Preservation Austin, Seton Fund, TreeHouse and Jo Anne Christian Reception

Fair MarketHISTORY + STYLE: Preservation Austin’s Merit Awards Luncheon has evolved into a powerhouse event. And it has happily spilled into the wings of the Driskill Hotel‘s upper lobby. Crisp, timely and persuasive, the event included an instructive talk from Stacey L. Mickelson, who explained how Minnesota-based Artspace Projects has invested more than $582 million to created more than 1 million square feet of arts facilities and some 1,300 affordable live/work spaces for artists. And now for the 2015 local honors: For Restoration, Austin Parks and Recreation for the Covert Monument; Rehabilitation: 1135 LLC – Dennis McDaniel and Richard Kooris for Fair Market, as well as Seaholm LLC c/o Southwest Strategies Group for the Seaholm Power Plant and Elizabeth and Nathaniel Chapin for the Yarrington-Chapin House. Winning the new Sustainability Award was Edward Tasch and Anne Crawford for Splitrock. Stewardship honors went to the Austin Theatre Alliance; Special Recognition to Blue Bonnet Hills Local Historic District Organizers and Lifetime Achievement to Lin Team, whom I must profile soon!

Katie and David Simon at the Seton Development Board Gala.

CHARITY + HEALTH: Even people who work for Seton have a hard time explaining all its far-flung facets. The Austin healthcare group is all over the place, especially in the fundraising arena. The Seton Development Board is just one group that has been backing the charity for almost 40 years. At its fall gala, I sat with radiologists and their spouses. They were a supremely social group. We talked history. We talked writing and editing. We talked medicine. We shared in common a good friend in Dr. John Hogg, who along with partner David Garza, was recently named one of the country’s 100 best party hosts by Salonniere online magazine. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of dollars were raised for the Seton Fund.

Jenny and Jason Ballard at TreeHouse

NATURE + STYLE: TreeHouse spreads gospel of sustainable, affordable building products. Taken from my story in the American-Statesman: Jason Ballard was not born in the bosom of green thinking. The co-founder of TreeHouse, Austin’s enviromentally friendly home improvement store, was born in the marshy Texas town of Nederland. He grew up in Orange and Bridge City. “I was a tree-hugger in an area where the oil industry dominates,” Ballard, 33, says with a forbearing smile about the bend in the Gulf Coast, home to bristling refineries and petrochemical plants. “Yes, I was a tree-hugging, short-shorts-wearing, long-distance runner who was no good at football. Too small. That very much shaped who I am.”

12241640_10156198994995316_6196564474569910775_nARTS + CITY: It was altogether fitting. After the funeral in a small Episcopal church and the graveyard service at the Texas State Cemetery, family, friends and followers of Jo Anne Christian gathered at the Long Center for the Performing Arts. One could argue that the city would not enjoy this civic gem of a center without Christian’s long, shared campaign to build it. We heard music of Mozart, Bizet and Chopin. We listened to testimonials. She would have liked the fact that the reception was brief, so that guests could attend later events, such as the Austin Symphony and Conspirare‘s concert right there on that stage. It’s hard to believe she’s gone.

Party for Good,What’s Out There Weekend, Salado Cooking, Texas v. A&M

Celeste and Adrian Quesada at Mission Capital’s Party for Good.

CHARITY: Mission Capital, formerly Greenlights, steps up. The group that added social venturing to its counseling for nonprofits is now playing in the big time. It raised something like $200,000 during a packed Party for Good at the Hyatt Regency Austin. Meanwhile, captains of charity gave out impressive (heavy) awards to various leaders — even the finalists were top shelf. The Nonprofit Executive Award of the Year went to Karen LaShelle of Creative Action, Excellence in Impact to Foundation Communities, Excellence in Innovation to Sustainable Food Center and Excellence in Collaboration to Children in Nature Collaborative of Austin. The special Libby Malone Community Leader of the Year honors were conferred on Jeff and Deanna Serra. If you don’t know about these people and groups, you should. They are changing your city for the better.

dyc-mayfield-feature-01NATURE: Touring Austin’s planted environment. Taken from my story in the American-Statesman: “The first Austin acreage designated as parkland was Pease Park along Shoal Creek in 1875. Yet from the very beginning, the city cultivated cultural landscapes, sometimes in fits and starts. More than two dozen of them — from the Elisabet Ney Museum and Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center to the Capitol grounds and Zilker Botanical Gardens — are now part of a national registry put together by the Cultural Landscape Foundation. This Saturday and Sunday, experts will guide folks through these landscapes during What’s Out There Weekend. The tours are free, but you must register in advance at To prepare, we asked astute landscape architect Eleanor McKinney to explain why our planned green spaces deserve such close attention.”

Myrta Hodge (left) helps her mother-in-law, Mary Hodge, prepare a pre-Thanksgiving meal at Mary’s home in Salado on Oct. 22. Mary Hodge, 89, spent months compiling seven generations of family recipes.

