As the season changes (although the weather may not) there is no better way of celebrating the Christmas spirit than with Main Street’s annual Christmas fair! Main Street Director, and former President of the LEAP Ambassadors, Annel Guadalupe organized the great event and brought Christmas cheer to the community, with the help of the current President of the LEAP Ambassadors and Main Street Intern, Jessica Cuevas.
In the typical Main Street fashion, the Fair decorated University Avenue and Rather Park with hoilday cheer. The City of Huntsville’s Parks Department did a wonderful job of creating a winter wonderland of Rather Park, and Main Street brought great music to the middle of downtown, courtesy of the Sleigh Riders.
Perhaps the best attraction of the day was the beautifully decorated photo-op with Santa! At the Courthouse Gazebo, community members posed with the Christmas icon and whispered items from their Christmas lists.
In addition to family fun, the Christmas fair is a great opportunity to get all your holiday shopping done! Vendors displayed handmade jewelry, expertly carved cutting boards, toys for the littles, and much more.
LEAP Ambassadors, Yvette Mendoza, Ingrid Cuero, and I enjoyed volunteering with Santa and capturing some great photos in the process. We were even fortunate enough to get our own photo with Santa!
The first Saturday in December was truly one to remember. A day full of smiling faces, happy shoppers, and amazing Huntsville spirit!
On behalf of the Ambassadors, thank you to Annel, Jessica, and the City of Huntsville for making this great event possible. Merry Christmas!
Once a semester, KSAM’s Larry Crippen hosts the LEAP Center for a discussion that airs on “Around Town.” The program focuses on one person or organization, but since LEAP is an engagement organization, the program inevitably covers many aspects of the University and the community.
This semester, for example, we have worked with the Huntsville Police Department, the Walker County Courthouse, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, the Boys and Girls Club, Main Street Huntsville, the World Affairs Council, the Freshman Leadership Program, Texas Tech University, the City of Huntsville and we’ve attended events hosted by Student Activities, the Alumni Association, the Sam Houston Memorial Museum, the Art Department, the Texas Tribune Festival, and the Popular Culture Association.
And so it was the LEAP Ambassadors, along with their advisor Mike Yawn, met with Crippen in the Holcombe Room for a short discussion of the fall semester and even looking ahead to the spring.
We were able to discuss our first-ever “Beyond Bars” program, our trip to Austin for the Texas Tribune Festival, our trip to New Orleans for a conference, and our normal volunteer work.
It was one of several collaborations with the media this year–undertaken by us and our advisor. And while we may never get accustomed to speaking into a microphone or camera, it was an enjoyable event, in part because we also work with KSAM every fall on their Make A Smile Happen gift drive.
Although the semester isn’t over–we have finals and papers!!!–it’s nice to look back on a semester where we able to accomplish quite a bit!
Many would say that I was “wowed” by his past performance and attribute it to the reason why I decided to see him again. Although it is a show that I would encourage everyone to attend, I was accompanying former LEAP Ambassador Victoria McClendon-Leggett with a hidden agenda to ensure that she got the full experience . . . and little did she know.
On Sunday, November 6th, the Old Town Theatre was the place to be and sure enough, both Victoria and I had tickets to see the Elvis Tribute show. Beginning with the performance of Shake, Rattle, and Roll to help set the tone and mood of the night . . .
We were in for a surprise when Steve, Travis Powell’s manager, “jumped” on the stage and announced that there would be a surprise performance by a young man whom he found on the Walmart parking lot with sideburns, what a small town! Before we knew it there was another man dressed as Elvis, or maybe Roy Orbison, in the theatre. His name was Colin Dexter, and he performed a couple of songs, one of them being Pretty Woman, while playing the guitar, in preparation for an audition at the Voice.
Stealing the thunder of the night, was Travis Powell, as he came out and performed in his all-black leather suit for the first half of the show. . . performing crowd favorites, including Suspicious Minds, Jailhouse Rock, and Can’t Help Falling in Love with You.
There was a moment during one of these songs where he asked ladies to join him on the steps of the stage, and of course, I took the opportunity to have Victoria join him . . . but she would only go if I did.
Soon after intermission, he was dressed in an all-white suit with sequins and handing out scarfs to the women in the crowd who came rushing up to him, including Victoria, and the occasional men. Stealing our hearts was the moment when he gave one to the young girl whom he had previously danced with as he retreated from the stage and walked around the theatre getting to know his fans.
As he prepared to wrap up the show, he extended an invitation to the audience to see him at the lobby after the show and to join him at 7 Leguas for dinner. Victoria and I waited in line to get a selfie with him and have him sign her scarf and other fun items!
Thank you to the Old Town Theatre for putting on amazing shows for the community and for all your hard work. For those of you who missed Travis Powell’s show in the Spring and Sundays, he will be coming back in Summer ’23 on July 9th (Be sure to buy your tickets early!).
