BUSINESS: Drummers drew guests into the dreamily decorated hall. Then the paired emcees kept the audience at the Hyatt Regency Austin on their toes, while the hotel’s ambitious staff served Asian-spiced dinners, including a winning vegetarian option. (Word to the wise: The vegetarian plate is often the superior choice at big galas.) Yet folks were here for the Ovation Awards, given out by the Greater Austin Asian Chamber of Commerce. The top honor, recognizing Lifetime Achievement, went to William Wang, founder and CEO of Vizio. Silicon Labs picked up the Business of the Year laurels, while Global Entrepreneur went to Jialiang Wang. Beloved food truck Chi’Lantro nabbed the Emerging Business Award, and the Asia Foundation snagged the honors for Community Group. Was pleased that Jamie Amelio, profiled in these pages and founder of Caring for Cambodia, was selected as Community Leader. Among the other winners: Rashed Islam, Sung Je Lee and three Economic Engine businesses: Ruvati USA, Whorton Insurance and Ticket City. What a great event! It didn’t need the unrelated entertainment.
MEDIA: It’s not really about the keynote speaker. Even though, guests for the Molly Awards, which benefit the Texas Observer, were riveted by the immigration speech from Pulitzer Prize winner Jose Antonio Vargas. It’s not about the celebrity emcee, this year actor and activist, Kathleen Turner, who has played awards namesake Molly Ivins. It’s not even about the Bernard Rappaport Philanthropy Award, which went to Don Carleton and the Briscoe Center for American History, the repository for the statewide magazine’s archives. No, the annual awards at the Four Seasons Hotel are always about the astounding, nonpartisan investigative journalism recognized and rewarded at the entertaining event. Esther Kaplan, editor of the Investigative Fund at the Nation Institute, won for “Losing Sparta,” which appeared in the Virginia Quarterly Review and followed the closing of a perfectly good factory in that Tennessee town. Honorable Mention went to BuzzFeed’s Alex Campbell for “Battered, Bereaved & Behind Bars,” covering women who are given long prison systems for not protecting their offspring, even as they themselves are battered; and to the Chicago Tribune’s Duaa Eldeib, David Jackson and Gary Marx for their five-part series, “Harsh Treatment,” on the abuse of minors in Illinois institutions.
FOOD: When Matthew Odam gives a new eatery a score of 9.5, you pay attention. Taken from his review in the Statesman: “Swimming holes. Willie Nelson’s ranch. Opie’s Barbecue. Spicewood is known for several things. Fine dining hasn’t historically been one of them. Apis Restaurant and Apiary could change that. Bowie native Taylor Hall opened the restaurant in February on a six-acre piece of property that backs up to the Pedernales River. The kitchen merges classic and modern approaches for a contemporary Texas restaurant with a vibe of understated elegance. It isn’t just a hidden gem on the road from Austin to Marble Falls — it’s one of the best restaurants in the Greater Austin area.” Go to story: https://shar.es/12aKGq
I remember this like it was yesterday. I was 11 years old and living in Tarrytown. A few friends and I rode our bikes down to 6th Street and North Lamar Boulevard. Back then, it was mostly car dealerships; no Whole Foods, or trendy shops. Straight Music was at Lamar and about 9th, and it was totally destroyed. We knew that place because that’s where everyone bought their band instruments. Pianos had floated out of the store and were in the middle of the road. The car lots were full of hundreds of cars all caked in mud and debris. Cars were strewn all over the place and many ended up in Town Lake (Lady Bird lake before it had been renamed). — Dude Spellings
It was Saturday night and I was going to roller skating rink on Lamar Boulevard The news said it would be raining that afternoon and evening but there was nothing about flooding. I drove down Koenig Lane to get there. There is a bridge and a small stream before you get to Lamar. I spent the whole evening skating, having a good time. Midnight was closing time so I got into my small foreign made station wagon and drove slowly down Lamar. It was raining very hard and I noticed the street lights were out. I turned down Koenig Lane. It was very, very dark. I had no way of seeing the water that was rushing over the bridge. Blackness was what I saw. I drove right into that water. I had had no experience with fast moving water. I looked through the front window and there was no car or person. I looked in the back window and there was no one there either. I was alone and got scared because the car started wobbling and I knew I had to get out! I pushed the door hard and when it opened water rushed in. I struggled to get out of the car. I looked to my left but nobody was there. The water was at my knees and pushing me hard against the car as I struggled to move to the back. I looked up and saw someone standing there at the side of this wild river. The water was midway to my thighs now. As he came forward I saw he was a tall and well-muscled man. He took my hand and guided me to safety and helped me into his truck. I had the distinct impression the car was rusty. The back window was very small and the radio reminded me of my grandfather’s truck. When the man was seated he turned and looked at me with large soft brown eyes. His eyes were quite extraordinary. I felt very safe with this stranger. He asked me where I lived and knew exactly where it was. I was so grateful to him for coming to my rescue that my mouth ran on. In the quiet spaces between my words he did not speak. I never found out who he was. He stopped his truck and I said thank you again wanting to give him some money. He said everything was alright. I got out of the stranger’s truck, walked two steps, turned to wave at him and he was gone! He had stopped his truck. Again, one moment I said good-by, walked two steps, turned and he and his truck were no longer there! It took me several months to wrap my head around the fact that I had been saved by an angel. — Nickla Heudier
