For every “community leader” quoted in a newspaper or flashing a big smile on television, there are literally hundreds of his or her neighbors laboring in obscurity.
You may not know their names or their faces, and they may not prefer the limelight, anyway.
But whether you’ve heard about them or not, the neighbors we’re profiling in this month’s Advocate are quietly going about improving life in our neighborhoods through their volunteer or professional efforts.
They’ve undertaken these tasks not because they’re glamorous, or wildly profitable, or politically correct, or certain to look good on a resume.
These people simply are doing their best to help their neighbors because it’s the right thing to do. And we thought you’d like to meet them.
In A League of Her Own
Mary Tabor seems to have her hands in everything.
She is president of the Women’s League, a group with 75 active members whose primary focus is to raise scholarship funds for Lake Highlands High School graduates.
She serves on the board of the Autistic Treatment Center. She has filled a variety of positions with PTAs at Merriman Park Elementary and Forest Meadow Junior High, and she once ran drug education programs as a member of the Dallas Junior League.
“I believe in the importance of family and friends,” Tabor says. “I love knowing who my neighbors are. I think so much of my involvement started with my children. When your children are in school, you want to be supportive of them.”
Tabor and husband Mike, who is on the RISD board of trustees, started the Alexander Village Homeowners Association when they built the first home in the neighborhood more than 17 years ago.
Tabor has been involved in several beautification projects in Lake Highlands and is responsible for the trees that now grow on Walnut Hill between Abrams and Fair Oaks.
“If I’m going to volunteer, it needs to be in my neighborhood,” Tabor says. “It needs to be where my children are and where my husband is.”
Serving Lake Highlands
The Exchange Club of Lake Highlands has been serving our community for more than 30 years with programs to help youth and families.
Among its many activities, the Club finances after-school programs for elementary and middle school students, provides $20,000 annually in college scholarships, coordinates the annual Lake Highlands Independence Day Parade and Carnival, and provides emergency medical and dental funds to assist area children.
The club also runs the EXCAP Center for the prevention of child abuse.
“The Exchange Club serves to bring the community together,” says president John Boynton. “We have a broad spectrum of membership. We have folks in our club from every profession.
“It’s a group of people who enjoy meeting with one another and who want to make Lake Highlands a better place to live.”
The Club, which includes approximately 145 members, is working to broaden its membership to more minorities and women, Boynton says.
Move Over, McGruff
J.J. Pair’s neighborhood in St. Louis was filled with crack houses and prostitutes. She involved herself in crime watch groups as a matter of survival.
When Pair moved to Lake Highlands five years ago, she was relieved to be in a safer neighborhood, and she resolved to keep it that way. The crime watch group in her new community was petering out, so she volunteered to take over.
“I had lived in a very volatile place, in a very violent atmosphere,” Pair says. “I vowed that would never happen again. If you don’t live in a pleasant place, if you feel unsafe, it’s hard to function in other areas of life.”
Pair now sits on the seven-member Crime Watch Executive Board of Dallas Police Chief Ben Click. On this board, she represents the 95 identified crime watch groups in the Northeast police operations division, which includes Lake Highlands. She acts as a liaison between police officers and neighborhood residents.
Pair’s crime prevention efforts have turned into a full-time job for which she does not get paid. She has compiled her crime watch knowledge into a Northeast resource manual and is currently finishing a Citywide manual.
In her latest endeavor, Pair is organizing the Texas Cities Action Plan Resource Center. The center will act as a library of information concerning crime prevention efforts throughout Dallas.
In Our Corner
When there is a zoning or development battle in Lake Highlands, Bill Blaydes throws the punches for neighborhood homeowners.
Blaydes has been president of the Lake Highlands Neighborhood Association for five years. In this position, he represents the neighborhood’s interests before the Plan Commission and City Council.
“All of us moved here because we like the area,” Blaydes says about Lake Highlands. “For several years, we sat back and did nothing until folks got disgruntled with the way the community looked.”
“We became concerned with traffic problems created by large office buildings. We became concerned with multi-family housing and the crime problem that came with it. The best way to deal with the problem is activism. It’s called taking your community back.”
Blaydes has successfully fought to stop the construction of two 19-story office buildings at Skillman and Audelia. He also works with owners of apartment buildings in efforts to remodel deteriorating complexes.