Our early rise in Wichita, KS was accompanied by a nice and cool breeze! This morning we had a hankering for a more local taste for breakfast, and we were excited to try the homemade pop tarts from the local restaurant, HomeGrown. Sure enough, upon arrival, we had three of their brown sugar pop tarts, which were very tasty!
This time around, Morgan and Yvette ordered zesty yet sweet lemon dishes, Limoncello French Toast and Lemon Ricotta Pancakes.
Ashlyn ordered one of their specialties, the Croissant French Toast.
The seasonal flavors were a nice contrast to my savory Chilaquiles Verde Bowl, which was delicious. It was a great breakfast filled with an assortment of flavors!
If you are ever in Wichita, HomeGrown is a must-try especially if you want a taste of something local!
Frank Lloyd Wright’s: Allen House
Our next stop was also a local gem, one specifically designed for the prairies of the interior plains of Kansas: the Allen House. Completed in 1918 by Frank Lloyd Wright, the home was stunning! Not only does the home provide a glance back to an earlier time, but the intricate detail and expert craftsmanship are excellent examples of Wright’s works.
While we could listen to facts and history about the house itself for hours on end, it is important to know about the family who commissioned it. Our tour guide, Mary, wove the history of the Allens with facts about the home during our tour. Henry J. Allen was a Wichita native, newspaper editor and publisher, U.S. Senator, and two-term governor of Kansas. When the Allens decided to build a new home, they remembered hearing about a certain architect with quite the reputation. By word of mouth, he and his wife Elise, knew that they must have a Wright home of their own in the city of Wichita!
Since Wright took on designing the Allen’s dream home soon after working on the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo, Japan, there is a beautiful incorporation of Japanese techniques within the home.
Wright is known for bringing the exterior and the interior together; the effect of the outside meeting the inside is truly captivating.
The Allen House employs the use of horizontal lines, examples of this can be found in the cantilevers, etched designs, light fixtures, and even the grout between the bricks!
Instead of aligning the bricks with the grout, Wright deeply ranked the grout in and created more horizontal lines in and out of the house. With each home we have seen, it is easy to fall in love with the personality Wright gives the home.
Wright loved to add a poetic nature to everyday items, and with crystalized frozen air (windows) lining the home, it truly does make the home a work of art.
The home is filled with Wrights’ iconic built-in bookshelves, five fireplaces, and a Japanese-style pond, making for quite the property. The living room and dining room are adorned with crystalized frozen air (windows) that contain colors found in nature. The lamps around the home show the Japanese influence and are crafted with mulberry paper to create a softer light (photos were not allowed inside).
Wright implements a technique called compression and release in the living room in which you transition through a small door and low ceiling to a grand living room.
Elise Allen was an art collector herself and had several pieces around the home. Some reflected religious motifs, while others were done in a Japanese fashion; but most interesting to us was the Birger Sandzén lithograph!
We were in awe of the beautiful home and were not ready to leave, but we didn’t leave without snapping a picture in the beautiful garden maintained by seven master gardeners who donate their time to maintain the home’s landscape.
This tour couldn’t have been possible without the excellent staff and our tour guide, Mary, at the Allen West Home.
As a result, we learned more about Frank Lloyd Wright and the Kansans who cared about educating others regarding the legend and art of Frank Lloyd Wright.
Larkspur Bistro & Bar
Not only was the Frank Lloyd Wright Allen Home an amazing tour but it also helped us pick our lunch destination! Before touring this beautiful home, we had two options in mind that we were struggling to choose between. However, after we saw a Larkspur flower in the garden, we took it as a sign to eat at the local Larkspur Bistro & Bar! How could we not?
Mary, our guide for the Allen Home tour, recommended that we try their Kansas Wedge Salad and, sure enough, that is what Ashlyn and I ordered.
For our appetizers, we had delicious, crafted bread with oil, hummus, and crab cakes. Yvette ordered the Salmon Fettuccini and Morgan the Air Capitol Burger.
Larkspur Bistro & Bar was yet another great local stop on our trip and we love getting the recommendations from locals!
Wichita Art Museum Ashlyn Parker
After lunch, we headed to the Wichita Art Museum. To our surprise, upon entering the museum, we were met by a Dale Chihuly Persian Ceiling!
We thought that we would experience the Persian Ceiling, also known as the Chihuly Bridge, from one viewpoint, but the surprise continued as we made our way to the second floor and were able to walk across the glass work! In the atrium of the museum, another Chihuly piece, titled Confetti Chandelier, is featured with the typical swirls and orbs illuminating the space.
This museum offered many different styles of art including one exhibit that was strategically lit to display the pieces of contemporary artist, Beth Lipman. Her work is most famous for her use of glass still-life compositions. One piece, in particular the Laid Table, uses common pieces of glass such as a bowls, vases, or plates in a unique way beautifully placed around a tabletop. This piece used about 500 separate pieces of glass to create and lots of glue. The glass in her work represents the fragility of human lives and how delicate they really are.
