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Ann Hamilton

INTERVIEWEE: Ann Hamilton (AH)
DATE: October 21, 2003
LOCATION: Houston, Texas
TRANSCRIBERS: Melanie Smith and Robin Johnson
REELS: 2273 and 2274

Please note that the recording includes roughly 60 seconds of color bars and sound tone for technical settings at the outset of the recordings. Numbers correlate with the time codes on the VHS tape copy of the interview. “Misc.” refers to various off-camera conversation or background noise, unrelated to the interview.

DT: My name is David Todd and I’m here for the Conservation History Association of Texas. It’s October 21st, 2003. We’re in Houston at the home of Ann Hamilton, who’s been involved for many years in conservation, most specifically, in land protection and in fund raising and in grants making for protecting the resources in Colorado and Texas. And I want to take this chance to thank you for talking with us.
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AH: Thank you.
DT: Ann, I was hoping that you could help us get started by telling us how you got started. There was an episode in your childhood, early years, where a family member or friend or teacher introduced you to the outdoors and a love of it.
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AH: The outdoors was just always a part of my life. From the time I can remember as a—a little child, I was always outdoors. I loved being outdoors. My mother was an outdoor gardener, an—an organic gardener before an organic gardener was even known very well. I was born in Tennessee and we had—eastern Tennessee and we had lots of space around us, lots of woods and so I was always outdoors. One of my favorite early memories was we lived across the street from a firehouse and I spent a lot of time with firemen over at the firehouse and the dog, which was a—a spotted dog, a Dalmatian, and would run back and forth between the firehouse and the—and my house. And those were wonderful memories. I just stayed outside a lot the—in those days. There was no fear of
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being outside or being, you know, kidnapped or something like parents worry about today. This was a idyllic childhood. And then we moved to east Texas where my father built a petrochemical plant on the banks of the Sabine River in Longview, Texas. That’s the cross I bear as a conservationist. But, again, we had woods all around us and I—I just played in the woods and dug to China one summer, or tried to, and I—there was a fallen tree, I remember in the woods next door and we—we made it into a ship and had a—had a shipwreck and played pirate and just lots of fantasy in the woods. And—and, at one point, I even built a playhouse in the woods and the—the neighbors were extraordinarily
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upset because they could see this playhouse from their back windows and always thought it was—looked like an outhouse, which it did. And so, but these were my wonderful, joyful memories of childhood in the woods of east Texas and east Tennessee. So that’s—that’s sort of my memory and—and I’ve always been a natural, open space, sort of, kind of person. It’s strange for me to say that now that I’m here in Houston, but you see the woods around me and I feel like I’m home again.
DT: And as you grew up and went to school and college, was there any sort of opportunity there that you had to learn about nature?
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AH: Well, I went to the University of Colorado and then that time—it was this early 60’s—and there were many of us in Colorado at that point in time that were very involved in out—out of doors. We loved Colorado, we swam in the high mountain lakes and—and hiked and camped and drank beer in the woods and had a wonderful time and did a lot of laughing and just cared so much about the natural world because Colorado is so beautiful. And I got very involved, at one point, in Governor Lamm’s campaign and, as you probably remember, he ran for office in the early 70’s and he walked the state. And so there were a bunch of us that—that got behind him and—and he—he ran on an
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environmental platform. And so, I guess that was a—a real turning point in my life as a—as a young mother and early—I had married and had a couple of children and Governor Lamm was sort of one of our heroes. And Earth Day was very important at that point in my life and I remember sitting on the banks of a—of a—a bluff above my house and that was the first Earth Day. And Dennis Hayes was there in—in Colorado running a solar energy organization. And I sewed a green flag and flew that green flag for probably, gosh, I guess a good ten years after that. Every Earth Day we’d fly the green flag and, of course, our neighbors wondered about that, but. I felt like a modern day Betsy Ross, sewing a green flag. It was—I—I guess my former husband still has that green flag. I think it hangs in his apartment up in Fairplay, Colorado.
DT: You talked just a moment ago about some of your field trips, hiking trips out to the mountains of Colorado. Is there one or two of those trips that you can tell us about?
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AH: I think probably the—one of the most magical ones was we were—we were with another young couple and they had children and we had two young children and—and we went to Estes Park and—and climbed way up high at Estes Park and found a high mountain stream and we all jumped in and just had a wonderful afternoon and it was just magic. It was—the sun was out, the—the lake was cold, but crisp and, I don’t know, that was a—a real memory that I will always treasure, being with those wonderful people and being surrounded by extraordinary beauty. So that’s probably one that I—that I will
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always treasure. There’s—there were floods. I remember when I graduated from college in 1965, we couldn’t even be outside because of the bad floods in Colorado and it was—it was May of ’65 and—and we had a terrible flood. I mean, it was—it was really awful and took out several homes in—in the canyon. And so, I got to see nature at its worst, too, in that horrible flood of ’65.
DT: You also mentioned that you watched or participated in Governor Lamm’s campaign. Is there anything you can tell about that?
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AH: Well, I—I ended up working for Governor Lamm after—after I got my children in school, I went to work. And—and one of the first things I did was—was go to work as a sort of consultant for his office on the Commission on Children and their Families, right in a—a child advocacy group of things. And then—and then there came the opportunity for me to run a—the Colorado Office of Volunteerism and—actually, it was called the Colorado Office of Voluntary Citizen Participation, OVCPA. But we just shortened it to the Colorado Office of Volunteerism. And I was going around the state, trying to—to convince people that they needed to get out and—and address very important issues in their cities through the use of volunteers. And so, we did lots of volunteer training, recruitment, that sort of thing and teaching people in the regions of the state how to recruit and train volunteers for—for important issues and one of those issues was energy savings. If you remember, that was Carter administration and we had an energy shortage and so, I remember one of the first projects we did was Save Fort Collins. And save meant save America’s vital energy and we went to Co—Fort Collins and did a—did a pilot program on, you know, wrapping hot water heaters and—and saving water and saving energy. Putting bricks in your toilet to save water and that sort of thing. And from that grew another organization called the Colorado—Colorado’s for Out—
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Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado, excuse me. And they—that organization is still alive and well. I just went back to Colorado last fall. I met with the young man who runs that organization. They’ve just had their 20th anniversary and it is alive and well. They’ve got volunteers all over the state doing trail work and working on parks and open spaces. And it—it just has lasted and that is one of—a legacy that—that I got to participate in that is still alive and well. Unfortunately, the Colorado Office of Volunteerism is no longer. We got it—we got it through the state legislature and got it statutorily set, but it had no money to go along with it. So it’s no longer, but Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado is and they’re making a big difference there. And so that—I’m very proud of that.
DT: Perhaps you could tell us a little bit about how you managed to inspire and encourage people to give of themselves. I mean, this idea of volunteering and doing altruistic things, I guess, is really central to a lot of environmental efforts.
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AH: I—I think.
DT: How did you do it?
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AH: Well, you do it because you do it yourself and—and I think you—there’s a thing that I read way back called Servant Leader and—and you—you don’t sit back and—and expect people to do things and not do it with them. And I think you have to just jump in there and—and be a volunteer with the rest of them. We used a lot of—in that office, we—we had a lot of good people who helped us with consulting and taught us how to recruit volunteers. There’s an energy there that you find people with the passion for being either out of doors or—or doing human service type work. You tap into that. One of the things that we did when we started that office is we went around to all the – 00:12:44 – 273
extension services. And, I mean, those are naturals to get people involved. There’s an extension service in every—every county. And so we hooked into the extension services and I met some of the most wonderful people in the world and they were all volunteers. I mean, they were just—and so you highlight those, you recognize people, you—you energize them just by your enthusiasm for the—for the cause. I don’t how to—else to say it.
DT: Do you think there’s something infectious?
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AH: I do. Hmm-mmm. I do. I think that you can—I don’t know. If you’re with a bunch of people working on a trail project, and I remember the first one we ever did was in the—above the Poudre Canyon, above Fort Worth—Fort Collins. And we sort of got that one started because we had been in Fort Collins and done that Save project. We recruited volunteers from there and got them up into the mountains. A lot of kids from—from Colorado State University came up there and helped us and there we were digging trails, and it’s not easy work. But we laughed a lot and we, you know, ate hotdogs and sort of threw mud at one another occasionally. And it—it is infectious. It’s—there’s something about seeing your labor at—at the end of the day and seeing what you’ve done and then going back several years later and walking that trail. I mean, they went—the—
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before the 20th anniversary of this all—of this program, they went back and talked to some of the people were—that were there in that first encounter—that first project we did. And—and they talk about, you know, going back up there and—and walking that trail and remembering that time and—and I guess recognition and—and big thank yous and, you know, it is. It’s infectious and—enthusiasm, hope. Hope that you’re doing—Mother—Mother always taught to me that, you know, leave things a little bit better than you found them. And—and I think that was imbued in me and that’s what we wanted to do. And we wanted also to make it accessible to peoples so that they could get up into the mountains and—and understand the beauty of the mountains and be in it and among it.
DT: You mentioned your mother and I’d sort of skipped past something you’d mentioned earlier. You said that she was a gardener.
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AH: Yeah.
DT: And I was wondering if you can tell any memories you might have of her out hoeing her garden.
