May 12, 2014
Flagler College recently hosted its annual Spring Tea in the Solarium above the former Hotel Ponce de Leon, now Ponce Hall. More than a hundred women mingled in their spring finery—including smart bonnets and bright dresses—to network and connect.
Guests enjoyed fine teas, elegant pastries, fresh fruits, and delicate sandwiches. Fresh flowers adorned every table, and the outdoor terraces of the Solarium beckoned guests to enjoy spring breezes and breathtaking views of the city of St. Augustine, the Matanzas Inlet, and Anastasia Island.
“The setting is so spectacular here,” said Melinda Provenza, Assistant to the Chancellor. “You really get a sense of history and tradition. We are getting together with the ladies in the same manner that women have been doing for more than a hundred years. It’s a throwback to old school elegance.”
The Solarium was the last unrestored section of the Hotel Ponce de Leon, a National Historic Landmark. When the College first opened in 1968, the Solarium was used as a library and occasional classroom. Then, after falling into disrepair, it had been closed off to students and visitors for more than 40 years.
But thanks in part to a generous lead gift from Flagler College Trustee Delores Lastinger and her husband Allen, it was restored and reopened in 2013. This is the second year the Spring Tea has been held in the Solarium. In years past, the event was hosted at Markland House.
This year, Mrs. Lastinger attended the tea accompanied by two friends who had never before been in the Solarium, Ada Abernathy from Palm Coast and Fran Meyers from Anastasia Island.
“Wonderful. What a view,” said Abernathy, taking in the vistas and the elegant setting. “This is truly a lovely event.”
Familiar faces from College circles were joined by a number of women from the communities of St. Augustine, St. Augustine Beach, and beyond, some of whom were attending the tea for the first time.
Delinda Fogel, for example, publisher of The St. Augustine Record, attended her first Spring Tea and remarked on the beauty of the Solarium and the positive energy among the diverse group of women in attendance.
“This is very special,” she said. “I’ve had exceptionally good connections with Flagler since I became publisher of The Record last June, and I look forward to continuing to grow our relationship. It’s wonderful to mingle with so many people in such a beautiful environment.”
Also in attendance was Norma Poli, whose father worked for Henry Morrison Flagler as the assistant treasurer for the Model Land Company’s Florida office.
Poli, now 93, is a third-generation St. Augustine native. She remembers her friendship with Claire McAloon, the daughter of Joseph McAloon, who was employed by the hotel from 1904 to 1960. As girls, Poli and McAloon used to get the key to the hotel from Mr. McAloon and explore every corner. She remembers coming up to the Solarium when it was a dusty, spooky place, with the furniture covered and cobwebs in the rafters.
“It’s so nice to see it restored,” she said, smiling broadly.
The 2014 Spring Tea was hosted by Susan Abare, wife of Flagler College President William T. Abare, Jr., Cindy Woolfolk, wife of Dean of Academic Affairs Alan Woolfolk, Nancy Russom, wife of Vice President of Business Services Kenneth Russom, and Kris Kelly, wife of Associate Dean Ivan Kelly.