We came across works by artists we have seen in other museums on our trip. There was an Andy Warhol lithograph depicting scenes of Jackie Kennedy as a remembrance of her husband John F. Kennedy after he was shot. The painting is in typical Warhol fashion as it is divided into four squares, with the image in each square exemplifying a different emotion.
The Carlene and Lee Banks Rotunda Gallery contained 19th-century oil paintings, and everyone tried their hand at guessing the artists. Morgan probably did the best of all of us, an outcome that might have been helped by the fact that Thomas Moran was among the artists in the mix.
But we all saw works by familiar names: Frederic Remington, Roy Lichtenstein, and Louise Nevelson, for examples.
We also saw two artists we weren’t fully familiar with, but which we would become familiar with over the course of the trip: John Steuart Currey…
…and Birger Sandzen.
We enjoyed getting to see a variety of different themes, styles of paintings, and sculptures throughout this museum.
It never ceases to amaze me what these talented people can do with a paintbrush or glass.
Mental Health Courts
Across the nation, new and more specialized methods of trying cases are arising. Today, there are 150 mental health courts in the United States that are completely independent of drug courts, municipal courts, and other courts to which nonviolent offenders with mental health illnesses are assigned.
Leading this cause in her home state of Ohio is former Ohio Supreme Court Justice Evelyn Stratton.
Sworn into the Ohio Supreme Court in 1996, Justice Stratton made great strides advocating for mental illness. Justice Stratton helped form the Supreme Court of Ohio Advisory Committee on Mental Illness and the Courts, and is a co-founder of the Judges’ Leadership Initiative.
Joining Justice Stratton on the panel were mental health professionals: Kimberly Nelson, the Regional Administrator for Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration serving Region 7, which includes Kansas, Megan Quattlebaum, Director for the CSG Justice Center, Wenhan “Chris” Cheok, the Mental Health Program Manager for Sedgwick County COMCARE, and Flor Alvarado, a Mental Health Court Clinician/ Sedgwick County Offender Assessment Program (SCOAP) & TT Team lead for Sedgwick County COMCARE. Kansan State Senator Pat Pettey led the discussion and prompted some interesting questions.
The Stepping Up Initiative, which we had previously heard about in an earlier sessions, is one of the leading efforts addressing the public health crisis in county jails across Ohio. “Stepping Up is a national effort to break the cycle of jail being the de facto mental health hospital,” are the words of the Ohioans who are working on the Ohio Project.
Ms. Quattlebaum explained how offenders with mental health illnesses are currently prosecuted and processed through the system. Offenders are either tried like any other case in the court that follows the offense, or they are placed in a hospital for forensic treatments. Conversely, mental health courts will use competency restoration for offenders who are not fit for court after three, six, or twelve months of restoration. Depending on the individual, they will either be released or processed through the system and tried at the Mental Health Court.
The need for mental health courts is more prevalent than ever. These courts with their justices and treatment facilities will further help everyone involved, providing the defendants/accused with the help and resources they require.
After the panel discussion was over, Jessica spoke with Justice Stratton about her work and her career, and we were all fortunate to snap a quick selfie with her!
State Dinner at the Midwest Council of State Governments Annual Conference
At many of the Council of State Government regional conferences, the organizations host a “State Dinner” on the final evening, and this was true for the Midwest. This is a big event for LEAP Ambassadors–often their first such experience–and it was made even more fortunate by the presence of two CSG staff members at our table and some entertaining musical performers with the Aerotones Big Band, featuring Jaslyn Alexander on lead vocals.
Throughout the evening, Aerotunes played songs through the decades, often jumping 50+ years in the process. We soon grew to love the range of the music styles and genres and despite the variety in sounds, dancers kept on dancing!
We were first greeted by Senator McGinn, who not only introduced the posting of the color guard…
…and the invocation…
…but also introduced some humor into the proceedings, setting a light tone to a lively evening!
At first, there weren’t a lot of takers on the dance scene.
But when the Ambassadors got on the floor, they soon had the opportunity to learn new dances (or just be led through the dances in some cases). Kansas Representative Mark Schreiber was a particularly generous dance instructor…
…and with some real dancing going on, the dance floor soon came alive!
We hate to say who is the best dancer in the group, but we are really glad we brought Ashlyn.
We were pleased with how nice everyone was, and we were grateful for the new friends we made.
With the conference going full blast, we awoke early to get in a full day of learning, networking, and marketing Sam Houston State University!
NextGen Under 30 Breakfast
If your city suffers from a high percentage of brain drain and you are looking for a way to “honor, and retain talent,” then the NextGen Under 30 breakfast was the place to be. Across the nation, a lot of cities have experienced or currently have a brain drain problem. This is mostly seen in smaller cities that lose young individuals to larger cities with (1) universities and (2) a more competitive workforce. To combat this, Kansas joined the NextGen Under 30 Foundation which recognizes and honors young leaders and helps them become more engaged in their home state.