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AH: Yes, I can. She worked really hard. She loved—she loved the outdoors as well. She was a birder. She could identify many, many birds and, just recently—well, about three years ago, I sent her birding book to my first grandchild, hoping that that will take with Morgan. That book is very dear to me, Peterson’s Birding Guide. Mother was an organic gardener. We never threw anything away in our house that was organic, we saved it all and she composted, I mean, everything, including eggshells. She would save eggshells in this big, big jar of water and then every—about every two weeks or so, she would un—unscrew it and if you’ve ever smelled old eggshells, it is not a—it is not a nice odor. And she would—she would water all the indoor plants with this eggshell water. And my father would come home from work and say are you cooking a horse in the basement?
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AH: It was pretty awful, but she had a green thumb that wouldn’t stop. She could grow anything. I mean, she could just put a piece of ivy down in the earth and it would grow. It was really amazing; she had quite a knack for it. And she just loved digging in the dirt and being outdoors and I think that’s—that’s where I got my—and that came from her parents. You know, it kind of comes on up through generations. And I think that’s where I got my love of the earth and outdoors.
DT: Did you help her weed or…?
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AH: Yeah. Oh, yeah. I remember when they moved into a—a new house. It was pretty barren and we ended up being out in the backyard, getting ivy started. And we’d take these sprigs of ivy and go down the path and every three inches or so, we’d plant another sprig of ivy. Same with the first house we moved into in Longview, Texas. It was red dirt—clay dirt, you know. And we—she brought in a—a thing of topsoil and she—we didn’t do sod in those days. You pat—you planted St. Augustine sprig by sprig
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and that’s what we did. We got out in the backyard and planted the St. Augustine and we had a beautiful yard. She would dump—we had birds and—and canaries and she would dump birdseed—this is how much of a—a—of a—well, she was Scottish, very Scottish and she didn’t want to throw anything away. And she would dump birdseed out the backdoor and when it grew, she would pick it and cook it and we’d eat it. I—so—I don’t know what was in that, but it was pretty amazing. She was—she used everything.
DT: Well, so, part of her ethic was one of being frugal and careful.
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AH: Absolutely. Absolutely. She was a McNeil and her—her ancestors were from—from Scotland and she was—of course, my mother and daddy both grew up during the Depression and that’s part of it as well, is those time of—they were bad, hard times. And so they always were very careful about saving and—and recycling and redoing and—and not being extravagant with their money.
DT: Well, we were talking earlier, before visiting with your mom and her experiences, about your life in Colorado and with volunteers there. Maybe you can move us on through the next phase and after living in Colorado for a number of years, you came back to Texas. Is that right?
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AH: I did. I came back to—to Houston in 1985. Came back to be near my father, who was getting older. My mother had—had died while I was in Colorado, and came back to be near my father, who still lived in Longview, and—and my sister and brother-in-law, who lived here in Houston. And my first job was with the Park People. I was the first executive director of the Park People. Proud of that, they had had some coordinators, but never had had somebody that sort of came in and—and organized things and took charge. And the Park People was a—a small, open space advocacy organization promoting green space in Houston. And it was a—was an organization that was started by a mentor, Terry Hershey, who—who believed that Houston didn’t have enough open space. And that was
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true because they did a study from the National—NRPA did a study and—National Parks and Recreation Association—showing that Houston was way, way, way down on the list, per capita, park—for park space. And so, Terry created the Park People as part of that study because we were looking for—to getting some federal dollars in here. And—and in order to do that, you had to have a citizen’s group involved in this and so that’s what happened. And Park People was created and I came to be their first executive director. And I never forget, when they interviewed me, I—I—you would’ve thought I’d been interviewing for the, you know, head of—of General Motors. It was over at the
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Arboretum, in the—Mem—Memorial Park. There were six people, sort of in a semicircle and they brought me in and sat me sort of in the middle of this semicircle and they hit me with questions. It was Glenda Barrett and Vernon Henry and—and Tom Bass. Remember the county commissioner, Tom Bass? And three other people that I don’t remember. I think two of them were the coordinators and just sort of started hitting me with questions. How was—you know, how would I do this job? And what was my background? And—and I thought, my goodness. I—I’m not going to get this job and I had—I’d flown all the way from Colorado, hoping for this job because I really did want to move and—and get started back in Texas and right around that evening, Vernon Henry called me and offered the job. And—and I’m sure it was because I had run—I had started that Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado, which is how, you know, my—my sort of
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professional involvement in a—in an organization that had to do with outdoors and parks and open space and recruiting and training volunteers and knowing about projects and that sort of thing. And raising money and I had had to raise money for the Colorado Office of Volunteerism. There’s nothing harder than having to raise your own salary. Believe me, you have to be very, very—what’s the word I want to use. You have to be very—it’s a mix. It’s sort of you—you have to be not too arrogant, but you have to be very convincing that—that what you’re doing is extremely important for the good of the whole. And I must’ve been able to do that because every job I’ve had, except for the one I have now, I’ve had to raise my own salary and it’s—it’s not always easy to do that. So I had had some experience in raising money and that—that was a plus for me because I had to do that at Park People. But it was a—it was basically—Park People is and was a—a park advocacy organization and involved, not just with city parks, but with county
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parks and State Parks and some National Parks. So their claim to fame back then was that they had—they had created one of the largest park—or helped create one of the largest State Parks in Texas here in Houston. What’s the name of that park? Sam? It’s not Sam Houston, it’s Lake Houston State Park, which is still with us today and hopefully will be. It—it’s never been developed very well. It’s 5000 acres. But I stayed with the Park People for only a year. When they—when they hired me, I told them and—that I’d—I’d do it for a year, but if something else came along, I would have to take it because I needed—I needed a good salary and—and that salary wasn’t as good as it—as I’d really needed. I had two children that I—were still with me and—and I needed to support them. And so the Houston Park Board job came along and that was for a—an—an executive director. They had not had an executive director and they had hired a—a development director, thinking that that’s all they needed at the point—at that point.
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And, unfortunately, she lasted only nine months and so I—I interview for that job and one of the—one of the Park Board members said to me when I told him that I was interviewing for the job, he looked at me and he said you’ll never get that job. He said you don’t have the experience for that. You haven’t been in Houston long enough and you’ll just never get that job. Well, that’s what spurred me on to get that job. You have to challenge me like that and then I’m going to do what I have to do. So I’d—I came up with some creative ways of interviewing for that job and interviewed a whole lot of—a whole lot of the board members and ended up with—with the job and had that job for four years. It was an incredibly interesting job because it was very much like the job I had had in Colorado. It’s sort of public-private. In other words, it was connected to the
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government and it was a mayoral appointed body of people who were not necessarily very interested in parks and open space. They were there because they had—they had done something that the mayor wanted them to do and they got this plum of a—of a—an appointment for it. And anyway, I went around and talked to every one of the people on the Park Board and we—we started—started working on—on some campaigns and—and working on projects. One of the first projects we did was a little park on the east end called Parkadalia Amistad, which is in Hidalgo Park. And we built a playground for the children of the—of the east end with Robert Leathers. Wonderful man who is very creative and does all his own—own playgrounds, but—and they’re very distinctive. You’ll—they’re all wooden. Well, you—you can see—when you see them, you know that they’re Robert Leather’s playgrounds and he comes into the community and literally talks to the people in the community and goes into the schools and talks to the kids in the schools and asks them what they want. And in front of them, he then draws what they want. Well, this one had to do with cars and little castle-like houses and—in and out, you know, lots of little tunnels and—and little bridges that you could walk over and teeter-
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totter on. And—and we built this playground on the east end, right out there at the Turning Basin, it overlooks Buffalo Bayou at the Turning Basin and built it in five days with a team of volunteers. Hardest job I’ve ever done recruiting volunteers. It was really tough because this is a very, very poor neighborhood of Houston. Anyway, we got it done and that nay—that park is still there today and it’s a wonderful, wonderful playground. And you can drive out there and see children playing on it and it was just a great ex—exercise. And everybody’s supposed to be involved in the actual construction, not just in the background, sort of cooking. And—and one of the hardest things we had to do was—was try to get the women out of the kitchen, hammering and men into the kitchen, cleaning up. It was not easy; it’s not a part of that culture and so. But we managed to do that and lots of people got out and—and—and hammered and nailed and—and sawed and cut wood and it just was wonderful, wonderful project. The other things we did—let’s see, we bought—we bought a park. We bought a big park, 750-acre park out in Fort Bend County and at the time, we were criticized for that because it
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wasn’t necessarily right in the city limits. It was in the ETJ, extraterritorial jurisdiction of Houston. But some of our board members who were on the Land Acquisition Committee decided that that part of Houston really did need a—need a park, a big park. And this piece of land came available. It was—had belonged to Doctor Cooley. It ended up in bankruptcy and ended up in—under the—Texas Commerce Bank owned it. And so we had some people on that Park Board that were really very knowledgeable about land acquisition and they went after that piece of land and—and we got it. And it was thanks to—to the Brown Foundation, a lady by the name of Nina Cullinan had left us some money. We used some of her—her money for that. Several other foundations were involved and we ended up buying that 750-acre park in the middle of, what they thought, was nowhere. It’s out on Highway 6 now. It is now today surrounded by homes. Surrounded by homes. So the people out there now have a central park that they—that they will always have, which is a huge piece of green space that wouldn’t have happened had—had those Park Board members not known that—where the growth was going to
