Faith And Liberty Will Never Be Near “Daddy” Again … Thank Heaven

MySweetCharity

How did the last 16 years slip by so quickly? So much has happened. An African American/Caucasian was elected president of the U.S. Social media replaced the major means of communications. Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt were sparkly newlyweds. Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt were sparkly newlyweds.

But two little sisters never knew any of this. They never attended high school. They never got the thrill of getting their driver’s license. They never had a date. Instead, they faced a horror that still rattles even the most scarred veterans.

Those little girls were Faith Battaglia and Liberty Battaglia. Faith was only 9 years old and Liberty was just 6. Like many kiddos, Faith and Liberty were going through a state of familial transition. There had been loud voices in their home that had led to their Mommy being hurt and Daddy packing up his stuff. But it wasn’t for a business trip or an overnight sleepover. Daddy had moved to a loft in Deep Ellum. It wasn’t like their home with their yard and neighbors. But it had to do with their parents working things out.

Part of the deal was for Faith and Liberty to live with Mom and visit with Daddy.

But on Wednesday, May 2, 2001, that “visit with Daddy” became an ordeal that turned stomachs of even the toughest types and to this day still haunts all who recall first hearing about the murders.

Daddy terrorized his wife by calling her up and torturing her, with little Liberty asking, “Why are you trying to put Daddy in jail?” Faith’s screams were heard in the background as she witnessed Daddy shooting obedient Liberty. Their mother helplessly heard Daddy aim and silence Faith’s screams of horror. What were the girls’ final thoughts? Confusion? Pain? Terror? Betrayal? All those and so much more.

Daddy then left his dead daughters and headed to a tattoo parlor to have a needle brand two roses on his arm in their memory.

Tonight Daddy had another needle inserted. He claimed that he would join Faith and Liberty. No, he will never join them. There is a very special place in hell for this Daddy.

The Passing Of The Great And Little Known Of 2017

On the eve of 2018, it would be impossible to move ahead without recalling and honoring those whose life journeys ended in 2017. Their kindness, generosity and personalities have served as an inspiration for their families, friends and strangers in the past and will continue through the years to come. Some were well-known throughout North Texas; others were only known to those within their immediate sphere of influence.

While we regret the loss of these remarkable lives, we are grateful to have had them in North Texas and the legacy they have bequeathed.

Ruth Collins Sharp Altshuler (File photo)

Nancy Ann Smith Wynne Chandler (File photo)

Eli (File photo)

Al Hill Jr. (File photo)

  • Ruth Collins Sharp Altshuler
  • Nancy Ann Smith Wynne Chandler
  • Eli
  • Robert S. Folsom
  • E.G. Hamilton
  • Al Hill Jr.

Shelly Katz (File photo)

Cherri Oakley (File photo)

Jan Pruitt (File photo)

Liener Temerlin (File photo)

  • Shelly Katz
  • Don Malouf
  • Cherri Oakley
  • Jan Pruitt
  • Liener Temerlin

A Passing: Nancy Ann Smith Wynne Chandler

The Idlewild Club went dark during World War II. But in 1946, it came alive again with a dozen young debutantes. One of them was Nancy Ann Smith. Five years after “bowing” to Dallas society, she attended a charity ball at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City. Returning to Dallas, she realized that Dallas needed a similar fundraiser for Dallas children. In her suitcase was a sketch of a little girl that would become the symbol for her brainchild.

Nancy Ann Smith Wynne Chandler*

Pretty soon she gathered together a posse of gal/pals like Claire Ownby Benners, Mildred Nettle Bickel, Betty Butler, Katherine Callaway, Sally Carney, Phyllis Carter, Sally Otis Cassidy, Jo Cherry, Jo Ann Holland, Margaret Kervin, Ann O’Donnell, Neil Orand, Margaret Otis, Alma Ramsden, Marilyn Ray, Sharon Simons, Ann Thompson and Dale Wigley to be the founding members of her project — Crystal Charity Ball.

Within a year, Nancy and her ladies had become a force to be reckoned with. She got Sharon Simons’ husband, Pollard Simons, to provide office space at his Fine Arts Gallery on Cedar Springs; created an advisory board including Joe Lambert, Nancy Hamon and Margaret Hunt Hill; got a permit from the Better Business Bureau; and put together an ultra-formal ball at the Baker Hotel’s Crystal Ballroom on Saturday, December 6, 1952, for 350 with tickets going for a hefty $25 per person.

