-- back to anniversary preparations --

PORT ST. LUCIE What do you get a city of more than 160,000 people for its 50th birthday? For the Port St. Lucie Historical Society and the 50th Celebration Committee, the answer is a gift that should help preserve Port St. Lucie's past for future generations.

The society and the committee have enlisted former Community Relations Director Nina Baranski to write a book chronicling the city's first half century of existence. Society and committee members have said the book will offer the first definitive history of Port St. Lucie.

"I think it will be something the community will truly appreciate," said Mayor Patricia Christensen, who is heading the celebration committee. The release of the book will be one of the highlights of a weeklong birthday celebration in late April 2011.

The celebration committee made up of historical society members and political and business leaders is planning to hold an event in a different part of the city each day that week, Christensen said. Sandpiper Bay, St. Lucie West, Tradition and City Center are among the sites likely to host events.

The committee will start detailed planning for the events after the Civic Center opens in December. Meanwhile, Baranski is already busy developing a detailed outline for the book, which will explore the city's origins before its incorporation in 1961, its rapid growth over the last two decades and its future.

Baranski witnessed much of the history she'll be writing about. She first moved to Port St. Lucie in 1968, when the city's population was about 6,000. After leaving for Broward County for a few years, she returned in 1974 and remained a resident until she retired to Georgia in 2006.

"I loved seeing the city grow and it hasn't stopped," she said. Although Baranski has plenty of personal experience to draw on, everyone associated with the book has stressed it will not be a memoir like the 1998 book written by former Port St. Lucie Tribune columnist Strelsa Schreiber. Baranski is quick to credit the Historical Society for spearheading the project.

The group has been videotaping oral history interviews with some of the city's earliest residents, a resource Baranski will have available to her. And society member Stan Hicks has been carefully archiving records and photographs that will be used in the book.

"People have no idea what they're putting in to keeping the history of this city," Baranski said. The celebration committee convinced officials with Core Communities, Riverside National Bank and Johnson Brothers contractors to evenly split the $100,000 cost of the book. In exchange, each company will get its own page in the book, Christensen said.

The majority of the sponsorship money will pay for printing 6,000 copies of the book. The rest will cover Baranski's expenses.

The committee plans to sell the book for $39.99 a copy. History enthusiasts who want to pre-order the book can get a limited edition copy signed by Baranski for $49.99. The committee is also talking about creating a DVD from the oral history interviews, which could be included with limited edition copies, Christensen said.

Any proceeds from the book will help pay for a joint museum at Veteran's Memorial Park for local veterans and the historical society.

Incorporated April, 27, 1961, as "City of Port St. Lucie Florida Florida." Founded by General Development Corp. with a population of zero. The city sprang from GDC's River Park development, but its residents wanted to remain in unincorporated St. Lucie County.

Remained among the top 10 fastest-growing cities in the country from July 2006 to July 2007, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Census estimates placed the city's population at 151,391 residents in July 2007.