My wife and two children were in Austin on Memorial Day weekend 1981, but I was speaking and performing magic at a military conference in Germany. During a break, I was reading the Stars and Stripes, the military tabloid newspaper in Europe, and I couldn’t believe the headline: “Flash floods kill 7 in Austin, Texas; damage is heavy.” as I recall, the entire back page was filled with photos of the flood damage. We didn’t have cell phones, email, or even Skype back then. Getting a transatlantic call back to my wife required calling in some favors. But I made it through, and she and the kids were okay. The biggest news story in Germany was flooding in my home town in Texas. Stevie Ray Vaughn wouldn’t perform “Texas Flood” for two more years, but whenever I hear it, I still think about that day. — Kent Cummins
On Memorial Day, 1981, I was living in Round Rock with my husband and two children. We lived in Round Rock West subdivision and fortunately lived on high ground because our neighbors on Lake Creek experienced the same fate as those on Shoal Creek, having their homes inundated with torrents of water. The crossings over the creek were out of commission dividing the subdivision north and south. We walked down to the area to see what had happened to our neighborhood and later that day my husband called to report on the devastation at Shoal Creek. He was a service writer at Covert Buick, which was always open on Memorial Day, and couldn’t believe all the new cars in their storage lot behind Huts Hamburgers had been washed into the creek and were mixed up with cars that had washed down from further up the creek. We of course drove down to see him and stood on the edge looking at the jumble of cars battered in all positions possible, wondering if there was anyone in there. Most of them had been spray painted to indicate they had been checked. My 44-year-old daughter still thinks about a VW she spotted and if someone was in it went it went into the creek. When I returned home I got a call that one of my coworkers at the COA and his wife had been killed in Shoal Creek. He went around the barrier on Shoal Creek Street and drove into the water. They had been to a party and she was asleep in the car according to witnesses. I worked in the same small office with this man and 4 others for several years. Later that week we attended their funeral together. This past weekend we watched the news of the flooding again, only this time from high ground above the San Gabriel River. I feel very fortunate that I have avoided Mother Nature’s wrath yet again. We moved here just months before the Labor Day fire in Bastrop, after selling our home in the area of the fire. I went back there too, not to look, but to work at the animal shelter I had volunteered at before moving. It was the least I could do to help. — Linda Mitchell
I was the chief photographer at KVUE, “Action News.” I awoke to the sound of pounding rain on my Crestview house. There was so much rain that my backyard had three feet of water that just couldn’t drain away fast enough. I went into work, picked up my CP-16 film camera, and started shooting the disaster on Shoal Creek. I first went down to the car dealerships next to Whole Foods around 11th and Lamar. Most cars were gone, but the headlights of one Mazda with popups, was opening and closing continuously on it’s own. Next call on the police/emergency scanner was for a body found at 45th and Shoal Creek. When I walked down from the 45th Street bridge, I saw EMS in a pow wow planning their next move. When I asked where the body was, one of them pointed up. And in the trees 25 feet above me, there it was, tangled in the high branches above street level. They had to use block and tackle to bring it down. — Jim Bowen
At the time, I lived in a tiny “efficiency” apartment at 4501 Speedway, maybe 25 yards from the bed of Waller Creek (and four blocks from where I live today). The weather had been wet for several days before that Sunday, and the ground was saturated. That afternoon the sun came out, but everything was horribly hot and muggy. A friend of mine was in from Nacogdoches to spend the weekend, and a mutual friend of ours also came over to visit that evening. A little before dark, the thunderstorm that had been threatening all day turned loose, and we got rain of a sort that I’ve only seen once or twice in my life. Official weather records count 10 inches of rain in four hours; other sources say more than 12 inches fell. We heard and commented on how heavy the rain was, but didn’t realize just how bad it had gotten until one of us looked out the window and saw water over the concrete walkway — not standing, but moving water, and it looked to be coming up. We all began at once to pile my floor-level stuff onto taller things, because we had no idea how serious it might get. (That effort saved my vinyl collection and my books and magazines from being ruined.) Meanwhile, it was still raining and the water kept rising. We decided we’d be best off to get up to the second floor of the building while we could, and I started to open the door. Fortunately, Liz (my friend from Nacogdoches) stopped me and pointed out that the water, which by now was coming in around the door, was only an inch or two deep inside the apartment but more than a foot deep outside. I took her point, and we all climbed out the apartment’s one window and dropped into knee-deep water. The building, and the apartments next to it, created a kind of backwater where we were, so we didn’t have to fight the current to get to the stairs. We climbed up, and found seven or eight other people up there as well — some of them residents, others people who’d pulled into our parking lot to try to get out of the spreading pool. Someone brought out a jug of wine and some plastic cups, and we passed them round as we stood on the walkway. Strangely, the storm didn’t have much wind with it, so we were all able to stay dry as we watched the flood happen. An Austin Police Department patrol car had been parked earlier at the intersection with lights on, but the rising water floated it so it bobbed across the intersection until it fetched up against a light-pole guy wire, lights still going. The rain let up an hour or so later, and a couple of hours after that the water went down enough that our local friend was able to get his car out and go home. The apartment was, of course, uninhabitable with mud and wet, so Liz and I spent the night on the couches at the Canterbury Association, since I still had keys (after my term as an officer was over, the chaplain never asked me for them back). The landlord had to rip out and replace all the carpet and most of the furniture, so I camped out for a week or so until repairs were done. — Sam Waring
