Of Statistics and Storytelling

By Fiona Bond

Ever since Creative Waco was formed, just over 2 years ago, we have heard from people of all kinds in Waco about their dreams for making Waco a hub for arts and culture. It’s one of the most enjoyable aspects of our work – hearing about seedling ideas that, with the right support, could grow and bear fruit.

But often those questions were accompanied by a question:  “How can we know if this could work?”

How do we know if Waco is the kind of City that could develop and sustain new art galleries, festivals, theatres, live music venues, artists’ studio spaces, and all the kinds of activity that would really make our city feel like a vibrant, thriving hub of activity that would not only draw residents, but attract visitors, too?

To begin to answer these questions, we turned to that most powerful of storytelling and question-wielding tools – statistics! One of Creative Waco’s first activities was to gather attendance and income/expenditure data throughout the whole of 2016 from Waco’s 29 non-profit arts and cultural venues and programs. This was part of a national survey conducted by Americans for the Arts as part of their “Arts & Economic Prosperity 5” study, which happens across the whole of the USA. This lends considerable kudos to the results and gives the added benefit of allowing us in Waco to compare our findings with peer communities across the nation.

When the results were announced in June, we discovered some fascinating things about Waco. These are stories we want to share as we now work with the Baylor Business School to explore what comes next.

  1. Waco’s non-profit arts and cultural sector punches above its weight! These organizations and activities (think museums, galleries, live performances, festivals, etc.) deliver $63.7million in economic impact, support 2,184 FTE jobs and contribute $7.4 million in state and local government tax revenue. That’s a whopping twice the economic impact you would expect for a city our size.
  2. Waco’s non-profit arts and cultural activities bring all kinds of people together! Arts audiences in Waco showed a healthy spread of age, economic and cultural diversity.
  3. People choose to visit Waco for its arts and cultural activities: Over half of the out-of-town visitors surveyed had come to Waco specifically for the arts event or activity they were attending.
  4. Waco audiences spend less on “accompanying” experiences such as food and drink than they do in comparable cities…an average of $5 less per person, actually. The reason appears to be that many of our cultural activities are taking place in venues that don’t offer food and drink, or are not particularly convenient for restaurants, bars or cafes. The Waco Hippodrome, unsurprisingly, stands out as a major exception to that pattern!

You can see the full results of this study at creativewaco.org/aep5 and we’d love to hear your ideas about the exciting opportunities for growth presented by these findings. We are also testing these results through practical experiments, such as the wonderfully successful Waco 52 Pop-Up Gallery on Austin Avenue, which combined visual and performing arts with innovative and memorable food/drink experiences in different formats. That concept proved itself strongly enough through August that it has now become a new downtown business: Cultivate 7Twelve. That’s a fantastic story to tell with the help of statistics – and an even better story to be told over a great meal, accompanied by a glass of something locally produced, and surrounded by art!

This Act Locally Waco blog post was written by Fiona Bond. Fiona is Executive Director of Creative Waco. She has a background running arts festivals, organizations and cultural projects in her native England and Scotland and is author of “The Arts in Your Church.”  In her spare time, she can be found doing an MBA at Baylor, hanging out with husband, Bruce Longenecker, (who teaches religion at Baylor) and their two sons, or playing the bagpipes.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email ashleyt@actlocallywaco.org for more information.


Jeffie Conner

By Stephanie Endicott

Jeffie Obrea Allen Conner was born in 1895 on her family’s farm in Harrison Switch, Texas. She was the oldest of three children born to Meddie Lilian and Jeff D. Allen. Harrison Switch, later known as Harrison, was a small African American community eight miles southeast of Waco. Conner’s parents, and most other residents of Harrison, owned their own farms. This was notable in a time when the majority of African American farmers in Texas were sharecroppers.

Conner showed great intelligence from a young age, and by 1914, she graduated from Prairie View Normal School, later known as Prairie View A&M, with a teaching certificate. She supported herself by teaching in various McLennan County schools. In 1923, Conner married a prominent Waco doctor, George S. Conner, and moved to his Waco home on 12th Street. Dr. Conner was thirty-one years her senior.