NextGen targets individuals who are 30 or younger and aids them with knowledge about their cities while providing them with a vast networking opportunity through various events. To be considered for this opportunity, you must not only be under 30 years of age, but you must also be nominated and complete the application process. All applicants are then considered, and the winners are selected by a group of judges who are business and civic leaders. The winners get the opportunity to meet the governor and lieutenant governor of the state, tour the capitol, and participate in an awards dinner and ceremony. The honorees have the opportunity to apply to become ambassadors for the following year and assist the upcoming winners.
Kansas State Senator Tom Hawk then welcomed comments and questions from the legislators.
However, the narrative was quickly turned over to us (the younger crowd) when one of the legislators asked to hear from us and what would compel us to stay in the area. The number one response to the question was “respect.”
My personal answer was upward mobility, in addition to respect.
Young people want to be able to grow and advance in the field that they go into and not remain stagnant through the course of the years. The lack thereof adds to the brain drainage in certain cities because there is either (1) no competitive work opportunities or (2) no mobility, even after a few years of working there. This dual lack of employment opportunities and career advancement makes it a simple decision when larger cities or even the private sector offer competitive employment opportunities.
The breakfast was not only a good opportunity to be heard and to network but also a nice start to our busy day! (Professor’s note: At lunch, a state representative came up to me and told me that the comments from Morgan helped him feel much better about the younger generation.)
Opening Session: Warm Welcome to Kansas
The LEAP Ambassadors received a warm Kansas welcome from Kansas State Senator Carolyn McGinn, Wichita Mayor Brandon Whipple, Kansas State Senate President Ty Masterson, and Kansas House Speaker Ron Ryckman! All of these legislators shared interesting facts about Kansas. The most important fact that we learned is that Kansans do not speak of the Arkansas River in Kansas as the “Arkansaw” River. Calling it so, is a great indicator to the locals that you are not from the area because it is referred to as the “big river” and “little river”–or, maybe the “ArKansas River.” Along with its geography, Kansas is known as the air capital of the world! Kansas is the home of the Spirit Aerospace Headquarters and the National Institute of Aviation Research, a facility that Morgan and Jessica got to tour! Following this interesting detail, Mayor Whipple mentioned that Wichita is rated the #1 city to be single in and the worst city to date in (a prospect that excited Yvette greatly).
Dante Chinni, our keynote speaker and the Director and Founder of American Communities Project, specifically reviewed Kansas demographics and discussed how the statistical data are interpreted and utilized to highlight issues such as the benefits of Kansas’s manufacturing and the brain drain Kansas is experiencing.
More specifically, Chinni highlighted demographic characteristics such as exurbs, working-class counties, military posts, and college towns, etc. These data show that the Midwest consists of a highly complex terrain that defines easy understanding. Even within individual states, single policies can be difficult fits.
Along with demographic research, we were also shown economic differences and challenges. Coming out of COVID, new problems arose, such as population growth vs. decline, internal personal wealth, and internal community wealth. With these topics, Chinni emphasized the greater use of specific data such as the asset income per capita.
Hearing the data from Kansas allowed us to compare how our city Huntsville, TX, experiences brain drain. Our university facilitates brain gain with incoming students, but after graduation, a high percentage will leave to pursue their careers elsewhere in a more populated city that has much more job opportunities. This phenomenon leaves the City of Huntsville with a much bigger brain drain problem.
Aside from the obstacles Kansas must overcome, we can see the beauty Kansas has to offer and what it can produce to have a better Kansas and uplift our nation. I was fascinated to learn more about the state. I consider Kansas a great state to visit with its excellent hospitality.
Postsecondary Access and Affordability: Policy Options for States
Yvette and I made our way to the post-secondary access and affordability breakout session which was moderated by Senator Dietrich…
… and featured by Dr. Sandy Baum, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute. As a national expert on secondary education affordability, Dr. Baum was able to provide plenty of statistics to support her claims. Her point was very clear. Not only are we wanting to make colleges more affordable to students, but we want to keep them at a decent quality to have constant graduation rates. There have been frequent conversations about the possibility of college being free and whether that possibility could potentially lower the quality of the schools, which is something Dr. Baum is afraid of.
The statistics showed that more than half of the full-time students at public four-year institutions have their tuition and fees covered by grant aid. The obvious trend we see is that low-income households are not saving their money to put towards their child’s college career. This explains why most students at public colleges are depending on grant aids and loans. Many young people are not willing to go thousands of dollars into debt just to get a four-year education.
Our focus needs to be on helping low-income students become more aware of different financial aid options that will pay for their college. On their behalf, colleges need to, in some way, be accessible to everyone who is willing to put in the effort and work into programs, related to financial aid, that can help tremendously.
Luncheon with Legislators
Once the clock struck noon, we followed the hungry crowd toward the Redbud Ballroom for the featured presentation over lunch. Ashlyn and I sat at a table with State Senator Reynold Nesiba from South Dakota and Kansan State Senators Beverly Gossage and Kristen O’Shea (Senator O’Shea is the youngest female Senator in Kansan history!). Similarly, Yvette and Jessica sat at another table with a senator from Illinois.
