Will Sale remembers the first time he attended Easter in Lee Park. And it was an accident.
“I was driving [with friends] on Easter Sunday and we happened by the park,” he recalls. “ I thought, ‘What is this?’ … I have a tradition of spending every holiday with my parents… except Easter. Easter was for me.”
So as much as anyone, Sale was upset when last year’s event was cancelled, and for the first Easter Sunday in (as it turns out) 49 years, the Uptown park was silent, without the sound of picnickers and puppies, music and murmurs.
But Sale was also in a position to do something about it this year. As a board member of the Lee Park and Arlington Hall Conservancy — the nonprofit that operates the city-owned public space, and which restored the historic field house called Arlington Hall in the late 1990s, following decades of neglect — he could actually make the event happen this year. And with the conservancy behind him, that’s just what he did.
Sale is the chair of Easter in Lee Park for its historic 50th anniversary — the first time the conservancy has taken charge in all that time.
“For years, it was just individual groups that put it on,” says Gay Waltrip Donnell, president and CEO of the conservancy. “We weren’t even around for much of [the history].” But it was a natural fit for the organization (originally founded by the Dallas Tavern Guild, the Oak Lawn Association and three other civic organizations) to lead the charge to bring it back. And, Sale thinks, improve upon it.
“We visited with a lot of people about what they wanted to change,” Sale says. “It got to the point where there were too many vendors. And the
Cathedral of Hope [felt] that it began too early,” which meant that parishioners had to choose between worship and Sunday Funday… or else dash around to do both.
This year’s event took basically a year to plan. (The conservancy was unable to coordinate the event in time to save it in 2015.) The entirety of Turtle Creek Boulevard between Hall and Lemmon streets will be blocked off, and a raised 24-foot-square stage will be erected in the middle of the road.
That will allow the show’s emcee, Steve Kemble, to speak toward the majority of attendees, rather than with his back to them. It also allows music (from a live band and a DJ) to entertain and for everyone to get the best look at the entrants in the Petropolitan Pooch Parade, which as usual, will be the centerpiece of the event. (Last year, Chris Watts of Petropolitan salvaged the Pooch Parade at a different locale, and it returns this year.)
One of the biggest changes from recent years, however, will be that the event will be virtually free of vendors.
“Entrants in the Pooch Parade will receive what we’re calling a doggie bag, a gift bag with items donated by local businesses,” who helped underwrite the expenses of the event, says Sale.
Uptown businesses including Jack & Jill, Mutts Cantina, Uptown Vision, Parigi and Kroger have donated money and items to help pay for the event. Donnell also says the city of Dallas has been very cooperative; councilmembers Adam Medrano and Philip Kingston will even serve as judges for the parade, which includes categories like “Best Easter-inspired Outfit,” “Most Creative,” “Best Group,” “Best Pet-Owner Looka-alike” and “Best in Show.”
The idea, according to Sale and Donnell, was to return the day to its roots as a community gathering. There’ll even be an appearance by the Easter Bunny and two egg hunts — one for under-4 year-olds, one for 4-to-10. Pet adoptions will be available on-site from the Greyhound Adoption League of Texas, Furry FriendZy and Dallas Animal Services. One of the few vendors will be Oak Farms Dairy, which will serve complimentary cookies and chocolate milk to attendees.
The conservancy also started an online registration for the parade (the only thing that will require a fee, of $10), to make it less of a mad-dash on the day-of. Sale says he’s not sure what to expect in terms of turnout since he sees this as a rebuilding year, but he’s not worried.
“This is not a hard sell,” he says. “Everyone wanted it back.” •
Easter in Lee Park takes place at 3333 Turtle Creek Blvd., March 27, 1–4 p.m. Parade at 2 p.m. Bring your own picnic basket of food and refreshments. To register for the parade, and to get more information, visit LeeParkConservancy.org.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 25, 2016.