I have lived in Austin since 1965 and here is my 1981 deluge account! Hearing a break in the torrential rains, I headed out on foot from my garage apartment on Pressler between Fifth and Sixth streets to buy some milk which I would need in the morning. It was Sunday night after 10 p.m., and no one was out. There was a convenience store on the southwest corner of Ninth and Lamar, so I headed up Lamar from Sixth Street and was just walking into the store entrance when I saw a fleet of cars floating down Lamar from their lot at 12th Street! I alerted the store clerk to call someone, and we went out and watched Whole Foods on the west side of the street fill up with water. Suddenly we noticed a man clinging to a parking sign around where Louis Shanks used to be, and it was around then that a few police had arrived. Around the time I believed he would be rescued, I walked home in mild shock from seeing such an unexpected spectacle! All for a quart of milk. — Eric Bieri
In 1981, I was living on Bullard Drive in a rented duplex. Bullard backs up to Shoal Creek on the east side, I lived on the west side, about 1/2 block from the intersection of Shoal Creek Boulevard and White Horse Trail. I was in Atlanta for a business convention over Memorial Day weekend. A colleague called my hotel room around 7:30 a.m. EST, as I was getting dressed to go to my first meeting, saying “You’d better turn on your TV, Austin’s on the news!” I did so immediately to see the devastating reports of flooding, then called my parents (who also live in Austin) right away to check on them, my sister, and conditions in Austin and my neighborhood. My mother said she knew it had rained hard, but they were OK, and hadn’t yet seen the news. I told them to hang up right now, turn on the news, and call me back! When they called back, my father said “Do you want the good news or the bad news first?” I said “bad news first,” and he said “Your house flooded, but the good news is, only 6-8 inches and not nearly as bad as houses on the east side of the street.” And he went on to give me more details of the disaster, including how one of my neighbors, on the corner of Bullard and White Horse, had had her brick garage blown out. (As it turned out, she and her son were able to get out of the house and clung to a tree until they were rescued. We heard later that another neighbor had died.) I got home a couple of days later to find my duplex beginning to dry out, as my parents had come over to move furniture out and pull up the soaked carpets. While all the furniture and other items that were on the floors had been damaged, nothing was irreplaceable, and I was, and am, forever grateful for the minimal effects compared to those of many others on my street and throughout Austin. I moved out of the Allandale neighborhood in 1983, but have never forgotten that time. It was a great lesson that, in the end, lives are what’s important, and the rest was just “stuff.” That, and the kindness and support of an entire community who rallied to help neighbors and strangers. — Lynda Shanblum
How can I forget the rainy storm during the Memorial weekend in 1981 in Austin, Texas? My eldest brother drove my red 1976 Nova Chevrolet with two of my sisters and me in the car as we left the Holy Cross Hospital on East 19th Street (Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard) going north to go home, leaving my mother alone in the hospital with my father who was in coma as a result of his terminal lung cancer. It rained very heavily and the twilight skies were dark as if they mourned my father. We spoke little and as soon as we turned from MLK heading north on Hwy 183, the lighning followed by thunder, then the heavy pouring made the visibility near zero. The car crawled pass Loyola Lane and my brother said he hoped to find an overpass for us to stop under. There was none. All the cars along 183 inched little by little and we finally got to the intersection of 183 and Manor/Springdale. The rain water poured downhill as we turned from Springdale toward our home near LBJ High School; the lightning and thunder continued. Six days later my father took his last breath. — Dr. Kim Thinh Hovanky
Like a lot of people, I went to sleep during a terrible rain storm the night before Memorial Day in 1981. I woke up early to go to work at Kinsolving Dorm and was in complete disbelief to see a river in front of my duplex. My duplex was at 1308 Old 19th St.A dead-end street with only one address on it. It was situated right behind and a little higher on the hill from, then KVET-CASE radio station. KVET-CASE would be the building on very high concrete pilings at the intersection of MLK and Lamar. Of course we had no phone or electricity, so I walked to the bottom of my driveway and swan to the radio station to call my employer that I wasn’t making it into work. The folks in the back office saw me swimming and opened a window for me to climb in. The water came right up to the top of the concrete pilings. After an unsuccessful attempt to contact Kinsolving, I swam back to my duplex to wait it out. 24 hours later, still with no electricity and no way to get out of our duplex, we lit candles and combined our food resources with our nice duplex neighbors until the water receded. To this day I remember sitting on the roof deck and seeing nothing but water over our beloved “front yard” Pease Park. — Peggy Little