Zoning wars, however, are not Blaydes’ only battles. He coached fifth and sixth grade football for 19 years and has watched many of his students go on to play for Lake Highlands High School. He has retired his whistle, but he stays involved in youth sports as the announcer for LHHS football games.
“This is where I live,” he says, “These are the people I care about.”
New Guy on the Block
Jim Mattingly has only lived in Lake Highlands for two years, but he has already gone a long way to bridge the gap between homeowners and apartment managers.
Mattingly’s company bought the Audelia Heights apartments at Kingsley and Audelia in July 1993. Since the purchase, the 280-unit complex, now known as Highland Crest, has undergone renovations totaling $2 million, Mattingly says.
“We (LumaCorp) thought Highland Crest was a good investment opportunity,” Mattingly says. “The immediate neighbors had been really dissatisfied at one time with the property.”
“They were happy to see someone come in and make an investment in the neighborhood. They knew I had a personal stake in the neighborhood with my home and family being there.”
“It (housing) is my business. Since it’s something I know about, it is where I try to make my contribution.”
Mattingly also sits on the board of the Housing Crisis Center, a Citywide group working to end homelessness. He is a member of RISD’s Youth Services Council, which works to better neighborhood schools, and he recently joined the Exchange Club.
He also keeps busy coaching his daughter’s sixth grade basketball team, made up mostly of students from White Rock Elementary School.
Lynda Sparks considered moving out of her Lake Highlands home of 24 years due to the increase in crime and decrease in property values being caused by run-down apartment buildings at Plano Road and Kingsley.
But rather then pack up and leave, Sparks waged a battle to get the buildings torn down. She went door to door collecting donations for the effort.
Her neighbors were supportive, she says, and gave her money, but some people told her she would never succeed. It took four years, much footwork, and several hundred dollars from Sparks’ own pocket, but she did it.
“I can’t even tell you how many meetings there were, how many times I went before planning and zoning,” Sparks says. “I was not a neighborhood activist. I’m just someone who said one day that this is wrong for our neighborhood and wrong for the people living in the apartments.”
“The living condition was deplorable. I was shocked at how many talented people I found who were willing to help when they saw something that needed to be done.”
Today, the former apartment buildings are in the process of being bulldozed.
A Man Who Plans Ahead
Ed Barger is starting his fourth year on the Plan Commission as the District 10 (Lake Highlands) representative.
As our representative, Barger hears zoning cases on a weekly basis and briefs the Commission about neighborhood interests.
One of Barger’s biggest projects was a land-use study to determine how vacant property in Lake Highlands should be zoned. Barger acted as a liaison between the Commission and neighborhood groups involved in the study, which included the police department, various homeowners associations, businesses, neighborhood schools and the Park Department.
“The study provides the planning department with a road map on how to develop District 10,” Barger says.
As a result of the study, several lots previously zoned for multi-family housing were rezoned to reduce the increase of apartment buildings in Lake Highlands and help alleviate mobility and overcrowding in schools.
Barger also was president of the Abrams Road Beautification Coalition, which planted 117 trees with sprinkler systems on Abrams between Kingsley and Meadowknoll.
“Lake Highlands has been a good community to me,” Barger says. “I think it’s important to give back what you can – to keep the flame of community spirit and involvement burning.”
An Enterprising Team
Whole Foods Market, Kingsley at Skillman, moved into our neighborhood this summer thanks to Jerry Nagid and Larry Sears.
Both were president of their homeowners associations when Kroger moved out of the Kingsley Square shopping center. Negotiations had deadlocked in 1993 between Kroger, which had a few years left on its lease, and the shopping center management, while Whole Foods waited in the wings to take over the 30,000-square-foot space, Nagid and Sears say.
The two men organized a five-month neighborhood letter writing and phone campaign to push Kroger and the shopping center to reach an agreement that would benefit Lake Highlands.
“We had a dying shopping center right across the street,” says Nagid, who is a member of the Merriman Park Estates Club Inc.
“We could not take a back seat, and then cry about the outcome. You’ve got to stick your nose in, and try to influence the powers-that-be.”
Sears, who is a member of the Merriman Park North Homeowners Association, agrees.
