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.
The Library was the place to be. Not the Central Public Library. But the blue-and-red rectangular meeting room at Hotel Van Zandt.
It was the location for a Toast of the Town salon to support the Neal Kocurek Scholarship Fund for health sciences careers, operated by the St. David’s Foundation. Thirty of so lucky souls were treated to an enlightening public talk between journalist and author Lawrence “Larry” Wright and journalist and Texas Tribune CEO Evan Smith.
The two had met soon after Smith moved to town in the 1992 to join the staff of Texas Monthly. He was assigned to edit Wright’s piece on the chemical castration of sexual offenders. Wright was for it.
Smith went on to lead Texas Monthly and now the Texas Tribune, while also interviewing top minds on “Texas Monthly Talks” and then “Overheard with Evan Smith” on public television.
My nominee for best reporter in Texas, Wright has been a staff writer for The New Yorker since he left Texas Monthly in the early 1990s. His books include the Pulitzer Prize-winning “The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11” as well as “The Terror Years: From Al-Qaeda to the Islamic State,” “Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood and the Prism of Belief” and “Thirteen Days in September: Carter, Begin and Sadat at Camp David.”
If those accomplishments were not enough, he writes plays and screenplays, appears on stage, and basks in the glow of the lauded TV adaptation of “The Looming Tower” now streaming on the Hulu channel.
Can you see why I dropped everything for this benefit dinner? Smith devoted his early questions to terrorism and world affairs. Wright believes, for instance, we are ignoring the proliferation of Al-Qaeda and Islamic State beyond their Middle Eastern origins while we are distracted by other crises. He continues to state that the intervention into Iraq was the single worst foreign policy decision in American history.
Smith then moved on to main subject for the evening, Wright’s recent book, “God Save Texas: A Journey into the Soul of the Lone Star State,” parts of which appeared in The New Yorker. On that field in inquiry, both sharp minds need no urging.
Wright’s editor at The New Yorker had asked him to explain Texas, a big task. He did not rely on the standard reports about the recent changes in the state; he spent a year observing the Texas Legislature. After all, Texas could tell us more about the future of the country, especially if its voters participated in elevated numbers.
He came away from his research with with a volume full of conclusions and an urge to run for governor. Wright thinks that the primary jobs of state government are education and infrastructure. Those needs tended to be ignored while state leaders spent an inordinate amount of time and energy on bathroom rules and sanctuary cities. He lays heavy blame on traditional business advocate Gov. Greg Abbott, who sided late in the session with radio personality Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick against outgoing Speaker of the House Joe Straus, who held together state government against all odds.
Wright has much more to say about state and national politics and culture, but as they say, buy and read the book.
One speaker in town who could give Smith or Wright a run for their money is Amy Mills, CEO of Emancipet, an Austin nonprofit that provides free or low-cost spay, neutering and veterinary care at seven clinics in four cities.
The early part of its annual luncheon, which has moved gracefully from the Four Seasons Hotel Austin to the larger banquet hall at the Hyatt Regency Austin, was spent on the tasty vegan fare, video stories of clients and statistics shared by eager board members.
The room grew hushed when Mills rose to the stage. After all, she can so cogently and quickly explain a rapidly expanding and sustainable nonprofit, she would likely trounce every other participant at Philanthropitch.
That fast-action pitch session from nonprofit leaders was an early-week Austin highlight. (I can’t tell you how many ambitious Austin nonprofits are exporting their great ideas around the world. Just a few decades ago, they didn’t look beyond the Austin city limits.)
Some statistics appeared in the printed program. In 2017, the group provided
• 71,539 preventative care visits
• 33,300 free or low cost spay/neuter surgeries
• 622 heartworm treatments
• 177 special surgery procedures
• $883,930 in free services to Houston-area families affected by Hurricane Harvey.
Mills expanded on the last number. With animal welfare partners, they focused, not on lost pets, but on vet care for families hit hard by the storm. They announced that their clinical services would remain absolutely free for 90 days. As workers arrived the first morning, more than 100 people were in line. Some had never visited a vet before. They saw a total of 6,641 animals.
