2018 Greatest Hits # 8: Jacob deCordova – Founding Father of Waco

(During these last few weeks of December we will be reprising the Top 10 Most Opened Blog Posts for 2018 from the Act Locally Waco blog. I couldn’t possibly pick my favorites – so I used the simple (cop out?)  approach of pulling up the 10 blog posts that got the most “opens” according to our Google Analytics.  It is an intriguing collection that gives at least a little insight into the interests and concerns of Act Locally Waco readers. I hope this “Top 10” idea inspires you to go back and re-read your personal favorites.  There have been so many terrific ones… If you would like to see the Top 10 according to Google Analytics, here’s the link: Top 10 Most Opened Blog Posts of 2018.  Merry Christmas! — ABT) 

By Monica Shannon

National Hispanic Heritage Month starts September 15 and continues through October 15 and we have several events in Waco to help celebrate the month long recognition of Hispanic and Latino heritage and culture. Friday night, September 14, the Centex Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and the Texas Fine Artists group are hosting a Hispanic Heritage Art show and Celebration.  The event will include performances by El Folklorico las Estrellas de Waco and Mariachi Azteca de Waco among others, and one particularly special guest… Vann deCordova.

If you are familiar with Waco history, you will recognize the name “deCordova.” Vann deCordova is the third great grandson of Jacob de Cordova.  Jacob deCordova was one of the founding fathers of Waco.  He was a man of warmth and he had strong friendships with other founding fathers of the city – men whose names you may also recognize such as Neil McLennan, Jr., George B. Erath, and Captain Shapley P. Ross.

Here is a little of his story.

Jacob deCordova was born in Spanish Town, Jamaica, near Kingston.  His parents were British Jews of Spanish descent. He moved to the United States in his late twenties and, among several other endeavors, he became a successful land agent.  Through scrip and direct purchase, deCordova acquired large amounts of land to sell to settlers.  At his peak, he owned and/or controlled over 1,000,000 acres of Texas land. To attract settlers to Texas, he made speeches about Texas in London, England, New York, Philadelphia and other U.S. cities.  His lectures were published on both sides of the Atlantic and were widely read.

In the mid 1840’s, deCordova was engaged to divide and sell the land on the banks of the Brazos that would eventually become Waco.  He hired his friend George Erath to work with him on the project. George B. Erath was a surveyor by trade and did occasional work for deCordova.  They had a mutual respect for each other.  Erath was deCordova’s most respected surveyor, and George often referred to Jacob as “The Big Man.” Upon seeing the land they had been hired to sell, they agreed that it would make a great location for the city.  DeCordova procured the title to the land himself, thend he, Erath, and two other men set about staking out the town on March 1, 1849. Town lots of 1 acre sold for $5 and nearby farmland brought $2-$3 an acre.

When McLennan County was established in 1850, deCordova successfully lobbied for Waco to become the county seat.  He sweetened his case by donating roads and tracts for public use.  He also recruited prominent Texans to move to the town.  One of his most successful recruits was Captain Shapley P. Ross of the Texas Rangers.  DeCordova lured Shapley from Austin with the promise of business concessions (Ross was given a monopoly on running the only ferry across the Brazos) and several free tracts of land.   Jacob deCordova was quoted saying, “Waco was the most beautiful location for a city in all of Texas.”  “Most of all,” he said of the future community, “she will be my daughter, and a beautiful daughter she will be.”

In the 1840s, deCordova resided in Houston and helped create the Houston Chamber of Commerce.  He also served as an alderman on the early Houston City Council. In 1847, deCordova was elected a state representative from Harris County to the Second Texas Legislature.

In 1849, deCordova and Robert Creuzbaur compiled and published one of the first definitive maps of Texas, a map Sam Houston praised on the floor of the US Senate. Today, the map is registered in the US Library of Congress and is highly praised by scholars and sought by collectors. In 1856, de Cordova published the “Texas Immigrant and Traveler’s Guide Book” to provide complete information for potential settlers.  He printed and distributed more than 50,000 copies. Some scholars have credited deCordova with being responsible for bringing more settlers to Texas than Stephen F. Austin.  Yet, sadly he gains almost no attention in contemporary Texas history school books.

We are looking forward to hearing a bit more of Jacob deCordova’s story from Vann deCordova Friday night.  Hope to see you there!

Monica Shannon’s leadership in arts has been instrumental in the developing and emerging presence for the visual arts in Central Texas. Monica has worked with over 100 artists and continues to work in the newly designated Cultural Arts District in downtown Waco. Monica loves travel, but mostly in helping people achieve their goals.

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.


Want our kids to have great jobs? Let’s teach them about concrete!

By Robert Saucedo

If you are a student looking for a job with longevity, you should look into the concrete industry.  If we citizens want to invest our tax dollars into vocational training for trades that have withstood the test of time, then we tax payers and parents should take a serious look at the concrete industry, in particular the precast concrete industry.

The use of concrete dates back to ancient Egypt and shows no signs of slowing down. Concrete is the second most consumed material in the world after water.  It’s used mostly in the construction industry. “The precast concrete market is expected to grow from $104.03 Billion in 2017 to $138.96 Billion by 2022, at an estimated compound annual growth rate of 5.96%. The precast concrete market is expected to witness high growth as a result of the rising urbanization, large-scale investments in infrastructure & industrial sectors, and rising construction activities in emerging economies. (Researchandmarkets.com, DUBLIN, May 22, 2018 /PRNewswire/)

I have been in the concrete industry for my entire adult life.  It has been a family trade for over 40 years. We in the concrete industry have a passion for what we do, and we take pride in the fact that we are building America daily.