Nancy had put together a recipe of panache, glitz and glamour that put the event on the map nationally. Unlike the hoop-la of “Giant’s” portrayal of Texas big events, this one was sleek, elegant, intimate and fun. With celebrity pianist Hoagy Carmichael entertaining and Stanley Marcus and actors Greer Garson and Dan Dailey drawing names for the three door prizes, one of the highlights was the midnight drop of ceiling balloons containing prize-winning numbers and a late-night supper. Another was Dailey’s performing.

Still Nancy’s dad, Howell Smith, wasn’t certain that his little girl’s project would work. The country was still recovering from the war and, after all, start-up ventures were always risky. Why he even offered to cover expenses if a profit wasn’t made.

He needn’t have worried. That very first CCB sold out and provided a whopping $17,730 for The Dallas Polio Chapter. Remember this was back in 1952, when cars were selling for $1,700 and gas went for 20 cents.

From the start, it was a hands-on effort. The CCB office was closed, so the committee could create the decorations and entertainment rehearsals. According to the late Dale Wigley, “In those days we had to work hard for the money… I mean really scrounging! Making $15,000 was a big deal, engaging our efforts all year long. But we certainly did put the ball on the map, didn’t we?”

The next year more than 750 attended with guests arriving from New York, California and Europe for the ball that Nancy would chair once again. This time it resulted in an even larger check for the Children’s Development Center, a training school for children with emotional and mental challenges.

Over the years, CCB grew in size of membership (100) and guests (1,500), activities (10 Best Dressed Fashion Show), beneficiaries, corporate involvement, prestige and reputation. It was no longer a debutante’s dream. It was the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval in fundraising circles, as well as a generous benefactor.  

As for Nancy, the 1950s were also a turning point for her personally. The beautiful blonde married Dr. Buck J. Wynne and had two children, Howell Wynne and Nancy Wynne Saustad. Following his death in 1979, she was married to World War II hero Alfred Chandler in 1981 until his death in 2013. But all the while she watched her little project provide more than $131,244,558 for thousands and thousands of children.

It was announced that Nancy died Friday, December 15, having celebrated her 93rd birthday on December 3. But in the decades to come, her legacy will live on through her “brainchild” helping Dallas children.

Services are pending at this time with Sparkman Hillcrest Funeral Home.

* Photo provided by Crystal Charity Ball

It’s That’s Time Of Year When All Sharing Ain’t Good

Seasonal supplies

Tis the season of giving and sharing…to a point.  Unfortunately, there appears to be a couple of peeps who aren’t in the right spirit. They’re “Flu Flory” and “Cold Cory.” No, they don’t have a Facebook page and post selfies. They’re kissing kin to Typhoid Mary.

Speaking of which, they get around by doing cheek hugs, air kisses, warm handshakes, sneezes and croupy coughs with the high-and-mighty and the wishful wannabes.

If you have been a victim of one of these two, do everyone a favor — check with your doctor, stay at home and take care of yourself. You’ll be missed and then again you won’t be missed. Get the drift?

And remember — there’s nothing as unflattering as a red nose unless your name if Rudolph.  

JUST IN: The Dallas Opera’s GM/CEO Keith Cerny Resigns To Head Up Calgary Opera

Keith and Jennifer Cerny (File photo)

The Dallas Opera‘s GM/CEO Keith Cerny has just turned in his resignation to take over the position of general director/CEO of Calgary Opera in January.

During his seven-and-a-half years with the Dallas company, Keith presided over five consecutive balanced operating budgets and a host of artistic projects, expansions, and technical innovations.  These include a highly-successful simulcast program; regional, U.S. and world premieres; and innovative community outreach programs.  

According to Dallas Opera Board Chair Holly Mayer, “Keith has every reason to be proud of his legacy. We wish him every success with his new responsibilities as we turn our efforts to maintaining this company’s impressive forward momentum and strengthening the collaborations with other arts organizations that have marked Keith’s tenure here in Dallas.”

Dallas’ loss is Calgary’s gain.

A Passing: Ruth Collins Sharp Altshuler

Ruth Collins Sharp Altshuler (File photo)

Perhaps it was just selfish, but no one ever thought Dallas would be without Ruth Collins Sharp Altshuler. She exemplified the city with her energy, determination, humor and ability to rise above loss. That’s why her death Friday night will cause many to recall their favorite stories about “their Ruth.”

