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Oak Hill’s old-timers tell tales about ‘good ‘ol days’

22 Feb

OakHillFour long-time residents of Oak Hill: James Wier, James White, Archie Enochs and his sister Linda Enochs, remember the golden days of Oak Hill long before the intersection of US HWY 290 and Texas HWY 71 became a snarl of traffic and noise.

James Wier

Seventy-three year-old James Wier and his wife, Carolyn, lived in Oak Hill for more than 20 years while he managed road construction crews for Travis County commissioner Johnny Voudouris and then for Ann Richards.

While the family raised their sons, Mike and David, near Granada Hills subdivision, Wier volunteered both for the Oak Hill Volunteer Fire Department and later for the Oak Hill Volunteer EMS Department.

He retired in 2003 and moved his family’s homestead to Buda. These days he likes to sit and to tell stories about the Oak Hill he remembers, dirt roads and ranchland that stretched for miles.

“Whenever we had to put in a road, we had to do our research to make sure it was a community road. We were not allowed to work on private roads. Back in the 1960s the roads were mostly dirt and residents were paying their taxes, but we couldn’t work on any road unless it was approved by the county,” Wier said.

“We don’t know the history of the area around us anymore. But we can still be neighborly and talk to people and take the time to find out what was here before us.”

When he worked for the county Wier often spent his afternoons either in the basement of the Travis County courthouse digging through survey maps, or out in the community trying to figure out which roads the county owned and which it did not.

“We would sit down and talk to some of the old people who had been living in Oak Hill all their lives. The more I researched, the more I enjoyed the old-timers telling their stories about Oak Hill,” Wier said.

Wier said the Mexican government awarded William Cannon a land grant to own the acres stretching from Williamson Creek to Slaughter Lane, known as Oak Springs in 1835. Soon afterwards, settlers discovered an endless supply of cedar trees and natural limestone in the area.

In the early 1880s, the Austin and Oatmanville Railway Company built six miles of rail to transport quarried limestone downtown to be used in building the foundation and inner walls of the Texas capitol, Wier said.

    The train tracks began at Oatman Quarry, once located at the intersection of William Cannon Street and US HWY 290 West followed a route northeast on Convict Hill where they intersected with the Missouri Pacific (MoPac) railroad.  The local train tracks remained in place from 1884 until 1888, until the company removed the rails.

Only a few of the old railroad mounds still exist in the neighborhood. Set off by chain link fencing, the mounds still remain visible today when looking just to the west along MoPac/Loop 1 South between William Cannon and Davis Lane, Wier said.

“A lot of people just drive by and don’t know what those mounds are,” Wier said.

Oak Springs, soon became known as Oatmanville, as the community grew up around the former site of Oatman Quarry, owned by Buster Thomas. Skeeter Hudson owned the land where the quarry sat. Partners Thomas and Hudson operated the quarry through the 1960s until developers began building homes in the subdivision.

Texas prisoners, worked long hours in the quarry without pay, chained at the ankles nightly in a large cave where Oak Hill Centre shopping center now stands, Wier said.

“There was a cave there where the prisoners stayed at night,” Wier said. “They had wooden bunk beds and straw mattresses. There was a big iron ring embedded in the wall and at night when the prisoners went to bed, the bosses would run a chain through all their leg irons and attached them to the ring in the wall, so they couldn’t get out of bed at night and escape.”

Wier said the prisoners used a “cow dip” style water trough about 4 feet wide by 6 feet deep and 15 feet long for bathing and cleaning their clothes once a week.

“That was used for the prisoners to take their weekly baths and to wash their clothes. The prisoners would go in on one end and they would be handed a bar of lye soap and they would take a bath and wash their clothes at the same time, before coming out on the other end. At the end, they would put their clothes back on,” Wier said.

“When they (Thomas and Hudson) built the shopping center, they dug out the cave. Today there is no cave, no trough; there’s nothing there now. That’s all gone. All that was excavated. Where that cave was located, developers probably cut back that rock 50 or 60 feet deep.”

Wier owns a few artifacts excavated from the site in the early 1970s: a wheelbarrow’s wheel believed to have been used at the quarry and oil-burning lanterns likely used in the prisoners’ cave.

“When Buster Thomas and them were doing the excavation up there by Convict Hill, we were friends,” Wier said. “Digging around through the rocks, rubble and all, we found these things. We found the lanterns that they had used because they didn’t have electricity. They used kerosene lanterns.”

Wier recalls in the old days often eating lunch at a few landmark restaurants that have since disappeared in the area.

The site of the old Convict Hill restaurant once operated by Ralph Moreland, stood directly across the street on the north side of William Cannon and US HWY 290 West.

On the south side of US HWY 290, today where a parking lot serves bus commuters for Capital Metro transportation, stood the former site of the Big Wheel Restaurant, near where McCarthy Lane ends. Adjacent to the restaurant once stood a Phillips 66 gas and service station owned by Richards Oil Company.

Curly Glosson operated the Circleville Inn at 9926 Circle Drive, just off Thomas Springs Road from 1972 until 1998.  The location afterwards served as Kelli’s Up-N-Smoke Bar and Grill before it closed in 2012.

Wier remembers the Circleville Inn was the last place locals or travelers could buy alcohol before heading west either to Spicewood on TX HWY 71or to Johnson City on US HWY 290 West.

Wier regularly showed up at the Oak Hill Downs racetrack Saturdays to race his car, he said.

Wier said at times 50 to 60 teenagers showed up with their cars to race on weekends.

“Any kid who thought he had a fast car or the ‘baddest’ car would run. They were mostly stock cars; a few of them were souped up old cars. They were mostly high school kids having a good time,” Wier said. “It was a straight line track – a traditional weekly drag race.”

Nearby, on Friday nights, more experienced drivers raced on what Wier called “the round arounds,” an adjacent oval track.

Wier recalls that Dick Polk operated Polk’s Feed Store near the arena until Hill sold his property and Polk moved his business across the street. There, in 1992 Polk sold Texas’ first scratch off lotto ticket to then Gov. Ann Richards.

Richards served as Wier’s boss as Travis County commissioner while he managed road construction for TXDoT. The previous incumbent county commissioner, Johnny Voudouris, hired Wier in 1970.

“At that time we only had 33 people working for county staff and we had 353 miles of county roads,” Wier said.

     Voudouris also promoted the construction of MoPac/Loop1 South and Texas state highway Loop 360 even though the majority of Oak Hill residents at the time did not support the plans, Wier said. Voudouris also supported plans to extend MoPac South all the way out to US HWY 290 West and past the “Y” in Oak Hill.

“The (original) plan was to spend only about $15 million to extend MoPac South out to U.S. 290 West past the ‘Y,’ but people didn’t want it,” Wier said. “TXDoT folks said ‘ok, we’ll put that money someplace else,’ and they did.”

Oak Hill at one time used to be called “Cedar Chopper Hill,” Wier said.

“Everybody out here either worked rock, or they sold cedar posts and wood stuff,” Wier said. “They were the nucleus of families that helped get everything going. They worked to clear the land of the cedar and they sold the cedar posts.”

Wier remembers meeting Joe Tanner while he still worked as a blacksmith, but before he had a short-cut street named after him that runs from William Cannon to US HWY 290 West across McCarthy Lane.

“I first met Mr. Tanner in the early 1960s when he was over 80 then,” Wier said. “Tanner was probably there at the turn of the century around 1900. His little building was located at the corner of Joe Tanner and US HWY 290.”

Wier said Tanner Blacksmith Shop remained open until Skeeter Hudson bought the property from Tanner in the early 1970s.

James White

Seventy-four year-old James White has spent most of his life living and working in Oak Hill, as a member of one of the area’s oldest founding families.

White’s great-great-great grandfather once owned the Lazy SL Ranch where Freescale Semiconductors now stands and the historic building today that houses Austin Pizza Garden, at 6266 HWY 290 West.

The building first served as a general store owned and operated by the former Texas Ranger James Andrew Patton, and his wife, Virginia Bishop, from 1879 until 1909.

J.A. Patton helped to change the local subdivision’s name from Oatmanville to Oak Hill and soon became known as the “unofficial mayor of Oak Hill.” He also became the area’s first postmaster, operating a small mail center from inside his store until the U.S. Postal Service began to offer rural delivery service.

In 1970 then Gov. Preston Smith dedicated the official Texas Historical Landmark at the personal request of James and Annetta White and their eldest daughter, Terri Rene White.

“Governor Smith had dinner with us the night before and it was the only night that I ever had dinner with the governor of Texas at the Fortress. He ate a T-bone steak and he took some barbecue with him back to the governor’s mansion,” White said. “The next day he dedicated the historical landmark.”

White’s recalls that his youngest daughter, Ginny White-Peacock, learned how to walk inside the historic building, when the family operated the Fortress restaurant, downstairs.

The Whites started leasing out the building in 1977 to several businesses including The Natural Gardner, owned by John Dromgoole.  Not long afterwards, The Natural Gardner relocated to its current location at 8648 Old Bee Caves Road.

Willie Nelson’s daughter, Lana Nelson, for a time also leased space inside the Patton building, naming her restaurant Cowboy’s Steak House.