I was 19 years old at the time, working as a bus boy at the County Line on the Hill on Bee Caves Road. My family at the time lived in the New Camelot subdivision across Bee Caves from the County Line and I used to walk to work … back when the traffic on the road was probably 1/10th of what it is today. Of course, because of its hilltop position, the restaurant didn’t suffer any flooding. The manager that night was a woman around the age of my mother. We were getting updates on the flooding via radio. She knew that I had walked to work … she actually lived in the same neighborhood. So when she asked me how I was getting home I replied: “Backstroke!” The only damage that my home sustained was a load of debris in the pool, given that the house was located on a slope. I remember the flooding along Lamar … pianos and other musical instruments floating down the street from Strait Music, cars from a Volkswagen dealership along the same stretch of Lamar bobbing in the current. Also badly hit was a strip shopping center in Rollingwood at the first bend in the road as you were headed westbound — it was badly damaged — I seem to remember that there was a Schlotzky’s location there. — Mike Gwynn
I feel rather guilty about my experience, to tell you the truth. I was 27 years old, living in an old two-story frame house at 705 West 11th St, where I was paying a whopping $125 a month rent. I had entered my weekend with the simple joy of having three days off from work, and without television, radio or phone at the time, I was blissfully unaware of the chaos just down the hill on Lamar. I spent the weekend enjoying the rain and doing arts and crafts. It wasn’t until I walked downtown to work on Congress Avenue the following Tuesday and stopped to pick up my morning paper (the American-Statesman, of course) at a stand near a local business that I learned of the devastation. I felt guilty then that I hadn’t known, and perhaps have been able to help someone in need. That’s my story! — Tina Jackson
One of the things that gets lost in the stories of the Memorial Day flood – and something that should be remembered this week with more storms coming – is that the flooding continued all week. I remember that because, in addition to barely escaping death on Memorial Day, I came within a whisker of missing my wedding a week later, on May 30. On Memorial Day Saturday, my future wife and I were out sailing at our family lake house on the Hudson’s Bend area of Lake Travis. As the day got late, we decided to head back into Austin for dinner with her parents. We finished packing up the car and started the car to leave when we noticed a black wall moving slowly downstream. Just ahead of the wall, a 22-foot sailboat was desperately tacking back and forth, trying to stay ahead. They lost the fight, and just in front of our cabin the sailboat disappeared into one of the strongest deluges of rain and hail I have ever experienced in 58 years as an Austinite. In seconds, we went from bright sunshine to a black, moonless night. I turned the car headlights on and struggled to safely guide the car under the shelter of the carport ten feet away. I never heard what happened to the sailboat. When the storm let up a bit, we headed into town. At Elizabeth’s parent’s house on north MoPac, the rain was falling so hard it was coming down the chimney and flooding the living room. We used towels and clothing to build a barricade, and Mom stayed busy mopping up the streaming water behind the line of towels. I was worried that I left my windows up at my house at 32nd and Guadalupe, so Elizabeth and I decided to make the trip to check it out. Driving slowly through the torrent, we headed down an on-ramp onto MoPac. But I couldn’t see the highway, so I stopped. Elizabeth was yelling at me that I couldn’t stop on an on-ramp, but when I stepped out of the car to see what was going on, my foot descended into what was already a foot of water, and rising. If I hadn’t stopped we would have driven into a river that had inundated MoPac at that point, and would almost certainly have been part of the death toll for that night. We backed up the ramp and returned to her parent’s house for the night. A week later, on Saturday afternoon the clouds looked threatening but the worst seemed over. As I drove my old Buick down Lamar to pick up my groom’s cake at Sweetish Hill, it started raining again, and by the time I headed back up Lamar to my house, Lamar had become impassable. Surrounded by water, I drove up onto a grassy hillside to escape, and became trapped. Since cell phones didn’t exist back then to call for help, I had to wait hours for the water to recede. When it finally did, I raced home, grabbed my tux and sped to All Saint’s Episcopal Church on the UT campus, now over an hour late. The Rev. Chris Hines was just starting to address the packed church, explaining that I was the first runaway groom he had ever experienced, when I burst into the church, soaked from the rain with my tux and cake in hand. Luckily, the rain subsided during the service, and when we arrived at the Headliners Club for the reception, perched atop a bank tower in downtown Austin, we were rewarded with a triple rainbow arcing across the southwest. A great omen for what in a few days will be 34 years with the greatest women I have ever met. And a wedding week I will never forget. — Howard Fomby
So says wise Lynda Johnson Robb. The daughter of President Lyndon Baines Johnson and Lady Bird Johnson played another familial role on this rainy weekend as mother of the bride. Jennifer Robb, a math teacher and coach — also daughter of Sen. Charles Robb —married Josh Glazer, who works in the national security division of the Office of Management and Budget.
The May 23 celebration at the LBJ Ranch on the Pedernales River was not without drama.