That same year, Conner left her job as a teacher to become a home demonstration agent, employed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The demonstration program was founded in 1912 as a way to teach rural girls homemaking skills, but soon grew with the help of federal funding and statewide organization. The program provided support to farming families by supplementing clothing, undertaking home improvement projects, and even funding scholarships.

Due to segregation, Conner was only allowed to work with black women and families. Conner’s childhood years spent on the farm, as well as her training as a teacher, made her an excellent choice for the position. Conner taught women practical lessons, such as homemaking, sewing, basic healing, better farming techniques, and personal hygiene. Due to her influence, rural schools switched from a shared ladle to individual drinking cups for school children, cutting back on the spread of germs. She traveled throughout McLennan County during the week, and stayed with her husband in Waco on the weekends.

Conner furthered her academic studies as well, returning to Prairie View and earning a bachelor’s degree in home economics in 1934. After receiving her degree, she was promoted to supervisor of home demonstration agents, which meant she was in charge of the program for all of Central Texas. She continued to travel during the week, staying in private homes, because segregation kept her from staying in hotels.  In 1939, Dr. Conner died. Conner, at the age of forty-four, found herself a widow, once again supporting herself.  She returned to school, and in 1944 received her Master’s degree in home economics from Prairie View.

In 1948, Conner left her position with the home demonstration program to become supervisor of the black schools of McLennan County. She found that black schools had far less supplies, inferior accommodations, and a lack of funding compared to the white schools in the county. Conner fought to reform this injustice, and combined the thirty-five smaller schools into fourteen larger ones in order to make the most use of the limited resources available.

In 1952, Conner retired but continued to live an active and involved lifestyle, persisting in her quest to make a difference in people’s lives. She was part of multiple social sororities, served as president of the Texas Federation of Colored Women’s Club and was influential as a member of the National Association of Colored Women’s Club. In 1966 she was appointed to the State’s Committee on Public School Education by Governor John Connally. Conner continued to be a faithful member of New Hope Baptist Church, and an active member of her community, serving throughout Waco and McLennan County until her death on June 10, 1972 at the age of 76. Jeffie Conner is remembered as one of the outstanding professional women of Waco, paving the way for future black women to follow in her footsteps and make a difference.

Cite this post: Stephanie Endicott, “Jeffie Conner,” Waco History, accessed November 8, 2017, http://wacohistory.org/items/show/161.

Waco History is a mobile app and web platform that places the past at your fingertips! It incorporates maps, text, images, video, and oral histories to provide individuals and groups a dynamic and place-based tool to navigate the diverse and rich history of Waco and McLennan County. It is brought to you by the Institute for Oral History and Texas Collection at Baylor University. 

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email ashleyt@actlocallywaco.org for more information.


Four Reasons Why MCC Should be Your Next Choice for College

By Madiha Kark

When you think of a typical college student, maybe you think of a life in bliss, time spent moving between classes, parties, and extracurricular activities. That is if the daunting task of getting out of bed has somehow been managed. We imagine carefree boys and girls enjoying their youth, spending money they shouldn’t or don’t have, but the reality is far from it. Of the nearly 18 million undergraduates in the country, a shocking 40 percent work at least 30 hours a week. About 25 percent work full time and go to school full time, and about a quarter of them are single parents.