“Willie Nelson performed there in the 1980s — right there where the fire place is located inside,” James White said. “Lana told me one day, ‘Daddy wants to buy this place,’ but I said I appreciated the offer, but I didn’t want to sell it; I wasn’t interested in selling it then and I’m still not.”

Several sandwich businesses moved in and out of the Patton building before the early 1990s when Austin Pizza Garden opened.

J.A. Patton donated an acre of his land to build Oak Hill’s first elementary school where Don’s Grass company stands today at 6240 HWY 290 West. Austin Independent School Disrict built a new J.A. Patton Elementary School, at 6001 Westcreek in 1985.  J.A. Patton’s great-great-great grandson, James Lamar White Peacock, currently attends kindergarten there. His mom, Ginny Peacock, is James White’s daughter and she and her husband, Mike Peacock, also manage the Broken Spoke.

In the lobby of the school, a picture of J.A. Patton, donated by James White, hangs.

In 2000, the Whites co-authored and self-published the book, They Came to Texas, written about the Patton, the White and the Campbell families of Oak Hill.

James White remembers that as a teenager, quite a few establishments earned reputations along US HWY 290 West where it met Texas State HWY 71 at the “Y” in Oak Hill. One of those places included, The Moose Head Tavern, where an actual moose head hung on one wall inside the bar, home to a large dance hall.

On Saturday nights Moose Head patrons could count on a fight. As the evenings drew long and serious drinking began at the Moose Head, James White said he learned how to keep away from trouble, if anyone threw a punch or a bottle.

White also recalls that he used to drive his 1959 hard top black and white Chevy onto the parking lot of the Sportsman’s Inn, then a dimly-lit, 30-by 50-foot wooden-shingled building along US HWY 290 West near the “Y” in Oak Hill.

The cover charge at the door of the Sportsman’s Inn on Saturday nights paid for a band to play.

After a few beers, White said he would look for the prettiest girl he could find in the place, to either dance a two-step, a waltz, or the Cotton-Eyed-Joe.

On one particular night in 1961, a pretty blonde-haired girl dancing in a red dress on the dance floor there, caught his eye.

“That girl turned out to be the love of my life and my wife, Annetta Wells,” James White said.

James White and Annetta Wells dated before he enlisted in the U.S. Army and he went overseas during the fall of 1961. He returned home Nov. 10, 1964, and opened the Broken Spoke. The two married on a Thursday, Sept. 15, 1966 and they held their wedding reception there. White celebrates his 75th birthday with a public party at the Broken Spoke April 12, and they will celebrate the Broken Spoke’s 50th anniversary Nov. 10.

“That’s an accomplishment. I’ll be 75 this year that the Broken Spoke turns 50. What I did was kinda’ create a place like some of the places that we used to go to when I was a kid,” James White said. “I looked out over a vast Texas landscape and there wasn’t another building in sight except for a mile down the road on the right, the Austin city limits sign.”

The Broken Spoke stands not only as a 50-year-old landmark in Austin, but represents decades of country music stars who have performed there over the years including: Bob Wills and the original Texas Playboys, Ernest Tubb, Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, Marcia Ball, Don Walser, George Strait, Ray Benson and the Asleep at the Wheel Band, Alvin Crow, Dale Watson, Bruce Robison, James Hand, Johnny Bush, Johnny Rodriguez, Rosie Flores and more.

Archie Enochs

At 68, Archie Enochs has lived his whole life in Oak Hill and he currently resides in the only house that still faces the highway at 6254 US HWY 290 West. He also sometimes works cattle on a ranch in San Angelo.

Traffic zooms by at speeds beyond 50 mph, just a few steps outside his front door daily, headed west towards Johnson City.

“I don’t have any problem with the traffic anymore than anyone else does. You kind of have to creep your way into the traffic from one signal to the next,” he said.

When he’s home in Oak Hill, he eats breakfast every morning at Jim’s restaurant across Texas HWY 71 or lunch daily at Austin Pizza Garden, his next door neighbor.

Archie Enochs remembers the former Big Wheel restaurant opening as the first 24-hours restaurant in Oak Hill.

“When it opened up, that was a lot of bright lights for Oak Hill. There was always a lot of activity there at the Big Wheel and it was a good place to get a get a cup of coffee,” Archie Enochs said.

He also helped to build Hart Field at the Oak Hill Little League Baseball fields at the corner of McCarthy and US HWY 290 West.

“I drove a dump truck. We cleared all the trees, piled up and burned them. We borrowed a front end loader and some other people brought some other equipment and we cleared out that area to build the ball field. When it opened, it didn’t have bleachers or a concession stand or anything like that. It was built up incrementally as funds became available,” Archie Enochs said.

  Linda Enochs

Archie Enochs’ younger sister, Linda Enochs, remembers as a young girl, buying soda pop and candy at Mrs. Martin’s Store where it operated out of the downstairs level of the Patton building.

She recalls that the upstairs of the Patton building served for years as the regular meeting place for Woodmen of the World organization.

“When I was little, Miss Martin lived in the back and ran that little store at the front of the building downstairs,” Linda Enochs said. “That’s were all of us kids went to buy a nickel Dr. Pepper and penny candy and things like that. I remember being old enough that Mom would send me for a loaf of bread and she would give me a quarter and I brought back 3 cents change.”

Linda Enochs also remembers that as a girl some of the top floor of the Patton building leased out apartments to private individuals.

She also remembers her maternal uncle, Archie Patton, operated three local racetracks nearby. He operated a horse racing track, an oval racetrack and a “straight away” track.

“I remember that little oval jalopy mud track for just old car racing, then he had a quarter mile drag track too,” Linda Enochs said. “Archie’s (Patton’s) idea was, if you had two things you needed to race ‘em – cars and horses. And he could sell beer while everyone was watching.”

Linda Enochs said the cars raced on the oval track well into the 1960s.

“The oval car track was hysterical – it was just a little oval with bank turns and they would just water that black dirt. It just made the greatest mud and the drivers would just spin their tires and throw mud into the air – it was wonderful,” she said.

Linda Enochs said she remembers the horse race track ran about three-tenths of a mile long.

“When I was little I would work the concession stand with my aunt. Of course, I couldn’t sell beer, but I could open the Dr. Peppers and make change,” she said.

The racetracks drew crowds of 200 or 300 people, who sat in stadium style seating.

She recalls that Archie Patton’s wife, Norenah Patton, until the 1970s ran the Oak Hill Steak House, just east of where the Shell Station stands at 8314 State HWY 71.

Linda Enochs also remembers Cecil Hill, a rancher, and his wife, Maxine, who kept a rodeo arena located near where Bank of America sits today at 5725 Highway 290 West. Hill allowed cowboys to rope steers and ride bulls there, but the place also served as a hangout for local children after school let out for the day.

“They built that arena and it was just a fun place to go. They held junior rodeos and Labor Day adult rodeo,” Linda Enochs said. “There was always something going on down there.”

The owners of a local feed store also looked after Oak Hill children after school, she said.

“I would just jump on my horse and ride up to my cousin, Bobby Miller’s and he and his sister would saddle their horses and away we’d go,” she said.

Linda Enochs, the daughter of Alvis “Buster” Enochs, said her father earned his nickname by being a bit of a cowboy in Oak Hill who broke horses and could rope them too.

She also loved riding horses at the former Patton Lazy SL Ranch in Oak Hill, where Freescale Semionductors Co. stands today at 6501 William Cannon. The Enochs knew Tanner well and they might have been some of his best customers.

“I used to ride my horse across 290. I know that’s hard to believe today. He was a big Sorrell horse with white stocking feet, so I called him ‘Socks,’” Linda Enochs said.

Buster Enochs’ wife, Erelene Enochs, worked at the Texas Public Service Company and drove into downtown daily. Linda Enochs recalls that it took her mother only seven minutes to drive from Oak Hill to Fourth and Congress streets daily.

Linda Enochs and her brother Archie Enochs tend to their ancestors’ graves inside Oak Hill Cemetery on Old Bee Caves Road, just a half mile off US HWY 290 West.

Her paternal great-great grandparents, James Maddison Patton and Sarah Jane Smithson-Patton, her great grandparents James “Jim” Andrew Patton and his wife, Virginia Bishop, and her grandparents Andrew Patton and his wife, Webster Grumbles-Patton, are buried there. Linda Enochs’ mother, Erelene Enochs also is buried there.

“It’s ours to take care of now,” Linda Enochs said. “On Mother’s Day we go out there to take flowers to Mom and all the grandmothers.”

Published in the Oak Hill Gazette

Girl Scout Cookie Sales 2014

22 Feb

GSCTXcookiesales    Troop 887 leader Nichol Lee and her 10-year-old daughter, Grace, will sell Girl Scout cookies faithfully at the front doors of several Oak Hill commercial businesses seven days a week for 37 days throughout January and February.

The Lees join nearly 80 other troops in the Oak Hill unit of the Girl Scouts of Central Texas (GSCTX) council who are selling cookies in front of local businesses like Randall’s, Torchy’s Tacos, Starbucks, Subway, and Walgreens.