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happen. And so, I think I was very proud of that project. That was not an easy one. There’s another one that I am really proud of called E.R. and Anne Taylor Park that is just going to be dedicated on November 22nd of this year. And one of my first acquisitions when I got to the Park Board was—I had been there, literally, two weeks. I was trying to get my feet wet, trying to understand what my job was. I was in the Parks department, working close to the Park Director, because I felt that was very necessary. And that was not easy, by the way. What I was going to say to you is this—this—this fine line between the public and private is not an easy line to walk because you’ve got—and you’ve got politics all along the way. And so, we—these two young people came into my office. I got this call and I answered the phone and it was the receptionist at the front desk and she said Mister and Missus Ma—Major Stevenson are here to speak with you. And I said all right. That’s fine. I’ll come up and get them. And I walked up and there were this just very young, dignified African American couple. And they introduced
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themselves and we started walking back and I said then what can we do for you? And they said well, we want to talk to you about a donation of a piece of land. And I said okay. Tell me what you want to do. And—and they said—or how—how did you find out about Houston Park Board. And they said that they had seen a brochure. There had been an article in the newspaper about oh—a thing we had come up with called The Graining of Houston. And it was an effort to get people to donate land to the Park Board. And they had seen it in the newspaper and so they came back, we sat down and I said well, tell me about your land. Well, it turns out that this land was their homestead, their family’s homestead. E.R. Taylor was the brother of Horace Taylor, who was the 20th mayor of Houston. And Anne Taylor, who was Major’s great-great grandmother, was a slave woman. And they lived out on this property on Alameda Road, south of Houston, in Pierce Junction and they—they had 690 acres of land that they lived on. And it was his land and what had happened is—is E.R. Taylor had gone off to—and—and
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his—he was the son of, I believe his name was E.G. Taylor, and I can’t think of their names right now. But E.G. had come to Houston in the 1840’s and—and decided this is where he wanted to—to stay. And, as I say, he was—he was, I think, the uncle of Horace Taylor, who was the 20th mayor of Houston. Anglo—Anglo people and—so anyway, Major and Beverly came to talk to me about the donation of their homestead land. And E.R. Taylor, excuse me, the grandfather had gone off to f—fight the Civil War and he gotten the mumps—tuberculosis fighting in Vicksburg. And was taken as a prisoner of war and sent back to Texas to get well and to be under the purview of his parents. Well, his father decided that the best place for E.R. to be in recovery would be out on this parcel of land that he had bought for a modest amount of money. But it would healthy for him to be out there in the sort of the prairie land. And—and the other thing he had among—amongst his wealth was a—a slave woman named Anne, who he had purchased from, I believe, a plantation in—near Wharton. Anyway, she was of ha—supposedly had curative powers. And Major sat there in—in my office that day and she—he looked at me straight on and said, and Miss Hamilton, not only did she cure him of tuberculosis, she bore him eight children. Well, they lived on that land as husband and wife, although
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they were not allowed to be married, of course, because they were—she was a s—a black woman and he was a white man. They were not allowed to be married, but they lived as husband and wife and had eight children, two—two of whom died at birth and six of whom survived. Survived them. She is still buried out there, alongside her two children who died. And that is the—we have 25 acres of that parkland that we purchased back in 19—this was in 1986. That land is just now, finally, being developed. Thankfully, what happened was they—they had—they, being Major and Beverly, who carried this thing all the way through these 17 years—had enough sense to put a reversionary clause. Convinced the city that they wanted a reversionary clause in the deed of land and they threatened to invoke the reversionary clause and take that land back if the Park Board and the Park Department didn’t develop it the way their mother had wanted it. Their mother being Molly Taylor Stevenson, who lived out there all—practically law—all her life.
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And it was her idea to—to do this park. She, unfortunately, died last April, but she died knowing that the park was going to get finished. And one of the reasons the park is getting developed is because, number one, they got a grant from Houston Endowment and they also got a grant from Texas Parks and Wildlife. So that was my first land acquisition as the executive director of the Houston Park Board. And I left the Park Board before the thing had been completed. It was not an easy acquisition because it was owned by all the heirs to that family. So it was—there were seven—seven or eight owners and one of those owners was the Methodist Church. And so they had to go to Mem—Memphis to talk to the head of the Methodist Church to see if they would donate the land. Anyway, the land is there and it’s going to be dedicated and it’s going to be a passive park with trails and birding and a birding platform, so that you can crawl up and—and observe and so that, I’m very proud of. The other thing at the Park Board was—at the time I came on board, I—I told you that they were land developers involved.
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There were also bankers involved and—and early on, for some reason, all the Park Board money got mixed in with the Park Department money and—and that was not an easy thing to—to pull apart. And so the bankers were brought in to sort of look at—at how we pulled it apart and made sure that those monies weren’t commingled anymore. Because like, for instance, every vending machine in a recreation center, they sort of put the m—monies from those vending machines were put into a—a—a—a fund that was commingled with Park Department money. So we—we split out those monies and the Park—other thing I did when I was at the Park Board was create a 501c3 so that the Park Board could be an independent, nonprofit organization. People like donating monies to nonprofits rather than to governmental entities because they have a better feel for where their money’s going to be and how it’s going to be spent. So those were the things that happened while—during my tenure at the Park Board that were very interesting.
DT: Well, you’ve talked about your experiences at the Park People and the Park Board and I guess a lot of your efforts there are sort of couched in the fact that Houston has not has a strong parks tradition going back a number of years. And I was wondering if you could explain why it is that the per capita park and open space set asides were traditionally pretty low here?
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AH: Well, I have heard this story and I don’t know if it’s true because I—I—I really can’t prove it. But—but there—I understand there was a mayor early on that used to say why does Houston need parks? We all have backyards. So there—it’s a developer city. Houston’s a developer city and—and what—the developers have never been truly asked or—or we’ve never demanded of them to create green spaces in their developments. And so, as a consequence, we’ve developed and it’s—we’ve developed sometimes in the wrong places, like a lot of the banks of our bayous. Had—had that first plan that was
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done way back when in 1912, had that plan taken effect and we had abided by that master plan that was done by Kessler, we would’ve had a park bountiful city because the—the plan was to develop parks—linear parks all along all of our bayous. And somewhere along the line, that—that plan was dismissed and we’d—we didn’t do that, to our—to our detriment because, as you know, we have a terrible problem with flooding in Houston. And pl—places are flooding now more than they’ve ever flooded before. But there’s now, I think, another—an ethic coming along because I think people have had it with—with flooding and having their living rooms flooded three and four times in three and four years. We now have a buyout program and—and people are fed up that—they are saying that’s what we want. We want linear parks along our bayous and I—I think that’s happening. But why haven’t we had park space? The ethic hasn’t been there. We are a town of—of high diversity and people have—it’s a can-do city and we’re going to do it no matter what. And we’re going to make money here. And it’s a—it’s sort of a
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transactional, can do city where we make a lot of money. And we haven’t up until, I would say in the last four or five years, really cared about our quality of life. And now, we’re beginning to—to create a group of people—and I don’t take credit for this. I think that—that Mother Nature can take credit for it. I—I think we’ve decided—some of the young people that have moved into this city have said we want a quality of life here so that we can raise our children to be healthy, contributing citizens. And a—and the other issue is that a lot of young people aren’t coming here. And I think the—the leaders of this community have seen that and said wait a minute. We’ve got to do something about this. And so, I think we’re beginning to see a—a new ethic of, not necessarily parks, but quality of life. And we have beautiful amenities around the city of Houston. There’s a lot to be attracted to here, if we—if we can showcase them and if we let people know about them. Most people don’t understand. We—we’re also a sports city. We’re—as
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you know, we’ve built three stadiums within the last four years or so, five years. So there’s a lot people that—that care about sports and that’s fine. But there’s a—there’s a balance there that we need to—to create.
DT: You mentioned sports just now. It seems like there’s often a tension in park development between creating open space and habitat that are set-asides for passive recreation or for wildlife and then interests that are more into ball fields. And I was wondering how you balanced that tension when you were at the Parks People and Parks Board.
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AH: Well, I—I think that—that there are—one of the reasons we have what few parks we have in Houston is because we have had donors who have—have said I will give you this land, but let’s keep it for passive park use. And—and so that’s one way to do it, is—is that the donor who makes the land possible, or the money to buy the land possible, has to say I want it designated for passive park use. Or for recreational use. Now we’ve just finished a plan that Houston Endowment helped fund of Memorial Park. And in that plan, there is a—there is a—a—part of it is that we will—we will move the recreational facilities. We want Memorial Park to be more of a passive park, for runners and joggers and bicyclists and that sort of thing. But we won’t move those ball fields until we find other places to put them and—and in order to do that, we’re just going to have to acquire more land. I mean, we’ve just got to acquire more land. And we have to talk to
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developers. When they build developments, they need to set aside some land for these amenities, for—for detention ponds, for one thing. I mean, you can put ball fields in detention ponds. And that was one of the first things that I heard about when I came to the Park People. Vernon Henry had—had—who was, at that time, the chair of the Park People, had done a plan to—to set aside massive amounts of land for detention ponds. And this was 1985. And I—it didn’t happen. But that’s what we need to do and—and, for recreational facilities, I think you can set aside detention ponds. It’s—they do it at every other place in the, you know—you—in the Texas. They do it in Baytown, they’ve done it out in Sugar Land and you can have bowls that have ball fields in the bottom of them and when it rains, they can fill up. Nobody’s going to play ball in the rain anyway, so. I—I—I think there’s a balance that you have to reach and—and people want to be able to go to places where they can just sit and reflect and not be bombarded with noise
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and—and too much confusion. They want places of reflection and—and peace and green and—and those—I’m one of them. I mean, I have a little neighborhood park over here called Graham Park that I walk my dogs over there. Now, it has this little playground, but we go over there and just enjoy the woods. And those are real important and there are people—there’s a plan now. There’s a master park plan in Houston that is going to try to address that. It’s not a great time to be raising money for park acquisition, but the other part of that plan is—is looking at excess property that the city owns that perhaps the city can donate as—as green space. And I think the Park Board is looking into that. I certainly support them in doing so.
