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Gracie’s Big Splash biggest ever : Belleair Bee Tampa Bay Newspapers 9/6/12 8:15 AM

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By BRIAN GOFF

Article published on Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2012

BELLEAIR – It was an event that had Belleair Mayor Gary Katica strolling around saying over and over, “What a night, what a night.”

The event was Gracie’s Big Splash on Aug. 17. It was the sixth annual event, so one might think Katica had seen it all before. But not like this one. By all accounts, this was the biggest and best ever.

Gracie Purdy died six years ago, just shy of her sixth birthday. She had an incurable cancer. It is in her name and honor that the Big Splash was begun by her parents because she loved the water so much. In fact, she went to the first big splash just months before she died. Her mom, Llisiana Purdy, in an interview last year, recalled holding Gracie that day.

Published on TBNWeekly.com – Aug. 22, 2012

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“I held her in my arms the entire time,” Llisiana said. “We did everything together. If she got wet, I got wet.”

Mrs. Purdy agreed that this year the Splash was bigger than ever. But it also held a special meaning for her .

“This is the sixth Splash, she passed away just three months shy of her sixth birthday,” she said. “It would have been wonderful to celebrate this with her because this is the way we would have celebrated her birthday.”

Hundreds of people showed up to help celebrate this year. There were more waterslides than ever before, a new bungee trampoline experience – for which the lines were the longest – and a new raffle room with donated gifts from all over the community. Yet, the water games were still the most popular.

Resident Kris Ellis just moved to Belleair with her family. She spoke while her 6-year-old son Gavin was sliding on his belly in the water nearby.

“This is our first time here,” she said. “We’ve known about this and we are excited to come. My son keeps saying it is awesome and it is. We’ll be back.”

Across the field, 9-year-old Lexi Spencer of Clearwater was going up and down on the bungee trampoline.

Photo by BRIAN GOFF

Gavin Ellis, 6, of Belleair finishes the slide in a pool of water.

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Gracie’s Big Splash biggest ever : Belleair Bee Tampa Bay Newspapers 9/6/12 8:15 AM

Her mom, Lori, was another first-timer.

“This is very cool,” Lori said. “We’ve tried to come here for years and we finally made it. The kids are having a blast.”

Walking the grounds nonstop was Gracie’s dad, Marty Purdy. He was selling raffle tickets, helping fix a broken plug and generally making sure things were going well. When asked if he was happy with the event, his answer came easy.

“Oh yes, are you kidding me?” he said “There is a lot of work that goes into this, but it is worth it when you look around and see all these kids having so much fun.”

For the Purdy family, however, the Big Splash brings back into focus memories of their daughter.

“It has its moments,” Marty said. “There are fewer and fewer of them, but we have found a purpose in this. We are celebrating her, we’re not mourning her.”

Proceeds from Gracie’s Big Splash are administered by the Wonders Foundation, which gives money to families with seriously ill children who might need it. Llisiana paid tribute to the Wonders founder Karla Rettstatt, who also helps organize the Big Splash.

“Bless her heart,” Llisiana said. “Karla works so hard and she makes it happen, there are so many touches she puts on it, she seems to get it.”

Llisiana thanked the dozens of people who helped organize and run the event.

“It just makes the event complete,” Llisiana said. “The people are so willing to help. This is a community event and the event belongs to the community.”

She recalled the effort it took in the beginning.

“It was a monumental effort,” Llisiana said. “And it was and is exhausting, but when you see how the community and all the families have responded, it is rewarding for us.”

She is quick to point out, that the event, for her, is about Gracie.

“We miss her and we’re always going to miss her,” Llisiana said. “The Splash allows us to see the goodness

of Gracie and the people of this community. We see what we can accomplish, this is golden.”

Article published on Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2012

Copyright © Tampa Bay Newspapers: All rights reserved.

© Tampa Bay Newspapers: All rights reserved.

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Photo by WAYNE CATHEL
Myra Bowen, who needs a kidney transplant, hugs her companion, Sammy.

BELLEAIR BLUFFS – Anyone who has enjoyed a delicious salad, sandwich or other speciality of the Belleair Food Mart during the past 15 years is more than likely familiar with the work of Myra Bowen. Chances are she prepared the food herself, working behind the scenes.

The longtime employee of Belleair Food Mart, who was recently fired from that job and is now unemployed, is facing a very tough road ahead.

What started out as an abscessed tooth in January turned out to be much more serious. Bowen is suffering from kidney failure and is on dialysis three times a week while she hopes for a kidney transplant.

One big problem; she is on Medicare, but has no coinsurance for the required 20 percent that would be her responsibility.

In typical style, friends and acquaintances in the Belleair and Belleair Bluffs communities have come together to provide a helping hand. On Friday, Sept. 11, Bella Vino will host an American Wine Tasting, with proceeds of the suggested $10 donation at the door going to Bowen. The wine tasting will be from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.

“She really is in a jam, and by herself,” said Sarah Simmons of Belleair, a longtime customer of Belleair Food Mart, who appreciated Bowen’s friendly greetings over the years and wanted to do something to help.

The idea of the benefit wine tasting was born with the eager involvement of Bella Vino owners Cheryl and Brian Franzese, and Belleair Commissioner Karla Rettstatt, who has been helping to spread the word.

“The community has been wonderful to me,” said Bowen, who shares her Bluffs duplex with her adorable dog, Sammy, who she adopted from SPCA Tampa Bay.

Bowen will turn 52 on Sept. 13 and plans to celebrate at the wine tasting with those who have opened their hearts to her difficult circumstances.

Bella Vino is at 100 Indian Rocks Road N. Anyone planning on attending the wine tasting is asked to R.S.V.P. to 584-5552, or e-mailBrian@bellavinowinemarket.com.

Those unable to attend but who would like to make a donation can make out a check to Wonders Foundation and drop it off at Bella Vino or Belleair’s Dimmitt Community Center.


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Article published on Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2009