The Girl Scouts sell whatever cookies they have on hand for immediate consumption from 3:30 until 8 p.m. weekdays and 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. weekends, come rain or shine. And they’ll sell cookies by cash, check, credit or debit card.

“I do it for the girls,” Lee said. “I was not a Girl Scout in the small town in Illinois where I grew up because Maroa didn’t have a troop; I was in 4-H, but I love Girl Scouts.”

For every box of cookies the girls sell, the GSCTX receives $3.60 and each troop earns .40 cents. Troop 887 plans to use the money raised from selling cookies to create support kits for children with cancer at Dell’s Children’s Hospital, Nichol Lee said. The kits will also help them earn their Bronze Awards in Girl Scouts.

“Even if you don’t want any cookies, you can help us support kids who have cancer,” said Grace Lee.

Troop 887 member Sydney Dean, 10, pitched her own sales agenda.

“The money goes to kids who have cancer and you can help us support them,” Dean said.

Both Grace Lee and Dean hope to support Dell’s Children’s Hospital patients by making knit caps out of T-shirt material for kids who have lost their hair due to chemotherapy treatments. They plan to give the caps to pre-teen child cancer patients along with a special support kit complete with books, crayons, pencils, note pads, and Rainbow Loom kits. For younger patients, they would like to give the caps along with My Little Pony color books, action figures, and Matchbox Cars, they said.

“But before they can start that project to earn their Bronze Awards, they have to go on a journey to learn how to save energy in Austin,” Nichol Lee said.

At Kiker Elementary, the girls also hope to spend a couple of weeks teaching their peers the importance of turning off the lights at home when rooms are not in use.

In Oak Hill alone, 80 Girl Scout troops including 622 girls sold 68,939 boxes of cookies last year.  This year, the neighborhood troops ordered 49,968 boxes, said product program manager Sierra Fernandes of GSCTX, which stretches from Stephenville to San Marcos.

Girl Scouts from six local elementaries including: Kiker, Mills, Baldwin, Clayton, Oak Hill and Patton, along with Gorzycki and Small middle schools, and James Bowie High School will sell cookies until they are all gone.

For as long as they last, six types of cookies will be offered in Oak Hill, including: the overall universal favorite Thin Mints, as well as Tagalongs, Samoas, Do-si-dos, Trefoils and the new Savannah Smiles specialties. However, some may find the new cookie names confusing.

Four types of Girl Scout’s cookies share two names because different bakers – Little Brownie Bakers and ABC Bakers — produce them. Regardless of the names, the cookies look similar and taste familiar. While each box of Girl Scout cookies cost $4, not all cookies are equal, when it comes to calories.

The nationwide favorite, vegan Thin Mints have only one name and still remain coated in a layer of rich chocolaty confection; four cookies serve up 160 calories.

The Samoas represent the second most popular Girl Scout cookie camouflaged in a chewy slathering of caramel stripes on top of toasted coconut, also known as Carmel deLites.  However, just two Samoas amount to 150 calories. Two Tagalongs, or Peanut Butter Patties offer 130 calories with a layer of peanut butter hiding inside a chocolate-like shell.  The Shortbread cookies are also known as Trefoils; five cookies equal 160 calories per serving. Do-si-dos are also called Peanut Butter Sandwich; three cookies serve up 160 calories.

This year’s newest offering, Savannah Smiles, sell by only one name; five of the lemon cookies dusted in powdered sugar hold just 120 calories. The tart treat celebrates more than 100 years of Girl Scouts and the city where Juliette Gordon Low founded the Georgia organization in 1912. Last year, President Barack Obama posthumously awarded Low the Presidential Medal of Freedom to recognize her contributions to private and public civic service.

Service represents the foundation of the Girl Scouts organization, said Lois Garcia-Baab, director of marketing and communications for GSCTX.

“We’ve always been about service,” Garcia-Baab said. “For everything we do in Girl Scouts, service is a part of it.”

Patrons may donate to the Girl Scouts of Central Texas Council by buying a seventh box or “virtual cookies,” sold as part of the national program, “Operation Cookie,” Garcia-Baab said. For every box of virtual cookies sold, the Girl Scout council will drop ship any variety to United States military personnel stationed around the world, particularly in Iraq and Afghanistan. Other American military bases served include Kuwait, Africa and Honduras.

This year, when customers buy those virtual boxes, the cookies will be sent to soldiers overseas and GSCTX will cooperate with the F7 Group, a women’s veteran organization that provides care packages to female military members and their families. However, the F7 Group is not the sole beneficiary of the program, Garcia-Baab said.

The F7 Group also provides ongoing retreats and motivational boot camps as well as regular camaraderie for female military veterans. The fellowship helps women veterans deal both with depression and post traumatic stress syndrome that can accompany their discharge from active military service.

Veteran U.S. Army Sgt. Adria Garcia said she counts on the F7 Group for support daily.  Garcia was serving one tour of active duty on Sept. 11, 2004, when she and other members of her unit suffered severe injuries after being hit by shrapnel when mortar from enemy fire penetrated the perimeter of the U.S. Embassy in Bagdad.

Garcia became one of two from her unit to earn a Purple Heart that year, but after her military service ended she felt isolated and she would have ended up homeless had it not been for the help she received from the F7 Group.

“As women, we wear many hats; we take care of our families and we put ourselves last, but we also have dreams and we want to do things,” Garcia said.

“The Girl Scouts help to remind me that there are other people out there who need my help and to remind me to count my blessings. What I might be taking for granted someone else is praying for.”

Garcia, a 42-year-old old grandmother of two, said her both she and her daughter, Erika Manker, plan to become Girl Scout leaders. Garcia volunteered to help load boxes into cars for four hours at the GSCTX Mega Cookie Drop.

F7 Group CEO and founder Cassaundra Melgar-C’DeBaca also volunteered at the Mega Cookie Drop by loading boxes of cookies for the Girl Scouts at Freescale Jan. 11.

“Everybody on my leadership team in F7 Group is ‘of the cloth’ – either a veteran or a spouse of a veteran,” Melgar-C’DeBaca said. “There is a level of camaraderie and trust that comes from going through similar experiences and paths walked in the military. I don’t necessarily have to suffer a bomb attack like Adria Garcia, but we are all connected through friends and family by building relationships through the military.”

F7 Group celebrates its third birthday in Austin May 7, she said. For more information about F7 Group, go to:

“We (F7 Group members) just get back to being center. As we’re women, we’re always serving. That’s just who we are,” Melgar-C’DeBaca said. “As veterans, that’s exponentially so because by nature, we are all servants and givers. By nurture – by military training, sacrifice is what we are trained to do. Everything is about the mission. Someone’s life is on the line with those decisions. After serving in the military, women lose their identity because they no longer have that mission anymore. They don’t know their value anymore.”

Melgar-C’DeBaca said that she joined the Brownies as a youngster growing up in the 1970s at Fort Huachuca, Arizona, the daughter of a U.S. Army career officer. Today, she recognizes that a large number of female military veterans share a love for the Girl Scout organization.

“Many of our soldiers have served in Girl Scouts. Everyone on base was in scouts when I was growing up; that was just part of our culture,” Melgar-C’DeBaca said.

Helping others served as the primary motivation for Gabriella Castillo, a sophomore at San Juan Diego Catholic High School, who joined Brownies and Girl Scouts 11 years ago, she said.

“It’s important to help others and to work together,” Castillo said. “When we get together with friends, the work is just fun.”

Castillo together with her friend, Teresa Oreilla, also a sophomore, at St. Dominic Savio Catholic High School, are working to obtain their Gold Awards in Girl Scouts.

“Volunteering is fun,” Oreilla said. “It’s a lot of fun doing all of the activities we do, like the Mega Drop.”

In the early morning hours of Saturday Jan. 11 volunteers unloaded thousands of cases of confections from six semi trailer trucks onto the asphalt parking lot at Freescale Semiconductor Inc. in Oak Hill.

The GSCTX volunteers, dressed in goldenrod T-shirts that read “Mega Drop,” and created tall towers of cases of Girl Scout cookies three to four lanes wide with six stations each and distributed to a non-stop caravan of cars.

Others held clipboards and announced orders to fellow volunteers who loaded car trunks and truck flatbeds all day long in assembly line fashion, cheerfully without stopping for longer than moments at a time.  The women made easy work of the tasks at hand, despite the 15-20 mph winds, a heavy dusting of cedar pollen and chilly temperatures in the 50s.

This year’s Mega Cookie Drop for the Oak Hill service unit of GSCTX drew volunteers and carloads of people from all over Austin and adjacent subdivision.

“It’s a well-oiled machine. It’s pretty impressive,” said Michelle Gonzales, of Meridian subdivision and leader of Oak Hill’s Troop 258, volunteered at the mega drop for the first time as a loading leader.  She and her three daughters, Elise, 10, and Cara, 8, have sold cookies for the past six years. The youngest, Amy, at two and a half years old, just isn’t old enough yet.

“I love what Girl Scouts has taught my daughters – to be independent along with the camaraderie and adventure camps. Because of Girl Scouts, we’ve done things together we wouldn’t normally have done otherwise.”