“We planned everything so well,” Lynda Johnson Robb says. “We gave out fans with the bride and groom’s pictures on them. We had a cake on a stump that had their name carved on it. On the tables, we had cigar boxes decorated with love poems and pieces of oral history. All kinds of wonderful things for people to look at when they had their Salt Lick meal.”
Naturally, wildflowers adorned the guests and tables. White chairs dotted the lawn. You see, at Lady Bird Johnson’s death, National Park Service officials agreed that the family could return to their cherished ranch for weddings, baptisms and funerals.
“Then the rains came,” Robb says.”So we had the wedding service in the airplane hangar which has been converted into a visitors center. Everyone stood and they were married right in front of Lyndon’s civil rights legacy exhibit in the background.”
The youngest Johnson descendants joined the wedding party. Many of the women wore blue bridesmaid’s dresses in the current fashion that encourages personal diversity (and re-use).
“We just pretended we were in the most beautiful church in the world,” Robb says. “The minister in his prepared notes had something to say about water not drowning things out. We had a tent for insurance for the barbecue and the dance floor. After that, we went out, the bride and groom danced, then others danced. And the rain came down and down and down. Everything was getting wet in the tent. Someone said the water on the dance floor was over their shoes. We all danced and pretended it was just what we had imagined.”
The Park Service interrupted the wet festivities to announce that the Pedernales River was up to 14 feet. At 16 feet, they would not be able to get out. Robb announced that the band would play “Auld Lang Syne” as guests boarded the buses.
The very core of the wedding party stayed at Sunset House — which the grandchildren own — intending to run a Memorial Day race. But they couldn’t get out for that. The ranch suffered minor damages such as downed tree limbs.
Meanwhile, the buses were detoured near Dripping Springs.
“Nobody got hurt,” Robb says. “Everybody got back to Austin. All those plans that mothers make, all those ideas … you’d cry, but we laughed instead.
(More pictures to come. Also correction: An earlier version of this post misidentified groom Josh Glazer.)
TRAVEL: A destination wedding took us back to Virginia. The ambrosial affair gave us permission to further explore the Richmond and Charlottesville regions.
First, though, the wedding. Our gorgeous niece and goddaughter, Lauren Barnes, wed dashing Alex Bonetti — both University of Texas grads — at Keswick Vineyards outside of Charlottesville.
The historic Edgewood Estate rises in an impossibly beautiful valley of horse farms and old country homes. The site played small roles in the Revolutionary and Civil wars.
On a cool, clear May late afternoon, the ceremony took place against the background of rolling vineyards and the green hills beyond. Lauren and Alex wrote their own vows. Especially touching were their tributes to the rest of the wedding party. The tented reception — including jaunty toasts — added to the evening’s sweet trance. Knowing my family, I’m sure there was an after party following the after party.
Before and after the wedding, I criss-crossed Charlottesville on foot. The town’s signature building, Thomas Jefferson‘s Rotunda on the University of Virginia campus was covered with scaffolding. Yet the famous lawn behind it was quiet and inviting, as was the rest of the fantastically landscaped school, deserted on Memorial Day weekend.
Most of my perambulations took me along a bent line from University Avenue through South and North Main streets. Here, locals have gone a long way to preserve the quirky, low-key, pedestrian-friendly charms that we formerly associated with the Drag and West Campus in Austin. Great attention — perhaps too much — is given to echoing Jefferson’s tributes to Palladio and other neo-classical designers. At least here, a row of white columns does not automatically equate with dubious social status, as it does elsewhere in the South, but rather conveys a respect for learning and tradition. Enjoyed fine bites at Bodo’s Bagels and World of Beer, where I got some reading done on “Empire of Cotton” and caught up on The New Yorker.
On this, my third visit to this college town, I finally toured Monticello, Jefferson’s mountain-top home just outside of town. A relatively new visitor’s center is crisply organized around shuttling guests up to the plantation home for timed tours. My sister wisely reserved tickets in advance, so we were wheeling up the incline within minutes after our arrivals — others waited for hours for a slot. Historic homes often disappoint. They give a glimpse of the times, but not into the minds of the residents. Monticello is a product of Jefferson’s long life and many interests — scientific, geographic, literary, spiritual, gustatory, agricultural, aesthetic — so it’s far more than a building with period decor. After the formal tour of the first, mostly public floor, we poked our noses through the lower levels and gardens. We also heard a long, very informative talk near the Hemmings’ cabin on life for Jefferson’s slaves, including his offspring.
On to Richmond, which I’d skimmed only briefly before. The first thing you notice is the industry that spreads out in layers from the James River. Richmond grew rapidly into an industrial power because of its placement on the fall line, which secured water power, but it continues as an industrial center. Secondly, one can’t ignore Richmond’s muscular downtown, which, unlike Austin, offers powerful examples of commercial and civic architecture for each period that dates back more than 200 years. It was a big city in the 20th century, too, and shows it.
Spend a little more time here and one quickly discovers the many historic neighborhoods, whose fortunes have ebbed and flowed over time. Observe even more closely and you’ll see how students, hipsters and artists are interacting with those who stayed when old Richmond experienced white flight in the late 20th century. (Examples: New South eatery spot, Pasture, pleasing Capital Ale House and an organic grocery in transitioning Church Hill.)