There won’t be many who will remember the little girl who started life in 1924 on Swiss Avenue. Five years later when the Great Depression threw the country into a financial nightmare, her family’s resources protected her and her two brothers (Carr Collins II and Jim Collins) from the poverty that ravaged others.

At the age of 21, she was widowed when her first husband’s plane was shot down during World War II. A couple of years later she met and married her second husband Charles Sharp. Together they made a striking couple and their marriage of 40 years would produce three children (Sally, Stanton and Susan). It would also test the part in the wedding vows — “in sickness and health” — when Charles was diagnosed with Parkinson’s.

Ruth Altshuler and Susan Sharp (File photo)

It was during their marriage that she joined the Junior League and took on a lifelong mission to support the nonprofit sector including the Crystal Charity Ball, SMU, United Way of Metropolitan Dallas, Dallas Children’s Advocacy Center, Dallas County Medical Society, The Salvation Army DFW, Susan G. Komen, Dallas Summer Musicals, North Texas Giving Day, Retina Foundation of the Southwest, Family Gateway, I Stand For Parkland, Laura Bush’s Foundation for America’s Libraries and countless others. 

In 1963 both the 39-year-old Ruth and the city of Dallas faced a turning point that would determine the city’s fate when President John F. Kennedy was killed in downtown Dallas. Overnight the city became internationally synonymous with hatred. But eventually the city rebounded, thanks to the leadership of the late Mayor Erik Jonsson and others including Ruth, who was on the grand jury that indicted Jack Ruby the day after he killed Lee Harvey Oswald.

The following years were indeed challenging on a personal level as well for Ruth with Charles’ disease progressing until his death in 1984. Still she carried on, juggling her family’s needs and her community involvement.

Ruth and Ken Altshuler (File photo)

With the children grown and, widowed once again, Ruth threw herself into helping others. Eventually, she found the perfect partner in Dr. Ken Altshuler, who shared her sense of humor and her commitment to others. Just this past Tuesday, they celebrated their 30th wedding anniversary.

True to form, Ruth was always a magnet for attracting people. Whether it was U.S. Presidents (four of them to be exact — Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, George Bush and Barack Obama), movie stars like Ginger Rogers and Sophia Loren, noted intellectuals like David McCullough or just a child in need, Ruth treated all the same with appreciation and that legendary quick wit.

For instance, at the 2014 Callier Center for Communications Disorders luncheon when she presented the Ruth and Ken Altshuler Callier Cares Award to her longtime friend Sara Martineau, she “admitted that her own grandchildren had held ‘an intervention,’ because no matter what they said, their grandmother would say, ‘What?’ She then reported that in her own household, she and husband Ken constantly exchange, ‘What?’ As Ken choked hearing Ruth tell the group of their personal experience, Ruth admitted that Ken had already gotten a hearing aid and she had ordered one.”

In the days, weeks and years ahead, it’s going to be difficult to imagine a world without Ruth. But on the other hand, if one just looks around, they’ll see her in the programs, buildings and people that have benefited from a life well lived.

According to The Dallas Morning News, a memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. Thursday at Highland Park United Methodist Church, 3300 Mockingbird Lane. A reception will follow at the Umphrey Lee Center at SMU in the Margaret Mack Ballroom. Both will be open to the public.

A Passing: Al Hill Jr.

The tapestry of Al Hill Jr.’s life was one of many threads, colors and textures.  

Al Hill Jr. (File photo)

For many young people, Al was the behind-the-scenes patriarch of Highland Park Village and a very generous and supportive philanthropist. As one person told a new nonprofit development director on how to raise funds, “Go visit Al. He’ll take the meeting and listen. If he likes what he hears, he’ll answer your prayers.”

He was easy to spot at any event. It was his wheelchair that had become a double-edged sword since his fall in 2003 that resulted in his being paralyzed from the waist down. But even that couldn’t dampen his spirits. There was always the smile, especially when he was at events with his daughters Elisa Summers and Heather Washburne.

Old-timers remember Al of the late ’60s and early ’70s, when he was just in his 20s. He and his uncle Lamar Hunt spearheaded the growth of tennis, thanks to the World Championship of Tennis. It made sense, since Al had been an ace tennis player at St. Mark’s School of Texas and Trinity University. Tennis was on the launch pad to become a major sports contender like football and baseball. And the timing couldn’t have been better for Al, Lamar and Dallas.

