A Weekend to Celebrate Remarkable Women
by Luan Beaty Mendel ’75
We came from California and the nation’s capital, from Dallas and from Denison — 33 women spanning graduating classes from 1952 to 2013. Friends and strangers, alumni, mothers and daughters of alumni, and others with a connection to Austin College, we converged on the Jordan Family Language House on May 31 at President Marjorie Hass’s invitation to share “A Weekend to Celebrate Remarkable Women.” In her opening remarks, President Hass said the retreat was a gift from the College to us — time set aside to contemplate anew how we give of ourselves to those causes closest to our hearts.
After a get-acquainted session that brought forth both tears and laughter, we worked through a series of exercises with nationally recognized facilitator Stephanie Clohesy. Meeting in small groups, we examined our philanthropic endeavors — those that have satisfied and enriched us as well as those that have left us drained and unhappy. Hearing stories about all the projects these women have been involved with was humbling as well as energizing, and the next exercises capitalized on that energy as we focused on becoming more strategic in our personal philanthropy.
Between sessions, we gazed at the stars from the roof of the IDEA Center and enjoyed a gala dinner celebrating key female figures in the life of the College, from Emily Austin to contemporary icons such as Sara Bernice Moseley, Anna Laura Page, Marian McCarley, and Ann Biggerstaff Mason ’52. For an hour on Saturday, we even became students again, thanks to Austin College faculty members Renee Countryman, Randi Tanglen, and Peggy Redshaw, and yoga instructor Paula Bennett.
The question posed in our final session together on Sunday centered specifically on the challenges facing Austin College: What can we do together that we can not do alone? A flood of creative, out-of-the-box ideas about how to use our influence to serve the College poured forth.
Caryn Schenewerk ’99, counsel and director of government affairs for SpaceX in Washington, pointed out that the nation’s capital is home to the highest concentration of Austin College graduates outside of Texas. Caryn and fellow Austin College alumnus Abbas Ravjani ’04 have long dreamed of an AC-DC internship and mentoring program. “The D.C. area is such a rich resource for Austin College; I hope we can tap it a little deeper and open up more opportunities,” Caryn said.
Closer to campus, Susan Stephens ’79 talked about her vision for a community garden in a vacant lot owned by First Presbyterian Church in downtown Dallas. A certified Master Gardener, Susan chairs the committee to develop the lot as a place where people can “garden side-by-side despite housing, age, gender, or socio-economic disparities and share tips on tomato-growing best practices.” Susan hopes to enlist Austin College students as interns to help with the project.
The weekend retreat was indeed a gift, and it was a gift that will renew itself over and over as the many ideas generated by the group begin to bear fruit.
Special thanks to Joyce Johnson, without whom “A Weekend to Celebrate Remarkable Women” would not have been possible.