Mary Henderson, of Troop 237, said she has served as a volunteer for the past 12 years at the Mega Cookie Drop.

Henderson’s daughter, Aidan, 14, has been a member of the Brownies or the Girl Scouts since she was in the first grade. Both Aidan and Kristen Loewe, also 14, earned their Bronze Awards together, said Loewe’s mom, Jan.

The GSCTX unit based in Austin serves about 14,000 girls in 46 counties with Brownwood, Bryan/College Station, Kileen, San Angelo, Stephenville, Temple and Waco.

The $700 million 2014 Girl Scout Cookie Program represents the largest girl-led sales event in the United States with more than 3.2 million girls and adult members. In addition to building confidence, the seasonal activity teaches the girls to make their own decisions, that their decisions count, and how to make change matter. For more information about GSCTX go to: or for more information about the Girl Scouts in general, go to: :

Published in the Oak Hill Gazette

‘Luminations’ light up Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

6 Dec

wfc_luminationsLady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at 4801 La Crosse Avenue will radiate a holiday glow for three hours each evening of Dec. 14 and 15 beginning at dusk as flickering flames from tiny votive or electric candles light 3,000 handmade lanterns.

“Luminations,” a free family-friendly annual event, benefits Capital Area Food Bank on both nights from 6 to 9 p.m. with a donation of two cans of food per person.

Early visitors may park in the center’s parking lot, or along La Crosse Avenue; turnover frequent occurs as guests come and go during the three-hour open house on both nights. Staff also will be available to offer parking assistance.

The lanterns made to look like paper sacks with the tops folded down are cast from plastic and each measure about 10 inches tall and 6 inches wide. The glowing lanterns, called luminarias in Spanish, represent a 300-year-old holiday tradition throughout the Southwest each December. The luminarias will light at ground level the walking pathways for visitors to the Wildflower Center.

Some of the Wildflower Center’s luminarias utilize tiny electric bulbs that feel cool to the touch. However, a warning to parents of small children, other lanterns on the grounds feature glass votive or fire-lit candles. The burning candles will be located at the front entrance of the Wildflower Center closest to La Crosse Avenue and will extend all the way into the courtyard.

The electric luminarias will be situated throughout the themed gardens to include: plants that attract butterflies, plants that prove good at repelling deer, and the cacti garden. Parents with small children and strollers are welcome; pets are prohibited.

“There’s definitely a safer element with the electric candles,” said Amanda Butterfield, events coordinator at the Wildflower Center. “Parents need to keep an eye on their kids and make sure they aren’t putting their hands inside of the fire lit candles, but other than that they should be fine if everyone stays on the paths.”

Beside the center’s cistern, a laser-lit tree and bushes will emit more than 5,000 points of light provided by the Christmas Light Pros. The lighted display draws large crowds of visitors every year. The lasers reflect outward and illuminate solid tiny green and white points of light against any surface, including skin. Because the lights do not disperse, visitors enjoy taking photos of their loved ones seemingly glowing green with an eerie and surreal star-like quality.

“It’s really beautiful. The kids and adults alike are filled with awe when they walk by. I think they are mystified about what it is and how it got there,” Butterfield said.

Butterfield said that visitors walking the paths around the laser-lit trees should avoid walking on the wild plants that grow nearby in the environmentally sensitive habitat. The gardens feature blue, violet, scarlet and gold blooms this time of year from Autumn Sage, Sky Blue Aster, Resinbush, Scarlet Sage, Sunflower Goldeneye, and American Beautyberry.

“The American Beautyberry is gorgeous. It’s like this beautiful purple lilac color. The blooms are these clumps of berries that grow together to form a 2- to 3-inch array of color,” Butterfield said.

    Together the lanterns, laser-lit trees and blooming plants provide a spectacular, one-of-kind visual bonanza of sights accompanied by the sounds of live musical performances by local musicians and choirs.

One of the musical performances will be provided by Southwest Austin’s own Bailey Middle School students who will perform at 7 p.m. Dec. 14. The beginning steel drum group made up of 19 students, will perform a variation of three songs: “Green Sleeves,” “Turtle Town,” and “Nah Going Home.” The students will dress in Hawaiian theme clothing and tie dye T-shirts.

Bailey’s steel band drum band has performed at the Wildflower Center before, but this will be the first time for one of its newest director’s. Alex Ortega, an assistant band director and steel drum director who teaches percussion and trumpet graduated last May from Texas State University in San Marcos with a degree in music education. This semester has been his first job teaching in Texas public schools.

“These are steel drums that are based out of the Caribbean Islands, so it gets you in the mood of being on the beach and relaxing in the sun. They are happy tunes that you would typically hear in the Caribbean,” Ortega said.

The second group of the advanced steel drum band is composed of 17 students who will perform nine songs including: “La Bamba,” “Sarah,” “Jump in the Line,” “Pyxis,” “Pan Christmas medley,” “Oye Como Va,” “Tre Pak” from the “Nutcracker Suite,” “Under the Sea,” from the movie “The Little Mermaid” and “Slaughter Lane,” an original song written by Austin composer Emily Lemmerman for James Bowie High School.

“It will be fun. The kids are really excited about it. We have some Christmas songs and some other songs that show off the songs of the Caribbean,” Ortega said.

Musical performances will be provided outdoors in one of two locations, either the courtyard or in the themed gardens:

Saturday, December 14 performances scheduled:

6 p.m.:                      Austin Mandolin Orchestra performs in the Courtyard

6:30 p.m.:                 Chalumeau Clarinet Quartet performs in the Themed Gardens

7 p.m.:                      Bailey Middle School Steel Drum Band performs in the Courtyard

7:30 p.m.:                 Daisy O’Connor performs in the Themed Gardens

8 p.m.:                      Eanes High School Choir performs in the Courtyard

8:15 p.m.:                 Fiddler Rebecca Patek performs in the Themed Gardens

Sunday, December 15 performances scheduled:

6 p.m.:                      Bossamania performs in the Courtyard

6:30 p.m.:                 Austin Banjo Club performs in the Themed Gardens

7 p.m.:                      Outside Voices, a Youth Choir, performs in the Courtyard

7:30 p.m.:                 Flute Mellifluent performs in the Themed Gardens

8 p.m.:                      The Brass Men performs in the Courtyard

8:15 p.m.:                 The Annie and Kate Band performs in the Themed Gardens

Outside seating on wooden benches will be provided and right off the courtyard, visitors may sit in tiny seats within the Little House during “story time.” Wildflower staff and volunteers will provide story time readings.

In addition to the beautiful holiday lighting and musical performances, children will receive a visit from “Frosty the Snowman.” They may also participate in arts and crafts activities inside the Wildflower Visitors’ Gallery. A snowflake-making craft has proved to be one of the most popular each year.

Lone Star Kettle Corn will also sell freshly popped goods at the entrance to the Courtyard.

The Wildflower Café will be open for business and will sell hot drinks like apple cider and cocoa as well as tasty baked goods. The McDermott Learning Center will display Christmas trees decorated with Texas and wildflower-themed ornaments by local businesses. Both Saturday and Sunday evenings, decorated trees in the MLC will be provided by Mockingbird Domestics, Ana Perkins of Grown Up Shoes, and Breed & Co.

The Wildflower Gift Store will also offer unique items for sale.  The store offers a lot of handmade and artisan gifts – everything from painted flower pots to hand crafted clothing to artisan jewelry and handmade holiday ornaments. Guests may sample Texas Yaupon Tea, the only native one to North America, made from a type of holly bush.

On both nights, local authors and illustrators will personally autograph copies of their works from 6 to 9 p.m. in the Wildflower Store. Saturday night, Alan C. Elliott and Stephanie Ford will sign their book, Willy the Texas Longhorn, a Santa Tale. The story  features a Longhorn who helps Santa navigate a nasty Texas fog one Christmas night.   On Sunday night illustrator Keith Graves will sign his book, Too Many Frogs, written by Sandy Asher. The story features a rabbit and a frog that also turn out to be a humorously odd couple of bookworms.

The festive event impacts the local community by raising charitable donations for a non-profit food bank that serves the entire state of Texas.

“Last year we raised 9,000 pounds of food,” Butterfield said. “We’ve been doing this at least six years. It’s a great way to give back to the community and to help support our hungry central Texas neighbors.”

The 9,000 pounds of food amounts to 7,500 meals, said Sara LeStrange, communications director for CAFB.

Currently the website for the food bank states that the organization serves about 48,000 central Texans each week. However, that number only reflects a portion of the actual people served weekly over the past year, LeStrange said.

“It is really hard to get a good measure about the number of people we serve. The National Hunger Study every four years details the number of people served by CAFB. We expect that number to be hirer when the study is released this next spring. We know that we have distributed over 29 million pounds of food over the last 12 months and that is up 7 million over the year before.”

CAFB is working hard to meet a growing need in Central Texas. Not only do events like Luminations raise food donations, but they raise overall awareness as well, she said.