I visited seven museums and monuments on my last day. The best of them focused on local rather than regional history. The Valentine Richmond History Center, built into a row of 19th-century houses, is everything you’d want from a local history museum — smart, current, incredibly well presented, including a respectful temporary exhibit on Church Hill and a funny contest matching old beards to current ones on locals.
Similarly, the Historic Tredegar museum stuck to the history of Richmond-area battlefields during the Civil War. Built into the remains of the giant forges that supplied rails, munitions and other supplies for the South, it artfully explained the two big military campaigns that threatened and ultimately vanquished the former capital of the Confederacy.
Two other Civil War museums attempt too much and accomplish too little. The American Civil War Center and the Museum of the Confederacy try to tell military narratives while providing some context. The first ends up too scattered and muddled, while the second often misses the point. A temporary exhibit on the Stars and Bars, for instance, is introduced as “controversial,” but sticks almost exclusively to its role as a battle flag. Interesting for period details, for sure, but virtually nothing was included on its role for more than 100 years as an unashamed symbol of white supremacy.
There’s much else to see in Richmond, including Jefferson’s State House, surrounded by monuments, the most prominent by far is dedicated to President George Washington, the most moving depicts the civil rights movement. Nearby is the governor’s Federal-style mansion and the neo-Gothic Old City Hall. The Confederate White House is blocks away, near the Valentine and Museum of the Confederacy. All this can be done on foot. Best to take a wheeled vehicle to Monument Avenue, a grand thoroughfare that starts with familiar Confederates and ends with tennis great Arthur Ashe.
SCHOOL: “Greatness attracts greatness,” says the Rev. Joseph C. Parker. “I am in awe of the greatness in this room.” The Precursors are African-American leaders who attended the University of Texas more than 40 years ago. They meet regularly, support the university, and encourage the next generation of students to excel. They also remember a time when their ancestors would not have been welcome on campus. Parker, an attorney as well as senior pastor of David Chapel Missionary Baptist Church, gave a rousing keynote address. Judge Harriett Murphy listed all the ways that UT had changed for the good under President Bill Powers before conferring special honors on him. Former Austin City Council Member Charles Urdy did the same for honoree Ada Collins Anderson, whose family’s history is deeply entwined with Travis County’s. She recently gave the naming donation ($3 million) for a Huston-Tillotson University clinic that will work closely with UT’s new Dell Medical School. Celebrating her time at UT while working on a master’s degree 50 years ago, the 90-plus-year-old directed the best one-liner at Powers: “Neophyte!” Others receiving Precursor honors were engineers Lonnie Fogle and Cleo Jenkins, as well as businessman Carl Huntley.
ARTS: The Long Center’s backers like a theme. Such as purple. The color was everywhere during the Purple Party, including pops of purple on the cocktail attire of several hundred guests at the benefit. Former Mayor Bruce Todd and attorney Cliff Ernst — both longtime supporters of the performing arts venue — wore their special purple suits. Others, like communications expert Lisa O’Neill, couldn’t find much purple in their wardrobes, and so selected some appropriately hued accessories. Another theme for the dinner and auction in a tent on the terrace: Blues Brothers. Every place setting came with sunglasses and hats in the manner of the musical act that was to follow on the Long Center stage. Power couple Lynn Yeldell and Alisa Weldon didn’t need the gear: They arrived so attired. During dinner, I spent considerable time with Sue Meller, longtime manager of the Headliners Club, who is compiling the storied institution’s 60th anniversary history. You know that’s going to be a story for your social columnist as well.
MUSIC: It was hard to imagine anyone but China Forbes as the lead vocalist for Pink Martini. Then along came Storm Large. Tall, statuesque, almost a muscular throw-back to the blond bombshells of the 1940s and ’50s, Large is larger than life. Her voice is a gift from the gods. She now alternates with Forbes and held an ACL Live crowd in the palm of her hand. At a certain point in the entirely entertaining concert, I lost track of the number of languages sung on the stage by this global act based in Portland, Ore. Large was up to every genre, including “The Thrill Is Gone” as a B.B. King tribute. The traditional conga line that accompanies the group’s climactic version of “Brazil” generated as much frenzy as the first time I’d witnessed it. At one point, an audience member next to us on the first row of the mezzanine asked why we weren’t dancing. “Fear of heights,” we said. “Not fear of dancing.”
LAW: “I dug my future out of the ground of Austin, its playgrounds, its sandlots.” I’d always heard that Thomas “Hollywood” Henderson was an inspirational speaker. I didn’t know the half of it. Introduced by Travis County prosecutor Gary Cobb during a Council for At-Risk Youth benefit, I was reminded of his history: Native Austinite, football star, Super Bowl winner, onetime abuser of alcohol and drugs, then sober leader of efforts to keep people out of trouble on many fronts. (Also, two-time lottery winner!) When Henderson spoke, you understood the conflict in his life between being a “knucklehead” and being an eternal three-year-old who loved to learn. Luckily, the second persona won out in the end. He urged CARY to add two things to their crusade to keep young people out of trouble: Start that education earlier and include sobriety training when appropriate.