“If just anything went into that shopping center, we could have seen deterioration on the edge of our neighborhood,” Sears says.
“The strength of our neighborhood is based on two key factors: the strength of our schools, and the strength of our retail center.”
Big Man on Campus
A nine-to-five job would be a vacation for Ron Mathews.
In his fourth year as principal of Lake Highlands High School, Mathews goes to work at 7:30 a.m. and leaves for home around 9:30 p.m., he says.
Mathews’ duties go beyond administration tasks. With PTA meetings, school plays, band concerts and athletic events to attend, Mathews spends close to 15 hours a day in Lake Highlands, he says, even though he lives in Richardson.
“The principal of any high school is a high-profile person in a community,” Mathews says. “I have to set an example. I have to be a role model. I try very hard to be accessible 24 hours a day. I want anyone associated with this community to be able to talk to me, complain to me, give me advice.”
“I feel my greatest ability is working with teenagers. In working with teenagers, you can significantly change the direction of their lives, hopefully for the better. I think that’s a very powerful thing.”
James Brown, a former professional basketball player in Europe, has used his knowledge of sports to bring minority fathers into Northlake Elementary.
Brown organized the school’s Dads Club, which sponsors an after-school Intramural Sports Program for students and their parents.
Brown, who is Northlake’s executive assistant to the principal, first came to the school when he was invited to speak to fifth- and sixth-graders as a career counselor from Eastfield College in Mesquite.
Brown developed such a rapport with the children that he was asked to come back, and soon, he started volunteering in the school.
“When I came to Northlake and spoke to the classes, I felt like this is where I was supposed to be,” Brown says. “I felt like I could make a difference.”
“One of the crises we are facing is that kids have an absence of males in their lives. If a child is growing up in a disadvantaged situation, and they see a male who has grown up in a similar situation and who has overcome the obstacles, they start to see hope.”
Brown quit his job with Eastfield, where he was named the Exemplary Employee for 1993, to come to Northlake.
During his first year, Brown personally visited the homes of minority parents whose children were having problems in school.
Since Brown has been on staff, minority membership has gone up in Northlake’s PTA, and student discipline problems have decreased.
She’s Sold on LH
Recently, Missy Vanderbilt evalutated her community involvement and realized she had volunteered to sit on 14 boards of directors, she says.
Overextended, this Lake Highlands real estate broker decided to cut back her commitments, but there was one position she held onto – first vice president of the White Rock/Lake Highlands YMCA.
“The Y directly benefits all of our children,” Vanderbilt says.
As a member of the Y board, Vanderbilt has been involved in a project to build a second Y site in Lake Highlands at Whitehurst and Greenville. She will participate in fund raising efforts in 1995 and 1996.
“I am not good at saying no,” Vanderbilt says. “I enjoy being involved with other people, and I love Lake Highlands.”
With the help of husband Dean, Vanderbilt is working with a neighborhood group that intends to publish a brochure promoting Lake Highlands to prospective home buyers. The brochure will be available to all brokers in Dallas, and she plans to distribute it outside the City, as well.
Vanderbilt also is a business representative on Moss Haven Elementary’s Local School Council and is a member of the East Dallas Chamber of Commerce.
Eiland Collins retired from the Dallas Morning News’ composing room in 1986.
“I retired from the Morning News and went to work for the neighborhood (Hamilton Park) and the City of Dallas,” Collins says.
He devotes six to eight hours a day to serving his neighbors and his City. The best place to find him is at the Willie B. Johnson Recreation Center, where he volunteers almost full-time. If he’s not there, don’t bother going to his home. He’s probably down at City Hall addressing something for his neighborhood. You name it, Collins has probably fought for it – garbage collection, curb repairs, code enforcement. It was during one of his battles that he received his nickname – the Mayor of Hamilton Park.
“Someone said: ‘Here comes the Mayor of Hamilton Park.’ and it just stuck,” Collins says. “If you have any desire to live in a nice neighborhood, you go to all extremes to keep it nice. You do what you can and then you go to code enforcement or wherever to get it done.”
“Everybody knows me, but not everyone likes me. I’m very outspoken, but I always tell the truth. I try to tell you the right way to go and the right thing to do.”