City and park officials pretending to turn some dirt
More than 50 people attended a groundbreaking ceremony Tuesday for a ramp will extend from Snyder’s Union on the Katy Trail to Lee Park’s eastern section just below the trail. Representatives of the construction contractor said work should begin within a week, and Lee Park Conservancy President and CEO Gay Waldrop Donnell said construction should take about 20 weeks.
Donnell said the ramp will link the “Katy Trail from its mid point to Lee Park.”
Dallas City Councilman Philip Kingston said the trail and the park have a natural affinity.
“As we make our city more walkable, it represents what we want to see in Dallas,” Kingston said.
The ramp will run from the Synder’s Union promenade that opened in 2009 toward Hall Street. In Phase 2 of the project, the area between Turtle Creek and the Katy Trail will have several courts for shuffleboard, bocci ball and several other games. Stairs already link the trail to the area across Hall Street.
The Dallas Tavern Guild took pictures last week of the AIDS Memorial in Lee Park, which includes daffodils planted last year after the new memorial was rededicated.
The memorial was created by Alan Ross who fought the city and the parks department for several years to allow it in a city park. Not until the Lee Park Conservancy was created and administration of the park was taken away from the park department did the memorial move forward. Ross was the Tavern Guild director for many years until his death, and he is credited with organizing the Pride parade.
Last year, because of a new landscaping project near Arlington Hall, the memorial was moved and rededicated in a new section of the park. The original tree planted in Lee Park had died years earlier and little was left of the original other than the plaque.
The new location is along the new walkway heading toward Arlington Hall from the corner of Turtle Creek Boulevard and Lemmon Avenue. The daffodils were planted in memory of the people in Dallas who died of AIDS.
About 30 people attended the rededication of the Alan Ross AIDS Memorial in Lee Park on Saturday. The rededication included the unveiling of a new plaque at the base of a newly planted sapling. The event was handled by Bravo Event Group of Texas with music provided by Mel Arizpe and Laura Carrizales. The ceremony, led by Michael Doughman, executive director of the Dallas Tavern Guild, included several speakers such as the Rev. Carol West and retired DPD Sgt. Lynn Albright.
“Let us remember the past, but look to the future. I think that’s what Alan would have wanted,” West said.
Albright, the former LGBT liaison officer for DPD, stated how happy she was that at least Ross got to meet her first daughter, who recently graduated high school.
“He was the big brother we all wanted and he was the big brother we got,” she said.
Among the most touching moments of the rededication was a young girl placing a single rose at the base of the plaque at the conclusion of the ceremony.
Also in attendance were Jack Evans, George Harris and Sgt. Jeremy Liebbe of the DISD police.
“LifeWalk was extremely well attended,” said AIDS Arms development associate Hannah Orsburn.
The AIDS walk stepped off from Lee Park on Sunday, Oct. 2 at noon.
Orsburn said numbers are still being tallied for dollars raised and number of walkers. Those figures should be available Tuesday. The only figure available was for online donations and that number is higher than last year. She said that donations can still be made through the LifeWalk website through Oct. 14.
“There was more to see, more to do,” Orsburn said. “The energy was so great this year. More groups participated.”
One group of walkers from Worth Ross Associates, an Oak Lawn-based real estate management company, said that its team had more than 40 people participate. In addition to the money raised by each of the walkers, the company underwrote at the $5,000 level.
Orsburn said after the walk, people stayed in the park later.
One reason may have been additional vendors and the Passport. Walkers were given a passport that had to be signed at each of the vendors’ booths. Once completed, they were turned in for a drawing that will be held later this week.
New requirements by the city of Dallas could affect proceed totals from this year’s AIDS Arms LifeWalk, and at least one more new requirement is expected to be added to the list next year, according to LifeWalk organizers.
The 21st annual LifeWalk steps off from Lee Park on Oct. 2 at 1 p.m. for the 3.2-mile walk. Registration begins at 11:30 a.m. Last year’s event raised $401,000 and this year’s goal is $500,000.