STYLE: Sometimes, tangentially allied forces come together for fun and a good cause. Such is the case with Fashionably Pink, the annual cocktail party and runway show at the W Austin Hotel. It combines the digital reporting efforts of Cheryl Bemis‘ Fashionably Austin and Michelle Patterson‘s nonprofit Stiletto Stampede‘s campaign to help Boob Camp, a post-surgery fitness program that’s part of the Seton Breast Care Center. Yes, you read right: Boob Camp. Nice to have a sense of humor about something so serious. The frisky runway show collected looks from 24 designers or boutiques. All used the color pink, not an easy hue to handle. I was particularly taken with the lightweight, wearable stylishness from Csilla Somogyi, whom I plan to follow more closely.
CITY: Photographer Mark Goodman freezes downtown Austin in the 1980s. From my story in the Statesman: “In 1982, almost an entire downtown block at Sixth Street and Congress Avenue was leveled to build One American Center, which became, in 1984, Austin’s tallest building. Still fairly new to town, photographer Mark Goodman was fascinated by the scene. “I was attracted to the light and the way it landed on the buildings and the cityscape,” says Goodman, who taught at the University of Texas for 33 years. “It was still open. Not skyscraper tunnels like New York or Dallas. There was a beautiful sense of photographic light and change, and it was interesting to look at.” Goodman, whose subjects have ranged from the youth of an Upstate New York village to the punk scene in Austin, became more invested in a sense of place at Sixth and Congress during the two years of construction. His interests expanded to include the rest of Austin’s original square-mile grid.” https://shar.es/1r7yB8
CHARITY: Is there a better public speaker in the Austin nonprofit world than Amy Mills? I think of Steven Tomlinson and Laura Huffman. Also Evan Smith with his signature fluid, short bursts of insight. Mills, however, kept 450 guests at the Emancipet (tasty vegan, gluten-free) luncheon spellbound as she explained the Humane Community movement. The Austin groups starts with a mobile unit that provides low-cost spay, neuter and vaccination services in underserved areas, where the vast majority of strays can be found. If the unit clicks, they put in a permanent clinic. They started in East Austin, then expanded to Pflugerville and Killeen. They’ve opened a mobile unit in Houston — home to a horrifying 1.2 million strays — and plan three permanent clinics there, as well as one in Austin’s Dove Springs district. With partners, they are even moving into North Philadelphia, Pa. Only 10 years old and aided by $1.1 million in grants from the national ASPCA, Emancipet treated 56,000 pets in 2014 alone. Area shelters have seen a 38 percent drop in intakes. Still young, Mills is becoming a recognized national leader on the subject.
LGBTQ: OutYouth must have seemed like an outrageous proposition 25 years ago. Offer support and a safe place for LGBTQ teens? What would their parents say? How would the community respond? Well, more than 5,000 youths have been helped by the program and, given the higher suicide rates among this population, OutYouth surely has saved many lives, while keeping others off the streets. Their Silver Anniversary dinner spread out under the giant eaves of the Palmer Events Center. This is a spectacular open-air space that is rarely used by Austin party planners. After some timely speeches and testimonials, this dinner took the character of a real party. Good to see so many members of the community supportive of this vital service.
ARTS: Any regional ballet company that aspires to national status must try something like a fully-fledged “Swan Lake.” As Dallas Observer writer Danielle Georgiou onceput it: “The fear comes in quickly because while this classic ballet is every dancer’s dream, it’s also a nightmare, with its extreme difficulty, both technically and emotionally.” The challenge grew after Daniel Aronofsky film, “Black Swan,” enriched the original dance with fresh symbolism. Ballet Austin and Artistic Director Stephen Mills thrilled local audiences last weekend with the city’s first full-length stab at the “Swan.” During the intermission and after the show, folks talked about the immaculate timing of the corps de ballet and bravery of the principals. OK, a little wobbling on one pas de deux, but who’s counting? Executive Director Cookie Ruiz told me that they had sold all but 200 of the 8,000 seats.
SCHOOL: The late, much-missed Gov. Ann Richards deftly combined merrymaking with public speaking. It was heartening to see teens and adults following in her footsteps during the Reach for the Stars Gala that benefits the Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders. Sure, some are practiced speakers. Holland Taylor, for instance, played Ann Richards on Broadway as part of a distinguished acting career. She humorously and variously urged the guests to “write a check.” Actress, comedian, activist, writer and producer Lily Tomlin, another friend of the governor’s, deftly accepted the Ann Richards Legacy Award. (During a marathon, long-distance brainstorming session, her wife, Jane Wagner, wrote the famous “born with a silver foot in his mouth” line for the 1992 Democratic Convention keynote address). Yet the real oratorical revelations came from the confident graduates from the Class of 2015. Dennis Vera welcomed the crowd like a pro; Alexis Taylor interviewed “CBS This Morning” co-host Norah O’Donnell on video; Monica Martinez spoke of resilience; Josie MacLean interviewed alumna Monica Herrera, now at Johns Hopkins University; Georgia Hernandez and Karina Mendez interviewed Tomlin on video. I’ve rarely been in the presence of so much eloquence.