Having asked plenty of questions of our own, the legislators were curious to know where we were from and soon enough, we found ourselves answering questions about LEAP and Sam Houston State! Before the presentation commenced, we were able to learn more about what each senator was passionate about, why they chose to become public servants, and asked for advice on running for office.
Soon after, Senator Carolyn McGinn made her way toward the stage and began introducing the guests of honor. The first guest of honor was Kansas Governor Laura Kelly. Governor Kelly expressed her gratitude for all the legislators in attendance and gave a shoutout to our neighbors in the north from Canada!
Unfortunately for us, she was unable to stay for the lunch, but as the past CSG National President, Governor Kelly knows the importance of attending conferences to learn as much as possible from others.
The next speaker put on quite the show! CSG national Chair, Washington State Senator Sam Hunt gave a brief CSG report. He reminded everyone to not forget that the national conference, hosted in Honolulu, Hawaii, is just a few months away. To emulate the spirit of the next host state, Senator Hunt stripped off his dress shirt and jacket–amid nervous twitters from the audience–and showed off his best Hawaiian gear, gear that was underneath his sports jacket!
Senator McGinn then introduced the keynote speaker, Dr. H. W. Brands, the Jack S. Blanton Sr. Chair in History at UTA. Dr. Brands is a renowned author of 30 books covering American politics and history and two of his books were finalists for the Pulitzer Prize.
Dr. Brands told us the stories of two completely different historical figures, with a common objective in mind: John Brown and Abraham Lincoln.
Both Brown and Lincoln shared abolitionist views but acted in very different ways. Dr. Brands explained that John Brown acted with violence and aggression, while Abraham Lincoln believed that the law and policy were the best avenues for change.
Dr. Brands did a great job of outlining why the men thought the way they did, and what implications their different perspectives had on the nation. It was a captivating lecture, and I’m sure the whole room cannot wait to read The Zealot and The Emancipator!
Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!
On the Second Family evening, Ashlyn, Yvette, Jessica, and I all experienced a new touristy trip with LEAP: a trip to the zoo! The Sedgwick County Zoo is the seventh largest in the United States and is home to 3,000 individual animals and 400 species.
Typically, a zoo groups species of animals based on the region they are from or the type of habitat they belong to. With cameras in tow, and knowing that we had the zoo for the evening, we scurried over towards the different habitats hoping to capture some great shots!
We were thrilled to see African giraffes graze on leaves…
…the running rhinos playing in their pen…
…and the zebras strolling lazily.
The meerkats were already posed to perfection and proved to be some great models!
As we wandered through the different continents, we eventually found the buffet meant for us! We had a great meal over which we shared our thoughts on the day’s sessions. While jokes were made, (ambassador note: mostly at our expense), we shared a few laughs and enjoyed gazing at the animals.
Despite missing out on the opportunity to touch and feed the stingrays, we enjoyed seeing the available exhibits in the Reptile and Amphibian room through the glass, except for the tortoise! The room was full of a wide array of different creatures from the rarest turtle in the world to recently fed snakes.
While in the room, we found it amusing that a turtle and a frog were playing a game of copycat, as humongous bullfrogs sat idle and lurking in the murky water.
The Cessna Penguin Cove exhibit was right around the corner and Jessica was eager to check it out. We quickly learned why: penguins are Jessica’s favorite birds! The zoo supplied many interesting facts and displays, but most insightful for us was the chart showing the different heights of the penguins. After some convincing (editor’s note: and some dragging) we learned how LEAP Ambassadors fit into the size up!
Stepping back into our childhoods for a lovely outdoor trip to the zoo was so much fun! Thank you to the Midwestern staff.
It was a new experience in many ways: LEAP Ambassadors attended their first light opera, they met many LEAP Alumni, and they spent an evening enjoying good company. The occasion was the summer performance from The Gilbert & Society of Houston, and with all of their performances sold out, it was a minor miracle that we were able to purchase 23 tickets to the third showing of “HMS Pinafore.”
For those who haven’t seen a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta before, it’s worth a summer jaunt to the beautiful Hobby Center to see a performance. HMS Pinafore was written in 1878, but its satirical edge and comedy rang true 144 years later. The opera tells the story of three sets of star-crossed lovers, with each pair being thwarted in their loving ambitions by the British class system. This leads to much shiply shenanigans: an attempted suicide, mystic omens, an aborted midnight elopement, and a dungeon jailing–all chorused by a crew of “sisters, cousins, and aunts.”
We had different favorites, but there was a general consensus that the cast outdid themselves with “Never Mind the Whys and Wherefores,” in which the production deviated sharply from the libretto. The orchestra got involved in the hijinks, Admiral Joseph (played by Alistair Donkins) engaged in much madcap, and Josephine made the most of her many encores. Donkins, who for the past forty years has flown in from England to perform with the Houston Gilbert & Sullivan cast, is retiring. We wondered whether these scenes were written specifically as a scene-stealing sendoff to the most reliable of the performers.