Those were heady days, with Dallas’ new airport making it an international player in the world of travel and such membership nightclubs as Oz on LBJ and elan at Greenville and Lovers Lane for partying it up. To do it up big, Al and Lamar brought in such names as Arthur Ashe, Rod Laver, John Newcombe, Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe and Bjorn Bjorg, who could barely speak English.

But the venture into building the world of tennis wasn’t Al’s only undertaking. Being the grandson of the late H.L. and Lyda Hunt and son of the late Margaret and Al Hill Sr., he was involved in the oil business. Being the nephew of the late race-horse-loving Bunker Hunt, he developed a hands-on interest in horse racing. Being the nephew of Pumpkin Air owner Caroline Rose Hunt, he took on the charter-jet business as well.

And on the home front, he and his beautiful blonde wife, Vicki, were new parents of son Al Hill III and daughters Heather and Elisa.

But it hadn’t all been wonderful for Al. There was the divorce from Vicki, the life-changing fall from his porch in 2003, and legal issues following the death of his mother in 2007. Yet, those developments didn’t slow him down. He ended up adjusting his interests to focus on the building and restoring of Park Cities homes, as well as being a part of the purchase and redevelopment of Highland Park Village starting in 2009.

But it was in philanthropy where he shone, by putting even more of his family’s money and influence into the world of such nonprofits as Baylor Health Care System Foundation, Equest, Leukemia and Lymphoma Society of North Texas, Center for BrainHealth, Salvation Army of DFW Metroplex Command, Big Thought, Perot Museum of Nature and Science, The Family Place, Communities in Schools of Dallas, Callier Center for Communication Disorders, The Senior Source, Dallas Historical Society, and many others.

Saturday night, Al’s confinement to the wheelchair ended with his death at the age of 72. One can’t but suspect that he was the first one on the tennis courts the next morning in his after-life.

Our condolences to his family, friends and the countless others who have benefited from his generosity and friendship.

A Passing: Eli

Eli (File photo)

Eli worked with more patients than most doctors. You might say he was a general practitioner since his skills were limitless.  And his bedside manner was better than even Marcus Welby’s.

For a decade, Eli was the Numero Uno member of the Baylor Animal Assisted Therapy program. From his birth on March 13, 2007, there was something special about the Golden Retriever. Sure, he was like any dog if a tennis ball caught his eye. But once he arrived at any of the Baylor campuses in North Texas wearing his ID badge and bandanna, he transformed into a care provider.

By an act of the fates, Eli was able to pursue his calling with his partner Linda Marler, who was in charge of the Baylor program. Partner? Yes. Anyone could see that in Eli’s and Linda’s relationship, there was no “owner.” They were partners.

For years, Linda and Eli would daily go to “their” office on the first floor of Baylor Institute for Rehabilitation and set up schedules and work with all types of patients. In some cases, it was just to provide some comfort for a patient who missed their own dog. For others, it was helping a young person trying to regain the use of their hands after a motorcycle accident. And for still others, it was quietly putting his head in someone’s lap when they were having a bad day.

Linda Marler and Eli (File photo)

However, it was more than the patients who got the Eli treatment. Baylor staff members would greet them as they walked through the halls.  Their little office became the “must-stop-by” spot for anyone working in the building. It was never surprising to see a patient in a wheelchair roll up to the door to see how Eli was doing. The Golden Retriever greeted each visitor with a wagging tail and a smile. Yes, Eli did smile.

Alas, poor Eli had to put up with some of Linda’s silliness. She would balance everything from treats to balls on his nose to show how obedient he was. Everyone from children to the most highly educated specialist would look in amazement as he held his nose just the right way until Linda gave him the signal to release.

Eli in the center with Baylor Animal Assisted Therapy testing team (File photo)

And, of course, Eli became the rock star of the Animal Assisted Therapy program. The temperament testing team considered Eli not to be a dog, but rather one of the testers. When new dogs would be tested for the program that was considered one of the toughest, Eli would quietly lie nearby until Linda needed him.