DT: One of the other balancing acts that you’ve talked about, aside from this active-passive recreation is between the public sector’s role and private sector’s role, between the Parks Department and the developers that determine a lot of the land use decisions. And I was wondering if you could talk about how you managed to walk that tightrope.
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AH: It’s not easy. It’s a lot of one to one. It’s a lot of—of—well, for instance. I do better if I sort of hone in on land stories. At one point when I was at the Park Board—and I was there from 1986 to 1990—90. The Park Board president decided that I needed to be out of the Parks Department and the Board decided to pull me out of the Parks Department and put me in a private, corporate office. And I did that willingly, thinking that that might be the best thing. Well, I lasted over there about, oh, less than a year, and quickly realized that you couldn’t work with the public sector via the telephone. They generally didn’t answer your calls or wouldn’t call you back. That you had to be there with them, eye to eye, talking to them about—well, one of the things we were doing was developing neighborhood parks. And there was a project that—whereby we would—we would give 25,000 if they—if the community could raise 25,000.
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AH: So we had a Neighborhood Partnership program whereby we had a fund that—that would—for—if—if the community could match 25,000, then the Park Board would put in 25,000. And I think that funded and that pro—that is still going, called the Neighborhood Partnership. So we—we would work with these communities in—in—in developing these neighborhood parks. And neighborhood parks are—are literally parks within that community and neighborhood, not regional parks or larger parks. There are several different kinds of parks. But these were neighborhood parks where you can walk to them and play in them and—and mothers can take their children over there. So we were doing this projects and I couldn’t get answers and that—and that—one of the things that would happen is we—we—the Park Department would—would design these projects. The commun—with the communities input. Well—and the Park Board would be very involved in all of that. In order to move these things forward, you’d—it had to have somebody who was the advocate on the behalf of the community and that ended up
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being the Park Board. And—and you would—you would get the community and bring some of them in and we would go to the Parks Department and sit down and talk to Clyde Bragg and say, now here, Clyde and this—we’ve raised the money and we want this park finished and started and when are you going to start it and when can we expect it to be finished? And—and, in order to do that, I had to be at the Parks Department. I couldn’t be outside the Parks Department in a corporate office. I—at—at least, that was my feeling. So we moved back over to the Parks Department and—and had our own offices over there. It—it’s—it’s bureaucracy and—and rules and regulations and those are all very important. But they have to be done in a timely manner and—and when you’re dealing with private funding, when you’re dealing with people’s donations, they want to see their money spent and used and not just sitting somewhere, waiting for a bureaucracy to move. And so, I guess that my job really was spurring that on, to get—speaking on
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behalf of the private sector to the public sector saying, you know, we’ve raised this money and now let’s get this park finished so that the community can enjoy it. So it’s not—it’s not an easy job. It’s not easy to do and that’s why I—after four years, I—I left it. I had to leave it. It—it became very political and it—Whitmire had left and a new mayor had come in and there were going to be new appointees and it just got extremely political. And I decided to—to take a rest and, at that point in my career, I ended up going back up to—going, not back up, but—but off to north central Texas. And becoming the development director for a wildlife preserve called Fossil Rim Wildlife Center, which was another very interesting career move. It’s in north central Texas, 45 miles southwest of Fort Worth. It’s on about 3000 acres, has over 1500 different kinds of hooves, stock and other endangered animals. Everything from wildebeest to scimitar
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horned Oryx to lots of rhino—rhino, ostriches. It was a remarkable place and I thought I was going to go off and be the Meryl Streep of north central Texas and, unfortunately, it didn’t work that way. I ended up living there, right in the middle of—of—of the pasture where the wildebeests were. And the wildebeests and the ostriches. And ostriches are not nice animals, they are—my poor old dog, whose name was Howard Morgan, would get outside the fence where I—we were enclosed inside this sort of electrified fence so that the animals wouldn’t come up—up on our front porch. And Howard would get out and—several times, he got kicked by an ostrich. He didn’t like that very much. Anyway, it was a very pastoral setting, but it was extremely difficult work because, again, I had gotten myself involved with a—with a—a privately owned facility and it was a solely owned proprietorship and—and my job was to raise money for this. Well, I found out that that’s not so easy because corporations want to make sure their money’s going for,
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you know, tax exempt purposes. And—and so we created a tax-exempt entity, but it really wasn’t split away from the privately owned facility. And it—it became increasingly difficult. So we did lot of things like, we did some retreats and—and tried to talk to the owners about how it was very important either to be a privately held facility or a pure nonprofit. That—that it really was not very easy to do both and, almost impossible, frankly, to do both. And they didn’t want to hear that and so I ended up leaving after nine months. But it was an extraordinary experience because I—I learned a whole lot about endangered species and captive breeding. And learned that captive breeding is fine, but oftentimes when you captively breed these endangered species, they can’t go back to their natural habitats because their natural habitats aren’t there anymore because they’re so rapidly being bought up or going away. And so that the animals increase and then—and then you get to—to the problem of culling herds and, if you’ve got an ethic of—of not—not doing euthanasia on animals, that becomes increasingly
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difficult. So it was—it was an interesting job, a very wonderful learning experience for me, but I—I worked myself out of a job, frankly, because I told them that they needed to be either one or the other. And they—they decided they would be—continue to hold it privately and so I ended up leaving and coming back to Houston and—but I’m glad I was there and—and I have to tell you that today it is a nonprofit organization and it’s doing very well. And the animals seem to be very happy and—and I need to get back up there. I’d love to see it again.
DT: While we’re still talking about the nonprofit fundraising phase of your life, can you maybe pretend that I’m a grants maker and you’re trying to give me the pitch for why park acquisition or park maintenance or wildlife habitat program ought to be funded?
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AH: Okay. Let’s use the example of Houston. Well, let’s use the example of Texas, as a state that’s 93 percent privately owned. Mister Todd, I don’t know if you know this, but we’re going to probably double our population in another 30 years in Texas. And that population is not going to be huge holders of large tracts of land. That population is going to be urban dwellers. They’re going to be probably minorities and they’re going to live closer and closer together and they’re going to need places of refuge. They’re going to need places of recreation. They’re going to need places to go with their families and enjoy the out of doors and learn from the out of doors. If they don’t learn about it, they won’t respect it. And in order to respect it, they have to get out in it and—and understand and learn from it and be happy and we really have got to increase our public parklands in
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Texas. And that doesn’t mean just the state, it means—it means setting aside conservation easements. It means working with private developers to—to create green spaces within their communities and I—I just know that you care about the out of doors so much and your family has come along, through these generations, loving and living on the large tracts of land and I hope that you can give that opportunity to some of these youngsters coming along to understand and revere the landscapes. And if you could just see it as—as an investment in the future of this great state because, really, without land and the acquis—and—and the opportunities to get onto the land, it will be abused. It will be abused because if they don’t know it, they’re not going to respect it. And so, I was hoping that you might think about a gift of—of a half a million dollars to help us buy this tract of land that we have found outside here of—up north of Houston that some of you ancestors timbered on. And I know that—that they benefited greatly from the timber that they got from that land and—and wouldn’t it wonderful to have that as your legacy?
DT: Very persuasive.
DT: Now a lot of your donors are probably business people, when you’re in that part of your life. What sort of responses would they give to a impassioned plea like that?
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AH: They would—they would say—generally, they would say I’ll think about it and you’d have to get back to them. Or they would—they would say who else is involved and—and want to know, you know, if some of their friends were involved or—or what they would also want to know much about the organization for which you were asking. You know, whether it be the—the state of Texas or whether it be the Nature Conservancy or whether it be the Conservation Fund or why—why is this an organization that I should give my money to and how do I know that it will be used wisely and quickly—time, in a timely fashion. So you have to have your ducks in a row when you make the—make the pitch. You know, you can’t just be all passion and—and heartstring pulling. You have to—you have to know about the bottom line, exactly how much the land is going to cost, how big the land is, or whatever. Whatever the project is, you really have to have
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everything. And that’s probably one of the reasons why you need professional staff to help you. I—I know you were thinking about the difference between volunteerism and professional staff, but a lot of these board members who make these pitches and—and we kind of ask that boards do the pitch instead of the paid staff people. It’s much more in—persuasive to do it that way. But they don’t have time to—to get all the nitty gritty, you know, details of a project and so you need the paid staff to really feed you that information and—so that you can make the pitch. And—and the—and be the passionate part of it and let the staff be the technical part of it, so—if—is usually the way it works and the way it works best.