Neither of the Ambassadors had seen an opera, even a “light opera,” and several of the former Ambassadors had also never seen such a performance. Their novice status, however, didn’t prevent them from posing like pros after the production–and, in fact, one pro did pose with us!
The fists-up pose derives from the lyric to “A British Tar.” A “tar” is a nickname for a sailor, possibly as an abbreviation of tarpaulin, and the song–one of two patriotic tunes from HMS Pinafore–celebrates the stoutness of a British sailor:
A British tar is a soaring soul, As free as a mountain bird, His energetic fist should be ready to resist A dictatorial word.
His nose should pant, And his lip should curl, His cheeks should flame, And his brow should furl, His bosom should heave, And his heart should glow, And his fist be ever ready for a knock-down blow.
Other than the playful fists, the tone of the evening was one of amicability. Bryan Phillips, who was involved in LEAP from 2010-2012, was the most senior former student. Bianca Saldierna (2017-2018), Staci Antu (2017-18), Esme Mata (2019-20), Quinn Kobrin (2019-2021) joined the current LEAP Ambassadors, providing insight and catching everyone up on their impressive accomplishments post-graduation.
Dr. Bill Hyman and his wife, Carol, were there, too. Maggie Padilla and her husband, Roman (who somewhat resembled the Captain of Pinafore) attended. And Jean Loveall, Program Coordinator for LEAP, also joined us. Of course, Stephanie and our advisor, Professor Mike Yawn, were there. Yawn is an excellent advisor to the organization: “Bad language or abuses / He never, never uses.“
Well, hardly ever.
We had the chance to meet these wonderful folks over dinner at Black Walnut, where the casual atmosphere provided the perfect place to talk–as well as good food!
Professor’s/Editor’s Note: Many thanks to the former LEAP Ambassadors who attended. Their ongoing willingness to meet with current students and provide mentorship is a huge part of the LEAP program. Also, special thanks to Bill and Carol Hyman and Roman and Maggie Padilla whose presence made the evening even more enjoyable.
With four cities to see in one day, we had to hustle after seeing the OKC Memorial & Museum and the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum. Ashlyn and I ran by the Oklahoma City (OKC) Museum of Art to see a single piece: a beautiful (and large) work by glass artist Dale Chihuly.
Following that stop, we drove by the Oklahoma State Capitol building. We picked up our cohorts and food, and had lunch in the car. The lunch from Kitchen 324 was very good.
Philbrook Museum of Art
by Morgan Robertson
After a grab & go lunch, we ventured out of OKC, heading northeast toward Tulsa and the Philbrook Museum of Art. Before becoming a museum, the Philbrook Italian Renaissance Villa was once a once a home to a wealthy oilman and his family. In 1938, it was gifted by the owners to the City of Tulsa to be an art center. And what an amazing space it is!
Despite the heat, some of the more persistent flowers were still in bloom across the 25 acres of gardens at the home. Water features and angled sidewalks cast a viewer’s eye directly towards the gazebo at the base of the hill.
We descended through the gardens while capturing photos. (And I made sure to snap a few of my favorite, sunflowers!)
Almost hidden in the greenery, was an Allan Houser statue of a Native American with outstretched arms, gazing towards the sky.
We had intended to find this and were pleased that we did!
We had to make our visit at the Philbrook brief, but we still made time to see some important pieces. Displayed with glass vases and other small sculptures, Yvette found her favorite: an early James Surls that was a wooden axe!
The museum exhibits and pieces varied widely: an exhibition on Mexican art, several regionalist pieces, and even a Picasso – one of Jessica’s favorites.
In addition, we saw works by Thomas Moran, our newly discovered Kehinde Wiley, and Alexandre Hogue.
Sometimes, our own Ambassadors think they are a work of art…
…really, though, they are just a piece of work.
Sometimes, though, they created some art of their own, as in this cool photograph by Yvette.
Bartlesville, Oklahoma (Jessica Cuevas)
Frank Lloyd Wright’s Price Tower and the Price Tower Arts Center
Frank Lloyd Wright (“FLW”) was a unique and famous architect, mostly known for his revolutionary approach to American architecture, which incorporated timeless aspects of geometry into his work as well as site-specific structures that blended with the environment.
So, after our short stop at the Philbrook in Tulsa, we made our way to Bartlesville, Oklahoma, to see and tour the only skyscraper designed by Wright. Yes, you read that right—in Bartlesville, Oklahoma!
Wright’s definition of a skyscraper was a building that met several requirements. It had to have residential spaces; retail spaces; and commercial spaces, as well as reach a certain number of stories…all of which the Price Tower had when it opened, and it still has to this date!
