When Staria took her first trip to Florida from hometown Milwaukee, Wisconsin at age 16, by the time the train arrived in Daytona Beach, she knew the sunshine state was where she wanted to live.
The now retired proprietor of Star Flower Shop on Coral Way and Woman’s Club floral designer and event organizer first arrived on the key with husband Pete Petersen…and never left.
“I came to Key Biscayne 65 years ago on my honeymoon,” said Staria.
“So I’ve been married 65 years and been here in this house all that time…that you can live that long and still be married to somebody is really amazing.”
Their amazing well-loved home is an enchanting mini paradise of orchids blooming in green rooms out back and two happy dogs (Golden Doodle Coco and Shih tzu mix rescue Susi) running around in front.
The classic old Florida design is full of spacious rooms with wide windows welcoming in the sunlight and leading out to the pool and patio where the gracious host shared memories and local stories.
“Many people may not know that there were horses on Key Biscayne.”
“Next door to us was a coconut plantation (where the Grand Bay Club is today) and there was a barn there…Marilyn Revere had horses, two Mackle homes back to back, an ostrich in her yard, and she drove a fire truck!”
“Across the street was the Jamaica Inn and next to that a local watering hold called The Pub. They actually had a place where you could tie up your horse.”
Staria got her first job as a waitress at Jamaica Inn. She said it was a white “U” shaped building built by the Matheson family with a center courtyard garden and a waterfall where turtles swam. The Pub was the town square for locals to congregate and drink out of their own personalized mugs.
“Everybody knew everybody, it was a laid back community and very friendly.”
“One time a lady got sick and we wanted to raise money for her so we tied the horses on either end of the street and nobody cared…you didn’t have to ask the police or anything and we had a dance in the street and raised money for her. If somebody had a problem everybody was there to help…it was like one big family at that time.”
Over the years the Petersen’s raised their daughter Gillian, husband Pete worked for the airlines, and Staria opened up the family flower shop.
She designed floral arrangements for special events of well-known folks and politicians. When the Pittsburgh Steelers won the Super Bowl in 1974 they did the centerpieces for the big win party at the Sonesta Beach Hotel.
They hobnobbed with celebrities and friends of Key Biscayne bank founder and international island cosmopolitan ambassador; the legendary Bebe Rebozo.
“I got a call one day at the flower shop from the White House,” said Staria.
“They wanted us to send flowers to Pat Nixon and I was thrilled to death. I made the most perfect arrangement and when I got there (Nixon’s summer white house on the key) they pulled it all apart looking for stuff inside it. It about killed me but at least I got to do it.”
Staria is a three time cancer survivor who took the setback in stride. She credits her supportive husband and a busy work schedule for getting her through the tough times.
“I was in the flower shop when I had the breast cancer and we were so busy my partner (Mel Kline) would give me work to do like make 30 bowls of corsages. Your muscles are cut but he kept me working and I really think that’s how I got over it. I didn’t have time to think about it which was a blessing…when you have to do something you do it.”
She is also grateful for her Woman’s Club community of friends for having shared the years together. Staria believes the organization can be a cornerstone to help women support women through the best and worst of times while doing good work.
“My advice is for a woman that is having any problem in her life, she can join a woman’s club where there are other women and they support each other. It is such a reassuring uplifting thing to have friends that are behind you like that. The Woman’s Club really is a fantastic thing. They are your friends and your support and some of the best friends I have in my life I met there.”