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Sydelle Pittas championed giving back

Pittas, the founder of the Rotary Club of Longboat Key, died April 11.

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  • | 6:00 a.m. April 13, 2016
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Chartering a new Rotary Club can sometimes take several years. Not for Sydelle Pittas.

In February 2014, Pittas held her first exploratory meeting for the Rotary Club of Longboat Key. Eight months later, in October 2014, the club earned its charter.

“She was driven,” Rotary Club President Carol Erker said. “When she set her mind to something, it was going to be accomplished. She was a person who really wanted to make the difference in the lives of other people.”

Pittas, 71, of Longboat Key, died April 11, after a battle with pancreatic cancer.

The Rotary Club now has 40 members and has worked to better the Longboat Key and Sarasota community.

Since its founding, the club has been instrumental in working with the veterans of Longboat Key. In both 2014 and 2015, the club hosted the Key’s Veterans Day Parade, which saw more than 130 veterans from each branch and era of service participate.

The club also helped establish a food panty at Tuttle Elementary School, in Sarasota. Volunteers from the club give food to nearly 100 families on a biweekly basis. The elementary school recently named its new Digital Learning Lab after Pittas, and the Rotary Club received the school’s “Best Business Partner of the Year” in February.

“Onward and upward,” her husband, Philippe Koenig, said. “She wants the club to stay involved in doing things. Make Longboat Key better, seek out things that need to be done and address them. If anything, that was her motto. What can we do what was needed and how to increase a sense of community on Longboat Key.”

Pittas was born July 18, 1944, in New York City. She developed a lifelong interest in theater and performing arts and attended the High School of Performing Arts in New York.

She attended Douglass College of Rutgers University and began attending Harvard Law School before earning her undergraduate degree due to the advocacy of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who was a Harvard Law School lecturer at the time.

“Sydelle was very interested in civil rights and women’s rights well before she went to college,” Koenig said. “Ruth Bader Ginsburg helped her get into Harvard. She called Sydelle last month, and that really, really boosted her spirits.”

Pittas graduated from Harvard in 1975 and practiced law in Massachusetts for almost 40 years. She retired in 2013, when she and Koenig moved to Longboat Key.

“She had been a Rotarian in Massachusetts for more than 15 years and from day one concluded Longboat Key needs a Rotary Club,” Koenig said. “I have been so utterly amazed at the quality of people who have come along. Their interest is to do something, not to send money somewhere. Sydelle was always in favor of action.”

In addition to Koenig, Pittas is survived by her daughter, Pilar, of Los Angeles; son, Christopher, of San Francisco; stepdaughters Michele, of Newberry, Mass., and Susanne, of Venice, Calif.; stepson, Paul, of Los Angeles; four grandchildren; and half-brothers Nik, Gary and Aaron.

In lieu of flowers, Koenig asks donations be made to the Rotary Foundation’s PolioPlus or to the Selah Freedom foundation.