[End of Reel 273]
DT: Well, let’s go on to the next, and maybe most recent, chapter in your life and that’s your work as a grant maker. You’ve worn a number of hats. You’ve been a staff member at the Houston Endowment Grant Officer since 1991, probably involved in over 11—1200 grants of very large size. Houston Endowment’s the largest foundation in Texas. And the grants were accordingly large. But you’ve also been a trustee for a number of years and now the vice-president of the Hershey Foundation, which is a family foundation that focuses exclusively on environmental giving largely. And then, you’ve also helped encourage other givers to be environmental in orientation through the Texas Environmental Grantmakers Group. So lots of different aspects of this. Can you maybe give us an idea of where this started? How you first came to work at the Endowment and walk us through that?
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AH: Sure. Ever since I got involved in grant seeking and been being a fundraiser, I always wanted to be on the other side and it’s something I aspired to and really wanted very badly to do, thinking that I could do it well. And so, when I left Fossil Rim, I’d—I did not have a job. I came back to Houston and I knew that things were changing at Houston Endowment because I kept—I had friends here who kept me informed about it. And before I even left, I had found out that—that there was going to be changes because the folks at Houston Endowment were getting older and we knew that there were going to be some major changes in the structure of the organization. So, came back in, I believe it was May of ’91, and through a lot of different avenues, threw my hat in the ring, knowing that they were—there had been a major—major investigation of Houston Endowment back in—in the winter of that year. And the Attorney General had insisted that the—the foundation become more professional. Insisted that there be a—a larger variety of
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diversified board members. And so, I knew that there were changes in—in the works. And so, I called down to Houston Endowment and said that I would do whatever it took to get my foot in the door and called in a lot of my friends and asked them if they would be references for me. And it took all summer, but I finally ended up being hired there. And that—it was sort of the first job and it was in September of ’91 and they called me, I think, a grant coordinator, or maybe it was a grant officer. I was hired with another woman and we were the first two professional outsiders that had got hired there in the grant making end of it. There had been a—an administrator hired to—to work under the president and some people who would—managing money on that side of it, the finance side of it. But we were the first two grant officers to be hired and went to work and sort of were generalists. There was another grant officer who had been elevated from being an assistant—administrative assistant to a grant officer position and she had already decided that she wanted to do arts and culture and so the left—the rest was left up to the
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two of us. And my colleague’s name was Michelle Sabino and we were both from the nonprofit sector. She had worked in education and I had worked at Fossil Rim and—and for, basically, public-private partnerships and I—I’m convinced that one of the reasons I was hired is because of my knowledge of government and how governments ran. Because they didn’t really know much about there and they were really looking for somebody that had some political savvy about governmental entities. And so, my knowledge of public-private partnerships really took me a long way. The other skill that I think I had was—was the ability to synthesize information. That’s very important in—in the grant making world. You’ve got to be able to look at reams of information and—and sift it down and get it down into very concise terms that—that your board is going to understand. So we started and we kind of divvied up the education. At that time, there was no grant making in conservation to speak of. When I was at the Park Board, I was able to get a small grant for that project I talked about earlier, Parque de la Armistad and
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Hidalgo Park. We got a—a little grant of 17,000 dollars to help buy tools for that project. And we got that grant literally through a politician who knew somebody at Houston Endowment and had the inroad there. And it wasn’t any of my skills who got this grant, it was the politician’s skills who—who knew the president at the time. So there was little or no—there was really no environmental grant making. They didn’t even want to hear the word environment when I started there. So we—we became generalists, the three grant officers, although the one did want arts and cultures and that was fine to me—for me, because I really wasn’t that interested in—in—in that area. So we went to work and I took on higher education and Michelle took on secondary education and kind of divvied up that way and then the other grant officer, Claudette Di Nal, got arts and culture. And then, we got, sort of, between the three of us, we were given the rest of it, human services and medical and all the other sort of—there was no term for them. It was just generic grants. I’d never forget the first grant I reviewed. This is really kind of astounding because this will tell you how—how grants were run at that time and this is 1991. And, by the way, Houston Endowment didn’t even have computers at the time and this was
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’91. We were—we got computers after we got there. We were still working off card catalogs and in paper files. And we had a—had a lady there who—who sort of showed us the way through those—those reams of paper files and the card catalogs and how—how these little cards were kept with all the different grants that were given on them. And—and at that time, it was—it was higher education and health care, which were the major—the major grantees. Some arts and culture, not—not a whole lot. But so one of the first grants that I worked on for the environment was a grant in 1992, came through and it was assigned to—I was—it wasn’t assigned to me, it was assigned to Claudette. It was from Environmental Defense and they came in and asked for a small grant in our area of 50,000 dollars for a project—and I think it was to recycle trash in Houston or something. And they ended up getting it. So we—we realized, at that point, that maybe the board was interested in some of this—some of these areas because, at that point, Environmental Defense—it was called Environmental Defense Fund and it was sort of really off the beaten path and never had they given anything in that area. So we began to sort of realize that—that this could happen and—and so I got the word out to some of my park friends in town that, you know, maybe—maybe this could be an avenue for them.
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And—and so, we began making some park grants. I think the first grant we made was to Friends of Herman Park for the park trails over there and there were some other areas of—in—in parks and open space. But that’s how it started and I spent most—I’d sp—I spent 75 percent of my time on higher education. And we—we had—we had scholarship grants at every little private college in Texas because we had—we had made endowed scholarships. And I was going to tell you about one of the first grants I worked on and how things were run was literally a letter to our president asking for us to pick up the slack that wasn’t raised that year for a major nonprofit organization, and I guess I could tell you, it was the American Red Cross. The Galveston-Houston chapter of the American Red Cross literally—it was a bill. It was literally a bill and it was a—a man who knew Mister [Howard] Creekmore and it—it was—we have a—we—we are 470,000 dollars
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short of our fundraising goal this year and we will expect a check within the next two weeks. And it astounded me—it just astounded me that—that this is how it was done. And so I went—I went to David Nelson who is my—who is my boss and still is my boss, a wonderful man—and said, David, this isn’t how it’s supposed to work, is it? And he said no, it isn’t. Let’s go do a visit. So we went on our first site visit together and we—we asked lots and lots of questions about—about this and—and we told them that they really needed a formal proposal and we needed to get the 990’s and all the financial statements and, you know, where does their money come from and what percentage of their money comes from the federal Red Cross and what comes from local and—and what percentage is designated for administrative and what is designated for disasters. And we found out that the disaster fund literally is funded by the National Red Cross and—and all of this stuff that you hear when we have major floods is—is not—is not necessarily needed at the local level because that’s covered at—at the federal level.
DT: Well, let’s resume in talking about how grant making, grant applying, or proposal filing, has changed at the Endowment?
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AH: Okay. Well, we—as I told you, we—we sort of got this bill and we went and did a site visit and—and got through and we came up after that, literally, we were all very new at this. I mean, things had not worked that way at Houston Endowment. It was sort of who you knew. And, in many cases, I think that’s still the way it is. It’s who you know. But when you get a professional staff in, you—you can be more objective. And so, we came up—the three of us, the five of us, really—came up with some grant guidelines and we used other foundations, other professionally run foundations for those grant guidelines. And—and so came up with—with a—some guidance for our grant seekers. And, you know, you can’t blame them; that’s the way it had been done. And we—we didn’t even ask for reporting. We just gave grants and it—it was not a big thing
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for the Endowment at that time because Mister Creekmore literally had to dispose of Mister Jones’ assets. You know, we were—we owned—we owned property, we owned buildings, we owned businesses, we owned the Houston Chronicle. Houston Endowment owned a lot of things and when the tax laws changed in 1968, it—we had to dispose of those. And so Mister Creekmore was very busy disposing of the businesses and not very involved in grant making. And so, it was a—sort of a rubberstamp thing. I mean, he—he gave to the same groups over and over and then he would realize that he didn’t have enough—he hadn’t given away enough that year and so that’s when we started making endowed scholarships to all these little private colleges all over because that was an easy way for Endowment to get rid of a—big chunks of money. We were giving 5—100,000 to each school and I think there were 27 of them. Not asking for any reporting at all on how those funds were used. The only thing we requested was that it be put in endowment
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for scholarships. So one of my first duties—and actually, I took it upon myself because I was concerned that there would—had been no reporting. I was to visit every one of those 27 private universities and so I went around—and it gave me a great opportunity to see the state. I got to go way out west Texas and down into south Texas and up into east Texas and visit all these little private colleges whose—mainly religious based colleges. And so, that—it—it—that was a great experience to be able to travel and see the countryside, see the—and meet the people that were involved in these little schools. So that’s how I started sort of working on higher education and—and getting reporting institutionalized there and getting grant guidelines institutionalized and—and giving people s—something to go by when they—when they make a request. And we used—again, we—we consulted with other foundations. Meadows, being the main one in Texas. We used Meadows a lot to—to help us through this because they had—they had
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been through it and—and were very professional at the time. So I worked on higher education, I guess, until probably 19—I’ll say ’97, ’98. And as I moved along, I decided—I think, David, at this point—and he’s responsible for assigning all the grants—realized that I was very involved in parks and open space and nature and environment and—and he began assigning me those grants that came in, as they trickled in. And I got word out that we would look at—at—at things for people that I knew in the conservation area. And so we began making more and more as we moved along and I never wanted to—I never wanted to overstep my bounds, so to speak. I want—they were always pretty modest grants. I—I’d say 100—200,000 were the top at that point. And then in ’97, we hired another grant officer, George Granger, who came in as a—as a professional from the higher education area and so he took over higher education. And that left me with—with the environment and conservation, public-private partnerships and—the—also the
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public-private partnership thing got to be a bigger and bigger and bigger as we moved through with the City of Houston. The City of Houston was asking us to help them with, oh, things like the Cotswall Project downtown, which is a revitalization of downtown. More and more of those kinds of grant requests were coming through and there’s a—there’s a sort of balance there, too, because you—you want your grants to be…
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AH: The public-private partnership grants started to come in and—and the one I remember most was—there was one called Renaissance Houston and it was to put more green space into the Fourth Ward and, as you know, the Fourth Ward has been extremely controversial. Fourth Ward contains Freedman’s Town, which is the oldest African American community in the city and it was basically started by freed slaves. And we had a gentleman come talk to us about Renaissance Houston, which is—was a group that was started to, sort of, gentrify that whole area and wanted us to buy green space for that area. And—and yet, he could not tell us where the green space was going to be. He just wanted us to give a grant of, I believe, he—they were asking for about 750,000 dollars to buy four blocks within the Fourth Ward, but didn’t tell us what four blocks. And so, that’s—you know, we’re not going to do that. We’ve got to know where the land is and—and who owns the land and how much is the land valued at and—and we’re just not going to hand over that kind of money to somebody without knowing more of the details.
