The Nettie Benson Latin American Collection is a University of Texas treasure you should get to know better.
Founded almost 100 years ago in 1921 with the acquisition of Mexican historian and bibliophile Genaro García‘s library, it grew vastly under the direction of UT professor Carlos Castañeda — partial namesake for the Perry-Castañeda Library — then under historian Nettie Lee Benson. For decades, the Collection has been the finest and most complete library of its kind in the Americas.
When I did research there in the 1980s for my doctoral dissertation, it was referred to by scholars as the “Library of Congress for Latin America.” Sort of like the Ransom Center across campus, its leaders had collected so many books, manuscripts and other objects in its chosen fields, people travel from around the world to visit it.
Crucially, it houses materials that back up some of what was lost in the recent fire that gutted the Brazil Museum.
The Collection, as well as its intimate partner, the Teresa Lozano Long Institute for Latin American Studies, are now receiving more attention locally.
At “An Evening for Discovery,” a recent benefit dinner at the AT&T Center, I ran into many old and new friends, including Maria Cisne Farahani, the woman behind Fara Coffee, which benefits workers in her native Nicaragua (we talked about the brisk change in political will in that country); Monica Peraza, who updated me on the latest at the Long Center, where she now captains the board of directors; attorney and event host Becky Beaver, who is becoming one of the Benson’s most eloquent promoters; Leslie Montoya, a local Univision reporter; Ernesto Rois, who is in the medical parts business (I don’t think that’s the right term, but you understand); and Adriana Pacheco Roldán, a scholar who, with FernandoMacias-Garza, gave $50,000 for an endowment to kick off the Benson’s centennial celebration.
“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.
We always cheer the Austin Under 40 Awardsceremony, not just because it benefits two worthy causes, YWA Foundation and the Austin Sunshine Camps, but also because so many rising social stars end up among the winners.
Don’t worry about the future; these leaders will be in charge.
Saturday’s party at the JW Marriott grossed $280,000. The net amount for the charities has not yet been announced.
We live in a golden age of investigative journalism.
Not just the renaissance of political reporting at the federal level. But in-depth articles and investigative packages cascading from newspapers such as the American-Statesman, as well as other local, regional and national media.
The Molly Awards celebrate the some of the best work in this renewed civic era. At the same time, the semi-dressy affair at the Four Seasons Hotel Austin raises money for the nonprofit Texas Observer. Much of the attention every year goes to late namesake Molly Ivins, who edited the Observer before moving on to wider prominence at the New York Times, Dallas Times Herald, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, syndicated columns and brainy, brawling books on politics.
The fact that an unabashedly liberal publication gives out these awards obscures the fact that the winning stories show no clear partisan or ideological favoritism. Abuse of power is abuse of power.
Honorable mentions were accorded Seth Freed Wessler (The Investigative Fund, The New York Times Magazine) for exposing a “floating Guantánamos” system of extrajudicial detention of fishermen by the U.S. Coast Guard way outside the usual patrol zones; and Nina Martin, Renee Montagne, Adriana Gallardo, Annie Waldman and Katherine Ellison (ProPublica/NPR) for their “Lost Mothers” series on the death rates of pregnant women in the U.S.
Now, once ceremonial beer steins are distributed, it’s time for red meat. This year’s frank, funny and at times outrageous speaker was Joan Walsh, national affairs correspondent for The Nation and a political contributor on CNN. She pulled no punches going after President Donald Trump and crew.
A nattily dressed young man in the elevator afterwards: “Oh, that was soooo nonpartisan!”
Me: “Agreed. But the awards really are. Corruption is corruption, no matter who commits it. Right?”
It’s impossible to ignore how composed and accomplished they are.
The students from the Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders are the real celebrities during the annual Reach for the Stars benefit for the Ann Richards School Foundation, now held at Four Seasons Hotel Austin.
They speak with such assurance and wisdom. They are headed to top colleges all over the country. Many are the first in their families to do so.
Julie Apagya Bonney and Ebheni Henderson led the charge before we saw a video interview with Girl Scouts national leader — and former Austinite — Sylvia Acevedo conducted by Maddy Schell and Maggie Saucedo. As if to trump that, young journalist Haley Lone interviewed Oprah pal Gayle King on the set of her TV show.
We throughly enjoyed our conversations at a table front-and-center sponsored by Ellen Richards, the late governor’s daughter who doesn’t have a new book out. (We talked mostly birds and nature.) Then we heard from more Class of ’18 — Eleanor Bailey and Maria Cruz, before Becky Alonso and Gus Flores introduced the winner of the Ann Richards Legacy Award, who happened to be super-sharp former principal Jeanne Goka.