FOOD: Addie Broyles stirs up history in Salado. Taken from her story in the American-Statesman. “Mary Hodge has lived on the same road in Salado since 1946. At nearly 90 years old, she’s raised children in the small town north of Georgetown, written books on the history of the area and made the same Thanksgiving dressing for nearly 50 years. She’s a matriarch of the community who knows the history of just about every block in both Salado and Jarrell, her hometown. She can tell you about the mermaid sculpture downtown (someone keeps stealing the fish) or the age of the tree in the backyard (about 300 years) and the origin of every single one of the hundreds of tools, taxidermy, trinkets and artifacts that fill a bunkhouse behind her home.”

Ag4.jpgSPORTS: History of a rivalry. Taken from John Maher’s story in the American-Statesman: “History, including that of Texas football, has a way of repeating itself. Except, of course, when it doesn’t. Remember when Texas and Texas A&M broke off their storied football rivalry after the 2011 season? Well, the same thing happened a century before that, in 1911. So far, the main difference is that 100 years ago Thursday, the teams renewed their rivalry. On Nov. 19, 1915, elated, convivial fans from both schools sang “Auld Lang Syne” before kickoff and led cheers for the other school. A&M’s cadets honored UT by forming a T on the field. Finally, when the game was completed, players from both schools were carried off the field in a spirit of exhilaration.”

Beauty of Life, Library Foundation, ‘Aida’ and Andy Roddick

Jessica Balladares-Bennett and Leslie Bollier at Beaty of Life Luncheon for Hospice Austin.

HEALTH: You couldn’t improve on Cheryl Strayed. Effortlessly admirable Hospice Austin has a history of attracting the best possible inspirational speakers to its Beauty of Life luncheons. Strayed’s bestseller about overcoming grief on the Pacific Rim Trail, “Wild,” was adapted into a popular movie with Reese Witherspoon. I liked both, but I had no idea what a tremendous communicator Strayed would be at a huge Hilton Austin event (950 in attendance). She was warm, funny, thoughtful and she artfully tied her remarks back to the nonprofit’s mission of providing outstanding care for the terminally ill and their families.

Tuan Nguyen and Vu Nguyen at Illumine Dinner for Austin Public Library Friends Foundation.

BOOKS: Honoring the authors and others. The Austin Public Library Friends Foundation is on a roll. The new central library, which it effectively backed, opens next year. The foundation not only attracts some A-List donors, but also big hitters in the city’s literary community. Honored during the sociable Illumine event at the W Austin Hotel were prolific historian H.W. Brands, full-hearted songwriter Sara Hickman, Pulitzer Prize finalist poet Dean Young and tireless literary patron Forrest Preece. The presenters — Sarah BirdMichael Blair, Chris Mink and Stephen Harrigan — were as distinguished as the winners.

Claudia Hollern and Jose Cuellar at Austin Opera’s “Aida.”

ARTS: “That’s the best production I’ve ever seen here.” So said a woman as she left Austin Opera‘s “Aida” during a Sunday matinee performance. For once at the Long Center, I didn’t see an empty seat. The “bravi” started early and often, rewarding every aria and chorus. I was particularly pleased to see an instant standing ovation at the finale of the first two acts — you know, the one with the knockout pageantry — with its army of soloists, chorus, orchestra, dancers and supernumeraries. The previous week, I’d taken the MegaBus down to see Houston Grand Opera‘s “Eugene Onegin.” Walking away from that, I thought that the larger company almost always trumped Austin’s with sophistication, style and power. I was disabused of that notion seven days later during “Aida.”

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Shannon MacKenzie and Sam Payton at Andy Roddick Foundation’s Masquerade.

SCHOOL: The Andy Roddick Foundation has changed course. Quietly, it has moved away from the goal of providing character training through tennis, the second phase of its history, after pumping money into charities for children through star-studded galas. Now mature — like its founder — it provides targeted after-school and summertime activities, primarily at Pecan Springs Elementary School. Along the way, it has dramatically raised attendance rates and hopes to spread the love to other schools soon. Guests at the group’s annual Masquerade heartily approved over a succulent dinner from the Four Seasons Hotel. Couldn’t be prouder of our hometown hero.

Night of 50,000 Lives, Austin Ed Fund, Center for Max Reception, Settlement Club and more

Zain Khataw and Salva Khataw at Night of 50,000 Lives for Red Cross.
Zain Khataw and Salva Khataw at Night of 50,000 Lives for Red Cross.

CHARITY 1: Nowadays, the smaller the event, the bigger the social impact. At the Night of 50,000 Lives for Red Cross of Central Texas, we learned a lot, specially from Dr. Mary Agocs, about how little it takes to save a life. Even while the local chapter is responding to the double whammy of area fires and floods, the international arm of the Red Cross is doing things like wiping out measles in Malawi. Each vaccination costs $1. So $1 = 1 life. Astounding. While we enjoyed a deftly managed meal at Searsucker on Colorado Street, I got to know a prosecutor, a defense lawyer, an ace publicist and others who collectively put their shoulders to the wheels of good works. That’s why small events are so effective: The social bonds tend to last.