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So that’s what I’m talking about, public-private partnerships. Who does it benefit? And that is very important to understand that the monies that we’re giving away are—are literally charitable dollars and it—it has to benefit the greater public, not small, privately owned groups. And so that’s what you have to look at in public-private partnerships. Who—who is the beneficiary? Is it the public or is it a real estate developer? And—and—and is it going to enhance—is it going han—enhance the private sector, is it going to enhance the public? So that’s the—that’s—that’s the balance that you have to really understand and look for in these public-private partnership. Parks are easy because they are public parks. Some of the grants, I’ll be very honest with you, some of the grants that we’ve given to Nature Conservancy have been of a concern to our administrator—administration and some of our board members because they are privately held and the public is—is forbidden to go on them unless invited. And so they—they look at those very carefully. And I’ve made the case that—that these are very pristine lands and that they need to be protected from human damage and they need to be protected for research
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values and—and for science—scientific reasons. And so that seems to have satisfied some of the board members that—that—that we can make some of our grants that will be held in—in private hand—or nonprofit hands, let me say. Not—not private, but nonprofit. So that—that they’re there for the critters, so to speak, and not for human consumption. But you—you have to ask that question and—and our board changes all the time and we have a—we have new board members now and we’re—we’re looking carefully at—at some of—some of the nuances of this new board and how they’re going to look at things and we have—we have issues now with regard to what the needs are. With the federal funding cuts, we’ve gotten to see a lot more human service needs and so, I worry a little about—about the grants in conservation and is that going to be of high priority? And—and literally was asked this last year to kind of prioritize some of my grants in—because of that and should we be, you know, do we—it’s hard. You have to balance. Is it—who is more important? Habitat for park—for wildlife or starving
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people? And, you know, one of the first things that I was taught when I went in to Houston Endowment was by a very wise man named Marshall Wells, who was—I was so happy I was able to work under him for—for two years because he was so wise. And he said to me don’t ever try to compare, Ann. Don’t ever try to compare an art museum to a public park. It’s—it’s impossible. You can’t do it. And so I remembered that and—and that kind of keeps me focused on what I have to do is to convince my board and my—and my boss that—that this is important for the future and for the public good. And so, we, I guess, need to get back to—to some—kind of how I evolved into this conservation program area. And I would call myself now the—the program officer for conservation, environment, public-private partnerships and some historic preservation, although I’m even getting away from that. If it’s on public land, for instance, if it’s a—if it’s a house
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on a—in a public park, then I’ll work on it. But it’s pure historic preservation of a—of a movie theatre, for instance, that goes to the grant officer that’s in charge of arts and culture. So—so I’ve really worked myself into the position that I wanted all along, which is to be able to make it possible for conservationists to do their work easier and provide them with the resources that is necessary to continue what I think is one of the most important things that Texas needs right now. And that’s—that’s open space and—and clean air and clear water and plentiful recreational facilities for the future Texans.
DT: Can you give us some examples of grants that you’ve made over the years for, say, air quality or parks or water quality, water supply?
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AH: Well, the—one—the one I’m proudest—my proudest grant was, because it tied everything together for me, was—was the grant that we made for the Texas Living Waters initiative. And that tied it together because, I guess—I guess it really started back in 1995, when—when Environmental Defense and—and Texas Center for Policy Studies and a couple of other nonprofit, but national organizations—statewide organizations came to us and said, you know, there’s just not enough money going into environment and conservation in Texas. And Houston Endowment really is the only one that’s doing it with big bucks. And so, what—what would you think of us having a na—statewide conference for grant makers? And so we—we hosted, along with the—several others a—a statewide conference on environmental grant making. And—and Environmental Defense brought in Teresa Heinz, who is the Heinz Foundation. And it was in Houston, here at the Warwick Hotel. And she came. Andy Sansom came. He was, at that time, Parks and Wildlife Director. And we had about, oh, gosh, I guess at least 30 to 40 grant- making organizations come and listen and I think—I think things really began to turn
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around there because that’s when we created—afterwards, we all agreed. And—and it was—doesn’t—wasn’t just the grant makers, but it was the grant seekers sort of came together and all agreed that we needed to form a—an organization that we could keep ourselves up to date on what was—what were the issues out there, with regard to—to the environment and—and meet and meet quarterly and talk about the issues and share information with one another. And I think that’s the magic. It came together as Texas Environmental Grantmakers Group, as you well know, and we’ve continued to meet, what, now for six, seven years. Seven years, I guess. And—and because of that organization, one of the issues—well, that organization ended up bringing the National En—Environmental Grantmakers Association to Texas, here to Houston. As we said, we were going to bring them to the belly of the beast, which we did. The petrochemical
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capital of the world and I do think they had their eyes opened because they get to do—at—go down and see the ship channel and visit some of the refineries and see what was going on with the energy sector here in Houston. And so that was important for them to—to—to see and those were national grant makers. So they understood that Texas was a different sort of a place, but that we were involved in environment and so Texas Ag brought that group to Texas and then after that, we continued to meet. And realized—well, at that—at that big conference that we had here in Houston, I was able to – I was asked and did give a plenary session—a speech at a plenary session called Your Hopes and Fears of the Future. And I—I thought about that a lot and it took me a long time to put my thoughts together on that and I came up with the two issues that I think are—and still do think—are the most important issues facing Texas today. And that’s population in growth and water issues. And so, I spoke about that and my hope—those were my
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fears, that—that we wouldn’t have enough water in the state to continue to replenish our streams and our bays, which are very beautiful. One of my favorite places to visit is—is the bay in the upper Texas coast. I think it’s gorgeous. I mean, the migrating birds and it’s just a beautiful place and so I gave that talk and then afterwards we continued to meet as a—as a grant making group. And sometimes you get 12 people there and to—other times you get 25 or 30, but we always meet and talk about issues. Well, one of the issues that we began to discuss really in depth was water. And National Wildlife Federation came and gave a talk to us in San Antonio. We met at the HEB [Groceries] Headquarters in San Antonio. It was a wonderful session. And at that meeting, some of us just asked what would it take for—what—what can foundations do to make a difference in the water policy of the future? And because, at that time, we had passed Senate Bill 1, which was
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the water planning for the next 50, 100 years in Texas because we’d had this horrible drought. And there were water—regional water groups put together. And one of the—one of the issues that NWF was talking about that day was that all these groups have been put together, but that there were nobo—there was nobody on them that really represented the environment and conservation. Because, although they were mandated to do so, most of those water groups had been taken over by water developers, dam builders and pipeline builders and engineering firms and that sort of thing. So we asked the question, what can we do to get involved? And they said well, at—we caught them totally off guard. They weren’t sure what they could do, but they said they’d get back to us in two weeks. And—and they did and what they did was not just come in as one organization, but came in as four organizations, which really impressed us. It—it impressed the—the ability for environmental groups to work together in this state is so important. So important. And they all do. What—if they’re based in Austin, I think the national groups
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that are based in Austin really make an effort to work together, so it was—it was not just National Wildlife Federation, but it was the Texas Center for Policy Studies, it was the Lone Star chapter of the Sierra Club and it was the Environmental Defense and they all came to us together and said here’s what—here’s what we need to make a difference in water policy for the future. And sustainable water polits—policy. In other words, keeping wa—water in the streams so that those streams get to the bays and those ba—bays continue to be fed. And we bought into it. We—it wa—it made all the sense in the world and it wasn’t a lot of money. It was—it was, I think, 3 million dollars or something and they asked us for 1.5 million and we did that. We gave them 500,000 a year over three years and they have really made a difference. And in—we also, at that time, encouraged the group to go to other foundations and they did. They went to
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Meadows and Meadows—I guess, a—not a lot of people know this, but foundations talk to one another a great deal and so we got calls from Meadows and—about this and we called them and—and said, you know, this is something that can make a difference in Texas for the next 100 years and maybe you need to think about being involved in it. And—and they did. They—they came up with—with a million dollars and then Brown Foundation, here in Houston, ended up coming in a little bit later, but they came in with 750,000 dollars. So—so it gave these four groups—and now it’s three groups, because the Texas Center for Policy Studies, the—the—the main characters that were involved from that organization decided that they’d go under Environmental Defense—and so it’s three organizations now really involved. And they’ve—they’ve done incredible work educating the public about the need for conservation of water, about the need to keep streams flowing to the bay. About—they have worked with those local, regional
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planning groups and they have really worked hard to get more conservationists and environmentalists involved in those groups. At one point, they even brought all those groups to Austin and had a weekend with them and—and talked to them and sort of did some training with them on how they can be more influential in—in their work at the regional level. They’ve had enormous amounts of conferences—local conferences, national—or statewide conferences. I just finished going to one that was put on by the Sierra Club here in Houston for the Southeast Region. It was absolutely wonderful. I—I—I heard from a man from Austin—we heard from a man from Austin who does leak detection. It was wonderful. They—they introduced him as having the best ears in Texas. He can hear when there’s a leak underground in a pipe and that’s where a lot of
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where we’re losing a lot of water in Texas because the pipes are leaking under—in our municipalities, in our urban centers. There’s—our—our infrastructure is getting very old and we’re losing tons of water underground that you don’t see. And so he goes around and finds these leaks and—and gets municipalities to fix them. That was, to me, is just fascinating. And so, we convinced the board and—and that happened because—it would—just came about in such a good way because, at that time, our board decided to have a retreat and we were asked, as staff, to bring what we thought were some initiatives to the table. And that’s when I took the water initiative to the table and that’s where a lot of questions got asked about how can we possibly make a difference in water policy in Texas. There were some real skeptics at the board level thinking, you know, this is so big, it cannot possibly—one foundation can’t possibly—possibly make a difference. And we were able to convince them that, yes, we could because it had to do—a lot of it had to
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do with water conservation and convincing the public that water was a finite resource and that just because we live in Houston, we have lots of rain and water, doesn’t mean they do out in west Texas and we all need to kind of pitch in together. And so, the board went along with that and I hope they will continue to because we’ve got another grant request from—from this group that’s going to the meeting here in another three, four weeks. So that’s one of the proudest grants that I’ve made and some of the background on it.
