A celebration for two

In March of 2002, Mayor Rick Baker of St. Petersburg, Fla., walked with Gov. Vladimir Yakovlev of St. Petersburg, Russia, and a translator in Washington D.C.

Baker described the vibe of the evening as surreal.

“There we were, the leaders of the two St. Petersburgs, standing in front of the White House,” he said. “It was the first time that had ever happened.”

This year marks yet another first for the cities. St. Petersburg, Russia, will celebrate its tercentennial (300th anniversary) as St. Petersburg, Fla., observes its centennial St. Petersburg, Fla., became a city on June 6, 1903. To commemorate this landmark year, officials from both St. Petersburgs decided to have a joint celebration to recognize the history and culture of both cities.

While St. Petersburg, Russia, will hold the majority of its festivities between May 23 and June 1, St. Petersburg, Fla., has dedicated the entire year to celebrating its hundredth birthday.

Bill Heller, a professor at the USF St. Petersburg, said they decided upon a full year to allow as many groups as possible to participate.

“It was not considered possible to include the total community to the extent desired by limiting the celebration to a week, a special day or month,” Heller said.

Heller is part of the advisory board that was appointed last June to set guidelines for the events and advise Baker in matters relating to the centennial celebration.

“The group consisted of 80 citizens, business and community leaders, and we were convened to discuss ideas for the 300/100 St. Petersburg Anniversary Celebration,” said Heller.

Events include music festivals, theatre performances and art exhibits focusing on Russian culture. Also, USF, in conjunction with the Florida Humanities Council and Eckerd College, is offering an ongoing series of lectures dealing with the histories of both cities, Heller said.

Heller said USF St. Petersburg and Eckerd College history professors Ray Arsenault and Bill Parsons, jointly developed the series that will look at both of the cities.

“It is anticipated that Dr. Arsenault and Dr. Parsons will be able to travel to St. Petersburg, Russia, to participate as lecturers there as a part of that city’s celebration,” Heller said.

Baker, who will travel to Russia in May to take part in its celebration, said many of the events in Florida are also taking place in Russia.

“There was one exchange where many Russian judges and lawyers visited our courts to see how they function,” Baker said. “Soon, judges and lawyers from Florida will travel to Russia to get the same experience.”

Baker said that since January it has been hard to measure the amount of people who have attended the events.

“Those interested in culture are attending the arts programs, and those interested in the history are attending the lectures,” Baker said. “It’s hard to figure out who is there to celebrate the 100th year of St. Petersburg and who is there purely to entertain their interest on the topic.”

Currently there are events planned all the way through December and more may be added. Heller and Baker both hope that USF students will start attending the activities in larger numbers.

“There really is something for everyone, something that everyone can celebrate and enjoy,” Heller said. “I’d like to recommend that our students avail themselves to copies of the brochures detailing this year’s events and select those that may interest them the most.”

Contact Rebecca Markleyat oraclefeatures@yahoo.com