Also in 2017, Emancipet opened its largest clinic ever in Northeast Austin and its first in Philadelphia. It responded to rising vet care costs by seeing 93,576 pets. Just as importantly, they trained 28 vets to take their business model to other markets. They can’t do it all themselves.
Mills saved the most dramatic news for last. Hurricane Maria scattered pets all over Puerto Rico, who then rapidly multiplied. Emacipet with 23 other groups is headed there to spay/neuter 20,000 of them. They will then leave their surgical tools and other equipment there for vets they will train to keep up the work.
Interfaith is very Austin. The city is open to ideas. And to faith. It is no wonder that Austin hosts multiple interfaith groups, which not only encourage dialogue among religionists but also action based on shared convictions.
One of those groups, iAct, helps refugees, fixes up homes and provides other opportunities for talking and doing good together. Most years, they work very closely with the American-Stateman’s Season for Caring program. More than one recipient from that annual campaign to help the neediest were present for the Hope Awards, iACT’s annual tribute to interfaith leaders at the Bullock Texas State History Museum.
After some unavoidable fluff, the ceremony picked speed and gravity when Executive Director Simone Talma Flowers used her not insubstantial oratorical skills to lay out the group’s mission. Then Rev. Stephen W. Kinney, iACT’s board president, introduced the first Hope recipient, Imam Mohamed-Umer Esmail, whose pastoral humility and dignity reach far beyond his Nueces Mosque.
The remainder of the program was given over to a conversation between another Hope honoree, Luci Baines Johnson, and Texas Tribune CEO Evan Smith. There isn’t a better public interviewer in town and Smith pushed Johnson to reflect on sad state of civic life today. Yet Johnson focused instead on the inspiration of her parents and her own guarded but urgent optimism for her children and grandchildren. At any rate, she is an increasingly disciplined speaker who struck just the right chord for the evening.
Mexic-Arte Museum first staged Taste of Mexico on the street. Then the sample-and-sip fiesta moved indoors and slipped into a more traditional a gala format. The benefit, which attracts a wide range of ages and cultures, now seems to have hits its stride at Brazos Hall.
A dizzying array of food and drink could be had on the first floor, while the open-sided deck upstairs was set up more like a crafts market. The sheer number of culinary options was overwhelming. And the copious crowd love it, swirling from one table to another just enough abandon, given the generous sips of tequila and other potent potables. At times, it felt like a pop-up nightclub, but with better food than any nightclub has ever assembled.
The program was miraculously short. And a good thing, because the speakers could not be heard beyond the front rows. I like this event. It think you would, too.
The invocation at the Manos de Cristo gala snuck up on me.
My mind wandered a bit — in a good way — during a biblical reading from Luke. Then it closed with a punch: “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
I caught my breath. I’ve attended hundreds of not thousands of nonprofit benefits in Austin. This line from Luke could be included in almost any charity invocation. Because that’s what these nonprofits are doing, day in, day out, year after year. And our gratitude should be boundless.
The 30th anniversary Manos benefit got off to a chilly start because of the capricious April weather. The 90 minutes of cocktail reception took place in the windy, open-sided lobby of ACL Live. The women in short cocktail dresses and off-the-shoulder gowns went begging for wraps. This was one Texas night when a vintage fur piece came in handy.
The next hour was taken up by dinner inside the theater. Fortuitously, I ended up at a table between Denise Jones, who spent most of her life in Fort Worth, and Justin Calloway, who grew up in the Corpus Christi area. Stories about those two Texas cities easily filled up 60 merry minutes.
Gala leaders expertly handled the celebratory program. We were reminded of the humble beginnings of Manos at El Buen Pastor Presbyterian Church in the Cesar Chavez neighborhood. Then as now, the group provides certain basic services — food, clothing and lessons — but Manos is best known for its amazing affordable dental program. It now runs a much larger second clinic on Harmon Avenue.