Although thousands of people are expected for the event, Lee Park will remain unfenced this year, even though the city has said such gatherings will require fencing in the future.
Officials with the Dallas Tavern Guild, which stages the Alan Ross Texas Freedom Parade and the Festival in Lee Park each year as part of Dallas’ annual LGBT Pride celebration, decided to get ahead of the new requirement by fencing in Lee Park this year for the festival, although the city requirement had not yet gone into effect.
Tavern Guild officials also chose to charge a $5 admission fee to the festival this year to help offset expenses and raise extra funds that will be distributed to parade beneficiaries.
The admission fee raised the ire of some in the community, and attendance at the festival was down compared to last year. But Tavern Guild Executive Director Michael Doughman said the drop was not significant, and noted that the admission fee brought in about $25,000 that will be divided among beneficiaries.
But AIDS Arms Executive Director Raeline Nobles said new city requirements have already had an impact on LifeWalk, and she is worried that the new fencing requirements could affect next year’s walk.
“There were a lot more expenses from the city this year,” she said. “It really hits the bottom line.”
The cost of fencing next year will add an additional, unwelcome expense. But Nobles said she isn’t going to worry about that until after this weekend’s event. Right now, her main concern is getting people out to participate in this year’s fundraiser.
“Anyone can participate in LifeWalk,” Nobles said. “You can walk alone or bring friends or join a team. We even have poop-out vans: In case you can’t walk the entire three-mile route, someone will pick you up and bring you back to the park to have a good time.”
She also invited people to just come to the park and cheer.
“We need cheerleaders at the start and finish and at the water stations,” Nobles said. “We have pompoms for anyone who wants to cheer the walkers on.”
Registration for LifeWalk is $40 for people and $10 for dogs participating in LifeBark. People get a T-shirt and dogs get a bandana to show their support for people with HIV.
AIDS Arms is the primary beneficiary of LifeWalk, but other organizations also receive funds from the event, including AIDS Services of Dallas, Legal Hospice of Texas, Turtle Creek Chorale, The Women’s Chorus, Bryan’s House, Resource Center Dallas and the Greg Dollgener Memorial AIDS Fund.
Money raised goes toward programming rather than capital costs. The chorale uses funds for their HIV fund, including giving tickets to performances through the year to people with AIDS.
Nobles praised that effort, saying that socializing is an important holistic element in treating HIV.
The Women’s Chorus will present a program at AIDS Arms in March on National HIV Women’s Day. Those expenses, Nobles said, should be covered by the group’s LifeWalk proceeds.
Nobles said it would be tempting for AIDS Arms to use the money to finish paying off the agency’s new Trinity Health and Wellness Center in Oak Cliff. She said that the new facility cost more than $2 million, and AIDS Arms needs to raise just $35,000 more to pay off the facility.
Trinity Health and Wellness Center opened in September and will have its formal grand opening in two weeks.
But despite the temptation, AIDS Arms will instead use proceeds from LifeWalk to support programs for clients at Trinity as well as at AIDS Arms’ older clinic, Peabody Health Center in South Dallas.
AIDS Arms also uses the money to administer HIV tests to more than 3,500 people a year and for case management for more than 3,400 people.
LifeWalk began in 1990 as a fundraiser for Oak Lawn Community Services. When that agency closed, management of the event moved to AIDS Arms.
LifeWalk Co-chair Marvin Green noted that his Green Team will mark its 20th year of participation in LifeWalk. He said he put the team together for the first time in the second year of LifeWalk because he had already lost 20 friends to AIDS.
That first year, three team members raised $75. This year, the 32-member Green Team has collected about $22,000.
Co-chair Fred Harris said that there were quite a few new teams this year.
“We’re reaching out to new communities,” Harris said. “There’s new energy. We’re branching outside Oak Lawn.”
He said teams are using creative new ways to raise money and AIDS Arms has actively brought in new sponsors such as Chipotle.