DESIGN: It’s a hard name to say and to remember. Yet Austin’s 40-year-old Center for Maximum Potential Building Systems will never re-brand, because leaders Pliny Fisk III and Gail Vittori have created a whole universe of sustainable practices under that verbal umbrella atop a hill in East Austin. Guests saluted four decades of global trailblazing with a symposium and reception at the W Austin Hotel. Why there? Stratus captain Beau Armstrong, who developed the skyscraper, is a big convert to the center’s sustainable building practices. You need need buy-in from visionary developers. I chatted with all sorts of experts, including landscape architect Eleanor McKinney, who we’ve interviewed for the upcoming What’s Out There Weekend that will offer guided tours of Austin’s cultural landscapes Nov. 21-22.

Marina Bhargava and Linda Medina-Lopez at Austin Ed Fund Luncheon.
Marina Bhargava and Linda Medina-Lopez at Austin Ed Fund Luncheon.

SCHOOL: A group that needs no re-branding: Austin Ed Fund. This nonprofit group that supports the work of the Austin school district was reborn at the Performing Arts Center in the Mueller Development. (Which, by the way, is a thing of beauty, soaring and lively, but without any luxury materials or extras.) We heard a heartening State of the District Address from magnetic Superintendent Paul Cruz. All systems are go on graduation rates, scores and school turnarounds. Some of the loudest applause from a stage-full of influential guests came when Cruz railed against state “recapture,” which takes more than $200 million away from Austin, even though its student poverty rate is at 60 percent. Shameful. During the luncheon with its clever bagged meals, Austin Ed Fund announced more than a dozen small grants to help out on school-leve projects. Leaders also said its immediate focus would be emotional training, which is showing formidable results.

CHARITY 2: They mean business. The guests who hit the Settlement Home for Children annual garage sale on the first night never took their eyes off the prizes. “My whole shopping plan is spoiled,” said one newcomer about the superabundance of offerings. “I’ve seen that volume for $25,” said a book expert when I showed her a true rarity priced at $50. One of the warmest people I knew, she never stopped scanning the book spines looking for more treasures. I came away with a dozen real finds — books about Austin and Texas — at reasonable prices. My attitude toward this gigantic fundraiser has completely turned around. It’s a must-do, at least once. Hint: Longer than the lines to get in or to check out are the lines to check bags so that shoppers can jump back into the fray.

Manos de Cristo, Salonniere 100, Best Hill Country Hikes and more

Joel and Rhonda Cabello at Manos de Cristo party.
Joel and Rhonda Cabello at Manos de Cristo party.

CHARITY: It was one of those flawless nights. The Violet Crown above Mercury Hall. Austin Lounge Lizards on stage. Sips and samples without long lines. Sincere words about a treasured charity: Manos de Cristo, best known for its dental center, but also involved in education as well as food and clothing support. Thanks to geographer William Doolittle and Manos board director Shannon Beiberdorf, I learned a little more about the group’s origins in Presbyterian congregations. Sheryl Luzzadder-Beach, new chair of Geography and the Environment at the University of Texas, chatted briefly with me about ground water and river tracing. Attorney Kemper Powell and I talked about everything under the skies as the night smiled.

Felicia and Herb Gray of Charlotte are on the premiere Salonniere 100.
Felicia and Herb Gray of Charlotte are on the premiere Salonniere 100.

NIGHTLIFE: You remember the Out & Abut 500? The widely circulated list of Austin’s most social individuals and couples was fun to compile, but an incredible amount of work over the course six months each year. I gave out a huge sigh when we decided it had served its purpose. Carla McDonald‘s fabulous social blog has raised the bid astronomically by publishing the Salonnière 100. That would be the best 100 party hosts − in the country! Her team interviewed more than 1,000 folks in the know for nominations, which were then reviewed by an independent group of social authorities and the blog’s editorial team. Twenty-three cities were included. Hosts in metropolises such as New York City, Washington, D.C., San Francisco and Los Angeles predictably ruled. Austin’s top picks? Julie Blakeslee along with John Hogg and David Garza. Congrats to all involved.

10429335_982812391741356_4863391319342943182_nNATURE: Hike with Fit City at REI’s Best Hill Country Hikes series. From Pam LeBlanc‘s column in the American-Statesman: “The lineup has changed for the Best Hill Country Hikes series, with Fit City (that would be me!) tagging along as a featured guest. REI Outdoor School instructors lead the monthly guided hikes at some of the best hiking spots in the Texas Hill Country. I tag along because I like to hike and want to meet other people who like outdoor adventure. The hikes start at 9 a.m. and wrap up by 11 a.m. The next one is set for Nov. 14 at Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge. (REI will provide transportation from its downtown store at 601 N. Lamar Blvd. at 8 a.m.) Cost is $20 for REI members; $40 for nonmembers. To register or for more information, go to”