Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Mary Tyler Moore, legendary entertainer and producer, dead at age 80

Is it okay to say you’ve lost a family member when that person isn’t even a relative? Well, she wasn’t a relative, but I’ve lost one of my very favorite actresses of all time, who at the very least was like a favorite cousin. The first years I ever “knew” Mary Tyler Moore was as Laura Petrie.

As a proud owner of “The Dick Van Dyke Show” book by Ginny Weissman and Coyne Steven Sanders (1983, St. Martin’s Press), there’s instant access to all the episode summaries for the entire series. Immediately coming to mind without even checking the book are the Petrie home address, 448 Bonnie Meadow Road in New Rochelle, NY. Neighbors were Jerry and Millie Helper. Son Ritchie’s favorite series of lines, “Daddy, did you bring me anything today?” “How about a stick of gum, Rich.” “Yay!”

Favorite episodes where Laura/Mary showed her dancing and singing style (“The Talented Neighborhood” where Doris Singleton’s “Mrs. Kendell” would con Rob into heading up the talent contest, and Mary would audition “a little something.” Then Eleanor Audley’s “Mrs. Billings” pushed Rob to the theatrical “Somebody Has to Play Cleopatra,” again showcasing Mary’s theatrical talents. Or, the “Too Many Stars” episode with Sylvia Lewis, competing with Laura for the prime spot; each of these episodes is a classic.

Probably my all-time favorite episode is “The Alan Brady Show Presents,” where the entire Alan Brady Show (Carl Reiner) staff perform in lieu of a scripted comedy.

The Alan Brady Chorus, hands down, delivers the most hysterical musical episode of the lot, at least in this writer’s opinion. Quick, before you watch, who is ejected from the chorus first and in what order? You know you know this!

Moving forward from 1966, when “The Dick Van Dyke Show” concluded, until 1970 when “The Mary Tyler Show” debuted, time passed very slowly for me. But in 1970, entertainment returned as MTM was back, this time in a James L. Brooks-Allan Burns brilliant creation that they also co-produced, together with Grant Tinker. How many times does a retro TV special include this dialogue?

Lou Grant: "Mary, You've got spunk."

Mary Richards: “Thank you, Mr. Grant.”

Lou Grant: “I hate spunk.”

And so, the show opened in 1970 with “Love is All Around,” written and sung by Sonny Curtis:

“How will you make it on your own? This world is awfully big. Girl this time you’re all alone. But it’s time you started living. It’s time you let someone else do some giving. Love is all around, no need to waste it. You can have the town. Why don’t you take it? You might just make it after all.”

Sonny Curtis sang the opening and closing themes on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show" from 1970-1977. And all of America who will admit it, can sing right along with the song that (re)introduced America to beloved character actors who held regular roles including Ed Asner, Gavin MacLeod, Ted Knight, Valerie Harper, Cloris Leachman, John Amos, Lisa Gerritsen, and Joyce Bulifant.

Her MTM Enterprises flourished in its number and quality of primarily comedy shows produced through the years. Daily operations were headed by co-owner and Mary's former husband Grant Tinker, who died just last November, 2016 at age 90.

Together they were an amazing production team, giving us so many shows we can name right off the tops of our collective heads: “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” “Rhoda,” “Phyllis,” “Lou Grant,” “The Bob Newhart Show,” “St. Elsewhere,” and “Remington Steele,” to name a few.

Oh, let’s not forget the iconic music and characters of “WKRP in Cincinnati.” The “Big Guy” Arthur Carlson, portrayed by Gordon Jump, and “Little Guy,” Herbert R. Tarlek, Jr. (Frank Bonner), Howard Hesseman’s “Johnny Fever” (et al.), Tim Reid’s “Venus Flytrap,” Loni Anderson’s “Jennifer Marlow,” “Andy Travis” (Gary Sanders), Bailey Quarters (Jan Smithers), and everyone’s favorite reporter, Les Nessman (Richard Sanders), who gave us all newfound respect for the Silver Sow Award and passed on the knowledge that turkeys indeed cannot fly. These shows and the legendary characters are essentially all thanks to Mary Tyler Moore.

As the years passed, the final season show opened with (Sing along, go ahead)

“Who can turn the world on with her smile? Who can take a nothing day and suddenly make it all seem worthwhile? Well, it’s you girl, and you should know it. With each glance and every little movement you show it. Love is all around, no need to waste it. You can have the town, why don’t you take it? You’re going to make it after all. You’re going to make it after all.”

You remember the cat meowing at the end of each show?

That was Mary’s own cat, Mimsie, set to be the MGM lion in training. MGM, MTM…you know.The only time it took on a different voicing was when Bob Newhart recorded his own voice saying, “Meow.” Classic Bob.

Back then, it wasn’t well known, but MTM Enterprises actually co-owned the CBS Studio Center, in Studio City, California; hence, most of the MTM series were shown on CBS. That meant ratings gold for the network and Saturday night programming was locked up at one point in the 1970s with the MTM branding.

As TV Line has just reported Mary’s death at age 80 today, I don’t think about the four Emmys she won, the dancer she was, or even the Hotpoint little wisp of a fairy she was. Some of you are too young to recall the very first days of her career. I just think of a woman of classic beauty, dignity, style and grace, who was a guest in my home for 90% of my life. Sometimes I’d have to go to the movies to see her, as she was capable of handling comedy, musicals, and drama with equal skill.

As a spokeswoman for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, we were aware that she had battled the disease throughout her life. We also know that she lost her son far too young and yet, despite her pain, she pressed on with her career. Even after her divorce from Grant Tinker, she continued to entertain us. And she found love again, with a devoted husband, Dr. Robert Levine, who survives her.

In 1979 she starred in an ill-fated one-season series, “The Mary Tyler Moore Hour” and despite a sterling cast (Dody Goodman and Michael Keaton), it fizzled, but not before garnering an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Art Direction for a Series (of course, fellow credit watching devotees will recognize RenĂ© Lagler and Carl Carlson as experts who’d likely garner an Emmy nod for building a set out of popsicle sticks—they’re that good).

In fact, Mary Tyler Moore’s world was defined by, expanded by, and graced by some of the most iconic character actors, production executives, network executives, and behind the scenes pros. Together, these teams gave us decades of joy, laughter, entertainment, escape, and inspiration to enter a business where everything is exciting, day after day, because it is to bring joy into the lives of others.

As Sonny Curtis sang, “Love is all around, no need to waste it. You can have the town, why don’t you take it? You’re going to make it after all.” And the MTM cat meows, knowingly. As Valerie Harper’s character, Rhoda Morganstern, used to say, “Thanks, Mer..” and lots of love.

Friday, January 20, 2017

How the Aggie 12th Man family can show our love and support to an exemplary Aggie grad

Thanks to social media, today I caught wind of a chance to help a fellow Aggie graduate, Ms. Courtney J. Walker, raise $2500. These funds will sustain her basic living expenses until she can secure a position with an international basketball team overseas.

Many of my fellow Aggie basketball fans probably thought the young star’s life was “all set” when she was drafted by the Atlanta Dream last April 2016. Unfortunately, she was drafted in the second round of the WNBA by a team that already had veteran guards in place. Many of us were shocked that she wasn’t already out on the court playing, as she was a four-year starter who set the Texas A&M record for scoring with 1,989 points.

(Photo, left, by Matt Sachs, used with permission)

After the draft, Courtney told "The Eagle":

“I’m not disappointed in not going in the first round, Walker said. I understand teams have needs, so they’re not just going to pick 12 guards even if they’re the 12 best players. I’m OK in going in the second round. This is a business. I’m just happy to have the opportunity and with a great team at that.”

Examining those words, you see instantly her modesty and humility. She was just happy to be chosen in the draft. No one can take that away from her. Now, let’s stop and think about what this young woman accomplished as one of the most important, beloved Texas A&M student-athletes in school history. She completed her degree studies last month and graduated in Computer Engineering. In fact, she was in the middle of posing for her graduation photos on campus last December, when her phone rang.

