Friday, October 29, 2010

Help Feed East Texas

Holt Design's Little Red Wagon program is gearing up to roll down the roads of our community in an effort to gather canned food items for the East Texas Food Bank.

Just look for the Little Red Wagon in Marvin United Methodist Church and you can help us feed someone during this holiday season.

The Little Red Wagon will be in place to collect canned food on:

November 7, 2010
November 14, 2010
November 21, 2010

All canned items of food will be taken to the East Texas Food Bank, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, that has helped to feed children, families, seniors, and others throughout 26 counties in East Texas since 1988. As a clearinghouse for donated food, its mission is to reduce hunger by providing support and education with passion and efficiency by collecting, inspecting, sorting, packaging, and distributing fresh, surplus, frozen, mislabeled, dented-can foods, and more to those in need. 

For more information on the East Texas Food Bank, 
call 903-597-3663 or toll-free 800-815-3663.  
Or visit them online at

Marvin United Methodist Church is located at 300 W. Erwin Street in Tyler, Texas.
For more information on Marvin, visit them online at

Monday, October 25, 2010

Tears in Heaven...or East Texas?

It's really tough to write about a writer. Writers as well as creative people in general want the focus of their efforts to be about the art in which they create. Their bios or life stories read more like an outline and they never pull you into their world as it's the world in which they feed upon. A world of experiences that lend themselves to lyrics, books, paintings, the mediums of expression.

A really good song writer is usually pretty quiet. They soak it in rather than spill it out if you know what I mean. Can't ever tell what's going on in their heads most of the time as they are all great listeners. Listeners of life and the experiences in which it holds.

Not too many people know that Will Jennings, one of the most successful song writers in America, came right out of Kilgore, Texas on June 24th in 1944. His family moved outside of Tyler when he was just a boy where he attended Chapel Hill Independent Schools.

In 1967, he earned his Bachelors in Art at Stephen F. Austin State University and would
begin teaching shortly after at Tyler Junior College and then on to the University of
Wisconsin_Eau Claire.

Now you should know that creative people are not like regular people. They are driven in an almost mad-like direction if they feel it will accomplish and aid in their end result. The best comparison I can give is when the folks in "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" were driven to create a mountain and Richard Dreyfuss filled his entire living room with dirt. This is exactly what it's like when you have an idea buried in your head. A creative will stop at nothing until it's complete within their own vision even it it means building a mountain of dirt in their own home.

Will would have enough of teaching as the creative bug drove him straight to Nashville in 1971. I don't think Will likes to elaborate much about Nashville as you don't see it in any of the stories written about him. However, the Nashville stretch lasted three years from 1971 to 1974 and he will tell you in so many words that he almost starved to death. There is no doubt that It was an exciting time to be in Nashville during the seventies. Waylon, Willie and Kristofferson were like three crock pots boiling over with constant hits and if you were a young song writer with essentially no contacts and zero experience, it was a tough road to hoe.

Moving to Los Angeles was an even bolder move as most folks would have thrown in
the towel and gone back to teaching or whatever it was that they could fall back on. But L.A. proved to be the golden doorway to Will's success and placed him smack dab in the middle of where his talents would excel to the greatest heights.

As I mentioned above, Will's rap sheet reads like some sort of never ending outline. The amount of material he's written is almost endless so to hit the highlights, his major awards are as follows:
  1. Best Pop Vocal Performance 1993 Grammy Awards "Tears in Heaven" written by Eric Clapton and Will Jennings
  2. Academy Award (1997), Golden Globe Award (1997), Grammy Award "My Heart Will Go On" performed by CĂ©line Dion for the motion picture Titanic.
  3. Academy Award (1983), Golden Globe Award (1983) along with Jack Nitzshe and Buffy Sainte-Marie for "Up Where We Belong" performed by Joe Cocker and Jennifer Warnes from the motion picture An Officer and a Gentlemen
  4. Grammy Award (nomination) (1986) "Higher Love" performed by Steve Winwood
  5. Grammy Award to Dionne Warwich (1979) "I'll Never Love This Way Again" written by Richard Kerr and Will Jennings
  6. Academy Award (nomination) (1980) "People Alone" for the motion picture The Competition
Will lives in L.A. now but still visits his sister in Tyler when the months are cooler. Judging from his list of accomplishments as well as his age, he's what my dad refers to as playing in the fourth quarter of his life.

Although a very bright star that shot straight up above the entire world, it's important to note that the star shot right off of Highway 64.

Tears in Heaven? How about Tears in East Texas? It's the same thing really.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The East Texas Red White and Blue

For as long as I can remember, our home was always full of Rangerettes.  

Once a Rangerette herself, my mother made great efforts in always supporting and representing this Texas icon of women going so far as to establish a Rangerette scholarship fund in hopes of providing an education for those with such great talent.