“Over 40 percent of the people we serve are children and a majority of our clients are made up of families with at least one working adult, the elderly and the disabled. Something in Central Texas we don’t realize is that for a lot of us, hunger lives next door. Hunger is everywhere,” LeStrange said.

“With one in five Texans facing hunger, we do not need to look far. It’s a big issue and it’s hard because it is a big thing. But every meal counts; 7,500 meals may not seem like a lot when compared to the 29 million pounds distributed in the past year, but every one (meal) is important.”

The most-requested items at CAFB include:

  • canned meats like tuna, stew and chili (pop-tops preferred)
  • canned vegetables
  • pasta & pasta sauce
  • beans
  • healthy cereals
  • peanut butter

   What should I donate?

  • healthy, non-perishable food
  • items with intact, un-opened, consumer or commercial packaging
  • items with non-breakable packaging (no glass, please)
  • food within the expiration date on the packaging.

For more information, please see

Teen leads pilot emergency response program at Bowie in Austin

16 Oct

Jonathanand von Wupperfeld

For days after escaping severe flooding, an African American boy of six or seven wandered homeless inside the Austin Convention Center dressed only in a dirty T-shirt, a worn pair of jeans, and tennis shoes.

The image still haunts 16-year-old Jonathan DeLong, eight years after the two met following the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina over the Labor Day Weekend in 2005.

The unidentified child and some 4,000 victims of hurricane Katrina set up residence inside the Austin Convention Center. DeLong, though only nine years old at the time, responded by giving away his toys to the boy and other evacuated Louisiana children.

It’s an experience that inspires DeLong to this day; he currently trains with other South Austin teenagers to become first responders in future disasters.  He also serves as the youngest volunteer of the statewide task force, Texas Search and Rescue (TEXSAR.) DeLong also represents the only teen member of Region 6 – throughout Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Louisiana – to serve on the nationwide Youth Preparedness Council in Washington, D.C. at a summit meeting twice a year. DeLong will serve two years on the council formed last year by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA.)

Last July DeLong served three days on the national council in Washington D.C., meeting with FEMA and Homeland Security representatives to talk about strategies, initiatives and special projects that interest him.

One of his special projects includes the formation of a pilot program at James Bowie High School that trains teens to become potential first responders for everything from 911 types of emergencies to full-blown disasters throughout their community.

DeLong leads a teen Community Emergency Response Team (CERT,) program as an after school extra-curricular club, sponsored by Bowie physics teacher Patricia Dittmar.  The program is the first of its kind located in any of the schools within the Austin Independent School District, said John Gaete, AISD emergency management coordinator.

Teens enrolled in the CERT program may not respond to any on-campus critical incidents, but they may respond to emergencies and disasters off campus or within their neighborhoods and community. The program also intends to raise teen awareness of response readiness in the event of a disaster, critical incident or emergency situation.

“Jonathan DeLong is a unique individual serving on a national panel – the Youth Preparedness Council. It’s a pretty big deal,” said John Gaete, emergency management coordinator for Austin AISD. “He is impressive. I don’t think we could have chosen a better leader for CERT at Bowie.”

Jonathan DeLong felt inspired while tagging along with his mom, mental health  responder Laurie DeLong, while caring for people displaced by Katrina, who lived in the Austin Convention Center for weeks afterwards. He also acted an honorary member of the Austin Adult CERT program over the past seven years.

“I can still remember everything about that time in 2005 at the Convention Center. I remember the smell. Sometimes when I get a whiff of that smell or something bad in the trash, that smell brings back all those memories,” Jonathan DeLong said.

The smell was caused by the water and other elements that evacuees had to wade through to escape the storm and had permeated their clothing and parse belongings they brought with them from home. The scenes inside the convention center also assaulted his senses, he said.

“I had to walk through triage – (an area where medical service personnel determine the degree of emergency treatment needed for incoming patients based upon their injuries.) There were countless people. I looked to my left and saw nothing but cots and I looked to my right and saw nothing but more cots along with a projector screen hanging down where people got to see pictures of their houses destroyed. Everyone stood there watching and waiting to see what they had left – which wasn’t much – as the reports about the damage done by Katrina in Louisiana came in from CNN,” DeLong said.

“I used to carry inside my toys in my backpack. There were a lot of children my age or younger and I would give them my toys. It would help them to cope with what they were going through because there was someone else there who was their age and who understood what they were going through.”

His presence initially caused some hesitancy among TEXSAR first responders at the Austin Convention Center, he said.

“As long as I stayed with my mom and didn’t stray too far away, or try to take on things that I couldn’t, then it as all right,” he said.

“There were so many effects of Katrina that flowed into the emergency response world – conflicts and miscommunications existed within even the Austin Convention Center – and that multiplied tens of thousands of times over throughout the national community.  Looking back, I don’t how people were able to keep it together and work as a team, but they did.”

Jonathan DeLong said that he made a special long-lasting connection with another boy whom he met while spending a few hours every day over the span of several days volunteering after school with his mother, in the convention center helping the displaced.

“I also remember specifically this boy about my age, of a different ethnicity.  He always had on the same jeans, a T-shirt and tennis shoes. He looked like he had been taken care of by his parents. He stuck out because every day that I went down there to the convention center I saw him with his family. I would always sit down with him. We would talk. He was only about 6 or 7 years old – at that time he was my age and he had nothing. I gave him a lot of my toys – Hot Wheels cars and stuffed animals. I don’t remember so much of what we said, as much as just him. I became somewhat close to him and always talked to him a little bit longer than anybody else.”

Jonathan DeLong never learned his Louisiana friend’s name, nor did he ever learn where the boy went after his stay at the convention center.

“I went to see him that last day and he wasn’t there. I don’t know what happened to him. His cot wasn’t made. I never got to say ‘goodbye.’ For some reason, that has just stuck with me,” DeLong said. “I do think about him quite often. He forever changed me. I wish I could remember his name so that I could at least try to find him. He’s who got me interested in emergency response.”

He said that he also felt as a youngster that the team of adult first responders seemed out-numbered by the shear numbers of people with their dire needs inside the temporary hurricane shelter. He remembers the experience instilled in him a sense of duty and obligation for years afterwards to provide added support for future disasters.

“People would take bandages, medicines and supplies as they left the convention center. They would take anything of significance – food, drinks, and electronics with them. Other times, they had (contagious) diseases as they left the convention center; they left with the potential of spreading the diseases out in the community,” he said. “Responders had to think both of themselves and everybody else left inside.”

Years later, Jonathan DeLong said he felt a call to be a first responder to victims of a fire at Steiner Ranch that destroyed 50 homes and burned 125 acres in September 2011. He was attending classes at Bowie that day when he heard the news on a television inside  a journalism class.  He remembers feeling frustrated by having to wait for the school day to end before he could help CERT alongside of his mother. Though adult CERT  responders must be at least 18 years old to officially respond in an emergency, Jonathan DeLong accompanied his mother to provide food and water to first responders at the Steiner Ranch fire station.

“The first responders would come in shifts and they’d rehydrate. We offered any first aid that they needed before they went back out,” Laurie DeLong said. “At his age, there hasn’t been any problem with him (Jonathan) doing that.”

For the DeLongs, the pilot CERT program at Bowie represents the realization of their shared goal that began at the Austin Convention Center following Katrina six years ago.

Jonathan DeLong and about a half-dozen other teens currently enrolled in the program at Bowie, will help realize that goal when they complete 20 hours of after-school training in November. Students committed themselves to attending classes from 4:30 until 7 p.m. each Wednesday throughout the fall semester in order to earn their CERT certification.

During their final class they will gain first-hand experience by participating in disaster drill simulations from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m. Saturday Nov. 16 while training TEXSAR across the street from the Sunset Valley Police Department, Laurie DeLong said.

Austin’s TEXSAR group has opened another branch in Galveston; together the two groups provide search and rescue and recovery when requested, throughout the entire state, she said.

“They serve primarily all across the state, but they have gone out of state when requested,” she said. “We do a lot of body recovery too. When they (TEXSAR) don’t expect to find the person (who is reported missing) alive; those are the calls we (CERT) typically will go on with TEXSAR. We manage the commands for them.”

CERT teens will gain the increased awareness and readiness to help other adolescent victims of Central Texas disasters and large scale emergencies.

“John DeLong is a remarkable young man. His experience and knowledge make him a great advocate for Teen CERT,” said FEMA Region 6 Individual and Community Preparedness Specialist Bill Bischof. “We plan on connecting him with teens in all our Region 6 states so that he can encourage them to participate in Teen CERT.”

The Bowie teens who will become first responders, will fill a void, Jonathan DeLong said.

“Youth make up about 25 percent of the population in a disaster. Some of the problems that youths have to go through are different than they are for adults – we have school, we have lost girlfriends, a lot of times youths get really attached to their pets, their makeup, their hygiene products,” DeLong said.

“With guys, it’s their wallet, their keys, their car that they miss – because the car represents freedom at this stage in their lives. You know, when you get your wheels and the world feels like your own. It’s just a different array of problems and they deal with disasters differently when compared to adults.”

He said teenagers make the best CERT program trainees.