It was Coach Blair on the line suggesting that she might dash on over to Rudy’s BBQ on Harvey Road like, now, as he wanted her to be his guest that night. She said, “Coach, I’m in the middle of my graduation pictures but I’ll be right over as fast as I can get there.” True to her word, Courtney set a speed record and entered Rudy’s wearing her cap and gown (I reached for my phone and randomly snapped these photos to save for potentially writing about her future pro career.)

When Courtney was a freshman, she recalled being mentored by Kelsey Bone and finding her way. Courtney and Chelsea Jones (an architecture major) spent many hours together as exemplary time managers who kept up very demanding course loads each semester, while playing, traveling, practicing and soaking up all things Aggie. (Game play photos by Matt Sachs, used with permission)

I remember well that Coach Blair would good-naturedly tease Aggie women’s basketball fans saying, “I can’t start my practice until Chelsea gets done with her architecture group project meetings and Courtney gets out of an engineering lab and by then it’s 5:30!” And then he’d put his hands in the air as though he was distressed, but he was bursting with pride that all of his student athletes crushed their classes like they crushed competition at times.

We’ve established that Courtney had the hardest major to deal with while attending college on a basketball scholarship. You’d find both Courtney and Chelsea in the gym when everyone else had left, and as their playing time showed, Courtney was the most outstanding player on the team and Chelsea was the most improved. Both knew discipline and they missed out on much of the typical Aggie’s free time to sleep late, skip a class, or go home during school breaks.

Note to the wise; no Aggie basketball player is going to miss a class, no way, not under the watchful eye of Coach Kelly Bond-White, who can pretty much tell you if it’s 10:00 am on Monday, then player A is in so-and-so class in such-and-such building, and player B is in … You know the drill. Kelly is all about the complete education just as much as Coach Blair is in insisting on graduation. He doesn’t want to mess up his near-perfect record, but really, he cares that each young woman leaves Texas A&M with a diploma, prepared for the world after basketball, and whatever it brings.

About the funds that Courtney needs. What they are for The way to help is by visiting this link to learn more about the GoFundMe account that requests only $2500 total funds for basic living expenses until she can secure a position with an international basketball team overseas. Because she graduated, she no longer has funds from her athletic scholarship, and she doesn’t feel the time is right to commit to a job or engineering career yet because she could be leaving to go overseas at any moment.

Courtney has an agent scouting the best possible opportunity to play professionally. It’s truly a “sure thing” that she will be chosen to play overseas, as have many of our star school athletes, where they make excellent income in their careers. Many of them also prove themselves overseas and are given second chances to sign with WNBA teams, one example being Sydney Colson, today playing for the San Antonio Stars and as an assistant coach working with Head Coach Tina Langley at Rice University.

The fund, in Courtney’s own words, are for her “needs including things such as my prescribed medications, purchasing new contacts and glasses, training expenses, storage fees before I travel, rent, and other related living expenses until an opportunity overseas is afforded to me.”

In one day, she’s received 6 donations totaling $370 of her $2500 goal, one of which came from her former teammate, Achire Ade (we loved Achire before, we love her even more now! #TexasAggieSpirit). It’s only natural, then, that Aggies who believe in helping other Aggies will want to jump right in and participate in this opportunity to give funds to tide this wonderful young woman over until she can secure her ultimate goal.

For more than four years, Courtney J. Walker gave us reason to smile, to scream, cheer, and believe in success for our women’s basketball team. Just a few of her accolades should be noted.

She was named to the Wooden Award watch.

Courtney was also named to the Wade Trophy watch:

Standout former head coach Carolyn Peck said, “Courtney Walker has one of the best midrange jump shots in the country…she was that go-to wing player for coach Gary Blair and is just so smooth.”

Remember when this stellar shooting guard, Courtney J, would log 39 minutes virtually every game and sometimes when we went into overtime, she could always be counting on to be playing 44 of 45 minutes or more, when we were scrambling for the “W”? She, literally, carried our team on her shoulders many games and didn't think a thing about it. Her attitude was always team-centered:

In April 2016, Courtney was named Women’s Basketball MVP at their annual banquet, repeating her award from 2015 and she was also named “Miss Offense” and she led the SEC with 18.4 points per game.

She had three consecutive seasons where she was named to the First Team All-SEC, and throughout Texas A&M's first years with the SEC, was SEC Freshman of the Week and in 2015 was the espnW player of the week, as just two examples of her multiple honors accomplished as a student-athlete.

Here's what ESPN (November, 2015) said:

"Up against what was probably the most challenging two-game week of any team in the country -- at No. 14 Duke on Wednesday and at home against TCU on Saturday -- Texas A&M emerged with a pair of victories to improve to 4-0. Walker was the chief reason why.

The 5-foot-8 guard has made a habit of playing bigger in Texas A&M's marquee games (18 PPG last season against Top 25 opponents), and she delivered against the Blue Devils. Walker scored 22 points on 8-of-16 shooting, with a career-high 11 rebounds. She also scored the most important points of the game. After the 12th-ranked Aggies lost a second-half lead and found themselves trailing by a point in overtime, Walker scored six of the next eight points. Texas A&M never trailed again in the 72-66 overtime win in Durham, a victory that is sure to pay huge dividends in March. Three days later against the much-improved Horned Frogs, Walker put in a 23-point afternoon, and again, her timing couldn't have been better. Off to its best start in four years, TCU led for most of the game, but Walker scored five points in a 9-0 run that gave the Aggies the lead with 5 minutes, 36 seconds remaining. When the Frogs regained the advantage, Walker again had the answer with four points in a 6-0 spurt that put A&M in front. The two-time All-SEC first-team honoree also had eight rebounds and was an efficient 10 of 14 from the field in the 82-78 win. Texas A&M's all-time leader in free throw percentage, Walker went 8-of-9 from the line in the two games and is an 87 percent shooter in her career. …Walker also played 78 of a possible 85 minutes against Duke and TCU… Over four games, Walker is averaging 18.0 points, 5.8 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game, shooting 59.6 percent from the field."

Clearly, Courtney J. Walker was our “go-to” player for all four years of her academic/athletic career as a starter at Texas A&M.

On January 12, 2017, my basketball friends and I landed in Flash Seats very close to the team where we delighted in waiting for the famous “Gary Blair jacket toss to Radar Ricke” when the time is right in the game. My eye spotted Courtney a few rows away, sitting by herself, cheering her team on quietly. She didn’t seek any special recognition or spotlight. She just was happy to be there in support of her team, and that’s what Aggie former students do.

I’m hoping that everyone who reads this will consider a contribution of any amount to spell Ms. Walker while she waits for her dream career to come true.

You can donate anonymously if you wish, or you can include your name.

Please know that your funds go straight to Courtney so she can pay her bills, using this secure online funding portal. Let’s show her what her fellow Aggie family can do to show her our appreciation for everything she did to give us some of the very best basketball games to yell about—ever. Let’s show her 12th Man Spirit and perhaps exceed the modest $2500 she requests.

It may take a few months before she has a signed contract with her international team because it’s a business that doesn’t move as fast as Aggies do!

This is a golden opportunity for all former students, friends, and fans of Texas A&M Women’s Basketball to step up and be a part of a team of encouragement and tangible support for a truly special young Aggie graduate, Courtney J. Walker, ’16.

Again, to help Courtney, click this link. Let’s take a moment to think of this stunning opportunity to say “Thank you” to a young Aggie graduate who, for four straight years, has exemplified everything good and right about Texas A&M as a destination for student-athletes to succeed in life. Gig ‘em, Courtney J. Walker!

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Actor Miguel Ferrer Dies at Age 61 after Quiet Battle with Cancer

When Deadline Hollywood reported the death of actor Miguel Ferrer today, at age 61, the first thought was one of sorrow that those who love to watch “NCIS:LA” had suspected for some time now. The man who played NCIS Assistant Director Owen Granger had gone through some visible changes in the past year.

