, who curates all of the gallery’s shows. The economy is hard on
artists, she said. She understands.

On Friday morning, despite
“bum knees,” Burgess makes the trek up the stairs to show a studio to a
potential tenant — a woman from England
who describes herself as a “starving artist.”

Burgess unlocks the door and peers inside. “This stuff was
supposed to be out a while ago,” she says, to a roomful of boxes and bags. The
artist is silent.

“Oh, well. I don’t care. I’m
easy to get along with,” Burgess says.

She closes the door and
walks around the corner to another empty room, this one occupied by cobwebs.
The artist decides to take it. Back downstairs, Burgess sits beneath a portrait
of her father, painted over 30 years ago.

“One of the things that keeps me going is him,” she said.
“Daddy. And what this meant to him. Because he loved it. Neither of us knew
he’d love it so much.”

Burgess is not crazy about the painting. Maybe it’s because
the artist cut out her mother from the picture. Maybe it doesn’t have enough
color.

Or maybe this time, as her voice breaks, it’s not about the
art.

Read more

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New terminal, new life for Albert Whitted Airport

For years, the green bench outside of the Bay Air office building has been the only spot at Albert Whitted Municipal Airport to sit and watch planes fly by. Its green paint gleams beneath the open sky on sunny days. The enamel is scratched and chipped from years of wear.

But aside from this bench, perched upon a concrete slab, visitors have found little to welcome them at the airport, which serves as home to a fleet of 183 small private and business planes.

That will change by the end of this summer, when the airport opens a new terminal building with an observation deck. It also will include retail and office space, a restaurant and a conference room.

The new building is one of a series of projects set to modernize the 80-year-old airport. Planned changes to the airport grew out of the 2003 general election, when 77 percent of St. Petersburg voters decided to keep the airport in operation, rather than cede the property to the city for a waterfront park and development.

The vote put an end to a debate that is older than the airport itself: historic preservation or development? With Albert Whitted’s future intact, airport officials now hope to make the airport relevant beyond its history and small membership.

“One of the issues that came up during the election was this certain stigma that the airport was only for the people who fly,” said Richard Lesniak, airport manager. “We tried to find ways the airport could be made more for the community.”

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker, who originally supported the airport’s closure, said the new facilities are an improvement.

“I think the airport will be more accessible to the average person,” he said.

In addition to the terminal, a new waterfront park will open in the fall featuring aviation-themed playground equipment, observation decks and an outdoor timeline of the airport’s history. Planning has begun for a new control tower to be completed in 2009. The airport relocated four helipads, renovated several rusty hangars and added new runway signs last year.

The $4 million terminal building was funded with a grant for $3.2 million from the city Department of Transportation & Parking. St. Petersburg resident and retired bond executive John Galbraith donated $400,000, which was matched by the city.

The construction projects came from recommendations made by the Albert Whitted Airport Blue Ribbon Advisory Task Force Committee, a group formed by the mayor and city council after the election in 2003.

“I wanted a larger segment of the population to use the airport,” said Ed Montanari, chairman of the committee. “That’s why we recommended the restaurant and park and observation decks. I think a lot more people are going to go down there than they used to.”

The terminal will join a number of neighbors along the waterfront just north of downtown St. Petersburg, including the Salvador Dali Museum, Mahaffey Theater and the University of South Florida St. Petersburg. Airport officials hope the growing downtown will help lure other business to Whitted.

According to Lesniak, the airport is in talks with DayJet, an “air taxi” service. A fast, light new jet, the Eclipse 500, makes the service possible — and holds new hope for small airports. After years of development, DayJet expects to launch a fleet this year.

“Once these start rolling out into the industry, you’ll see a lot more corporations and business people coming to the airport,” Lesniak said.

DayJet sells by the seat like an airline, rather than by the hour per plane, dropping travelers off at various regional locations depending on each passenger’s needs.

“The benefits are that you’d travel closer to home and you’d do it on your schedule,” said Chris Dancy of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association. “It’s too early to say how services like DayJet are going to effect the aviation industry, but it’s potentially very good for smaller airports throughout the country.”

As a small airport used mainly for privately owned or business-operated airplanes, Albert Whitted has often faced difficulties. Developers covet the airport’s waterfront property, and some city officials and residents question the necessity of the airport itself.

Still, long-time residents like Bill McMannis, 90, who grew up with Albert Whitted, view the airport as a core part of St. Petersburg’s history and personality.

As a child, McMannis visited the airport often. He witnessed the arrival of the Goodyear Blimp in the late 1930s. With aspirations to become a pilot, McMannis flew for the Army Air Forces during World War II. But the ravages of war took a toll on his passion.

“When he came home from the war he told me he’d never fly another plane as long as he lived,” said Kay McMannis, 87, of her husband, who went to work for Florida Power Company after he returned.

Then, one day 25 years later, Kay heard a radio advertisement for free plane rides at Albert Whitted. She had never flown and it sounded fun. She went the next day.

“I was hooked with the first ride,” she said. “The next day I went back to the airport for my first instruction.”

Each day Kay climbed into the cockpit, Bill McMannis waited on the green bench outside of Bay Air.

“I used to sit on there all the time,” he said. “Sit on the bench and worry, I mean.”

But McMannis grew restless. Soon he abandoned his post at the bench and began flying again.

That bench may be the last of the green benches that McMannis remembers from his childhood. They lined the streets of St. Petersburg as early as 1935.
 
“Back after World War II they decided we were too big of a fuddy-duddy town and they got rid of ‘em,” McMannis said. “We were going to become a modern town.”

But the green bench at Albert Whitted remains. As updated facilities bring more people and business to Albert Whitted than ever before, the bench will become more than a place to remember the city’s past. It will become a place to watch its future. Read more

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