“Because they’re younger, they’re easier to train and their will is stronger. They will be able to carry what they learned here today, forward into the rest of their lives,” Jonathan DeLong said. “They’ll use these skills, even if they don’t stick with CERT or TEXSAR. They will be able to use these skills in other aspects of emergency readiness in their community.”

Jonathan DeLong also sympathizes with adult victims of disasters such as Hurricane Katrina.

“I met this really tall man who was in his late 20s. He had short hair and he was African American. He wore shorts and a white T-shirt and flip flops. He came up to my mom and I. We didn’t see him coming. He was extremely emotionally distressed. He was worried about the things that he to leave behind.  A lot of those people came to Austin on buses from the Louisiana coast. The buses were so crowded that the people couldn’t take a lot of things with them. He had lost everything. He didn’t know where the rest of his family was. He was crying. I could barely understand him because he was sobbing so hard,” he said.

“That’s when my mom told me ‘All right Jon, you’re going to have to stand back. This is something I have to deal with alone.’ She took the man away to talk to him and to get him help. I remember Mom taking him off. I watched them walk away and they rounded a corner. I didn’t know what happened to him after that. For some reason, that really stuck with me.”

At the time that she volunteered to help people displaced by Katrina, Laurie DeLong also worked as the director of Phoenix House for teenagers with substance abuse problems. Currently, she is employed by the Texas Department of State Health Services.

Another Bowie teenager, 17-year-old Patricia Van Sickles, said she wanted to join the CERT program because some day she would like to become a nurse for the United States Navy.

“I’m just trying to get into medical stuff and get myself ready for any situation I might be put into working as a nurse for the military,” Van Sickles said. “I want to go into the medical field and I want to be able to help people while I’m still young.”

Sixteen-year-old Hannah Konyecsni would like to study forensic science in college and the CERT program at Bowie prepares her for worst case scenarios.

“You never really know when something bad will happen. You have to be prepared for anything – especially with a lot of the (tragic) events going on in the world lately,” Konyecsni said. “Both of my parents are doctors and I’ve witnessed them stopping to render to aid in car crashes and I want to be able to help too.”

Students enrolled in the CERT program receive a textbook, Community Emergency Response Team, that includes unit goals, special topics, and public health considerations.

Mike von Wupperfeld, safety officer for the Austin Travis County EMS spoke to the Bowie CERT group Oct. 9. Von Wupperfeld presented an organized unit of training, complete with a Microsoft PowerPoint slide show, for the CERT trainees entitled “(Disaster) Medical Operations.” The training provides both student participants and others pertinent information about how to respond to critical incidents that occur within their neighborhoods and community.

Von Wupperfield showed the students how to apply medical gloves without touching contaminated any surfaces. He said that most medical gloves typically only last as long as six months when exposed to the Texas heat before they deteriorate so they are a maintenance item that needs checking. Furthermore, emergency responders should never use Latex gloves because so many people have allergies to them. He also demonstrated how to blow into the medical gloves to ensure their structural integrity. In disasters, responders may use buckets of diluted bleach or soap to wash their gloved hands often between patients as replacement gloves may be in short supply.

“When you go between patients we either clean our gloves using a liquid soap or change our gloves to avoid cross-contamination of the sick and injured,” Von Wupperfield said.

“After removing your gloves, you should wash your hands for as long as it takes to sing the song ‘Happy Birthday’ – 20 to 30 seconds. Soap and warm water works well; you don’t have to use anti-bacterial soap.  If you use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, don’t wash it off – let it air dry — alcohol kills the ‘bugs’ by the drying action.”

Before responding to a critical incident or disaster, emergency responders often place dust masks and goggles on their faces to keep liquids or debris from getting into their nose, mouth or eyes.

At the scene of an emergency, exercising caution as the best rule of thumb, he said.

“When you arrive at an emergency, assess the scene’s safety – using a windshield view as you’re driving up to it,” von Wupperfeld said. “Ask yourself ‘What do I see? Do I have the knowledge, the skills and equipment to help?’ before you respond.”

Initial evaluation involves a quick Simple Triage and Rapid Treatment (START) protocol that identifies those with immediate medical needs, delayed needs, minor needs, and the deceased. Performed quickly, START allows for the fast assessment of any number of casualties.

Next a responder should assess their patients with a secondary head-to-toe triage to further identify their needs. The assessment can start by asking victims at a scene “Can you tell me what happened, where you are, or who you are?” he said. At times, the injured suffer a rapid deterioration in their memory of what happened at a scene. A hands-on head-to-toe assessment follows.

“Look, listen, and feel,” von Wupperfeld said. “Look for medical identification an injuries in a head-to-toe assessment. Work from the head first down to the legs.”

Von Wupperfeld said that emergency responders likely will provide bags of color-coded tags that identify treatment priorities. Each tag will have bar codes on them to aid in tracking the patient from the scene of a critical incident to EMS and to the hospital.

He said the three top killers at the scene of any disaster are: airways obstruction, excessive bleeding and shock. He said the START Triage system remains the same for any emergency responder, including those who worked at Austin City Limits at Zilker Park during the first two weekends this October.

Von Wupperfeld also taught students how to assess victims of fire or severe chemical burns and taught them to apply bandages. When assessing a burn’s severity, responders use the size of the injured person’s palm to measure the percentage of the body burned; one person’s hand equals 1 percent.

He also said the depth of any burn may increase without immediate medical attention; he told the students never to apply ice to any type of burn, only water to cool it down. For someone under the age of 10 or older than 50, any type of burn requires immediate care based upon their expected rate of recovery. He showed the students how to apply sanitized gauze bandages to burns to hands.

Von Wupperfield also showed students how to apply splints for victims who have broken bones. Students practiced setting splints on one another and applied sling bandages to support them.

He also taught students how to look for signs of hypothermia, a condition that occurs when a person’s core body temperature drops below their normal 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit or somewhere between 98 to 100 degrees Fahrenheit as a result of exposure to cool or cold environmental conditions. He acknowledged that for some people, normal body temperature ranges slightly below 98 degree Fahrenheit.

“People with hypothermia are very irritable and may argue with you and tell you that they are fine,” Von Wupperfeld said. “They’re probably shivering severely; when they stop shivering it becomes a life-threatening emergency.”

Von Wupperfeld warned students about the dangers of using untreated or unfiltered water in an emergency.

“Before using any water, in a disaster, use proper water sanitation methods,” Von Wupperfeld said. “Boil it for several minutes and let it cool or treat the water using official water purification tablets, following package instructions. Be aware that the tablets don’t work instantly.”

He said water temperature and foreign material in the water affect how long the purification process takes. For those who can afford them, the camping style water purification systems take the guess-work out of purifying water for drinking and cooking.

One of the most dangerous health threats found in water at disaster sites or flooding scenes is often giardia – a microscopic parasitic organism that causes diarrhea illness and if untreated, possible death in infected humans and animals, he said.

The CERT program formed nationally following the Sept. 11, 2001 attack and disaster.  In Austin Sonia Goodman, is the CERT coordinator for the City of Austin Homeland Security Emergency Management Department.

To be published in the Oak Hill Gazette

Beekeepers sponsor Tour De Hives Aug. 17

8 Aug

by Donna Marie Miller

Thousands of bees buzz just inches away from Tanya Phillips’ face on a recent hot August afternoon. They carry golden pollen from native wildflowers to hives located on her property just off U.S. Highway 290 in Oak Hill.

She peers into an observation hive that her husband, Chuck Reburn created. It allows Phillips to watch her bees safely from behind a sheet of clear glass as they reproduce and make honey in their human-made habitat.

Still, other bees exit and roam from the hive, zipping and zizzing through the air around Phillips’ head.

Phillips and Reburn, who own Bee Friendly Austin, a certified naturally grown apiary in Oak Hill, will co-sponsor Tour De Hives Saturday Aug. 17, beginning at 8 a.m. on their property located at 9874 Wier Loop Circle in Oak Hill. The Facebook address is:

The event will kick off with honey and mead tasting, beehive tours and basic introduction classes to beekeeping. Self-guided participants will sign waivers to visit bee yards within a 20-mile radius of the state’s Capitol until 2 p.m. using flyers with maps and directions. This is not a pet-friendly event and Phillips advises participants to leave them at home.

Phillips will provide some training presentations and a few vendors will also provide equipment used for harvesting and will allow tasting of honey products. The event will also serve as a fundraiser for The Bee Friendly Foundation, a non-profit organization that supports scientific education, public awareness, humane treatment of bees, sustainability, and the collection of honey from bees.

The Phillips-Reburn business web address is: Information about the classes Phillips teaches and the hives that Reburn sells can be found at:

Phillips and Reburn represent just two Austinites who enjoy beekeeping. They plan to introduce others to nine other local beekeepers as part of the Tour De Hives. Participants will caravan to various homes in Austin to observe backyard beekeeping.

“I started this whole vision of The Tour De Hives. We like being on the leading edge of ‘cool.’ We did ‘back yard chickens’ (farming)  in the city before it got trendy and now back yard bees are the next Austin ‘funky thing’ and we think it’s time to get folks started because the bees need us,” Phillips says.