For the first three weeks of January, the entertainment world has lamented the loss of favorite actors, and the usual diatribe has been devoted to “isn’t it a shame that” and yet, we the audience never met these icons in person, so to claim something as “our loss” is a clear sign of what their work product has meant to us, and to so many others, as wanting to identify and associate with an actor’s passing.

Yes, age 61 is clearly “gone too soon” for anyone, but in Miguel’s case, it is unquestionably gone too soon as this talented man had so much great work ahead of him, including voice roles and that, along with the impact of his loss to his family and friends, is substantive.

Being the oldest son of two icons is far from easy. Born to actor Jose Ferrer (Oscar winner, 1951) and Rosemary Clooney (legendary singer), Miguel had grown up in the midst of Hollywood but, strictly from perception at a distance, he is one who wasn’t pressured to enter the business, but willingly did so, while exploring a diverse level of talents and skills. He was an accomplished actor, voice artist and musician.

Like many second-generation Hollywood actors, people often assume that there’s some special advantage in having famous family members preceding them in the business. There is none. Reality was that in 1967, Jose Ferrer and Rosemary Clooney divorced, and all five children lived with their mother afterwards, with Miguel then only age 12. From Rosemary’s own autobiography, the children grew up far from being under close parental supervision but each has found their own way forward.

One especially fun fact from the IMDB data base notes Miguel is credited on drums on Keith Moon’s album, “Two Sides of the Moon.” Now, remember “Owen Granger” and try to match that up with Keith Moon. Pretty funny, right? It’s acting. All acting, especially as he kept his recent health challenges to himself. From actor, to drummer, to ‘voice’, in 1999, Ferrer was nominated for a Grammy for Best Spoken Word Album for Children in Disney’s “The Lion King II: Simba’s Pride Read-Along” (1999).

Although many people know him primarily as “Granger” on “NCIS:LA” or as “Dr. Garret Macy,” costarring with Jill Hennessy on “Crossing Jordan,” Miguel was a veteran dramatic actor in television, but he was also famous for the movie “RoboCop” and “Twin Peaks.” Ferrer was also a musician, among his many talents. In his early years, Ferrer played drums in bands, including those with his mother, and with Bing Crosby, godfather to Miguel’s brother, Gabriel. As a younger musician, he cofounded the band, “The Jenerators,” with actor/singer/songwriter Bill Mumy (“Lost in Space,” “Twilight Zone”).

Although Miguel’s illness was never disclosed by anyone at “NCIS:LA” or “CBS,” it’s clear the series creator Shane Brennan was aware of his health challenges. At the beginning of his work on the current season of “NCIS:LA,” Miguel Ferrer tweeted “Middle of shooting 802. Starting off as the best season yet by far. Stories and action second to none. Some damn good acting too,” on July 26, 2016. Recently as the eighth season has progressed the NCIS–LA office has been searching for a (so far unfindable) mole. Just last Sunday, the episode “Hot Water” showed Granger being stabbed by an assailant while he was in police custody. The next episode, “Under Siege” will not air until Sunday, January 29.

[Right: Photo of Miguel Ferrer and Daniela Ruah by Ron P. Jaffe/CBS, used with permission]

In one of Miguel’s last Instagram posts, 17 weeks ago actually, he shared a poignant picture from 1979 with Todd Fisher, taken at Telluride. It received 599 likes. Who knew that 14 weeks later, Todd would lose his sister, his mother, and his friend? There’s great overlap between the two families no doubt as well as those of others, as many all grew up in similar situations and circumstances, in the public eye at times, and many continue to work in the business today.

Realistically and clearly, we don’t know these people, personally, whose deaths we all tend to fall into a pattern of lamenting across social media. But we feel like we do when we invite them into our homes each week on TV. They are there at our invitation. So, it is a natural reaction then to offer our condolences in memory and in respect of their passing.

No, we don’t claim them as family, but to all who are quietly considering the preciousness of life and the fleeting moments that pass by us faster than sound it seems, may we each remember to be grateful that people spend a lifetime in the world of entertainment, giving us their very best to remember them by, so much so in fact that we pause to reflect on their passing, sharing news of same with others. They will always be remembered and regarded, along with reruns and rebroadcasts of their work.

May we then, perhaps, remember to say “thank you for a job well done” to people in our daily lives who we do know, who might appreciate hearing it now and then. Accolades are for everyone. The following message was posted across CBS Social Media late today:

Miguel is survived by two sons by ex-wife Leilani Sarelle, Lucas and Rafael, and he is survived by his widow, Lori Weintraub, as well as his brothers Gabriel and Rafael, and his sisters, Maria and Monsita, and all of their respective families.

Even though his name is currently a ‘trend’ on Twitter, when that fades, his body of work stands as his best memory for all of us to remember him, with great thanks for his talents.

One of his favorite quotes from his IMDB page:

(1999) "My favorite place in the whole world is Jackson Hole, Wyoming. The whole experience in Wyoming is just fantastic. It's renewing. In the winter we'll go skiing, and during the summer there's golf, there's Yellowstone, there's just whatever. It's the best place in the world."

Vaya con Dios, Miguel Ferrer.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

The Ruben V Band heats up a frosty College Station night at The Canteen

The most beautiful part of discovering great music is when you least expect it, specifically in between semesters at a venue so brand new that it’s still a best-kept secret in a college-based community that has long awaited such an outstanding establishment.

For us, Ruben V (guitar,vocals), James Pickens (bass), and Steve Mendez (drums) performed blues classics plus Ruben’s original songs that show why this band defies categorization into just one genre. (Photo L to R: Bob Bilberry, Susan Adams, Ruben V, and Rhonda Brinkmann at Cavalry Court)

Our musical search party of four congregated at The Canteen on Friday, Jan. 6, the local restaurant arm of Cavalry Court, a dynamic boutique hotel sure to please Aggies who will discover it upon their return for Spring 2017 classes. Retro military style lettering, serving trays with generous portions of tasty food, atop long parachute-folding style tables are a throwback to those who’ve worked or lived on military bases. Hi top chairs and tables are also available in the true canteen style. For most Aggies, that means “home.” High ceilings and a warm fireplace made this venue most welcoming as it was 28°F and windy outside but it felt like home inside.

If you don’t know the story of Ruben V’s music journey, it’s worth checking out at, and please don’t try to categorize his style as “just blues,” because he’s a man whose muse crosses boundaries and barriers. He loves all kinds of music and plays whatever he loves. Ruben generously took the time to visit with us during a break in his sets last night and by the end of the conversation, we were all old friends, so gracious and engaging is his personality.

His music career began at a young age, but just because he idolized his dad. His father had been in a band, performing favorite country standards, and Ruben grew up hearing Hank Williams (Sr.) and others. A young Ruben would get up on stage and play guitar for a song or two with his dad, and guitar-wise, you’d almost be tempted to recall that a young Joe Bonamassa had hopped onstage about that same age and showed the crowd it was about woodshedding rather than age that made a performer worth a listen.

Ruben’s teenage years during the 1980s found him playing heavy metal guitar in the land of big hair and crowds who were still quoting “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure” down around Corpus Christi, Texas. Over the course of his career, Ruben has created great original songs in addition to mastering blues, rock, soul, and Latin music alike. Acoustic or with full band, he’s built a loyal following over the years and his first success came playing a lot of heavy metal for audiences. If you’re wondering where to find Ruben V CDs in a record store, the answer is “somewhere, everywhere or nowhere.”

Ruben said, “I used to work in a record store and I remember what it was like when there were artists’ CDs that didn’t fit into any one genre. They weren’t rock or country, blues, or jazz, they were…unique.” Now, Ruben says, “I find myself in exactly that same group of “We don’t know where to put him,” but today that’s more of a fun memory than a true issue of concern. He shifted one major genre, from heavy metal to blues, on the occasion of performing at a beach festival in Corpus on one supremely classic Texas summer day of heat.