Students at McLennan Community College (MCC) range from high school students who are entering college for the first time to 40-year-olds who are working low-paying physically demanding jobs. They all have a goal of achieving their dreams. They juggle kids, financial stress, typically multiple jobs, and their education. It’s a delicate balance that leaves you physically and mentally exhausted. Community college students deserve your deepest respect, some of them walk a hard path of constant struggle and have to put their dreams on the back burner because of finances or other responsibilities. Many of them continue out of sheer will and belief in the hope for a better future.  Here are my four reasons you should choose MCC:

  1. Affordability:Paying for college is an expensive undertaking. Annual tuition and fees at four-year institutions in Texas can reach upwards of $40,000. MCC offers a great education at an affordable price. The average cost of a two-year degree at MCC is around $12,000.
  1. Academic Flexibility:MCC is a good option for easing your way into higher education. Not everyone has a clear plan of what they want to study. At MCC, students can start with some core classes and have options to transfer to other programs. MCC partners with various four-year universities that offer classes on campus for bachelors, masters and Ph.D. degrees with easy transfer options.
  1. Class Size and Personalized Attention: Many community colleges offer smaller class sizes than traditional four-year colleges. That means, students get personal attention and one-on-one time with instructors. At MCC, our student-to-teacher ratio is typically 17:1. According to one reviewer, “Class sizes remind me of that in high school because they are big enough to have a great discussion but small enough to know the names of your classmates.” Additionally, a lot of MCC professors teach at other four-year universities and are experts in their fields.
  1. Student Support Services: A recent Urban Institute study found that from 2011 to 2015, one in five students attending a two-year college lived in a food-insecure household. A lab found that in 2016, 14 percent of community college students had been homeless at some point. These students work extremely hard to make ends meet and simultaneously get the education they need to become more stable. Some of the support services offered at MCC include, the food pantry, academic and personal counseling, single-parent initiatives, career services, and Success Coaches.

If you need any more reason to attend a community college, know that these famous people all started at a community college:

  1. Steve Jobs
  2. Walt Disney
  3. Halle Berry
  4. George Lucas

Registration for Spring 2018 runs Nov. 6-Jan. 13.

Madiha Kark is a Marketing, Communications and Photography Specialist at McLennan Community College. She holds an M.A. in Journalism from the University of North Texas. She loves to travel, cook, and read nonfiction books.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email ashleyt@actlocallywaco.org for more information.


The Heart of Texas Storytelling Guild

By Vivian Rutherford

As a child, I was very close to my maternal grandmother.  Spending many hours with her are some of my fondest memories.  She told me stories about her family, her mom, and the grandmother that raised her.

My great-great grandmother had been a slave and most of her children had been sold into slavery except for one child, my future great- grandmother, who had been born during Emancipation.

Those stories along with ones of her childhood, adult and married life instilled in me a sense of pride in who I was and what I could become.  She believed in me.

Annie Lee would live to be almost a hundred years old. Even though she could not read or write, education was her top priority for me.  I would sit at her feet for hours listening to story after story.

Eventually I began to ask for her specific tales.  I shared those stories with other family members. And as I expanded my reading appetite, I included folk tales and fairy tales.  Throughout my school years, opportunities would arise, whether they were plays, speech competitions, church productions in which I was able to grow my expertise.

Becoming a children’s librarian was the perfect direction for me.  I was able to share old and new favorite stories each week with our youngest patrons and their families.

As a storyteller, I enjoy the almost tangible connection with the audience.  I can actually feel them being drawn in.  It is an amazing feeling, one that I both cherish and revere.

After being in Waco for several years, I attended the Tejas Storytelling Festival, an annual storytelling event in Denton, Texas.  The festival was an eye opener.  Not only were there workshops designed to improve and polish storytelling skills, but the organization itself was an umbrella for local guilds scattered throughout Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana.  They catered to individual tellers and groups. The guilds then supported the local tellers who either were professional, wanted to become professional or were just interested in listening to tellers.  Being in a guild provided the storytellers a protective environment in which to share and practice their stories.

In 2007, Terri Jo Mosely (who was a Waco Tribune reporter at the time) was attending the festival when we bumped into each other.  I was very impressed with the Tejas Storytelling Association and wondered out loud how nice it would be if we had a guild in Waco.  Terri Jo immediately asked me, “Why wonder?”  “Why don’t you do it?”  And I thought, why not?