The Tour De Hives will also coincide Aug. 17 with “National Honey Bee Day.” Phillips hopes people will be inspired. Future beekeepers can order their bees in December, receive them by March and build up a strong colony by next summer.

“We hope this first annual Tour De Hives will lead to a bigger and better one next year,” Phillips says. “The trend is happening. We know this because we participate in all kinds of groups and organizations connected to beekeeping through and”

Some of the groups are Austin Area Beekeepers, San Marcos Bee Wranglers, Central Texas Beekeepers and FayCo Beekeepers of Fayette County.

Some of the focus groups hope to alter the global-wide decline of honeybees. Scientific researchers have blamed genetically modified seeds, environmental influences, and pests such as the varroa mite, according to Brit Amos, author of “Death of the Bees. Genetically Modified Crops and the Decline of Bee Colonies in North America,” published Aug. 9, 2011 on

“Our goal with the Bee Friendly Foundation is to create a grant that a college student of entomology can receive to study bees and that research will benefit bees,” Phillips says. “Like an assistant professor of apiculture in the department of entomology at Texas A&M University.”

The foundation’s website address is:

Other beekeepers, like Phillips and Reburn, farm honey as a sustainable food source as well. The couple hopes to move to their farmland near Big Bend National Park within three years and start living “off the grid,” she says. Their future mountainous desert home has solar energy, a rainwater collection system, and area to plant a large garden and to care for bees.

At Phillips’ current home in Oak Hill, bees fly towards a metal water tank, like those reserved for cattle. The bees land on top of a concrete hexagonal-shaped island designed specifically for bees in the pond’s center surrounded by water.

“They’ve left the hive. They’re foragers, they’re female. We don’t really have any male bees right now. It’s not drone season yet. So you probably won’t see the boys,” Phillips says chuckling a bit.

“This floats in our pond for the bees, so they won’t drown. Unlike the wasps –

they will fly down and can land on the water and they can take off, but bees can’t do that.”

Phillips doesn’t run nor hide from the bees. She’s affectionately given all five of her personal beehives names – such as “Bee-yonce,” “Bee-onca,” “Ona-bee,” “Bee-atrice,” and “May-bee.”

The exits on hives face the very same direction forming a parallel line, northeast along a barbed wire fence that surrounds the Phillips-Reburn property. Phillips gets inches away from one hive with two holes in it that bees enter and exit.

When she’s simply observing the bees, she wears just shorts and a T-shirt, no protective bee farming gear. The largest of her hives has three additional holes, currently plugged with corks.

“If you get enough bees, you can open more holes,” she says. “But you don’t want to open more holes than they (the bees) have the ability to guard.”

Since she started keeping beehives in May, the numbers of bees living in each her colonies has remained small – less than 30,000 per hive.

“I was supposed to be the only bee keeper,” Phillips says. “But as soon as Chuck started studying bees, he was like ‘I’m gonna’ do bees too.’  And he kinda goes crazy; when Chuck does something, he does it all the way.”

In the last three months, Reburn has built 12 Langstroth style hives, large rectangle-shaped wood boxes that stack vertically to provide eight frames each for bees to create combs.

According to Oscar H. Will III, author of  “The 2011 Guide To Backyard Bees and Honey,” published on, the Rev. Lorenzo Lorraine Langstroth designed the modular structures in the mid 1800s in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Though Langstroth never profited from his patent, apiarists still consider him “the Father of bee keeping.

Reburn also built nuc hives, smaller starter wooden ones shaped like hat boxes. He will more than likely combine the bees living in his nucs with his other hives to strengthen them for the winter, Phillips says.

“What I build or what we are using are these eight-frame ‘mediums,’ so it’s a little narrower than the old-school ones, which make them a little lighter,” Reburn says. “They’ve got aluminum tops that I’ve built on all of mine and I’ve got an inner cover that is set up so I can actually feed through the top of them in the dearth when I’m first starting out a hive and feeding them sugar water. And I do all cedar construction on my boxes. Hopefully they’ll last quite a while that way.”

Reburn built Phillips’ top bar hives, modeled after a centuries-old form of human-made beehives that originated in Greece, according to Peter Sieling, who wrote “A Brief History of the Top Bar Hive,” published on

The top bar hives consist of a series of 1 and 3/8-inch wooden slats laid horizontally on top of a wood box to allow bees to build combs separately inside.

“The bees are calmer and easier. You’re lifting just one bar at a time when you’re opening the hive, so it’s really light; it’s not heavy like lifting a whole box,” Phillips says.

In order to open and close the handmade wooden hives Phillips sometimes subdues the bees using a smoker. The hand-held device burns wood and pieces of raw cotton to create a flameless, cool smoke.

“People think that the smoke calms the bees, but I always say ‘I don’t think it calms the bees.’ One, they don’t have eyelids, so it hurts the bees; and two, they release a pheromone called an ‘alarm pheromone’ and it masks the alarm scent, so the bees can’t smell (and say) – ‘oh my god, there’s danger, danger around.’ So it kind of confuses them. So it hurts their eyes and it confuses them,” Phillips says.

Reburn often uses propane lighter to light the smoker.

“There’s these wood pellets that we use: I think it’s almost like an animal bedding that they sell in a compressed wood pellet with a little bit of wood scraps,” Reburn says. “And then I add a little bit of cotton in there. There’s raw cotton you can use as well. But the wood scraps work real well, if you can get ‘em lit. That’s the trick. You don’t use much and we don’t use it if we don’t have to.”

When opening up the hives, Phillips uses a protective suit.

“I don’t like to get stung,” she says. “So I researched a little bit about what is the best suit to buy and decided for Texas I wanted an Ultra Breeze® (suit.) It does let a little bit of air in, but it’s sandwiched waffle material – it has an inner layer, a waffle layer, and another layer so the bees can’t get through. And if they did sting one, it still wouldn’t get through all three places.”

She likes the Ultra Breeze® bee suit because zippers run from hip to ankle, making it easy to get in and out of quickly. The gear also allows easy access to pockets, with Velcro snap closures at the wrists and ankles. Phillips usually wears boots and long socks underneath the suit, to prohibit bees from attempting to enter her suit from the ground. The spacious suit also features a special zipper-sealed hood with a form-fitted enclosure or mask kept away from the face.

“The other thing I like about this suit that I haven’t found anywhere else is the face mask has a bottom stiffener. Most of them have this one (the stiffening arc brace around the head,) but they don’t have this one, (the one across the chin,)” Phillips says.

“Unfortunately, it sells for $259 and you cannot find it cheaper. But it’s the best and I’ve never been stung through my suit.”

She thinks that she has been stung on the back of her hand through the gloves, she says.

“When they sting you through the gloves, it’s not sticking the stinger (in) real deep, so it doesn’t hurt. When they sting you, their whole abdomen detaches and that leaves it in your skin. That’s why if you leave it in there, it’s still pumping the liquid in you,” Phillips says.

“So you just want to real carefully, grab the abdomen and pull it back out, or slide it out like with a credit card, or your fingernail and pull the stinger out and it (the pain) goes away right away. Honey bee stings hardly hurt at all and they hurt for a very short time.”

She says the pain one feels from a honeybee sting is nothing like any received from a wasp or hornet. The less a beekeeper disturbs a hive, the better. Most hives require little maintenance after the first year, about one visit every two months.

Phillips says that when opening up a hive, she immediately locates the queen, the largest bee, the one with a large golden-colored abdomen usually found closest to the larvae, or bee “babies.” The life span of a female honeybee from egg to adult ready to leave the cells of a honeycomb spans 21 days, she says.

“For three days it’s an egg, then a larva, then it starts out as a white bee – it’s so cool and then it changes into the bee that we see now,” Phillips says.

“They (other bees) start shaking her, (a queen) and stop feeding her and pushing her out around the hive. And she’ll start to lose weight. And when she gets thin enough that she can fly, her and half of the bees will take off. It’s called a swarm. They’ll land up in a tree or on a building somewhere and they’ll all hover up like a football or a giant basketball of bees. Then, they’ll sit there and they’ll wait and they’ll send out some scouts. As soon as the scouts find a place to live, they’ll put some pheromone out and then they’ll go and do their little bee dance and tell all the other bees where they’ve found some place to life.”

The swarm of bees will move as one in a formation similar to a tornado in the air until the bees fly into their new location. Once relocated, the bees will sit and fan their wings and spread more pheromones so the rest of the bees can find their way. The rest of the bees will begin feeding a few of the larvae (left by the exiting queen) extra royal jelly to make queen cells. Typically the first or strongest queen born will kill the rest of the queens and take over as the new queen of the hive.  The life cycle of a queen honeybee is 16 days; drones, the male bees, take 24 days and are much larger.

Phillips says she and Reburn will take calls from people to remove a swarm of bees and relocate them safely. She says she and Reburn cannot offer “cutout” services or remove established bee colonies from their hives – such as the inside walls of structures. That takes a special professional removal team.

“We like to pick up swarms,” Phillips says. “But we don’t do cutouts. We don’t do that. Some places do that, but we are more about beekeeping for the bees than us. We’re not beekeeping as a life-supporting business. If we make enough money to help the bees, that’s all we care about.”