Says Ruben, “We were all out there having a great time and it was a typical beach day, and all of a sudden, here’s this guy dressed in a full red suit that looked like velour or suede, playing his guitar, and he was larger than life.” More to be heard than watched, the music of this gentleman would forever change Ruben’s life he said. It was…Stevie Ray Vaughn. “I want to play like him,” Ruben said. And he did. From that point on, Ruben V’s music would expand genres, and potentially confuse some folks along the way as they’d go to one concert and hear one kind of music and then sequential concerts marked additional progress and travel across styles.

Actually, defying categorization into a single genre of music pleases Ruben. He’s just fine with creating his own sound, defining his own brand of music and he’s been fortunate to work with multiply gifted producers, including Richard Mullen (Eric Johnson, Joe Ely and Stevie Ray Vaughn) as well as Jim Gaines (Santana, Blues Traveler and Stevie Ray Vaughn) on his music to date. Yet, Ruben’s original music should not be considered strictly blues. He has his own style and his delivery in performance last night was consistently strong and felt groundbreaking in the vibe, as though he was recreating the joy of when he first learned to love the genre.

The journey for band and patrons alike to locate Cavalry Court’s Canteen was a bit challenging last night, especially since the construction around the venue is in full force, but he said he had not been to College Station in 25 years. The place he’d played then was The Tap. Ruben asked if it was still around and we all shared that it was, though none of us had been there. He laughed as he shared his memories of one night, 25 years ago, he’d just come here to visit a friend who was in a band booked to play The Tap. They were a typical 80s band and yet when they saw him in the audience, of course, they asked him up on stage to do a song. Ruben chose to play a song by Stevie Ray Vaughn. That didn’t really fit in with the genre of those favoring 80s electronic/hair bands, not at all.

One disagreeable patron took his position at the front of the stage, yelling, “That’s terrible. Play Depeche Mode!!” There was another nearby patron who like Ruben’s song selection and he showed just how much by powering back his right arm and slamming it into the face of the Depeche Model fan, the blow landing the dissenter onto the ground.

And that was all it took for the fracas to begin. The entire inside of the bar, stage included, was a wreck, thanks to the fighting that broke out. Blame it on Stevie Ray Vaughn? No, blame it on Ruben, at least that’s what his friends in the band said, “It’s all your fault we can’t keep playing our music tonight, man.” Ruben said, “The band was so mad at me.” Everyone was ushered outside where a group of guys who looked as though they were all part of a football team were waiting for them.

Rather than get pummeled, Ruben said, “These big guys looked at us and said, ‘We really liked your song, man. You’re great.’” And then Ruben laughed as he recalled, “That made the guys in the band hate me even more. I was doing great that night, ha.” Ruben, the band and the football-built guys all went back inside and helped clean up the mess and restore order so the professionals could come in and work to restore the stage et al. the next day. And Ruben left town and he hasn’t been back in 25 years.

He was really glad to be performing at Cavalry Court on Saturday, rather than The Tap, one thinks, but his music has remained the same, only expanded, and this time it’s his band and his friends and his audience who came to see him and hear his music. The good news is that, even though it is between Aggie semesters, he still pulled in a nice crowd of our local townsfolk who wanted music and food on a cold night out.

Here's a quick snippet as a sampler (thanks to YouTube user ChicagoGold66):

The Valencia Hotel Group has properties in College Station, Austin, San Antonio and Houston, and Ruben will be playing at the other properties as well in days to come, so be sure and check him out wherever you are. And, as some in our party did that night, buy one of his CDs or two if you want. They’re only $15 and with his signature, they’re even more valuable. Check out his web site at and see his discography; very cool.

The laundry list of famous recording artists and beloved musicians of the blues genre with whom he has shared a stage, whether opening or just on the same bill, is impressive. The producers he’s been working with on recent records have a boutique clientele and a track record for commercial recording success.

Ruben isn’t impressed or moved by any of that. He is just happy to be playing music and traveling the road, taking his songs to appreciative audiences. That, and he’s glad not to be stuck in a job in a record store trying to figure out where to place his own CDs in the stacks. Just don’t try to categorize him in one single genre and you’ll be right at home with Ruben V, friends for years to come. It was the perfect evening out of the cold, warmed by the blues and the musicians who brought them to us.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Calling Dr. Bombay! Actor Bernard Fox dies at age 89

Well, there goes another piece of my childhood, thank you very much. When the news came today of the passing of Bernard Fox, at age 89, as social media flooded in, I didn't feel the need to read all the stories that described his career. Instead, I reflected on the fact that I knew Bernard Fox primarily as Dr. Bombay from a childhood favorite TV series, Bewitched. And as it is a Thursday evening tonight, some five decades ago, chances were excellent that I'd be tuning in to ABC to catch my favorite show. This was in a day and time when children did their homework right after school and had time left for some prime-time viewing for however late our parents would give us time to do so.

TV was filled with fantasy shows that were entertaining, when the entire family could sit in front of the screen without exception. Quaker Oats sponsored Bewitched and all it took for me to hear was "Nothing is better for thee than me" to know it was a Quaker Oats cereal commercial and it was time for Bewitched. Or, in the beginning of the show, back in a day when all we had was black and white TV, and glad to have that, you'd see the lovely Elizabeth Montgomery appearing immediately before the broadcast saying, "Stay tuned for Bewitched, next, in color!" Her beautiful northeastern accent lilted out as she pronounced the word "color" and you knew unmistakably that she was a classic example of the acting schools of exquisite enunciation.

From 1964-1972, I was a faithful viewe,r along with 5 or 6 million others of you, who loved the show for a myriad of reasons. Those of us who were bona fide fans saw every episosde from 1964-1972, and were happy for summer reruns to keep us all on even keel year-round. "Sam" represented a strong woman with a superpower and a tempered way of using it to make things better for others. Her husband Darrin, whether Dick York or Dick Sargent, continually disapproved of her power, but she could find a way around their fussiness and in 24 minutes of scripted dialog, she'd outfox her earthling husband and have her own way. For a little girl, that made a big impression on me. I could twitch my nose perfectly (if I may brag on a noncommerical talent) and it seemed to amuse the grownups around me. Similarly I could fold my arms and blink like Jeannie, once again a noncommercial talent, but it kept me out of trouble, frankly, and that was a good thing.

Thank heavens I was born into a generation where women could do science if they chose to. Two of my favorite mentors in science and thermodynamics (again, fun at parties), never once questioned why I was a woman who wanted to study science. They thought everyone should want to study science. And yet, I truly recall my longtime high school career goal was to be a television director, with a microbiology minor (as my plan B). Early high school microbiology studies consisted of washing infinite numbers of test tubes. Well, I was pretty good at mixing various chemicals (safely) in an attempt to make our porcelain kitchen sink shine its best ever!! My mother encouraged my love of chemistry and she was very happy to have a child who volunteered to do dishes and clean sinks!

All this to say, I laugh at why I have to go look up the 'other' stuff and can instead readily quote lines of dialog at will from Bewitched. You say, "Bernard Fox," and I immediately reply, "Dr. Bombay, calling Dr. Bombay, emergency, come right away!!" and that's all it would take for the sound effect to ring out and Bernard, if he doesn't mind my familiarity, would pop in instantly to help Samantha with whatever witchlike ailment she had. Dr. Bombay was a warlock but no one ever described him that way.

There was no such thing as a Harry Potter or a Hogwarts, although now I recall the uproar about J.K. Rowling's "Harry Potter" series, which caused children to want to read it all the more. Such a brilliant trick to get children to read something, anything, in a day and time when they're trained to stare at a little screen with a game on it so Mommy won't freak out with their impatience.

It wasn't that long ago that we were in bookstores, holding onto precious brand new copies of our books, selected carefully, deliberately, with relish, having saved up for weeks to own a new book. Or, to carefully cradle the library books we were checking out in the world of making requests to borrow items of value and offering a promise of safe return. We took that very seriously as kids, as I think about it. Check your purse or backpack. Do you see a pen that's in there that's not yours and wonder how it got there? Somewhere along the way, we stopped taking so seriously the promise to return something we borrowed briefly, undamaged. Now if you've seen me today, no, you don't have my pen, nor do I have yours. I'm just saying, promises to return are not as heavily weighed on our minds, unless we've made a contract or agreement to supply x to receive y.

