If you can resist the exaltation of the annual Texas 4000 Tribute Dinner, you are made of sterner stuff than I.
Texas 4000 for Cancer was founded in 2004 by Chris Condit, a Hodgin’s lymphoma survivor who appeared at the charity dinner at the Hyatt Regency Austin on Friday looking as if he just graduated from the University of Texas.
Each year, more than 60 UT students make the 70-day, 4,687 mile trek via one of three routes — Sierras, Rockies and Ozarks. Crucial to each trip, the young men and women focus on the people for whom they ride. They work as teams — virtually everyone makes it — and they stay as guests, often of UT alums along the way.
I came in around the time of the first Tribute Dinner and could not resist the electric vibe shared by riders past, present and future, as well as their volunteers, backers, staff, directors and fans — some of whom were honored during the dinner with the Chairman’s Pin Awards, handed out by Wes Carberry.
So far the group has netted $8.4 million for cancer research, with an aim to reach $10 million by 2020. They also make incredible videos that would be envy of any nonprofit in the country. The variety of backgrounds and experiences among the students — some haven’t ridden road bikes before — is astounding.
The crowd nodded solemnly as speakers praised the tiny, exquisite Oakwood Cemetery Chapel, recently restored to its early 20th-century glory.
The city of Austin cannot consecrate, but it can dedicate.
And it did so with grace and feeling during this celebration on Friday. Designed by Charles Page of the distinguished architecture family and built in 1914, the chapel combines some of the best of European and Texan traditions in limestone and wood, almost on a child’s imaginary scale.
It was built, however, on the city cemetery’s “Colored Grounds” and remains of 38 bodies were exhumed from under the chapel during the recent construction process. They have not been identified and will be reburied elsewhere with dignity.
Council Member Ora Houston, in whose district the cemetery lies, spoke forcefully about how the land brought together the city’s “blended family,” since Latinos and Anglos were buried among African-Americans in the “Colored Grounds.”
The Parks and Recreation Department is responsible for uplifting this chapel with its crenelated tower, Gothic arches and modern air-conditioning (thank you!), as it is for an award-winning master plan for five of the city’s historic graveyards. Save Austin Cemeteries spent years advocating for this game-changing project (we hear new gates and fences are next).
Parks and Rec’s Kim McKnight contributed her mighty historical sensibility and Kevin Johnson his project management for the work designed, we surmise from this drawing, by Hatch + Ulland Owen.
At one point near the end of the ceremony, I snuck through the crowd to use the facilities. The gleaming white, tiled restroom was large and attractive enough to house a small party.
“They didn’t just save our building,” says Austin attorney Laura Fowler about the firefighters who responded to the conflagration at the old Millett Opera House on June 16. “They saved our treasures.”
A sprinkler system also did its job, but Fowler, who advises the foundation board that leases the building to the plush Austin Club, wanted to thank all the firefighters and police officers who made sure the fire, set by a persistent arsonist, did not produce casualties or more loss of property, including old paintings and decor.
The occasion for the public recognition last week was “Burning Down the House,” a cheekily named fundraiser at the Austin Club for the foundation that recently purchased the historic structure on East Ninth Street from the Austin school district.
By way of marvelous coincidence, the builder of the 1878 structure was Charles Millet, the city’s first volunteer fire captain, who as alderman argued strenuously for fire safety standards. It served many functions, including offices of the Austin Statesman.
The Art of the Gala, already one of Austin’s most effective charitable convocations, just doubled its scope and stature.
Founded by Monica Maldonado Williams, publisher of nonprofit tracker Giving City, this annual training day for fundraisers combines speeches, panels and breakout sessions devoted to how to best throw a charity event. It has been a must-go for development officers and volunteer gala captains. (The American-Statesman publishes a weekly column about the area’s nonprofit community through a partnership with Giving City Austin.)
This year for the first time, Williams will partner with Jennifer Horn Stevens, CEO of the JHL Company, producer of the giant Mack, Jack and McConaughey party and other signature events. Stevens has added activities for top donors and nonprofit executives, turning it into a premium networking event for best practices in the field.