Phillips says that most people who are afraid of bees don’t know enough about them. Those who learn about them, often end up wanting to help the bees. At the Tour De Hives, Phillips plans to offer some classes in an air-conditioned building led by PowerPoint.


Bees depend upon human relationships

“Bees are about relationships and working together to achieve sustainability. I think the world will need a lot more of that to survive and thrive for future generations,” Phillips says.

Phillips and Reburn introduced their neighbors Bill and Sharon Stanberry to bee keeping recently. The Stanberrys keep two hives just down the road.

“Tanya and Chuck raise bees and we’ve talking about it for some time. I wanted to put some in my back yard in Western Oaks and thought we’d try a couple of hives over here first,” Bill Stanberry says.

“Tanya and Chuck have been very, very supportive and helpful – good trainers. So it has been a good learning experience; it looks like we’re going to have honey.”

Phillips says both she and the Stanberrys will allow their bees to keep their honey for the first year, but will harvest the hives during their second year. She plans to take as much as 20 to 30 pounds of honey from each of her hives after their second year of production.

Phillips and Reburn will co-sponsor Tour De Hives with BeeWeavers Apiary of Dripping Springs; owners Danny and Laura Weaver plan to add their new bee farm, mercantile, and learning center to one of the stops on the tour.

Before Phillips invested in her apiary and started her non-profit organization, she took some classes hosted by Dean Cook at Rohan Meadery, one of the vendors who will offer mead tasting as part of Tour De Hives.


to present at Tour De Hives Austin

Rohan Meadery

  6002 Farm to Market 2981La Grange, TX 78945(979) 249-5652

John and Wendy Rohan, owners of Rohan Meadery just outside of LaGrange, represents the first its generation of meaderies to process Texas honey into wine. Since the Rohans opened in 2009, four other meaderies have followed and soon a fifth will open in Austin.

The Rohans formed the Texas Mead Association and also sponsor a Mead Fest in Sequin during the month of September as part of National Honey Bee Month. They also are members of the Fayette County Beekeeper (FayCoBeeks) Association.

The Rohans built a tasting room in 2010 nestled between Round Top and LaGrange. The company produces 12 different mead varieties; including traditional mead fermented from honey alone and 11 other fermented fruit meads that include:

The Rohans make their meads from Texas Wildflower honey and Texas Huajilla honey. They also collect honey from hives on their own property and some from the Reed Family Honey farm in Montgomery County. Otherwise, the Rohans use only a small portion of an orange-blend honey from Florida mixed in the peach-flavored mead they make.

When the Rohans attend the Tour De Hives Aug. 17 they won’t bring all 12 varieties of mead with them. The company can’t keep all varieties in stock long enough to have more than five or six types of meads on hand at any one time. Right now, the Rohans plan to bring five types of mead with them to town next week, Wendy Rohan says.

Fermented honey, considered a wine in the state of Texas, takes anywhere from six months to a year to process. In terms of quantity, the Rohans’ production varies every year because it depends upon the honey supply. They processed about 500 cases last year – or 12 bottles per case, at about 750 ml per standard wine bottle.

“We’re tiny. We’re the tiniest winery you can imagine, very tiny for a winery,” Rohan says. “In the past couple of decades, there has been this resurgence in craft brew, crafted alcohols – artisanal handmade alcohol, whether it’s spirits, or grains and beers. We need to thank of the craft brewers; they have expanded the palates of what people consider flavorful. They’ve pushed people to try things that have flavor and complexity.”

The Rohans use either one of two processes to create their mead. The honey is fermented first by itself for a couple of months and then they add fruit juice or they ferment fruit juice and the honey together. The process just depends upon the type of mead that the Rohans choose to make at any time, she says.

“Honey is the number one show-stealer — by volume or weight — it is the number one ingredient in all our meads,” she says.  “I think the Tour De Hives is a great idea. I’ve met Tanya and Chuck on a number of occasions. John and I think they’re great people. We hope to support the event anyway that we can.”

BeeWeaver Apiaries – Hill Country location

3700 McGregor Lane

Dripping Springs, Texas 78620

(866) 547-3376

Bee Goods Mercantile –

6301 Highland Hills DriveAustin, TX  78731 547-3376

Danny and Laura Weaver represent fourth generation beekeepers that own three locations in Texas associated with both BeeWeaver Apiaries and Bee Goods Mercantile: one in Dripping Springs, another in Navasota near College Station, and still another non-retail Austin location where they house bees. The Weaver children will likely become the family’s fifth generation bee farmers.

The Dripping Springs location is currently being renovated. The family has hives and equipment on the land, but it is not completed. Eventually the family plans to teach lessons, said Central Texas beekeeper, Andrew Shahan.

He manages the bees at Dripping Springs and teaches one-on-one beekeeping courses on client properties or at the BeeWeaver facilities.

The BeeWeaver company also sells equipment on its website and will ship it to bee farmers.

When Shahan received his bachelors degree in entomology from University of Florida in 2012 he contacted the Weavers in Texas because they are internationally known for their queen breeding. He’s 24 years old and the first beekeeper in his family.

“My family thought I was a little bit crazy when I told them that I was really into bugs, but they all love it now,” Shahan says.

One of the largest facets of the BeeWeaver family business involves selling bees. Shahan and the Weavers ship queen bees around the world. Most of their clients – about 50 percent – are based only in Texas and the company also serves beekeepers around the world, he says.

Typically, beekeeping has been passed down from generation to generation within families, but that’s changing in Texas, especially.

Shahan said the company ships “a lot of bees” – alive each week by U.S. Postal Service or UPS. Each box has 3 pounds of bees and a queen along sugar water when it arrives. It’s a tricky feat; but people need to think months ahead in this business.

“Spring time is when people should start new colonies. If someone wants to start a new colony with BeeWeaver queens, they need to order their bees in September. The way beekeeping works, bees don’t start building up their colonies until springtime. So you pre-order in September, saving your spot to get some bees, but we don’t ship until the first week of April,” Shahan says.

“People are getting on board with beekeeping. That’s why my job was created. There are so many beekeepers in Central Texas and there are only a few courses. I’m not aware of anyone else who offers one-on-one courses like I do. There is a movement towards beekeeping in Central Texas.”

Younger people seem to be taking an keen interest in beekeeping, what used to be considered an older person’s vocation. While owning one’s own queen bee may be causing a buzz worldwide, in Austin overall interests in growing and crafting ones own food sources reign supreme, he says.

“At one time, all the beekeepers were older, farming men who had been beekeepers for decades and owned thousands of hives. Today, the new beekeeper is your middle-aged or young person who has heard about the loss of all the bees around the country and in the world and typically keep just a few hives. They’re interested in helping keep the bee population healthy,” Shahan says. “And in Austin, more young people are interested in growing and sustaining their own food supplies.”

Beekeeper terminology:

  • Apiary – a bee yard that includes bees, hives and equipment used for their sustainability
  • Beehive – a place where a colony of bees live and thrive, human made or nature made
  • Beeswax – secretions from a worker bee’s body used to build a comb
  • Brood – a name for immature bees who live inside the cells of a comb
  • Comb – a mass of six-sided sells that contains the brood, as well as stored honey
  • Drone – the male honey bee
  • Dearth – a feeder containing a 1:1 ratio of sugar water for bees in a human-made bee hive
  • Honey – a sweet material produced by bees from the nectar of flowers that contains both minerals, vitamins, proteins and enzymes
  • Hive beetle – a destructive pest of honey bee colonies, they cause damage to the comb, pollen, and honey
  • Langstroth hive –a style of human-made bee hive only a few centuries old that features a box designed from wood with a series of ten removable frames inside it, all covered by a canopy or roof with one entrance in or out.
  • Larva – a white, legless, grub-like insect and the second stage of a bee’s metamorphosis
  • Life cycle – the development of a bee from an egg to an adult, when it leaves its cell, takes a total of 21 days including: a) hatching = 3 days, b) larva = 5 days, c) pupa = 13 days.
  • Nuc hive – a smaller size human-made bee hive made from a wooden box with only five frames inside it,  built Langstroth style.
  • Scouts – worker bees that search for a new home hive
  • Smoker – a device that produces a flameless, cool smoke that subdues bees in a hive by masking the scent of a beekeeper as well as the alarm pheromones of the colony’s bees
  • Stinger – the barb at the end of the abdomen of a bee that contains the apitoxin and results in the release of “alarm pheromones” and the insect’s fatality
  • Swarm – a collection of a single queen, drones and worker bees that leave a colony to await a new home hive to be discovered by scouts
  • Top-bar hive – a several thousand years-old style of human-made hive created from wood or other materials for the purpose of beekeeping, designed with a series of removable wood slats each anywhere from 1.25 to 1.38 inches wide placed on top.
  • Queen – a female bee with a complete reproductive system that lays all of the fertilized eggs in a hive
A beekeeper pulls a comb filled with honey as well as larva ("bee babies" for viewing.

A beekeeper pulls a comb filled with honey as well as larva (“bee babies” for viewing.

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