Sorry guys, but I’d trade her for any principal from my past.
I barely glimpsed Ann Richards writer/actor Holland Taylor before slipping out during the “pompoms up” funding round.
My only private concern: Is anyone doing this sort of things for the Bertha Sadler Means Young Women’s Leadership Academy across town? We’ll ask around.
People’s Community Clinic
Anyone who thinks that repasts such as There’s No Such Thing as a Free Lunch are merely light social duties has not been to this fundraiser for People’s Community Clinic now held at the Four Seasons Hotel Austin.
Surrounded by folks at our Becky Beaver-led set of tables such as Nancy Scanlan, Melissa Miller and Nancy Inman would have been intellectually exhilarating enough. But then we heard from clinic CEO Regina Rogoff, Chief Medical Officer Dr. Louis Appel and longtime board member Dr. Nona Niland, all of whom could easily hold my studious attention.
Niland introduced Philip S. Dial, reluctant winner of the W. Neal Kocurek Award, named for the strategist behind much of the city’s enlightened civic health. Despite his reluctance to take the limelight, financial expert Dial made a fine speaker and reminded us that the quiet money aces often make a nonprofit grow and thrive, as he has done for People’s.
The meat of the lunch, so to speak, was a public conversation between Texas Tribune CEO Evan Smith and Dr. Karen DeSalvo, former acting assistant secretary for health in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and now at the University of Texas Dell School of Medicine.
DeSalvo was head of the health department in New Orleans during the Hurricane Katrina crisis and learned much about decentralizing health care and going “upstream” to encourage health before care is needed through community clinics. She believes we need to get past debates on coverage — everybody should be — to talk more about how to save money and lives through community solutions, including a “blue-cities-in-red-states” ones, like the grand experiment going on in Austin right now.
She’s a firecracker and I’d love to profile her for this publication.
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.
Each year, the Girls Scouts of Central Texas judiciously selects a small group of leaders to honor as Women of Distinction. They are saluted at a brisk, dignified luncheon, this year set for noon on April 26 at the AT&T Center. I always learn a lot at this event.
Alexis Jones (Rising Star Award) is the founder of nationally recognized organizations I Am That Girl and ProtectHer. She’s an author and motivational speaker for Generation Y, and named one of AOL’s Makers alongside Oprah Winfrey and Hillary Clinton.
Nora Comstock, Ph.D., is an entrepreneur and business leader, founder of Comstock Connections and national and international founder of Las Comadres Para Las Americas, current member of Austin Community College District Board of Trustees, and member of the Texas Women’s Hall of Fame.
Denise Davis, J.D, is the founding partner of Davis Kaufmann PLLC, lobbyist and former Texas House of Representatives deputy parliamentarian, advisor and attorney to two Texas Lt. Governors, and chief of staff for Texas House of Representative Speaker Joe Straus.
Laura Wolf, J.D, is executive director for CASA of Travis County Inc. She developed merger between Austin Rape Crisis Center and Center for Battered Women to create SafePlace, served as former President of the Austin Junior League, and is recipient of two national awards from CASA Inc.
Amy Shaw Thomas, J.D, is vice chancellor of academic and health affairs and an executive Oofficer at the University of Texas System, board member of Downtown Austin Alliance and Texas Methodist Foundation, active member of Austin Area Research Organization, and advocate for inclusion, diversity and meritocracy.
Texas Cultural Trust, an arts advocacy group, has chosen 15 students for the 2018 class of Young Masters. Each of the promising artists receive a $10,000 scholarship over the course of two years to enhance their studies.
Two are from our fair city: Ian Stripling Jenson, an 11th grader at McCallum Fine Arts Academy, has been selected in the music category for violin, and Leif Tilton, a ninthe grader at Bowie High School, has been selected in the music category for classical guitar.
Some of the past Young Masters recipients have gone on to glory, including Austinite Charles Yang, a 2004 honoree. The Boston Globe judged that this rising soloist “plays classical violin with the charisma of a rock star.” He also happens to play guitar.
One of Austin’s most coveted honors, the Austin Under 40 Awards, are back, and we’ve got the names of the 2018 finalists.
The AU40 Awards are a joint effort of two veteran volunteer groups, Young Women’s Alliance and the Young Men’s Business League. They honor notable community figures and rising stars in 16 career fields.
We’ve made no secret of our admiration for Teresa Granillo and her group, Con Mi Madre, which guides Latinas and their mothers through the educational system. They are setting up a national model with their record of what works and what does not.