Gala Menendez celebrates with a change of pace

By Lindsay Imwold |

Director Melissa Stuart has been involved with the Gala Menéndez for the past two years.

She’s been volunteering since 2008 and just became director about three months ago. The annual Gala Menéndez will take place on Saturday, Feb. 27, celebrating the 491st birthday of Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, founder of St. Augustine.

Pedro Menéndez de Avilés sighted land for the first time on August 28, which happened to already be the feast day of Saint Augustine in the Catholic Church. The city was named St. Augustine after this religious observation. Sept. 8, 1565 was the actual day of landing and year of establishing St. Augustine.

“We are the oldest continually occupied European city in the U.S.,” Stuart said.

The event was started 14 years ago by Ms. Nella Holton, when it was a smaller get-together. The current Gala director, Ms. Melissa Stuart, said the Gala “has grown and grown, and changed.”

Throughout the years there have been many directors, such as Dr. Bill Adams. Stuart also corresponds with Mr. Dana Ste. Claire, interim director of Heritage Tourism and director of the 450th birthday celebration of the City of St. Augustine, for which preparations are already taking place.

“We really want to make it a wonderful celebration for everyone involved- for guests and for the public. We’ll have public entertainment- gymnasts, dancers, swordfighters, fire-eaters…” said Stuart.

This year’s big change from Galas past is that the procession will start at the city gate instead of the Government House. All dressed-up volunteers will walk about six blocks from the gate on the end of St. George Street to the Lightner Museum for the public to enjoy. The formal portion of the event will then take place from 6:30 p.m. until midnight in the Lightner Ballroom. SAG actor Chaz Mena will be playing the role of Menéndez himself at the dinner.

“Our goal is to bring a lot of entertainment and the birthday of our founder to the public. We want to enlighten and entertain at the same time, and help make sure the public knows who our founder is.”

Stuart considers the event significant as one leading up every year to the City’s 450th birthday on Sept. 8, 2015.

The celebration benefits many people involved, as a cultural experience and more.

“We enlist volunteers and it gives Flagler students an opportunity. We have lots of drama students for the re-enacting; the Theatre majors get credit and experience, which can help them move forward into internships in the future. Flagler students are very helpful,” said Stuart.

The students in Flagler’s Spanish Cultural Club will also be volunteering with the Gala for the second time this year.

“We have the students involved in the actual event, dressed in period clothing and mostly doing valet,” said Club President Erick Hueck. “It’s beneficial for students to get involved with the Spanish culture and history of the event, because Spanish Club does the same thing. We try to bring education and appreciation to Spanish culture, so it’s nice that we can be a part of that.”

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