Eli (File photo)

As the years passed, Eli found himself training a new puppy in the Marler household. The pup’s name was Micah and, like Eli, he was a Golden Retriever. Only Micah was a bit of a cut-up. As a youngster, he got loose and was the victim of a hit-and-run. Luckily, Micah pulled through, but it is believed that Eli took him aside and told him to get his act together … which he did.

In recent years, Eli’s muzzle was turning white and he was slowing down a bit. After all, that’s why he had been training Micah to take over some of his duties. But Eli was still showing up for work with Linda and taking care of their patients and staff.

Just this past Sunday, an email was sent by Linda, “Went to ER today. Eli has hemangiosarcoma … We brought him home with us…..giving him extra love and attention. He is not eating….. it is only a matter of time.”

That time came last night, when Linda watched her partner cross the rainbow bridge.

The Harvey Weinsteins Aren’t Limited To Hollywood

MySweetCharity

Allow me to tell you a story: There was a young woman who had been doing PR for a high-profile local company back in the late 1980s. As part of her responsibilities, she was to accompany the executives and personalities to special events and introduce them to the right people. 

It was at one large charity fundraiser that her “#Me too” took place. As the crowd gathered to hear the headliner, she stood next to the region’s top executive. Without warning he grabbed her hand and clutched it to his crotch. While there wasn’t much there, she still knew what had happened. Shocked, she looked at him and saw a smile, not of enjoyment but of conquest. Immediately she retrieved her hand and headed to the company’s table and told the second-in-command’s wife. She blew it off, saying, “Oh, yeah, he does that.”

On the way home, the young woman told her friends that she was in shock. She hadn’t had a drop to drink and never had any relationship with the man, who was married. Her friends comforted her, but felt helpless because one of them worked for “Handy Man.”

The following Monday the victim had a meeting with the company’s marketing director, telling her that she had to resign due to the episode. The marketing director was sympathetic but could do nothing because she, too, worked for the Handy Man. The young woman called a lawyer friend, telling him what had happened, and that she wanted to put a stop to this man’s abuse before it went any farther with other women. The lawyer bravely took the case on, despite the fact it wasn’t his forte.

Fast-track forward: After the suit was filed, she heard through the grapevine that the mother company had held interviews with management and staffers. Supposedly only one manager had claimed that the young woman was a troublemaker.

A mediation took place one day with the young woman making only four requests:

  • That the man not be in the room during the mediation.
  • That the company would provide a letter saying that her work with the company had been professional.
  • That the man not be fired. She wanted the company to keep an eye on him and prevent him from scourging others.
  • That the remaining months of her contract be fulfilled financially.

The first request was agreed to. He would not be present at any point. What a relief. One down and three to go.

For eight hours, the lawyer and the young woman waited it out in one of the mediator’s office. They talked  about their families. Occasionally, they were brought in to discuss developments with the company’s legal team and the man’s own lawyers, and yet nothing seemed to transpire.

By the end of the day, they were sent home with a wait-and-see comment.

The following Monday, the lawyer called with good news and not-so-good news.

Yes, they would fulfill the contract financially.

Now, for the not-so-good news:

They wouldn’t issue a letter.

But then the real blow hit: The company had cut ties with Handy Man. That one was a knife to the heart. He would inevitably move on to a new company and be allowed to stalk and abuse others.

Shocked, the young woman told her lawyer that the offer wasn’t acceptable. She couldn’t un-fire the man, but she wanted that letter. Her lawyer/friend said it wasn’t going to happen, and that she should accept the offer. She told him that she realized he was working with her on a contingency arrangement and she would compensate him, but, no. She either got the letter, or she would pursue the legal journey. He told her that they wouldn’t budge. She told him that she understood, but she had to proceed. They hung up. 

With that hangup, she felt as if she was in a vacuum. She had done nothing wrong, yet still she felt she was being victimized again. This time it wasn’t a man’s groping hand. It was a company’s denial of a piece of paper validating her.  

What kept her going was defiance. She had lost her demand for the company to keep him from spreading his problem to other unknowing organizations. It was obvious that the powers-that-be wanted to wash their hands of him. But she was not going to allow the company to have their way with her now. Their inquiries and interviews with staff members had already triggered rumors about her own reputation and her own disassociation with the company. She was not going to be victimized again .

Four hours later, she got a call from her lawyer friend. He sounded almost amazed in revealing that the company had agreed to the letter. Would she agree? Hell, yes.

