Category Archives: Friends and Family

Houston Swoncert — Swon Brothers in Houston

I got to crash a private party in Houston this week where the Swon Brothers were performing a small just-two-guys-and-their-guitars concert.  I’ve talked about the Swon Brothers before here — they’re from eastern Oklahoma and have lots of connections to my home town.  I enjoyed the ‘small’ show even more than I’d enjoyed the big flashy version I saw a few weeks back.  Thanks to the brothers and my buddy Greg (their tour manager) for letting me join the fun.

Superheroes Saving Kids in Houston

At any given time in Houston, there are over 5,000 kids in the custody of Child Protective Services (CPS), having been taken from their homes based on suspected severe abuse or neglect.  Just try to picture what a group of 5,000 kids would look like.  Child Advocates is a charity dedicated to helping those kids.

{Note: The kids in these pictures are NOT kids in CPS custody — these are just cute Houston kids whose parents brought them to participate in a fundraiser that benefits abused kidsFor obvious reasons, pictures of the kids being served by Child Advocates are not made public.}

Saturday morning, hundreds of runners — many dressed like their favorite comic book superhero — came out to CityCentre to raise money for Child Advocates of Houston.  I was proud and honored to be the chairman of the first (hopefully annual) Child Advocates Superheroes Run, presented by MRE Consulting.

Child Advocates recruits, trains and supports a small army of about 750 volunteer Advocates, each one generally assigned to one or two kids in CPS custody.  The Advocates’ primary role is to roll up their sleeves, talk to and work with the kids, parents, relatives, neighbors, and counselors, and to help CPS and the Courts to figure out how to resolve each child’s unique situation and get them — somehow — safely out of CPS custody.  The mission is to break the “cycle” of child abuse — whereby abused kids too often grow up to be abusive parents.  Child Advocates is almost thirty years old, so there are now many thousands of heartwarming stories of how Advocates have changed (and even saved) lives.

My being “chairman” of an event means that other dedicated, smart, and generous people do tons of work and give lots of money to make the event successful, and then at the end, I’m the guy who gets a plaque.  For my friends, it meant they got their arms twisted to sponsor, donate, volunteer and/or run in the event — so THANKS to all those who did (including especially my buddies at MRE — the title sponsor).  I spent most of the morning glamorously hauling food and fence panels, setting up tents, taking people’s money, handing out T-shirts and bossing around other (wonderful!) volunteers.  But of course I brought my camera along — and shooting cute pictures at such an event is like shooting fish in a barrel.  Lots of cute kids in cute, colorful costumes.  Thanks to everyone who was a part of it.


I was lucky enough to have the absolute best and perfect parents, and have enjoyed the benefits of that my entire life.  It’s hard for me to even comprehend the lives of some of those abused or neglected kids, and maybe that’s why Child Advocates is the charity I most support.  Disease charities (like cancer and MS) are true lifesavers, but they get tons of support from wealthy folks whose families have personal risks and experiences with the disease.  Cultural charities (like the symphony) almost by definition have an affluent base of donor/patrons who like to attend.  And churches or colleges always have a built-in base of members and alumni to sustain them.  Abused kids don’t have much of a constituency, which is why Child Advocates exists, and why Child Advocates needs financial support.  A relatively-small expenditure at such critical points in those kids’ lives can truly change everything for them.  It’s a great cause.

Saturday’s Superheroes Run was a huge success — especially for a first-year event.  We netted about $70,000, which should allow Child Advocates to help an extra 40 or so kids this year.  If you were there (as sponsor, runner or volunteer):  Thanks!!  If not, we’ll see you next year.    Or go here to see how you can help Child Advocates now.

Even more pictures are here.

 The last photo in the grid above is the group of Katy School Runners, who together were a huge part of the event’s success.  The man in blue crossing the finish line just above is Dru Neikirk — one of the three partners in MRE Consulting, the title sponsor of the event (the “Child Advocates Superheroes Run – Powered by MRE Consulting”).  Regular visitors to already know the other two founder/partners of MRE:  Shane Merz and Mike Short


Oklahoma’s Swon Brothers in Atlanta

I was lucky enough to have planned a trip to Atlanta (not Dallas!) on OU-Texas weekend this year.  By coincidence, my friend Greg Cook and the now-famous Swon Brothers were there, too, so I spent Saturday night at Wild Bill’s country bar in Duluth, Georgia.



As last season’s finalists in NBC’s “The Voice,” the Swon Brothers (whose dad, Kelly, went to my tiny hometown high school in Oklahoma) probably now need no introductions from me.  They’re talented; they’re young; and now the brothers (Zach and Colton) are well on the road to country music fame.  They put on a fine show late Saturday night just outside Atlanta.   Colton Swon is the blonde; Zach has the beard; the third face in some of those pictures is their lead guitarist, Eric Gillette.


I’ve mentioned my friends, Greg and Heath, and their band, Ricochet (of 1996 “Her Daddy’s Money” fame), many times.   Greg has recently taken on a new role, as tour manager for the Swon Brothers.  Those young guys are lucky to have him — a smart, sensible hometown friend who just happens to have 20 years experience in exactly the same (tough) business.  Their odds of success just got even better.  That’s Greg, mostly in silhouette, in the foreground of the shots below — shown in his new role literally outside the spotlights.



Finally:  Yes, of course I have a gratuitous picture of the prettiest girl in Wild Bill’s saloon.  Don’t worry:  my chatting up  of young Riley the Beertender (college senior and future grade school teacher) quickly moved to half-serious inquiries whether she and her mom look much alike — and whether her mother was single.



