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Frenchtown Community Center: 'Trés Magnifique' Once Again

July 9, 2006 – About five weeks ago, a small but determined group of Frenchtown residents decided to do something to celebrate Bastille Day. An ordinary undertaking — until one considers they decided to hold the celebration in the dilapidated Frenchtown Community Center, a venue then in desperate need of attention.
Since then, the center has gone from a cast-aside has-been — to the belle of Bastille Day.
Kicking off French Heritage Week Saturday night, the St. Thomas Fishermen's Association held its fund-raising Bastille Day dance in the newly refurbished structure decorated with red, white and blue lights, flags and balloons, palm fronds and streamers.
The scene was topped off with the center's own Eiffel Tower blazing from the front roof, welcoming one and all to Frenchtown's Paris.
The transformation hasn't come easily. Ask Linda Evans, one of the chief cooks and bottle washers. Still hard at work Saturday afternoon, Evans says, "We've had, literally, no outlay of money." The effort has taken its toll in blood, sweat and tears.
A group of about seven association members and other helpers, along with occasional volunteers, has worked almost day and night to get "the belle" up to ball standards.
The association first sent out letters asking for donations, and the community responded generously. There are too many sponsors to mention – including Hovensa and Yamaha, which sponsored the evening's music, Sea Breeze and DJ Jason Greaux.
The Sea Chest and the Paint Locker supplied the gallons and gallons of red and blue paint, which brighten the building. "They just said, 'Come back if you need more,'" says Evans, as she conducts a tour of the sparkling facility, a string of red-and-blue starlights hanging around her neck. "Let's plug these in here," she says. "Hey, they look beautiful."
She points out some mini-Eiffel Towers being constructed by decoration committee members Lori Abbots and Candy Brewer. The little towers are professional-looking replicas.
"I looked on Google for a couple hours trying to find a model," Abbots says, "and then I found these patterns." The patterns are black-and-white latticework cutouts, which the girls are busily gluing on the mini-towers.
How about the main tower? "We made it out of those plastic noodles kids swim with," Abbots says. We cut them in half for the supports, then we put some drywall siding on them, and painted it all silver. It just needs its flag now."
Association president Jimmy Magner and vice president Julian Magras are hard at work Saturday afternoon with last-minute chores. "Can you believe this will all be done by tonight?" laughs Magner, as Magras wipes his brow. "And it will," he says.
The two have devoted every spare hour to the project, from the initial cleaning with the pressure washer to these last minute touches. They are setting up food and drink tents in the immaculate yard outside, each table decorated with the mini-towers.
Magras gives a little of the building's history. "'The land was donated in 1968 by Cecil and Ann Wenner," he says, "specifically for a community center. It was given to the Roman Catholic Church prelate of the V. I."
For years the Department of Human Services used the facility as a senior citizen center. "The only repairs have been after the storms – Hugo in 1989 and Marilyn in 1995," Magras says.
Clearly excited at the coming evening, Evans looks around the large room, the floors buffed to a bright shine in anticipation of the evening's dancing. "It's almost there," she says. "This is our way of thanking the community for its support."
Many events are scheduled for the week:
The French Heritage Youth Ambassadorship Selections
Four students will be chosen as essay contest winners on Monday, July 10, and the winners will be announced at the Bastille Day Reception on July 14. ??The Honorary Consul of France for the U.S. Virgin Islands, Madame Odile de Lyrot, will sponsor the French Dignitaries Reception at 6:30 p.m., on Wednesday, July 12, at the Emerald Beach Resort. There will be hors d' oeuvres and a cash bar. ??
Friday, July 14, Bastille Day
There will be a legislative/executive joint observation of French Heritage Week with recognition ceremonies and a reception at No. 8 Catharineberg, Denmark Hill. A Bastille Day Dance will be held at the Frenchtown Community Center featuring New Creation Band from St. Bart's. Showtime is 10 p.m. and tickets are $15.
Fishing Tourney
The Northside Sport Fishing Club of Hull Bay Hideaway will sponsor the Bastille King Fish Tournament from 5 a.m. to noon on Sunday, July 16. There will be a catch weigh-in at noon, followed by Bastille King Fish Awards Ceremony at Hull Bay Hideaway. Free admission with food and drinks on sale; music by Seabreeze and Cool Session Brass.
Joseph Sibilly to Be Honored Posthumously
Northside patriarch Joseph Sibilly — whose donation of land led to the creation of a school, a house of worship and a cemetery — is being posthumously honored this year at Catharineberg for his many contributions to the community. Permanent signs will be erected in Estate Elizabeth bearing the name, The Joseph Sibilly Circle, as proclaimed by the Legislature in Act No. 6752.
For more information, call Catherine Bryan in the Senate President's office at 693-3686.
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