That being said, our industry, like many of the construction trades, is hurting for skilled labor. It reminds me of that old country music classic that George Jones used to sing, “who’s gonna fill their shoes.”

We have a whole generation of kids that are going into college, many of them coming out with crippling debt.  Training in the construction industry offers a different path. For example, according to Indeed.com, the average salary for a construction inspector in Texas is $51,693. This is the kind of work that an 18-year old with a little initiative and the right training and industry certifications could do at beginning his or her working career, right out of high school.

We are an industry that is waiting for that next young individual that we can invest in. I can’t help but feel bad for the 18-20 year olds that walk through our doors who can’t read a tape measure. It is great,on the one hand, to teach our young people to use computers and ipads and other tools and technology of the 21st century.  But, I believe we are failing our kids by not encouraging them to take trade classes like drafting, shop, and welding.

What can we as Wacoans and Texans do to encourage our youth to enter into these trades? I think that if we offer industry certifications such as ACI (American Concrete Institute)/PCI (Precast Concrete Institute) and then find local companies that would be willing to offer summer jobs for these trades, our youth will not automatically default to student loans and degree programs that will not pay off for many.

Robert Saucedo is a 3rd generation American (no-hyphens). He grew up watching his dad and uncles build roads and bridges from Waco to Dallas and watching his mom overcome countless obstacles with grit and compassion. He started working in the precast concrete industry 12 years ago.  The company that hired him helped him earn his associates degree in business management and multiple industry certifications that have helped him grow in his career.  The precast/prestressed industry and committing his life to Christ have been blessings in his life and he has a passion for sharing about both.

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.

Mental Health: The Ripple Effect Of Suicide

By Elana Premack Sandler, LCSW, MPH

“A suicide is like a pebble in a pond. The waves ripple outward.”

Many years ago, my colleague Ken Norton, LICSW, director of NAMI New Hampshire, shared this quote, and it has stuck with me. Visually, when you see a pebble drop into a pond, it’s something small that makes a big impact.

The first “waves,” close by, are big, and as they move outward, they get smaller and smaller. The reach of the pebble’s waves is much greater than the size of the pebble itself.

When someone dies by suicide, the people impacted most dramatically are those closest to the person who died: family, friends, co-workers, classmates. As a result, the people who interacted regularly with the individual who ended their life will miss the physical presence of that person and typically feel the loss most intimately.

But, those people represent only the first wave, or the initial level of impact. Those people who are members of an individual’s community, such as members of a faith community; teachers, staff and other students in a school; or service providers, may also be affected by a suicide.

Some of these people may feel the impact in a way that feels similar to those closest to the person who has died. In a situation where the individual has struggled openly with mental health concerns, those who knew of the struggle will feel the pain of the loss—likely wondering if they could have done more.

People who may not have even personally known the individual who died can also be impacted. Like emergency medical personnel, law enforcement, clergy and others who respond and provide support to the family and community, either at the time of death or afterward.

Ultimately, in the way that a pond is changed because of a pebble, an entire community can be changed by a suicide. According to a 2016 study, it is estimated that 115 people are exposed to a single suicide, with one in five reporting that this experience had a devastating impact or caused a major-life disruption.

So, what can be done to manage the impact of a suicide, and work toward future prevention?

Work To Decrease Stigma

Stigma only leads to silence. And silence about a suicide loss does not contain the ripple effect—it just leaves people feeling isolated, as if they are facing this tragedy alone. When someone dies by suicide, the aftermath opens up an immediate opportunity to talk about suicide as a public health issue that affects all of us. We all have a role to play in prevention and decreasing stigma by sharing our stories.

Increase Support To The Community

The impact of a death by suicide can be vast, as people hear about suicides through the proverbial grapevine. Community hotlines and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) should be advertised, and community groups, such as faith communities, may want to convene opportunities for people to come together to mourn and receive support. Peer support from people who have lost a loved one to suicide can be healing—it can be very powerful to know you are not alone and to connect with others who have also experienced suicide loss. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) maintains a registry of support groups, including a specific list of survivor support groups

For those who respond to a crisis, providing a way to process a suicide is different, though just as important, as providing support to those more intimately impacted by a death. Crisis responders need space and time to debrief in order to be able to continue to respond appropriately, both in terms of their own reactions and in the way they support those who have lost a loved one.

Help People In Need Access Mental Health Resources

For those struggling with suicidal thoughts, access to mental health treatment can be key to saving a life. If you personally know someone struggling, encouraging them to seek help —even helping them get to that first appointment—shows that you support them.

In the bigger picture, advocating for better insurance coverage for mental health treatment will allow more people to be able to access professional help. Schools, primary care offices and community programs serving people at risk can organize screening programs as long as there are resources in place to be able to effectively refer those at risk to appropriate treatment.

As we witnessed recently, a suicide by a celebrity can have widespread impact. For those who have lost loved ones to suicide, hearing of another death by suicide can be triggering and emotionally draining. For people who have survived suicide attempts themselves, media coverage of suicide may increase their own feelings of suicidality. And yet, paying attention to these deaths increases our collective awareness of suicide as a problem and highlights suicide prevention as a need.

When we grieve together, we realize the impact of one single life—one pebble in a pond.

Elana Premack Sandler, LCSW, MPH is an Associate Professor of Practice and an Assistant Director of Field Education with SocialWork@Simmons. Since 2009, Elana has been blogging at Psychology Today on suicide and suicide prevention, with a focus on the intersection of mental health and social media.

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.