The Class of ’83

Vian High School’s Class of ’83 hadn’t gathered for a reunion in two decades.  I brought cameras, but quickly realized that the point and purpose of the weekend was to spend the time chatting, hugging, laughing and catching up with my old classmates, rather than obsessing with a camera as I too-often do.  So forgive the modest set of pictures.


There’s a famous biblical quote that ends, “Time and chance happen to them all.”  The Vian High School Class of ’83 is no exception to that principle.  We had our 30-year reunion last weekend.  Those years had surely aged us, and sent us all down some very-different paths.  But to a surprising degree, most of us were pretty much the same people we were when we graduated.  In many ways, it seemed like nothing had changed, even though pretty much everything obviously had.

If you believe the conventional wisdom about high school reunions, they’re infamous as angst-ridden affairs where grown men and women return to their hometowns to revive all their adolescent insecurities and pettiness.  And it seems way too many people dread or avoid them for exactly that reason.

But ours wasn’t like that at all.  In fact, it was exactly the opposite.  There was a lot of hugging and sincere handshaking.  It was an opportunity to travel back in time and laugh like a teenager.  A time to remember our friendships, our teenage antics, and our common past, and to forget most everything else.  An opportunity for each of us to experience a couple of days of what high school might have been like if you could extract the awkward immaturities and replace it with the perspective that apparently requires another 30 years to develop.  A comfortable mixture of things that had changed completely and things that hadn’t really changed at all.

The only disappointment of the whole process was for (and about) those who weren’t there.  I know several just couldn’t make it, but several surely just chose not to come.  It’s a shame – for them and for the rest of us – that they weren’t there to be part of it.

Everybody looked pretty good, so I’m sure some folks had probably lost some weight or bought new clothes or got their hair done just right before showing up in front of their classmates.  But once we were all gathered up, no one much cared about your waistline or your hairline, or what you were wearing, or what jobs you’d had.  Nobody cared much even about how many kids or grandkids you had (or didn’t have).  They were just happy to see you.  Which is how a reunion should be.


Oh!  That’s me in some of the group shots.  In the light bluish shirt (kneeling) in the indoor group shot above, for example.  So obviously I didn’t take all the pictures.  Thanks to Dan Murdoch and whoever else it was that helped me out and pushed the button for the pics that included yours truly.

Wichita FALLS: We’re Not in Kansas, Toto.

A company in Wichita Falls sells T-shirts reading :  “We’re Not In Kansas.  We Never Were.”  Apparently, a good chunk of the U.S. population doesn’t know which state they should look in (Answer:  “Texas”) to find the place.

For the tenth year in a row, some good friends and I were among the 14,000 or so riders in town for the Hottern’ Hell Hundred bike ride – the biggest 100-mile bike event in the country.  In the spirit of Hottern’ Hell Weekend, I was even more amused by another T-shirt option:  “Wichita Falls – A City in Heat,” but Dorothy’s “Not in Kansas” line from The Wizard of Oz won out as the more-fitting title here:  It doesn’t much resemble the Land of Oz, but Wichita Falls can feel like a very unusual place.

Near the finish line of the race, the local Wichita Falls Police auxiliary was holding a fundraiser — raffling off an AR-15 semi-automatic assault-style rifle.  Five bucks a ticket.  Need not be present to win.*  Proceeds benefit the Wichita Falls Police Department.  You won’t see THAT in your big fancy cities.

A few hundred yards away, on the side of the race course itself, was a nightclub (not open during the race) called Texas Playgirls, whose claim to fame is apparently that it is “now … the cheapest topless bar in Texas.”  I guess they know their target market.  This reminded me of a conversation with the desk clerk at our LaQuinta a few years ago:  Someone commented that Hottern’ Hell weekend (when 14,000 road bikers converge on the town from all over the country) must surely be the craziest, busiest time of the year in smallish Wichita Falls.  She disagreed, insisting that the ‘swingers’ convention earlier that month had been just as busy.  Who knew?!

A couple of years back, a Wichita Falls cab driver told us about her “Puke Fee” (charged mostly to intoxicated airmen from the local Air Force base):  “Fifty bucks; seventy-five if you get any on me.”  When I asked if she got much argument when people learned about the fee, she responded (emphatically), “Oh, they all know the Puke Fee!”  Of course they do.


This year’s race was pretty run-of-the-mill for a Hottern Hell.  No mosquito attacks; no wrecks; no delusional riders.  It was hot (sometimes it isn’t!) but not crazy hot (sometimes it is!).  The biggest innovation this year was the addition of Bjorn Hegelman to our team.  Bjorn is a 6’7” German (now U.S. citizen).  Lest there be any doubt, that’s him in the middle of the picture below.  Bjorn is a former German pro basketball player.  It can be tough for  big guys to adapt in the cycling world, and Bjorn has only been riding for a year or so.  But apparently being strong as an ox has at least some advantages and gave him a pretty decent head start.  Our group had one of the fastest, strongest, most solid rides we’ve ever done – at least for the first 90 miles or so when the (metaphorical) wheels did start to come off just a little.  Funny how it’s always that last 10 miles or so that are the toughest.

Prior posts from Wichita Falls are here (2012) and here (2011).

*Yes, of course I bought a ticket.  The guy explained that I’d definitely want to get a scope for it if I won.  I really hope I do not win.