During my youth, she nurtured a program called "Adopt a Rangerette" in which she would provide a home away from home for these girls who might want to escape for the weekend or just enjoy a home cooked meal. Mostly freshmen trying to carve out some time to study or just get away from the demanding sophomores, these young women would crowd our home like visiting family members on holiday.

So there it is. I'm sixteen years old, scared of girls and my house closely resembles that of a dormitory full of drill team dancers.

I was the most famous kid around and it wouldn't be too long before my friends were wanting to come by and visit. All boys of course and like me, they didn't have a whole lot of game around all those Rangerettes. We offered very little in intelligent conversation plus the fact that we all still lived with our parents, a real bonus for any college girl.

It's funny how you grow up so close to something and have very little historic appreciation for it. At that age, it's hard to appreciate anything I guess. Throw in some teenage hormones and it's a wonder how I even made it through school.

Aside from all of that, it is important to note that this is no ordinary drill team. In fact, it is and will always be the very first of it's kind representing an elite model for all drill teams to aspire to.

Unlike a lot of things grand that start out as a vision or a goal, this was not the case for the Kilgore College Rangerettes. They just sort of happened.

In 1939, Dr. B.E. Masters was having a couple of issues with Kilgore College. Enrollment for women was down and as funny as it sounds in today's world, they wanted some entertainment during football game half-times. Apparently the crowds were leaving in order to freshen up their beverages, Gregg county style.

So Masters found a young Miss Gussie Nell Davis who had started the very first high-school drill team in Greenville, Texas. Word had spread far and wide about these dynamic half time dancers known as the "Flaming Flashes" as well as the bold and no-nonsense approach that Miss Davis executed as a leader and a lady.

Hailing from Farmersville, Texas, Gussie Nell Davis was not your typical dance instructor. She was a classically trained pianist who held a Masters in Science from the University of Southern California. Given the disciplines from her classical background and the fact that it was almost impossible for a woman to get a lot of traction during the 30's, she led those young women to a level of hard nosed perfection like a drill sergeant refines a marine. Her standards were nothing less than perfection and because of this, the Rangerettes have received more honors and awards than you could count including Miss Davis being inducted into the Texas Women's Hall of Fame in 1965.

For seventy years, this drill team has traveled all over the world and continues to pave the road of perfection that Gussie Nell forged so long ago. A road that very few women have ever taken let alone created from scratch.

It is a road that hopefully will always be paved with perfect high-kicks as well as ingrained with the standards held by such an interesting and driven woman. A woman that paved a red, white and blue road through the heart of East Texas.

Here's to the real Red, White and Blue. My hat's off ladies.

The above image is from the cover book design of "Kilgore Rangerettes" by O. Rufus Lovett. 
The book is available for sale through the University of Texas Press.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Embracing Your Community

As most of you already know, I became a member of Facebook. I held off for as long as I could as the whole concept of it took some
getting used to. I suppose it's my age as it's sure not my understanding of technology. I've always tried to keep up with the latest and greatest when it comes to my computer.

The thing that I find odd is the abundance of communication that goes along with it. Quite frankly, I'm not interested in where someone is all the time. That's weird. And as I've watched different people use the application as well as the age groups that are within those generations, the level of community is astounding.

Moving back to East Texas five years ago, I began to have some clarity of Facebook and the word, "community". It happened as I drove to Palestine for a meeting one day and found myself staring at all the old buildings in downtown. What must it have been like in this town so many years ago when these buildings went up and businesses were thriving with people walking the streets? A group of people that all knew one another and held together like any other tight knit East Texas town.

There was definitely a sense of community in New London where I grew up. It was one of those places where everyone knew one another as well as your business. You couldn't move one toe without the whole town knowing about it. And yet, here we are in 2010 clinging to that same sense of community that for some, tried so hard to leave.

As I sometimes drive through these little towns, they have obviously all seen better days. They are stacked with empty old buildings as their children have all ventured off to cities in search of a better life. Better jobs. Better money. Better opportunities. But where is the community?

Which brings us back to Facebook. I honestly believe that Facebook has actually filled the void of what we so dearly hold as community.

Living in the city for so long, I can tell you there is no community. Yea sure, I've got friends. We hopefully all have friends but the clincher is how busy we all are and the amount of time we spend at work. Throw in kids and there is no social life whatsoever. The phrase, "We should get together", is a joke. It doesn't mean anything when Friday rolls around and all you want to do is lock yourself up in a closet and flush your mobile phone or Blackberry down a toilet.

And so you turn to the only community you have left. A Facebook community where the
human need to belong will hopefully be met and you can actually get together in some sense.

Call me old fashion but I miss the real thing. There is nothing greater than a group of
friends just hanging out and enjoying each other. Throw in some merlot or an ice cold beer and you'll find me on the front row.

Peace out. And now to post this. How ironic.

Photo of Texas Theater in downtown Palestine by Phil Bebbington