Expansion there, including a real parking lot, was made possible in part by two Lutherans, cheerful philanthropist Dick Rathgeber and his equally buoyant coreligionist Earl Maxwell, CEO of the St. David’s Foundation. Good works are good works, after all.
What good fortune then to discover that Victoria Pineda is back in the auction game! Always fast, fun, witty and sweet, Pineda raced through the early part of the auction in a way that made everyone in the room feel like a full participant. Such a rare gift.
Just a few more words on “Exit Wounds,” Stephen Mills‘ unforgettable three-part Ballet Austin concert at the Long Center.
• Seventy-five minutes without an intermission was exactly right for these dark yet somehow encouraging dances. Any break would have broken the spell.
• Even if already partially seen in rehearsals, all three pieces opened up magnificently after relevant costumes, scenery and lighting were added. We might attend primarily for the undiluted dance, but every other element plays a crucial part.
• The introductory videos with voiceovers about the personal experiences that informed the dances were beautiful and informative. They also made one think how the pieces might live on without these frames.
• Maybe because it has had the longest time to gestate, but “Four Mortal Men,” set to a Debussy string quartet, seems to me the most portable and durable of the trio. Revisiting the subjects of AIDS, art and companionship in 1980s New York, Mills’ entangling choreography rarely looked so indispensable. And kudos to the four dancers for their heartbreaking interpretations.
• We squirmed in our seats during a short dance set to the famous 1982 White House press conference, as laughing correspondents joked with the Press Secretary Larry Speakes about the “gay plague” and why the President Ronald Reagan blithely ignored it. Mills himself performed in a fury downstage, but the historical audio record was almost too much to take even 36 years later.
• The third movement in “Truth Rescued by Time,” performed by the entire company, was an unqualified triumph. It really could stand alone. Everything that makes Mills’ work so timely yet timeless was reflected in the 22 artists who did not lose their individuality while performing as a living, symbolic organism.
I’m late to the Seedlingtrain. This great Austin group has been mentoring the children of incarcerated parents since 1997. They serve as one of the counterparts to Court Appointed Special Advocates, Boys and Girls Clubs, Big Brothers, Big Sisters and, new to the scene with a fresh formula adopted from Portland, Ore., Friends of the Children.
Recently, I profiled Leroy Nellis, the president-elect of Seedling’s board of directors. At the group’s Fab Five gala, I scored a seat between the quietly compelling Nellis and former American-Statesman columnist Jane Greig, who appears to thrive in retirement.
The highlight of the event at Westin Hotel at the Domain was the salute to five leaders, Colette Pierce Burnette, president of Huston-Tillotson University, former Dallas Cowboy Thomas Henderson, founder of East Side Youth Services & Street Outreach, retired Travis County Judge Jeanne Meurer, KXAN weathercaster and champion volunteer Jim Spencer and Geronimo Rodriguez, chief advocacy officer for the Seton Healthcare Family.
Now that’s an all-star line-up for child advocacy.
Ignite for Shalom Austin
Innovation ruled the day. Shalom Austin, which combines the services of the Jewish Federation, Jewish Family Service, Jewish Foundation and the Jewish Community Center, formerly split its benefits into separate events — Mosaic, Momentum and Milestone — tailored for women, men and young leaders. Ignite at the JW Marriott combined all three sets.
The first part of the evening was devoted to drinks and substantial noshes, so no need for table seating. Instead, the organizers, led by Dana Baruch, Mike Krell, David Kline and Stephanie Yamin, set up an auditorium of sorts for 1,200 guests. Although the color-coded seating system was a bit confusing, especially for those of us partially color blind, everyone eventually settled in their seats to learn a more about the constituent Jewish charities. A short segment of the program was devoted to gift pledges.
The comedic main event was a first for me. After a warm-up act whose name I missed, “Weekend Update” star Colin Jost performed a full stand-up set, which was followed by banter between Jost and American-Statesman wit Ken Herman, mainly about the peculiar world of “Saturday Night Live.” Social and political jokes dominated. That’s a lot of comedy value to squeeze in before an afterparty.
