The new Largo High School crest is shown on the south side of the main building overlooking Packer Walk.
LARGO – In 1964, Largo High School sweethearts Audrey Venezia and Ken Bray were voted by their peers to have the most school spirit after they helped spearhead a project to install an 8 1/2-foot crest on the side of the auditorium.
That crest was taken down when the school was renovated in 2014, and Audrey would pass away two years later in July 2016.
So, when Bray watched a crew mount a new crest that was paid for by fellow members of the Class of 1964 almost exactly one year after his longtime wife’s death, he felt more than school spirit. He felt Audrey’s as well.
“It was fantastic,” he said holding back tears. “My sister-in-law was there. Several classmates were there watching it go up. And it was just emotional.”
A history lesson
The project has been in the works for more than a year when Lee and Jean Beistle gained possession of the original crest from a fellow member of the LHS Class of 1964, Ted Signor, who had hoped to restore and reinstall it when construction of the new campus was completed.
Lee Beistle knew that wouldn’t happen, though, because the 8 1/2-foot high and 5-foot wide piece of metal was showing the wear of 50 years.
“Right from the beginning we were sure we weren’t going to be able to use the old crest because it was in such bad condition,” he said. “It was steel and rusting.”
But before Beistle and his classmates put aside the old crest in favor of a new one, they wanted to learn about its history.
“I didn’t really have any knowledge of it,” Beistle said. “I was starting from scratch and trying to dig up some info on it, and or course we contacted classmates to see if anybody remembered anything.”
They found pieces of information in history and yearbooks, but Bray knew the whole story.
When the Class of 1964 was deciding on a class gift to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the school, Audrey asked her sister, Class of 1961 graduate Shirley Venezia, if she had any ideas.
Shirley recalled that her class had hoped to fabricate a crest based on a student’s drawings of the original crest that was created by a principal in the 1930s, but the class couldn’t pull the funds together.
“They didn’t have enough money, so he gave Shirley the paperwork and she took it home and put it in the attic with the yearbooks and stuff,” Bray said.
After Audrey retrieved it, Bray said senior class president Fred Wigley brought the idea to the principals, and they said go for it.
After raising the $315 needed to construct the crest, Wigley presented it as a gift to the school at commencement exercises.
“Our class president, who we had gotten in contact with, actually had the original receipts from this thing,” Beistle said. “We couldn’t believe it. His mother had actually kept it.”
During the Class of 1964’s reunion in 2014, members had raised $1,900 for a tree to be planted on the rebuilt campus. Landscaping, however, was already included in the construction’s design budget, so classmates turned their efforts toward a commemorative steel bench and a new, slightly smaller crest for about $2,500.
An email was sent out asking for funds and within 10 days, almost 40 classmates heeded the call, including a donation from Bray.
The process of designing and manufacturing a new crest began in July 2016, but it wasn’t easy.
“We didn’t think it would be a major problem, but it ended up being a very, very time-consuming project,” Beistle said.
Miscommunication with the Pinellas County School Board and numerous drawing reviews, rejections and resubmittals took their toll.
Ten months into the project, Beistle said the sign manufacturer was ready to quit after four or five attempts at getting drawings approved.
Funds weren’t available to start over, so the class sent an email asking Superintendent of Schools Michael Grego for help. Within a couple of weeks, the sign manufacturer called to say the School Board had finally approved the drawings.
Soon after, he notified Beistle that the install date would be July 20, exactly one year after Audrey Venezia Bray’s passing.
The new location would be on the south side of the main building overlooking Packer Walk.
Unfortunately, the School Board’s engineer had a scheduling conflict that delayed the installation till July 25.
But that didn’t matter, because even though Audrey died before she learned about the project, Bray is sure she would be pleased with the result.
“She would just be excited as we are,” he said, once again holding back tears.