In the days afterward, she received a call from a 20-something woman who had worked for the company. She had been stalked and received voicemails from the man intimidating her. She was grateful that he was out of her life for good.

The perpetrator went on his industry, got an executive job in another part of the country, and stayed married to his wife. The young woman moved on with her life, knowing that she had immediately taken a stand and legally tried to prevent his wanton ways.

So when people like Academy Award winners, political leaders and others write “#Me too,” one can’t help but think, “What did you do about it—and when?”

Neiman’s Malcolm Reuben’s Retirement To California Will Result In Losing Energizer Bunny Rabbit Volunteer Vinnie Reuben

Dallas Morning News’ Maria Halkias reported that Neiman Marcus NorthPark GM/VP Malcolm Reuben announced that he’ll be retiring at the end of the year and heading to California to be closer to the grandkids.

Vinnie and Malcolm Reuben (File photo)

Surprised? No. It’s been in the works for a while. The loss? A double knockout. Besides the loss of a stellar retail executive, North Texas will be losing Malcolm’s fundraising wife, Vinnie Reuben.

No, she hasn’t chaired one of the hoop-la events. Rather, Vinnie has earned the reputation of being the behind-the-scenes “Energizer Bunny Rabbit.” She has taken on the art of handling reservations like Jaap van Zweden’s conducting an orchestra.

North Texas’ reputation for philanthropy has been built on the hard work and juggling of arrangements by people like Vinnie. California’s gain will be North Texas’ loss. The non-profits were lucky to have her as along at they did. Now, Vinnie’s and Malcolm’s grandkids will be the beneficiaries of her presence.

An Unfortunate MySweetCharity Opportunity: Hurricane Harvey

MySweetCharity

North Texans are certainly no strangers when it comes to Mother Nature throwing fizzy fits. Perhaps that’s why they are feeling the pain of those escaping Hurricane Harvey and seeking refuge here. Unfortunately, for some they will have little to return to. For others, they just might decide to stay put here.

To help these uprooted folks while they call North Texas home, it is the perfect opportunity to showcase the area’s spirit of generosity and compassion. Whether it’s schlepping pet supplies to the SPCA of Texas for newly arrived residents, providing funds for such groups as the Red Cross or rolling up silk sleeves to volunteer, now is the time to rise to the occasion. 

BTW, there are many North Texans who have families and second homes in the devastated area. Why not give them a call and see how they’re doing? 

And remember — hurricane season doesn’t officially end until October. But you just know Ma Nature doesn’t always plays by the rules.

Friends Of Wednesday’s Child Is Closing

Sorry to start the week off with some sad news, but The Friends of Wednesday’s Child is ceasing operation.

Whoa! Before you go thinking that WFAA’s Cynthia Izaguirre won’t be doing her “Wednesday’s Child” segments, stop thinking that. These are two separate organizations dedicated to supporting foster children in need of permanent homes.

Friends of Wednesday’s Child (File photo)

Founded by a couple in 1985, Friends of Wednesday’s Child “provided for all their unmet needs while they are in foster care. These unmet needs include many of the things that establish a healthy, productive childhood; from tutoring to medical/dental care to summer camp to birthday gifts.”

According to the Friends of Wednesday’s Child’s website,

“It is with heavy hearts we write that Friends of Wednesday’s Child is closing its doors. We do not have the financial support to continue. The good news is North Texas has some outstanding allies in the community of people who serve children living in foster care. We are in discussion with these great groups who are interested in absorbing Friends of Wednesday’s Child programs and services. We hope to announce something in the coming weeks and months. An education can transform the lives of these children and put them on a path to success in school and life. Thank you for your support in making it possible. It is an honor and a privilege. Please continue supporting them. You are the difference.”

It must have come as a surprise for the staff, since they had just recently submitted a MySweetCharity Opportunity about its Top Kids at TopGolf fundraiser in November.

On the other hand, WFAA’s Wednesday’s Child program is still in operation finding adoptive parents for foster children. As a matter of fact, WFAA will be holding a phone-bank drive today at 4, 5 and 6 p.m. to raise money for Community Partners of Dallas’ annual “Back to School Drive.”