Designed in 1952, with construction starting in 1953, the Price Tower didn’t open its doors until 1956. We toured three of the 19 floors of the Price Tower, getting a good look at the first…
…17th, and 18th floors, with lots of detailed information on the architectural elements by our tour guide, Mr. Price Conner.
As is usual with Wright’s designs and commissions, Price Tower went considerably over budget. Wright was nothing if not true to his design, so once he had an idea or design, there was no deviation. This can even be seen in the (tiny) elevators.
We rode a small honeycomb-shaped elevator up (in groups of three, so it took two rides), to see two spaces – an apartment and a corporate office. Wright liked to hide or minimize things that distracted from his intent of a space, even if it made them less functional, so the apartment’s kitchen and powder room, staircases, and other things were made as small as possible. The office, meanwhile, had its own impeccable designs, including wall art that complemented the motifs of the building.
With the Price Tower, Wright heavily used and reinforced use of the triangle, both inside and outside, along with other motifs.
The Price Tower was designed to emulate a tree on the plains. No side of the skyscraper is the same, but somehow the whole remains cohesive. Compared to the surrounding area, the Price Tower stands like an ancient tree, weathered by time.
We then strolled (through Unity Square) to the Bartlesville Community Center. The public outdoor space contains a small sculpture garden featuring Robert Indiana’s 66, along with xeriscaping, and a modern statu3 that may have caused some consternation when it was installed.
Although not a Frank Lloyd Wright design, the Community Center has similar architectural elements, probably because it was designed by one of Wright’s protégés, William Wesley Peters (who also became FLW’s son-in-law). Peters, who was chief Architect at Taliesin West, designed the Community Center, infusing the interior design with round, circular shapes throughout, bringing in the exterior shape to the interior, including the door handles, windows, and staircases.
The Center’s director, Liz Callaghan, provided a lovely tour with many little stories of the not-little space – it soars with wonderful details.
(We were only able to peek into the main stage, as rehearsals were going on, but we were all amazed at the space. The Bartlesville Community Center can seat 1,692 people, five times our own Old Town Theatre seats!)
We enjoyed making many other comparisons and connections between the Community Center and the Price Tower and other FLW spaces we’ve seen, taking in the detail and uniqueness of the Center. (Wright demanded nothing less than his own ideas for his students, so it’s no wonder that a student and scholar of Wright’s would pay attention to such detail!) As one small example, the mural in the lobby of the Community Center, designed by Heloise Swaback, was designed to complement the color scheme of the Price Tower, while reinforcing the colors of the Bartlesville Community Center space and its own curvilinear shapes. It is the “world’s largest cloisonne art work, a mural that is 25-feet long which depicts a stylized northeastern Oklahoma landscape“.
The Community Center has certainly been doing its job: providing space and events and activities to bring the town together!
At Ms. Callagher’s suggestion, we wended through the park to return to our car. We had fun with the landscape, enjoying it’s beauty, and the unique way the park, the Price Tower, and the Bartlesville Community Center beautified–and strengthened–a welcoming community.
The LEAP Center tries to plan trips around specific learning experiences–in this the Midwest Council of State Governments’ Conference–and then builds multi-disciplinary learning opportunities around that central event. So, on this day, we learned about art, terrorism, architecture, community assets, and, in our last stop of the day, the natural environment. Thus it was that we found ourselves at the beautiful Great Plains Nature Center, nestled in Wichita, KS.
The Park is almost 300 acres, and it has 2.5 miles of paved trails–and we covered a good portion of them! The setting was beautiful…
…and it brought us across bridges, into wooded areas, across water features, and into restored prairies.
It also brought us into view of wildlife. We saw a snake, a turtle, an Great Horned Owl, many ducks, and a heron.
We also saw several deer, at least one of which seemed to not care that we were walking within a few steps of its space.
Yvette had managed a beautiful shot of a Red-Tailed Hawk earlier in the day…
…. and the cumulative experience of the day had provided us with a fairly comprehensive education–a theme, we hope, that will continue throughout the trip.
As we sprinted to the last day of our conference trip, we prepared for our busiest and most fulfilling day. We headed to the Lost Pines resort for a delightful breakfast and one of our last opportunities to network and learn from other city employees. Our conversations soon came to an end when the World-Renowned ER Physician and Iraq War Veteran, Dr. Sudip Bose took the stage.
Dr. Bose spoke on how to be the best leader, even when while under A LOT of pressure, which is something that various city managers have dealt with through COVID-19 and its effects. Utilizing his military background as an analogy to various situations, Dr. Bose was able to relate with the many city managers in attendance.
Dr. Bose reminded us that “challenges without support are discouraging,” stressed the importance of knowing when to let go of a situation and move on, and highlighted the importance of knowing when a window of opportunity is presenting itself.
Perhaps most important was his message emphasizing preparation, a lesson he learned in the military: “the more you sweat in peacetime, the less you will bleed in war.”
Dr. Bose’s closer was perfect lead-in to the different sessions that we would hear, involving: (1) cybersecurity and (2) how and why it is important to address mental health needs.