DT: Can you tell us about another—and maybe the largest grant that’ll take the environmental program for Neches Bottom?
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AH: Yes, yes. Well, that happened this last April. It was scheduled for the March agenda. The—I worked—well, let me put it this way. I went to a conference in Austin back in January and it was for looking at how we’re going to fund public open space in—in Texas. And it was put on by the Texas Coalition for Conservation. George Bristol’s group. And they had legislators there and they brought in people from other states, talking about how, sort of, creative ways to finance acquisition of parks and open space. And, at that meeting was—were some national representatives from the Conservation Fund and we had worked with the Conservation Fund here in Texas for several years. As a matter of fact, we gave the first money to s—seed their state office. And—but we’d never given them a large amount of money for land acquisition. We had given them, you know, 150—200,000 dollars to—for program support, to keep their operations going. And that’s sort of the evolution is—that’s how we started—got started in this—in this
conservation movement is we started funding national organizations to get groups started in Texas and helping in that way. We felt like that was one of the best ways—best uses of our money is to get—get it started and get it moving statewide. So we met with the head of the—of the Conservation Fund at that—at that conference in January and they began to tell us about this tract of land up in east Texas on the Middle Neches River that was 33,000 acres. And, at that point, I thought, oh boy, that’s a stretch. That’s really a stretch. That’s a long way from Houston and it’s just pure land acquisition. Well, it ended up it wasn’t pure land acquisition. It ended up that it—that it is—it is going to create a mitigation fund that, hopefully, will be used in future years to buy more land within the region and, hopefully, statewide. So—so they came in for five million dollars, which was a huge grant. It was the first grant that I’d gotten from—from a major national environmental group that was that big. And so we—we looked at it and
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researched and had lots of talks back and forth and decided that—that we’d recommend it—a three million dollar grant. Well, it went onto the March agenda and it was tabled. I—I will never, ever, ever leave town again when my board meets and I have a large grant on the table, but I had already scheduled a vacation with my family in Florida. It just so happened that that grant was on the table on the day that I was with my family in Florida and—and the board because tabled it because they wanted to talk to me personally about it. So they tabled it to April and—and asked me at that same time—because we had—we had given a grant back in January to the Austin group, the—for the—I can’t think of the name of it, David. Help me.
AH: We had made a grant back in January to the Texas Coalition—what—what’s it called, George Cofer’s group?
DT: Texas Coalition for Conservation?
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AH: Is that it? For the—for the—for the land—there was a large farm up there above Barton Springs where we were helping them with protecting that water supply. And, anyway, we made—made a 750,000 grant to that. And my board was a little nervous with—with these large grants coming down for land acquisition. After the 750,000 dollar one, I think we might have given something for another acquisition that was fairly large. And we had already made some large land acquisition grants for the Buffalo Bayou Partnership in Houston. And that’s closer to home and they like grants—big grants being closer to home, so to speak, Houston.
DT: Let me make you a correction. I think that the grant you’re thinking of was for George Cofer’s group, Hill Country Conservancy.
AH: It was the Hill Country Conservancy, I’m sorry. Yes, it was the Hill Country Conservancy for the—what’s the name of the ranch?
DT: Strong Land?
AH: No. Strong.
DT: Storm.
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AH: Storm Ranch. That’s right. For the Storm Ranch. And so, the board was getting a little—and mind you, we have some new board members, too. So they weren’t quite used to—to looking at these grants. And we had a—had a new chair and a—and a new—a new board member and so the dynamics of the board had changed somewhat from—from 2002 to 2003. So when the three million dollar grant hit the—hit the board, they—they thought who is this person that’s spending all our money. So they tabled it and said they wanted to talk to me. Well, when I got back, not only did they want to talk to me, they wanted me to figure out, okay, how much had we given over the last five years and how much were I—was I planning to give for the rest of this year. And I didn’t know because I didn’t know what—we take them as they come over the transom, so to speak.
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And so, I didn’t know how much. But I guessed—I did a lot of guessing and some of the guesses were right on and others weren’t. I knew the Texas water people were coming back in, the Water—Texas Living Waters Initiative. They were coming back in, so I guessed on that one. And I guessed on one that had to do with air quality and—and I’ll get to that in a minute. But anyway, so we put together these charts, figuring out how much we had given and how much we were planning to give. Well, interestingly enough, it gave me a great opportunity to find out how—how high—how much we’ve come over the last five years. And we’ve moved from giving about six percent of our grants all the way up to eight percent and, as I say to my boss, when we get into ten percent, maybe then, I’ll retire. I do want to see us give at least ten percent of our monies toward conservation. We give away 76 million dollars—around 70 million dollars a year and—and I don’t think that’s much to ask for what I feel is very important for the future of
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Texas. So anyway, I made the case for the Middle Neches, after making many more calls, and it was one of the hardest summaries I’ve ever had to put together because it—it is—it was a very complex acquisition. It re—it involved a timber company because they’re going to continue to—to cut timber on it, but they’re going to do it in a sustainable way. It involved anot—other foundations, so it invol—volved the private sector, it involved the—the—in—industry. And so, there were lots of footnotes. There were like fourteen footnotes in this summary because we like to keep our summaries as concise as we possibly can. So we ended up—we got it. We got it. We got two million for this year and another million for next year and—and we helped buy the Middle Neches, 33,000 acres that connects to National Forest. And—and it’s, I’m told, one of the most important pristine habitats left in Texas. So I’m very proud of that—of that grant. And that’s the largest grant we’ve given in the—in—to date to the environmental movement.
DT: Have you managed to visit there?
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AH: I have not managed to visit there. I’d like to. The end of this month, I’m headed toward east Texas and I want to see if I can get over there and—and visit. I really do. I’m—I’m sad that—you know, and that’s—that’s really a mistake on my part. I should’ve gone up there and visited that—that place. But my health—there were some health issues and it hadn’t been great and I’ve had to take pretty good care of myself, so—so I’m not doing as many site visits as I once did, but I—I’m planning to go up there and see it. I am.
DT: Earlier, you touched on air quality issues.
AH: Right.
DT: Did you want to mention anything about that?
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AH: Well, we thought—we thought we wouldn’t get involved in air quality issues in Houston because we thought that—that it was being handled by HGAC—the Houston-Galveston Area Council, by some other organizations. HARK had—had done some work on it. HARK is Houston Advanced Research Center. There were others. The Greater Houston—the Greater Houston Partnership was involved in it. So we—we decided maybe we wouldn’t—wouldn’t tackle it, but I—you know, we work on the 64th floor of the Chase Tower, so you can see the air up there. You can literally see the air and you can see smog lines and you can sometimes see the monument, the San Jacinto Monument, and then there are days when you can’t see the ship channel. I mean, it’s really bad. And so, we began to talk to some—some folks that are just on the ground, air quality people like Galveston-Houston Area Smog Prevention group; GHASP, they call themselves. And Mothers for Clean Air and—and Environmental Defense is doing some air quality stuff in Houston and see if we could sort of bring together a coalition of groups like we did with the Texas Living Waters Initiatives. And that hadn’t been easy.