It only takes a moment to envision the perturbed, harassed and slightly grizzled face of Dr. Bombay, whose promise to his patients was to appear, truly, whenever you called on him because you needed him, and him alone, to cure what ailed you. It only took one visit. He didn't need to run any fancy tests. He was, in fact, an omniscient internal medicine specialist. A detective, if you will, and his intuition told him what was wrong with Samantha and how she could fix it. The ailments Sam came down with were pretty funny and the side effects of those illnesses were not scary. In fact they were funny. And, she was always cured in every show and she'd return back the next week, good as new. That's a lovely view of life. Life, illness, countered by Dr. Bombay, recovery, flourishing, joyful existence. Rinse. Repeat.

Three times this past week, I've said to friends and clients alike, "As Darrin Stephens' mother, Phyllis, would say to her husband, "Frank, I think I'm getting one of my sick headaches, we'd better go home," and I'm positive that all three times I have used this example, I've confused the heck out of whomever I was talking to. Yet, the phrase made perfect sense (to me) and was appropriate for the situation in which I was expressing complete disgust at circumstances beyond my control.

Control. That's another reason we loved Bewitched. Sam had no mood swings, breakdowns where she just couldn't take being a witch any longer, or hiding the fact from poor Gladys Kravitz any longer. Sam had control of her life and was always the victor when things got rough for Darrin in the world of McMann and Tate. That we never saw McMann or knew his first name was entirely unimportant. The catch phrases from Bewitched are as ingrained in my head and they pop out at some of the most humorous of times. "Oh my stars!" "Wellllll!" with the lilting voice, and Darrin's "Musn't twitch" dictate to Tabitha, his daughter. "Frank, I think I'm getting one of my sick headaches. We'd better go home" just made sense.

Larry Tate's ongoing threats to Darrin regarding his job being on the line each week to do the impossible always being countered with "You son of a gun, ya!" whenever Darrin/Durwood/Darwin came through...and those beautiful blue eyes of David White's and his trademark moustache would both gleam on screen. Yes, I know that cousin Serena was played by Pandora Spocks, the Elizabeth Montgomery humorous touch referring to Pandora's Box...and it was fun to see Elizabeth/Pandora pick up an electric guitar one episode and play and sing and be very un-Samantha-like.

Considering why I can retain memories of so many of the assorted guest stars, many of whom made regular appearances in entirely different character roles taught me not to hold fast to seeing any one person in a one-dimensional way. Just as Dick York and Dick Sargent could be acceptable to me, in equal fashion as Darrin, so too could Gladys Kravitz be portrayed equally well by Alice Pearce and Sandra Gould, two names I don't have to Google...they're just there stuck in my brain. Paul Lynde as Uncle Arthur and the great Marion Lorne as Aunt Clara (pronounced 'ont Clahrah' the way we were always raised to pronounce 'aunt' until we met Ain't Bee on The Andy Griffith Show) all depends on where you heard it first. Same with a rowt 44 drink at Sonic for happy hour or root 44 drink at Sonic.

After considerable reflection one day on a recent long car drive, I finally reconciled why it was that I can remember the cast and probably the producer and director names on Bewitched was because my fourth-grade teacher, Mrs. Eargle, handed me back my math paper and made me erase the name I'd written at the top and said, "Young lady, you take that name off of there this minute and put the right name on there!" "And be quick about it." Well, I was only 8 years old and I didn't see what all the dad-gum fuss was about. That day and that time of the day for whatever reason, I felt like Samantha Stephens and that's the name I put on my paper before turning it in. Dawn Lee was busy. Samantha was taking the test. So what?

That was probably the first time in my memory that righteous indignation welled up inside me and I (almost) rebelled at removing Sam's name. It was written out, neatly, in nice cursive writing, where I'd make my two "S"'s look pretty darned good, thank you very much. But the rules were the rules. And Mrs. Eargle's rules were irrefutable, irreversible and downright irritating. Needless to say, she was not my favorite teacher, nor was I beloved to her as a pupil because of my tendency to even break one of her precious rules. I think my defiance turned inward and I refused to let go any knowledge of the program, its cast, crew, plots, guests, theme song, or variations in show openings over the years. I clung to my knowledge of that show to the point today that I can simply see the name Bernard Fox, and in a millisecond I'm back in 4th grade. So for that, I am most thankful for my memories of childhood, anchored if you will by the comforting boundaries of a delightful show of fiction, fantasy, and familiarity. I felt that way about many, many shows, of course, and found that I can still sing virtually any TV theme song on request. Again, fun at parties.

I remember teaching Physical Chemistry (PChem) lab during grad school days and, while conducting educational laboratory learning for my juniors and seniors in PChem lab, I'd be wearing my white lab coat with the Mr. Bill applique on the back. You remember Mr. Bill, right? "Oh noooooooooooo!" That was how we felt about PChem lab reports for which all of us would pull grueling all-nighters writing up those tedious lab reports that were 38 pages long (handwritten, on notebook paper, thank you very much). And, for long experiments that took 3 hours to complete, we had to do something to break the monotony. So, TV theme songs it was!!

We did them all. From the theme song to Gilligan's Island, to The Brady Bunch, The Real McCoys, on and on and on, we did all the greatest hits of our very young lives, with perfect recall. Our lab sounded good as we had the best time coping with the fact that you only got a one-hour credit for all those weeks of grueling labs and the reports that went with them. My supervisors didn't object (Mrs. Eargle still would not approve! Nor, by the way, would Mrs. Kim) and my students learned to put their best efforts into a crummy one-hour credit class because I told them that one day they'd realize that their bosses would pay great attention to how they treated the details of seemingly the most tedious of tasks while simultaneously accomplishing other work of derring-do with equal aplomb.

Sonny Bono wrote a song (yes, you knew I'd invoke my Sonny and Cher knowledge) "It's the Little Things," (It's the little things that mean a lot; it's what you are and not what you've got..." Call my name and I'll come running, look at me and the clouds start sunning, hold my hand and you've got me going..."). Bottom line: It's the little things that mean a lot.

Yes, all Samantha had to do was call the name of Dr. Bombay and he'd come running. He'd pop into the kitchen or living room in full costume or regalia fresh from a new award he was in the midst of receiving. And yet, he never resented being called upon. It was his duty to come when she'd called in need. If ever there was a lesson about friendship between people and how to treat others, it was being the unquestioned responder, when a friend or loved one is in trouble. Be a person of your word. Be a person of modesty. Do good without expecting accolades. Do good and be quiet about it. Be a person who gives back what they borrow. Do without expecting in return. And always, always, keep your sense of humor about you, because life is simply too short to live it otherwise.

At 89 years old, Bernard Fox had lived a good life, was an actor respected for far more than one role he played for a fixed time on TV. And yet, simply to read his name in any reference is guaranteed to return a smile to my face if there wasn't one there already. Thanks, Bernard Fox, for being inspirational. Actors play roles, but the best actors create lasting impressions and bring us great sources of fun to watch. Thanks Dr. Bombay, for always being there when Samantha called.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Project Unity and aloft Hotel Score Hat Trick in College Station’s Social Hot Spot

About a month ago, the Brazos Valley hosted one of the most amazing social events of the year, July 20th to be exact. So, why does it take this long to write a ‘little something’ about it? One reason. I wanted to actually monitor and measure the real impact of the ‘Live at Aloft Benefiting Project Unity’ event on the organization that it was designed to benefit—Project Unity.

This community is very philanthropic, and for every great cause that has an extravaganza come its way, many times you see the initial focus and attention and coverage on the organization is magnificent, and the event appears to be a magical night. But then… the minute the cameras are off, the organization is completely forgotten.

“Would this be the case with Project Unity?” was my initial hypothesis. Fast answer: Just the opposite. Today, Project Unity is on the minds and in the hearts of more people than the organization could have even hoped to attract. And it all started at Aloft, in College Station.