Kevin Hurst Provides A Firsthand Look On How North Texans Are Pulling Together Following Recent Tornadic Devastation And How To Help

With spring weather sporadically tearing up families and homes, its devastation only provides a rallying point for both friends and strangers to help the healing process. Following the recent onslaught of tornadic activities on Saturday, April 29, Neiman Marcus Director of Charitable Giving and Associate Volunteerism Kevin Hurst was able to see firsthand the ruination and the coming together. He has kindly shared his experience in the following report with photos:

Kevin Hurst (File photo)

If you have not personally been affected by a man-made or natural disaster, then you most likely have not seen first-hand what the destruction really looks like. The one-dimensional electronic images on TV, online, and print do not accurately portray the three-dimensional devastation.

As the director of charitable giving, and the steward of Neiman Marcus associate’s donations to the Neiman Marcus Disaster Relief Fund, I was recently invited to take a tour and witness the catastrophic damage that Canton and the surrounding communities suffered when four separate tornadoes moved through the area on Saturday, April 29. On May 4, I joined the American Red Cross and other corporate supporters for a 60-mile journey just east of Dallas.

During the drive, we heard all of the facts and figures:

  • four tornadoes, one of which was an F4 (the second highest type),
  • one tornado stayed on the ground for 51 miles, which is completely rare
  • 7,019 meals served to affected families and volunteers
  • 2,910 comfort and clean up kits distributed
  • The speed at which two emergency shelters had been set up
  • 100 homes destroyed or uninhabitable

The facts and figures are just that…facts and figures.  

On the day of our tour, the sky was a vibrant blue and not a cloud in sight…there was even a slight breeze to keep things cool. Just the day before, the area had once again been under a severe storm watch with the possibility of hail. In fact, we were told to wear thick sole shoes and long sleeve shirts. In addition to the storm damage, the demolition of homes had already begun causing insulation particles to float in the air. I recall seeing one house being torn down as we drove down a rural road and thought about the juxtaposition of the destruction with the glistening elements in the air.  It almost seemed like snowflakes floating to the ground.

We had been coached that we should not ask too many questions. Each person would be at a different place in the grieving process. It was best to let them talk as little or as much as they wanted and we should simply say “I am sorry for what you are going through.”

It wasn’t until we started delivering water to those families that reality set in. I think it is safe to say that our demeanors changed from that of an outsider looking in, to one who was now able to truly empathize with those affected.

Our first stop was at a trailer home. We were greeted by a 60-something year old gentleman, “Mark,” seated in a lawn chair in the middle of his yard. He was having lunch which consisted of a hamburger, bagged chips, and a bottle of water; all of which were provided by the local church that had set up grills to help feed their neighbors. Mark’s 86-year old mother, sister, and a young child were all home when the storm hit. They huddled together in an interior room. When it was over, the entire mobile home had been lifted eight inches and moved one foot from its original foundation. The branch of a large tree fell directly into the middle of the home, most likely preventing it from being completely blown away. Needless to say, their home is uninhabitable. The irony is that most of their personal possessions like photographs and keepsakes were all intact.

As I snapped these photographs, I again thought about the juxtaposition of the scene…the tattered American and Texas flags proudly displayed and waving against a backdrop of ruins.

Blue tarp covers the hole left from the tree branch*

To compound the tragedy, Mark’s brother was visiting in a travel camper and was inside of it with his dog. The tornado picked it up, slammed it on its side, and peeled the roof off extracting all of the contents. Thankfully the two walked away with minor cuts and bruises. The door of the travel camper was located wrapped around a tree.  

Campers on its side*

Inside camper with roof peeled off and door of camper wrapped around tree*

As we were visiting, a retired veteran and neighbor, “Bob,” came to talk to us. At first glance, his house directly across the street appeared to be unscathed, however that was not the case. He shared that the entire roof pulsated up and down during the storm loosening ceiling joists and cracking walls. As a trained storm spotter, he knew exactly what to do in the case of a storm and was prepared with a back-up generator, thus allowing him to continue living in his home. Being trained doesn’t necessarily mean that you are exempt.  

Bob has a cell phone tower on his land. When the company came out to inspect it, the technician climbed about ten to fifteen stories to the top. He reported that he could actually see the trench of destruction in the ground and where the tornado made a 90 degree turn to his neighbor’s mobile home.