“Stoli is coming with a first-ever LifeWalk drink,” Nobles said. Returning sponsor Caven Enterprises will serve beer and Ben E. Keith donated iced tea.
Harris said planning has gone well, and that “LifeWalk is a well-oiled machine.”
Harris said he has seen more use of social media this year than ever, reaching out to people outside the Metroplex.
“This year Facebook has become a very powerful tool,” he said, not just for fundraising but also for recruiting walkers.
Last year, about 3,500 people walked, and this year, “Registration is ahead of where we were this time last year,” Harris said.
Waterpalooza, another AIDS Arms event, was moved to Pride weekend this year, just two weeks prior to LifeWalk. Harris said they took advantage of that event to sign up teams and walkers and generate excitement for this weekend’s walk.
Among the new teams, Harris said, are the DFW Sisters.
“Their efforts have been tireless,” he said. “They raise the bar.”
Nobles said that WFAA Channel 8 morning anchor Ron Corning will serve as M.C. in Lee Park. Although he’s appeared at several events since arriving in Dallas, this is the first big public event the openly gay television host has emceed.
LifeWalk received the Human Rights Campaign family-friendly designation, and Nobles said there will be bounce houses, clowns and face-painting for children.
Harris said the event is pet-friendly as well, “because pets are our family.”
There will be games and puppy pools for dogs as well as doggie adoptions, Nobles said.
She said the day would be a lot of fun but asked people to participate because the need is greater than ever.
“With the growth in the number of newly-infected people in Dallas County who need help in this economy, we’re seeing people who never would ask but must,” she said.
Next year, Nobles said, she would like to see LifeWalk return to Oak Lawn, but new city regulations for events may change those plans. Among the events changing plans this year because of the city involved Lone Star Ride.
Last year, Lone Star Riders participated in LifeWalk on bike. This year, city regulations banned bikes from walks so LSR riders who participate will have to walk.
Green was thinking about bigger plans for future LifeWalks. Other cities that raise more money stage longer walks. He said he’d love to use the new Downtown Deck Park that should be completed next year and dreamed of seeing LifeWalkers crossing the new suspension bridge that should be open in March 2012.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 30, 2011.
There was more green at the Festival in Lee Park this year — both in terms of open space and money raised for the gay Pride beneficiaries. (Chuck Dube/Dallas Voice)
Ultimately it might be impossible to say by how much attendance was down at Sunday’s gay Pride Festival in Lee Park.
But according to Michael Doughman, executive director of the Dallas Tavern Guild, we do know this: Approximately 5,300 people paid $5 each to get into the festival.
Beyond that, Doughman estimated there were 700 unpaid attendees who received complimentary wristbands through festival vendors or groups that marched in the Alan Ross Texas Freedom Parade, which would bring the total crowd to 6,000.
In previous years, about 7,500 people attended the festival, according to Doughman, which would mean a 20 percent drop — in line with what organizers predicted after they decided to fence in the park and charge admission for the first time.
But Doughman said precise attendance figures for previous years — or even this year, since we don’t know how many who received complimentary wristbands actually showed up — simply don’t exist.
And even if they did, he added, they wouldn’t really matter. In Doughman’s view, critics who predicted disaster for the festival as a result of the $5 admission charge clearly were proven wrong. And the Tavern Guild, which organizes both the Pride parade and festival, was vindicated.
“We got tons of compliments from people who were in the park, not only vendors but just from people who attended,” Doughman said. “It may have been less headcount, but we think the quality of event was highly improved.”
That’s this year’s theme of the Pride parade which features Honorary Grand Marshal, Fort Worth city councilman Joel Burns and VIP guest, rugby star Ben Cohen. The parade is followed by the festival at Lee Park featuring live music and speakers. And it’s looking like the perfect day for a parade. Happy Pride.
DEETS: Parade starts at 2 p.m. $5 for festival. For details, click here.