Thanks to generous-minded people, the Brazos Valley community is enriched daily, even when it overflows with good causes and multiple nonprofits. And, most of them have some special event in the course of a year’s time that is designed to help support the organization for the rest of the year, actually making the operational budget so the group can write grants and seek funding for the course of the year, ultimately growing and thriving and becoming self-sustaining. Well, that’s the goal at least. But, the cost of things keeps going up and sometimes funding sources that you could count on like clockwork….disappear.

Were you part of the swelling crowd of Brazos Valley residents who flowed in and out of the lobby of College Station’s Aloft Hotel Wednesday night, staying to meet and greet the community’s most ardent, active forces in behalf of children and parents, better known as Project Unity? If you were, you had a major league great time at the inaugural “Live @ Aloft” benefiting Project Unity. And, if you missed notice of the event, then you missed KBTX's Rusty Surette's on camera interview with Judy and Wienkie LeUnes. With respect to both of the adults there, it was Wienkie who had his own name on his own chiron graphic "Wienkie LeUnes." Rusty is a great community-minded add to the station, and he's fully Wienkie-approved.

Now if you weren’t among the hundreds of people there, you missed out on the hat trick––the excitement and buzz as the come-and-go flow saw Jeannie McGuire, Founder and President of Project Unity, teamed up with Judy LeUnes, Bryan-College Station’s most gifted volunteer and promotions expert and a little brown dog named Wienkie LeUnes, Project Unity’s Life Enrichment Coordinator—the triumvirate team that scored three goals in the game in one night. That’s one. More on the hat trick later.

The goal was to establish a signature “Friendraiser,” for the (formerly) low-key nonprofit, so people could learn what it was that Project Unity does, and why they should consider joining Club 365, to pledge and give $1 every day to accomplish tasks that everyone talks about doing, but only a few are willing to do. More on the organizational mission later. First, let’s talk about the party that founder Jeannie McGuire had always dreamed of in her heart but had no idea would happen!

Who Was There?

Better question: Who wasn’t there? Starting at 5:30 p.m., hundreds of people came in the first wave of the folks entering Aloft’s parking lot, where they were treated to a fabulous Sno-Cone, perfect for the Texas heat. Smiling as they came in, then Katie Watson, Project Unity’s newest development intern took your photo and welcomed you on behalf of the nonprofit.

Next, from Aloft, Dezi Nguyen greeted you and put her hospitality manage know-how to work immediately, making every single person in the room at home within an instant. Never before has any hotel representative made it her personal mission to introduce complete strangers to each other and get them in conversation. All new, fresh ideas in hosting events. Others should take notes.

Now before things got started, Judy LeUnes and her team arrived at Aloft to get everything all set and Aloft’s Joseph Kennedy had a private room set aside for…Wienkie!! Wienkie’s key card was handed to his mom, and when they entered, there was a place for his crate, a lovely water bowl and a little sack of treats saying “Welcome Wienkie!” a-l-o-f-t knows the V-I-Ps, just saying.

Project Unity Board Members and Staff were everywhere, and this is really the first time they have been together not in a giant staff meeting, and the joy in seeing Bobby Williamson (Spirit of Texas) and wife Gina, Mike Bowers (Property Offers Today), Danielle Fifer (BB&T), and more being recognized by the community members…the reason the large group was assembled

Better Business Bureau head honcho, Bill McGuire, was there (and even managed to snag his wife Jeannie for a dance to the classic and cool sounds of the Christopher Crow Band).

Linda Harvell took a turn in a photo with Wienkie. Brandy Burkhalter Norris, Sheree Boegner, Kathy Niemeyer Savell, Katy Pruitt, Hugh Stearns, then Ricky Gonzales took time out to come by, as did Jason Cornelius (Prosperity Bank), Brian Blake (TAMU) and more.

If You Don't Know About Texas A&M and Hockey...Here's Why You Should

In fact, one of the community’s more recent stellar personalities to be on the volunteer scene is Jason King, a former advertising and marketing executive who relocated to Texas A&M as the Assistant Coach of Texas A&M Ice Hockey Team. No, you read it right. Yes, those of us who love Texas A&M athletics don’t know everything going on around Aggieland! The town’s best-kept secret might just have to relinquish that title, as we are now blessed with another exciting and dynamic sport to cheer on our student athletes.

To get you started, learn important hockey phrases like “changing on the fly,” “a breakaway,” understand what a “shoulder check” is and what a “drop pass” is. Think you’re good on ice skates? Well, maybe you are and maybe you aren’t but if you can’t do a “power stop,” then stay on the porch with the little dogs until you can skate out with the big ones. When children in our community learn from the finest instructors and can be inspired by the special guests Coach King can bring in to talk with them, the sky is simply the limit. Project Unity and Aloft started that dialog, and that’s just one example of networking among friends here can be about.

Now, imagine the potential for inspiring young children from underserved families with new, exciting goals of athletic prowess, and we caught up with Danielle Fifer, who is a founding member of the Bubba Moore Memorial Group, who continues each and every year to make possible tremendous philanthropy in Bubba’s honor and memory. Nothing could have made him happier, I daresay than to see his family and his community flourishing so beautifully. He gave full-page ads in, and front-page covers on, TV Facts to local nonprofits in need, as though they were water flowing freely from a faucet, rather than $1,000 gifts in kind that they were, simply because of his heart the size of Texas.

Here’s How This Magnificent Night Came To Be:

LeUnes is Project Unity’s Director of Development & Communications, and is on a first-name basis with virtually everyone in town, plus their dogs and cats—not kidding, especially dogs. Think: Jefferson Award winner founds Wienerfest—Bra Art—et al., same Judy LeUnes. The dynamic do-gooder assembled all of her friends, a dynamic, diverse community of movers and shakers together—in support of Jeannie McGuire’s simple wish—that the nonprofit she founded 20 years ago might not be the community’s best-kept secret any longer. So, what is Project Unity? Just wait. A few introductions are in order first.

McGuire is a beautiful, gifted woman (inside and out) with a heart of gold, a soul full of love for children and parents, and an indefatigable spirit. Together, Jeannie and Ella McGruder have (quietly) been blazing a path across the Brazos Valley, building a team of gifted social workers and volunteers who help keep children safe. Importantly, they educate parents on how to keep families together, safe from abuse. And, they care for and about local HIV/Aids patients.

Through educational programs they offer, parents do not berate their children, they embrace step-children into blended families, and they transform families through building communications skills. Ella is a local “You’re the Tops” honoree, devoted wife, mother, church member and social worker. Her title has been Director of Programs at Project Unity, but she’s actually Jeannie’s spiritual twin, co-captain visionary, and has been from the get-go.

More on projects, but there’s a new team member to fall in love with.

There is this little brown dog, who’s become a social media and TV favorite: Wienkie LeUnes. Before you consider devaluing Wienkie’s role in this effort, and smiling, saying “Oh, isn’t that cute…” here’s a fact. Judy LeUnes’ advocacy for fur babies in the Brazos Valley is a given. But just as she took her beloved dog, “Hey, Dude! LeUnes” to school with her every day when she was a teacher, and he had his job there, Wienkie is following the path blazed by Hey, Dude! (Note: to the right is Sheree Boegner and Wienkie)

Naturally, Judy took her Chihuahua to work immediately at Project Unity s but know that this was not a for-pretend cutesy little gimmick. Far from it. Wienkie has earned his title “Life Enrichment Coordinator.” Wienkie sends out important updates and messages on Facebook, and he’s been on KBTX with his Mom and Aloft’s Joseph Kennedy. What was the amazing hat trick this triumvirate pulled off? Keep reading.

The Projects of Project Unity

In going back to the very beginning of Project Unity, Jeannie and Ella have had a phenomenal team to work with, including Michelle Bouldin and San Juanita Quintero who have been there in the 20-year time frame, and you would never know they were there unless you were the clients being served. They literally go around the Brazos Valley every day, looking for parents who need parenting skills among neighborhoods where the children need to come first in their parents’ lives.