The cybersecurity session focused on the importance of addressing and having a multi-layered defense and an Incident Response Plan.
Ryan Burns with Texas Municipal League (TML), who is a former SHSU graduate, led this session addressing all the concerns of its attendees as well as covering what he thought was most important.
Without saying too much, Burns advised everyone on how “it takes everyone to combat a cybersecurity threat and each city must plan, prepare, and test their plans, revising as necessary.” As city managers and employees, they must be PERFECT all the time compared to a hacker who only needs to get it right once.
Morgan and Isabel reported that the session covering mental health was comforting to see so many cities focused on the mental health of their employees.
TCMA has partnered with Deer Oaks Employee Assistance Program to provide mental health support for its members. Rep. Kristina Herrera, explained the various services that will be available for TCMA members and their families and the importance of utilizing them. The concept, as with all proactive health efforts, is that providing mental health services is not only the right thing to do, but will ultimately lead to a happier, more productive work force.
The City of Austin awaited us, so we left the conference early after enjoying a quick lunch!
We had the pleasure of meeting (and, for some of us, re-meeting) a passionate artist, Daniel Arredondo, whose work entranced us for almost two hours. One of most prevalent themes in his work is “what lies beneath,” the idea that what is beneath the surface is often more important than what is on the surface.
It may be appropriate, then, that his work often depicts trees. But he also showed us his landscapes and, in a new twist for him, his recent, more abstract pieces.
Arredondo’s passion was apparent throughout our visit. We asked him how he knew when a painting was done, and he simply described it as a gut feeling.
Morgan seemed to gravitate toward the pieces that were more southwesterly in appearance, a bit reminiscent of Georgia O’Keeffe landscapes. Jessica was fond of his signature style paintings of “what lies below,” landscapes of trees and their roots growing underneath–so much so that she bought one of them!
We also got to see him in action! Arredondo demonstrated how he starts an abstract painting and described why he chooses the media that he does. He mentioned multiple times that he has never done a demonstration in front of others; it was such a treat! I loved how passionate Arredondo was, how detailed he was in his descriptions of his process, and the hospitality with which he welcomed us. Today was filled with so much laughter, great conversations, and fellowship. It was a great day to start the end of our trip!
At the end of our stay, Arredondo gifted us with pieces that will serve as reminders. Some of his earliest works adorned the front of the cigar boxes, and he was kind enough to let us choose ones that spoke to us.
Many, many thanks to Daniel Arredondo for showing us was art is from the other side of the canvas.
We switched gears from the roaming hills of West Austin and headed for the heart of Austin, the Texas State Capitol.
We began our capitol tour much like we do others, by commenting on the interesting or unique architectural features and designs. Professor Yawn walked us around the groups and explained that the extensions to the structure were fundamental in accommodating our Texas-sized legislature and staff. While the extensions and supporting features are new, they did not distract from the aesthetic of the Capitol established in 1885.
The red limestone exterior of the Capitol seemed to glitter in the setting sunlight, and we made our way into the north entrance. Upon opening the front doors, we of course stopped to look at the 7-pound door hinges, detailed with the Texas Seal.
We posed with Elizabet Ney’s rendering of a young Sam Houston…
…and pondered on the surrender of Santa Anna.
But, of course, from the rotunda, the most interesting piece is the interior of the dome, which is beautiful.
And we also followed toured the floors viewing the different governors throughout history, settling on our favorite.
As we were leaving the sun was just setting under the tree line and we snapped our final photos.
After a lovely tour of the capital and a relaxing drive around Austin, we were ready to kayak and spend some time on the peaceful water of the Colorado River.
And while Jessica and Izabella accomplished a peaceful journey, that certainly was not the case for Morgan and me.
I knew it might be a bit rocky when Morgan began our ride by saying, “Isabel…I’ll do my best not to yell at you.” Part of our problem is that we thought I, sitting in front, should be steering, when, in fact, that was Morgan’s job. (Editor’s note: both parties lacked any semblance of navigational skills, exacerbated by the fact that Morgan is often flummoxed by even simple directions.)
Our meandering, inefficient paddling, however, did not prevent us from seeing a beaver casually swimming along the shoreline!
While we worked just to paddle forward, Jessica and Izabella enjoyed a leisurely tour along the river, using what Jessica referred to as the “slow-and-steady approach.” Although we aren’t ones to judge, it did appear that Bella was allowing Jessica to do much of the work….
Around 8:30 pm we began to paddle to the dock. The trip back was where Morgan and I experienced the most action. We attempted to convince Jessica and Bella to tow us into the dock, but they selfishly refused to play along. This left us to our own devices which, at one point, rendered us fighting limbs and the shoreline, running aground (and encountering a spider–eek!) as we ineffectually tried to return to the dock.
Despite these misadventures–or perhaps because of them–we very much enjoyed our time on the water, and it was a fitting and madcap ending to a wonderful day.