The bewitching fall weather cast a lovely spell over a week of Austin parties, including the remnants of F1 social affairs.
Barbecue at the LBJ Ranch. Magical. Just magical. A Hill Country autumn night on the banks of the Pedernales River, right where President Lyndon Johnson entertained visitors from around the world. The guests at this benefit for the Friends of the LBJ National Historical Park were mostly local, however, and when Tracy Byrd and the Hot Swing Band took the riverside stage, folks jumped up to two-step on the large dance floor. They chowed down on Salt Lick Barbecue and bid for themed items, including stays at homes on the ranch property. Bonus: I met two newcomers who will loom large in the Johnson legacy world: Patrick Newman, director of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, and Susanne McDonald, the incoming superintendent for the National Park, who takes over in January.
Beauty of Life for Hospice Austin. This venerable Austin luncheon has found its home: The JW Marriott. The banquet room is big, but not overwhelming. The acoustics are excellent and the visuals crystal clear. Our waiting luncheon salad was fresh, hearty and nutritious. These things count. People are still learning the parking system at the enormous hotel, but I walk. The crucial thing at this event, however, are the inspirational speakers who help drum up support for the city’s only nonprofit hospice. This year it was Lori and Wayne Earl, whose incredibly creative daughter, Esther, who inspired the novel and movie, “The Fault in Our Stars,” by John Green. She died at 16 of cancer and left behind a cache of writing and illustrations that her parents have turned into a book, “This Star Won’t Go Out.” Hospice Austin knows how to pick ’em.
Seton Angels Take Flight at South Austin Hotel. A new Seton support group has risen up to fill a gap. Seton Angels was introduced at the South Congress Hotel in an almost faultless event that, in part, saluted mega-donors Joe and Teresa Lozano Long. The idea was to motivate the young donors in the house who make up this giving group, the kind that, periodically, decides how to spend their pooled donations. Instead choosing among charitable causes, Seton Angels will pick from a list of need assembled by the Seton Healthcare Family. Unlike some of the older Seton boards — and they have several good ones — this new assembly is not made up of Austin’s longtime families, but rather is assertively diversified. Worth watching.
Food Fight for Les Dames d’Escoffier. Several of Austin’s popular food-and-drink tasting events have grown too hefty. Sprawling spaces. Long lines. Tiny portions. Frantic guests. Not so Food Fight, which annually benefits Les Dames d’Escoffier, a spirited group that provides scholarships and grants for women in the culinary fields. Alma Alcocer (La Alma, Alcomar and the El Chile Group) provided the earthy blue corn quesadillas along with other appetizers, while Fer Candil (Paella, Tapas and More) dished out crispy paella. I spent considerable time with super-informed Kristi Willis and with charming Cora-Ann Meave of the Blue Corn Project, which helps Austinites build and maintain food gardens. Several of the Dames wished aloud that the event at the Barr Mansion would grow in size — naturally, to bring in more money — but I say this small affair is already just right.
Bridging the Gap for New Milestones. When the distinguished dinner speaker recalled that the idealistic Kennedy administration had tried to help the mentally ill by taking them out of institutions and putting them into community settings — a failed effort by some standards — a man within my sightline sneered: “Liberals!” Then, when Dr. Stephen Strakowski, head of psychiatry at the Dell Medical School, went down the litany of legislatures that repeatedly failed to raise enough money to fund those community efforts, the ideologue nearby fell silent.”The Gap” between what we as a society think is needed to treat the mentally hill and what legislators think is sufficient is a central concern for New Milestones Foundation. Strakowski’s presentation was extremely informative and he reiterated that the Dell School will put considerable emphasis on mental health care solutions. Not a decade too soon.
First Birthday Bash for Austin Book Arts Center. Mary Baughman, who is turning into one of my most trusted sources on certain subjects, wanted me to attend this event, but I was booked. Hey, it’s that time of year. Look, though, here she is at the party with the inimitable Turk Pipkin, always the first person you want to greet at any shindig. Handy Amanda Stevenson sent us a report from the event, which netted $4,000 for the Austin Book Arts Center programs and for expansion at the Flatbed Building. Since September 2015, the group has offered 57 workshops, Stevenson says, “to engage people in creative, interpretive and educational experiences related to the arts of the book.” I’m all in.
Ride for the Roses for Livestrong. We were already booked on this date, too. You know the drill: It’s that time of year. Still it’s worth remembering that this remains one of Austin’s largest charities with extremely loyal followers despite the ups and downs of founder Lance Armstrong. According to Katherine McLane from the Mach 1 group — and formerly of Livestrong — thousands of riders still participate the the Livestrong Challenge / Ride for the Roses through downtown. Many also attended a homecoming celebration dinner, including state Sen. Kirk Watson, a founding board member of Livestrong and a cancer survivor. A good sign for the future of this group that pledged $50 million to a cancer institute at the new Dell Medical School: McLane reports that the race activities this year raised $1.3 million. Don’t know yet if that’s gross or net.
UPDATE: The Livestrong Challenge item was added after the first posting.