Attendees will be able to choose from these topics:
• Day-of Fundraising
• Event Planning & Execution
• Working With Vendors
• Making The Event Magical
• Expanding the Audience
• Donor Retention
• Non-Event Revenue
“The Art of the Gala is a terrific resource for nonprofits,” says Phyllis Snodgrass, CEO of Austin Habitat for Humanity. “Adding JHL to the mix takes this event to the next level. JHL brings creativity, practical donor recruitment and retention strategies and a focus on integrating major events into overall strategic plans and marketing goals of an organization.”
You might already know the newly appointed director of the Bullock Texas State History Museum. That’s because hyper-competent Margaret Koch has already twice served as the museum’s interim director as well as its director of exhibits and deputy director.
Koch previously served as director of exhibitions and research as well as exhibition designer at the Missouri History Museum. In Austin since 2013, she has supervised award-winning shows and has widened the museum’s focus to include previously underreported histories.
She has also overseen improvements and renovations, including conversion of the museum’s IMAX theater projection to an advanced laser format, and a multi-million-dollar rethinking of the first floor gallery, to reopen in November as “Becoming Texas.”
The Bullock will become even more relevant as the corridor north of the Capitol is reshaped and a new cultural space — with a still-undetermined focus — opens in a state office tower across the street from the Bullock and the Blanton Museum of Art.
“Margaret is an experienced and trusted leader,” said Rod Welsh, executive director of the State Preservation Board, the agency that oversees the museum as well as the State Capitol building and grounds, including its statuary, and the Capitol Visitors Center. She “will keep the Bullock at the forefront of best contemporary museum practices as the institution continues to produce new and exciting programs.”
Another smart move: Instead of a long runway show, models will present different looks during the extended luncheon, which starts, yes, at 10:30 a.m., and usually attracts a big crowd, 98 percent stylishly attired women. Perhaps more men will come out for Gunn.
A reminder that the Jewel Ball, this year honoring longtime symphony leader Jane Sibley, will follow on Sept. 22 at 6 p.m. at Palmer Auditorium. This is Austin’s biggest — and among the last — traditional debutante ball, so if you go, expect many grand presentations of offspring from Old Austin families.
The National Park Service announced Friday that it will close the “Texas White House,” once the ranch home of President Lyndon Baines Johnson and his family in Stonewall, as well as the adjacent Pool House, until further notice because of health and safety concerns arising from water leakage in various places in the main house.
For decades, these were the most private zones of the ranch, parts of the LBJ National Historical Park that, until 2012, were reserved for the Johnson family and not generally open to the public.
The Park Service said they will remain closed until the service can confirm that the two buildings do not pose safety concerns.
“We don’t actually know what the problem is,” said Susanne McDonald, the national park superintendent. “We are going into an investigative stage to figure out what is happening. We are focusing on weaknesses in the structure that might be causing water intrusion. We have a few areas that have caused us problems, but we haven’t been able to figure out the exact location where the water is coming in. It could be absolutely nothing, but I don’t want to take a risk with our employees or our visitors.”
The modest buildings, preserved in 1960s styles, look less like the headquarters of the world’s most powerful person and more like a relaxing retreat where your beloved country relatives live. That is, until one notices the three attached televisions ready to broadcast the three big networks of the time.
“They just weren’t showy people,” former Superintendent Russ Whitlock said when the buildings were opened to the public in 2012. “The ranch and the ranch house take the Johnsons off the pedestal of president and first lady and make them into people we can relate to.”
In his recent book, “LBJ’s 1968: Power, Politics and the Presidency in America’s Year of Upheaval,” Ken Longley, the newly named director of the LBJ Presidential Library, describes how the ranch served as a safety valve for the sometimes volcanic LBJ, especially during his traumatic final year in office. Repeatedly during 1968, the president retreated to the ranch, took a swim, then a ate a snack on TV trays, or a tooled around the Hill Country with family or friends to relax.
All other park facilities remain open to the public. These include the Johnson settlement, President Johnson’s boyhood home, and the park visitor center in Johnson City. The LBJ Ranch driving tour is not affected, and the LBJ Ranch hangar visitor center is open as normal.
UPDATE: The quote from Superintendent McDonald was added after this was first posted.