HEALTH: It’s a place, in the words of a member, where it’s OK to be not OK. The Austin Clubhouse is a place where recovery from mental illness is possible. Members run the show at a rented 1,800-square-foot community center where they prepare and share lunches. At other times, they hang out or use the computers. The club also delivers on work placement and outdoor outings. As such, it’s also one of the proven Austin bastions against homelessness. We learned at the group’s simple, good-hearted box luncheon that they want to expand, find their own building and plant outposts to serve the metro’s sprawl. In an age when mental health is finally getting the respect and attention it deserves, the Austin Clubhouse is one of the solutions that works efficiently and effectively.
MOVIES: It was impressive enough to mingle with a half dozen members of the Longhorns’ ’69 football squad. Yet there was so much more to this Toast of the Town party that benefited the Neal Kocurek scholars through the St. David’s Foundation. I spoke at length with “My All American” co-producer Kell Cahoon, who told me about the distinct acting styles of stars Aaron Eckhart, who plays a gruff Darryl Royal, and Finn Wittrock, who inhabits the role of Freddie Steinmark, the scrappy UT defensive player whose fight with cancer is the movie’s turning point. Writer-director Angelo Pizzo (he penned “Hoosiers,” “Rudy”) spoke of two constituencies: Steinmark’s surviving family, friends and teammates, on one hand, and the moviegoing public, which is more interested in a good, thumping story than play-by-play historical accuracy. From the four clips he showed the crowd of perhaps 50 at an estate on Stratford Mountain, I’d say the Austin-shot movie has a decent chance of landing well when it is released in October.
SCHOOL: “Daddy, you know how to read?” asked the incredulous Lady Bird Johnson when she was a small child. The future first lady’s mother had shipped a trove of books to their house in tiny Karnack. But she died when the girl was just 5. Her father later asked if she missed her mother. “Yes.” “What do you miss the most?” “She read to me.” “I can read to you.” Her surprised reaction probably rose from his dawn-to-bedtime work schedule at his general store. All this came up at the Storybook Heroes lunch benefitting the Austin literacy group BookSpring. Lynda Johnson Robb shared the story as she was interviewed by her daughter Catherine Robb. The family has been involved in the Reading is Fundamental movement from the beginning. More Storybook Heroes honored at the lunch visited by whimsical characters from Winnie-the-Pooh: Drs. Clift Price and Karen Hayward, Junior League of Austin, Michele Walker-Moat and Applied Materials.
MEDIA: The tables dripped with influence. A fresh-air dinner for Austin Way magazine at the Umlauf Sculpture Garden and Museum attracted some mighty powerful women. At one table, for instance, attorney Catherine Robb (our third lucky encounter of the week), at another, museum director Simone Wicha. Short profiles of influencers like these accompanied by high-fashion portraits adorned the current issue of the handsome magazine. I spent the most time time chatting with table mate, Francesca Consagra, senior curator of prints and drawings and European paintings, who shared marvelous ideas about the body moving in space and a wide range of lasting insights. Earlier, in the garden, I learned a lot about writing in different genres from Michener Center authors Maya Perez and Rachel Kondo. Every night, another Austin forum.
CITY: Giving thanks for OutYouth. Taken from my column in the Statesman: “Recently wed Jason Minter came out at age 17. “I realized there was a word for what I was feeling when I was about 14 or 15,” says Minter, who grew up in Austin and now lives in Alabama. “But it took till I was 17 to be able to tell someone else. The summer of my 17th year, I spent with my aunt in Houston, and she was the first person I came out to. After I came back to Austin, I came out to my mother and father.” The response wasn’t great, but he wasn’t in danger of being kicked out of his home. “They told me that they would always love me, but there was a strong disapproval of ‘my chosen lifestyle,’” Minter, 37, says. “What followed were a few therapy sessions, a few bizarre house rules, and some arguments, but all in all, it wasn’t that terrible a coming-out process.” Still, the software developer, who married nursing school student Zane Zirbel, was pleased to discover OutYouth, which celebrates its 25th year of helping LGBT Central Texas youth with a benefit Saturday outside the Palmer Events Center.” https://shar.es/1pMObE
STYLE: Car hunting with a camera. Taken from my story in the Statesman: “Ardently interested in cars since age 12, Ken Altes reports a peculiar recurring dream. “I am a car,” the Austin Realtor says in all seriousness. “My hands are holding the axles. I’m the body. I’m the frame. I wake up slowly and tell myself: I’m not the car. I’m not the suspension. I’m flesh. It takes me a while to convince myself that I’m flesh and blood.” When not dreaming about being one, Altes, 62, is looking for cars. Everywhere he goes, on the job and off. When he spies a particularly memorable one — rusting in a field or lovingly customized and parked in a protected locale — he photographs it. The results, seen at ATXCarPics.com, are pretty amazing.” https://shar.es/1pMDQc