Because grants that Project Unity receives are generous in nature but almost ridiculous in statistics reporting the division of work falls to the team on the ground and the folks on the computers in data entry try hard to keep up with the whirlwind of Michelle and San Juanita.

It’s not only amazing that they have been there as long as they have, Michelle commutes to and from Houston because she believes so much in Jeannie, Ella, and their impact they have on children. It’s really a family. In fact, when Michelle went into labor with one of her children, Jeannie and Ella were on each side of her holding her hand. #Family. We the public don’t know this, don’t see this, should know this, should see this. It’s simply phenomenal.

Diana Gaytan, Family Support Facilitator, is very excited about her work out of the Beck Street Location for Project Unity, Here’s the basic rundown on what it is that Project Unity Does.

Slowdown for the Low-down (with thanks to the late Maxine Messenger of the Houston Chronicle, for allowing me to borrow one of her signature phrases, at least this once)

It takes a tremendously committed Board of Directors to know all the employees, all of the initiatives, see the results of every grant that Jeannie is writing at her office or late, late into the evening at home. The grant requests never end and there’s a stark reality that this observer sees that may not be immediately clear to others.

But, Joseph Kennedy had thrown open the doors wide to welcome at Aloft because when Judy LeUnes says “There’s a need,” then Joseph joins in with “We’re in,” and that is how Judy rolls in the Brazos Valley, continuing to spread love, understanding, education and a little brown dog, who’s the hit of every event he attends.

With a focus on families, on parenting, on prevention of child abuse through educating parents, great programs that provide safe harbor and supervised visitation for parents to have safe access to their children for a few hours each week while they try and put their lives back together.

In the exciting and ever-expanding world of Project Unity—Jeannie McGuire’s dream that attained an all-new visibility, one she’d never dreamed of before, some 20 years later , that hat trick was accomplished by one woman, Judy LeUnes, who invited everyone she knew and loved in town over to Aloft Hotel for the party of the summer. And they all came.

Every single one of Judy’s volunteer groups that the Jefferson Award winner has ever championed, has ever garnered support for, in all of her community do-gooding over the years—showed up, stayed, shared, and stayed some more. It was the party that simply no one wanted to leave. And Aloft’s penultimate host with the most—Joseph Kennedy—smiled and said, “Stay as long as you want. It’s why we are here.”

How Can You Support Project Unity?

Two ways are possible to support this magnificent organization: a) with an initial gift in any denomination, whether a first-time gift, as many were given that night at the Aloft celebration, by joining Club 365, where you commit $1.00/day to the organization (and they’ll even set it up where you can bill your credit card, monthly or yearly, earning miles and points for your philanthropy). Check out and see what tremendous things they do with your dollars, and note where Project Unity was awarded the Daily Point of Light Award by President George H. W. Bush in 2001. Quietest nonprofit in town never had the chance to be bragged on for all it does before. Judy LeUnes is changing the “best kept secret in town” image….par excellence.

Or, you can donate items on their wish list (call them to find out what they need. Currently, Judy LeUnes would love a real conference table and chairs for their conference room as they are “making do” with something that someone’s brother’s cousin’s neighbor didn’t need. Just sayin’.

There’s a Community Partnership Board with over 65 people “from across housing, employment, faith-based entities, and basic needs” who come together to help people in our community.

Volunteers for the Safe Harbour Program are cherished and needed, as they are the nonrelative adults who supervise children whose noncustodial parents still want to see them and there needs to be a ‘safe harbour’ for the two to meet. Imagine you have a loved one with a parent who dearly loves their child or children, but it’s not good for them to be at the home of the other parent.

Did you know that there are 500 children and parents every year right here in our community who can see their parent under the very safest conditions and still give and receive love and affirmation to one another. Conditions are very specific and the volunteers are very safe as are all parties concerned. As a Project Unity representative to explain the specifics. One very neat thing is that BB&T adopted Safe Harbour as their “Lighthouse Project,” and not only was there financial support—BB&T employees gave up Saturday mornings for two-hour shifts to the tune of 220 hours of service.

Again, these community partners don’t do it for the acclaim or the brownie points with the corporate bosses. They do it because eyeball-to-eyeball, they care about children first in this community. That’s first-class philanthropy.

Another project is called TFTS—of course it is, but what is it? It is Texas Families Together and Safe. Parents of children 3-9 are in one group and those of children 9-17 are in another group. Project Unity teaches parents how to raise their children, how to deal with children’s acting out behavior, tantrums, refusal to adhere to house rules, and one of the biggest success stories is for parents with children by previous marriages to come together in a home and be shared-parent step-parents with everyone included ‘in.’

Rather than my family or your family it is ‘our family.’ Helping children do homework does not mean doing their algebra for them, as if that is even possible in this day and time, right? It does mean being aware of free tutoring, of public library resources and offerings, and other ways of helping your children to succeed, even changing their attitudes about school entirely. It’s just lives they change at Project Unity, every day of the week.

Now What Happened at the Party?

A brand new world opened up for Project Unity. The loving but somewhat shy leader/founder of the group met, like, a million people, and remembered all their names because she has that kind of mind. Plus when you walk in the door, there’s a little Xeroxed thank-you for coming message from Wienkie, signed with his paw print. If you wanted to make an initial donation coming in, there was an easy-to-find, no pressure place to do it. Or, some folks came at the invitation of board members and then were shuttled over to meet with Judy, Director of Development and Communications for it. Wienkie LeUnes, as cohost, was given VIP treatment upon his arrival earlier that day at Aloft. There was nothing cutesy about it.

Aloft’s Joseph Kennedy gave Wienkie his own guest room, with a special place for his little carrier/crate and he had a bowl of water waiting, as well as special little puppy treats in a bag, embossed with “Welcome, Wienkie!” He was there to do a job, but like every man who works a room with gusto, he needed a place to rest, refresh and prepare for reappearances.

He donned his formal attire, a little tuxedo, for the evening and frankly, once Judy brought him out into the crowd, the fight was on to be next in line to have pictures taken in front of an ingenious step-and-repeat banner with (you guessed it!) “Project Unity’s” name and logo on it. Have any idea how many hundreds of photos went viral across Facebook? Judy didn’t win the community’s Jefferson Award without skills, folks! Brilliant marketing.

Wienkie took rests between throngs of people fussing over him, and yet, he seemed entirely at bliss, unperturbed by the rock band playing upbeat, happy tunes with folks dancing close by. Then again he’s not an only dog. He comes from a current family of rescue pups that Arnold LeUnes and Judy LeUnes and roll call goes something like this: Lilly, B, Remy, Charlie, Wienkie, and Darth…..”Darthhhh….Darth Vader where are you?” You see, Darth Vader LeUnes is still learning a few rules of the road, but he’s so darned cute that his learning period for forgiveness continues to be extended. He may have to sweep up Project Unity headquarters one day but for now, he’s just well…Darth.

Money came in for Project Unity with gusto that night, but more importantly, each person there became and ambassador for spreading the word about the organization that does so much, with so little, and never has had the kind of advocate before that the whirlwind that is Judy does for the group. With Katie Watson and David Rogers (pictured here with friends) spent a few weeks interning with Judy, well that was like releasing even more inspiration into the universe. Inspiration is all it takes, combined with training, to create exciting transformations in lives every day.

Now, since that time, what has happened for Project Unity? Let’s take a look. Wienkie did a prompt video thank-you to all his friends, then a massive photo album was published online on Facebook. Follow them here and please click “Like” on the page as that will help them get grants as they continue to increase public awareness for @ProjectUnityBCS.

New members of Club 365 were signed up that night, with checks and credit card gifts completed online, boom! Wienkie encouraged folks to become Unity Partners and the next week, Project Unity went to Carver Elementary School in Bryan to recruit more families for parenting classes (Sanjuanita and Michelle, the dynamic duo on the move again). Then there was talk of a Downtown Bryan event to potentially benefit Project Unity. As that continues to develop, that’s one tremendous result of what great things people can do for you, once they know about you.

