St. Petersburg has its pelican, Tampa has its pirate. But it's safe to say no area community mascot generates as much genuine affection as Manatee County's Snooty.
"I love that guy," said Manatee County Commissioner Michael Gallen.
Gallen isn't alone. As Snooty, probably the oldest Florida manatee who has ever lived, nears his 65th birthday, local dignitaries were eager to express fondness and admiration for the county's official mascot.
"He has such a happy-go-lucky attitude," said Johnette Isham, the executive director of Realize Bradenton. "Snooty is one of the key reasons that Bradenton is such a friendly city."
Gallen, like a lot of long-time county residents, feels a personal connection with Snooty.
"I've been a fan of Snooty since
I first met him when I was about 6 years old," he said. "I attribute his longevity to living in healthy Manatee County. I hope he lives another 65 years."
The South Florida Museum will celebrate Snooty's 65th with its annual birthday gala from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. today, a day before his actual birthday.
Because Snooty's officially becoming a senior citizen this year, the gala will be bigger than ever. Tenth Street in front of the museum will be closed to traffic for the first time in Snooty birthday history.
The street and the museum plaza will be full of activities, including games, live music and wildlife awareness exhibits.
All the outside stuff is free, and admission to the museum is half-price all day.
The county's second-favorite manatee mascot said he's looking forward to the gala.
"Can't wait to visit you and celebrate your birthday, Snooty," said Maverick the Manatee, the mascot of State College of Florida, Manatee-Sarasota. "Happy birthday!"
Suzi Fox, the director of Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch & Shorebirds, said Snooty's birthday always makes her think of her late mother Beverly.
"My mother loved Snooty," Fox said. "He's such an iconic figure in Bradenton. 1987 was the first year Snooty and I met, so we're growing old gracefully together. Going to see Snooty was the first thing my mother wanted to do when she came to visit, and after she moved here she started to go see him every year on his birthday."
Some people noted that Snooty is as old or older than local institutions.
"Snooty is exactly the same age as Manatee Players," said Rick Kerby, the producing artistic director for the Manatee Players. "We've grown up together."
Most birthday wishes were light-hearted, but some people were philosophical about Snooty's significance to Manatee County
"What a blessing this lovely mammal is to the community," said Vernon DeSear, vice president of Manatee Memorial Hospital. "Snooty's five years older than this hospital. I think people lose sight of how important it is to have heroes, and Snooty's a hero.
"I've always thought of this as a friendly, laid-back community, not at all pretentious, and I think Snooty embodies all of that," DeSear said. "He enjoys life."
One Bradenton official summed up the area's attitude succinctly.
"Happy birthday, Snooty," said Tim Polk, the city's director of planning and development for the City of Bradenton. "It just goes to show you can't keep a good manatee down."
Details: 10 a.m.-2 p.m. July 20, South Florida Museum, 201 10th St. W., Bradenton. Tickets: Free. Information: 941-746-4131, www.southfloridamuseum.org.
Marty Clear, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-748-0411, ext. 7919. Follow twitter.com/martinclear.