Firehouse Cultural Center fundraiser offers once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to experience a tropical paradise: Dickman Island

MITCH TRAPHAGEN PHOTOS
The Firehouse Cultural Center fundraising gala on March 3 will take center around this two-story gazebo on the private Dickman Island, off the end of 19th Street in Ruskin. The owners, Glenn and Danita Dickman serve as both hosts and chairpersons for the event. The funds raised will go towards providing scholarships for the cultural center’s extensive array of programming. The evening will have food, beverages and live entertainment, along with a rare view of Tampa Bay from one of the metropolitan area’s most exclusive properties.

By MITCH TRAPHAGEN

It is among the most exclusive properties in the Tampa Bay area. It is demonstrably among the most expensive. It is certainly one of the most beautiful. From the sandy edge of Dickman Island is an expansive view of the towers of downtowns Tampa and St. Petersburg, along with all of the beauty of the bay. Even the name is exclusive: There are few surnames as well-known in the region than Dickman.

On March 3, Glenn and Danita Dickman will open the gate to Dickman Island to welcome guests of the Firehouse Cultural Center Gala 2018. The event will benefit the cultural center’s scholarship fund. Mr. and Mrs. Dickman serve as both hosts and gala chairpersons.

For more than a century, the Dickman family, one of Ruskin’s original founding families, has been known for community support and philanthropy. A notable recent success story was the family’s donation of 60 acres of prime property for the construction of the Ruskin campus of the Hillsborough Community College. The growth of the college, with more than 7,300 students in 2016, far surpassed all expectations from the time of the land donation in 2009. The college has become an educational and economic boon for the entire region.

With the tremendous population growth of Ruskin and adjoining communities, any “small town support system” has become blurred, making the regionally centered, Ruskin-based Firehouse Cultural Center a natural outlet for support and assistance of one of the communty’s founding families.

“That Danita and Glenn Dickman are hosting this event is pretty unique in itself and also a statement of how much they support the Firehouse Cultural Center and the contributions it has made to the economic growth of the area,” said Firehouse Executive Director Georgia Vahue. “They are allowing guests to come onto their private island and experience Tampa Bay in a whole new way. It will be quite a unique event.”

While the cultural center has been successful in reaching the new residents of the region, for this event in particular, Vahue is also hoping to reestablish a connection with those who “have been here and grew up here.”

Just like the Dickman family themselves.

“The island is beautiful, and we will keep with the island theme, and that will be a lot of fun,” said  Renee Ristow-Bertschinger, who is managing the event for the cultural center. “We were actually able to find a caterer who is from Jamaica, and we will have a very unique menu. When she heard about what we are doing for the community here, she wanted to support that.”

The event will be centered near a large two-story gazebo on the island, only feet away from the water of Tampa Bay.

“We will have a full-sized dinghy filled with everything you could think of to have that island feeling,” Ristow-Bertschinger added. “The bar will have special drinks. Everyone, all of our sponsors, have gone so over and above — when they come here to see the Firehouse, to see the staff, they want to help. It has been amazing.”

The event theme is, “Come Away to a Magical & Mystical Island!” It will take place from 6 to 10 p.m. on Saturday, March 3. The proceeds of the fundraiser are slated towards the scholarship fund at the nonprofit cultural center.

Renee Ristow-Bertschinger and Georgia Vahue at the event site on Dickman Island. “That Danita and Glenn Dickman are hosting this event is pretty unique in itself and also a statement of how much they support the Firehouse Cultural Center,” Vahue said.

“We don’t turn anyone away from our programming. We don’t say, ‘no,’” Vahue said, referring particularly to the extensive programming for children offered by the center. “We provide field trips, partnerships with the Ruskin Library, with museums, with arts organizations. We work with local organizations. All of us are working for the same objectives.”

They also offer classes running the gamut from the arts to technology.

Vahue came to her leadership role from an arts center in the New York City area while the Firehouse was still a fledgling operation. Through her guidance and the help of numerous volunteers, the center has grown to become a regional powerhouse. A recent Hillsborough County study of all arts organizations in the county suggested that the economic impact of the center is could well reach into the millions of dollars. And today the campus is expanding its footprint from what was once just an abandoned fire station. It is becoming a community and regional focal point, a center city of sorts, for the hundreds of thousands of residents outside of the city of Tampa’s arts community — while building connections and remaining inclusive with that community.

Vahue has also worked to insure that the center remains not just for a select group but for everyone in the community.

“We listen to our artists, we listen to our sponsors, and we listen to our members and guests,” she said. “Every day we try to make things better.”

And on March 3, the Firehouse Cultural Center will help to open the gate on a unique experience — an evening on the private Dickman Island, a tropical paradise that is home to a founding family with a legacy of community support. With the help of sponsors, dozens upon dozens of volunteers, it will be an event that will likely draw people from the larger Tampa Bay metropolitan area. But Vahue and the Dickmans hope that most guests to the island are right here from home.

For tickets and information visit www.firehouseculturalcenter.org/events/firehouse-gala-2018/.

Ristow-Bertschinger and Vahue on the beach at the event site on Dickman Island. A tropical island theme will be carried through the gala, from food to adult beverages.

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