Susan Toll couldn’t believe it. She had been in well over a dozen Gasparilla Pirate Fest parades, as a member of the Krew of Alegria and the Rough Riders, and had loved Gasparilla ever since she was a child in the 1950s, when the pirates threw blank bullets and candy. But this was something new and pretty cool.
Upon browsing the website of Ye Mystic Krewe, the elite male pirate krewe that rules Gasparilla, she came across a little love story tucked within the section titled “History of Gasparilla – The Legend.” The short version was this: Jose Gaspar, the mythical pirate behind Tampa’s signature blowout, had loved a kidnapped beauty named Ann Jeffrey. She rejected his marriage proposal, and yet he didn’t kill her.
Toll was amazed she hadn’t seen this little yarn before and that some lucky krewe hadn’t already snagged the name Ann Jeffrey. She thought it was a great name for a women’s krewe, so she quickly staked her claim by incorporating the Krewe of Ann Jeffrey – still just her concept- and registering it with the state.
Toll, a Tampa native, wanted to form a krewe that was based on a pirate theme and elegant costumes. She remembered how the Gasparilla parades of her childhood had seemed so glamorous.
She had cleared the first hurdle in the business of formaing a new krewe, one that might have a chance, at least, of being invited to join the biggest parades of the Gasparilla season and the Inter-Krewe Council, a social network of some 50 Tampa krewes. She had a theme, she had a name, she had a corporation. All she needed now was a float – parade floats cost $20,000 or more to rent for four or five parades a year, and much more to own. Then there was the million-dollar insurance policy, the bylaws, the fabulous costumes, sponsors, parade application fees, a security team, a mission statement and a signature medallion.
And, oh yeah, she needed a krewe.
Toll, a Tampa real estate agent, and her close friends Terri Keirn of Tampa and Linda Blick, who lives in Knoxville, Tenn., but comes back to Tampa frequently – plus a host of others – managed to pull it all together in about three months. They began with a charter group of 10 that met last summer, and the krewe of Ann Jeffrey grew to 32.
Then things got magical. A float appeared for sale in the classified ads. It looked like a brown tugboat run aground, but it was only $9,000 and could be renovated. WIth the help of Toll’s friend Ron Bauman, a carpenter and member of the Krewe of Chasco, they worked weekends to turn it into the “Florida BLanca” their own pirate shi-p. They painted and added layers of fringe, a port-a-potty and sound system.
They were on a roll. Still, friends in established krewes warned: Curb your enthusiasm about getting into the Gasparilla parade the first year. It typically takes two to three years for new krewes to win a spot.
Glitter might have given them an edge. Keirn and Toll wanted their Gasparilla parade application to look special at the office of Ye Mystic Krewe, where applicants are yeaed or nayed, so they hand-delivered the $500 application fee in a glitter-encrusted envelope. It was decorated with a treasure chest that boldly beseeched, “Surrender the Booty.” Surrender they did, and the Krewe of Ann Jeffrey was No. 109 in the 2008 Parade of Pirates.
When Toll talks about Gasparilla, her eyes sparkle. It sounds like a cliche, but really, they do. “We have a theme song,” she confides. “Are you ready? ..’Pretty Woman.'” Van Halen version not Roy Orbison.
Toll likes to do things just-so. Which is good – today’s krewe’s need CEOs. They handle serious cash in membership fees and raise thousands at charity fundraisers. New krewes are encouraged to consider rallying around a charity of their choice. Toll and her friends put that ideal in their mission statement: they planned to do something for the disabled. Oh, and of course they plan to have lots of fun too!
Toby Aldridge, a friend of Toll’s, became the chief of the krewe’s volunteer male security team – affectionately called “the Batista Boys” by the Jeffrey girls. Why not? He was surrounded by three dozen gleeful women, who were shoing off their custom-stitched pirate jackets. The krewe chose a costume of fitted brocade jackets, lace cuffs, bustiers, black pants and boots.
Today the Krewe of Ann Jeffrey boasts a membership of women
President – Susan Hagan
Vice President – Jamie Leonard
Treasurer – Robyn Oeth
Secretary – Denise Polojac-Chenoweth
Board At Large – Brenda Thrower
Board At Large – Carrie Fielding
Board At Large – Melissa Castro
Board At Large – Sharon Hildebrandt Engert
Immediate Past President – Doreen Connolly