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I don’t know—it just—the groups—it’s such a complex issue. I mean, water’s complex, but air quality is really complex because you’ve got ozone and NOx and fine particulate matter and I’m just learning all of this. And—and so we couldn’t quite get the groups to—to gel and what we wanted to do was a public media kind of a thing and—like we did with Texas Living Waters, where, you know, we’d get the attention of the editorial boards and maybe even—maybe get smog and—and air quality put on the evening weather. Every night, have the weather people talk about what the smog is like or going to be tomorrow or that sort of thing so people will know whether they can let their children out to play. I mean, it gets to that point sometimes, where literally, there are warnings out where you’re not supposed to let your children out into the—into the outside. They have to stay inside, it—and that’s terrible. So—but it—it—so far, it hasn’t
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happened and—so what we do is we still continue to give little, small operating program support grants to these small organizations. And—and that’s okay, too. I mean, you can do it both ways and if that’s what they need. What we—what we really want to do is—is—initiatives are hard because they take a lot of our time. I mean, you really have to monitor them fairly carefully unless you have an en—normous amount of trust for the organizations and, for the Texas Living Waters thing, I have an enormous amount of trust. But, there’s another one that I’ve got involved in this year called Blueprint Houston and it doesn’t really have to do with—with—with conservation, but it has to do with quality of life. And—and it’s a big grant and—and it has to do with comprehensive planning in Houston. And—and so, I got very involved in that because it was a—it was a large—well, it was 350,000 dollar grant, but it was a big, risky grant, n—not knowing whether it was going to work or not. And so I stayed very involved on a weekly basis
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with that one. And so, to do too many initiatives, you just—you burn yourself out. So, if the air quality thing continues through program support for small groups, that’s—that’s okay. That’s okay. We want to give grantees what they need most and—and we—if they need program support most, then that’s what we want to do. We try not to get too involved in the management of the organization. You know, and—and telling people what to do with our money. I mean, there’s an enormous amount of trust that has to be made in these relationships. And we’ve been stung. I mean, we’ve been stung. We’ve given grants to organizations that say they’re going to start a project and the project doesn’t start and—and they sit on our money and we don’t like that very much because we’d rather have our money invested in a large pot that can draw more interest than having them sit on our money. So nowadays, we—if it’s for a land acquisition, we say
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we’ll give them the money, provided closing is imminent, that sort of thing. Of provided construction had commenced. In other words, if we give a grant for a building, we don’t give it until the building gets to be—ready to be built. That’s just common sense, I think, and wanting to hang onto our money until we really have to give it away.
DT: Let’s talk about one of your other grant making hats that you wear as the vice-president of the Jacob and Therese Hershey Foundation, I believe that is, which is a small foundation, but one that’s almost exclusively focused on environmental giving.
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AH: Right, right. Well, that was a—a joyful day in my life when Jake and Terry asked me to join their board. It—it is a small foundation, has about 3 ½ million in assets, will give away about 150-200,000 dollars a year. Mainly small grants, but small grants to very important organizations, mainly in Texas. It’s—it’s—it’s so different than what I do at Endowment because the—the amounts of money are so—there’s such a—a difference in the amounts of money, but it—it’s still an incredibly important organization and m—Mister Hershey, unfortunately, passed away in 2000, but Terry is still very much with us and still very much in control. And she is a force to be reckoned with, as you know, and just a wonderful individual and a mentor of mine. I mean, she was one of the first persons I met when I came to Houston and—and I admire her and respect her tremendously. And so, it’s her foundation and we kind of go along with her and—in what she wants to do. And she likes to give lots of grants to lots of different
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organizations then. She had about, I think, between six and ten favorite organizations that she gives to, that I know about very well because we also give to them in Houston Endowment. But she—she loves to be a part of a—of the larger picture and—and so we—we have as long of meetings as—as the Houston Endowment does because she’s very serious about it. We—we—all of these grants come up twice a year and the lists are very long. I mean, in excess of 100 organizations and we talk about all of them. And she has also made me head of the grant review committee and so I—I have a committee meeting before our board meetings and we talk about whether or not those grants fit under the umbrella—under the meaning of the—of the mission of the organization. And decide whether or not they do and decided which ones, you know, might be a little more important than others with regard to our mission, but we don’t make—we don’t make recommendations. The board meets as a whole to do that. And it’s a—it’s a wonderful thing for me because of the Hershey family. There are still members of the Hershey family there on it. Jake’s grandson, Jeffrey, is on the board and he’s a wonderful young
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man who works for Texas Parks and Wildlife and he brings a—incredible information to us about what’s going on at Parks and Wildlife in Texas. And, of course, Terry travels all the time and all over the place and she knows a lot. Olive is Jake’s daughter and she’s on the board and she brings to us a sort of a literary flavor to the board. And so, we have, what, three outsiders and three sort of family members, I would say, and it’s a—it’s an interesting mix of people. There’s some interesting dynamics that go on and I’ve enjoyed it very much and it will grow because of the—the Hershey’s have decided that they want to leave it in perpetuity and they have left some of their land holdings to the foundation after—after they’re gone. So it will become an—a large—larger foundation in years to come. And it’s been very rewarding. And some of it’s been kind of hard, too. There’s family—as you probably know, there’s family dynamics that go on that—families don’t always agree with one another and so there’s that—that area to look at as well. And it’s been an interesting exercise. I’ve enjoyed it very much. And it’s—it allows me to sort of provide some skill and expertise that I’ve learned over the years. If you send endowment to a smaller organization…..
DT: You mentioned that Terry Hershey is one of the people that you hold in high regard. I was wondering if you could describe who are the heroes and mentors that you have had as a grownup.
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AH: Well, I—I started by talking about my mother. She’s definitely one of them. I mean, she—she really imbued in me a sense of—of a love of the outdoors and of nature and of critters and wildlife, birds. We—we spent many, many wonderful summers going camping in a Woody, in one of those wooden station wagons, to the Great Smokey Mountain, to Sequoia, to the National Parks. I mean, that’s what we did when—when we were growing up in the—in the early 50’s. And camping trips with my fa—family were just so special and that’s really—those—my mother and father were mentors. My grandparents, to a certain degree. Terry, definitely, my biggest mentor in Texas. In—in Colorado, I guess you’d have to say it was Governor Lamm. I mean, he really was—cared about the environment and I—I think, because of him, I became sort of an activist.
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And—and they’re—my other mentors are those people that are out there working day in and day out. I mean, I think about Molly Stevens at Environmental Defense and I remember something she said to me once. I was always using the word conservation and not environmental. A conservationist instead of environmentalist. And just straight out looked at me and said Ann, don’t ever be embarrassed about being an environmentalist. We need environmentalists and it’s—it’s a honor to be one. And I’ve—I’ve kept that in mind and—and I really appreciate people that’ll say things like that to me and—and be forthright with me. And I am proud to be an environmentalist. I’m very proud of it. That—it’s not easy being one in Houston, because we are such a development city and a can do city and a—and a city that wants to make money. And sometimes you can’t do that without destroying the earth and it’s—it’s hard. And I—I get discouraged and then I
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go meet the Mary Kelly’s and the Molly Stevens’ and the David Todd’s and the people out there that are just doing it everyday. And this project, I just can’t tell you how important this project is and, not because I’m being interviewed, but because of what you all have done with—with all of these people all over the state. It’s going to—it’s going to be an incredible, important tool for future environmentalists to be able to hear and listen to those who came before them. It—it’s just a stroke of genius that you’ve had to do this. I really mean that. And I’m really proud we’re a part of it.
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AH: I—I—I think the best thing that I could say to future conservationists and environmentalists is to be ever vigilant, especially now. What is happening now with the current administration is that they are turning back rules and regulations that have been made that are—that were meant to be—to have clean air, clean water, clear skies and—and some of these—timber in our forest, woods, our parks left pristine. And, unfortunately, we’ve got a crowd in there that—that are big business people and they want to turn that back. And I—and so, I think we—for the next, I would say, at least, decade, we need to really work carefully and watch carefully and make sure that those rules and regulations stay enforced, if we can. It’s not easy, because a lot of times, these things happen without public knowledge. And that really, really concerns me a great deal. But I also will tell you that involved in—in citizen initiatives and citizen
01:00:56 – 2274
participation issues, I see more—more just Joe Schmo citizens wanting to be involved because they are not—they feel like they have not had a voice in the public dialog. And this—this Blueprint Houston has brought that home to me very well. These people want a voice and we are, hopefully, going to give them a voice in planning what their communities can be like. And they want more trees. They want more parks. They want more open space. And so, I think the big thing to do is—is be advocates for citizen participation and for people speaking out to talk about the quality of life that they want for themselves and their families for the future. I mean, it’s really important and they—it’s no time to be shy. It is no time to be shy or diplomatic. It is time to speak out and say how they feel about the natural world.
DT: Thanks for speaking out. I appreciate it.
[End of reel 2274]
[End of interview with Ann Hamilton]