I mentioned that our Red Cross guide said people would be at different stages of grieving. For both Mark and Bob they were grateful. Grateful not only that they were alive, but they still had some place to call home. I have to say how “impressed” (if that is even the appropriate word) I was with Mark. He was completely open and seemed almost anxious to share his story. We were told that people find it therapeutic to talk about the event.  He invited us to walk around his property and take pictures. I almost felt like it was a badge of honor for him…perhaps if only because his family was safe. As for Bob, and I suspect because of his storm training, he had a different perspective. He actually said he was “happy” it happened. He explained that this storm actually brought his community together; neighbor helping neighbor.

Showroom buildings (left) new and (right) old*

Damaged vehicles*

Our next stop was a Dodge dealership which took a direct hit. The dealership had just completed construction on the new showroom building on Friday. They were in the process of moving everything over from the small, outdated showroom building across the parking lot when the tornado hit on Saturday. Literally, every vehicle sustained damage. Some vehicles were thrown over 200 yards into an adjacent pasture. All that was left of the new building was the steel frame and the old building was completely flattened. A neighboring house across the pasture took a direct hit. Rather than flattening it, the tornado went right through the middle leaving a gaping path with both sides still standing.

In part, this visit was organized by the American Red Cross to demonstrate their quick response and the programs and services provided in a time of crisis. In reality, it demonstrated so much more. It demonstrated the force of nature. It demonstrated the gratitude and compassion of individuals. It demonstrated the resiliency of a community. For me, it validated our decision to become a National Disaster Partner with the American Red Cross. I mentioned earlier that I act as a steward of our associate’s donations to the Neiman Marcus Disaster Relief fund. This support allows the Red Cross to be ready within hours to activate the volunteer network and provide food, water, shelter, products, and other services that would help those affected start to recover from this life-changing event.

Amaryllis*

One final juxtaposition and photo. Amid the piles of debris at Mark’s home, I saw this Amaryllis flower.  It was seemingly untouched by the winds and flying materials.

The genus name Amaryllis comes from the Greek word “amarysso,” which means “to sparkle.” In Greek mythology, it was the name of a shepherdess who shed her own blood to prove her true love, and in so doing inspired the naming of this flower.

Similar to the flying insulation particles that glistened in the sunlight, this Amaryllis equally sparkled. We can only hope that much like Greek mythology, this lone flower will act as a shepherd of hope for the community and shed pollen to spawn new life.

* Photo credit: Kevin Hurst

A Passing: Cherri Oakley

Before the women’s movement really started with Gloria Steinem hammering at the glass ceiling, Cherri Oakley was a hungry 20-something PR person who had gumption and could scramble. So the story goes, international hairstylist Vidal Sassoon decided to open a shop in Dallas in the early 1970s. Somehow Cherri got wind of Sassoon’s plans and managed to set up a meeting with his people. There was just one hiccup. Cherri didn’t have an office. But she wasn’t going to let that quash the opportunity. The fledgling PR practitioner temporarily rented space just to take the meeting and make the right appearance. It worked! Sassoon hired her and she was off and running to become a major player in the local PR biz.

Over the years, even Cherri had to laugh about the ups and downs of PR that fluctuated with North Texas’ business climate. When times were good, Cherri had a huge conference table. When times weren’t so great, the conference table hit the road. She had more than a couple of conference tables, so they say.

There is a great story in D Magazine about Cherri’s buying three spaces at Sparkman Hillcrest for $250 each in 1985. Her plan was one for herself and one for a maybe-one-day husband. In 1986 her beloved pooch, Roberta Black, died. Cherri decided that Roberta would find her final resting place in one of the plots. Alas, the Sparkman-Hillcrest policy would not allow it — “burying animals was against Sparkman policy.” Somehow, Cherri had her way — “We had to be discreet about it, but it was a very moving funeral.”

Cherri Oakley*

As time moved on and Cherri decided a Mr. Right was not going be in her life, she decided to sell the two remaining plots back to Sparkman-Hillcrest in 2008. But, alas, Sparkman-Hillcrest would “not buy them back.” Cherri was amazed to learn that her two spots were now valued at $7,590 each.

It is with regret that Cherri may be putting to use one of her Sparkman-Hillcrest spaces due to her death on Friday, January 20. And while Cherri’s 40 years in public relations may have ended, stories — both real and tall tale — will be the stuff that will allow her to live on in the annals of Dallas marketing circles.

A memorial service for Cherri will be held at Saint Michael and All Angel’s Saint Michael Chapel on Saturday, February 4, at 11 a.m.

* Photo credit: Matt Hawthorne