Deborah Cowman of The Brazos Valley Museum was kind enough to donate tickets to the “Wish Upon a Butterfly” release event for Project Unity families they serve “who would not ordinarily be able to afford to go to the museum” to attend. Imagine the looks of wonder on children’s faces when they see a museum, history, exciting exhibits, displays, and butterflies. It just causes them to dream and want to become researchers, explorers, adventurers, archeologists, or just to see beauty wherever it abounds. #Lifechanging through simple, thoughtful gifts, once people know who and where you are.

Days later, the College Station Men’s Wearhouse conducted a National Suit Drive for Project Unity and donated some prime men’s clothing to the group—when you don’t have a job, you don’t have a wardrobe for the job, and forget all those speeches about “Dress for the job you want.” With the blink of an eye, Men’s Wearhouse filled an important need. Hmm, wonder where they heard about it? Well, it’s “word of mouth” and sharing good news.

Then, speaking of a heart of gold and a spirit to match, Steve Ellis, currently a Los Angeles-based actor, but always a popular DJ and social scene king whenever he's back in town to visit, arrived to lend Project Unity his support. (Left: Steve Ellis and Dawn Lee Wakefield)

It was truly a night where friends saw friends they have not seen in ages, who all came together because of a dream a gifted and talented visionary had to serve children and families in Bryan-College Station. Jeannie is being honored by the Girl Scouts of Central Texas, on Thursday, Sept. 1 as a Woman of Distinction in the Brazos Valley, at the beautiful Miramont Country Club in Bryan. A most fitting tribute indeed as Jeannie is definitely a wonderful role model for young girls to grow up and do something really big! If they dream it, they can do it.

So, you see how children, ice hockey and Bubba’s dreams might intersect? That would be your second hat trick. Well, yes, technically, it’s actually “when one player scores three consecutive goals in a single game and then everyone in the crowd celebrates by throwing their hats onto the ice,” but in our example it’s where Project Unity brought all these dynamic community leaders together in the single arena of Joseph Kennedy’s domain, Aloft in College Station. Let’s walk things back a moment and reflect.

A Personal Story

Two months ago I was over in Project Unity’s headquarters offices, visiting with Judy LeUnes, Katie Watson, and David Rogers about a particular topic, and this wonderful woman enters the offices in nondescript fashion and she asks if it’s the right place to donate ‘some clothing’ in good condition for people to use who need to have professional attire. Jeannie and Ella were out of the office at meetings at the COG and Beck Street, respectively, but Judy immediately jumped up from her chair, motioned for Katie and David to follow and in five minutes’ time, they had one of the most extensive and fabulous group of women’s clothes that would make them feel “as good as” work colleagues who could afford to shop for nice things.

No one has money for clothes when you don’t have money to feed your children. So when people are quick to say, “Well, get a job and work,” they don’t understand that to get that job where a uniform is not issued, it takes this to make that happen. It was amazing to see philanthropy in action and motion. Wienkie supervised the process quietly from his perch as Life Enrichment Specialist, and I’d swear that little dog was smiling.

What Happened After The Event? Amazing Things

The team over at KAGS-TV, where Shannon Madlock keeps her eyes and ears open for all good things happening in town, did a story on the donation from Men’s Wearhouse, and now, people know one more thing to do with clothing where it can really help.

Then four days later, Judy and Wienkie had the Project Unity team over with the Brazos Valley Bombers, competing with other nonprofits for a share of the proceeds from the game that night. You could get in by “paying what you wanted” and put it in the organization’s jar as a gift. Wienkie was back on the job, in a maroon baseball jersey no less.

People, this is serious business, and Wienkie has a real job and he works harder than a lot of folks I’ve seen in much harder conditions. You try working a crowd in 100°F heat and not wimping out. Not this guy. He’s “all in,” and so is his mom. Check out their Facebook page to see that Wienkie had a sweet love letter drawn for him by a young fan.

But wait, there’s more! Judy, the pied piper of relevance, had the team downtown, becoming the newest member of the Downtown Bryan Association. Their Beck Street operations are, hello, downtown, and what wonderful ambassadors they are for the community. Then he sat in front of a banner advertising, which in full disclosure, I’m a member of, because everyone who knows me knows that I have no power in me to say ‘no’ to the dog, mine or anyone else’s.

Seriously, Jeannie hand-delivered my packet of information from Judy and even though I thought I knew what Project Unity was all about, clearly I had not a clue of the depth and breadth this organization makes its impact on. It’s all about goodness, love, sharing, caring, and taking care of children.

Finally, two weeks ago, the A&M student newspaper, The Battalion, caught wind of what Wienkie was up to and reporter Ana Sevilla conducted an interview with him. Result was clear as a bell today as Wienkie wound up in the back-to-school fall edition of The Battalion.

But that’s not all, last week, a dear person, Anna Perkinson, won two tickets to the A&M vs. UCLA home football opener at the BCS Chamber Business After Hours (yes, Judy is an Ambassador of the BCS Chamber, as if you had to ask!) and she donated the tickets to Project Unity! Bidding is on until August 31st, so it’s a tax deduction to ‘win’ this prize.

Late last Friday, the Bryan College Station Optimist Club made a major donation to Project Unity (presented at a Bombers game) for “school supplies for the students in the Snook ISD.” Is that not phenomenal?

But wait, there's more. Judy, wearing her Project Unity name tag and taking seriously the organization's new membership in the Downtown Bryan Association, got angry when she read The Eagle and learned of a downtown restaurant, Ms. Helen's Cafe, that had been burglarized five times and was facing closure, simply because the food had been stolen, too. Judy made about five phone calls, one of which was to Jason Cornelius at Prosperity Bank, and got things rolling. Understand that when Judy LeUnes is on a mission, you'd best get high and behind her or get run over because either way, you're going to be seeing great things happen.

Just this past Saturday, the badge-wearing Judy was downtown at Blackwater Draw Brewing Company, who supported donors for Ms. Helen's Cafe's owner in gift cards to local grocers including Readfield Meats, cash, checks for the cause. The owner of a local security company donated a system and installed it himself, in between his paying clients, to help assure safety and videography for all would-be perps to know better. No, it was not a direct Project Unity event, but LeUnes carries her name with her and identity for the group, everywhere she goes, 24/7. And she brings Wienkie right along with her. If you're not enthused, invigorated, and ready to join in Project Unity's great endeavors in this community, then just watch one of Wienkie's speeches and your cold, cold heart will melt and the ink will flow onto your checkbook. It's just the right thing to do.

Now, if corporations and local business owners see this excitement and buzz and understand the reality of what it costs to keep this tremendous organization going each year, then Judy and Wienkie can make time available in their schedules to receive your gifts. Check them out on the web and on Facebook. Call them and ask questions.

Or, do what I did, and the next time they offer you a chance to bring your pet to work at their offices, show up with your pup and learn what goes on there. There’s water and dog treats, and playmates for your pups. Mine even did the unthinkable and he was loved, not scolded. Unconditional love for children and fur babies alike.

Once you walk in their doors, you will be a willing and joyful ambassador of what happens in our community, thanks to Project Unity. Frankly, it’s one of the most exciting nonprofit organizations in town, and they’re just getting started in sharing the good news. If you’ve lost count of how many hat tricks happened as a result of July 20th’s “Live at Aloft” event for Project Unity, you really can’t count because the goodness that will continue to flow from building friends first, before asking for funds, goes a long, long way to cultivating long-term support.

All gifts are welcome, from $10 to $1,000, to whatever you can pledge and give. Statewide funding agencies see both kinds of numbers as valuable in reviewing the grant proposals that Jeannie has the patience and foresight to complete. Yes, one month after the inaugural event, Project Unity is alive and thriving here, and Wienkie will thank you personally, once he’s awakened from his well-deserved nap, working hard as he has during the (pardon me) dog days of summer. Special thanks to Katie Watson for all the photos shared here so generously.