Need inspiration? Try UT-student cyclists going the distance for cancer research

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.

Hannah Knaup and Graham Bryan at Texas 4000 Tribute Gala. Knaup rode this year and encountered a bear with cubs on the trail in Alaska. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

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.

Just one more thing that makes UT singular.

Austin dedicates sublime Oakwood Cemetery Chapel

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.

Kim McKnight, Kevin Johnson and Ora Houston at dedication of Oakwood Cemetery Chapel restoration. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

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.

Nearby: A new Confederate monument rises at Oakwood.

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.

Turns out it was where the mortician did his job.

Best parties as Austin social season kicks into gear

Austin’s social season picks up again next week after the icy blast of the Ice Ball and Texas 4000 Tribute Dinner and a few other late summer enticements.

RELATED: Catch the best parties of the new Austin social season.

Sept. 5: Red Shoe Luncheon for Ronald McDonald House. Brazos Hall. rmhc-ctx.org.

Sept. 6: An Evening of Discovery for UT LLILAS/Benson Latin American Collection. AT&T Center. Benson Collection.

Sept. 7: The Big Give for I Live Here, I Give Here. Hotel Van Zandt. ilivehereigivehere.org/the-big-give.

Sept. 9: Long Center Birthday Bash with Grupo Fantasma. Long Center. thelongcenter.org.

 

 

Firefighters revisit historic Austin building that burned

“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.”

Firefighters Shaun McAuley and Ron Coleman at Burning Down the House for Millett Opra House Foundation. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

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.

RELATED: Historic downtown building damaged by arsonist.

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.

Restoration workers tend to the historic Millett Opera House, home of the Austin Club in downtown Austin, after it sustained a significant amount of water damage from a sprinkler during a fire early Monday. Austin police arrested a man they say broke into the building and tried to burn it down. The fire caused more than $100,000 in damage to the building, officials said. LYNDA M. GONZALEZ / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

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.

RELATED: The Statesman had more than a dozen homes.

Catch the best parties of the new Austin social season

Welcome back to the Austin social season. Some of you never went away.

But all of us can agree that catching up with old friends and making new ones — just as the summer fades a bit — is part of the Austin way of life.

These are eight late August parties I hope to attend.

Aug. 22: Burning Down the House for Millett Opera House Foundation. Austin Club. millettoperahouse.com.

Aug. 24: Chapel Restoration Celebration. Oakwood Cemetery, 1601 Navasota St. austintexas.gov/oakwoodchapel

Aug. 24: Texas 4000 for Cancer Tribute Gala. Hyatt Regency Hotel. bit.ly/tributegala.

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Aug. 24:  Study Social for Literacy First. 800 Congress Ave. literacyfirst.org.

Aug. 25: Ice Ball for Big Brothers Big Sisters. Fairmont Hotel. austiniceball.org.

Aug. 25: Studio 54klift for Forklift Danceworks. forkliftdanceworks.org.

Aug. 29: The Man. The Legend. The Chick Magnet. Happy 90th Shelly Kantor, longtime regular customer and champion dancer. Donn’s Depot. donnsdebot.com

Aug. 31-Sept. 3: Splash Days for Octopus Club, Kind Clinic and OutYouth. Various locations. splashdays.com.

A big deal gets bigger: Austin’s Art of the Gala adds producer and expands networking reach

The Art of the Gala, already one of Austin’s most effective charitable convocations, just doubled its scope and stature.

Monica Maldonado Williams at a previous Art of the Gala event. Contributed

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.)

RELATED: Monica Maldonado Williams cracks the charity code

Jennifer Horn Stevens at a previous Art of the Gala session. Contributed

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.

RELATED: Jennifer Stevens: The Making of an Un-Lobbyist

The all-day Art of the Gala lands at the JW Marriott on Oct. 23.

Attendees will be able to choose from these topics:

• Sponsorships

• 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.”

Tickets are available here

Texas history museum names new director you might know

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.

The Bullock Texas State History Museum names Margaret Koch as director. Contributed

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.”

RELATED: Museum urges visitors to rodeo across 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.

RELATED: Life and death on the Texas-Mexico border 100 years ago.

“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.”

Fashion icon Tim Gunn to mentor Austin for a day

If you’ve ever wanted Tim Gunn from “Project Runway” to act as your mentor — even for just a short time and as part of a very large group — your chance is here.

Tim Gunn from “Project Runway” will speak in Austin in September. Contributed

The sweet, dapper man who always “makes it work” is the featured speaker at the Jewel Ball Fashion Luncheon on Sept 21 at the Hyatt Regency Austin, courtesy of the Women’s Symphony League.

Tickets to be had here.

You can bet that your reporter will not miss it.

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.

RELATED: The one, the only Jane Sibley.

The League, by the way, is the most generous single financial backer of the Austin Symphony. Single tickets to performances from the upcoming season, which begins Sept. 14, are now on sale.

Texas White House at LBJ Ranch closed for now

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.

The Texas White House and pool at the LBJ Ranch in Stonewall, taken in 2012. Rodolfo Gonzalez/Austin American-Statesman

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.

 RELATED: Exploring the inside of the Texas White House

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.

Interiors of Texas White House were first seen by the public in 2012, preserved in their 1960s styles. Rodolfo Gonzalez/Austin American-Statesman

“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.