I sat between Austin Mayor Steve Adler and Board Chair Elect Abby Rappaport, who both seemed to enjoy the show. I certainly enjoyed their company.
In a surprise move, Austin’s Care Communities has announced that it will stop providing free support for those living with HIV or cancer in Central Texas.
The mid-size nonprofit that operated with an annual budget of almost $600,000 according to GuideStar.org sent out a message Monday afternoon saying it would close its doors Oct. 31 after 26 years of coordinating volunteers, staff and care partners for the seriously ill.
“It has been our esteemed honor to serve those in our community who have faced serious illness alone or with little to no support and who have extremely limited resources,” shares Executive Director Mary Hearon in a statement. “We have had the great privilege of working with phenomenal volunteers and outstanding staff who have given of themselves to ease the pain and suffering of others.”
It was found in 1991 as part of the Central Texas AIDS Interfaith Network, then became its own nonprofit in the mid-1990s. Care was extended to cancer patients in the mid-200os, which is when it took on the name Care Communities.
Its close nonprofit partners have included AIDS Services of Austin, Breast Cancer Resource Center, Family Eldercare and Meals on Wheels Central Texas. It has also received help from the St. David’s Foundation, Shivers Foundation, Stillwater Foundation, Donald D. Hammill Foundation, Ilsa Carroll Turner Friendship Trust and Certoma Club, along with the Hill Country Ride for AIDS and the Texas Mamma Jamma Ride.
For several years, Care Communities was also part of the American-Statesman’s Season for Caring campaign.
“Nonprofits have to constantly hustle to serve the missions and raise money at the same time,” says Monica Maldonado Williams of GivingCity, which covers Austin charities. “The power of Care Communities was all in its volunteers, but great volunteers alone can’t keep the organization running. The problem is, the needs served by Care Communities doesn’t go away just because the nonprofit closes its doors. It’s a loss for Austin, for sure.”
Lonnie Limón posted on Facebook the latest information about services for his cousin John Treviño, Jr., the first Mexican-American to serve on Austin City Council and a longtime leader in the community.
From Limón: “For my friends/family who have asked about services for cousin John Treviño, the visitation is at Mission Serenity Chapel, 6204 South First Street, this Sunday at 4:00 p.m. The rosary follows at that location at 6:00 p.m. The funeral Mass will be on Monday at 10:30 a.m. at St. Louis King of France Catholic Church, 7601 Burnet Road. Internment will follow at Assumption Cemetery.”
Sam Shanblum died after a short illness Sunday morning. He was 96.
The longtime Austin restaurant supplier knew all the old lions of the city’s eatery game, having opened up shop downtown in 1946. He retired in 1985. Among his regular customers were Cisco’s Bakery — his regular twice-a-day hangout — the Nighthawk, El Patio, La Tapatia, Threadgill’s, the Chicken Shack and Fonda San Miguel.
Given a chance, he told tremendous tales about Old Austin businesses and characters, such this one about the Hoffbrau, the unreconstructed steak spot on West Sixth Street.
The owners of Hoffbrau habitually took off two weeks each fall to go hunting. Once during this regular break, they brought their iron griddle — where everything was fried — into Sam’s shop to be cleaned.
“We got two or three layers of accumulation off of it,” Sam said. “Later, customers said: ‘Hey, the steaks just don’t taste the same for some reason.’ ‘Yeah, we got the grill cleaned.’”
He is survived by his wife, Bertha Shanblum, who pursued her own long career as an assistant to a University of Texas academic psychologist, Ira Iscoe, as well as by their daughters, Lynda and Laurie.
The elder Shanblums grew up in Fort Worth and their families had immigrated in previous generations from Eastern Europe.
A memorial service will be held 11 a.m. Tuesday, March 14 at Congregation Beth Israel , 3901 Shoal Creek Drive.