There was a nearby guild, the Bluebonnet Scots of Mexia, which along with Tejas, mentored and guided us.  We were off to a great start.  We began with a few members: Leslie Collier (deceased), Julia Bugh, Terri Jo Mosely, Beulah Barksdale, Barbara Bridgewater, Marian Fleischmann, Tom Taylor and myself.

During that first year, we hosted our very first Tellabration!  Tellabration is a world-wide national event celebrating storytelling and Waco was a part of it!

The next event added was “Walking Tales” at Oakwood Cemetery. We wanted to combine history with storytelling.  Highlighting lives that influenced and helped to build Texas was the ideal option.

In 2016, the Guild was given the green light to facilitate and host for the first time a Tejas Summer Conference in Waco.  This Bi-annual conference teaches the storytelling nuts and bolts. The conference included attendees from as far away as New York.

We’ve been able to participate, especially with our youth, in various activities such as Art on Elm Street, Barnes and Noble Storytime, the Cultural Arts Fest, various nursing homes and of course Tellabration!

Ultimately, I would love to see an annual storytelling festival right here in Waco.  Storytelling as a community brings families together, strengthens our identity, brings out character, celebrates our diversity and unites us in our commonalities.  We are stronger for weaving our stories together.

Teaching the art of storytelling to young people, adults and students is a fun way to preserve and share the art.  And, it forever keeps me in the learning mode.

A celebrated moment in my storytelling journey occurred this past Easter, 2016.  Several churches came together to create a momentous storytelling event.  For several weeks at the Hippodrome, a variety of tellers from diverse backgrounds shared stories and experiences with the Waco community.  I was honored to be included.  It was a total life changing experience for me!

I see the Heart of Texas Storytelling Guild as a virtual front porch.  In days gone by, people would see someone sitting and rocking on the porch. They would sit a spell and talk.  Others would stop and join them and before you knew it, the stories would flow.

That’s what we do every 4th Saturday of the month (holiday exceptions).

We let the stories flow.  Some are sharing just for the sheer joy of telling, knowing someone is listening with awe.  Some are sharing with an agenda, needing specific critiques.  Some are there as beginners, gleaning from the many years of experience.  Some are there to take it all in and loving every minute. We would love to have you come, sit a spell, tell your story!

Tellabration! 2017

  • November 11 @ 6:00 pm – 8:30 pm
  • Austin Avenue United Methodist Church (Fellowship Hall), 1300 Austin Avenue
  • Tickets: $12/12yrs-adults, $6/4yrs-11yrs

Tellabration! celebrates the ageless art of storytelling. This local event, sponsored by The Heart of Texas Storytelling Guild and celebrated world-wide, is our way of sharing this traditional art within our community. Come enjoy a feast of stories coupled with a fine meal. This year we celebrate Kyndall Rae Rothaus, storyteller, poet and preacher. She is the pastor of Lake Shore Baptist Church in Waco, and the author of Preacher Breath (Smyth and Helwys, 2015).
For more information: Vivian Rutherford, 254-717-1763, vivian.rutherford@thestorylady.org

Heart of Texas Storytelling Guild

What:   An Organization of Storytellers and Supporters dedicated to preserving the Art of Storytelling

When:   We meet the 4th Saturday of each month (Holiday exceptions)

Adults:  10:30-12 noon      Youth:  1:30-3pm

Where:  Waco-McLennan County Library, South Branch,  23 S. 18th St. (at dead end of 18th) Waco, TX

Call or email for more information:  Vivian Rutherford (254) 717-1763, vivian.rutherford@thestorylady.org     www.hotstorytellingguild.org

Vivian Rutherford is originally from Houston, Texas. She moved to Waco in 2000 and joined the Waco-McLennan County Library System as a Children’s Librarian. She began The Heart of Texas Storytelling Guild in 2007. She enjoys reading, cooking, listening to music and playing the piano. She is a wife, and mother to 3 kids, 3 cats and 1 dog.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email ashleyt@actlocallywaco.org for more information.